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?
Although 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.
May 31, 2017 @ 2:03 pm
“After he shared with me some thoughts on his favorite books/authors/subgenres in Christian SF,”
This is the crux of the problem with postmodern Christianity of the mid-20th century through today. Why are we required to read only Christian writing? Yes, Ray Bradbury sometimes has an ungodly theme (pro-homosexuality, for example, or stories in support of witchcraft), and he was a regular visitor to the Playboy Mansion throughout his entire life (not a great example to follow), but most of his work is brilliant and worthy of being read. Sure, we have C.S. Lewis to look to, and Tolkien, and Dickens, and Le Fanu, and Arthur Machen and a handful of other authors who were also Christian–and it is true that when they wrote, if a person was not a Christian–an atheist, for example–he had to call himself by some other name, such as Naturalist as in the case of Thomas Hardy, another brilliant if bleak and hopeless writer.
My proposal is to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and then just write, not focusing on any one demographic–and especially not on a Christian demographic–but writing to bring the Light to all darkened rooms and corners as the Spirit of God shows us how. By the end of 2017 I will have 14 books published, 18 by the end of 2018, 22 by the end of 2019, and four more every year after that, all through one publisher who is not a Christian publisher, but is a Christian himself and is my biggest fan. Christian publishers refuse to touch my work. It is too worldly for them, or they discover that I am Old Earth, or that I am Catholic, or that I am this or that or think this or that. I have fallen beneath no such judgments with my present publisher, I thank God for him every day, and I believe that if Christians will begin to actually offer their gifts to God freely, with no restrictions, then God will begin to use them in the way that he sees fit as opposed to the way they are narrowly defined by the CBA or whomever.
July 28, 2019 @ 10:24 am
Well said Scath. It’s a frustration of mine as well. Not just in publishing but in media and entertainment as well. The collective majority seems to be playing it safe and staying amongst themselves. I’m working on my first book and so just learning about the ABA vs. CBA and I’d imagine there are many Christians who choose to work in ‘secular’ publishing. Wouldn’t stories about Christ go further and reach the intended audience by going the secular route? It seems pretty obvious to me. Some of the most transformational books I’ve ever read were main stream. As a Christian, if I need spritual guidance/wisdom/encouragement, my first stop is the Holy Spirit, not a Christian author. Congratulations on your many successes.
August 12, 2018 @ 8:26 am
This is so helpful! Thank you. 🙂
Derrell B Thomas
July 20, 2019 @ 2:45 pm
Though at present I have little published, dreams die hard. But on this matter, my thoughts are simple. If my subject carries a message specific to Christians, say some doctrinal issue, I would want such topic in a Christian book store.
On the other hand, this world needs truth, whether it be presented by fantasy or documentary, and everything between. Ignorant, (I prefer the word “uninformed”) of the publishing universe, are there Christian publishing houses that sell their authors outside a Christian book store? The world needs truth, palpable, digestible, reified.