Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Guest blogger agent Rachelle Gardner talks about Christian publishing and the CBA marketplace.

I get a lot of queries from writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction, which is something I don't represent. Often, if I think the query has merit, I recommend that the writer try to query my colleague Rachelle Gardner, an agent pal of mine who specializes in Christian publishing and the CBA marketplace. I've been slammed a few times by writers whose Christian fiction I've rejected because of their mistaken assumption that I'm making a judgment about the writer's faith. I'm not, actually. But I am making a judgment about my own ability to intelligently represent a specialized category in a marketplace with which I have only a passing familiarity. The fact is that the CBA market is a vast one, with its own collection of publishers, editors, sales reps, jobbers and bookstore chains. And as such, it is a category that requires a special kind of expertise. Expertise that Rachelle Gardner has in spades, by the way, and that she graciously agreed to share here when I asked her if she'd write a little bit about Christian publishing for the readers of The Swivet.
The Scoop on Christian Publishing

by Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

WordServe Literary

If you're a Christian and you're writing a book that overtly includes your faith, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, consider that you may need to be looking for a CBA agent and a CBA publisher.

What's CBA?

CBA means "Christian Booksellers Association" but refers to the entire Christian publishing industry including publishers, authors, agents, and bookstores. It's a niche within the larger realm of publishing, and it developed over the last forty years to serve those who are looking for books that deal openly with Christianity.

The Christian publishing industry began with companies who published Bibles; then came the need for books to help people understand the Bible. The rest grew out of Christians' desire to read and write books that deal openly with all aspects of their faith.

Now there are a whole group of publishers who specifically serve the Christian market. Some of the largest and oldest are Thomas Nelson, Tyndale House, Guideposts, and Baker Books.

Most of the major secular publishers have recognized the potential in serving this market, so most of them have a Christian imprint:

Zondervan is an imprint of HarperCollins

Howard Books is an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Waterbrook/Multnomah is an imprint of Random House

FaithWords is an imprint of Hatchette Book Group

Christian bookstores serve this market as well: Lifeway, Mardel, and Family Christian Stores among others. Over the last ten years, regular (secular) bookstores have recognized how lucrative this market can be, so Barnes & Noble and Borders now have nice-sized sections devoted to Christian books.

Christian publishing also has its own writers conferences, as well as an annual convention (ICRS) that's similar to BEA only devoted to this specific market. And since the market is so specialized, there is a whole group of agents who have expertise in this market and serve Christian authors. Here is a good list of agents who work with the CBA.

Now, this is not to say that there's no overlap. Occasionally a secular imprint of a major New York house will publish a Christian book. And several CBA agents also represent books to non-CBA houses.

But if you're trying to sell a book with overtly Christian themes, be aware that you're probably not going to have much success querying general market agents. If they don't have experience selling into the CBA houses, they're not going to do a good job with your book. If they say "no" to representing your book, it's not necessarily because they're not a Christian (many are, as a matter of fact), it's because that's not the business they're in.

Almost all agents specialize in a particular type of book they represent. Some represent mostly romance. Some specialize in mystery, thriller and suspense. Some agents specialize in healthcare and self-help titles. Specialization allows agents to become experts in their genre or category, staying on top of trends and requirements. So, CBA agents specialize in Christian books by Christian authors.

The agents in New York spend years developing relationships with the editors at the New York publishing houses. Similarly, Christian agents spend years developing relationships with the editors at the Christian houses. So if you're trying to sell a book that overtly includes your Christianity, you're going to want to learn about CBA and get with an agent who can sell into CBA houses.

Want to learn more?

Here are some CBA agents who blog:

MacGregor Literary

Books & Such Literary

Steve Laube Literary

and then there's me.

Here are some posts from my blog that deal specifically with Christian publishing.

If you have further questions, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!
Rachelle Gardner has been an agent for two years, and has been in Christian publishing for six years. Prior to that she worked in general market publishing. Visit her blog here.


Jessica Capelle said...

thank you for the great post! Really good information about how the industry works.

Steve said...

I know Thomas Nelson will only accept professing Christians as authors. To what extent is this true of other Christian publishers? ANd must one's theology be evangelical?

Rachelle said...

Steve, most of the independent Christian houses have some kind of a profession of faith requirement, but they vary as to their theology. Most aren't too rigid and definitely not strictly Evangelical. The houses that are owned by large secular companies don't normal have this requirement.

clindsay said...

Steve -

To expand a little on what Rachelle just wrote, many of the larger secular houses also publish Judeao-Christian religious books that aren't considered "Christian" in the publishing sense.

For example, Doubleday Religion - a sister imprint to Waterbrook - published almost all Catholic non-fiction. While Catholicism is considered a branch of Christianity, you won't find Catholic books in a Lifeway Christian store because the theology is different.

Does that help at all?


Richard Mabry said...

Colleen, Thanks for giving us the opportunity to hear about this particular market segment from a highly successful agent who deals in it daily.
And Rachelle, thanks for sharing.

Reesha said...

Thanks Rachelle.
I do have a question:
If I'm writing a book that doesn't mention my faith at all, nor is it strongly religious, but I know it will most likely appeal to a Christian audience, would you suggest I attempt submitting it to CBA?

Billy Coffey said...

Thanks for giving a little history of the CBA, Rachelle. Amazing how much and how quickly it's grown.

Rachelle said...

Reesha, without knowing more, I can't be 100% sure, but it sounds like you might need to take a dual approach with both ABA and CBA. You might only find your answer through trial and error. Some Christian houses want the faith to be more overt, others don't.