This week, Writer’s Bloc visits with a terrific publisher in the industry, Don Pape of David C. Cook. An amusing question that Cook employees get often is, “Who’s David C. Cook?” The company began in 1875 Chicago, established by David Caleb Cook. David C. Cook is a major player in the industry, producing everything from curriculum, to books and music. Don Pape enjoys being part of this thriving company.
Writer’s Bloc: What is your official title at David C. Cook, and what do your duties entail?
Don Pape: Publisher of trade books and study resources at David C. Cook. My responsibility is to oversee the editorial team and lead the way in acquiring our publishing list. It also includes working with marketing and sales, with agents and authors, and it really is a delightful position with varied duties throughout a day.
WB: Tell us a bit about your background, and how you found yourself in the publishing business.
DP: I stumbled into publishing, really. My first foray was when, fresh out of college, I worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and their campus ministry in Canada – I was on their high school staff. I helped at their publishing arm, InterVarsity Press – actually moving their warehouse location and occasionally picking and packing orders. That led to a job with another ministry as their book buyer; that led to a position as a music buyer for a retail chain; that then led to my being hired as a marketing director for Scripture Press in Canada.
They had a distribution company, and I was hired to market their book lines. We were bought by David C. Cook, and I worked with the U.S. office back in the ’80s and then left, started my own distribution company and represented Howard Books and WaterBrook Press in Canada. It was that contact that eventually brought me and my family to the U.S.
WaterBrook was just getting off the ground, and after a couple of seasons of distributing their product in Canada, they offered me a role in their sales team in Colorado Springs. When WaterBrook purchased Wheaton-based Harold Shaw Books, I was made their publishing director.
Eventually I was made VP editorial and publisher of WaterBrook, a division of Random House. I did a stint as a literary agent with Alive Communications prior to coming back to David C. Cook in 2006. At Alive, I had the delight of representing a number of authors such as Mark Mittelberg, Brandilyn Collins, Jeffrey Overstreet, Kathy Herman and Matt Bronleewe, to name a few. It was a great experience to be on that side, but I missed the editorial team.
When Dan Rich Sr., VP and publisher at David C. Cook, invited me to join the new team that was taking shape at Cook, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s been a delight to shape the list and work with authors such as Francis Chan, Lisa Bergren, Palmer Chinchen, Efrem Smith and countless other new voices. You know, my father was a missionary and wrote several books in Portuguese, and my aunt and uncle have both been prolific so it is no surprise that I find myself around books.
WB: Specifically, what is your assessment of the Christian book industry at present?
DP: It is like the church – walking a tightrope between the old and the new generation. I believe the challenge for the Christian book industry is that the retail channel has shifted. Where once our product was found solely in Christian bookstores, now our books can be found in grocery stores, supermarkets, online. … That said, there is no greater opportunity than now to produce books by key communicators with the amazing hope that we have – whether in fiction or non-fiction.
WB: Cook seems to be healthy, even in this economic climate. How does the company do it?
DP: Well, praise God. I think the key here is not to take our eye off the mission and to attribute the praise where it is due.
As my boss likes to say, “If God is in it, we’ll see His blessing.”
I believe that is true. We have prayed for Cook to get healthy, for God to send us the authors and book projects, and we don’t take that favor lightly. One thing we have done is narrowed our list – gone from over 170 titles published in a year to around 75 titles now. That makes more sense and allows us to do a better job of focus – focus on the message, focus on the market.
WB: What types of projects get you excited personally?
DP: Life-changing books – like the “Pursuit of the Holy” by Simon Ponsonby, or “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, or “Plan A” by Dwight Robertson. I take a personal satisfaction in finding new voices and seeing how we as a team can shape that message and take it to market. It really is stewardship, so it’s not to be taken lightly.
WB: Are your beautiful surroundings in Colorado conducive to inspiration and great working conditions?
DP: Can I pass on this one? The mountains out my window are spectacular, but the carpet on the office floor – that’s another story! Yes, Colorado and its bright blue sky and sunshine would inspire anyone!
WB: Tell us about the vision for David C. Cook, and if there is a temptation to stray from that, given the uncertain times.
DP: Our mission statement is to equip the church with Christ-centered resources for making and teaching disciples who will transform today’s generations. Frankly, it is hard not to get excited about that and keep focused on the main thing. Oh, sure, it is oftentimes a temptation to give the church what they want rather than what they need – or to review a manuscript or proposal that could be popular but not fit our mission … but we have a good team that serves as checks and balances for that.
WB: Do you have a personal writing career, and if not, what do you read for pleasure?
DP: (Laugh!) I suppose someday when I retire I will write a great novel, loosely based-on my parents’ experience in Brazil. But that is a long way off. I have a few title ideas and some notion but right now no time.
I love reading great novels – particularly discovering new voices. I enjoy Chris Bohjalian, Elizabeth Berg, Robert Elmer – and of course any great Canadian writer!
WB: If you weren’t a book publisher, what would you be doing?
DP: I’d either be a high-school English teacher, working at a bookstore or, in keeping with my dream in high school, a world-famous film producer. I’d somehow be connected with story and getting people excited about that.