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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Writing in Between

Lisa McKay is a mother (she is also a psychologist and an author, but during these foggy days of early parenthood those other identities sometimes seem remote indeed). When she is not busy preventing her baby from drinking out of the dog’s water bowl, she is busy releasing her second book, Love At The Speed Of Email. She lives in Laos.

Writing in between: Too much God for the general market, not enough for the Christian market

            My second book, Love At The Speed Of Email, tells the story of how I met the man I would marry while I was living in Los Angeles and he was living in Papua New Guinea. He was a humanitarian worker, I was a trauma psychologist, and we got to know each other entirely via email.
We wrote to each other for months before we ever met – about our childhoods, our work, and the highs and lows of our days. We wrote about purpose and passion. We wrote about ways our faith had been challenged by some of what we’d encountered during our careers.

The zealous, assured faith of our teens and early twenties had broken in profound ways when it collided with the realities of refugee camps, acute suffering, and our own shortcomings. Like Humpty Dumpty, this faith could not be put back together again; not in its original form, anyway. When we met we were both still in the process of figuring out what faith meant, then.
The book captures both of us mid-journey – in a season of questions and uncertainties and glimmers of a new, less orthodox and quieter faith.

This turned out to be a major stumbling block for prospective publishers.
In general, editors loved the story and the writing but balked at some of the faith-related content. Some of the Christian publishers ended up rejecting the book because it didn’t deliver “the spiritual take-away” they were looking for. Some general market publishers thought there was too much talk of God.
On one level this didn’t entirely surprise me. Publishing companies are businesses. Businesses survive by carving out a niche for themselves and then serving that particular audience. When it comes to a topic as personal and potentially incendiary as faith, it’s perhaps not surprising that most Christian and secular publishing companies cater to clearly defined “end zones”.

On another level, however, I did find it surprising. I know so many people who are grappling with faith-related issues similar to the ones I wrote about in this book – people who are questioning the black and white faith of their childhood and wondering about purpose and passion. There are some traditionally published books out there that speak to these issues. There are also publishing companies that are starting to actively tap this market that falls somewhere in between the self-assurance of traditional evangelical Christianity and the complete omission of any reference to God. But overall I still think there are fewer opportunities to write honestly about questions, doubts, and unfinished faith journeys than what the market could support.

In my case, after so much positive feedback from editors, my agent suggested that we explore self-publishing. I’m delighted to announce that Love At The Speed Of Email is now available through Amazon and other booksellers. Although some are sure to feel it talks too much of God and others not enough, some, I hope, will find it just right.

What do you think? Do traditional publishers really publish to the “end zones”? Why? Is that changing? What has been your experience?

Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.


  1. Okay, I'm hooked--both on your premise and your dilemma. I frequently write from the perspective of characters who are experiencing, as I did, a dark night of the soul when their faith is shaken to its foundation. And then restored. To date, the only publisher to express an interest was secular (Simon and Schuster), but when they learned the character's faith was resurrected, they lost interest.

    Self-publishing has never appealed, but... Thanks for this post and bio. I have another book to add to my list.

    1. Thank you! I hope you enjoy it, and all the best as you continue to plow the ground in this field with your own writing!

  2. I'm at this point with my novel. I can safely say I've waited long enough to make the decision (years), but after learning the market and hearing professional feedback from multiple people (all saying the same thing), my novel is one of the "in betweens". If it's ever to find a home, it will be one that I build myself, I'm afraid.

    Your cover looks great! Congratulations and I wish you the best of luck in this endeavor.

    1. Thank you Jessica. All the best with building/finding a home for your own novel.

  3. Know exactly what you mean, but for different reasons. Definitely a place for the in-betweeners. But where other than self-publishing?

    May the Lord of all creation prove mighty in your endeavors.

  4. I am in the same boat with my novel, The Fastnacht League. As soon as “Amish” is mentioned mainstream publishers think it's an Amish romance novel. It is a sports story about an Amish ballplayer's attempt to play in professional baseball. It's Christian in the broad sense of making moral decisions. Nobody is driven to the pews and no bonnets (or bodices) are ripped. I wrote the story to dispel the myths and misunderstandings of the Amish life (set in Berks County, PA where I grew up) and in the process tell a baseball story.

    So having been rejected by the traditional publishers and agents, I am now considering self-publishing. Can't traditional publishers see the handwriting on the wall? I think they are going to have to change their business models to survive.

    Traditional publishers tell me that this is a great idea and it will eventually "find a home." I am getting discouraged by "this is not for me." I am guessing that Lisa did too. Good luck to her. Her book needed to come to light and this might have been the only way that was going to happen.

    Is the wave of the future going to be that the novels in between the niches will go the route of self-publishing?

    Surfs up!

    1. Yes, it can be discouraging to hear "it's not for me" again and again. On the other hand, "it's great ... and it's not for me" is a darn sight better than "it sucks and it's not for me :)". Keep at it. Cheers, Lisa

    2. With ebooks and self-publishing, I think this whole situation will sort itself out; we must be at the beginning stages of some game change. As late as last year, I was still hearing that self-publishing was "professional suicide" and now maybe that's softening a bit, but it doesn't keep that thought out of the back of my mind.

    3. In my opinion, for fiction, self-publishing is professional suicide IF it's your first book. There are many, like James Scott Bell, who's a great writers, have many books out, and have fans. He's self-publihsing some e-books. THat's cool.

      But for the new author to not wait and self-publish, most of their books are below par. And I'd say about 98%. I violated my own rule of not reading self-pubbed books for review, and I was proven right again. The book, while the story is okay, is not well written The characters aren't developed, nor are they multi-dimentional. The dialogue is unbelievable, and even the plot isn't all that good. It has holes in it that render it unbelievable.

      I won't do that again. It's a waste of my time and the author's money.

  5. I love the concept of your book--and I understand the difficulty of "in-betweens." Pitching my book to several editors and agents has left me with a lot of enthusiasm but also a lot of negativity. Maybe publishing houses are feeling so threatened by the rise of eReaders that they're not willing to take chances?

    However, we live in a culture of in-betweens, where it's more acceptable than ever to question traditional faiths, try bits and pieces of others, and to reconcile belief with practice. What about "Blue Like Jazz?"
    In-between stories speak to that, as yours does. Go for it!

  6. Thank you. Yes, there are some notable exceptions to this tendency not to take risks in this area. Blue Like Jazz is a good one. All the best as you continue in your own quest.

  7. I relate to your publishing journey and fall somewhere in between. Publishers in the Christian market liked my writing and story, but it didn't quite fit. So we're off to the secular market, waiting to see what they think. Recently a story of mine that didn't seem to fit several years ago was picked up by an epublisher. While it's not self published, I am entering new territory, but I think that there might be many more that choose to follow because there doesn't seem to be a place for those of us who fall in between and that's sad.

  8. Yeah I think think that publishers go either to one end of the spectrum or the other.

    It's sad, though, because I'd much rather read about people finding their faith after a true and real struggle than just the "spiritual takeaway" you mentioned.

  9. I can empathize too. I've published both with Christian publishers and mainstream, but I have some unpublished work that falls into that middle ground and so far nobody's been interested. But books in that middle ground are what I most enjoy reading so clearly there's a market somewhere for them!


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