THERE’S ONE BATTLE I often have to fight when I send a book off to a publisher.
It’s not usually a pitched battle – though on one occasion I withdrew my manuscript from a publisher because of it.
The trouble starts with my mission:
I write books about the Bible and Christianity for non-Christians and nominal Christians. Bible newbies.
Those are the people I target because those are the people Jesus told his disciples to target when he gave them the Great Commission:
“Go and make disciples of all the nations….Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
—Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20, NLT
Jesus didn’t say, “Go hang out in the church, sing to the choir, and chitchat about your kids in small groups.”
Here’s my dilemma.
Nearly everyone I work with, including agents, publicists, editors, and publishers ask me to please write for conservative Christians.
That’s where they say the market is.
That’s who they say buy my books.
And that’s the profile of the “Gatekeepers.”
Those are the bookseller folks who decide whether or not my books will go on the shelf in their Christian bookstores.
They also decide if my books will go on the racks in high-traffic areas such as airport gift shops, discount stores, and supermarkets. I love my books on racks out where non-Christians go. It’s hard for me to imagine a non-Christian going into a Christian bookstore. Wouldn’t that be a bit like seeing a Klingon at a pajama party?
If all of what those book publishing advisors say is true, then conservative Christianity is not only where my market is – it’s where my money is.
But it’s not where my people are.
My people don’t know much about Jesus or the Bible. When it comes to religion, they’re not conservative because they don’t have anything to conserve.
I walk a tightrope, trying to write books that will interest non-Christians who are curious about the Bible and the Christian faith – yet doing it in a way that won’t choke a “Gatekeeper.”
It’s a tricky business.
One criticism I get from some straight-laced Christians is that my tone or my choice of words is disrespectful to God or to the Bible.
I understand how people could see that, if they presume I’m writing to die-hard believers.
But I write to nonbelievers, so I try to open up a topic by approaching it the way they do. I start where they are, and then try to nudge them to think about what the Bible and what top Bible experts have to say about the matter. No preaching. Zilch. Other writers do that, plenty.
I ask hard questions, in their tone of voice – and sometimes with their choice of words, which might sound irreverent to the longtime saint.
- Why is the Old Testament God such a jerk?
- Why on earth should I embrace a God who tells Joshua and the Jews to kill everything in Canaan – men, women, children, and even the baby goats?
- Speaking of Joshua, do you really expect me to believe that he stopped the sun and moon in the sky? For heaven sake, I had physics in high school.
Then there are the controversial issues:
There are Christians on both sides of those issues.
Yes there are.
I report that in my books, and I try to present the most compelling rationale behind their arguments.
What happens, though, is that some Christians see me reporting something they don’t agree with, and they tag me as a liberal heretic for merely reporting it.
Some liberals, by the way, see me reporting the conservative side of the debate, and they tag me as a heartless conservative – or an idiot.
Anyone in need of proof could go to some of the websites that sell my books. Read the reviews. Most are flattering, thankfully. But some are flaming, predicting that one day I’ll be flaming, too.
That would leave a mark.
This is not an easy ministry. I swim upstream in Christian publishing.
That’s where my people are.
Or as one of my publicists put it – cynically I suspect – my “imagined readers.”
So here’s a prayer request: From time to time, ask the Good Lord to point me in the right direction. Wherever that is, that’s where I’d like very much to go.