A major topic of discussion among writers of all types of Christian books is the issue of how far is too far when showing someone’s life before they surrendered to Christ, and how real you show their journey of sanctification once they exit the broad road.
It’s called the “edge.” A lot of writers want to write with an edge, with real language and situations to make it more like real life. After all, the evil guy in a novel doesn’t say, “Excuse me sir, I feel you are incorrect in your assessment of my mother.”
To explore this issue, I’ll first give a simple “cop-out” answer to why Christian publishing is hesitant about edgy themes, and then I’ll get a little deeper in an attempt to unpack the issue.
The Cop-Out Explanation
Literary agents aren’t to blame since we listen to what publishers tell us and they mostly avoid profanity and sexual situations, which might make a book more “real” in some opinions.
Publishers aren’t to blame since they listen to their distribution channels and other than Amazon, just about every place selling Christian books tells them they want “clean” books. So publishers are off the hook.
Distribution channels (other than Amazon) aren’t to blame because they listen to their customers. Complaints from customers are never related to a lack of profanity and sexual situations. But when a book shows up with a mild profane word in it or a situation deemed inappropriate…the fireworks begin. Retailers want to avoid complaints.
Finally, customers are not to blame, because customers are always right.
The Complicated Explanation
Publishing is not about literary agencies, publishing companies, channels of distribution and customer segments as if they were machinery. It is easy to criticize a machine or industry.
But publishing is about the people who work at literary agencies, publishers, channels of distribution and the people who buy books.
In general, Christians seek to avoid putting things in their minds reminding them of a previous life when Christ held no influence over their life. As they cross over to the new life found as a Christ-follower, they desire to put new things into their minds.
Honorable things. Lovely things.
I recall sending a proposal to an editor on a very difficult theme…the suicide of a loved one. It was a great story of recovery. But the editor declined because it was too close to their personal experience. They simply couldn’t bear to work on a book, which mirrored their own personal pain.
So, was it a publishing company turning it down, or a person? A person of course, just like it always is. People make decisions, not companies and because people in Christian publishing in general would rather avoid the “edge,” those books with an edge will have difficulty finding a publisher in the Christian market.
In a rather sweeping generality, Christian publishers have a corporate brand, which distinguishes them from the “world” by publishing books, which are not even close to what the world considers appropriate.
Christian publishers are generally pretty conservative, so authors who want to write edgy plots with language and certain situations included for impact and realism are generally going to be frustrated by the lack of interest in their work.
Oh, well, the issue will never be settled in this life, but it is worth a lively discussion.
I recall a debate from almost 40 years ago between two musicians over the issue of what made for good Christian music. It was frustrating to watch as a much-younger version of myself who was seeking a definitive answer to the question.
Now older, I’ve observed how God allows Christians to disagree on certain topics because he knows the true answer lies somewhere between the human viewpoints. The mild tug of war is how he allows his imperfect children to set boundaries in a fallen world where the answer to a particular question needs to be painted in a color neither black or white.