CBA = Christian Bookseller's Association, aka the Christian market as opposed to the general market. Agents will of course know this, just putting it here for whoever doesn't.

(Sorry this is so long. Will be grateful to the point of instant rep points for any answers & would love to know your background if you do answer. Thanks so much. Mods, I would also love to know if this is truly the right forum for this question or if there's a better place, & thank you.)

About ten years ago I signed with a Christian publisher. I was co-authoring at the time with someone who had ideas & themes very in line with what Christian publishing requires, and selling our manuscript to an ABA (general-market) publisher seemed unlikely. That book was the first of a series of four, but probably because it was a fairly loosely-tied series we didn't sign (they didn't offer) a series contract. They signed the second book (also co-authored) and the third book (written by me alone) and now they are hemming and hawing at my query for the fourth. The reason being that sales have declined with each novel in the series. They actually like my pitch, but would like to divorce this novel (my first romance, which is probably why they like the pitch) from the series by having me change the characters' names. I find this condition impossible to meet. I quite suspect that I literally couldn't write this novel knowing I was going to shred its character continuity with a find-and-replace as soon as I got done.

I've been wondering for awhile whether the CBA was really the right place for me. It is my very strong opinion that even as sales have declined with each book in the series, each of these books has been stronger, more compelling, more honest, realistic, and literary than the last. I've grown enormously as a writer, and nothing against my ex-co-author whom I love dearly, but we always knew I was the one tasked with making the work publishable, and writing a good story has been all the easier when freed of the need to combine my vision with someone else's. The third book is far and away my best work (and indeed won the gold in a contest where my first book won bronze) and has received a very weak response. It's true that my publisher's marketing director quit suddenly within the same month as its release; this could be the reason, I don't know. (The gold my third book won was in the "religious" category of a general-market contest; in the annual Christian-fiction contest for which I was once a runner-up it was not even nominated, whether because my publisher didn't send it in, or for some other reason, I don't know.)

But I suspect that as I grow as a writer I may be less and less hitting the beats a CBA reader is looking for. I'm still a devout Christian but my faith has grown increasingly complex and probably less and less in line with the majority of CBA readers as well. I know very few of them IRL now; instead I keep running across the type of people who would (based on elevator pitch) or do love my books and who would barely even glance at the Christian Fiction section as they walked by. The Christianity in my novels is growing more and more understated in some cases, more universal in others (exploring universal questions through religious characters is pretty much what I mean.) Non-religious beta readers have tended to find it perfectly acceptable.

It's obviously a profound personal decision for me, especially since I had hoped to be a voice for change (or return to what I see as Christianity's true values such as--popular choices here--pacifism & anti-nationalism) among evangelical Christians in the age of Trump. But hey, it's not going well, and I'm going to have to decide what to do about that. What I wonder is, if I do decide to leave the CBA:

- Will my CBA credits help or hurt me in the ABA? Will my notion that I haven't hit my market in the CBA be likely to be believed, or how much will my declining sales figures count against me?

- All my novels have been written as standalones despite their loose series ties (they're tied by same family, same period--WWII--& location), but this fourth one stands alone more than the others, having several factors that strongly break it off from them time-wise and character-wise. The only thing that identifies it as a series novel is the existence of three previous books in the same setting & linear timeline that feature some of the same characters. Would a publisher find the existence of these three to be a strike against this book? At what point in talking to them would I be obligated to disclose the first three books' existence? (I'm well aware that putting it in the query letter would give entirely the wrong idea.)

Again, thank you to anyone who takes the time to read all this and respond.