How to Make Your Story Appeal to Christian Publishers
Christian subculture has many outlets, from rock bands and Stephen Baldwin to its gigantic $1.2 billion publishing industry. There are powerhouse presses like Zondervan (a HarperCollins branch) and Baker Books with its multiple imprints focused exclusively on publications geared toward a Christian audience. If you have a story that you think belongs with a Christian press, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Just because it’s a Christian press doesn’t mean it has completely different standards. It is still looking for great, well-written, value-packed books that will sell well, and you still have to convince it that your manuscript ticks all the boxes. You can reach out to an expert to write a stunning query letter and get help with finding a well-suited agent. At the same time, Christian publishing has its unique facets.
What stays constant
Christian publishers want to spread the holy word, but that requires a successful business, and poorly written drivel hardly does a good job of spreading Christianity’s message. Little that would earn a rejection from a traditional publisher wouldn’t annoy a Christian press as well. Remember the basics of approaching a publisher or an agent.
- Follow the guidelines: Scrutinize the publisher’s website for specifications. What formatting does the press favor? Does it accept unsolicited manuscripts? Is there a specific person to approach? Follow the specifications to a T—failure to do so is a fast track to rejection.
- Submit a well-written query letter and summary: If your query letter is awkward, it speaks poorly of your story. The publisher will assume your entire book is also poorly written. Then, the synopsis that follows needs to highlight your book’s best qualities. Both can be nerve-wracking to pen and necessitate a great deal of time and effort to perfect, but fortunately, there are publishing experts to compose your query letter and synopsis.
- Get an agent: While not always a requirement, all presses know an agent means your work is vetted. Many agents work with religious books, even if it’s not their primary focus, so consider hiring one to represent you to publishers. Some houses may not even accept submissions from authors without an agent.
Know your audience
Religion is a vast topic. Christian nonfiction ranges from memoirs and history to social commentary and self-help. Fiction has romances, comics, and historical novels. C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, a philosophical treatise about faith and human suffering, has an audience different from Jesse Gussman’s Sweet Water Ranch Western Cowboy Romance series. Not all religious presses publish for the same demographic or on the same subject. Just because you’re targeting a Christian audience doesn’t mean it’s the same Christian audience the publisher aims at.
You need a press that fits your book. Intervarsity Press, for example, commonly publishes books on spiritual formation and culture, while Kregel Publications is known for Christian living but also has imprints for fiction and sci-fi/fantasy. The religious literary market is wide and varied. You can find a specialist to compile a thoroughly researched publisher list, or you can do your own diligent detective work.
How to stand out
Aside from scrupulously following the publisher’s directions, there are various ways you can stand out as someone who wants to be a part of the Christian publishing world.
- Have relevant writing. If you’ve written about religion before, even if it was something closer to a missionary group pamphlet, you can note this experience to enhance your credibility. Of course, non-Christian works can also boost your reputation, but Christian publishers will be most impressed by Christian texts.
- Show you care. When reaching out to a publisher, you want to stay away from personal information unless it’s pertinent to your book. In the case of Christian presses, “pertinent information” can include your faith, so don’t hesitate to broach the subject. Christian publishers are part of a larger subculture, so your query letter can mention your alignment with their message and any of their books that have spoken to you. You can bring up your own faith and why you want to submit to their press. As long as it sounds genuine and relevant, it can strengthen your submission.
In some ways, the Christian publishing market resembles traditional publishing, but it has unique traits that you need to understand. However, no matter what kind of publisher you’re pitching to, you’ll need a great query letter and an even greater manuscript. Submitting an excellent query letter and doing meticulous research are, as always, your key to convincing the publisher to sign you on.