f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Status and Tension

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

Status and Tension

It’s been hit-or-miss around here, hasn’t it? I didn’t even manage to post a Thanksgiving message before bolting for the holidays. For that I’m sorry. I suspect you were all able to endure the holiday just fine without a short post from me listing all the things for which I’m thankful or making a lame joke about tryptophan.

We’re in a bit of short story purgatory here. Still waiting on a few things and then we’ll begin looking at the actual stories themselves.

In the meanwhile, one of the things that’s occupied a bit of my time was playing guest lecturer at a local college. Two weeks ago, I spoke at a Monday-8:00am Writing and Ethics class. Those who know me well may puzzle over me being invited to even attend an ethics class let alone shape the minds of today’s youth. And yet there I was.

The students had submitted questions about the worlds of writing and publishing to me in advance and as a framework for answering them, I presented four main tensions that face us in publishing, particularly Christian publishing.

I think these four tensions pretty much encapsulate most of the major arguments and conversations occurring right now. We’ll get to two today.

Profit vs. Mission

Mick Silva is currently tackling this topic over at his blog so I won’t spend too much time here. This gets into weird territory of accusing certain successful people of doing things just for money than for God. Lots of plank/splinter stuff. If you were to get an honest answer from most Christian publishers on their business model my guess is they’d say this:

1. Our goal is to publish life/world changing books that we think will sell strongly.
2. After those, we will publish books for which we see a market as long as the message is strong…though perhaps not life-changing.
3. And we will back what we see as life-changing projects of dubious commercial potential when they emerge.

Number 1 is a no-brainer and I think nearly all the books BHP publishes are viewed in this category. Someone in-house believes in an author and their message or story enough that they fight for them in-house.

Number 3 is the land of the idealist. I don’t know that you can live there, but it’s phenomenal to visit now and then and if you’re at a company that won’t…that’s sketchy. BHP will. Baker Publishing Group does all the time. And I’m thankful for that. (See, there’s your post-Thanksgiving thanks. Now let me go sleep off that tryptophan.)


Corporate vs. Personal Ideology

This tension is primarily for those working within the publishing world. (Although it directly affects you as writers because it’s the changes within companies that open and shut doors to new books/markets/genres/etc.

The direction of a company does not emerge fully formed from the heavens. It’s a result of the decisions, abilities, and choices of people within the company. For the most part, folks agree on a general destination, but in a dynamic market (and Christian fiction is dynamic) the opportunity for change or different paths mean that there will be varied opinions within a company.

An author I like with a story I like may not get signed. If that happens too often is my personal ideology too disparate from the defined course of the company? (That’s a hypothetical. I’m doing fine here.)

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So those are two of the fundamental tensions within the Christian publishing universe. Tomorrow we’ll move from the corporate side to the writing side.

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Continue to Day 2 of our discussion of tensions in publishing.