I was talking to an editor friend in the Christian book publishing industry recently. He works for a company that at one time was a bastion of conservative thought; a company that resonated with, for example, readers of solid apologetics material.
He was explaining to me – “only half-jokingly” – that he virtually asks authors now to put something about the Amish into their book proposals. The thinking goes that, because the Christian book industry is now led by the nose in the drive for cash, it is necessary to actively seek out projects that have Amish themes. For reasons unknown to a country boy like me, Amish-themed books are all the rage. Perhaps it’s our desire for a simple life, in the sewer of our current culture, that drives some of us to long for simplicity.
Now, I don’t have one thing against the Amish. Aside from the fact that I could not adapt to that lifestyle due to the fact that I couldn’t give up my television fix of “Criminal Minds,” I could think about the simple life.
The problem is, you see where the Christian book industry is, and it’s sad. I have no doubt that if fiction themed around purple monkeys became all the rage, virtually all the Christian publishers would come out with lines of purple-monkey fiction, purple-monkey gift books, purple-monkey parenting books and so on. Further, we know of at least one author who would cough-up the title, “Your Best Purple-Monkey Life Now.”
I’m not sure what my solution is; perhaps the point of this week’s Writer’s Bloc is simply to inform you of disturbing trends in publishing. Maybe I don’t need to come up with a solution for this problem. Maybe I should just watch a George Raft movie and eat Fiddle Faddle.
Yet, perhaps I can do my microscopic part to nudge certain publishers in certain directions.
I’ve proposed this before, but for those publishers out there who are interested, I’d suggest hiring a marketing person to find book customers who care about ideas. They are out there.
You probably won’t find those sources if you are stuck on the broken, mangled model of “Find me the latest trends!” that emanates from the smoky offices of publishers.
Yet knowing specific markets can yield publishing rewards. And allow me to tell you why I don’t like trends, especially in the Christian market:
There is nothing wrong with the old-time religion, but Christian publishers today act as if there is something very wrong with it. The tendency now is to publish contemporary spokesmen. This lineup includes Donald Miller and Brian McLaren and Erwin McManus.
Sometimes it can include “establishment contemporary spokesmen,” such as Stanley Hauerwas, the Duke University professor. Recently, Religion Book Line interviewed Hauerwas in his Durham, N.C., office.
Amazingly, Hauerwas acknowledged a bent toward narcissism, a hallmark of writing today. He also threw in some salty language, to prove he’s contemporary and relevant:
Religion Book Line: It sounds like you hope this book will be encouraging for Christians who have a sense of unknowing or doubt about their convictions.
Stanley Hauerwas: I hope it will be attractive to people who are not Christians and are trying to figure out: What in the hell does it feel like to be one?
That comment might play well in a campus coffee house, but one wonders if the drive to be hip and relevant is really the way to go for a Christian author. Somehow, this all factors into the previously mentioned Amish angle, believe me.
Many moons ago, I was the editor for one of the great apologists of the last century. Over a 50-year book career, he never wandered into trends or used profanity to make a theological point. If you’d told him to pepper his apologetics material with Amish recipes or edgy Christian romance (whatever that is), he would have adjusted his glasses and given a blank look.
Where are Christian writers like that today? Evidently, they are dead or unemployed.
When my friend told me about the Amish direction and I read Hauerwas’s comment, I realized again that mainstream Christian publishing has gone to the dogs. The real, eternal-impact stuff is being done by independents and self-publishers.
As I’ve said before, several times, set your own trends. When an editor dangles a book contract but requires that you sprinkle your commentary on Habakkuk with Amish barn-building techniques, tell him you don’t need the paltry advance that bad.
Then go back to your old trusty Remington typewriter and continue on with the project God gave you to do. That way, you can look at yourself in the mirror and not be disgusted by the narcissistic, trend-chasing hack you’ve become.
To he…ck with trends!