Ask the Agent: Christian Worldview
“You’ve said you’re looking for books with a Christian Worldview. Why do you say that, and what does it mean?”
First, almost all agents specialize in a particular type of book they represent. (I am talking about the entire universe of U.S. literary agents, both ABA & CBA.) Some represent mostly romance. Some specialize in mystery, thriller and suspense. Some agents specialize in healthcare and self-help titles. Others might be a little wider and represent all genres of fiction, or many different categories of non-fiction. This makes sense because there are so many publishers, and within them, so many editors handling different kinds of books, that any single agent can only get to know so many at one time. Specialization allows agents to become experts in their genre or category, staying on top of trends and requirements.
So, WordServe literary specializes in Christian books by Christian authors. This means we deal with all genres of fiction and many different categories of non-fiction, as long as the book expresses a Christian worldview. This way, we can be “experts” at what’s going on in the Christian sector of the publishing business.
As for what “Christian worldview” means, that’s a big question but I’ll try to answer simply. A Christian worldview is a way of looking at the world filtered through the truths taught in the Bible. It assumes a sovereign God who created everything and everyone; it assumes we are answerable to God for our thoughts, words and actions; it assumes we have need of salvation and redemption and that it comes only through the person of Jesus Christ. Christian worldview also assumes other things such as that morals are not relative but absolute. And that human beings were created in God’s image, purposefully and with a divine intent, rather than springing randomly from the earth for no particular reason. (Of course, there are countless variations in the details of Christian beliefs; that’s why we have so many denominations and even sub-groups within denominations.)
In Christian fiction, some books overtly express elements of Christianity in the story, integrating things like prayer, conversion, church, etc. Other books don’t include overt references to Christianity but they are clearly written from a Christian worldview, adhering to Biblical principles and usually expressing some aspect of redemption, God’s unconditional love, honest grappling with faith, etc.
In Christian worldview fiction, you can have non-Christian elements, but they can’t be without consequence or some kind of opinion that comes through in the prose. Maybe your story features exotic dancers (read: strippers) but the story can’t glorify their lifestyle or make it look like it’s a value-neutral activity. You might have characters taking part in psychic activities like palm reading or using a Ouija Board, but your story must clearly reflect a general Christian perspective on it, which is that these activities are not endorsed in the Bible.
Of course, this can get really sticky when you get down to details. Can a Christian character get a tattoo? Can the believers in your story have wine with dinner? When it comes to often-debated issues like this, the individual publisher will let you know where they stand and if it needs to be removed from your story.
Christian non-fiction is usually overt in its use of Biblical principles to teach a particular subject. For example, I’ve received quite a few queries about leadership books. The Bible contains numerous teachings that apply to leadership, so for us to represent a leadership book, it would need to contain specific Biblical tenets. If we were to consider a memoir, it would most likely be a person’s faith journey and their wrestling with the spiritual side of life.
I hope that helps……..
Why i can’t see the pictures on your blog ?
I just finished “On Writing” by Stephen King and can understand why it’s recommended reading.
But one of his strongest points is to be honest with our language.
The world I came out of uses a lot of colorful language – much of it four letters long. In a hit-your-thumb-with-a-hammer scenario (or similar), that language is real. Anything else is stilted … sounds phony and contrived.
How can we create charaters who have 3.5 dimensions and try to pass them off as real? And why would the rare, momentary profanity (and repentance) of a ‘saved’ man of character and integrity poison the Christian worldview that man personifies every day? Or the story that person brings to the table?
I understand and believe in, “Don’t cause another to stumble.” And I believe our Christian witness to the world is important. But I also believe we can be real, and Christian, and project a world view that leads to Jesus – in spite, or because of, our imperfections.
>I’ve not read Mark Childress; thought Gods in Alabama was brilliant, and All Over But the Shoutin’ is one of my favorite memoirs ever. Love Charles Martin too!
>Redemption. I love that word. Jackson’s books probably have more about the topic than some CBA books. While I loved “Between, Georgia,” (I used to live in Jackson’s Gap, Ala., home to the wild cousins, btw), I still rank “Gods in Alabama” number one.
Does that mean you’re a Mark Childress fan, too?
How about Rick Bragg (non-fiction)? In “All Over But the Shoutin'” he talks about going to church as a child and longing for what everyone there seemed to have, but he could never find it. And there’s a passage on forgiveness involving his father that breaks my heart to this day.
Sorry, I’m getting off topic, but I find it’s hard to write Southern literature without it encompassing faith to some extent. I love the way Southern Living describes Charles Martin’s work, “God haunted Southern literature.” Martin’s books seldom talk about going to church, except perhaps “The Dead Don’t Dance,” yet his characters struggle with and live out Christianity in ways few of us ever manage.
>Melanie, I’m a big Joshilyn Jackson fan. Her books are Christian worldview and contain strong themes of redemption, forgiveness and grappling with faith. However, the tradional description of a person who shops for fiction in the Christian bookstore is someone who wants to be sure that anything they buy will be “safe” i.e. free from coarse language and graphic sex. Joshilyn’s books definitely don’t fit that. However, kudos to the Christian store that carries it!
>Great words of wisdom as always, Rachelle. I had a friend tell me that if you are sharing news/information/stories about your Christian faith, you can never go wrong if you stick to your personal testimony. She said non-believers can’t really argue what you have experienced in your own life, though they can make different meaning of it.
I have tried to keep this gem of advice as I write. I’m telling my character’s story, and that’s it. If that story includes some element of faith, it’s because it’s critical to that character’s experience. I hope that eliminates the “table-pounding” mentioned above. 🙂
>I have an odd one.
I recently found a copy of Joshilyn Jackson’s “Between, Georgia” in the Christian fiction section of a secular bookstore. I brought it to a clerk’s attention, thinking it had been replaced, but was told, no, that’s where it belonged.
I’m a fan of Southern literature, and Jackson’s no exception. I envy her talent, but some of her characters cuss like sailors, the protagonist gets syphillis from her husband and sleeps with another man while still married.
There’s plenty of reprecussions for some of the things in the book, but the sex/romance part was happily ever after.
Is it just me, or are the corporate folks at this book chain horribly confused?
Melanie in Alabama
>Melissa, I have a feeling this isn’t a hypothetical question. Nevertheless I’ll give a hypothetical answer.
“Maybe.” Depending on various factors which I’m too tired to go into right now. Suffice to say it would present some challenges but it’s certainly doable. However, if it was a new, unpublished author, I’d say, “choose.” And whichever you choose, plan to stick with it a few years.
>Ok – I have another question. *grin*
Say you agreed to represent someone’s Christian novel, and that writer also wanted to write secular fiction. Could you represent both?
>I had been wondering about the definition of Christian worldview fiction, as well. Thanks for such a concise, informative definition. 🙂
>Ha! Hard-wired, yes. I’m at my computer almost all day (headset on because I’m often on the phone, too) and I like staying in touch with blog readers. Y’all are a lot of fun! 🙂
>Thanks for such a thoughtful, detailed answer (and offered so quickly – are you hard-wired to your blog?). This not only helps me better understand your definition of “Christian worldview,” but also offers further evidence of your passion for great writing and your sincere care and consideration for authors. I think you’re going to be really good at this agenting thing.
>Peace Like a River is definitely written from a Christian worldview (as the author has said many times in interviews) but what I love about it is that he gives the reader a choice… repeatedly in the book he tells the reader, “make of it what you will.” I love this because it is how God relates to us also. He doesn’t pound his fist on the table saying “You MUST believe this!” He has told us His story and gives us the choice whether to believe it or not.
That said, it’s Christian worldview but some publishing houses might not consider it “Christian fiction.” Of course I would have jumped at the opportunity to represent such a brilliant novel, but I might have deferred to an ABA agent with more New York contacts, in the interest of best serving the book and the author.
>Rachelle, I know you’re familiar with Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River – how would this novel fit (or not fit) in your Christian worldview definition? If you’ll forgive my “what if” question, would you leap at the chance to represent this novel/author had it come to you first? And if so, what factors (aside from the brilliant writing, I mean) would make it a “fit” for WordServe?
>I came out of the world and have had my share of alcohol and other things. I don’t partake of any of it anymore. The Christian characters in my novels don’t either, but my other characters do. They are portrayed without judgement, just lifestyle contrasts.
>Yes, it depends on each publisher’s guidelines. The wine thing is really not as much of an issue anymore – although there are plenty of Christians who completely abstain from alcoholic beverages.
Re: the question about whether the publisher requires removal of offending elements, and what if the author refuses? Every situation is handled individually, but publishers have guidelines for very good reasons. They may work out some kind of compromise with the author, OR, these things can become dealbreakers and the publisher can say, “We can’t publish this book with that element in it.” The author has to make a choice. I just finished working on a book with some unacceptable paranormal elements in it. We tried to work out a compromise, but the author didn’t want that. Eventually the publisher and author agreed that they did not share the same theological beliefs and that the author needed to find a secular publisher. The book contract was cancelled.
>If you have any doubts about Christians being “able” to drink wine in CBA novels, you can read Kristen Heitzmann’s series (Secrets, Unforgotten, and Echoes) published by Bethany House.
However, my guess would be it depends on the publisher’s house rules.
>Jesus drank wine with dinner…I would hope Christian characters could follow in his footsteps without publishers telling the author they had to remove it. What happens if an author refuses? Do publishers relelnt or reject? Does it depend on how much they like the rest of the book?
>Thanks for this explanation. Basically it comes down to this:
All Christian fiction comes from a Christian worldview, but not all Christian worldview fiction would be considered “Christian fiction”. (How’s that for a mouthful?)
>What a great definition of a Christian worldview! And you did it in just one paragraph. Good job, Rachelle.