IVP - Strangely Dim - February 2011 Archives

February 28, 2011

We'll Always Be Your Beast of Burden

There's nothing quite so quirky about the Likewise line of books at InterVarsity Press as its logo: a man leading a resistant donkey, in silhouette. What does it mean?!? we're often asked and occasionally tempted to ask ourselves. Still, when you get right down to it, it's pretty adorable, pretty versatile, pretty memorable. We (and many of our authors) find ourselves identifying with it in an iconic sort of way; Jamie Arpin-Ricci, whose forthcoming Cost of Community will bear the logo, even riffed on the vibe of the logo in his proposal.




Early in the life of the line, Karen Sloan (who wrote the Likewise book Flirting with Monasticism) and Emily Sloan (who had joined us for a line brainstorming weekend with several culture-makers we admire, including Likewise authors Don Everts, Mike Sares and Sean Gladding) presented us with a Likewise-inspired gift: three Gund stuffed donkeys, which when wound up sway back and forth to a tinkly rendition of "Amazing Grace." They stitched the word "Likewise" onto the donkeys' fluffy sweaters, in case we missed the connection. They brought the donkeys to the 2006 Urbana Student Missions Conference, where we were making a big to-do about the line. We loved them.

bronson and sloan donkey.jpgI'm not sure what happened to one of the donkeys, quite honestly. It may be in Andrew Bronson's family room (that's him in the photo above), or someone may have absconded with it. Another of the donkeys was vandalized--taken from my office and deposited on a rock somewhere on IVP's campus to brave the elements. It didn't fare so well.


damaged donkey.jpgI consoled myself by acknowledging that there is truly a ministry of iconoclasm, in which the things we gradually place our confidence in (sometimes to the point of idolatry) get put through the ringer so we can see them more accurately. A haggard donkey is no less inspiring, and in some ways even more inspiring, than a pristine, well-tended donkey; sometimes the best way of listening to a tinkly rendition of "Amazing Grace" is by silently recalling the sober verse "Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come . . ."

Still, the pristine donkey carries its own potency. But, you may recall, a donkey isn't meant to be penned up and protected; it's a beast of burden, and it's meant to be out in the field. So to that end, and in the spirit of the donkey's now five-year habit of generating friendships, our own Adrianna Wright (below left) took it with her to the recent Jubilee Conference, where she presented it (along with a few other tokens of our affection) to bookstore owner and icon of Christian publishing Byron Borger (below right).

borger and donkey.JPGByron has been a generous reviewer and promoter of Likewise Books from the very beginning, but many of us associated with the line have not had the pleasure of meeting him face to face. Well, now one more of us has, and whenever he feels like it, he can wind that thing up and do a little dance, confident that as much as he likes reading and selling our books, we like publishing them and putting them in the mail to him.

Donkeys--they bring people together. It just needed to be said.


Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:16 AM

February 11, 2011

You Will Know Us by the Trail of Editors

A friend of mine read an article in USA Today about self-publishing, and because he's worried about me (since conventional publishing, as we all know, is on its deathbed), he asked me if there's an untapped market for freelance editors. Here's my response:

There's certainly a need for editors; whether there's a perceived need among self-publishing authors (it's more painfully obvious to the readers of self-publishing) is a separate question.

An enterprising freelance editor could, I suppose, pitch "second editions" to already self-published authors. The trick is justifying their fee, which would likely have to come with some guarantee of improved sales, which likely means the editor would have to function more as agent than as mere editor, and would need to take on some marketing/publicity efforts as well. I've been trying to do that for my friend Tony (in addition to my doing a quick edit of his book, see my interview with him here and my review of his book here), but it's a lot easier to to do that for free than to get paid for it, particularly if an author has already accomplished their major goal: getting published. Sometimes the money is not the main motivator.

I actually think self-publishing is the way to go for a lot of people. A conventional publisher necessarily filters the types of books (and authors) for its existing audience and along the lines of its existing channels. Anything that goes off the grid of traditional publishing, to any extent whatsoever, increases the risk considerably to the publisher, which has its own context into which it comfortably publishes, its own bills to pay, its own sanity to protect. An author with direct access to a ready audience that's not easily accessible to a conventional publisher isn't just afforded a second-best option in self-publishing; in some cases the author is actually better off.

Nevertheless, by self-publishing an author is in fact going off grid, with all the challenges and limitations that going off grid entails. Some self-published books do break through to become blockbusters, but they are still wild exceptions, and their exceptionalism likely indicates that there's more to the story than comes across in how the story is reported. It's not simply this woman's "aggressive self-promotion" that led to her success, but also who she aggressively promoted herself to, who else aggressively promoted her, and who was willing to be aggressively promoted to by someone out of left field. It's not exactly alchemy, although it resembles alchemy; it's just the logic that applies to all effective networking.

 It's worth noting, incidentally, that the vast majority of the "20 million people" who "read e-books last year" weren't reading self-published books but rather bestsellers they could get on Kindle for $10 instead of $22. The article sort of obscures that notion, and Amazon's VP of Kindle Content certainly (and fairly, I suppose) capitalizes on the mythology that any one person is just one lucky break away from being the next great American novelist. (That mythology is part of the alchemy of the "culture of narcissism" I write about in Deliver Us from Me-Ville, what inspires the odd auditions on American Idol, among other things.)

For the record, I do sometimes recommend self-publishing to prospective authors, not as a critique of their ideas or their writing but because for them it's a more viable path than conventional publishing. It's roughly equivalent to my directing an author to a different conventional publisher whose program fits the author better than ours. Sometimes, of course, it's because the writing and ideas aren't particularly good, and the person is merely infatuated with the idea of publishing. I had an unusual experience recently where I was the only editor at a gathering of writers, and one of them very intentionally pursued self-publishing rather than the possibility of publishing with a publisher like us. You can read a bit of his rationale here. Good on Jimmy for having a plan and sticking to it.

Feel free to push back on my characterization of conventional and/or self-publishing, my interpretation of the article and its profiled author's experience, or whatever. The self-published, the conventionally published and the blogging editor have this in common: we love to have people interact with what we've written.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:46 AM

February 3, 2011

A Blizzard of Good Books

I don't know about you all, but having now dug my way out of a blizzard that terrorized as much as a third of the United States, all I really want to do is dig my way back in. Jars of Clay has an adorable little song called "Hibernation Day" that captures some of my well-chilled emotions:

I don't want to get out of bed
You don't want to go out in the snow
(It's so cold outside)
Let's have a hibernation day

What do you do when you're holed up in your home, riding out an abominable snowstorm? Well, you can certainly use your imagination, but one thing I highly recommend, as an employee of a book publisher, is that you read lots and lots of books.

What to read, you ask? You could do a lot worse than just working your way down a list of the "best of 2010" provided by bookstore owner par excellence Byron Borger. His Pennsylvania bookstore Hearts & Minds is a leader among independent booksellers and has everything thoughtful readers of Christian literature could wish for--and he's helpfully free and open with his opinions.

Byron's list from 2010 features books that many of us here have been ogling, some of which we occasionally smack our foreheads and lament "Why didn't we publish that?!?" Two that I've had my eye on are Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer biography and James Davison Hunter's To Change the World. My big boss Andy Le Peau blogged his way through that book; read those posts starting here.

Byron has been a great supporter of InterVarsity Press over the years. The fruits of our efforts here show up nicely on his list, including a revised edition of one of my wife's favorite books, Richard Mouw's Uncommon Decency; Friendship at the Margins by Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl (part of our collaboration with the Duke Center for Reconciliation); The Art of Dying by Rob Moll; Mark Labberton's The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor; James Bryan Smith's third volume in his Apprentice Series trilogy, The Good and Beautiful Community; the Veritas Forum collection A Place for Truth; Mack Stiles's passionate Marks of the Messenger; and Wayne Rice's memoir/manifesto Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again).

Whenever I'm feeling anxious or road-weary in developing our Likewise line, I dig up little comments Byron has made in various reviews he's written of Likewise books. This year's best-of list is no exception; consider this little snippet filed away: "Kudos to the 'Likewise' imprint for their consistently innovative, contemporary, and faithful books." Here's Byron on Likewise books released in 2010:

Living Mission: "Powerful, inspiring, challenging, and very important. What a strong bit of hefty wisdom! What an indication of the emerging tone in missiology. Spectacular."

Unsqueezed: "The kind of 'Christian self-help book' that redeems the phrase, and is a standard for the sorts of contemporary, practical, insightful books that we need to see on the market."

The Story of God, the Story of Us: "It is hard not to applaud too loudly for this one-of-a kind book. . . . Nothing like it that we know of; highly recommended, happily honored." 

The Gospel of John (Resonate): "Any gospel commentary that takes a song from Rattle & Hum--a duet between Bono and B.B. King--has got to be great! Resonate. Indeed. It deserves a special commendation of one of the best ideas in the Christian publishing world of 2010."

Wisdom Chaser: "A book I couldn't stop talking about for weeks."

I'll toot my own horn just a bit and admit that I contributed to one book in Byron's list, Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create a Christian Culture. Byron contributed as well, so there's pimping all around, I guess; unless Byron struck a deal I didn't, neither of us is making any money off it. Anyway, the book is what the title suggests: one hundred books that are worth knowing, reading and responding to. IVP showed well in that list as well (I blogged about that here), but in his review Byron takes the opportunity to make a brief case for reading as an act of faith, which is itself worth quoting here:

Christ calls us disciples, you know, which means learner. You wouldn't be reading this (and I surely wouldn't be writing it) if we didn't believe that reading widely is an act of spiritual formation, and that learning what to read is a key skill for maturing faith. . . . We need to honor God with our minds, we need to be fluent in the culture around us, and we can celebrate the good role of the best books in our culture, glad for the common grace of good words and good ideas and good art in the finest literature.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:36 AM

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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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