I wrote this post back in 2009, but as I reread it, I realized that it deserves to be touched up and resubmitted to readers of “David’s Place,” many of whom are writers and authors. I predicted back then that traditional Christian publishers may be in trouble. Three years later, most of them have sold out to mainstream, big name publishers. Here’s what I said back then:
Frank Peretti? Who had ever heard of him before This Present Darkness?
In the early or mid-seventies, Kenneth Tyndale’s Living Bible found no publisher willing to take a chance. If my memory serves me correctly, he shopped that manuscript around to 5 or 6 publishers. He finally had to become his own publisher. That’s why to this day Tyndale Publishers stays opened to writers that can’t find a publisher (at least in theory).
Why would any author–who writes an important book, who works hard to get it into the hands of readers, and who has developed some sort of platform on his/her own–want to share that with a publisher whose “platform” policy makes it clear that they are unwilling to invest or risk anything, with that author? Who needs fair-weather friends? I do not fully understand publishing, but common sense begs the question: what use is a publisher to an already popular and successful author? All she needs at that point is a reprographics company who can keep up with demand and a sharp, innovative administrative assistant to coordinate all of her partnerships.
Lottery winners are smart not to trust new found friends. They do best to trust their instincts and the loyal friends who were with them from the start.
The Christian writer and publisher must remain open to other considerations that secular publishers need not consider–God’s will for effective ministry and for building the body of Christ. We will be held responsible for more than the bottom line. How much of our “business” is sensitive to the needs of ministry and guidance of the Holy Spirit? God uses the little known and despised things to confound the wise. He often raises up the least likely. We look on the outside. He looks on the inside. He purposely counters our too often worldly perspectives. Therefore, if we don’t want to miss what He is doing, we need to stay sensitive to his leading, as well as to our formulas for success. He may choose to bypass them (as in The Shack and many other titles that surprised those who had their eyes on the bottom line).
Fortunately for us, many of the greatest authors in literature had publishers that knew that writers write and publishers market–its a partnership. The great publishing houses became such because they knew that first books were investments. Author and publisher needed each other. They took chances together in order to impact their world, because they believed in the message. And each had his own responsibilities and expertise. They were co-workers.
An increasing number of today’s publishers appear to want a guaranteed return on someone else’s investment. They may be unaware of publishing history. Some publishers know better and continue to believe that important books remain to be written and discovered. And occasionally a receptive publisher connects with a potentially great writer and together they make history. However, that becomes increasingly rare when publishers set policies that exclude new manuscript submissions unless they come through agents. I don’t have the solution. Publishers have their own challenges. More could be said on this, but perhaps someone more qualified could take up the challenge.
My guess is that if the current publishing trend continues, more and more authors will find alternate ways to publish and connect with readers. Then where will the Christian publishers be when their potential authors no longer need them?
I’ve heard it said that ”the internet eliminates geography.” Social networking is the new town center. After all, word of mouth has always been and will continue to be the most effective form of advertising. So authors, don’t worry if the big guys won’t even read your manuscripts without an agent. You have many alternatives in the new community. Let’s see how good the Lord is at getting your work out there.
QUESTION: What will be the future for corporate Christian publishers?