People are asking…
December 7, 2006 | Written by admin
1. What is CBA?
That’s an acronym for the Christian Booksellers Association. It used to be that was a collection of retailers specializing in Christian books. Then it included publishers, then gift stores, suppliers, the people who make choir robes and those fuzzy pink socks that have “JN 3:16” printed on them. And then, of course, they let in agents, and the whole thing went to pieces.
It’s basically a trade organization for purveyors of Christian products – books, music, curriculum, clothing, jewelry, fine art, etc. When people talk about “going to CBA,” what they really mean is that they’re going to attend a convention for retailers, with booths that have been rented by publishers and other vendors to display their wares. The mid-year convention, now called “Advance,” is in Indianapolis in January, as the organization continues to try and locate the coldest city on the planet in order to drive away participants. (My insider source tells me that Fargo and Juneau were booked.)
The big summer show is now called “ICRS,” apparently as a way to confuse as many people as possible. But don’t worry – if you just continue to refer to the summer convention as “CBA,” you’ll be fine. Summer CBA is actually a great time – everyone in Christian publishing gets together for a week. There are generally good speakers, great worship & music services, and it’s a time to walk around and see what’s going on in our industry. You can quickly spot trends in book publishing, in covers, in ideas…it’s a time for everybody to see what their competition is doing. And, of course, they give away books by the arm load. LOTS of people simply bring an extra rollaway suitcase in order to fill it with free books. Publishers spend piles of money putting up big booths, the music folks get way too loud, and the best part is that there is always a lunatic fringe element to the affair. (A friend of mine tracks the dopiest thing she sees each year. Three years ago it was the display of “genuine ash from Sodom and Gomorrah.” Two years ago it was the folks who had apparently dressed up a Chucky doll and posed it in a manger as the baby Jesus. Last year I was torn in my own choice – the “John 3:16 golf balls” or the genuine “Armor of God Pajamas,” complete with “Righteousness” emblazoned across the chest and a “Salvation” nightcap. They didn’t have them in my size.)
2. What is ABA?
The acronym stands for the American Booksellers Association – if you will, the secular version of the CBA. It’s a nonprofit organization for booksellers. The same rule applies in regard to saying, “I’m going to ABA” – it means you’re heading to their annual convention. However, the ABA has been in a bit of a transition. It only represents independent booksellers nationwide. So the chains (Borders, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million…in other words, all the places you buy most of your books) are not a part of AbA. Still the ABA is a good organization (as is the CBA), albeit just a bit to the left of Karl Marx.
Both organizations put out bestseller lists and offer a variety of helps to booksellers and booklovers everywhere.
3. Do you represent authors in both CBA and ABA?
Absolutely. I do deals all the time with both CBA and ABA houses.
4. As an agent with clients in both the general market and the CBA, do you think the division between them will fuse in the future?
I think we’re seeing a merging of book selling, with the closure of many Christian bookstores and the movement of book-buyers to superstores like Barnes and Noble or big-box stores like Wal-Mart. I also think we’re seeing a narrowing of the gap between what is acceptable to "Christian" readers, as well as what religious books are available to "nonChristian" readers. However, I think there will continue to be a bright line between redemptive and destructive fiction.
5. On the whole, do you think the edginess growing in Christian fiction today compromises or compliments relationships with Jesus Christ?
First, I’m going to admit I borrowed that question from my friends at TheWritersView, a wonderful Yahoo-group that’s been around for years, helping Christian writers think about books and writing. On this issue, I think the changes in fiction have generally complimented the message of Jesus Christ. I realize that’s a sweeping statement, and I think I might be in the minority in saying it. However, I think we’re starting to see the erosion of 20th Century evangelicalism, and fiction (following the path of music and movies) is moving to embrace a world that feels separated from God. The reality of fiction, even with the difficult issues of sex and language and behaviors that aren’t always "clean," has the potential to touch more souls than a squeaky-clean prairie romance. (I’m not condemning those, mind you — simply answering your question about the direction fiction is moving.)
I think Christian readers tired of the same old thing. Fiction is like the world – it’s dynamic, not static. Words break lose, take us in new directions. Even a cursory look at the last 200 years of publishing will quickly reveal new vistas busting out every 25 years or so. It was simply time.
5. What direction do you think the Christian market will go in the next few years?
I think we’ll continue to see expanding genres and niches, including fiction that is entirely "safe" and some that will be considered "unChristian" (or at least “unsafe”) by conservatives. But that’s to be expected. Writing is art, and art is never safe. I think there will be a clear redemptive message in much Christian fiction that offers hope to readers, Christian or non. There are some genres (speculative fiction, police procedurals, horror, to name just three) that currently have seen very little success in the Christian market, but all three of those genres have dedicated readers and, over time, will spawn Christian derivatives. And, of course, there will be somebody who comes along and junks the whole system, moving the church and its readers into entirely new areas. I’m very bullish on Christian fiction. No matter who you are or what you believe, people have a desire to know God better. Fiction allows a reader to explore Him in new and different ways.