Can Christian writers get traditionally published?

Recently a lot of writers in my circles have been evaluating their success (or lack thereof) with publishing. Becky Minor, of the Realm Makers Conference, articulated the question this way:


Many of us have the goal of writing stories with Godly underpinnings, even if the Christian values or themes are not overt. We’d love for our stories to reach beyond “preaching to the choir,” so to speak.

What I wonder is this: do such stories actually have a chance of being traditionally published? Or are they more likely to collect rejections for “lacking freshness” (because the story contains moral absolutes), committing cultural appropriation/exploitation (because an author opted to write outside of the typical American churchgoing experience), being misogynistic (a hierarchy of authority might be headed by male members of a society) , or land on the wrong side of any of a number of hot button thou-shalt-nots?

As you ruminate on the strictures of the both the CBA and the ABA worlds, what is really true about the publishing prospects of Judeo-Christian-leaning speculative fiction?


This launched a discussion with all kinds of opinions. One science fiction writer talked about being told that Anne McCaffery is no longer relevant to the genre:


I think they’re likely to collect rejections, and unfortunately it’s not a failing of quality stories or even a measure of what people will buy or read, but a failing of traditional publishing. They’re so committed to secular humanism and the politics that follow with it that there’s no room for heroes anymore. Their sensitivity readers will wash it all out.

The good news is they keep pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable and tolerable to them into a smaller and smaller box. Just last night I had the trad pub crowd on a fake news site railing on me while I was defending Anne McCaffrey, as they called her a “problematic writer”. No joke. There may not be a traditional publishing in 10 years time if they tell most of the reading population that they’re not wanted.

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Dragonriders of Pern, while it does have dragons, is actually science fiction

Another person remarked,


The general market is very open to all of the above as long as the story isn’t clearly “message driven” or “preachy”. It’s all about a good story. I just look at all the great LDS authors like Brandon Sanderson who have theology and/or moral underpinnings in their works. Readers in the general market love it. The authors don’t preach, but their worldview is infused in their stories.

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Cover art for The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

And then comes the mic drop.



I think too often these musings are just another layer of excuse. I’m certainly not saying that was Becky’s intent here, but it’s something I do see a lot, particularly in culturally/politically like-minded groups. “This story probably won’t sell because the market blah blah blah it’s out of my hands.” And note that the “other side” is wringing their hands over the identical issue. “I can’t sell my story about my black lesbian abortion doctor because it’s too marginal/controversial.” They have the same experiences of rejection which seem to support that view. Neither end of the bell curve can see the other, only the bump in the middle which appears to be the opposite end. We all think we’re being shut out, when in fact there’s an enormous bump in the middle.

But really, it’s very much in your hands. No, you don’t get to make the final buying decision, that’s all on the editor 🙂 but you are 100% responsible for the submission package you send. And most of the time, that’s about your story, not about you.

And in my observation, it’s not as limiting as described above. The limitations are OURS. If a writer can’t write the difference between a male authority character and misogyny, that’s the problem, rather than a cultural conspiracy. Likewise while there are a few cultural appropriation landmines to avoid, the majority of the market is pretty fair and accessible (I’m super-white, and my last traditional short story did not have a single white character and was set in a country I’ve never visited).

I think much of the time, this is the same emotional response I see in myself to the CBA. It’s not what I know and am comfortable with, so I think it’s constrictive, I find it unwelcoming, and I might call it names. 😉 If we look around this group and are very honest with ourselves, we’ll see we are predominantly white, predominantly Republican, predominantly homeschool, etc. But those tribes have NOTHING to do with Christianity, if we really think about it. To say “I can’t sell because I’m a Christian” is a false oversimplification at very best, while to say “I can’t sell my climate-change-is-a-global-conspiracy story to a hard science mag” may be a more accurate assessment.

We don’t have to “sneak” our worldview in. If it’s really our worldview, it’s already in, wholly permeating our story. But we have to keep in mind what our ultimate message is, too. Is our ultimate theme to convert people to a political view or a change in habits? (Hey, that’s a longstanding literary thing, go right ahead, just don’t pretend it’s your *faith* which is holding you back from publishing success.) Or is our ultimate theme a message of love and hope and spiritual redemption? Because that should carry through regardless of male or female characters, cultural setting, politics, etc.

TL;DR: Don’t confuse politics and faith, don’t assume a lack of sales is relevant to faith, consider Occam’s Razor when guessing at cause of rejection (if 95% of secular stories are rejected, yours might be just rejected too rather than the rejection being a specific anti-Christian response).

(Note: somebody is probably going to read this and interpret that I’m recommending a personal sellout to get sales. That’s absolutely not my point at all. That is in fact the opposite of my point.)


After that, the discussion was pretty much over. I thought it was fascinating–the idea that maybe the problem isn’t publishing. Maybe the problem is us.

It made me really evaluate my own writing. I have a faith-based element in the Malevolent books, and their sales are mediocre. It could also be that the YA paranormal romance genre is a hard sell right now. My cozy dragon mystery, which has no religion at all, but lots of nice people being nice to each other, is selling really well. That “permeating worldview” seems to speak more powerfully than writing a sermon.

(All quotes have had the names removed to protect identities. If you would like your message here removed, drop me a line.)

Love is the motive

I’ve been brainstorming up a new Sonic story. I write about one per year, and it makes my fans so happy.

Anyway, as I was figuring out the character arcs for everybody, it dawned on me that the root motive of every last character is some kind of love. And it’s funny, because it’s has almost no romance.

One character loves his sister with this obsession, because she was in stasis for years and has just recently awakened again. He’s extremely jealous of the other characters for having any contact at all with her.

The other characters are fond of the sister, except for one character, who falls in love with her magic. This is bad for him, because the magic is slowly killing him.

All of them love their home island, which has been stolen from them by the bad guy, and they’re struggling to get it back.

As I was pondering this, I started looking at other books. Who else is motivated by love? Harry Potter? (Love of friends and home.) The Railway Children? (Love of family.) Trumpet of the Swan? (Love of family.)

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It’s interesting, because I’ve also been plotting out murder mysteries for my dragon cozy series. Murderers are motivated by everything except love: lust, greed, jealousy, pride, anger, and so on. (Is sloth ever a motivation for murder? You’d think a slothful person would be too lazy to kill anyone.)

It’s interesting to see the way things turn out. A bad motive leads to evil actions. A good motive (like love) can lead to good outcomes, except when it doesn’t. (I’m thinking of the necromancer in Malevolent who is obsessed with resurrecting his dead wife.) Or when love of one’s country (patriotism) turns to frenzied conquering of the world.

But when you have selfless, sacrificial love, you get beautiful stories like Linnets and Valerians, which I just finished reading to the kids. Four children get caught up in a series of curses and black magic that surround this little English town. They have to break the curses with the help of friendly animals and good people, who are pitted against the evil animals and people. Their love has to overcome a bitter root of jealousy that has been there for years.

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I think the sacrificial love stories are the ones that stick with us the longest. That’s what makes a story beautiful. The nice thing is, it has nothing to do with romance. Oh, it works in romance, too, but love is so much bigger than that.

Villains can be motivated by love, too. Love of self is the easiest one–“I’m better than everybody else so I deserve better treatment/a better spouse/more money/to rule the world.” But what if a villain is motivated by love for a person? That’s why Mr. Freeze from Batman is one of my favorite villains. Everything he does is to try to save his wife, who is frozen in stasis with incurable cancer. The motivation there is fascinating.

So, next time you write a story, see if your characters are motivated by love in some way. Pay attention to movies and TV shows. Who is motivated by love, even if it’s twisted?

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Coiled – cover reveal and review

Coiled: A Young Adult Mythological Romance from author H. L. Burke and Uncommon Universes Press.


The Book:

A healing touch. A hideous face. A looming curse.

As the ugly twin to a perfect sister, Princess Laidra lives her life in the shadows—until her parents offer her as bait for a giant serpent.

Her escape attempt leaves her shipwrecked on a secluded island with only one inhabitant: Prince Calen, who lives under a curse. If anyone looks upon him, he turns into a giant serpent. Speaking to him in the darkness, Laidra sees past the monster to Calen’s lonely soul, and she determines to free him from the magic’s hold.

But if Laidra can’t break the curse in time, Calen will become a mindless creature of scales and fangs forever.

A YA mythology/romance that retells the myth of Eros and Psyche with adventure, magic, and true love.

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Amazon Preorder Page Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0713VTDB3/
My review:
As soon as this book’s idea was posed, I was both excited and dubious. The Eros and Psyche story in all its iterations, whether it be East of the Sun, West of the moon, or the fairytale of the Princess and the Pig, there’s always the point I dislike: when the girl breaks her promise, looks at the guy, and bam, punishment falls. They’re always separated for the rest of the book. The story follows the girl’s quest for redemption, and no matter how awesome the guy was, we don’t see him again until the end.

So I was dubious of how Heidi might handle this story. Her guys are always charming, and I couldn’t see her separating the main characters for half the book.

First, the guy and girl are both under a mirror curse. The girl is ugly, but kind and has healing powers. Her twin sister is beautiful, but cruel. The more cruel/kind they are, the more beautiful/ugly they become.

The twin princes are also under a mirror curse. One becomes a giant serpent if anyone looks at him. The other becomes a serpent if nobody is looking at him.

There’s some interesting fine print in the mirror curses that come to light as the story goes on. The dreaded separation part isn’t as long as I feared, and is actually very logical.

The whole story has a very mythological feel, with gods and demigods roaming around and causing trouble. The story pays lots of tribute to its Greek myth roots, including sirens, gorgons, and dragons.

Ultimately I was satisfied with the way things turned out. The journey of the “bad guy” siblings turn out almost as interestingly as the heroes. And the giant serpent winds up almost endearing by the end.

If you’d like to read a fun new twist on an ancient fairytale, then grab this book. It’s heartwarming!

Author Bio: 
heidi-picH. L. Burke

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

Follow her personal blog at www.hlburkeblog.com


UUP page with other online preorder links (won’t be updated until Wednesday)

Fire and Ice Cream – cooking in books

In his book On Writing, Stephen King observed that people love to read about work. That’s why Tom Clancy novels are thinly disguised manuals about how things work, yet people read them by the truckload.

The cozy mystery crowd is the same way. Is there knitting on the cover? There’d better be technical knitting stuff in the book. In one of my Facebook groups, a reader complained that Silence of the Flans didn’t actually have any flans in it.

When I read mysteries that involve the victim being poisoned via blueberry pie, I want to know about that pie. Did it have a normal crust? Or was it a Marie Calendars sour cream blueberry pie? Is there some twist to baking it, like all the tricks it takes to make a perfect cheesecake? How do you hide a bitter poison in a sweet confection, anyway?

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The cozy mystery genre is hot right now, but it’s been flooded by a lot of indies who don’t really understand the genre. They promise a culinary cozy, then the dessert in question is barely mentioned. Does the heroine run a cupcake bakery? Tell me about cupcakes. I want to know the sizes, the types of batter, the way the icing is piped. Does the heroine sell those tiny cups of frosting that were so popular a few years ago?

When I set out to write a culinary cozy with dragons, I picked ice cream, since it’s my favorite dessert. I love eating it and I love making it. In the book, the heroine debates things like almonds vs walnuts in rocky road. She constructs the perfect coffee ice cream.

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I looked up tons of recipes as I wrote. Having never made Rocky Road before, I checked that out. Turns out it’s a kind of frozen chocolate pudding with nuts and marshmallows folded in. I researched coffee ice cream. You make a custard with coffee in it, the higher quality, the better.

This book is packed with cooking. When the heroine isn’t interviewing people or eavesdropping on conversations, she’s mixing up ice cream or batches of brownies. At home she cooks breakfasts worthy of a restaurant.

Food is comforting. Eating it with friends is comforting. In all my books, across all genres, my characters experience downtime and safety with food. I guess I have too much hobbit in me.

My first dragon cozy, Fire and Ice Cream, launches today. I hope people like it, because I want to write twenty more of these. The characters are adorable and the mystery is fun to figure out. And there’s so much food.


fire-and-cre-cream-coverTianna Tokala is starting a new life in Carefree, Arizona, working in an ice cream parlor. She also has the magical ability to turn into a small dragon called a drake. All she wants is a quiet life where she can make ice cream with her wonderful ice breath.
But when her manager is found dead with a bowl of Tianna’s Rocky Road ice cream beside her, Tianna springs into action. With a knack for observation and her enhanced drake hearing, she delves into her manager’s smoky draconic past.
Aided by a secretive drake, a single mother, and a four-year-old dragon shifter, Tianna must unravel the web of lies that surround this dragonic death … or there may be more fire than ice cream.