Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Struggle of Every Christian Writer

The Yabba-Dabba-Prophet
Over the past several years, I have had the privilege to counsel and mentor hundreds of aspiring writers. They believe with all their heart that God has given them a gift, a ministry of the written word, a message that they feel compelled to share with the world. I can scarcely imagine a nobler calling, especially in light of the battles that most struggling scribes must endure. Sometimes I offer words of encouragement; sometimes I must administer a dose of tough love. A couple of years ago, I came up with this slogan:

Salvation comes by grace, but publication comes by works.

Let me explain.

To Self-Publish, or Not to Self-Publish?

The Ultimate Editor?
These are crazy and confusing times in the publishing business.

In this fiercely competitive era, when publishing houses are becoming increasingly selective, many aspiring authors seek their salvation through self-publishing. Just imagine: no one will tell you what to do. No one will have the gall to tell you the market for your genre is already oversaturated, or that you use too many split infinitives. You can do it yourself, bypass the evil arrogant editor or corporate executive, and release a book on your own terms. Power to the people, baby!

Before we go any further, let's define some terms: By "self-publishing," I mean a broad range of services whereby the author pays any type of advance fee to a vendor. Or in a newer twist, a company (such as Lulu or Amazon) that requires no payment up front but will print (or e-publish) just about anything you send them. The variations are endless.

Books Are Alive And Well, Thank You

I like books. There, I’ve said it.

For some of you who know me through one of my many publishing endeavors, you might be tempted to read that statement and think duh, of course Steve likes books. He’s in the business. But let me explain.

I don’t own a Kindle or a Nook. Further, I’m in no particular rush to get one. Count me as one of those old fogies who live by the axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For me, there was never anything wrong with the old version. Handcrafted calligraphy to woodcuts?  That was progress. Animal skins to paper? Wonderful. Woodcuts to moveable type? Genius. Moveable type to offset? Marvelous. Offset to digital? Bravo. Paper to silicon? The jury is still out.

Hold the phone. The reports of the death of paper books have been greatly exaggerated.

Authors Vs. Publishers: Who Wins?

It’s getting harder and harder to squeeze out a nickel in the publishing business these days. Authors, publishers and vendors continually struggle for the upper hand. The business models are changing, technology brings new opportunities, and everyone wants to be first to exploit the Next Big Thing.

In a recent online report, Publisher’s Weekly reports a new development in this ever-changing landscape: Regnery Publishing prevailed in an arbitration case where three authors accused the company of cheating them out of their royalties. (The case has many facets, but for our purposes today I will carve out this narrow angle.)

Is Christian Publishing Forgetting Christ?

Dear Mr. Christian Publisher:

When I hung out my shingle as a literary agent, I had a crucial decision to make: Did I want to work in the “Christian” market, or the “general” (non-religious) market, or both? The future of my career could very well hinge on this important choice.

Certainly I began my publishing career with a religious book, released by a “Christian” house in 2006. I didn’t even bother pitching it to Dutton or Doubleday, because it clearly wasn’t in their wheelhouse. The good news is that we live in a big world of many options, which has a place for everyone and every genre.

Literary Agents: Just A Bunch of Crooks?

I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s true: The publishing business seems to be the only profession on earth where so many untrained, unaccomplished amateurs claim to be experts. They’ve never published a book, never snared an agent, don’t really know how to work the system. Never negotiated a book contract or attended a writers' conference, and don’t know a split infinitive from a split pea. Yet they populate the online forums and chat rooms, preaching with supreme confidence and dogmatic certainty (with lousy spelling and grammar, I might add), dispensing advice to others.

Please Don't Send My Book to The 99c Store

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed rock ’n roll music. And for almost as long, I have admired the works of Billy Joel. He’s a poet with a piano, an everyman who celebrates (and laments) the ups and downs of daily life and the human condition as well as anyone.

In the few years that I’ve worked full-time in the publishing business, it has become increasingly obvious that the book trade is following the pattern of music: Technology, pricing, piracy, on and on. Truly, writers and musicians face many of the same struggles, as it becomes harder and harder to squeeze out a nickel while chasing a dream..

Why We Won't Read Your Manuscript

As a young inexperienced writer, I had several ideas for books I wanted to write. But when I sought to approach publishers, the process was absolutely daunting. I had no computer or Internet, no agent, no access to a mentor or a writers’ conference. More often than not, I gave up before I started. Maybe someday, I would get lucky and make the right connections.

Today, of course, almost everyone has access to those important resources. Who’s the Romance editor at Random House? Ask Google. What agents handle my genre? Ask Yahoo. Where’s the nearest conference, and what does it cost? The answers are only a few keystrokes away. With very little effort you can easily find out almost everything you need to know, to write that Great American Novel and set it before the eyes of all the right people. You’d think that modern technology makes everyone’s job easier, right?