/ / Articles

Three Scriptural Cautions Against Self-Publishing

Self-publication could distract from God and chief ends, bypass the Church Body working together, and sacrifice team-built excellence.
| Jun 13, 2013 | No comments |

clipart_printingpressEditor General’s Warning: please note that word caution. Anything I write below is to caution, not condemn, Christians who choose to self-publish their own fiction.1

Also note that here I risk writing for a narrower audience. Usually I hope to reach readers, because the “Christian speculative story” field is small enough without fencing out more neighbors and putting up a clubhouse For Aspiring Authors Only. Yet these cautions matter especially for those who believe we have stories not only to write, but to share with others.

1. Self-publication may draw attention to self — away from God and others.

For this one, I cannot and would not point to any particular author or self-published book and say, “There, he only self-published for selfish reasons.” I can only state that in my case, any hypothetical journey to self-publication would at this point be based on reasoning like:

  1. I’ve been working on this novel for X years; it’s time people started realizing that.
  2. I’ve proposed this project to Y number of agents, editors, and publishers, to no avail.
  3. I’ll give up on The Industry. And I’ll just publish it myself. Then people will know.

Yes, all those start with the favorite letter of the world’s second-oldest religion, Meism.

At least for me, self-publishing my own fiction would not even be my attempts to craft and share a story that gives edification, evangelism, or entertainment. And I would not be motivated by the still-greater reason for stories’ existence: to help us explore the beauties, goodness, and truth of our Author, His people, and His world. It would be all about me and my own supposed brilliance. Yes, even the word self-publication could be a giveaway.

Ergo, if that’s a possible motivation of mine, surely it’s a risk faced by other self-publishers.

2. Christ’s Church should be a body with many members working together.

“Dear Jesus, I love You. But please, make Your wife stop writing.”

“Dear Jesus, I love You. But please, make Your wife stop writing.”

Giving Up On The Industry is trendy, thanks to the nature of the internet. Technology and inexpensive communication (such as this very site) work well to push populist views and promises of instant fame, though this is often illusory — as is the nature even of real fame.

But in the case of Christian fiction, there just might be some overlap between Giving Up On Christian Publishing, which isn’t a sin, and Giving Up on the Church, which is surely sinful.

By giving up on spiritual siblings — yes, even the annoying ones — we diss Christ’s bride.

Don’t buy the suspicion that “spiritual gifts” Scripture describes relate only to healing or tongues, or else only work in “sacred spaces” or overt-ministry contexts. Surely the apostle Paul and others in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 never meant to give exhaustive lists. Surely the Spirit’s gift lists also include His gifts of editing, grammar, business acumen, cover design and typesetting, marketing and distributing, and other book-related works.

Versus this truth, might some aspiring authors either give up banding together with these gifted believers, or else never try? Might they in effect say, “I have no need of you”?

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” […] God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.2

No, I’m not suggesting that if Christian fiction suffers lackluster writing, we must all suffer and never attempt breaking free. But, it should be Christian self-publishers’ goal to honor the body of Christ — not just ourselves, or even God Himself, or even secular readers.

And God may have even arranged for that editor to say “this story needs work” not because she’s only able to sell books to Church Ladies, but because, well, that story needs work.

3. Worship must be done with excellence, and team-built by Church members.

Some criticism of Christian fiction is lousy, but truth lies behind it: much Christian fiction is still lousy. Why, then, do so many self-published novels (including, alas, some listed in the Speculative Faith Library!) appear even lousier than all the shallow, apparently derivative, yet-another-Narnia-knockoff fantasies offered by mainstream Christian publishers?

Reading is, or should be, worship. So is writing. And worship, at least when rendered with and partly for other believers, should be done with as much excellence as we can muster.

The divine Artist’s first direct-commissioned subcreation was a) a church building for all His people, b) built with Spirit-inspired excellence by a team.

The divine Artist’s first direct-commissioned subcreation was a) a church building for all His people, b) built with Spirit-inspired excellence by a team.

I’m not seeing excellence in some Christian fiction. But I must say, at least the mainstream publishers have come together and made the effort. So they’re more accountable for their weaknesses, and/or they’re less guilty of trying to work this worship alone.

What then of self-publishing authors who effectively say, “I’m tired of trying to work with The System; I want recognition now”? Are they not guilty of worse excellence-rejection?

Questions, comments, or complaints?

For those who prefer reading over attempted authoring — I hope there are more of you! — I ask: What have been your experiences with self-published Christian fantasy/sci-fi? What would you recommend to self-publishing authors?

For self-publishing authors, I ask: Will you take these cautions under advisement?

  1. If you want to rebut me, please do, yet get in line; my friend Adam Ross will do so tomorrow.
  2. 1 Cor. 12: 21, 24-26
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Nissa Annakindt
Guest

Much depends on the work and the author.  I don’t think there will ever be a Christian publishing company started that is open to Catholic authors who insist on writing fantasy or sci-fi influenced by westerns and having a lesbian main character.
The publishers that WOULD consider it would not like my overly Biblical take on sexual morality.
I do believe, however, that the author who has never been published by a traditional publisher of any sort ought to wait before jumping in to self-publishing. You need to be sure that your writing is good enough.
Which leads to another use for self-publishing— you can use self-publishing to get copies of your work into the hands of a few readers to get feedback.

Kirsty
Guest

You could start one!

Kristine Pratt
Guest

At the risk of sounding like I’m promoting my company on the back of this post, you might want to give Written World Communications a try with that. I know the editor of OtherSheep pretty well and he likes pretty odd things.
Honestly there are some traditional presses out there that are open to pretty edgy material. They’re typically very small presses, but they’re still traditional publishers and are worth considering.

Hergot
Guest
Hergot

Yet you just self-published this post =)

Hergot
Guest
Hergot

But I suppose you might want a more substantive critique. 
1. Mortification of the flesh is not a novel concept (see what I did there =).
Paul says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition”. It’s a heart thing and a motive thing that I suppose, according to Romans 14, each Christian has to judge personally. But for reasons you mentioned, I don’t allow my children to sing solos or to perform individually on stage in church. Others don’t have the same concerns as I have in this regard. No problem. For me, one way I hedge against this temptation is to use a pseudonym.
2. As a self published writer I am the publisher. I pick my own team and hire illustrators, editors, and designers. So I don’t see the problem here. 
3. The (self published) writer of Hebrews says “Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” I write for the joy of it, and I hope people are encouraged. But no one is encouraged if I “hide my candle” in a drawer or languishing in the slush basket of trad publishing.
Best regards,
Hans Hergot
 

Kirsty
Guest

I know some self-publishers do hire editors etc. So they are not just doing it all themselves.
 
I’m currently trying to self-publish (not books, and not fiction, though: illustrations on PowerPoint)
 
Advantages I can see:

I’ll get all the money! I’m not being merceneray here, but I really do need the money, and illustrators usually only get a small percentage of the total cost.
I have a clear vision for the project that others might not share.
Availability: With the internet I can reach a wider demographic than just people who would buy from a particular publisher.
Nothing to stop me moving to a real publisher in the future.

Disadvantages:

I have no-one else’s eyes to see where I could do better (except family and friends, but they are not art critics)
I have to do all the promotion and techie stuff myself. Maybe when I have money I can pay someone.
Availability: no big-name pushing it.

Your points are very valid. Although they could apply to real publishing to – Pride: I got a publishing contract, a publisher’s name on the book, etc…
 
But good things to look out for, and avoid.

Precarious Yates
Guest

Kirsty,
Have you tried to find other authors who would be critique partners? This is some of what I do to make sure I’m not going completely rogue or publishing in a bubble. I’m a member of several writers’ groups where I found a number of critique partners. They tell me if I’m off base with my doctrine or I need to polish up my writing skills. If you don’t have anyone who does this for you regularly, contact me and I will connect you with some people!

Kirsty
Guest

Thanks – but I’m an illustrator, not a writer.
 
A good idea though. I should have a browse and see if I can find any decent crit groups around.

Precarious Yates
Guest

1. Paul was self-employed as a tent-maker to support his preaching of the gospel. This was not self-seeking, he used his funds to preach the gospel. Many Christian self-published authors have a strong Gospel message in their books, a message that impacts their readers in a profound way.
2. Very few times in my life have I ever had a community of believers around me supporting me strongly as when I decided to self-publish. There’s much more isolationism in trad. publishing sometimes because there’s a reliance on the system. We work together, bounce ideas off each other, keep accountable to each other, etc. Yes, there could be those who go completely rogue. There are those everywhere.
3. The most excellent writing that I’ve read in the past year or so has come from Christian indie authors. Now, this may be my personal taste, but I’d like to point that out.
I only entered into self-publishing after a long season of prayer. That journey has been the same with many of the self-published authors I’ve spoken with.
I think the importance of this article surrounds the idea that we should not publish in a bubble for our own glory. But self-publishing isn’t about that, it’s just a route that different from traditional publishing.

Literaturelady
Guest
Literaturelady

These are excellent points to consider, potential problems with self-publishing I’d never thought about.  Thank you for bringing this to the attention of aspiring authors! 
 
Blessings,
Literaturelady

Joanna
Guest

Um…. I think a lot of this is just over-thinking stuff. Now with technology, there are different options and different ways to use the gifts God has given us to bless others. 
 
Self publishing has been the only way things have worked for thousands of years — think the printing press — they were owned and operated by the people who wanted to write and publish. The whole publishing industry is a relatively new thing that is now fading. It had its advantages and disadvantages, and using it is the same.
 
Someone could make the exact opposite argument for why mainline publishing is evil, because it’s supporting media conglomerates that publish trash — “come out of her and be separate” and all that.
 
There are dangers and downsides to every choice we make — every direction we go in life. And usually, in their heart, they are always the same. So, really, making the choice between indi and mainline a moral one? …… I think there are other issues that are more deserving of our time and thought…. I think a bigger danger lies in making this a question of Biblical mandates and such — using the Bible to support a preference is always dangerous ground ….. : 

Kirsty
Guest

Someone could make the exact opposite argument for why mainline publishing is evil,

Stephen in no way suggests that self-publishing is ‘evil’. He’s merely pointing out some of the dangers.

So, really, making the choice between indi and mainline a moral one?

Not that one is inherently moral and the other is not. But every decision we make is a moral one. So we need to take the moral pros and cons into consideration.

I think a bigger danger lies in making this a question of Biblical mandates and such

But he didn’t!

Austin Gunderson
Member

I think the main issue Stephen’s raising here is that self-publishing necessitates that an author “come out and be seperate” from more than just The Evil Publishing World: it means withdrawing from all forms of supportive writerly community (unless an author is very intentional about opening himself up to critique — never a default inclination). The danger isn’t just that authors will get puffed up with themselves; it’s that their product itself will suffer from a lack of constructive criticism, editing, and revision. I’ve heard more published authors than I can easily ignore assert emphatically that the best thing anyone ever did for their writing was to tell them it was crap. Self-published authors — by definition — aren’t forced to pass through any quality-control filters aside from those they choose to impose on themselves. Some perfectionists may thrive in such an isolated environment.
 

But most writers aren’t perfectionists.

Zach Bartels
Guest

Okay, I’ve self-published in the past and now my stuff is published traditionally (i.e. through an agent, by one of the Big Six multinational publishers, etc.) and I have to say the first two of these “cautions” amount to incredibly flimsy houses of cards in my book (pun!).
My responses:
1.  Self-publishing draws attention to “self,” sure, but so does traditional publishing.  In fact, in the current market, before any legit publisher will give you a book deal, you have to present a book proposal that is very heavy on your marketing plan (i.e. what you will be doing to promote yourself, your book, and your brand).  In other words, people who get traditional publishing deals are probably better at and more dedicated to SELF-PROMOTION than their indie author counterparts. I think your caution is backwards in a sense.
The reason I chose to put out 42 Months Dry via Gut Check Press (me and Ted Kluck’s imprint) was because I’d worked hard on it, and wanted people to read it. I don’t think that’s wrong. How could it be? Why write something if no one is going to read it? 
And the reason I queried agents and got traditional publishing deals for my next two novels is pretty much the same reason, only more intensified: I want even more people to read my books. Not to bring glory to me or something, but again, why write something with an audience in mind if no one or almost no one is going to read it?  I think the caution about double-checking your motives could apply to indie authors, but would apply even more to traditionally published authors, especially when you start factoring in advances and publicity, etc. It would have been a lot harder to become self-important about my three sales-per-month of my self-published book when I first put it out there…

2. While there are many good Christian people (including many of my friends and my wife) working in Christian publishing, that’s not all there is. In fact, it would be illegal for a publishing company to only hire evangelical editors, publicists, or custodial staff.  I have no beef with this, but it kind of takes the teeth out of your second “caution.” By contrast, a good self-published book IS a collaboration, not a solo effort (involves cover design, proofing, editing, typesetting, etc. ; when one person tries to do everything, it USUALLY turns out looking like junk), and an indie author has total freedom to contract only Christian people if he/she wants.

Even beyond that, though, I think your presupposition is flawed. Everything in the Body of Christ doesn’t have to be a team effort.  When I preach on Sunday morning, it’s a sermon that I (led by the Holy Spirit, hopefully) put together and deliver. Is “self-sermonizing” the wrong way to go because Christ’s church should be working together, or is it enough that the rest of the church is receiving what I deliver from God’s Word?  I think we need to remember that, while it’s a blessing in many ways, the corporate/retail system of getting books into the hands (or more recently, the e-readers) of Christians is by no means mandated in Scripture and, along with all things of this world, is passing away.

3.   Okay, maybe we agree a little more on this caution. Even the Christian self-pub stuff that gets big (e.g. The Shack) is often crappy (e.g. The Shack). But there’s a lot being cranked out via the major and lesser Christian publishing houses that is also far-from-excellent.  Remember, acquisition editors and pub boards do NOT base their decisions on whether a book is excellent (or biblical or needed), only on whether there’s a place for it in the market right now. The really good Christian indie books on the scene right now were put out by the author independently because there didn’t happen to be a niche in the market for them at present, but they knew their book was good, biblical, and maybe needed for a certain set of people.

I do agree that the majority of Christian self-publishing is horrendous, but that’s got less to do with theological principles and more to do with simple logic. Amateurs, as a rule, aren’t as good as professionals working in their field. And for every L’Engle, there are twenty Ms. Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Andersons… 

Still, despite having made the jump to traditional publishing, I’m currently working with Ted Kluck (who seems to be releasing a major book from a major publisher at least every other month) on a project that we will be putting out on our own Gut Check Press, using POD technology, scribus, mobipocket, etc. (read, self-publishing by any other name).  I think it will be good, but I also know that no major publisher would put any money into the Christian Gentleman’s Smoking Companion.  Also, we like being able to do everything our way and on our timeline once in a while. 

Teddi Deppner
Guest

Thanks for chiming in, Zach. Great to hear the perspective of someone who has experienced both traditional and self-publishing. 

Brian Godawa
Guest
Brian Godawa

Good points, Stephen. I think these are appropriate “heart challenges” for writers to check their hearts so that they remain accountable to others in the body. Maybe you could also write a companion post about the dark corruption of traditional Christian publishing. I have worked in the Christian publishing world. And there is alot to say about their neglect of quality works in favor of pandering to fleshly Christian selfishness and individualism disguised as “christian living.” Their turning away of gifted writers for the blockbuster authors for the money, and who, many of them immorally use good Christian writers to ghostwrite their works and give them no credit (This is not hypothetical. I know some, BIG ones). And of course, one could argue that the fact that Fox owns Harper, which now owns Nelson and Zondervan and God knows who else. In other words, “Christian publishing” is now no longer under the Church but under the control of the godless. And then there is the abysmally unjust royalties that authors are paid in traditional publishing. “A worker is worth his wages” and all that. One may even say that self-publishing is the prophetic call to a corrupt Christian publishing world. 🙂

Jon R
Guest

Respectfully, I think you’re way off on this one. Christian Presses are businesses. Their primary responsibility is to turn a profit, which means they have to sell to their constituents. Nothing wrong here, we all have to feed our kids, but this means they have to choose the most profitable stories over the best ones.  If an author self-publishes, he frees himself to write the best story possible, which, as art, is going to be the most God-glorifying. 

Kirsty
Guest

Surely their primary responsibility is to glorify God? As is the primary responsibility of every Christian bus driver, shopkeeper, janitor…
 
But I know what you mean! There’s no point publishing great stuff if it won’t sell. Or at least, not in sufficient quantities to be profitable. Which means self-publishing may be better, as there are less people involved, so less wages?

Alec Stevens
Guest

I worked for several decades as an (award-winning) artist and writer for secular publications before venturing into self-publishing.  It is very rare to encounter self-published work by a “newbie” that can stand shoulder to shoulder with that of seasoned professionals.  The work that I have produced under my Calvary Comics imprint (Christian books, graphic novels, comics tracts, and posters) have sold in multiplied thousands across the globe WITHOUT distribution in any secular or Christian bookstores and WITHOUT amazon.com.  I am not against those venues, but wanted to prove to myself and others that they’re not necessary to ensure success.  However, the economic downturn of recent years and the general decline of print media has made those annual sales drop considerably.  Yes, I will go digital (and multi-lingual) with my imprint, but am not so sure that it will be the “quick fix” (for me or others) that many have hoped it will be.
I have as rich an imagination as many another author, but I personally feel that the majority of fiction, Christian or otherwise, often serves as a monumental DISTRACTION from the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.  So many people whom I know, some of them Christians, are utterly engulfed with the Star Wars mythos, Narnia minutiae, the worlds of Harry Potter, Tolkien, and so many other “cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16) that they really have no room for growth in Christ.  They are unable to “cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).  That being the case, I have resolved to only publish well-documented, TRUE stories which glorify God, edify the church, and challenge the lost.  The Lord has done marvelous work across the millennia, and we, the body of Christ, have a rich history, both recent and in the distant past, which many are astonishingly ignorant of. 
Why read fictional Christian romance (if that is one’s taste) when the true stories of how God brought husband and wife together are far more satisfying and inspirational? (especially for contemporary singles in such a depraved age in which we’re living)
Why read a fictional Christian historical novel when the real story of, say, Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission is TRUE?  (and, again, faith-building, as we see God answer prayers in impossible circumstances, and turn tragedy into triumph)
And so on.  The point is made.  “Ben-Hur” (1959) was a fine film (and novel), but how much better would it have been if it were a TRUE story? (it isn’t)  In fiction the author gets to “play God,” and that doesn’t bode well for “suspension of disbelief” amongst the lost.  Even (famed 19th century secular author) Charles Dickens was criticized for too many convenient coincidences in his novels.  When it is a true story, those “convenient coincidences” are evidence of “Divine appointments” and the hand of God at work; and the Lord is glorified, the people of God rejoice, and the world has the undeniable facts put before them once again.  GOD is my favorite author, and He has done great things…so many that “the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25).
Kind regards in Christ Jesus,
Alec Stevens
http://www.calvarycomics.com
      

*sigh*
Guest
*sigh*

The first time I heard this was on a publishing loop, when I had reached the top of the Christian historical romance Kindle list. Another author said she would never self-publish because it’s ‘against God’s will, that if He’d wanted the book to be read, He would have found a publisher’.
 I’d never heard of such a pile of garbage. But apparently, it’s a sort of common idea.
  I informed Ms. Big-Publishing-Is-the-Hand-of-God-Almighty, that I ALSO published traditionally with a big five Christian publisher. Every editor I’d had has been Jewish. Every editor has asked me to ‘tone down’ prayers and religious thoughts of the main characters. Every editor has asked me to ‘focus on the romance, not the spiritual arc’.
  As I stepped into self-publishing, I thanked God for the freedom to write the story he’d given me. And as I sell hundreds of copies a day, I can look at these arguments against ‘Meism’ and KNOW that there were always those who fought the prophets, telling them to sit down and be quiet.
  The naysayers will try, but the truth will win out. God’s word will reach his people, no matter if you have a blog or a giant publishing house.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

Great testimony, Anonymous! Thanks for popping in to share.
 
It’s great to hear from so many different experiences.

*sigh*
Guest
*sigh*

Well, when the title of your article is “Three Scriptural Cautions against Self-Publishing’ you’re not offering a balanced view. You’re trying to start a heated conversation… which brings traffic to your blog… which gets you lots of attention…
  I hope tomorrow segment is “The Scriptural Cautions against Stirring the Pot”. This is a very negative article that is not balanced in any way. Just because you write a two line caveat at the beginning does not excuse you from using Bible verses to claim self-publishing is grand-standing.
 For the record, I would have been offended if the article had been against traditional publishing, with the careless arguments you’ve given. Not everyone is in it for the personal glory, but we all know that. An article specifically stating that self-publishers must be aware of the spiritual pitfalls is assuming that the MAJORITY of self-pubbers need this caution.
  Ok, have fun tomorrow and good luck with your books!

Kirsty
Guest

You’re trying to start a heated conversation… which brings traffic to your blog… which gets you lots of attention…

You don’t know his motives.

Kirsty
Guest

I think it would have helped if the title was not “Three Scriptural Cautions Against Self-Publishing”. That implies that the Bible says self-publishing is bad, and puts people’s backs up before they even read the article. Maybe  “Three Scriptural Cautions for Self-Publishers” would have been better?

Charmaine T. Davis
Guest

Learned this from my pastor:
1. Whose kingdom am I building?
2. Whose glory am I seeking?
3. Whose power am I using?
Sounds like good principles to guide one’s entire life and career.

Robert Mullin
Member

Well, on the positive side, there are a lot of books out there that would not be if it were not for self-publishing. 
 
On the negative side, there are a lot of books out there that would not be if it were not for self-publishing.
 
I see it as the ultimate libertarian capitalism. Do your best, venture out, and let the market, not a review board, decide the quality of your work.  

L.D.Taylor
Guest

While you have started an excellent discussion and raised some serious issues around self-publishing, I fear your logic has gone astray in a few places.
1. That traditional publishing is less ego-centric than self-publishing (I would say it is actually more so, with publishers needing you to get out and “market yourself”, “build your platform”, “create a following” — ack!)
2. Self-publishing is not a “lone ranger” exercise necessarily (it can be, but that’s not the norm). There are numerous editors, designers and marketers offering services individually or through large firms (some are shady), to self-publishers.
3. Self-publishing results in poorer quality stories. I suppose if we were to take it as an average, this would possibly be correct… but I doubt it would be a case of “published is overwhelmingly superior”. Publishing houses are businesses and they are interested in “what sells” (yes, to “Church Ladies” frequently). They’re not (for the most part) interested in what challenges, what is beautiful, what is Spirit-led — unless they think it will sell as well.
The best rule of thumb in writing/publishing is the same rule for everything else: take it to God. What is he telling you via the Spirit?
Not certain you heard right? Do mentors/elders in the Body back up what you believe you heard? Yes… then do it.
– Lisa… traditionally published author and marketing professional
 
 

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Well, one problem is with points two and three; any community effort gained from traditional publishing only comes after the book is accepted by a publisher. Before, there’s very little difference in what the writer does when actually writing the book; it’s a solitary task with feedback from various readers. So working together and excellence is something that happens only to a relatively few books deemed marketable by the industry. Everyone else then is out of luck.
 
One is also eh. There’s a lot of people who think that writers are little more than transcribers; we just parrot what God tells us, and we shouldn’t get in the way or have human motives when we write. I don’t think you can talk about me-ism effectively until you realize that when a person writes, they take ideas out of themselves, including their ideas about God, and craft something of it. It’s intensely personal, which is why we all feel rejection so hard. I don’t think it’s something possible to be done without ambition or that can be just shelved when you find out the publishing world wants Christian Anne McCaffrey instead of your Christian Phillip K Dick. 

R. L. Copple
Member

I think the cautions are worthy of discussion. I don’t feel in general these issues are more driven within self-publishing than traditional, however. With perhaps the exception of #3 to a degree.
 
#1) I think applies equally no matter the publication method. Being self-published, while not as negative as it used to be, is still looked down on by many. Few readers even care who published something, much less praise a publishing company for the product it puts out. So I don’t see many accolades coming to me or anyone merely because of self-publishing.  But I can see, maybe in their heart of hearts though I’ve not seen anyone say as much, “Look at me! I did it all myself!” One, because it is rare anyone does it all themselves, and if they do, their more likely to be exhausted or embarrassed than prideful. Likewise, pride is a constant issue for the writer, and their are equally, if not more, pride issues in being selected by an agent and/or publisher that a self-publisher cannot lay claim to. So I’d call it a draw on that one.
 
#2) Already addressed, but going with a traditional Christian publisher means you’ll be working with non-Christians, with imprints owned by secular publishing.  One would assume you’ll work with some Christians there. While some “go it aloners” either because of pride or lack of resources to hire, may not work with a lot of Christians in publishing a book, I think there are many who do.
 
I’d also critique the stated assumption of #2, that a business venture should be staffed by the Body of Christ to not exclude the Body of Christ from one’s life and goals. While the writing and editing revolve around art, publishing itself is a business that is morally neutral. Because I’m not involved in every member of my church’s business dealings where they attempt to glorify God doesn’t mean I, as part of the Body, have no part in their efforts to do so.
 
#3) I agree with this one as a more overall concern. It is one of the reasons I wrote a piece some months ago on “When Self-Publishing Goes Wrong”:
http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2011/12/16/when-self-publishing-goes-wrong/
 

Henrietta Frankensee
Guest
Henrietta Frankensee

I do most earnestly desire and pray for READERS to be more discerning and not reward any kind of publisher for anything less than excellent.  There is a literary standard, like the Ultimate Truth, that informs us of excellence.  It is not taught in our modern ‘tolerant’ classrooms.  It is not exercised by the general reading public and therefore any publisher driven by monetary gain.  
Yet how does an author remove the desire and requirement of monetary gain from her publishing journey?  From what I hear of self-publishing it is much more successful at eliminating gain than traditional publishing!

Grace Bridges
Member

I am deeply disturbed by this. You have my agreement in one area: Excellence. No one should ever have any excuse for publishing substandard material.

But if, in pursuit of excellence, I need to hire a non-Christian editor, or artist, or typesetter (Font geek alert: typesetting IS art!) – then I will. If, in order to set an emotional chord humming in the reader, I find it necessary to include strong language, then I will do so, because insipidity is not excellence.

I am disturbed at a woeful lack of understanding of today’s publishing world, in which sound business sense points towards self-publishing as a viable option. Writing is often a spiritualised talent, but it’s a job like any other, and requires good stewardship.

I am disturbed at the implication that you believe so strongly in agents and publishers that you would consider no other option but to give them full artistic control along with most of your potential profit and let them control your career, possibly to its detriment. Of course I’m not against publishers; I am one, and I have one for some of my work, too. But to shut out other avenues is ludicrous.

I am disturbed that you think it is better to have a six-week sales window (after which your book is likely to be returned and pulped) than permanent availability via POD (yes, some traditionals are doing POD now, but not usually for the frontlist).

Honestly, this smacks of spiritual abuse. Disturbed…is not a strong enough word.

Austin Gunderson
Member

With all due respect, your threshold for disturbance is disturbingly low.

If it’s spiritual abuse to point out a few potential pitfalls of a particular business decision, in a forum which by its very nature invites vigorous debate, while being careful to avoid scattershot statements or rash condemnations, then I daresay most spiritual opinions pontificated throughout the blogosphere qualify for that incendiary label.

Nobody says you have to agree with Stephen’s opinions.  I certainly don’t, and I tend to be as vocal about it as any other commenter on this site.  For instance, I think his first caveat has little direct correlation to the topic at hand.  But be that as it may, the gist of this post is something I would’ve thought to be self-evident: the fewer filters in place between the mind of a writer and the eye of a reader, the greater the likelihood that the resultant book will lack excellence.  It’s simple human nature.  If we don’t have to be excellent, we tend not to be.  Excellence is hard, hard, hard, hard, hard.  And while many authors publish themselves for valid and thoughtful reasons, I’ve no doubt there are many others for whom self-publishing is the easy way out.  It’s those authors whom Stephen’s addressing when issuing his cautio- *ahem* I mean his spiritual abuse of those poor, downtrodden, free-from-the-specter-of-publishing-house-judgmentalism authors.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

I’m no expert on “spiritual abuse”, but I do believe that it is unwise to wield the Sword of the Scriptures without great care.
 
Grace brings up a good point, and although I might otherwise have stayed silent (since this is Stephen’s blog and he can say anything he likes), I will join her (and several others who have commented) in observing that this article as written does a poor job in representing things from a Scriptural viewpoint. It comes across as if anyone who self publishes is highly likely to be selfish and self-glorifying, isolated and unwilling to work with the Body of Christ, and a poor writer putting out a poor product. 
 
From what I know of Stephen, I don’t think he wanted to say that, exactly. I suspect he wrote out of the passion of his heart, and I admire his vulnerability — from what he says, it sounds like these are issues he sees in himself, pitfalls that he knows are dangerous for him.
 
I do think the article would have been better (more responsibly, more logically, more persuasively and more excellently) written in a different way. [And here I take on a light teasing tone, as a friend would:] But I am willing to overlook the errors of this self-published article [/end teasing] and take to heart the core Christian living principles that I think Stephen is trying to communicate and apply to the publishing industry:
 

1. Do not seek one’s own glory. Do all for God’s glory.

2. Do not act in isolation from the Body. Find fellowship and accountability within the Body for all areas of life, even our profession.

3. Do not be lazy. Do what is necessary to produce work of quality and excellence in all that you do.

Austin Gunderson
Member

Spiritual abuse is a very serious charge.  It is real, and it is destructive.  This blog post — while perhaps less responsible, logical, persuasive, and excellent than you or I would prefer — is not spiritually abusive.  To make such a claim is to demonstrate a level of flippancy and hypersensitivity which takes my breath away.  I wouldn’t shy away from calling it libel.

Wikipedia, surprisingly enough, has a fairly comprehensive description of what actually constitutes spiritual abuse.

Paul Lee
Member

Wikipedia is surely not self-published, is it? 😉
 
(Sorry, I’m not trying to inflame matters further….. I just couldn’t resist.  This is funny to me.  No offense.)

Austin Gunderson
Member

LoL, Bainespal.  No offense taken.

Several folks have pointed out how Stephen published this blog post all by his lonesome.  But while it might make for an effective one-liner, the comparison is unfair.  This isn’t a subscriber-only site.  I don’t have to dole out any hard-earned money to ingest its content and spew my opinion all over its comment threads.  Likewise with Wikipedia.  On my end, there’s no risk associated with consumption, and thus no real need for third-party filters: I can easily act as my own filter, and pull up my tent-stakes if SpecFaith goes, say, several weeks without providing me with thought-provoking bloggage.

The same is not true of self-published novels.  There’s often no way to assess their quality without first coughing up their cost.  As an example, the uber-small-press-published-book I’m reading now began well, then gradually disintegrated into an emotionless barrage of subject-verb-object sentences.  The story still has potential — I’m sure of it.  But the style stinks.  My reading experience has become joyless drudgery.  And that, I have to believe, is the kind of thing editors and publishing houses exist to prevent.

That there are serious dangers and flaws in the publishing industry I have not the slightest doubt, but self-publishers have got to be careful to avoid the kind of hysterical defensiveness I’ve seen on this thread until they learn how to replicate the publishing industry’s strengths.  To lash out at anyone who dares highlight their potential weaknesses makes them seem very small indeed.

Jessica Thomas
Guest

It’s unfairly yoking Christian writers into unproductive legalism. Really, I think we writer’s take ourselves too seriously, and this is an example of such, as if the stroke of our pens alter the course of God’s ultimate plan. They do not. Sorry. They simply do not. We are not nearly as important as we think we are, and I find solace in that. (Whereas, I don’t find solace in this post, but I might however, find an ulcer.)

Beau Cornerstone
Guest

Hi. More thoughts to add to the discussion…
I previously managed a Christian bookshop – and I often had customers asking me for certain types of Christian books. As a manager I wanted to stock the types of books customers were asking for –  but I couldn’t stock them because I just couldn’t find them in the major Christian suppliers catalogues.
For example – I  had customers wanting to buy action fiction books with Australian characters… customers asking for Christian books set in Australia… for books that dealt with controversial current issues… and I still recall a 16 year old customer who wanted a Christian book about sex “that didn’t look like it was a book about sex.”
In defense of the Christian publishers at the time – they were publishing some good stuff – but it wasn’t really what many of my Australian customers were asking for – sure it was meeting a few customers’ needs but the traditional publishers were missing a whole heap of customers. From the perspective of the customers – they came in seeking books and walked out without their needs satisfied.  From a bookseller’s perspective – customers came in with money and walked out without spending as much as they would have spent if the range had been broader.
Looking back, my desire to write Christian books – particularly fiction for teens and young adults was birthed back when I managed that Christian bookshop.  While the yearning remains,  I’m a realist. Writing superb manuscripts is one thing. Getting traditionally published is another. Traditional Christian publishers rarely publish Aussie authors, even more rarely publish books set in Australia and they definitely don’t consider publishing Aussie unknowns living in tin-pot towns that are flyspecks on the map of the world…
I understand where they are coming from. 
Conversation with Christian Publisher… So your author bio says you’re a home-school mum… and you’re married to a builder… and you’ve lived most of your married life in remote Western Australia… And won a few writing competitions… Er right… So you’re saying you’re no one special in your church? And your hubby’s no one special either? Not even a deacon? Huh? What do you mean your fellowship group is so small that you don’t have deacons?! And you’ve never been to a writer’s workshop?!! And you’ve only met one American Christian in person in your whole life!!! Er… don’t call us, we’ll call you…
End of conversation…Definitely a nobody… Her manuscript can skip the slush pile without even reading it. Next…
For me non-traditional publishing avenues like Smashwords are the only real alternative.  It’s not a matter of pride… or stepping out ahead of God… or not submitting my work to Christian peers… or any of the other cautions you or others have listed. It’s just reality.
I write free Christian e-fiction for teens because of my experience as a bookshop manager – because I know there’s a demand there and a need there for a different type of fiction – risky fiction from a Traditional Publisher’s perspective. 
I’m committed to producing quality ebooks – I revise everything I have online as often as I can.  I submit my free ebooks to competitions – and use the feedback from judges to improve them.  I prayerfully consider the feedback I get back from readers. It’s my desire to intend to keep polishing my ebooks until they are as good or better than what traditional publishers are circulating.  Every e-edition is a bit better than the last one.
I see publishing ebooks as an incredible opportunity for every Christian author to get in there and sow seeds – into the lives of the seeking and baby Christians… into the lives of the lonely and imprisoned.  The potential for using ebooks as witnessing tools has hardly been tapped – the harvest is ready but the laborers are few. Teens download everything free they can get their hands on. If quality Christian fiction is not there to download, they might end up downloading something less wholesome.
Free Christian ebooks have the potential to get into the hands of people worldwide and go places traditional books never can – in India for instance there are few traditional bookshops but almost half the adult population has a mobile phone they can download free ebooks on. And there is a hunger for free ebooks that help people learn English worldwide – what an opportunity to sandwich snippets of the gospel in with the English lessons.
Getting discovered by traditional publishers is not my goal as a Christian author. I’m more interested in having an impact on people traditional Christian publishers aren’t reaching – including those who walk out of Christian bookshops empty handed.
Beau
 
 
 
 
 

Paul Lee
Member

That’s a great point — this post doesn’t really address free stuff, made for a community.  A lot of hobbyist game designers make various kinds of games on their spare time and share them with small groups of fellow enthusiasts on forums and the like.  Mechanical quality is rarely high in free community works, but sometimes literary quality is real and tangible.

trackback

[…] Three Scriptural Cautions Against Self-PublishingSpeculative Faith […]

Leanna
Guest
Leanna

This point has been brought up already more or less but why not one more voice?
Self-publishing doesn’t actually imply doing everything by yourself. All it really means is that you (rather than a corporation) are the one organizing the pieces of the finished product. Some self-publishers do all the editing, cover design, formatting, etc. themselves but that isn’t an innate feature of self-publishing. 

In relation to points 2 and 3, I think there could actually be more freedom for building as a team within the body of Christ in self-publishing. There is more potential to know your cover designer, your editor, etc, because you are in charge of the process of finding these people and building relationship with them rather than being dependent on whatever company you chose to work with. There’s the potential for less distance between you and other excellent-book-building professionals. 
Obviously, it is way more expensive to self-publish, but mightn’t it be worth the risk?
Kind of like buying from your local farmer rather than going to a chain grocery store for the ingredients for your epic seven course meal.**
Food for thought. 🙂

**NOT dissing chain grocery stores or the talented people who work for publishing presses

Jessica Thomas
Guest

I dunno, but I’m feeling this post might have been written to spark controversy? I’m not sure what the point of the post is? That humans can take something amoral and use it to support their immoral behaviors? That’s kind of a given, IMO. Although my opinion is irrelevant in a free Web where we are all free to self-publish our thoughts…

Eugene Black
Member

Two observations:
1. I find it funny how in the music scene it’s perfectly acceptable to record and distribute a demo or independent release, or in the art or photography world to get your work out there to the public yourself, yet not so in the writer’s world.  Why is this?
2. Maybe a bit off topic, but why are we so concerned to get published on Christian labels?  Because we want to perpetuate our Christian ghetto, because it’s easier to get recognition there?  I’d rather publish independently and have one non-believer read my work than a thousand Christians who probably won’t get fantasy anyway!

Austin Gunderson
Member

Regarding your first observation, I’d be overjoyed at the prospect of prolific self-publishing … if writing was generally viewed as a fine art along the same lines as music, painting, or professional photography.  But sadly, it’s not.

Here’s why.  With a work of music, one can tell within several seconds whether it was produced by an artist or an amateur.  The same is generally true of painting, photography, or graphic design (unless an enculturated tolerance for modern “art” levels the playing field unnaturally in the mind of the viewer).  These art forms, unlike the art of writing, stimulate the viewer’s senses and thus tap directly into his emotions.  Writing doesn’t have that power: it’s entirely abstract, nothing more than words on a page.  A reader must fire up his own imagination, partnering with the author over an extended period of time in order to experience said author’s art.

What this means in terms of discerning a novel’s quality is that it can’t be done nearly as quickly as with a piece of music or a painting or a photograph.  Those can be sampled, glanced at.  But the reading of a book is like a journey, a consensual abduction, a continuing act of trust.  To be evaluated, it must be experienced.  And, unfortunately, it really is impossible to judge a book by its cover.  This means a novel composed by a master storyteller and one thrown together by some slacker may initially appear indistinguishable.  With a piece of music, it’s easy to differentiate between quality and mediocrity.  With a painting, one can quickly discern whether the artist had any experience with his medium.  With a book, you’re gonna have to buy it and read it before you’ll know whether its any good.

Which is why third-party quality-control filters are a good thing.  And that’s part of the service performed by publishers.

Tony Breeden
Member

A rebuttal of your several ill-advised and worse-reasoned “cautions against self-publishing are posted here: http://tonybreeden.blogspot.com/2013/06/demonizing-self-publishing-for-faith.html

Tony Breeden
Member

I respectfully believe that the exclusion of self-published authors like myself from consideration in the CSA is something that needs to be seriously re-considered, but that’s an entirely different issue all on it’s own.

I understand how you intended your cautions to be for self-published authors who do so from the wrong motivations, but it came across as insulting to those of us who work hard to craft our novels, especially those of us, like myself, who chose self-publishing from the outset. For better or worse, self-publishing has changed the face of the market. There is a lot of good self-published stuff out there. While there’s also a lot of awful self-published garbage out there, awful writing isn’t exclusive to self-publishing; I mean, there’s a reason why a good number of traditionally published books end up in the dollar bin at Wal-Mart.

In the spirit of reconciliation, I’d like to offer you a free copy of Johnny Came Home. If you’re interested email me at anthony.breeden@yahoo.com and specify either an ebook [pdf, mobi or epub] or the trade paperback.

By the way, that was a good execution of the proverbial a soft answer turns away wrath. ;]

Regards and God bless you,
Tony Breeden

JP
Guest
JP

What an utterly useless article. This is about as pointless and unnecessary as a “Christian Perspective On Correct Pet Ownership.” Christian cautions against self-publishing? For real? For real?

Hergot
Guest
Hergot

Actually, as we are called to relate every aspect of our life to the great salvific work God accomplished through Christ crucified, a “Christian Perspective on Raising Pets” would be a useful exercise–just as it is useful to consider what God has to say about self-publishing.
Does the Bible have nothing to say about pet ownership? Certainly, long passages in the OT law are devoted to the subject (ie do not boil a calf in its mother’s milk) which are the precursors to our own animal cruelty law.
Don’t be too hasty in your words–applies to self publishing and posting comments. Proverbs 29:20.

JP
Guest
JP

Do you like Perry Noble?