Tag Archives: Christian publishing

Formula

Form

Structure is what we think of. How something is constructed. The formula is applied and the form is made.

This is understood. This is quantifiable. This is a known, safe method to creation.

But then there’s that other world.

Mt. Hermon conference was great, as usual. If you allow it, things happen there that can change you. A brief vision of a deeper space glimmers open before you, among the pillars of trees, the canopy of branches. You walk along in a different light and time and space converge into something resembling deep meaning. You were meant to come here. You were meant to be a part of this.

Of course, it’s not about you. You may know some things, some thoughts to apply. You may come expecting something nonspecific and ill-defined. But you will leave with far bigger fantasies of your purpose in responding to it all. If you could only find the words…

The first evening, I sat and listened to Dick Foth. His insights matched my experience at the conference so insanely, I’m not able to talk about it yet, but that first night he shared the difference between Coke and water. Seems pretty obvious, and it is. But the real difference is in how you interpret the value of Coke, the value of water. Some people, maybe many, prefer Coke. It’s got this fascinating formula, and highly (famously) protected. But as Dick points out, it’s sweetness is toxic and will, over time, eventually kill you. Water it down and it won’t kill you quite as fast, but it still won’t refresh as well as just water. So why do so many seem to prefer the syrupy, sparkly toxin?

Of course, I love Coke too, so don’t miss the metaphor here. But up in the woods I experienced a shift, one of several really, in how I think about the coming revolution I once opined upon at great length in the early days of this blog (check the sidebar). I didn’t know it was coming, not really. I hoped, but it wasn’t like now. Now I know. Not long now, and we’ll be experiencing a major resurgence of "water over Coke." I’m not going to define that any more specifically because I can’t, but those who have ears to hear, listen up. It used to seem so uncertain, like you didn’t want to actually name it unless it might skitter off. I spent a lot of time defining it, looking for evidence, hoping and dreaming. I spent time defending it against criticisms. It’s easy for critics to see this shift in the books we enjoy as a "watering down" of the core Christian message. And yet what do we do to wean people off of Coke? How will they develop a taste for just water?

Think about that. "Come to me all you who are thirsty and I will give you drink…. "Living water that you might thirst no more."

Former CBA chairman Steve Adams said recently to the ECPA that changing lives through Christian materials was “more likely to occur in a Christian retail store than an outlet in any other channel, because this is the one that best integrates like-minded people in a common mission.” Get that? The way I hear that is unless writers, editors, and publishers offer just water along with Coke, we may not have this influence much longer. Certainly, we need excellence at every level. But that’s just part of it. We also need to be providing a whole spectrum of books that reach people with all different tastes.

Overall, what we’re hoping for is a united effort among writers and publishers to accept the myriad different opportunities available to us in reaching beyond our former restrictions. We need people who are awake and already making the connections between what is and what could be. We need people who aren’t afraid of the inherent risks involved for people of faith, willing to stretch beyond the safe boundaries to try something new.  And above all, we need to be seeking the source of that inspiration in the living water, crafting works that have no place in the current market…but will.

This is how you escape the addiction to formula. This is formless freedom. For the change in my outlook and how I approach this challenge I have countless people to thank, but on my mind just now it’s Madison Richards, as well as Jim Rubart and Jen McCarthy. All of you are amazing.

So anyway…who else could go for a nice cold Coke right about now?

Developing a Taste for Meat

“Christians are actually, to me, anyway, as a Jew, much more interesting in America. And weirdly, much more misunderstood. Evangelical Christians are the most incompetently portrayed group in America, in TV, in fiction, in the news. When Christians say that the media gets them wrong, Christians are absolutely right. Christian life in this country is really horribly documented, and way more interesting than is done. Generally, in the media, very religious Christians are portrayed as hardheaded doctrinaire knuckleheads. But in fact, from my experience, the most religious Christians I know tend to be incredibly thoughtful, complicated, generous to a fault, very principled and not knuckleheads. Actually, they’re sort of weirdly the opposite of the stereotype, and that includes people from the hardcore fundamentalist faiths.”
Ira Glass (Thanks to Mollie at Get Religion)

By way of counterpoint, according to Barna’s survey data, there are precious few of these “most religious Christians” in America. I don’t think I’m one of them. And there’s little chance of surviving as a Christian writer, publisher, or acquisitions editor catering only to this small group. And yet, there’s little chance of preserving your moral standards if you’re catering to the majority of Christian book-buyers in America. Doing so will almost certainly require compromise. For example:

1.    As Barna points out, most American Christians are hypocrites. We want to follow Jesus, but we’d rather watch other people doing it.
2.    We’re shallow. “Just give me Jesus” isn’t a simple slogan, it’s a cop out. Deep theology and paradoxical spiritual truths are too hard. Keep it simple and make us feel better.
3.    We’re dualistic. We want to live simply, but be complicated. We want to get uncluttered, but we can’t accept the limitation of giving up stuff.
4.    We’re blind. Of course, we can’t really admit any of this because were too smart for that. But by closing our eyes to avoid the uncomfortable realities, we face consequences.

We know a large portion of our audience buys books to feel better about all this, for the psychological freedoms they offer. Lucrative Christian books (indeed, entire publishing programs) are built on these 4 little navel-gazing secrets, using them to apply band-aids: a little encouragement, a little spiritual salve, an easy out. They help us feel for a while that all is within our reach if we buy an inspirational book.

But as publishing professionals, do we have to accept this catering to the masses? Can we resist this? Must we give people easy outs? I don’t mean we give up easy reads, but can we sneak in some real meat with the stuff? Maybe we can trick them into developing a taste for meat by making it cheaper, faster, fresher, newer, easier, and making them laugh and cry at how good this “fast food” tastes.

I guess I have to believe this IS possible, that the first all-important step is looking at how you yourself have compromised, realize you’ve been had, and decide to stop furthering the enemy’s aims. Then, praise God for his grace and repent on your knees. If you’ve been in 1, 2, 3, or 4, you don’t have to stay there. And if you’re just starting out, commit to the higher purpose of Christian “inspirational” books and band with others to fight for balance with God-honoring messages that reach our respective corners of the market.

And together, maybe we will manage to keep Ira’s good impression.

If this is you, then it’s time to get it going.

Where Does Your Loyalty Lie?

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.