Why I don’t come out and label my books as “Christian Romances”
What brings this point to mind is a discussion I was scanning today about whether books with Christian content should be labeled as “Christian”. Here’s the deal: Christian Romances are known for being “clean”, which means they have no sex in them. To say label my books as such will mislead a lot of people. I’ll be getting people reading it who don’t want sex and they’ll be horrified when sex does occur. I don’t label the books so I avoid offending that group. The other group who doesn’t want a Christian undertone to the book might be offended, but I’ve read traditionally published books with those undertones to them and they were not labeled as Christian books. So I gauge this one by what the traditional publishing houses do. (I hope that makes sense.)
My Writing Journey as I Considered Traditional Publishing
Back in 2008 when I studied up on the traditional publishing houses as I debated whether to keep self-publishing or to go the traditional route, I learned that no Christian publisher would take a book with sex in it, even if it’s between a husband and wife. I tried writing a clean romance. I have a PG version of Eye of the Beholder still in my folder, but I wasn’t happy with it. You know why? Because Mary was a plain woman who needed to feel beautiful, and the only way Mary felt beautiful was when Dave made love to her. I had to show this process where she went from feeling ugly to feeling beautiful, and I couldn’t do that by hiding sex. I just couldn’t. I know some of you will argue with me, but the truth is, I couldn’t because my character (Mary) needed to have the sex shown. I had to go with my character. (In every book I write, I have to go with what my characters want or the book falls apart.)
So then I decided the Christian Romance publishers were out. I looked at the other publishers, talked to a few authors who have books in bookstores and libraries (so they are well-established traditionally published authors), and I asked them if they could stay true to their Christian values with their non-Christian publishers. All of them were strongly encouraged by their editor/agent/publisher to put sex before marriage. Only one held her ground and said no. (This is why I LOVE Carolyn Davidson as much as I do. I love people who can stick to their beliefs in the face of opposition. She is my hero. I have all of her books because of this, and if you’ve read her books, you’ll know that she incorporates her Christian values into her books and keeps sex inside marriage.) I knew after writing to her (we exchanged letters briefly; she’s not someone I talk to on a regular basis or anything) and read more of her books that I wanted to be like her in how I approached my own faith while incorporating sex into my novels. However, I didn’t want a publisher to twist on my arm to go against what I believed.
When Self-Publishing Was “Bad”, I Did It Anyway
Back in 2008, self-publishing was still a dirty word in the writing circles. We’ve really come a long way in the past three years. I would sit at my local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter and tell them I self-published. The response I got: silence. I mean, you could hear the crickets chirping. That’s how quiet it got. No one recognized any of my books, and they would only add books or give charms to authors who had a real publisher or a real agent. So even though I was a published author, they didn’t recognize me as such. I quit going once I realized I didn’t want to traditionally publish any of my books.
The reason I opted to self-publish is because I wanted to write my books my way without anyone telling me how to do X, Y, or Z. These were my books. I wrote them because I wanted to read them. I wasn’t thinking of reaching an audience. In fact, many people let me know I was shooting myself in the foot by self-publishing. I also had a lot of people tell me that I couldn’t write books with a Christian worldview and put marital sex into them. I was told I’d alienate everyone on the planet. Their advice was for me to pick one or the other. Either leave God out completely or leave sex out completely. My response? These are my books, and I’ll write them my way. (And yes, this came after a lot of prayer.) If people don’t want to read them, then that’s fine. These were the kind of books I wanted to read, and if I didn’t write them, who would? (Beside Carolyn Davidson who I knew at the time wrote them. But what happened once I read all of her books? Then what? I’d have nothing else to read.) So I told everyone, “Thanks for your opinion” and wrote them the way I wanted them.
Self-Publishing as it is Today
Now it’s October 2011 and self-publishing is no longer the redheaded stepchild it used to be. That RWA chapter I mentioned earlier has self-published authors in it who are happy with their choice, and the members who were once opposed to it have to now admit a writer who chooses that path have the right to have their books recognized. The tone has changed. I might go back once my husband returns from Korea and can watch the kids.
The Good and The Bad
I’ve also learned that while not everyone will love my books (actually, after all the discouragement I faced back in 2008, I expected everyone to hate my books), I discovered some people really do love them. No one was more surprised then me when I started getting emails from people who liked my work, thanked me for keeping sex inside of marriage, thanked me for presenting the Christian worldview, and (most importantly) asked me to KEEP doing what I’ve been doing. This took me back to when I asked Carolyn Davidson to keep writing the books she was writing because no one else out there was doing it. She said she couldn’t stop writing books that way because she had to be true to herself first. And that’s the same with me. As I look back on the course I took, I have no regrets. I’d do it all over again.
I’m not saying it’s all been flowers and sunshine. I’ve had opposition along the way, but like Carolyn Davidson, I have to stay true to myself first. This is why I don’t change my books to suit anyone who doesn’t like them. I figure it’s all par for the course. If a writer isn’t ruffling some feathers out there, then that writer isn’t 1) passionate about their books and/or 2) making an impact with their work. I told God early on (fall of 2008) if He wanted people to find my books, then He’d have to take care of the marketing because I had no idea if people like me (people who wanted Christian romances with sex in marriage) existed and I certainly had no idea how to find them if they did. Ironically, they found me. All I did was blog, write and publish books, hang out with other authors on discussion boards, and put some stories out for free. That was it. Oh, I did get a website, but that was so I had something pretty to put my books on. LOL
Advice to Writers
This is why when writers ask me how they can sell books, I recommend they write what they are most passionate about (aka write the book you want to read) and let people have a free book to show what you write. But really, what I probably should say is that if you’re in it to sell books, then you picked the wrong job. Writing isn’t about selling books. It’s about creating stories with characters who lead and direct you in ways you never imagined. It’s an adventure. While some well-known authors will make it sound easy to sell books, it isn’t. There is no magic method that will enable a writer to quit their day job so they can stay home and write full-time. I’ve seen authors market and market until they are ready to drop and still don’t sell as well as authors who have published some books and did less marketing. Why some authors do better than others, I don’t know. All I do know is that God found a way to lead people to my books. And how do you coach authors on something that abstract? I’m also aware at any time, God has the right to stop all of my book sales. Everything is in His hands. I used to worry about months sales dipped, but I don’t anymore. I notice it when they do because I have to adjust my budget accordingly, but I just keep writing and publishing because I love my characters and have fun on the many adventures they take me on.
I guess what it all boils down to (if I were to give advice to writers) is that you have to enjoy writing. If you don’t enjoy it, you’ll never weather the storms that come with it. As soon as things get tough, you won’t stick it out. There have been times when I was ready to quit, and I’d ask God if that was what He wanted, and (no kidding) within an hour or so, I got an email from someone who specifically tells me to stay the course and keep writing. It’s ironic how that works, but it does. I have the emails posted up in front of my computer as reminders. But if the day ever comes when God calls me to stop, I will. I suspect that will be when I die, but you never know.
My other advice to writers: It’s okay if some people hate your books. It doesn’t mean your books are bad; it just means the books weren’t to their personal taste. We all have our preferences, and we can’t satisfy everyone. To try is fruitless. You’ll end up writing books you hate and you’ll resent the people who suggested you change your books to their liking. It’s best to just write what you love and stick with it. Who cares if someone doesn’t agree with you? The world is big enough for different opinions. But there’s only one you and only you can write the book that is in your heart to write. No one else can do it. At the end of the day, if no one else wants to read your book, then you must want to. That’s how I write every book I do. I assume I’m the only person who wants to read it. This way, I write it exactly the way it’s meant to be written.