Editor 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:
- I’ve been working on this novel for X years; it’s time people started realizing that.
- I’ve proposed this project to Y number of agents, editors, and publishers, to no avail.
- 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.
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.
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?