Chip MacGregor

June 6, 2013

What are the differences between CBA and the general market?


Our discussion yesterday about CBA and the general market lead to several questions, including someone asking, “So what are the differences between CBA and ABA books?”

There are many similarities between the religious market and the general market. Both markets want to offer good books. (I’ve never met the guy who wanted to produce or sell a bad book.) Both want to entertain in some way. Both intend to have most of their books foster some sort of understanding.

Yet there are real differences. Many people writing in CBA are largely doing so because they feel they have a “message” they want to pass along. I meet these folks at conferences all the time – in their way of thinking, God has given them this great story, and they must be obedient and tell it to others. They have “Truth” that must be communicated. Sure, they want to be successful in the market, but even more important is the promulgation of the Gospel, and the notion of being obedient to share that message. Perhaps we could say “effective ministry” supplants “making money” in the hearts of many religious authors (not all, but many). And, of course, one could argue that there are certainly plenty of people in the general market who believe strongly in their own message, and feel that same need to share it, whether it be “how to lose weight” or “how to save the planet” or “why we shouldn’t go to war.” The notion of “calling” is a bit ephemeral — one author can be totally committed to a cause, and another can be totally committed to the opposite cause. In publishing, we understand the importance of exchanging ideas, of making a case, or saying it well. That’s the author’s job, no matter what market you’re in.

However, I think it’s safe to say that, if faith-based authors are often driven to share some sort of message, the general market is basically motivated to (1) make money, (2) entertain, (3) share something positive or persuasive that will improve you and your life and our world, and (4) make more money. So yes, there’s a difference between the two markets, though I don’t find the differences all that great. The CBA publisher who says he doesn’t want to make money isn’t telling the truth; the general market author who says she doesn’t write from a particular worldview is fooling herself.

Recently I’ve read a couple discussions exploring the integration of CBA and ABA, and they often say something about “the terrible state of Christian books.” Whenever I hear that sort of thing, I roll my eyes. Look, Christian fiction was the largest growth category in all of publishing in the first decade of this new century. And the quality has improved tremendously — anybody who says all religious fiction is weak just hasn’t taken the time to read some of the great Christian novels that have been done over the past few years. And the argument that they are “too safe” or “not realistic” is  simply not being honest about the market. Sure, there are shallow, simplistic Christian books printed — but how is that different from the general market? There are also edgy, thoughtful Christian novels releasing. That’s the way of all art — some people want deep, others want shallow. Some want to hear a symphony, others want to hear Justin Bieber. CBA is providing both types of novels these days.

The fact remains, the religious market is healthy and vibrant — as much as 20% of the overall book market, according to some studies.  I would argue that the faith-based book publishing market is still growing, which is why in recent years Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster have all started or purchased Christian imprints. There is money to be made in books aimed at CBA, there’s an audience for Christian books, and faith-infused books have become an important part of most large publishers’ portfolios. 

Continuing that school of thought, I also received this interesting question that relates to the issue: “What do you do with a book that challenges your view of faith?”

I take each on a case-by-case basis. I really don’t mind my faith being challenged. Again, I don’t have to share the same theology with every author I represent. I’m not a conservative evangelical, so I’m not exactly the perfect fit for every CBA author. But I’m one of those who believes in a big tent, so that’s why I represent a broad variety of faith-based writers. If somebody comes in and wants to do a book that doesn’t easily fit my theology, I suppose I have to mull it over. Is the idea salable? Is the writing strong? Does the author make a solid case? Does the author have the platform and ability to support the book? Do I believe in the book enough to want to shop it? Those are the questions I go through — pretty much the same questions every agent goes through, I think. 

There are plenty of books I wouldn’t choose to represent — I wouldn’t represent a book that rejects the deity of Christ, and I find prosperity theology heretical — but fortunately there are plenty of agents, and perhaps someone else will see value in those books and take them on. I started my agency with the phrase “Books that make a difference,” and I still aim to have that as the goal with every book we choose to represent. 

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  • Peter DeHaan says:

    That’s a great explanation, Chip. I’d been thinking a lot of those things and seeing them written out helps solidify them.

  • Amy Leigh Simpson says:

    Go Holly! Smart man, Chip 🙂

  • Hey Chip, I’m waiting to see what Christian “products” you find at ICRS this year 🙂

    I agree with your whole post except for one tiny thing…”Perhaps we could say “effective ministry” supplants “making money” in the hearts of many religious authors”

    ROFLOL…you tell them that you’re giving their book away for free for 3 days on Amazon and watch them howl. 🙂

  • Amy Leigh Simpson says:

    Oh, Raj! I think I just threw up in my mouth a little 😉 okay, fine you have young girls… I’ll pretend you like it for them. Just like I pretend I don’t sing along to the Super Why theme song.

    Great info here today… And yesterday… Well, all the time really. Your wisdom astounds 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Holly gives me most of the good stuff, of course. I just copy her answers, Amy. The secret to greatness is to listen to your assistants…

    • Holly says:

      so true

    • Rajdeep Paulus says:

      Amy, Super Why is FLY, babe. I’m sure I’m a better speller for all the episodes I endured!

      Hey, what can I say? I love music. Almost all music. My tweens are just an excuse. Hold up while I turn up the radio… One Direction just popped on! 😉

    • Amy Leigh Simpson says:

      Haha! Oh girl, we need to get you a more well rounded musical education! 😉

  • carlagade says:

    As always, Chip, I enjoyed your hearing your insights on these questions. And I like that term “faith-infused”. Btw, I’ve never even heard JB sing. I live in my writer’s cave and only come out once in a blue moon, but hopefully my writing doesn’t reflect my small world.

  • Rajdeep Paulus says:

    So what you’re sayin is it’s okay for you to rep authors who listen to JB? Whew. Cuz.. well, I am a sorta, kinda, sometimes fan! 🙂 Neva say Neva!

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