Confessions of a publishing nobody

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I’ve been asked to write about publishing from an insider’s perspective. I thought my blather was enough on this blog, but apparently, some people just aren’t satisfied with that, the ingrates.

Suppose we take a few days to talk about the ins and outs of in-house publishing for CBA, since that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 4 years. I know a very little about a very big business, and not nearly as much as most of my colleagues. But the problem with asking them is that most of them are just too busy to blog. Or so I’m told.

As introduction, when I give this class at writer’s conferences, I like to start with my favorite publishing story. For lack of anything better, I usually go with how I came to work in publishing. It’s pretty goofy, but it serves.

The book publishing process and more specifically, the Christian book publishing process is constantly changing, metamorphosizing. Each house operates in some unique ways, each in some universal ways. The similar bond among all publishing houses is one of constant flux and adaptation, a focusing and refocusing of energies. So it can be difficult to learn what’s going on.

When I started out in Christian publishing, I was not actively searching for a job. In fact, I was bartending. Even more accurately, I was an unemployed bartender, out of work after moving to Seattle to convince my wife to marry me. Meanwhile, my mom sent a couple chapters of a short story I’d been working to a friend of hers at a Christian publishing house, God bless her meddling hiney. Her friend called me, I applied, and a few months later, I somehow ended up in an entry-level assistant editor.

I didn’t know diddly about Christian publishing, or any kind of publishing for that matter. I’d just written a lot and conditions at Focus on the Family were favorable. I wrote a letter to the senior editor and staff giving reason why I believed God had called me to work for them and, lo and behold, it worked! I still have the letter, and I really do believe every word. Most of all, I cared about helping Focus pursue a new direction in their publishing program, even if they were responsible to the overall ministry in what they published for the general trade market.

In the beginning, I didn’t have much of a concept of what this meant. I just wanted to be pubilshed and I thought working in the industry would be a good step in the right direction. I started going to writers conferences and teaching what little I’d learned about professional editing and book publishing from a Christian ministry standpoint. After a couple years, I began branching out into more diverse conferences and conventions, studying the market, and learning the delicate diplomacy required of professional editors. I struggled to be mature and responsible and all those things that came with being an adult with an adult job and representing the department and the ministry to others in my sphere. It frustrated me and exhausted me and I felt very small and alone much of the time.

And then, I decided to start this blog. I figured it might be a fun way to connect with others and discuss some of the things that were frustrating me, mainly, the difficulty of wading through so many manuscripts that only seemed to perpetuate the problems I saw with the industry. Either they added another convenience to modern American Christianity, like a cute, catchy formula for an explosive prayer life, or a thinly-veiled sermon masquerading as fiction. I began to think it was no wonder there was so little in CBA I liked to read.

Luckily, enjoying CBA books wasn’t a prerequisite for the job, which surprises people to hear. It’s pretty amusing, actually, and when I run into people who are scandalized by that, I do try to be kind and say that it’s not that I don’t read Christian books. I like books. It’s just that some Christian books tend to be more Christian than book. And they usually squint at me and think I’m being obtuse, which I probably am, and we go our separate ways. I’ve become a lot less compelled to win them over to my opinion in the years I’ve been at Focus. Some people just don’t see it and that’s really okay with me.

What’s not okay is when they don’t think I should be allowed to see it my way. I deal with a lot of judgmental people, but the ones who really wrinkle me are those who forget the commandment to love when their opinions aren’t shared.

“Look,” I want to say. “We’ve had a different experience. And not everything comes down to a spiritual or moral obligation. Some things just are.” But I never say that in conversation. At least, I haven’t yet. Maybe I’m waiting for someone to convince me it would matter.

We’ve all had different journeys and I can’t take credit for mine. I hope to discuss more with you in the coming days.

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a publishing nobody”

  1. Hey! You didn’t finish the story! I was CAPTIVATED, man!! :)
    Seriously, I’m loving your blog and finding it very insightful!!
    Thanks so much, Friend! :)

  2. this is exactly it.
    “It’s just that some Christian books tend to be more Christian than book”
    something i’ve been struggling dumbly to put into words, right there waiting to be read.
    suz.

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