I changed the title of this series of posts by adding a question mark. Because, I believe rather than despair, we should feel challenged to overcome.
My aim is to point out some challenges writers may face and discover ways to overcome them.
Now, onward to Part Three:
Three: What to Do?
As a young writer, I didn’t consider writing for the Christian market, even after my first published novel was all about Christian people and themes, because I wanted everybody to read my books. Especially, I wanted people who supposed all who believe in Christ are nitwits to wise up.
But over the years, I slowly began to wise myself up, and to accept that the world is the way it is whether I like it or not, and that publishers, to sell a book, need to find a target audience.
Still, I was at a loss about whom to target.
Meanwhile, the agent who represented me bought another agency, got doubly busy, and passed me along to an associate who subsequently bungled what might’ve been a game-changing sale. When, at church, I told a couple of smart writer friends about this mishap, they suggested I send something to a fellow they considered tops in the Christian agent business.
I did so.
He replied, “I surely like the book, but I don’t think I can sell it.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Well, it’s got too much Christian content for the secular market and too much sex for the Christian market.”
I said. “Well, I can see why secular publishers might shy away. But too much sex? How can that be? There’s not any sex in it.”
“Right,” he said, “But Clifford thinks about sex.”
“Who doesn’t?” I asked.
“Pretty much nobody,” he said.
Now, I hadn’t written graphic sex, nor did I plumb Clifford’s mind specifically when he admired a woman or two. Maybe the part about him coming home to his wife and finding a pastor running out of their bedroom buttoning his jeans would offend CBA readers. But as the last two churches I had attended suffered from such pastoral indiscretions, I felt the scene not only fairly realistic but one many churchgoers would find familiar.
A while thereafter, someone invited me to teach at a Christian writers’ conference and for several years, I taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and the Florida Christian Writers Conference. Those times were always enjoyable and rewarding, especially being in the company of kindred spirits, or at least people with whom I shared beliefs, passions, and ambitions.
But some of what I learned dispirited me.
An editor from Harvest House told a gathering of faculty that recently a bookstore had passed along a customer complaint about a Harvest House novel including somebody who drank wine. With regrets, the editors decided henceforth not to allow such depravity.
In a class I attended, the editor/teacher asked our favorite Christian Writers. When I mentioned Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor, he responded with a scowl. Anyone who hasn’t yet read The Power and the Glory or “Revelation”, please do.
Mount Hermon offered what they called a Master Class, attendance limited to students who had published at least one book and to faculty. What I found was terrifying to a rather shy man. Not only was I the only male in the gathering of twenty-some writers, I was also the only one whose specialty wasn‘t romance novels.
Now, I have no particular prejudice against romance novels except rumor holds they require adherence to a mighty strict plot formula. For followers of Christ drawn to write romance, I suspect the CBA and secular romance formulas aren’t far apart. Which may explain why I found myself in such an extreme minority.
Anyway, I decided neither the CBA nor the romance genre were the best fit for a fellow who probably couldn’t follow a strict formula if he wanted to. And I also had reason to fear that neither was the “mainstream” of commercial publishing the right place for a guy who seems incapable of disregarding his faith while pursuing his craft.
Then where, I wondered, is my place. Some of you may likewise wonder.
Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey offers examples of believers in Christ who have forged successful "mainstream" writing careers while exposing their honest faith.
In Part 4, I’ll address how they managed to overcome.