I would dearly love to expound eloquently on a number of discussions taking place in the blogosphere regarding Christian fiction/CBA fiction. Over the weeks and months I’ve read some of these posts, I have felt everything from amusement to irritation. I have thought many things, but to try to put those thoughts into some sort of coherent post would take more time than my current deadline allows. Perhaps another day.
But one thing I must say, as a writer who began in the "we-can’t-get-no-respect" genre of romance and who now writes for the "we-can’t-get-no-respect" genre of Christian fiction, the comments I read are so similar I could juxtapose many of these blog posts and articles with "ABA romance" and "Christian/CBA fiction" blacked out and you would think they were writing about the same thing.
Genre fiction (and I would definitely call CBA fiction a genre that also has many sub-genres) exists in order to meet reader expectations. When you pick up a romance, you expect it to end with the promise of a happy-ever-after for the hero and heroine. When you pick up a mystery, you expect the mystery to be solved at the end. When you pick up a book published by a CBA publisher, you expect the story to glorify God and to adhere to biblical truths about Jesus in addition to meeting other reader expectations for the particular sub-genre it falls into. If the book promises to be a mystery and it doesn’t solve the mystery, the reader feels cheated. If a reader feels cheated, they will not buy that author again.
I have written for both the ABA romance and the CBA/Christian fiction markets. Both have their "idiot-syncrasies" (that’s the word my grandma made up, more fun to use than "idiosyncrasies"). Sometimes those idiosyncrasies exist to satisfy reader expectations. Sometimes they frustrate writers no end. Sometimes, with strong writing and vision, writers expand the boundaries of reader expectations. That certainly doesn’t mean the reader expectations were wrong before the expansion. It just means things change.
There are topics allowable in CBA fiction today that weren’t allowable a few years ago. Why are they allowable? Because talented writers wrote about them, the books were published, and readers loved the books. Thirty years ago in romance, heroines were often raped by the heroes (even if it was disguised as forceful persuasion, i.e. she said no but meant yes); that is so not acceptable in today’s romance fiction. But why did romance fiction change? Because talented authors wrote stories in different ways, the books were published, and readers loved the books.
Personally, I have enjoyed far more creative freedom in my CBA career than I had in my ABA career. I’ve moved freely between historical romance and contemporary women’s fiction. I’ve written about infidelity, family secrets, unwed mothers, alcoholism in a Christian home, homosexuality, rebellious teens, and more. I am able to write openly about my faith, something I wasn’t allowed by the ABA publisher I was with before moving to the CBA.
Ultimately, it is writers who will change the genres they write in. Not because they rail against reader expectations or publisher tip sheets and requirements in blogs and articles. They will change the genres by writing stories that capture their own passion and imagination, and when they do that and do it well, publishers will buy and publish those books.
Just remember that less than 1% of the novels written every year will get published, and many of the remaining 99% that go unpublished may be well written and still not be able to find a publishing home. That’s the nature of the business.