ABA vs. CBA: How Do Christian Writers Choose?

Many Christian authors struggle with the decision whether to write books for CBA or ABA. CBA is Christian Booksellers Association; ABA is American Booksellers Association. What’s the difference between the two and how do writers choose which one is best for them?


cherry blossomCherry Blossoms at Mount HermonAlthough the difference between CBA and ABA is often seen as Christian versus secular, that is not necessarily a valid distinction. The CBA is a Christian organization and is comprised of Christian booksellers; however, not all Christian booksellers choose to be in this group. The ABA is not exclusively secular; it is comprised of both Christian and non-Christian booksellers.

My agent, Diana Flegal, and I have discussed the possibility that my speculative suspense novel might be considered by an ABA publisher. When I was preparing to go to Mount Hermon, she suggested I meet with Allen Arnold, who used to be the senior vice president in Thomas Nelson’s fiction division. He is considered an icon and a legend by many in the Christian publishing industry. And Diana told me he’s a big fan of spec fiction.

My first impression of Allen Arnold was that he is a kind, gentle, friendly, and intelligent man. He expressed what appeared to be a sincere interest in me as a person, asking at the beginning of our meeting how my writing journey started … and he seemed genuinely interested in my response.

After he shared with me some thoughts on his favorite books/authors/subgenres in Christian SF, I gave him a brief description of my novel’s premise. Then I told him Diana had suggested I ask him if he thought my book stood a chance in the ABA.

He proceeded to do what my husband likes to do: ask me leading questions to get me thinking. In essence, he helped me formulate the right questions to help me determine whether seeking a CBA or ABA publisher would be best for my novel … and for me.

Here are the insightful questions I came up with after talking with Allen Arnold:

1. The first thing he said was that asking whether my novel has a chance with an ABA publisher is the wrong question. The better question is, do I want my novel to have an ABA publisher? And if so, why?

2. Am I willing to make changes to my story that an ABA publisher would undoubtedly want?

3. If my novel were accepted by an ABA publishing house, how would it be categorized? Where would it be shelved? How much competition would it have?

4. Where is my established “fan base”? Do I know more people who would want to read my novel in the Christian publishing industry or the mainstream publishing industry?

5. Will my established “fan base” look for me in the Christian fiction section or the general fiction section?

6. How would a non-Christian reader and a Christian reader review my book?

7. Which types of books do I personally like to read? Do I read more books from the ABA or the CBA?

8. Which community would I rather be a part of?

9. Where is God calling me to be?

I thought a lot about those questions the rest of my time at Mount Hermon and on my drive home. I’ll share my thoughts next Monday, May 27. In the meantime, if you’ve been wondering what direction to go with your writing, I would encourage you to ask yourself those questions and see what you come up with.