Too Christian?

Stealing Liberty on Amazon
STEALING LIBERTY comes out today and I am SO excited! I hope you buy it, read it, love it, review it and tell all your friends so they can buy it, read it, love it and tell all their friends too.

But even if you don't, I want to tell you the story of how it was almost never published.

Last year, after my literary agent, Cyle Young of Hartline Literary, had contacted all the big name publishers, inviting them to offer us a contract for Stealing Liberty, he heard back from very few. That's not at all unusual. But the ones who did respond declined to publish it. They liked the concept and the writing, they indicated, but the story was "too Christian."

"Too Christian?" I asked. "Really?"

Cyle was baffled too.

Two things confused us most:

First: a couple of these publishers have a long history of publishing Christian fiction. 

Second: STEALING LIBERTY isn't even really a Christian novel*.

Then what made STEALING LIBERTY "too Christian," Jennifer? What did you put IN there? Snake charmers? Latin incantations? Exorcisms? Talking in Tongues? Holy Ghost sightings? Lots of religious lingo that makes people squirm?

Nope. Not a bit. 

Do you want to know what made these big publishers decide STEALING LIBERTY was "too Christian" for them?

One Christian character. Seriously. That's it. One Christian girl named Xoey. In a diverse ensemble cast that includes a Hispanic boy, and Arab girl, a boy with Autism, another with ADD, a Native American and a black boy -- all with different beliefs -- the one Christian girl put this book out of contention for the big publishing houses.

Come on. There's got to be more than that!

Well, there is one more thing. To explain, let me share what STEALING LIBERTY is about:

A heist so monumental, it may cost them everything...
When Reed Paine is sent to a secret detention school for teens whose parents are branded enemies of the state, he doesn’t expect to find friendship – especially after coming face to face with Riley Paca, a girl who has every reason to hate him.
But when Reed, Riley and a few others start reading the old books they find in tunnels under the school, they begin to question what they are taught about the last days of America and the government that has risen in its place.
Then the government decides to sell the Liberty Bell and Reed and his friends risk everything to steal it – to take back their history and the liberty that has been stolen from them.

Yes, Stealing Liberty is set in a futuristic post-American society that does not tolerate Christianity. So, how ironic is it that publishers in 2017 are reluctant to publish it? Are we already knocking on the door of this scary dystopia I imagined in my head?

I won't spoil the rest of the plot for you, but I will say this: I've read a lot of books published by these same houses, featuring people expressing all kinds of beliefs to the same length and depth as Xoey: Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Humanists. So why can't a Christian be represented too? Can you imagine a publisher telling an author that her novel was too Buddhist? Too Muslim? Is this part of an overall philosophy that's all about removing Christian ideas from public discussion?

They'll publish anything that sells, you say. It's not the publishers but the book buyers to blame.

There might be some truth there that scares publishers away from this kind of story, but young adult readers are a lot more accepting of diverse opinions than they are giving them credit for -- even Christian opinions. Let's look at music, for example. Bands like Owl City, The Fray, MuteMath and the phenomenally popular Twenty-One Pilots all express some level of faith in their lyrics. It hasn't stopped fans from loving them. Even fans who are not Christians.

Happily, a small publishing house, Clean Reads Books, was not scared off by my Christian character. Clean Reads Publisher Stephanie Taylor offered me a publishing contract, telling me that her intake reader said, “This is one of the best books I’ve read in your submissions yet!” I accepted Clean Reads' offer and the rest has led us to this happy day. 

Clean Reads is exactly what its name suggests: a publisher that offers quality fiction, free from profanity and pornography. Free from guilt. I am happy that the rejection of those other houses led me to their door because I feel at home here, and I know they will never pressure me to add explicit content to my stories.

I hope STEALING LIBERTY is a great success, of course. I hope it proves those publishers wrong who didn't want to take a chance on my Christian character. And I hope you'll consider buying it and sharing it with your friends so we can show those publishers what I have believed for a long time, even back when I was trying to find a publisher for Dream of Me and A Place Between Breaths -- what Stephanie believed so strongly, she created an entire business based on that belief. There is a market for clean books. People want Clean Reads. They crave them. They lay aside countless stories in search of those few they can share guilt-free with mother, daughter, aunt, brother, friend.

One final note: If you are concerned that I'm exploiting your faith to get you to buy my book, then please don't buy it. Seriously. That doesn't offend me at all. Sticking with your conscience is more important than my book sales. But if that's the case, I hope you'll find another Clean Reads book to buy. I hope you'll help me show the publishing world that there is no such thing as a book that is "too Christian."

*[SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT: I don't shy away from Christianity in STEALING LIBERTY, but it doesn't follow the traditional format of "Christian" fiction. There's no come-to-Jesus moment.]

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