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Revolution in the Marketplace

I made a little visit on the superhighway to the workshop offerings at this year’s CBA International Expo
Here were a few of the classes in 2004:

“Taking Marketing Seriously: Creating Promotional & Merchandising Schedules Using a Hands-on Approach”

“How Christian Retailers Can Leverage eBay to Maximize Revenue and Acquire Customers”

“Growing Your Church Ministry Revenue”

“Successful Selling in a Semi-Service Environment”

“Best Retail Business Practices Revealed”

“Finding New Money: Ten Things You Need to Know Before You Even Think About Supply Chain Management”

“Growing a Strong Business While Enhancing Your Personal Life”

“Five Key Productivity Measures That Will Increase Your Sales and Customer Satisfaction”

Now okay. This probably isn’t saying anything, but I’m distressed by this. I’m also struck by the way this must appear to outsiders. Again, I wonder if we really consider ourselves to be in the world and not of it. What does that mean? And is it wrong to question this? We’ve been discussing how to achieve this balance in our books between being honest about the darkness and not diminishing God’s power to redeem it. Is it not distressing how many people get defensive when you raise this topic? Again I ask, what are we so afraid of?

Here’s what I’m afraid of. There is a play (maybe more properly, a parody) that’s currently being produced called Hollywood Hell House that’s based on a Christian church play so bad, the once dead-serious show has been made into a comedy—without changing much of anything. What I’d like to see is when the CBA says they’re committed to the power of Christ to redeem sinners through Christian books, they’re taking into account the fact that no nonChristians are even reading them. In all likelihood, they’re laughing at them if they even think about them at all. The “religion section” may be the biggest growing section in secular bookstores, but when people get there, they’re being confronted by much of the same thing that’s so repellent about bad church plays: cheesy dialoue, conventional plotting, and predictable characters that tun to salvation by the end of the book. Certainly not all Christian fiction is doing this. Certainly there are bad examples of formulaic fiction in ABA as well. But please don’t try to tell me there isn’t more we should be doing and that writers are being excluded because they write books that are too conservative. That’s simply not true.

Maybe in another five years none of us will be saying this. Maybe our replacements will be the ones complaining that our books aren’t real enough. But the problem exists and our first step is to accept it and stop Kum-ba-yaing ourselves into forgetting our calling to be salt and light.

10 Responses to “Revolution in the Marketplace”

  1. Brad says:

    Mark, could you clarify what you’re talking about here? You list a bunch of workshops for teaching people how to more effectively run a business. Then you say you’re distressed by “this” but I somehow missed the part where you say what is the “this” that you find so distressing. Next you talk about a parody play. Are these two things supposed to be connected somehow? Sorry, I’m just confused.

  2. Mick says:

    Hey, Brad.
    Disparate pieces, eh? I suppose I’ve been more cogent….
    Try this excerpt from If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland: https://www.graywolfpress.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=272
    The point: CBA’s concern with commerce and certain writers’ prediliction for preachy “art” make for an unhealthy marketplace. We need to be less concerned with “cheap, popular stories” lest we learn too much about cheapness and not enough about the enlargement of the soul.

  3. Brad says:

    I see. I’m not intentionally being obtuse, but I don’t find it distressing that the Christian BookSELLERS Association might have classes on how to run a better business. I would hope that a booksellers association, regardless of leading adjective, would be concerned with commerce.
    I have no doubt that some writers have a ‘prediliction for preachy “art”‘. But even if all writers wrote non-preachy stories, the booksellers still need to learn best how to market and sell those stories, or no matter how elevated the art, the writer will have a very limited audience.
    I’ve been reading the blog for a few weeks and I sense great passion and frustration, but little cogent analysis. Rather you seem to go beyond even the broad brush and resort to splattering bucketfuls of paint. Perhaps if I were trapped in the epicenter of the problem as you seem to be, I would be equally frenetic. I don’t know.
    But it does seem to me that when you start being disturbed that a booksellers association wants to help their members learn how to sell books better, it might be time to take a step back and get some perspective and perhaps a better focus on the problem, whatever it might be.
    Or not.

  4. Mick says:

    Alright. Let’s have some cogent analysis.
    The world is dying. People are going to the hot place we can’t mention here. I don’t have time to hold hands and make sure everyone’s feeling okay. I’m here to point out a huge, many-sided problem in CBA. It’s hard to hear, it’s negative and not abiding in the love and peace we’re supposed to display, the gentleness we’re to have at all times. I’m probably in danger of offending more than is helpful. I’m guilty of causing division among the body. I’m guilty of biting the hand that feeds me. That’s not healthy. It’s not wise either, is it?
    Why would I do this? I must be sick, crazy, mixed up, confused. It’s a heartaching sickness I can’t shake. The problems are multitudinous and it’s sometimes hard to try to take on one at a time while the others are snapping at you. I do know that if you’re a part of the problem, you won’t see it: Revenue masked as ministry. A simplified gospel. Compromise with evil. Mocking God. Complicit sin. Denying the great commission to make a different kind of commission our god. It sickens me and you may think it’s paint you’re being spattered with, but it’s been burning my insides for many months.
    What’s the message CBA is selling? “CBA, ABA, there’s no difference. We’re just as big, strong, mighty, wise, and talented. And we’re something else: we’re annointed.” There’s this unfortunate attitude of entitlement that allows us to sweep our shortcomings under the rug. We excuse our placid prose and cover over the revisionist theology and I’m just heartsick looking at it so long. I’m sick of being sick, Brad. I want to get better. But sometimes you only feel better after you’ve purged.

  5. Brad says:

    First, apologies for getting your name wrong. I made a transcription error on my shortcut. I agree there is crappy stuff out there in the name of fiction, in both ABA and CBA. I agree that CBA has its own brand of hypocrisy, materialism, inanity and a bunch of other ills. I’m not saying there are no problems. Until I accidentally got a book published in CBA, I hadn’t read a single piece of CBA fiction for 20 over years. (Peretti convinced me not to bother.) I get it. All I’m saying is that a rampage through the temple overthrowing the tables might be in order, but even Jesus only did that once (or twice, depending on which commentary you read). After several weeks of spewing your sickness, what next? Yes, perhaps you must purge to feel better, but if all you do is purge, you’ll die of dehydration. At some point you have to quick spewing and look at your next step. As a reader of your blog, I’m suggesting perhaps it’s time for the next step. Of course, if this is really about you dealing with your sickness, then the perspective of the reader may be irrelevant at this point.

  6. Jeanne says:

    Mick and Brad,
    I’m in Seattle right now, and my online time consists of quick e-mail checks and peeks at a few blogs. But your conversation here sucked me in. Captivating, gentlemen. Do go on.

  7. Brad says:

    I’ve given it some more thought and I guess my issue comes down to this. You say the problem is that people are dying and going to hell and we aren’t even allowed to say “hell.” Tony Campolo has addressed this issue, saying “People are starving and nobody gives a shit” and then pointing out people are more concerned about him using the word “shit” than they are about people dying.
    While that is an interesting phenomenon, here’s the problem I have with your position. If people are dying and going to hell, I don’t think the solution is to open a business. It’s using a hammer to fix a watch, wrong tool. If you open a business, you have to make a profit to stay in business. If your concern is saving souls from hell, why complicate the solution by turning it into a business?
    People ARE going to hell, but CBA isn’t the answer, the gospel is the answer. To create a business to spread the gospel can’t help but compromise both the business and the gospel. It’s just a bad paradigm to start with.
    So I don’t see the point in ranting that CBA has become what it inevitably MUST become once God and money are mixed.

  8. Jeanne says:

    After reading Brad’s last remarks I found myself echoing Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof:
    Mick: This is the way I see it.
    Me: You’re right, Mick.
    Brad: On the other hand, it’s like this.
    Me: You’re right, Brad.
    Observant bystander: They can’t both be right.
    Me: You are also right.
    Mixing business with the gospel may be a bad paradigm, but we have a little problem. If God has called us to write books (any kind of books — not just overtly evangelical ones) to His glory, then we must determine how to get our books into the hands of readers. Unless all publishing becomes paperless, money is a big part of the process.
    I think confusion arises when the line between business and ministry blurs. If the ultimate goal is to get the message out, money should simply be one of the necessary tools used to achieve our objective. If the ultimate goal is to make more money, and the message is simply the product we sell, then we’ve moved away from ministry into business for business’ sake.

  9. Mick says:

    Brad, Jeanne,
    Alright! You guys rock. I just posted and THEN read your comments. And now you’ll never believe me!
    Let’s just say, we make better compadres than enemies.
    Please consider your two selfs invited to contribute to the solution.

  10. Brad says:

    Mick, that is funny that we both referenced the same thing. As far as being part of the solution, I would hope that the Fred trilogy (www.fredtexas.com) would fit in that category, but others will have to make that determination.

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