You Be the Judge

Okay, I’m opening myself up to criticism here. You may already know that I sometimes have a hard time holding myself back from ranting about things that bug me. This holds true even when I’m responding to email. Sometimes I find myself getting a little testy. Then after I hit “send” I experience some regret or at least second-guessing myself. So, let me know what you think of this exchange. And if you want to criticize me, feel free to comment anonymously.

An unpublished writer wrote to ask me a couple questions about the Christian fiction market. He finished his letter with the following:

“In my opinion, much of the Christian fiction on the shelves now is not very good. I’d like to increase the quality and attractiveness of Christian fiction.”

I wrote him back in email, kindly answering his questions about the marketplace. Then I concluded my letter with this:

“In my humble opinion, your closing statement lamenting the poor quality of Christian fiction, and suggesting you might be the one to solve that problem, is not a very good way to make friends amongst the people who are doing their best to get the highest quality fiction possible on the shelves. (Editors and agents in the business.) In addition, an objective analysis would reveal that Christian fiction is no worse than the average secular fiction on the shelves of a bookstore.”

So, was I rude? Did I cross the line? Should I have taken the high road and simply ignored his closing statement?

What do you think?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

27 Comments

  1. Anonymous on March 8, 2008 at 10:40 PM

    >I think you did well to set him straight. I also think he was partially right.

    In Christian fiction (I’ve taken a solemn decision never again to refer to it collectively as “CBA”, cause it ain’t all CBA by a long shot), there isn’t much out there right now for certain types of readers. I can count on one hand the number of Christian-fic books that have interested my husband, for example. Once you exhaust Ted Dekker, Tom Morrissey and a few others, there’s not a lot that seems to be aimed at the guys.

    Moreover, we’re told to write what we would like to read. We vote with our pocketbooks by leaving some books on the shelves–can we be blamed wholesale for writing what we’d like to see there?



  2. Kara on March 2, 2008 at 10:45 PM

    >Rachelle,

    I think that your comment, whilst possibly sounding slightly frustrated (and for good reason!), was fine.

    There is a time, before I started writing, when I could well have been equally guilty of making such an ignorant/arrogant comment.

    However, having now embarked on the journey myself, I have nothing but respect for anyone who has ever done the hard yards required to complete an entire manuscript.

    Regardless of what my personal opinion may be of some of the books that end up on the shelves of my local bookstore I think that taking ‘cheap shots’ at people who have not only completed a book but have then managed to overcome all the obstacles that lie between that and publication in a misguided attempt to promote your own work isn’t helpful to anyone.

    I believe that as Christian writers, wherever we are in that journey, our goal should be to encourage each other and collectively work to raise the standard of writing in the CBA not undermine those who have gone before us.

    Besides, should our writing truly be the next best thing since sliced bread we need to trust that industry professionals won’t need our assistance in pointing out the shortfalls of the current market in order for it to be noticed 🙂

    **Kara climbs off her soapbox** 🙂



  3. bump on March 1, 2008 at 4:20 PM

    >What if you are both right?

    What if the quality of Christian Bookseller Association titles has suffered, possibly because best sellers created limited sub-genres, such as “religious thriller” and “religious historical,” in which large publishers would only invest.

    And what if the quality of CBA titles is improving because of efforts and risk taking by writers, agents, editors, and publishers on publishing works that don’t follow the proven formula for faith-based fiction, but provide diverse storylines and improved literary quality?

    Then both the unpublished writer and agent would be right, even if the unpublished writer is not God’s gift to the CBA market.

    –Bruce Umpstead



  4. Gavin on February 29, 2008 at 4:15 PM

    >You did well to answer him so. In fact you could go further to say, that purely on numbers, there is more poor secular fiction than christian fiction.



  5. Susan Helene Gottfried on February 28, 2008 at 6:01 PM

    >I’m just impressed that you answered him at all!



  6. Anonymous on February 28, 2008 at 4:22 PM

    >Timing is everything and I suppose this was his time to be enlightened. I am curious and wonder why he had come to that conclusion. Oh well, such is life…..

    You have been nothing but truthful thus far….carry on…

    Sincerely,
    Rkh



  7. Tiffany Stuart on February 28, 2008 at 4:03 PM

    >I think you spoke the truth in love.

    Writers need to stop dogging the industry and go about doing the hard work of writing.

    Stop complaining about the quality of writers that are already published.

    I say for writers “less is more” when we are wanting to talk bad about the industry. We’re better off keeping our mouths shut.

    Instead, we should keep learning, remain teachable, and become better at our craft. And then we can offer that “better something” to the reading world.

    Enough said.



  8. Rachelle on February 28, 2008 at 3:01 PM

    >UPDATE!
    I’ve had a bit more correspondence with the query-writer. He doesn’t seem arrogant at all but like me, he questioned his choice of words after hitting “send.”

    Thanks for everyone’s responses! This is an interesting discussion.



  9. LAUREN at Faith Fuel on February 28, 2008 at 2:57 PM

    >I just don’t hear ego or arrogance in that man’s statement. Maybe I’m projecting something because of where I am coming from (I’m an as-of-yet unpublished writer who is trying to learn how to project confidently what I have to offer), but it seems to me this man couldn’t possibly be thinking from a hard working Agent’s point of view (because he’s not one). He may have just been thinking, “How can I let them know I have something to offer?” He worded it wrong, but it may have been prompted by all the advice we fumbling writers receive to be clear, be confident, and take the bull by the horns!



  10. Judy on February 28, 2008 at 2:37 PM

    >Rachelle, I review Christian fiction for a large public library system. For the first time, we recently added a Christian fiction title to our book club kits.

    The excellent quality of writing in Christian fiction today is attracting the attention of librarians.

    You were correct in your comments. This librarian thanks you and other CBA authors,agents,and editors for raising the bar on Christian fiction.

    Judy



  11. Megan DiMaria on February 28, 2008 at 1:33 PM

    >You’re comment was fine, Rachelle. He needed to hear the truth, but I guess you would have to be shouting to be heard over his ego.

    I had a similar conversation the other night. It’s a little frustrating to run into attitudes like that.

    A prisoner of hope,
    Megan



  12. ~ Brandilyn Collins on February 28, 2008 at 1:31 PM

    >I’d chalk the guy’s statement up to the naivete of a hard-working, aspiring author. In those early days it’s easy to think “I am God’s gift to the writing world.” And those new to the market don’t understand how their sweeping judgmental statements will end up hurting themselves.

    I once received a forwarded letter from Zondervan in which AA (Aspiring Author) ranted about how poorly I wrote and wondered where in the heck was my editor for not catching such horrible mistakes??!! She ended the letter by saying if Z. considered my book good, they’d see hers as absolutely brilliant. Please reply with the name of my editor so she can submit her book to him. !!

    Because folks like this can really shoot themselves in the foot, it’s helpful to them in the end to give a gentle reply that points out the error of their ways.



  13. Pam Halter on February 28, 2008 at 12:43 PM

    >I agree with everyone’s comments. And it’s a good lesson for us all when writing an email or letter. Always have someone read it over before sending if you feel it’s a touchy subject. They will probably catch anything that smacks of self-pride or obnoxiousness.



  14. Nicole on February 28, 2008 at 11:18 AM

    >Agree with Mary and Dayle. Almost all of those who make that statement haven’t read a Christian novel in the last five years or longer. They are ignorant and arrogant in what they assume to know about the current CBA menu.

    You handled it well, and, while there are times to turn the other cheek, there are also times to tip over the tables. This guy needed his tables toppled. Thank you.



  15. virginagain.blogspot.com on February 28, 2008 at 11:17 AM

    >Unfortunately, I think that some writers do believe they are better than every other writer on the block. But I think that’s not a great attitude to have.

    I personally love Christian fiction and have found some wonderful offerings. And I think that any writer that truly believes the market isn’t very good isn’t going to have an easy time of selling his or her work. There are good examples in every genre, secular or Christian. And if, as a writer, you can’t see them, the lessons you’ll need to learn to publish in your chosen genre will be much harder.

    I think your response was well-worded advice. I hope the writer takes it to heart and finds something to love in existing Christian fiction.



  16. Dayle James Arceneaux on February 28, 2008 at 10:49 AM

    >You are way too hard on yourself.

    Not only were your comments not rude, I think you were very congenial.

    Most would have banished said person to the hinderlands without letting them know why. At least you gave him the chance of not making this mistake again. In fact, you may have saved his career.

    This could be an example of someone just not quite sure what they are saying.

    You could have asked him if he meant all the CBA books you’ve worked on in your career.

    Mary D. is right (as usual). It has been my experience also that most who comment on the quality of CBA havent’t read any in several years.

    But even if you think that way, keep it to yourself.



  17. Matthew C Jones on February 28, 2008 at 10:27 AM

    >I don’t believe what you wrote was rude at all. From reading the portion of the email you posted, it would seem that the individual who wrote the email to you needs to learn some of the basic concepts of diplomacy and making friends, maybe read some Dale Carnegie. Your response seemed even tempered and, like others have posted, was something that the person needs to consider in further communications with editors and agents. Objectivity is a powerful character trait we all need to learn and employ, especially as it relates to “me.”



  18. Kathryn Harris on February 28, 2008 at 9:17 AM

    >You were no more rude than the person making the statement.

    Believe it or not, I run into this attitude quite a bit working with musicians while reporting and editing my newspaper’s weekly entertainment section. I’ve interviewed everyone from Godsmack (not Christian) to Newsboys (definitely Christian), and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard the line, “That (band/artist) is only in the Christian market because they aren’t good enough to be mainstream.”
    Personally, I find comments like these incredibly offensive, and these comments are generally made by people who are unfamiliar with artists in the genre.
    I suspect maybe the person with whom you shared this exchange hasn’t done his or her homework with the Christian literary genre either.
    To be short (and dated), you go girl.



  19. Elizabeth Bussey on February 28, 2008 at 9:15 AM

    >The internet’s lack of facial expression, tone of voice, and touch make a huge difference in how we are perceived. God knows your heart and that’s what really matters. Live, Learn, Love, and move on. May your day be richly blessed.



  20. Mary DeMuth on February 28, 2008 at 8:36 AM

    >It was honest. I hear that stuff too, which I usually follow up with questions like, “What is the last Christian novel you read?” My experience has been that people formed these opinions either:

    1. years ago, when Christian fiction was in its genesis.
    2. recently by reading other folks who say the same thing.

    The truth? There are well written novels in the ABA and CBA, and ther are clunky, poorly written tomes in both as well. We cannot make oversweeping judgments about the state of fiction in the CBA if we haven’t explored it fully.

    Here’s my assignment for those who say stuff like that. Read:

    1. Anything by Lisa Samson
    2. After the Leaves Fall by Nicole Baart

    There are many, many more, but that’s a lovely start. And Rachelle, I’m sure you have a great list. You might want to write about that someday.



  21. Richard Mabry on February 28, 2008 at 8:06 AM

    >Rude? Not really. Did you descend to the other writer’s level? Perhaps. Could you have said it more mildly? Possibly. Would you have felt as good after hitting ‘send?’ No.

    Let him who has never regretted the tone of an email, letter, or conversational slip cast the first stone.



  22. Melanie on February 28, 2008 at 3:32 AM

    >It was a truth he needed to hear. I understand the previous post about ignorance versus arrogance, but unless the writer had never been in a Christian bookstore (in which case, he has more than one problem), he’s likely speaking from arrogance.

    Of course, I once wrote a scathing rant about a co-worker than intended to send to a friend because I had to vent. I sent it to the co-worker instead. It wasn’t a happy fun day.

    I might not be the best person to ask.



  23. Katie Hart - Freelance Writer on February 28, 2008 at 1:12 AM

    >Yes, I can see your annoyance in the paragraph, but I don’t think it crossed the line into rudeness. If he takes your comments to heart, it will only help his writing career.



  24. Anonymous on February 28, 2008 at 12:49 AM

    >Hmm…you certainly were right on target with your comment. Was there a bit of an attitude in your words? Yup. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But if it was ignorance and not arrogance that prompted his comment, your response probably had more bite than necessary. I know you meant it for good, but I guess I heard more frustration than love in your truth-speaking. I’m basing that on your choice of a few words here and there, not the whole comment. Of course, I’m saying this in love, Rachelle. I hope you hear that in MY words. 🙂



  25. Catherine L. Osornio on February 28, 2008 at 12:49 AM

    >I think you gave him a very valuable lesson on how not to market himself. Your words were kind, respectful, and honest. You did him a favor by telling him the truth. I hope he took the comments to heart.



  26. Kim Kasch on February 28, 2008 at 12:18 AM

    >Rachelle, I loved Ms. Snark’s blog – need I say more?

    But just in case that’s not adequate: I’ve been reading What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith/Mark Reiter. One of the points is that we don’t always hear the way we come across. Feedback should be a learning experience and I think you were gentle.



  27. Catherine Downen on February 28, 2008 at 12:01 AM

    >Rachelle,
    In my humble opinion, you did the guy a favor. He might not have realized how poorly that comment reflected on him. Kind of like when you see a guy walking around with his fly open. No one wants to be the one to tell him, but he really, really needs to know. Speaking the truth in love – I’m for it.
    Blessings,
    Catherine Downen



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