Girls Write Out
Saturday, February 18, 2006

I Write Edgy...
This is not going to make me popular with up-and-coming writers. This is going to be harsh, but I think if there is someone out there who will listen, it will help, so I'm going ahead. I think writers who think they're unpublished because their stuff is "too edgy" is nothing more than an excuse. Christian fiction has dealt with everything under the sun: abortion, incest, rape, aliens, affairs, etc. Trust me, you're not unpublished because you're edgy. It's because you haven't told the story powerfully enough yet.

You're unpublished with that manuscript because you're not there yet. Either writing-wise or story-wise. The good news is that you can get there, the bad news is that you need to quit lying to yourself. Story sells. If you have a great and special story, it will sell. Did you see "American Idol" where those two Terrell and Derrell twins were saying how much better than Carrie Underwood (last year's winner) they were? Okay, trust me, they weren't.

And I think a lot of authors don't have a realistic view of their writing and keep telling themselves the lie. When I read a book like "Can You Keep a Secret" by Sophie Kinsella, or "The Thorn Birds" by McCollough, all I can see is my own shortcomings. I want to strive for that kind of storytelling. I know I'm not there. I know what my shortcomings are, and it drives me nuts!!!

But thinking YOU should be published instead of "this crap" and dissing other authors serves only one purpose. It makes you angry, and less focused on the goal. Don't think someone is a good writer? Read someone better than you.

But back to edgy. If you want to see edgy done in a time when the topic was scandalous: Read Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Flaubert. All these books are about rape/incest/affairs/suicide/desolation of family/injustice. And they all do it powerfully without taking us to the gutter.

That is the secret in the CBA. Do it without taking us to the gutter. Don't think of it as a rule -- and what publishing house DOESN'T have rules? Some require two explicit love scenes as a rule. Is that easier for the Christian than not swigging a beer in a scene?

Here's the thing, you can spend your time being angry, or you can get to work. Some say that this doesn't represent the real world. Well, guess what, being a virgin in the "real" world is what a single Christian is asked to do, and that doesn't represent the real world either.

The market will always dictate what is sold. No matter what your business. If America is on the Atkins diet, the desire for Krispy Kremes go down. So when you're pushing publishers to be edgy -- thinking you can change the market, you're not understanding the tenets of capitalism. The Christian marketplace dictates what's in the stores. Not the blue haired old ladies anymore. The average CBA customer is a young mom, 34, with young children. So that's why you're seeing changes in the marketplace, not because someone is "winning" to get more edgy books published.

Did you know that Christian books have significant shelf space in K Mart, Wal Mart, Sam's Club and other box stores? Secular authors would kill for this space. But Christian books are there because America wants to read a story without being assaulted. My advice to you who think your books aren't being published because they're edgy, is really ask an editor, go to a conference and get their attention, as them what is TRULY wrong with the story? I asked once, and it hurt me immensely. But it was true.

There is a brand new fiction author who wrote a book called "Watching the Tree Limbs" about child molestation. Her name is Mary DeMuth and this is her first published novel. Get the book. See what she did to grab editors attention, and ask yourself what yours is missing.

Here's a few of my own rejections, and trust me, this is a small sampling:

"I hate that People magazine crap. Don't know who would find it interesting."

"This is a story that needs to be told. You're just not the one to tell it."

"No." (Scrawled across the page.)

"Doesn't grab me."
Kristin Billerbeck  
posted at 12:46 PM  
  Comments (24)
 
 
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24 Comments:
At 1:26 PM, Blogger Jenny said...

God bless you, Kristin! You said it well. Bravo!

Nothing gets done if we sit around and whine. In any profession, once we stop learning, we may as well retire because we're done. Keep learning, keep improving. Look at your strengths and what you have to offer. How can you make that shine? Look at the critiques without personalizing it. That's hard when talking about mothering a child or a manuscript. When you know where you're falling down, see where you can plug in your strengths to get back up again.

I'm rambling. You don't need me to say it again. I'm just glad you said it. Way to go!

Abundant blessings!

 
At 2:17 PM, Blogger Elaina Avalos said...

This was very convicting to me Kristin. I admit it. You've given me some things to think about.

 
At 3:10 PM, Blogger Bookfraud said...

this is an awesome post. the "edgy" cop-out is usually an excuse for underwritten prose, underdeveloped characters, and over-the-top set pieces. it seems to me a variation on the "you just don't get it" theme. either it's well written or it ain't.

like i said, well done. i wondered over here after googling "thomas hardy." glad i did...

 
At 7:24 PM, Blogger Elaina Avalos said...

Okay...just wanted to add something and then ask a question. I haven't had any rejections that I felt were related to this topic. But I think what I responded to initially was that you talked about being angry and I think with me that translates to being bitter with the CBA to some degree. I guess that's what I responded to. Feeling convicted about complaining I suppose when my time complaining could be better spent writing and re-writing and making it the best it can be. My question is though, do you think the CBA has room for improvement in terms of the type of fiction it publishes?

And something I forgot to mention your point about market demands is a great point...

 
At 9:47 PM, Blogger Sabrina L. Fox said...

I agree, Kristin. Some of this talk recently has made me think of that novel that Angela Elwell Hunt wrote years ago. The Proposal. All about abortion and the link to breast cancer. At the time it would have been considered very edgy to write something of that nature.

I'm only bringing it up to say that if the content is accurate and very well researched, not to mention well written, you should be able to find a home for it. Now if you only have half of the equation you are likely not going to have very good luck.

But then what do I know? I still haven't sent my MS in yet. =)

 
At 10:01 PM, Blogger Kristin Billerbeck said...

Elaina, if you look at an Olympic sport -- each athlete builds on the athlete of the past: First a competitive skater did a triple axle -- said to be impossible. Then an athlete did a quad in competition. I think an industry is the same, it builds on the past. We are here because Grace Livingston Hill first told a romantic tale.

Will we get to a point where CBA is able to actually address that Christians drink beer? Probably. I think the Yada Yada books already do. But the point is, the market is where it is. Ashley Stockingdale wore a thong -- she had a butt bow on a bridesmaid's dress. Lilly sewed boobs into a bridemaid gown. Did I say ANY of those things to be caustic? I didn't. I wrote them the way I would say it. What else is it but a butt bow? That's just what my friend's call it.

The main problem that I have with CBA fiction as a whole, is that you erase the chance for surprise endings in many ways because we know how it has to end to be Christian. Yes, that can be troubling. She can sleep with the guy, but we know in the end, she has to marry him. Those things do get to me because it does skirt reality. But honestly, if I really had to write the story that wouldnt' be published in the CBA, I would get good enough to publish it elsewhere and mind their rules. My four cents.

 
At 10:03 PM, Blogger Kristin Billerbeck said...

And I didn't mean that CBA writers are less than by that comment, I meant that I would get good enough to avoid the Biblical truths and leave it to the reader's imagination for the character's growth.

 
At 10:08 PM, Blogger Carol Collett said...

This kind of straight talk is what I need. And it means a lot coming from someone who's "been there."
Thanks Kristin.

 
At 11:00 PM, Blogger Elaina Avalos said...

Thanks Kristin. The Olympic analogy is great.

 
At 2:51 AM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

Oh yeah! Good post, Kristin! I actually haven't been following the discussion on the loop except for Colleen's nicely worded response. :)

Camy

 
At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Bethanie said...

see at least i KNOW that i am not published coz nothing i write is even worth the paper it's written on... :p

 
At 12:04 PM, Blogger Robin Caroll said...

LOL...Amen, Kris! Sing it, sistah! LOL

 
At 7:29 PM, Blogger Julie Carobini said...

It's funny that you mentioned American Idol. It's hard to believe that some of those hideously terrible auditions were serious. I've told my kids that either those people were being lied to or that they were lying to themselves.

On the other hand.

Sometimes, no, often it's a hard road to the top. Sometimes even the super talented have a tough time making it. I want the kids to understand that if they in fact do have a gift from God, they should work hard and pray much, and do the best with it that they can. I'm always telling them to get their will in line with His.

So I guess that's how I've viewed this whole crazy writing journey. Number one, discover your gift(s) and number two, go after them with a passion.

My first PUBLISHED novel will be out next spring, but let me tell you, it's not the first novel I've ever written. Had to endure a ton of brutal criticisms on the first two--yikes. But somewhere I had to make a decision: either keep seeking God and honing the craft I believe He's gifted me with or whine away my life (which I admit to doing at times...).

Thanks a lot for your cool post, Kristin. Gets the juices flowing, you know?

 
At 8:56 PM, Blogger Cathy West said...

Very interesting. I am fascinated by how things in the market are changing now compared to when I first started submittng years and years ago...
But after just re-entering this world from taking a few years off, I do have to say your rejection quotes have freaked me out!! I don't know if I'm quite ready to go back down that road...but here I am.
I don't know if you remember me from way back when, we were on an online group together - you have done amazingly well!! Great stuff.

 
At 11:12 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

Most excellent post, Kristin. :)

Makes me think.

And I need to think.

Rachel

 
At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Georgia said...

Great post! It gives me hope for a mss that I stuffed in the drawer last year. I took a story from the Old Testament and set it in modern times, then realized how scandalous it would read to other Christians!

I like your suggestion about conferences, and maybe someday I will get to attend. But for now, no babysitter for the three kids, as I don't think my husband is ready to take over breastfeeding.

 
At 9:53 PM, Anonymous HolyMama! said...

I didn't read all those 'loop' posts, but I wish I had now!

My first ms. was horrendous, and I didn't know it until I submitted it to contests and received valuable feedback. And that's how I've learned - by writing, submitting, and taking to heart what others said who knew waaaay more than I did. Part of me wonders if it will always be like that - that my ms will always be bad and I'll not know it until it's repeatedly pointed out. (Like the tone deaf singers on American Idol that are SHOCKED when they learn they stink. Is that me?)

Anyway, here I am. Not edgy. Not published, but fully aware it's because I have lots to learn still. That's just not such a bad place to be, either!

 
At 1:11 AM, Blogger south asia said...

I have a question for all of you already-published or already-brave-enough-to-send-in-your-ms types. After reading these comments, I'm beginning to realize my first (only?) novel will never be published. But what I'm writing is about a topic I know God has laid on my heart to write. So when you send in a manuscript, and it comes back with negative feedback, do you rewrite it and work with it until someone says okay? Or do you (gulp) start all over with a new topic?

 
At 10:52 AM, Blogger Kristin Billerbeck said...

It depends on the feedback. You don't want to send it to everyone because really at that point, if everyone's rejected it, it's dead in the water. That's why I'd suggest conferences, or perhaps an editing service to look at it. Even the critique groups. The hardest thing about starting up is really getting someone to look and interact with the writing.

It's your baby, and they might not like it. Okay, so let's talk about topics God has laid on your heart. Did you know "A Christmas Carol" is out of Dickens hatred for children's work camps? Think about if your topic is really couched in story. And not driving the story to be a sermon.

Every book has a world view. Just make sure your characters are learning the lesson, not your readers. Think of the "told" sermon as the teller of the story, stopping the story and looking into the camera and saying, "Okay, here's where Jenny learns that porn is evil." You have to SHOW that Jenny falls due to something not that Jenny is living outside of it and learns the easy way. SHOW your readers that Jenny's life stinks because of whateer your topic is.

 
At 12:19 AM, Blogger Margo Carmichael said...

"Doesn't grab me." I heard that one in Denver. Pass the Trader Joe's dark chocolate Belgian with almonds. And the keyboard! Back at it!

 
At 8:16 AM, Blogger Amy said...

Thank you for "She's All That". I really enjoyed it and the true to life writing, showing Christianity in action.

 
At 11:54 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

I found this titled "Come A Long Way" at The Writing Life blog by Terry Whalin. I thought you would enjoy reading it, Kristin.
http://terrywhalin.blogspot.com/2006/
02/come-long-way.html

(I tried to leave this comment earlier and something didn't work! Hopefully it does this time.)

 
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The Authors
Kristin Billerbeck
Kristin Billerbeck is a proud Californian, wife, mother of four, and connoisseur of the irrelevant. She writes Christian Chick Lit; where she finds need for most of the useless facts lulling about in her head.

www.KristinBillerbeck.com

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble writes romantic suspense with a strong atmospheric element. A lovable animal of some kind--usually a dog--always populates her novels. She can be bribed with DeBrand mocha truffles.

www.ColleenCoble.com

Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter writes women's fiction and love stories with a strong emotional element. Her husband says he provides her with all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too.

www.DeniseHunterBooks.com

Diann Hunt

Diann Hunt writes romantic comedy and humorous women's fiction. She has been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, chocolate, her dog, and well, chocolate.

www.DiannHunt.com

Hannah Alexander

Cheryl Hodde writes romantic medical suspense under the pen name of Hannah Alexander, using all the input she can get from her husband, Mel, for the medical expertise. For fun she hikes and reads. Out of guilt, she rescues discarded cats. She and Mel are presently taking orders from four pampered strays.

www.HannahAlexander.com

 
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