I don’t follow many publishers or literary agents. For the most part, I’ve avoided them as I’ve found that they’re in a lockstep mentality both in the ways that business is conducted and in their views of culture. The cultural establishment’s entire mantra these days has become “don’t rock the boat”, while at the same time expecting authors and artists to virtue signal or remain silent on social justice issues when they deem appropriate.
One agent and publisher I do follow is Steve Laube, who bravely took the reins of Marcher Lord Press from Christian Editor Jeff Gerke, a man who carved out a small section of Science Fiction and Fantasy dedicated to Christian authors. Mr. Laube rebranded it as Enclave Publishing, and launched some very cool new talent such as Nadine Brandes and S.D. Grimm, both of whom I’ve mentioned on this blog before. Yesterday, Mr. Laube retweeted an article from one of his agents, Dan Balow, who I don’t know and I hope this isn’t construed as a personal attack against him, as it’s not intended that way. By all I have seen he appears a very accomplished and competent member of the field. Mr. Balow wrote a post titled, “The Non-Partisan Author”, calling on authors to be silent in anything controversial in order to not turn off your potential audience. The premise sounds reasonable, and I’d been told that very thing for years, but in the wake of injustice against Christian and conservative authors alike, we have a greater duty to our fellow artists than to remain silent.
Mr. Balow writes:
The question is simply this; do you want to sell books to anyone and everyone, or just to those who agree with you on everything? The number of the latter is a small fraction of the former.
It’s interesting seeing this from a Christian literary agent/author. Already, with the branding of Christian, he has turned off a large segment of the population who doesn’t want any reminder of Christ or God in their lives. That’s already a controversial stand, and unfortunately when it comes to artistry, that brand has come with a scarlet letter of “L” for lame when it comes to the entertainment market. It may not be warranted, but it is what people see from the outside, and if the concern is about turning off a large swath of the market, that would be the first step to avoid. If you’re labeled a Christian Author, and published by a Christian Publisher, you have that brand riding with you, you have that divisiveness built into your career. You’ll be expected to be in a corner with the other lame Christians, not to be out in the world or in public discourse, because you should only be talking in Church about such things. That’s what the world tells us.
It’s also wrong. I mentioned this in my article about turning the other cheek. This mindset comes from the relentless push by secular society that good Christians should “turn the other cheek” by never speaking out. It’s what led to a complete decay morally and culturally of our society over the last few generations, as every few with any sense of artistry have been willing to stand up for Christ, produce good work, and say “hey, we’re on a wrong path.” Part of it is because of the non-believer or Churchian induced guilt trip that we should be turning the other cheek, the other part part of it is a fear of turning off people who don’t agree as Mr. Balow mentioned.
The fear is what forces people to stay silent. The fear of rejection, the fear of not selling, the fear of losing one’s shorts. But this fear of staying away from “controversial” stances of Christianity is a very modern and temporary problem. It can go one of two ways: 1. It can keep on this path, and then pretty soon you won’t be able to profess your faith at all or 2. we can reverse the course.
I chose the latter, and it’s changed my life. Not only has my faith grown stronger, but I’ve found a network of believers around me who are both amazing people and great artists. They are far more supportive than their secular counterparts and they’re hungry for good product and something to rally behind. I had the fear of losing professional contacts, losing friends — and that certainly happened, but what I found was that those groups weren’t supporting me anyway. My people, brothers and sisters in Christ, are quite the opposite by contrast. Taking a stand for Christ and for real American values based on His teachings has gained me a much larger audience than I ever could have expected, glory be to God for that. Moreover I’ve gained fantastic friends.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Christianity in Science Fiction and Fantasy was the norm. It’s been written out of literary history by secularists that want to reshape the genre, and is touched on quite a bit in Jeffro Johnson’s Appendix N, which goes over the literary history of what inspired Dungeons & Dragons. The truth is, we’re not that far removed from C.S. Lewis or Tolkien, men who professed Christianity openly and weren’t afraid.
Our beliefs necessitate that we will butt up against the worldly, and we should embrace that, not shy from it. If you take a long view, this is a necessary step for artists and authors in the future not to have to fear that even the things Mr. Balow says are matters we all can agree upon don’t become taboo for them to speak about. A very unpopular Christian concept is purity and chastity, in this culture dominated by displaying the most gratuitous sexual and violent degeneracy possible. It’s made it hard to produce any quality works as many writers have focused on the shock value, making standard problems seem trite and boring to readers. Not speaking out against that, I posit, ruins culture and literature, and it is our duty to say something about it, even if it’s hard. C.S. Lewis would agree, as he wrote in Mere Christianity:
…many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in
an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not: faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: you will certainly get none for leaving the question alone. Not only in examinations but in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.
We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The
only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.
Talk about a controversial statement. This can be applied to what we’re doing as writers as well. We may not get perfect marks, it may be very hard in the get go. There will be a few that shun us for our beliefs, but the truth is, the ones who will are going to do that regardless. It’s just a matter of time. Those types are seeking for a reason to say “you know what, I knew I shouldn’t support that person.” And if they’re coming from that position, they’re not actually going to buy your book in the first place, no matter how quiet or good you are in the mainstream “professional” sense. You, as a Christian, will get overlooked 100% of the time for a non-Christian alternative in the name of social justice if you pursue that course.
Mr. Balow solidifies his point:
This is about the business of publishing, branding and selling books, not some sort of First Amendment/integrity/freedom topic in the US or a global human rights stand.
You want to sell books to as many people as possible? Be very careful if you want to express yourself politically. (Unless politics and societal issues are your brand.)
I’ll say the opposite again. If you want to cut through the noise in a field that is incredibly cluttered, you have to have something to say. You have to be authentic and connect with people. No matter what you say, it’s going to upset some people, so you may as well be true to yourself and true to your faith. Here’s an interesting example of a new YA Author who is apolitical as she can be. She’s from Vermont, and I’ve never seen her post anything about politics, but due to her location and her secular book, I’m going to presume she’s mostly leftist and probably leans toward the social justice scale. She likely would not be thrilled to be on my blog for fear of association with me.
Her name is Laurie Ann Forest and she has a book that hasn’t even come out yet called The Black Witch. The story, from what reviewers say, tackles racism in a manner by having quite a racist main character in it. It’s somewhat allegorical about forgiveness and redemption as it takes the major event and character arc for this character to change their ways. Now this isn’t set in reality, I believe the racism involved is against elves or something like that (again, haven’t read it), but a single reviewer the social justice crowd got ahold of an advance copy and started a storm. That person went through and torched Ms. Forest personally and her work, leading to hundreds of people mindlessly posting hate reviews on Goodreads, repeating the blog about how it’s “dangerous” to no fault of Ms. Forest. It’s insane. These people are out to destroy, and there’s nothing you can do about them. Ms. Forest followed Mr. Balow’s advice, and they attacked her anyway, because she didn’t virtue signal hard enough.
This will remain the norm, especially if you don’t speak out.
I encourage authors, especially Christian authors to build your own platform. It works. People will find and read you if you produce honest and sincere content, and most will enjoy your work. You can’t worry about what gatekeepers think. You can’t worry about what a few haters will think. They’ll make their decisions regardless of what you say, and if you’re openly a Christian, you’re on the wrong side of the fence to begin with. The social justice crowd that makes a stink hates you and everything you believe. They want to destroy you and stamp out Christianity as a cultural influence in this country. Being silent in the face of that is dangerous for you and all other authors who may follow in your footsteps. Would Jesus have shied away in the face of controversy? Read the Bible again and ask yourself that.