It’s been interesting to see the conversation evolve about this writing revolution. My mind has been challenged by the voices of agreement and dissent. My heart has been convicted both about the need for specific action, and reassured about the vital purpose behind it.
But the more we engage with these thoughts, the better prepared we become to answer them in and through our writing. I’m NOT giving up the ghost, but I do feel compelled to guide the conversation to more constructive territory.
Do we agree that any thought of a message must arise as an afterthought to the central impulse of writing? How about the notion that if you try to write safely, you will fail to write well? There are many preconceptions one should have before setting out to write a book. One of them is to have as few preconceptions as possible. Another is to ensure you’re writing what God has put on your heart and made you passionate about. But aside from those, what’s the greatest reason to write? The answer, I think, is as simple as it is indisputable.
Sol Stein says the four he hears most often are to express, to teach, to be loved, or to make money. Each of these is inappropriate, in his estimation, because the real reason is to “provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life.” Fine and good.
But I think, for us at least, it’s broader than providing superior experiences. Maybe to “Love the Lord your God?” To evangelize? To worship, to reveal, to cause to wonder?
All of these are in our “charter” as Christian writers. All of them will be there on the page. But ultimately, you’ve got one central, ineluctable purpose: serving your reader. I’m not saying we make the reader our god, but that it’s only through this posture of humility and sacrifice to the reader’s needs that we can come to fulfill all the other purposes we have for writing. This is just reality.
There’s something about writers (and most editors I’ve known) that strikes me. We’ve all been rearranged by reading. We’ve been served by writers and shown things—as James said yesterday, new, bold, and daring. When we talk about serving the reader, we must be careful not to assume we’re writing to fulfill reader’s expectations. No. We serve by expanding their minds and growing their consciousness to appreciate new places they never knew they had inside. If a book fails at serving it will fail to sell.
Maybe we aren’t served by what’s currently offered in CBA, but that’s not their problem. It’s ours. While no book can serve every reader, “fluffy” books do serve. I’m not sure that point has been sufficiently made yet. There IS in fact, a direct correlation between books that sell, and books that serve readers, however that service is being fulfilled. People pay for books that meet their need, whatever the need might be. We may think they’re serving base needs, but it’s a difficult position to defend.
Not everyone is going to agree that your particular service to your readers is all that necessary. It’s a very subjective thing, these services we fulfill. At Focus, each book we produce is given a thorough analysis up front to determine who the principle audience will be and how their felt need will be met and exceeded. All books are required to serve readers above and beyond what’s already out there. If this is how publishers operate, this is good news for those of us who believe we have a service to fulfill that hasn’t yet been offered.
We’ve been making the case here for a few months that a significant segment of writers and readers are not being served by CBA. There are literally millions of readers not being served that CBA is literally dying to reach. My own opinion is that they’ve been given the chance to reach them time and again, but so far, most of the time, they opt for playing it safe. Not pushing. Not constructing works of beauty. Not illuminating God. This is a topic for another post (since I promised I’d stop going wiggy for a while.) If our case is to NOT draw the line at safety, not excuse Christian books for forfeiting the great commission, and never back away from the beauty to which we’re enslaved, maybe that’s the way we’ll come to see this revolution break through its own grand notions and become a good Samaritan again, choosing to serve both neglected CBA readers and abused fellow writers and editors who are in danger of forgetting their call.
This is how we’ll do it gang. Go in peace to love and serve your readers.