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 a potentially 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 an editor, a format and cover artist, a reprographics company like CreateSpace.com who will keep up with printing demand and market distribution; 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.
A Proposed Solution
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). By the way, the author of The Shack had zero platform–none!
Fortunately for us, many of the greatest authors in literature had publishers that knew that writers write and publishers print and market–its a partnership. The great publishing houses became such because they knew that first books were investments. Perhaps even second ones. 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. And their shared risk enriched and enlightened or entertained us.
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 or simply uninformed. 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 gifted, determined 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. But I can suggest that Christian publishers need spiritually discerning people at their front doors as manuscript readers–that is if expanding the Kingdom and honoring God is as important as money.
The Future of Christian Publishing?
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. Amazon.com is the new town center and the most important bookstore in the world. And if your book is already there, don’t worry that no publisher will partner with you. 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 today in the new and growing reading community. Since the Lord raised you up and gave you the ability to write well, let’s see how good He is at getting your work out there and connecting with the readers He wants to communicate with. I expect there are many more viral books to be written. Remember The Shack. And keep writing and publishing.
Or if you’ve been successful, why not give back by launching a Christian publishing company with a different set of values. The world is ripe to see a publishing company motivated by ministry.
QUESTION: What do you think will be the future for traditional corporate Christian publishers?