f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Sell Out With Me, Oh Yeah. Sell Out, With Me Tonight

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, May 10, 2004

Sell Out With Me, Oh Yeah. Sell Out, With Me Tonight

There’s some good discourse going in the comments’ page from last Friday’s post and I will again take five seconds to lament the lack of a board yet. I promise it’s coming. (Yeah, so is Christmas!) Along about ninety other things to make this a fully-interactive, sharing and caring Christian writing community ruled with an iron-fist by your cold-hearted Dictator Dave.

Anyway, rather than respond in the comments, I thought I’d continue the conversation up here and pose the question: “What would it take for you to sell out?” It’s a question I recently had to ask myself—and no, not in reference to the Purpose-Driven Life novelizations. Darn Zondervan people haven’t taken me up on the offer yet.

I know some of you think of “selling out” as the worst of possible sins. I don’t think I’m quite so deeply entrenched in my idealism. I guess it’s how we look at things.

Personally, I don’t see the “creative process” to be quite so pure and untainted. I also don’t see it, in my life, as being solely owned by me. From nearly the first, it’s a collaborative and interactive process. I don’t see my writing as existing in a vacuum. Instead, I see it as a response. One of the wonderful ways of looking at the world of publishing is to think of it in terms of conversation. To take works through the eras that tackle a single thematic idea and trace of thread of thought and interplay as authors speak through the generations.

At the same time, because I view my writing as part of a long-standing tradition of communication, I want my words to be read. I want an audience. And that’s where things start getting tricky, because an audience brings money and money is, we all know, the root of all Rumsfeld…, I mean, evil. And if there’s a thing that’ll get people’s hackles up it’s compromising the creative spirit for money.

Where’s the line?

Your work, unless you self-publish, is not your own. It will be a collaborative effort. And the slope of give and take becomes slippery quickly.

“This sentence may trip people up. Let’s change it.” Okay, sure.

“This section bogs down. Readers will get bored.” Oh, umm, well, I guess.

“We think your chapter here is just a bit too graphic. You’ll scare people off.” Do you listen to this advice?

“You know, adding a female voice here might give it broader appeal.” Broader appeal! That’s slang for big sales and more money!

The same suggestions might come without a contract. I may even make these suggestions to give you the best opportunity for your work to be published by us.

There’s two important points here.

It’s your work. In the end, it’s your call. The best editors (and I’m not saying I’m one of them) will help you make productive compromises to your work that do not compromise the integrity of your vision for the piece.

It’s our publishing house. There are about 50,001 factors that go into accepting a book for publication including, for BHP, about 25 years of history, brand equity, P&L predictions, blah, blah, blah. We may ask you to compromise beyond the point with which you are comfortable. If that’s the case, then we’re not the publisher for you. We need to publish books in which our authors’ vision and our vision at least come close to coinciding.

The thing you need to know is that we can’t change our vision to match every authors’. But you should never feel like a sell out, in any publishing venture. But at the same time, neither should you consider the slightest compromise or change in your manuscript to be a sell-out of your principles. The balance, it appears, looks to be razor thin.


This is a cluttered week and I’ll be in Colorado toward the end of it. Hopefully I’ll be able to post from there. Otherwise, keep talking through things.

Where is your “sell out” point? Would you give your novel a happy ending for a $50,000 advance? Would you, as Vinita Hampton Wright talked about doing in one of her novels, add a female voice to balance a book and give it wider appeal? Would you admit, as Leif Enger did, that his primary audience for Peace Like a River were his two boys and his wife. His boys just wanted the book to be exciting and his wife just wanted it to make money. He thought those were as good as directions as any.