In this acquisitions discussion we’ve been looking for some firm foundations. Before we’re done here, I think we should pin down the basic question. My nominee tonight is simply, How do we decide what’s attention-worthy?
Maybe the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is a good case in point. Are you watching this thing? Dear Lord, help us. As Philip Jenkins notes recently in Books and Culture, a reporter’s decision not to cover a theme or trend is, by implication, a statement of its insignificance. Conversely, what 2 billion people watch must be really, really significant, right? Uh, probably not. People are pretty lame sometimes.
A lot of unpublished folks get served the message that their ideas are insignificant. And no matter how inoffensive “doesn’t-fit-with-our-current-objectives” can sound, it’s still cold.
So how do we decide what book to pick up? What do you want to read? Does it hit a broad audience? Is it a strong need in a large market that hasn’t been tapped? You know the drill.
It’s a pretty crowded market for the viable books. What’s still untapped? Anything? Sometimes it seems there’s very little. And if you have a recognized name platform or brand, your message is automatically important. Even more important if you’re also a self-promoter who can buy 30,000 copies. I don’t like it either, but that’s the game.
Still, in all the pub board meetings I’ve been in, the goal is to give every relevant component equal time. Dissect and scrutinize. Certain concerns are definitely given more weight than others, but if there isn’t a spiritually redeeming quality to the project, platform doesn’t matter. That may be less true elsewhere, but I’ve seen the spiritual aspect is even becoming more important with the crossover books. You can hit trends interview authorities and write like Dickens, but if you don’t care about the mission to introduce more God into people’s lives, you’re going to be out of luck with most CBA houses—even the ABA-affiliated ones.
There’s also the challenge of the endless information sources. I don’t know where the balance of being intentional and letting God direct is, but being aware and invested in our world, intentionally staying informed, there’s still seeking God’s leading before and after. And still I find that conviction difficult to maintain, even while I know it provides the stamina to press on in the face of the overwhelming information.
But my most vexing struggle remains the obvious public preference for homogenized simplistic thought. How many recent books reduce complexity into reassuring platitudes? And how do you argue against those books when they’re the most successful? If you poll people, they’ll say they want one thing, but then they’ll go buy the opposite.
Mass hypocrisy? Maybe that’s the biggest bitter pill we all have to swallow. If God’s complexity has been reduced and watered down maybe we’re all a little bit responsible.
Some things are not reducible. And they’re still worthwhile and necessary. They are not irrelevant. Simplified gospel is irrelevant—fiction or non-. Far more so is the bulk of what passes as cultural pastime today. We might say we’re drowning in irrelevance. And we all know it, all believe it, and yet we’re all complicit by our lack of concern.
Maybe this is just the way the world is. But it doesn’t have to be. The real attention-worthy issues are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Maybe there isn’t anything new, but the story is bigger than that, praise God. Luckily, it’s not about us. We do best to just point others to the only thing truly attention-worthy.
And maybe it’s over-simplifying, but I believe that’s the final word in acquisitions.