What does “clean”, “sweet”, and “inspirational” mean?
I’m a multi-published author in the inspirational romance category, both traditional and indie. First, yes you can show physical attraction and be published by traditional Christian publishers. I do in every book. I’m published by Barbour and Abingdon Press. My characters notice physical attributes, touch, kiss, cuddle, and have the sky rocket kiss moments. They talk to their friends about their attraction. That’s so normal in real life and it has to be normal in fictional life, too. I use emotional words to draw readers into the scene and it has to move the plot forward just like in any other romance.
What is very important to note in the inspirational romance market is that each publisher is different and has different requirements. When I contracted with Abingdon, at that time, no angels were allowed in their books because it is a sub of the United Methodist Publishing business/religion. This particular denomination avoids glorifying and worshiping angelic beings over God. It makes a lot of sense when you understand the why behind the guideline. Each publisher has certain denominational aspects you must learn before submitting.
Barbour Books has been very open to the romantic tension scenes. Romantic tension is not the same as sex. Romantic tension is what builds between two people and pulls them together physically. That’s what I assume most romance writers are trying to show. I’ve even had a novella, Bridal Whispers, in the Lassoed by Marriage Collection from Barbour, absolutely state the married couple closed the door when he passionately kissed his wife and then carried her into the room, kicking the door closed behind him.
I asked Rebecca Germany for a more concrete explanation of Barbour Books views on inspirational Christian romance. Her first comment is this, “Christian romance puts God first in a relationship.”
Then Ms. Germany goes on to share, “Otherwise I’d say a Christian romance is an entertaining story that celebrates love between a man and woman from a biblical point of view and highlights the challenges and adventures they go through to come together as a committed couple. It doesn’t use sex for titillating purposes, but will occasionally have it off stage for plot development. Christian romance is also a vehicle that can explore more issues than romance that affect all areas of human life.
On the question of guidelines with Barbour’s published books, Ms. Germany added, “We don’t really have any specific guidelines related to our fiction up online. Here is all we have http://www.barbourbooks.com/pages/writersguide.aspx“
So the key is to know the publisher. Read their books as you research where you’d like to be published. And if you get readers who like what you write, do that as an indie also. That’s what I try to do. In the inspy market, you build a lot of real relationship before the “I love you” scene. I also don’t write the conversion scenes unless it is crucial to the story or character. If it’s part of their soul healing journey, I try to make it very genuine and if I’m referring to anything biblical it’s done in dialogue and paraphrased as common conversation. That’s what most Christians really do. Some quote. Most don’t. So it’s a way of understanding deep conversations between two people, not “Bible thumping” done to someone. Think of a time you visited with a friend over coffee when you hurt deeply. What did that friend say to you to help you through the pain? That’s the way I try to write the reaction scene to the terrible dark moment scene.
So far as sex on or off the page in books, inspirational romance is more like that coffee date with a friend where you tell each other the romantic story of how you met your spouse or loved one.
Even over coffee, it’s not normal to tell a friend the blow-by-blow details that happen behind your bedroom door. And yet those stories are highly charged with emotion and romance. That’s what reading an inspirational romance is like for readers, the romance and story without the invasion of privacy.
My brand is still “clean” meaning clean language to readers, and “sweet” meaning sex is only between married people and behind the bedroom door, unseen and “off screen”. But, sexual tension is important and Christian publishers want that to be there. Books are rejected for not enough tension. The variety of guidelines is much more diverse than you’d think. Barbour was completely happy that my story was about a widower and his new bride overcoming his deep love and grief for his first wife so that the story built until they finally slept together—privately. Another reason that was important to me, besides my faith, was that I was telling my grandparents’ love story. I seriously cannot imagine fictionalizing their privacy in the bedroom. Yet, I saw a 54-year marriage between two people that loved one another deeply.
Sex between married people is important and beautiful to Christians. Christian readers just don’t want to read all those private details. Many of these readers have already been past readers of books that have lots of sex. They’ll talk about it at events, online, and in messages they send. These are voracious readers. They’re tired of it and often just want the story. They love settings of places they want to visit, characters who struggle through real life problems that they’re trying to figure out themselves, and strong women that set an example of going after their goals.
There’s quite a varying degree of what even Christian readers want to read. The average age is 45 and up. These people know what sex is. They are often very happy and simply enjoy reading. They want to learn something from the stories and feel good at the end. These readers love learning how to work through relational conflict in positive ways, love to laugh, love to cry with the main characters, and love to win the goal with them at the end.
Inspy books are character and/or plot driven, but the story is prime and must hold the tension for the reader through characterization and storytelling. This readership does call books “clean”, “sweet”, “inspirational”. There are always jargon words in any industry. These are the jargon words in the Christian publishing industry. They have to do with language content, explicit sexual content, and whether the story is from the Christian world view and therefore considered spiritually inspiring from a biblical perspective. Meaning, does the book inspire you to live a better life and turn away from things that are harmful in your life. That’s why if any drinking, cursing, smoking, drugs, risk-taking behavior, child abuse, or sex outside of marriage happen in a book (yes, these do get written into inspirational books) the character expressing the risky behavior has to have a consequence shown in the story that results from that behavior.
The healing in an inspy book is often from a trauma that resulted from risk-taking behavior. Even suicide, rape, drug addiction, marital affairs are written in inspy books. But these books are written to readers that want to learn how to heal from trauma while reading a good story. Sometimes a reader want to help someone else heal and give away a book because they know it will touch their friend’s heart. That’s very special because we, as authors, never know and yet we might have had the opportunity to be part of someone’s real life story, too.
There are also just fun fluff stories just like in any other romance category. But how awesome that these kinds of books might be used to help someone learn how to overcome a past hurt. As our characters go through the journey, the reader does, too.
So before lumping all inspirational or Christian romances in one pot, please consider reading across the wide variance. There are some similarities, but a whole lot of differences between publishers and even publishing lines as is the same with the ABA traditional publishers.
By the way, I do know of many readers who will read clean, sweet romances from other world views. So you don’t have to write Christian/inspy. But do be clear so the expectation doesn’t trip your book up or your reader. They’re always looking for a good story.
Are you looking for a good inspirational romance? Please consider one of my books. You can check them out here on my website, at your favorite online store, or at your local retailer, or library. If the store is out, please ask them to order one or more for you. Retailers and libraries will carry your favorite authors if you let them know to do that. They don’t know unless you tell them. And that is a big blessing to an author 🙂