Acquisition Lessons from Luther

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In the movie image above, Martin Luther (played by Joseph Finnes) is arguing with internal voices. Luther is purported to have fought with his warring natures fairly violently at times, even shouting at the devil in public (according to a biographer whose name escapes me). His personal demons are a big reason he’s such an intriguing character. But what I’m drawn to more is his struggle with identity and being fully oneself while attempting to sacrifice all to follow Christ. This is the true struggle in all of us. And no less true for publishing programs.

Unless 18 years of Christian education misled me (and it did, in so many ways), Luther also birthed Protestantism. This guy was crackers, and yet he translated the Bible. He also repeated our favorite verse in Ecclesiastes: “The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no limit to this fever for writing.” How many books could have existed in 15th century Germany? But printing presses were certainly scarce. He once said if Adam had known what evil weapons of warfare men would invent, he’d have died of grief. But I think Luther might have died to know how many “Christian” books are being published each year and yet are failing to impact the culture and Christians’ behavior.

“Superstition, idolatry and hypocrisy have ample wages, but the truth goes begging.” How differently would we behave if we really believed that “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has”? Are we too post-Enlightenment to believe that?

Another good quote to remember, this from God: “Trust Me; you wouldn’t want the view from My eyes.” Why do we think we can reason our way through? Why do we fight so hard to hold on to our faculties when they’re only there to be sacrificed for God’s work?

The Great Publishing Dichotomy—these opposite poles of literary vs. commercial, highbrow vs. popular—is a phantom.

What if a publisher threw out all rules and laws about how publishing is supposed to be done, and simply went on faith? What if their entire acquisitions strategy was to seek to know which books God would have them publish and allow Him to bless and encourage as He willed? Would it solve problems, save money, impact more lives?

It seems to me everyone in publishing is asking this question: “Can our books be both excellent and profitable?” Even in CBA, maybe especially in CBA. And what I’d like to spend the next few posts on is the question before that: Simply, is this Shangri-la middle ground between banal books that sell and the great books no one buys found somewhere in seeking first the kingdom of God?

I don’t want to make people uncomfortable (well…), but even in CBA, this seems unfamiliar territory. What would an acquisitions strategy look like that put God first?

Putting God first. That’s my hypothesis. See ya next time.

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8 thoughts on “Acquisition Lessons from Luther”

  1. i wasn’t going to say anything this time, and made it through the coffee bit, tongue in check. but now you’ve gone all philosoph on me and i can’t say nothing.
    deep sigh.
    this dilemma is huge. i understand profits are essential, but it seems to be at the expense of everything else. i just heard a “famous” person in the industry quoted as saying: publishers aren’t looking for the next literary masterpiece but for someone marketable.”
    that is the problem. it is all about who looks good. but under that creamy complexion, what is there?
    i just don’t know. more answers than questions it seems.
    suz.

  2. “Putting God first.” What a radical concept. (OK, I know I’m being sarcastic.) But for some reason, that is so hard to do — in daily life and in our marriages and in our businesses.
    I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this. Mine are still fuzzy.
    Linda

  3. Well, well, well. I thought I heard a familiar voice singing A Mighty Fortress is Our God. So that’s you camping in the tent next door, eh? I’ll admit I sometimes miss the comfort zone, but it sure is beautiful out here in the wilderness.
    People misunderstood Luther. They mocked the eccentric John the Baptizer. But the real question is, when those men stood before Jesus, what did He say?
    I’m shooting for the Well Done. And so far nothing about Glorify-God-and-Enjoy-Him-Forever Land has disappointed. Why should it? The King is my Father; my fellow pilgrims are family; and the music has a beat you can dance to.

  4. Great post, Mick. Look forward to the discussion.
    Jeanne: “But the real question is, when those men stood before Jesus, what did He say?”
    Amen, preach it, sister!
    Suzan

  5. If only it were left up to the acquistion editor. As far as I can tell, it’s the publishing committee that decides who gets printed and who does not and they base much of their decision on which words will sell books. They have to ask those questions. If they didn’t, the house would likely, in time, bankrupt itself. The publishing house exists beause it sells books. Or it languishes because it doesn’t.
    But hallelujah what sells and what doesn’t won’t matter a jot or tittle in Paradise. Jesus will welcome with gusto the author who wrote from a passion for the holy, whether they sold nothing, or never got back their advance, or went OOP while still trying to garner book signings.
    God Himself told us we cannot serve Him and money. So write for Him or write for money, but you likely cannot do both. Perhaps He will bless with $$$ the words written for His glory but we all know perhaps He won’t. The love of money is the root of. . .well, you know the rest.
    I am with Jeanne on this one. I want to hear “Well done!” It’s what I’ve done that will matter, not what I have sold.
    Susan

  6. I will be checking in to see your thoughts on this, as I’m not an AE. However, I don’t think the problem with publishing is just a christian problem. Great literary works are being warehoused, while any book that meets the current materialistic need sits on everyone’s table. Even some of our churches have fallen in love with feel good, you can have it all here and in heaven mentality that congregations barely spend time at the altar or at home in consecrated prayer. It’s our whole world. We need to pray for a change to come. An AE editor in this day might lose his job, if he continually presented something that doesn’t either scare the Bejesus out of us or doesn’t resemble soft porn and sadly some of us–who want to write what’s more realistic–are falling into writing the same thing in christian fiction.
    Yet, there are smaller presses who I hold in high esteem for sticking with their guns over profit and have churned out some beautiful work.

  7. If I ever understand the “write for God / write for profit” dichotomy, I’ll be totally surprised. Publishers say, “Write the book of your heart” and “write out of the box” but if I do, I feel its chance of selling is virtually nil. I must remember it’s their right to state it doesn’t fit their publishing goals right now. This tendency to think firmly inside the box is the reason I don’t buy books from about 90% of the CBA romance authors out there, and snap up any offerings from the remaining 10%.
    And do I write for money? Since I don’t make any, I must by default be writing for God. LOL. Just being snarky here. I like to think He’s on my side anyway, cheering for me whether I ever sell to a major house or not.

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