On Reading, Writing, and Acquistions: How do you choose?

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So this morning I went off googling every which way soaking up all my necessary facts, trends, and data. And then I remembered our topic: Put God first.

Oh yeah! So instead, I started thinking some more about the standard sources with which we typically measure successful publishing. The presses, the lists, booksellers, agents, media, and basically whatever else you can think of. Here’s an example.

Publisher’s Weekly Best Religion Books. Among the 10,
• David Dark, The Gospel According to America (Westminster John Knox)
• Bruce Feiler, Where God Was Born (Morrow)
• Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus (Harper San Francisco),
• Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life (InterVarsity).

Aside from what you think of the books, if you analyze the list, you’ll find, first off, it’s entirely nonfiction, some “narrative nonfiction,” yet each comes alongside readers rather than entreating them to “listen and learn.” They are diverse, mainly Christian with a couple Jewish, one Buddhist, and about important topics, well-researched, and are conversational at the popular level. Yet they are all authoritative authors. The best seller among the 10 is Bruce Feiler’s, Where God Was Born.

Interesting, right? Definitely some insights to look into more there. Okay, and here’s another snippet: Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. An example of a critical and bestselling success. USA Today notes that Didion wrote the book in the midst of her pain and loss. The heart-wrenching craziness definitely transmits on the page. Though you’d never wish to go through the war it took to get there, great wars always make great generals.

Good thought again. When written truthfully and well, life’s most difficult events can make some of the best books.

Unexamined, all our reading/writing/acquisitions choices are slipshod. In my burgeoning acquisitions strategy, I began with an amalgam of loosely-held assumptions and semi-proven techniques either adopted or appropriated from other related life experiences. Follow the trends, the zeitgeist, the bottom line. But in the end, I know it really comes down to God’s will. What’s this message adding? What’s the author’s character? Will this go the distance and will they still uphold the important things?

Of course awareness of the culture to which you publish is a fundamental source. And yet, do you put God first? Interesting how that changes things. It’s so simple. You’ll frequently hear this debate going on at writers conferences and behind publishing doors, arguments for “felt need” vs. literary merit. Literary quality is the supposed high road. But which of those puts God first?

I’ve got a screensaver that bounces around the phrase in 3D font, “So what?” It’s a reminder to me to constantly put myself in the reader’s shoes, the “felt need” camp. But also, “So what’s the one thing that really matters?” Why do people really need to read this particular book? Will it truly improve their lives if it doesn’t put God first? Not mentioning him in every paragraph, of course. He needs to permeate.

I’ll say it again. Our motivation in everything—and yeah, publishing too—should be God first. And that means many things. But primarily, have more faith than reason. Join him rather than lead. Resist the world rather than conform. Ensure humility to ensure profitability. Even literary quality needs to take a backseat.

I’ve learned something over the last year of this blog: Disillusionment and discontent are just fuel. We need to put them in the engine that will encourage the primary factor in making our reading, writing, and acquisitions choices.

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4 thoughts on “On Reading, Writing, and Acquistions: How do you choose?”

  1. I like that you wrote: But in the end, I know it really comes down to God’s will. As an unpublished writer, it always comes back to that statement. I know I can write what I feel is in my heart, follow that to the end of a 90,000 word story and it can be good, even great, and in its own way, a success simply because I finished it and followed through with the internal prompt. But to get it published is a whole ‘nother animal and totally out of my control. It’s frustrating at times but the “God’s will” reasoning is also comforting in its own way. Someone who read my manuscript said, “This would be a great comfort to people who were practically born Christian and have wandered, but the question is ‘do they read?'” Ah yes, do they read? If the statistics don’t tell us at least God knows and until I “hear” different, I’ll keep writing. [Keep up the good work on this site…]

  2. Felt need. How does art apply to a felt need? Does felt need keep Christian writing mired in the necessity that it have a message of healing?
    Just raising questions. I can see “felt need” for non-fiction perhaps. I can see a role for it in fiction, too, but wouldn’t it tend towards making it didactic?
    Deborah

  3. i had thought, for a very long time that fiction had nothing to offer me as a reader. if the story was lackluster, even more reason to avoid it. but i have stumbled upon pearls of fiction i never knew existed and would sell all to obtain more. it is not so much being didactic that speaks to me, as being honest. writing characters with souls and sins and morning breath. yes. that is what i look for.
    suz.

  4. Nice post, Mick. Maybe we don’t need to serve felt need as much as real need whether it’s felt of not. But I agree that all our books should be filling a need. Otherwise, why bother? Of course maybe the need is just for beauty or a book to relax with. =0) Most definitely it has to be God first. And I don’t think we need to sacrifice literary quality to do that. We have to learn and grow. And we need to be allowed to do that. But we should eventually grow up into literary quality. And I think we’re headed that way.

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