Surviving CBA, Part I

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Here’s a concern.


The “editor mystique”–whatever you want to call that attitude of aloofness among publishing pros that proves one’s savvy and sophistication–that is diametrically opposed to the spiritually humble attitude we want in our books. And to a certain extent, this split attitude must be accepted to progress in the business of CBA.


And while I’m fine playing the game that I "get it," because really, I think I do, I’m not fine with the implication that I am anything special, "set apart," or less dirty and worthless than anyone on the other side of my desk.


A book I read recently (A Table In the Mist, Jeffrey J. Meyers) says, “When the true faith is robustly biblical, it will also honestly narrate and confront the intractable evil and misery of this life….There is no sugarcoating the bitter social, political, and economic troubles of the world that Jesus enter[ed].”

It strikes me that anyone who assumes "honestly confronting the intractable evil of life" doesn’t apply in Christian publishing is out to a 3-martini lunch. I used to think this way. Up until very recently, I was still shocked that the “world” of Christian publishing wasn’t a nicer place, that I had to hand people their hearts in a bag every once in a while and pretend it didn’t matter to me. But even here, in the pristine and hallowed halls of CBA publishing, you can either join the bandwagon and start living your best life now, or you can resist the uncomfortable truth and pay the consequences in professional decorum.


The situation inside the Christian bubble is just as bad as the one outside it.


But should we expect it to be any different? This year I’m embarking on a new stage, embracing my calling and accepting some big changes. And that means facing some uncomfortable truths that publishing professionals would be well-advised to overlook. But rejecting the truth about the situation in CBA is no longer an option. I don’t expect it to be any different here, but I can’t deny what makes so many bad books bestsellers. This year, I’ve got to either leave Christian publishing or find a new way to oppose its inherently evil parts. Which puts me at great risk. But I can no longer deny that it has to be done. Not only do God’s rules oppose the rules of acquisitions ("be aggressive," "don’t associate with the lowly," "give the audience what it wants," etc. etc. ad nauseum), a reputation is made on how we respond to opportunities to take advantage of authors, agents, and competitors in the business. Why should this be so? Because it’s a business. And as you know, “That’s just the way it is.” Kill or be killed.


I’m hoping for a future in CBA as a Christian editor. But I don’t know if that’s possible.


If our gifts are for the common good and not for our personal gain or to make us look important, or for our own gain, or to make us feel more important, then fulfilling our purpose will only come when we use our gifts according to the greater plan.


So my concern comes where the professional and the spiritual intersect. I usually don’t have a problem laughing off some of the more blatant abuses in this business. Blatant evil is pretty funny. It’s the subtle stuff, this weird blindness that permeates the industry, that throws me. Popular opinion in CBA equates popularity and success with worth and interest. No different than anywhere else. And yet, ironically, we congratulate ourselves for publishing books that create an ever wider chasm between Christians and the world. We appropriate everything and make it “Christian,” rewarding each others’ subversion of the truly important issues. Meanwhile, I will be punished professionally for "wasting" my valuable time on all you lowly, unknown idealists with great hearts and a love for God because you’re not marketable, don’t have platforms, and probably don’t have gleaming white teeth for your interview with The Oprah.


There’s a very real moral impasse inherent in this business, and I don’t know how much longer we can deny it.


I’ve resisted looking at it, as I assume all editors must to some extent, telling myself it’s better not to think about it, focus on the good, think of what you’re allowed to do because of your position, blah blah blah. I’ve even told myself it’s only temporary, that I’m headed for writing my own books, and then things will change, by crackey.


And of course, they won’t. Unless I do.


So there it is. I’m at this place. I have to decide where I want to be. And how will I respond when I get there? It’s a year of crossroads, and will I continue "faking it to make it," or will I express the truer reality and let the chips fall? At any rate, I don’t fear replacement, derision, loss of reputation, or what should seem almost certain–the loss of all the effort I’ve put into surviving in CBA. That’s just window-dressing, if I’m thinking clearly.

I think the choice now is whether I want to do more than survive.

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21 thoughts on “Surviving CBA, Part I”

  1. You probably can’t hear the applause over the horrendous gasps of your contemporaries. The Lord will reward your courage, your honesty, but it won’t necessarily be in gold and silver and certainly not with placating smiles of celebrated approval by people with perfect hair and even better speech.

  2. I struggle with the industry, particularly when I think about Jesus and how He lived His life. But I struggle with living in America, too, with its bent toward idolatrous materialism. I get sucked into both very easily.
    In saying that I struggle with the industry, let me be careful to say I’m not dissing the people in the industry, just the industry (business) aspect of it.
    As I wrestle with the work I do to promote my books, I have this niggling feeling inside, worrying whether I’m honoring Jesus. I want to live for that WELL DONE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT. I try very hard to honor Him through this, but I wonder how much my exposure to marketing and promotion emaciates my heart.
    I guess that’s what you’re getting at too, but from your side of the editor’s desk. Be assured authors wrestle too.
    I am not a white-toothed, smiling commodity that sells a million copies. I am a small cog, often lost in the bigger cogs of this churning industry, sometimes feeling terribly insignificant. Even so, my deep hope is that Jesus is somehow pleased with my words.
    Sorry to wax eloquent, Mr. Editor. I wanted you to know you’re not the only angst-laden person in this industry.

  3. It won’t matter whether you stay or go. The entire way we do business–no matter what that business might be–is profoundly flawed and possibly anti-God.
    Christian authors may write about how to be a good Christian in the workplace, but they never take the red pill and ask if the problem goes so deep that Christians must reject modern business practices entirely. They won’t ask that question because it may mean rejecting the entire system we’ve built since the founding of the Industrial Revolution.
    To ask the questions you’re asking doesn’t make sense if there’s no place to go that’s different! And there’s not–as long as Christian thinkers sit back on their heels and toy with the system rather than asking if there’s a better way to do business.
    Christians bought industrialization hook, line, and sinker in the 19th century because they equated it with postmillennial triumphalism. Yet nearly every societal disease we rail against today came about because of our switch to industrialism. Now that the industrial genie’s out of the bottle, Christians today don’t even ask if its possible to get it back in. They just relent and get carried along in the stream.
    If we Christians don’t go counterculture and raise up a new way to work, then your questions will never get answered. You’ll just go to some other field that has to work within the same broken system. And you’ll be just as disquieted.

  4. I would say every “societal disease” is a result of our sinfulness. Our greed, our pride, our status seeking desires. There are good businesses and good business people out there. Not perfect, of course, since no one is, but I hardly think the striving for honesty in business as in life itself (i.e. our relationships)is not worthwhile or even attainable with great effort and continuous obedience to the Holy Spirit. Yes, we all fail, but what happens if we don’t look inside ourselves and ask the Lord to make us better? We accept what is not acceptable.

  5. Here I am finally getting freelance editing work after more than a year of what felt like an industry snubbing and there you go pricking my conscience by examining your own in a public forum. If I could be so selective as to choose only those CBA projects that aren’t stained by the evil rules of acquisition, I am sure I would make the rest of the Unknown Idealist clan proud with my selections. But I’ve painted myself into a professional corner here and I have to take whatever projects come my way if I want to eat. (In this way I am in a boat not dissimilar from the one carrying those editors who work in Real Offices for Real Publishers.)
    I know what you’re thinking. I could drop this career and do something else, maybe work in a job where they don’t use “Christian” as an adjective while reserving all my editorial brilliance for the novels I’m writing, that, just like Mick’s, will change the world. I thought about that sort of career change a lot during my CBA hiatus. (Could I really sell real estate?)
    For some reason, though, I kept hanging on stubbornly to the idea that there was a place for me in this industry. Maybe that’s just rationalization to compensate for my fear of starting over at 47. Or maybe there’s a point to “hanging on stubbornly” in this screwed-up subculture. Maybe the “greater plan” idealism that drives people like Mick to wonder what the heck they’re doing in crazyland is just what the industry needs to inch toward something that doesn’t cause us to reach for the spiritual Rolaids every five minutes.
    An industry without squeaky wheels will gloss over things like the “kill or be killed” mentality because in the business of ministry, it’s deviously easy to argue that the end justifies the means. Now I can’t answer the question your soul is asking, Mick, but I have a sense that it’s going to take a whole lot of people like you “hanging on stubbornly” to the idea that they have a place—and a purpose—in this industry before we see the sorts of changes that might make your post here moot.
    But now look what you’ve done. I’ve just wasted all this time writing something I won’t get paid for. What was I thinking? I need to get back to that prosperity theology book I’ve been editing. After all, I am getting paid by the hour…

  6. Mick,
    I am gratful for your honesty, and your faithfulness and desire to be true to God’s calling on your life is refreshing.
    Slapping the name “Christian” on something and hen acting worse than “the world,” is sickening, disheartening, and an abomination in God’s eyes.
    I worked in a huge Christian ministry while I was going through a difficult time in my life. You would recognize the name instantly. They do good works and are above reproach in many ways. However, my time at that ministry was one of the worst experiences of my life, total darkness with only a tiny bit of light. Christians shoot their wounded. I’ve got the bullet holes to prove it. Discouraged and beaten down by my “brothers and sisters,” treatment, God told me to move on. I left that job with only $800 in my pocket and moved 1500 miles away from the mountains I loved, to a new city, with no job, no friends, no church, nothing. God was gracious and faithful. He supplied all my needs. I give Him the all credit, the glory. I am exactly where He wants me to be. He did it all.
    We all have to work to eat, and to survive. But when God shows us a different path, He goes before us and makes provision. I’ll be praying for you and your family, Mick. You’ve been a light in the CBA darkness for me.
    The sad sick truth is this: Just because one calls themself a “Christian” means nothing. Just because a business calls itself “Christian” means nothing. Church, wake up to this!
    Mick, whatever you decide, God is going before you. He makes all things new. God bless you.

  7. I know a lot of people who thought The Dream Giver was a cheesy little book, but that little story helped me to realize that all too often that glued on “Christian” tag means little more than “I’m comfortable right where I’m at, God wouldn’t dare bother to change things.”
    Show me one person in the Bible doing God’s will who wasn’t constantly on the move.
    If you haven’t read The Dream Giver, pick it up.
    Most of the people who have stood in the way of the dream God gave me are those very souls on the hamster wheel of “ministry,” those looking for seas to part, so focused on their own goals they can’t see God’s fingerprints right before them.
    It’s got nothing to do with business or industry, but everything to do with where your heart is and if God is shoving you somewhere else, don’t waste time.

  8. Good stuff, Mick. Damned sobering, but good stuff. There’s not a man-jack (or woman-jill) of us, Christian or not, who hasn’t wondered What It All Means. And even more tellingly, Where’s My Place In It? And then for us lowly scribes who’re doing our level best to honor God, events get even more dicey. The whole literary publish-or-perish, Gold Medallion-seeking, Christy Award-chasing thingy becomes a cat’s-cradle of second-guessed prose, conflicting emotions, and short-circuited strategies. Because at the end of the journey, we simply want to hear the Lord say, “well done.”
    Will I hear those words? Ya got me. All I can do is soldier on, and trust my scribblings will make Him smile.

  9. Well, since someone said what I was gonna say–and better–I’ll just quote what bears repeating from a previous comment:
    ~~Now I can’t answer the question your soul is asking, Mick, but I have a sense that it’s going to take a whole lot of people like you “hanging on stubbornly” to the idea that they have a place—and a purpose—in this industry before we see the sorts of changes that might make your post here moot.~~~
    I guess I figure one doesn’t say, “Oh, the church doesn’t work so I’m gonna go live on an island by myself,” so one should think hard about giving up on the CBA just cause it can get as nasty as people will. All people. Cause I don’t equate Christian with Idealized. The Bible I read shows a mess. The world I see is full of walking messes. (And I’m one of them.)
    I’m more interested in the questions or actions that might lead to breakthroughs or solutions. And what would be the top 10 questions or actions, do you think?
    Mir the Mess

  10. I think it’s great that you’re doing some self-analysis, Mick. God isn’t calling everyone to be wealthy or to be famous, and He’s certainly not expecting any of us to compromise our values in order to land a book on the NYT list. On the other hand, you may be taking a bit of a negative view of all this. I’m not one who believes God invented the capitalist system, and that it’s His plan for the world. But this is where I live, so I have to make some choices about my life and work (doubtless if He’d arranged to have me born in another country or culture, my choices would have been different). Therefore I have to ask myself, “What is He calling me to do/be/have? And how can I live my life for Him in a way that makes a redemptive impact on our world?”
    I’m a words guy, so I work with books. I’m a Christian, so I work predominantly (though not exclusively) with Christian books. The fact that I have to earn a living and make a profit to survive doesn’t keep me up nights. I don’t feel I’m compromising my integrity by negotiating a good deal for my authors, nor do I believe my looking for better writers means I’ve somehow “sold out to the Man.” For crying out loud, there are a lot more important things in my life than the next deal. I’ve got a 25-year marriage, 3 kids, and significant relationships to consider. I’ve got ministry opportunities with family members, friends, immigrants, my community, my church, and, yes, other people in the writing community. But don’t confuse “my job” with “my life” — even though my job is important. Don’t assume that because someone feels “called” to work with words it is what defines him or her.
    Sure, there’s pressure to make money. And our culture embraces nothing more than wealth, power, possessions. But I don’t want the pursuit of those to define my life — and, from where I sit, they don’t. Paul tells Timothy to make it his ambition “to lead a simple life.” I’d like to make that my goal. Sure, I screw up sometimes. I mix up my priorities. I sin, sometimes dreadfully. That’s life for a reprobate in a fallen world. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the work we do, at least occasionally, has some significant value, and that we’re not solely defined by our work, and that we can live in a money-hungry, capitalistic culture without turning into greedy jerks. And that, for all our faults, we can still serve God in a meaningful way in this business.

  11. Good points here, all. I’m mulling them over with my 2000 Rodney Strong Cabernet…
    I love the different viewpoints. Unfortunately, I know those of you agreeing with Chip already sold your souls a long time ago, so you’re of no use to me. I kid.
    Suffice to say I’m not screaming from the building just yet. I just want to know it isn’t because I fear loss of comfort.

  12. Here’s my recent brain-rambling. What does it mean to live as a Christ-follower if we happen to have been plopped in prosperous America? It’s what I wrestle with. Do I sell it all and live among the poor? Go overseas again? Or does God equip me to navigate this crazy place I find myself in? Could it be that His redemption can shine in any culture, any excess? I hope so.

  13. GK Chesterton said, “Price is a crazy and incalculable thing, while Value is an intrinsic and indestructible thing.” Business is all about price, all about money, all about the bottom line. Art is all about expression, truth, beauty and ugliness and everything in between. There is no line. To make my career as an artist of the alphabet Christian, I must by defintion make it reflect Christ, no? I’m thinking Jesus didn’t overturn the moneychangers’ tables because they were moneychangers. He did it because they were crooks. I have to believe we can exist in the world of industry and still reflect the character of Christ.

  14. This is the best country in the world. Capitalism is not the problem. God exhibited his approval of good “business” skills and proper motivation in the parable of the 10 talents.
    I’ve been to Europe. Most of it has socialism which will eventually rob the average person of any motivation to work for what they can accomplish since most of what they work for goes to the government so the powers that be can take “care” of them.
    The problem is sin. Sin. In the business place in this case. You can separate your work from your home, your parenting, and your relationships, but you can’t separate your Christianity from who you are wherever you are. And if your “business” practices are ungodly, then they need to change. If they’re not, wonderful.
    But the sense that Mick isn’t just doing his own little brand of soul searching but rather has seen some unseemly things in this business of “Christian publishing” is clear.
    Yeah, he’s young, and others like Mr. MacGregor have been around for awhile at every level of the industry and been successful. However, the very evidence of some of the so-called practices are evident in Mr. MacGregor’s defense.
    If Mick has seen enough to put himself at risk for his gleaned opinions, then perhaps what he has to say is worthy of consideration by all those in the industry. If the shoe fits . . .
    And, Mary, your heart is after God. You will always shine. Don’t decry the materialism. Find the balance and be blessed. Remain humble and minister from that hurting heart which embraces all those who need Jesus. Use your gifts. You can be obedient in any culture, any society. No doubt you will.

  15. Some thoughts. In my view, CBA publishing is in the same throes of old-wine-skin death/rebirth as churchianity. I am weary beyond belief of formulaic, religious books or sermons that tell me seven more ways to improve my prayer life. I want R E A L.
    But having said that, I don’t think the answer is to walk away from CBA or the church. Amazing things happen when you work with and against that which limits you (or limits God, in this case). You seems to be caught in this tension.
    But here’s the thing: you can still be Jesus to people no matter what your profession. The most important person is the one standing or sitting in front of you at any given moment.
    I saw a dramatic example of this at Mount Hermon last year. A young man named Stacey came to the conference with a manuscript titled “Lost Christian.” He is a new writer, and clearly in a dark night of soul time of questioning his faith, following a serious car accident. He had been doing the religious thing before the wreck, but now wondered if it mattered at all. I saw David Kopp (Multnomah) and Doug Newton (Light & Life) take off their editor hats and be Jesus to this young man, putting an arm around his shoulders, listening and talking to him without regard to his pub-worthiness. I was moved.
    Besides, it isn’t any easier in a secular job to be like Jesus. Anywhere you go, there you are. I was a Human Resource Officer for a large bank system; had to fire people, had to turn down people in the hiring process; had to work with supervisors to take disciplinary actions with some workers. But you can still love people even so. You can still encourage them that they have a unique part to play even it’s not glamorous.
    I think there’s no room for intimidation tactics in any role, job, or ministry–for a Christian. As Don Miller says, we need to stop controlling others with our disapproval, stop being so stingy with our love.
    This is what’s cool about you and David and Doug. You are all approachable and you change the image of “The Editor,” for many.
    I think the industry would experience a great loss if you gave up on CBA.

  16. Mick, I read this today and thought of you. Perhaps you are reacting to God being dishonored, I don’t know. But I just thought of you when I read it:
    “We should be so consumed with God’s glory that we hurt when He is dishonored. That was certainly the attitude of David when he said, “Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” (Ps. 69:9). David was deeply hurt when God was dishonored. As a father, I understand what David was saying. If you hurt someone in my family, you hurt me. Often I have cried for someone I love whose heart was broken. When you identify with God in that way, you will care about His honor much more than about what happens to you.”
    (From Truth For Today Devotional.)

  17. It seems to me that you’re wondering whether you’re called to be a Pilgrim (launching into the unknown in pure pursuit of God) or a Puritan (working for change from within).
    Whatever you do, don’t let the fire go out. God started it.

  18. The brighter the light shines on the CBA and my inadequecies, the more darkness grips my soul. I’m crawling out on the wings of the Holy Spirit and jumping off. An idealist on the edge. Unknown. Unpublished. Unread. Determined.

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