Putting God first in acquisitions

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"It was a deep, emotional, personal thing. I wanted to give my life to him any way I could. I’d been discussing all that with him for weeks in church. I said, ‘Thy will be done,’ but I also have people dependent on me, so how can I do this? It came to me: Just do it." –Anne Rice in The Denver Post

If, as I stated last time, the Great Publishing Dichotomy—these opposite poles of literary vs. commercial, highbrow vs. popular—is a phantom, you can publish great books that sell by just doing it. Believe that God’s rewards follow those who step out in faith, and don’t fear the consequences.

I admire Anne Rice and her recent conversion back to Catholicism. And I see a parallel between her publishing reversal and the difficulty facing other professional Christian acquisitions editors. On her conversion:

"Q: Did you worry that writing from a Christian worldview would impact your career?

"A: I thought it would destroy it, but that didn’t matter. I went back to the church in 1998, and it wasn’t till 2002 that I really was talking to the Lord in church and decided to write only for him.

Surely she had some indication (Mel Gibson) it would all be okay, but all that aside, such a shocking 180 is indeed a dramatic opportunity for us to ask some of our favorite big questions: Can you publish what you want or do you need to serve the audience? Can you do both? But most importantly, can you publish what God wants?

Because you see, after you ask that question, it isn’t so much about making money / being successful / being relevant / upholding standards of quality / furthering your career or the company, but rather, Are any of these other concerns even relevant?

I’ve been wanting to jump on this topic ever since Professor Bertrand dedicated some high-level thought to publishing strategies in his creative application of the Windows/Apple turf war on "future vs. past tense" publishing. And then Dick Staub reminded me of our constantly shrinking “middlebrow” culture in America, reemphasizing Lewis’ statement that unless you can convert an idea into popular vernacular you either don’t understand it or don’t believe it. While this makes an equally strong case for the power of translating the gospel into story I won’t go so far as to excuse the vaccuous, reductionist theology that’s becoming more popular by the day. There is still a standard of accuracy and truth to be upheld, as another of this week’s bestsellers, Mere Christianity, points out.

But over the next couple weeks, I’m hoping to continue the Thanksgiving spirit as we look at some examples of how others target, choose, and evaluate books. All labels aside, each of us is accountable for our choices of which books to write, buy, or recommend. What are our criteria? If literary vs. commercial is thrown out the window, what are the standards of measurement?

This could be a tough topc to cover. There’s a lot of ground. I want to give my perspective on this side of the acquisitions desk, but there’s room for broader discussion, like how we choose which stories to write down, which books to pick up over others, which ideas to give weight and which to ignore. We have choices to make and it isn’t easy. In fact, we all know it’s getting harder every day.

Anyway, there’s probably ample chance I’ll fall down and hurt myself on this one, so I hope you’ll continue on with me and post so thoughts as we go. Let’s get some noodling going on.

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5 thoughts on “Putting God first in acquisitions”

  1. Glad to hear your voice online again, Mr. Acquisitions Editor Man!
    Truly, I believe most of acquisitions boils down to the big moolah factor. I look at which books I’ve proposed have sold and which ones didn’t, and I see that the ones that sold had a specific market that my book targeted.
    I’ve been asked before if I feel like I’ve sold my artistic soul because of this.
    My answer is no.
    I loved writing what didn’t sell. And I learned so much through it all. And what did sell (at least to publishers; the word’s out on sales numbers yet) is what I wanted to write too. I have yet to be censored for some very touchy subjects. My voice has not been squelched. I am writing just what I want to write. And I’m exploring God, culture, truth, and lies all throughout.
    If your heart is to sell solely, you’ll have to figure out how to make your words seem or appear marketable. Or you can go at it the way I have and write, and see where the chips fall.

  2. regardless of how holier-than-thou this sounds, i pray for each book that falls into my hands. i’ve held pilgrim at tinker creek and peace like a river and not cracked them open. currently i’m in the mystics and schaap. everything i read affects me, my work, my writing, my contemplation. i don’t just read for my kicks. to see how one turns a phrase. i read to commune with God as it were, so what the author says means a great deal to me. whether they pen their doubt and grief upon God, or hang it squarely upon their own shoulders, that stuff matters.
    i don’t care about the booksellers and buyers and the middlemen, i just want to read what i’m supposed to read next and as i pray i find the right book at the right time like pictures of gold in settings of silver.

  3. I think Anne Rice’s conversion is awesome, for her personally, as for how it might impact the literary world.
    But she has a name. An audience. She has the clout all the rest of us hope to earn some day. She can write what she wants. Readers will pick up her book because of her name. Her books are displayed up front in the bookstores, not tucked away in the Inspiration section.
    Perhaps Anne Rice will help broaden the market and scope for God centered authors and publishing houses.

  4. Mick wrote: each of us is accountable for our choices of which books to write, buy, or recommend.
    When I recently entered blogdom, it didn’t take much thought to decide what kind of blog I’d do. As an avid reader of Christian worldview fiction, I wanted to showcase the books that had touched my heart. I’ve lost count of how many books I have read this year. Some brilliant, most good, a few that weren’t worth my time. But I didn’t want to just post reviews of all the books I’d enjoyed. I set a certain criteria. Not only did the books have to have characters people could relate too and a well crafted plot, but they had to have a distinct message that touched my soul. If I’m to recommend a book to others, I want it to be highly entertaining with a message that will touch their hearts.
    As to which books to write, I write what is on my heart. The above criteria still applies.

  5. We at Christian Fiction tackle christian fiction on many different fronts now than we did earlier in the year. But as we continue to grow there are standards that we will follow.
    I am a proponent for writing what moves my generation right now. Concerned about its marketability not for profit sake, but for the sake that having a marketable product will make it easier for God’s message for our generation to get heard. Christ sought ways to address a multitude of people by responding to what was going on with their lives where they were. Christian writers can use his example to address the multitude of our generation with the things that challenge them now like: layoffs, Iraq, natural disaster loss, democratic Christians, race, etc. I fight harder for those works be it by a christian publisher or a christian writer to see the light of day over stories that are feel good, but not entirely revelant to the people on my prayer list.

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