Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Will Happen to Christian Books?

I often have people come up to me and ask me how to get published.

I guess they figure I know, since I've done it, but the truth is that there isn't a formula. I took out books from the library, followed what they said exactly, but then I just caught some lucky breaks.

Hard work and professionalism always help, but they're never a guarantee. Neither is having a good manuscript! Much of what gets published isn't particularly good, or particularly memorable. And it can be frustrating when you have something more profound to say. But that's the way it is. The deck is stacked against new writers, and against writers in small markets (like Canada). We have to fight even harder.

And that's not the only opposition we're facing. I loved Denyse's post below about the death of freedom of speech in Canada, which I am also extremely concerned about. The Human Rights Commissions are perfect Newspeak: they do the exact opposite of what they purport to do. Instead of defending human rights, they erode them. Much of what we as Christians want to write about is now suspect, because it can be seen as offensive and judgmental.

And into all this mess comes the news this week that R.G. Mitchell's, Canada's largest Christian book distributor and a major Canadian retailer, has gone into receivership. That's heartbreaking, especially for all the employees.

So where does that leave Christian books? It seems that we have the perfect storm working against us: the difficulty in getting published in the first place; the chilly political climate; and now the difficulty in having our works distributed.

I don't think all is lost, however. With the election coming, political speech can once again be brought to the forefront. I know I've been talking to my Conservative MP about it, and the HRCs aren't particularly liked in many of those circles.

But I also think the Mitchell's crash, as sad as it is, provides opportunity.

One of the problems, from my point of view, was that Mitchell's had gotten too big. It was a behemoth. And when you're huge, it's hard to do anything well. It represented dozens of book publishers, so how are you going to adequately represent any of them? When you're sitting down for a sales meeting with a bookstore, and you have sixty lines to present, you're not going to present them all. You're just going to show the few that you think will be best sellers.

In the process, Canadian Christian bookstores become quite uniform. They all carry the same books, and there isn't necessarily a lot of individualization for the region, or an attempt to search for the hidden gems. Especially in fiction I find some of the writers that churn out a lot don't say anything particularly profound. But some of the smaller firms, who are publishing fiction, just can't get the ear of the booksellers because the distributor was too big.

Canada has great smaller distributors, and I hope they will resist the urge to pick up all of Mitchell's pieces, thus recreating their problems. I hope, instead, that firms will stay personalized and small. That's how the gems will be unearthed. And that's what our field needs to shake it up a little, and to let the truly talented, but unknown, writers shine.

So I don't think this is the end. I think we are on the cusp of something very different and very new. I pray for the Mitchell's employees, and for the stores, and I hope that the communities where they are located will still have a Christian witness. But there is a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather them together. They're being cast away right now, but perhaps, in the gathering, something better will emerge in Canada.

Sheila Wray Gregoire is a national speaker, syndicated columnist, and author of four books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. Find out about her online book club here!

She blogs at

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