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Writing My Memoir #3: Christian Publishing Hopes and Rejections

So the agent who didn’t sign me. There was a reason, one I didn’t address in my last post. Remember I mentioned he wanted me to change one major thing, and I did even though it didn’t sit well with me?

This agent worked for a Christian agency. I thought at first my book could be shelved in the Christian section because it was all about my faith journey, my experience in church, and my relationship with God. I didn’t know enough about Christian publishing to know better. (More on that later.)

Randy Heinitz, Flickr Creative Commons.

The major thing this agent wanted me to change was my ending.

He wanted my book to come to a more orthodox Christian conclusion. I could tell the story in all its grittiness–well, most of it anyhow–but I had to tie it up differently at the end. I wrestled with this mandate but ultimately chose to change the ending in hopes it would lead to a book deal.

I pushed my ending to a place I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. What does Emily Dickinson say about telling the truth slant? There are a lot of angles we can take while still telling the truth.

However, it wasn’t my truth. And even though I “sold out,” it still didn’t go far enough for him. He didn’t sign me.

I continued to attend faith-based writing conferences (some of which were wonderful!) and pursued Christian publishing, despite this setback. I continued to get the same feedback from agents and acquisitions editors. “We love your writing but your story is outside the limits of what we can sell to our audience.”

Outside the limits. That was the term I heard over and over again. Said kindly, with so much regret, after editors at the biggest Christian houses eagerly read my full manuscript.

I developed anger toward Christian publishing for barring me out. Reject me for having an incoherent story, or tired metaphors, or a disorganized plot. But to reject me for who I am stung. I am a Christian. But I did not fit their mold. I wasn’t enough.

I was outside their limits and the ticket to a book deal was in changing who I am. I simultaneously felt sick that I had sold out as much as I had while also angry at myself for being unable (unwilling) to change more.

Mainstream publishing hadn’t occurred to me, and I can’t even say why. I think I saw my audience as people who had been burnt by the American Church and that to find that niche, I needed to have a faith-based publisher. Or who knows – it could have been just because I met that one agent at the first conference I went to and I got creatively stuck chasing a certain direction. Once I start heading somewhere, it is difficult for me to step back and evaluate and switch paths.

I have heard that Christian publishing is changing–that they have heard from enough readers who want books outside the margins–and that it is becoming a bigger tent with more diverse voices and a spectrum of experience. At the time I was seeking publication, it was very much about drawing lines in the sand to keep out the riff-raff.

One incredible thing came from these soul-crushing talks with Christian agents and editors, and I’ll talk about that next…

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