IVP - Strangely Dim - What We Know

June 4, 2009

What We Know

Maybe it's because I'm a frustrated musician, but I frequently compare the publishing industry to the music industry. It's often a helpful comparison: both industries are creative enterprises with content and personality both being critical ingredients for each new product's success; both have struggled to redefine themselves in the digital era. But I'm starting to wonder if my industry is less like the music industry than it is like its own arch-nemesis: television.

I had this proto-epiphany in a movie theater during the pre-previews portion of the evening's entertainment. On the screen was an extended commercial for (or "behind-the-scenes look at") the new Jada Pinkett-Smith medical drama Hawthorne. Punctuating the preview--I mean advertisement--was "TNT: We Know Drama." And I thought to myself, Well, yes, they do know drama.

TNT is a basic-cable enterprise out of the mind and wallet of Turner Broadcasting. They know lots of stuff, if you take them at their word--drama and comedy being their main areas of expertise. I don't regularly watch the content they broadcast, but I accept the identity they've claimed for themselves for a variety of reasons:

  • they air interesting films and syndicated reruns (My Name Is Earl is by no means your typical sit com)
  • their forays into original programming have earned them critical accolades (The Closer and Saving Grace are compelling dramas built around strong female characters, and Ten Items or Less and My Boys both consistently get props from critics, if not stellar ratings)
  • they take their viewers behind the scenes of both their original programming and their repeats (a la Hawthorne)
  • they get creative with their rehashed content (editing the randy Sex and the City for commercial rebroadcast)

So when TNT says they know something, they can point to things that back their claim up.

The other thing that strikes me, however, is that while each show is actually in a sense its own independent entity--producers shop programs around before landing a deal with TNT--each show is unavoidably tethered to the network. Episodes air on the network channel or stream on the network website. For better or worse, the individual programs are banking on the premise that TNT knows what they're doing, and that their audience believes it.

Of course, the dependence is mutual. TNT's reputation is more than, but not less than, the sum of its parts. It relies on the consistent quality and appeal of its contracted original programs and the actors who perform and promote them to sustain its reputation as a source of compelling drama, progressive comedy and innovative broadcasting. The moniker "TNT" is both an endorsement and an extrapolation of the network's contractual relationships.

So is the donkey that graces every Likewise book. As a line within InterVarsity Press's publishing program, we try to work with creative, compelling authors on significant books produced and promoted in interesting ways. Our publishing partners benefit from our sixty-plus year reputation, but that reputation is itself an aggregate of sixty-plus years' worth of publishing partnerships. What we know as a publisher, you might say, is more than but not less than the collective wisdom of our authors and the people who populate their acknowledgments page.

So what does Likewise Books know? If you base it on our authors to date, you might say we know the complexity of Christian faith, discipleship and mission twenty-one centuries into the life of the church. We know what resources are available to God's people, and we know what challenges God's people face. We know that there is wisdom to be found and embraced beyond the walls of the church, and that the church itself has wisdom to contribute beyond its own walls. And we know more than anything that we need to be there for one another. For Likewise that means bringing writers and readers into conversation with each other to explore the contours of acting thoughtfully and thinking actively--and above all, as our donkey reminds us, going and doing.

Of course, that's just my take on our publishing project. What do I know? Or maybe a more constructive question would be, what do you think?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at June 4, 2009 9:18 AM Bookmark and Share

Comments

So my first issue with this post is that you mention Hawthorne as a Jada Pinkett-Smith vehicle, and you completely forget to mention Michael Vartan (a la Michael Vaughn in Alias!).

On a more serious note, I wonder if Likewise's readers pay attention to the donkey. Does anyone outside the publishing/book-buying industry actually care WHO publishes a particular book? I know I never did. I bought my books solely on the topic, as described and shown by back cover copy, the book's cover, the table of contents and, maybe, a personal review.

That was before Amazon, so now I will read what other reviewers think of the book (usually just the really positive or the really negative). And, because I work in the publishing industry, I'll check to see who publishes it, because I know that I'm not going to agree with the authors in the stable of a handful of publishers (we won't name names here!).

In some ways, I think that publishers place too much emphasis on WHO they are than on WHAT they produce--which is fine if you're a human being, not as helpful when you're the small logo of a corporate entity.

Comment by: Elaina at June 4, 2009 11:48 AM

This is a bit of a tangent from your main point, but I've always thought that books were more like movies and that magazines were more like television. At least in terms of immersive experience and advertising. TV shows are broken up into discrete segments with interspersed commercials, like ads among magazine articles, whereas movies provide a two-hour continuous narrative, like books (esp. novels).

Comment by: Al Hsu at June 4, 2009 12:02 PM

I always check the publisher or imprint just because publishers do have some control over voice, tone, and quality. I think editors have the most control over how an author sounds and projects his or her thesis, and as editors change from publisher to publisher an author's voice can change slightly from house to house.

I think integrity within a publishing house is a big issue, and certain publishers appear to care more about profit and the hype than the quality of their catalog.

I think general, bigger houses are more guilty of this: Zondervan and Thomas Nelson publish so much content there is no consistency in quality and tone.

In a way it is very similar to the music business, where small record labels are much more consistent than the big Three and their imprints. When I order a label from Asthmatic Kitty or Secretly Canadian I always know I am going to get some low budget, DIY-ethic indie rock. If I order an album from Capitol it could either be The Decemberists or Katy Perry, Relient K or MIMS, Coldplay or Yellowcard. They have such a wide catalog to choose from.

Comment by: Thom at June 4, 2009 2:56 PM

I always check the publisher or imprint just because publishers do have some control over voice, tone, and quality. I think editors have the most control over how an author sounds and projects his or her thesis, and as editors change from publisher to publisher an author's voice can change slightly from house to house.

I think integrity within a publishing house is a big issue, and certain publishers appear to care more about profit and the hype than the quality of their catalog.

I think general, bigger houses are more guilty of this: Zondervan and Thomas Nelson publish so much content there is no consistency in quality and tone.

In a way it is very similar to the music business, where small record labels are much more consistent than the big Three and their imprints. When I order a label from Asthmatic Kitty or Secretly Canadian I always know I am going to get some low budget, DIY-ethic indie rock. If I order an album from Capitol it could either be The Decemberists or Katy Perry, Relient K or MIMS, Coldplay or Yellowcard. They have such a wide catalog to choose from you can't just buy any Capitol album.

Comment by: Thom at June 4, 2009 2:57 PM

Well, Eliana, for some of us the publisher thing is like having the J.J. Abrams stamp on something - you just know that certain things are bound to be good. :)

Sometimes it doesn't matter - if the author or subject matter intrigues me who published it isn't on my radar at first. Other times seeing a certain publisher will let me know that I really shouldn't bother reading something unless I really want to get angry that day. Then in the nebulous world of fantasy fiction, knowing what sorts of books come from the different publishers really helps when picking up books blind. But then again, half the time with fantasy I can tell if I like a book by the cover art.

Comment by: Julie Clawson at June 4, 2009 5:11 PM

For authoritative/non-fiction items (e.g. Technology, History, Theology), definitely matters. For fiction, doesn't matter at all.....


Comment by: Pete at June 4, 2009 5:31 PM

Is something lost if we as a book publisher begin taking our cues from television?

Comment by: Jeff at June 5, 2009 1:52 PM

Comments are closed for this entry.

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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