I’ve been following a recent online discussion about the value and practical workings of platform building in the Christian publishing and speaking industry. The players in the discussion are all published, known figures, and they speak about how personal branding, and the targeting of ‘likes’, clicks, and views on social media has put the industry, and certainly its representatives, in a precarious position. Representing Christian ideology, which is humble in nature, in the same space as the hard sell of your own personality is risky at best, and at worst, hypocrisy. To their credit, a handful of established writers and speakers see the problem and are speaking out. Ironically, their platforms allow them the luxury of parsing that world, choosing what they will and won’t do, and even hosting the complicated debate on their own twitter pages, gaining likes and re-tweets for the very discussion that criticizes the culture.
As a non-published blogger, my perspective is probably naïve. I started writing to process my own faith and life, and started my blog as a central place to keep my stuff. I have a small following of people who relate to what I have to say, and some have told me it’s helpful to them. It wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me to share any of it. Urged on by my spiritual director and a few friends, I researched the publishing business, worked on a book proposal, and began sending it out.
I’m not sure that established industry people understand the experience of the first time writer, so I will share here that today a rejection looks and sounds like silence. Agents and publishers are so inundated with queries and proposals that they don’t send rejection emails, letters or feedback at all, and this is accepted practice, though it doesn’t seem necessarily kind or Christian to me. It is what it is, I suppose. Recent rare, helpful feedback stated that because I’m Catholic and write at times about mass and Mary, that evangelical publishers would find me confusing. That my use of a labyrinth as a symbol for the twisty-turning of my life might also make evangelical publishers nervous. That I need to share the analytics of my following; how many page views, how many new visitors per month, the evidence I’m reaching audiences who want to read what I write. And I get it. It’s a business. No one wants to print a book that no one will buy, but there’s a deeper reality I fear we’re missing.
When I sing at church, I sometimes feel God singing through me, and it’s the most amazing feeling in the world. When I teach and connect with a student, and see in their eyes that they feel seen and loved, there’s nothing better. And when an idea floats by me while walking my dog and I grab it and rush home to my laptop to put it down in words, I feel that God is working. It’s not every time, and there are no analytics to support it, but the bottom line is that I know when it’s more Jesus and less me, and it’s good.
In a perfect world, my Catholicism would be viewed as a rich subset of Christianity, and not the enemy of mainstream Protestant evangelical publishers. In a perfect world, seekers from different denominations would hear the quiet voice of God, and we could talk about it from our own experience, and help each other along a path as brothers and sisters. In a perfect world, the numbers wouldn’t be the deciding factor of whether an idea is worthy or inspired. But it’s not a perfect world, and I can only react to what is reality today.
I have no real drive to invest energy into boosting my social media numbers, largely because it feels gross, self-centered, and counterproductive to do that. Seeking and targeting ‘followers’ sure sounds like sacrilege to me, and the idea makes my soul feel sick. Like I said, maybe I’m naïve, but I have to believe at the heart of this whole industry, and this world for that matter, is a God who is breathing ideas into the water and anointing people to communicate them to the larger world. Following him has to be my biggest priority. What he’ll do with whatever I make is up to him in the end, anyway. It never belonged to me to begin with.