Where Does Your Loyalty Lie?

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Michael Cader of Publisher’s Marketplace reports in the Publishers’ Lunch daily newsletter (he has a great little “free advice” page on getting published, applicable to larger Christian houses as well), "On Blogging Policies and Blogging Casualties"–


Editor Jason Pinter’s recent abrupt dismissal from Crown (imprint of Random) was attributed to a post on his blog (now removed) comparing opening week sales for Chris Bohjalian’s THE DOUBLE BIND (Crown), and Ishmael Beah’s A LONG WAY GONE (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux). Pinter speculated on the post whether Starbucks was demonstrating more power in the marketplace than Barnes & Noble (which made Bohjalian their second chainwide recommendation).

Crown is not commenting, and Pinter simply says, "I enjoyed my brief tenure at Crown and was fortunate enough to work with some wonderfully talented authors and publishing professionals. I have nothing but respect for the group and the books they publish."


I’ve been asked about WaterBrook’s and Random House’s policies for this blog many times. While it may seem I flaunt my freedom of expression, it’s a concern I share. Random House’s stated policy on employee blogs is the expectation that “every employee apply the same standards of personal and professional responsibility and decorum to your dealings on blogs as you would to any other aspect of your business activities…and to the extent they mention Random House or workplace issues or matters relevant to publishing, you should make it clear that opinions stated are not necessarily those expressed or endorsed by Random House. Please think about the potential consequences of the content of your blog and blog postings. Blogs exist on the Internet – a public space – so we hope you will be as respectful to the company, your colleagues, our customers, our partners and affiliates, and others (including our competitors) as the company itself endeavors to be."

Nelson’s blog policy is a bit more helpful: "Be nice. Avoid attacking other individuals or companies. This includes fellow employees, authors, customers, vendors, competitors, or shareholders. You are welcome to disagree with the company’s leaders, provided your tone is respectful. If in doubt, we suggest that you ‘sleep on it’ and then submit your entry to the Blogging Oversight Committee before posting it on your blog."


I’ve aways wondered what else the members of the Blogging Oversight Committee do to occupy themselves during daylight hours. Sounds like a fun job. Though, knowing they take pains to downplay images of tight corporate control, you’d think they could come up with a better choice of acronym than “BLOC.”


Anyway, in striking that balance between full disclosure and professional restraint, most of you know I prefer the former. I don’t often talk in specifics. Generalizing and alluding to trends is it. It’s tough, of course, and while I don’t mind focusing on bigger overarching issues, I feel responsible to state the truth about the challenges of ministering through the business of Christian publishing. In as much as I can, I share my opinions in hopes of conveying that Christian publishing is not so different from any other business, the same spiritual dangers lurking, same demands of loyalty and same real pitfalls. No matter what the publishing gods will face on judgment day, at the end of the work day, it’s about growing the business.


Such dedication may improve the innovation, quality, and value of the business, but not always the innovation, quality, and value of the product. That’s natural and endemic across any industry. Like public blogs, mass production does carry certain limitations.


So what are you willing to compromise? And what’s nonnegotiable at any price? There may not be a direct correlation between moral compromise and business success, but even in Christian publishing, you’ve got to know where your true loyalties lie. One sort of compromise may make you lose a relationship with a publisher. The other might cost you much more dearly.

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4 thoughts on “Where Does Your Loyalty Lie?”

  1. Compromise has become one of those “politically correct” type of words.
    It’s interesting that God doesn’t recommend “compromise”. He says it’s all or nothing. He also says there is unity “in the Spirit”. Strange how few church boards (and publishing boards?) can seem to find that spiritual unity. Probably requires too much prayer, huh?
    Compromise is settling for second or third best. It means one or both parties want too much of something. One would expect to face compromise in secular dealings or with individuals who lack knowledge of limitations.
    Compromise of some kind usually ends up being a requirement in some relationships and business arrangements, but as Mick warns, compromise of another kind–such as the lifting or misplacing of your devotion to the Savior for any reason–can have eternal results.

  2. So many fine lines; so much of our humanity caught up in the desire to do right things right.
    About all that’s left is to gaze deep into the river of life and to find ourselves wanting…
    to inspire freedom
    …but to take no prisoners along the way.

  3. First, my writer’s hat…
    If, at the end of the work day, it’s all about growing my “business” as a writer, then I am subject to the very same lurking spiritual dangers as the publishing house, the same demands of loyalty. What, then, am I willing to compromise in order to maintain that business? Well, there’s compromise in the editing process itself—the give and take between writer and editor. But what is that really, aside from an attempt to massage (or wrestle) the words into something that tells your story better than you originally wrote it? Well, the core of that discussion is dictated by guidelines provided very generously by the publisher. These guidelines are not created ex nihilo. They are the product of another kind of compromise—a compromise made to ensure sales. A compromise ultimately agreed upon to grow a business.
    What kind of compromises are we really talking about? Well, let’s assume your writing is already excellent (it is, right?). Then here’s where compromises come into play: the theme (I like how you explore the pain and heartbreak, but can you make the hope more obvious?) the language (we don’t abide by Stephen King’s theories on the appropriate use of coarse language, so please refer to our carefully-crafted list of “no-no’s”) and, ultimately, marketability (if you de-literary-ize this a bit and add a bit more action, we might be able to sell enough to justify the printing costs). Okay, that last one is a bit snarky. But I’ve seen more than a few great books passed on because of that dirty word, “literary.”
    The experience of having your work published is a difficult thing to describe. It’s a joyful thing, certainly. But it’s more than that. There’s that familiar worry about acceptance. (“Yeah, the publisher liked me enough, but will the readers? What if they hate me? Or worse, ignore me?”) And then there are those lurking questions of compromise. (“Should I have fought harder for that character arc?” “Does this really sound like me?” “I wonder if this would have been a better fit in the ABA?”) If those lurking questions ultimately don’t compromise who you are or what you believe in, they will fade. They will have been reasonable compromises. But if they linger…
    Now my editor hat…
    As a freelance editor, I make all kinds of compromises. I edit the book that the author is trying to write according to the publisher’s guidelines even if I don’t completely agree with the message. Does this feel good? Not always. Does it pay the bills? Yeah. Am I okay with that? Yes…and here’s why: It’s not my story. Do I promote ideas I don’t agree with by editing these books? Hmm…I suppose I am guilty by association if my name is listed on the verso page. But I don’t claim to have the whole truth. As long as I don’t think what I’m editing is blatantly heretical, I’m okay with that tension.
    Now if the role of an editor were to turn every book into a vehicle for the editor’s agenda, well, that would be a much different story. [And all of the books I edit would be intentionally incomplete, pointing instead to the Author of completion. They would present the “hope of hope,” but wouldn’t leave readers with the false promise of universally-delivered blessings. They would not offer readers new ways to control God, but instead would present the worth-wrestling-with truth that God Walks Where He Wants. They wouldn’t be about how much money I can make or how I can feel great about myself through the magic of faith. I can’t imagine Creflo Dollar or Joel Osteen would let me edit their books if this were how editors worked.]
    So back to the bigger idea of compromise. I am painfully transparent sometimes here and elsewhere. Maybe I’d be ranked higher on a publisher’s freelance “go-to” list if I weren’t. But freedom to express the reality (warts and all) of the often difficult, often perplexing story God is writing for me is worth that cost. I’m no good at pretending to be two different people these days. I am what you see, the same broken, imperfect child of God no matter which hat rests on my head. (I’m also willing to be wrong, so redirect me where you feel I’ve missed the point.)
    Besides, what have I got to lose by being completely me? A livelihood? Been there. Friends? Yeah, it happens. It’s not like I have to stop writing or anything. I’d have more time for writing anyway, what with the lack of deadlines and the free evenings and weekends…between shifts at Starbucks, I mean.

  4. Google has a long memory.
    Years ago, back when USENET ruled, people hung out in newsgroups. I did. I offered help and discussed touchy subjects with other people, Christian and not. Search engines did not exist.
    As the Web grew, these formerly non-existent search engine companies bought up older tech and incorporated it in their directories. Now I can find things I said in USENET newsgroups back in the 1980s in Google’s directories.
    I blogged once that Google may be the killer app for companies wanting to research the personal moral views of potential employees. I’m certain that even as I type, some HR types somewhere in the world are disqualifying someone for a job on the basis of what was written a decade ago on the Web.

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