Book Proposals

Real Life is Edgy

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.


Leave a Comment

Work First, Book Second

For successful authors of non-fiction, no one career or life-path is common. Family situations, upbringing, education and experiences are unique to each person. Listening to an author explain how they became successful is always a combination of things someone else could never duplicate perfectly. It’s like someone giving a business …

Read More

The Bestseller Code: Decoded

Last week, to great fanfare, a new book analyzing bestselling books hit the market. In my opinion, The Bestseller Code: The Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers is intriguing and provocative, but ultimately an exercise in futility. Every author wants a short cut to achieve bestseller success. What …

Read More

Choosing a Good Title For Your Book

Placing a good title on a book is not as simple as one might think. In fact, some prominent books have had rather circuitous journeys to their final title. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice started out as First Impressions. Tolstoy’s All’s Well That Ends Well released to some yawns until …

Read More

The Proposal Review Process

You’ve all been there (and if you haven’t yet, you will…). You put together the perfect proposal and finally, finally send it off to agents for their review. So what happens next? Well, from your point of view, waiting. And waiting. And…(yes, we’ve covered that before. The waiting. That’s not …

Read More

Revolutionary Words for Your Publishing Success

Did that headline get your attention? It was intentional. There are two key words in it, “revolutionary” and “success,” that are trigger words to make you read what I have written. When the word “publishing” is added it targeted the readers of this blog. And to top it off it …

Read More

The Best Time to Submit to an Agent

Thanks to Katie Powner for her question on my May 25, 2016 blog, which sparked this blog. There have been many changes in publishing over the last few years. In fact, it seems we just get used to some element of publishing, and wham! It’s turned on its head. But …

Read More

I’m Always Open to Submissions

Sometimes authors send me an email asking, “Are you looking at new submissions?” or “Are you accepting new clients?” I appreciate these authors’ desire not to waste my time or theirs, but I’ll say it here: I’m always open to submissions and new clients. Now, does this mean I’m open …

Read More

What’s Wrong with my Book?

As you can imagine, we see hundreds of proposals and manuscripts each month. And, as you can also imagine, we must decline most. However, there are a few mistakes you can avoid to help your submission rise above others: Not beginning the story in the right place. All too often, …

Read More