Let’s face it. Some publishing realities contribute to low quality books too.
Start with money. We’ve got to sell books. But that creates a conflict of interest for Christians; the goals of business are diametrically opposed to God’s. No mission statements say “show us the money.” It’s just implied. Which means we’ll publish books we may not fully agree with in order to “give them what they want.” Some think it’s just the way it is.
Following the “give them what they want” philosophy is an obvious question. What books are those, exactly? Some say low quality, controversial books with familiar ideas in them. They certainly don’t want to read classics. They don’t want books that require a lot of effort, even if they might like them more if they gave them a try. No. Fluffy books, tune-out books, reads as disposable as candy wrappers.
Which brings us to the nutrition-to-candy ratio. With disposable books, surely nutrition and excellence are low on the list. If it’s for CBA, slip some God in there and we’re good. We don’t need artsy-fartsy stuff gumming up the works.
Maybe this blog is a complete waste of bytes.
The problem with all this is that books aren’t candy. Of course, we want them to be as popular as Pop Rocks, but what’s the cost to the reader? Quality does matter. In fact, it matters at least as much as message. Maybe more. When it comes to our creations representing the Creator, what carries the message to the reader? The vehicle of our craft? What if the Bible wasn’t excellent? What if God didn’t care? What if we didn’t build our church well and it came crashing down on our heads? If God doesn’t care, maybe we’re wasting our time here.
Why would I trade my good reputation to discuss these problems in CBA? I don’t want to be known as the guy who hates CBA. Talking about this on a public blog isn’t my idea of fun. It doesn’t facilitate working in the industry. Silently contributing to the mountain of books makes a whole lot more sense. But I think our books need to better reflect our master. Whether or not “literary” books sell, we need books that don’t contribute to the idea that faith is like a candy wrapper we can use whenever and however we like. I’m so happy there are editors and authors doing good work out there. But there’s still a lot of padding on the shelves, shoddy product produced too quickly without respect of our task and its eternal significance. And yes, it’s worse in the general market, but that’s not the point.
Can I suggest why this matters? Silence about the problems pays implicit concessions to them. Professional distance shouldn’t excuse us from bowing to market pressures. Christian publishers are cashing in on successes so regularly it’s become expected. We don’t even question anymore. Sales assumptions about nutrition-to-candy ratio dictate what books get published. There are accepted business practices that propagate a low standard. And we all are complicit in our silence.
Confession: I’m guilty too. I’ve compromised. I’m not clean and tidy either. I’m not sure if anyone in my shoes can be completely. And that’s a topic for another post. But we don’t need an overhaul of CBA. All I’m asking for is some dialogue, an open discussion to try to balance some of these realities. Let’s stand together and have some accountability. Let’s discuss the problems and not hide behind false decency or prissy professionalism. Maybe I don’t get to be thought of as classy for saying this, but I can’t worry about that. Let’s deal with our book-buying and publishing decisions and not take the bait of publishers hoping we’ll buy the next installment of candy. The silence contributes more to less-than-excellent books than anything. There are some closed doors that need opening. We should probably let them stay closed, but doggone it, you just can’t stop progress.
Okay, so that little term “nutrition-to-candy ratio” needs some unpacking. Come on back.