Saturday, May 26, 2018

Post-Charismatic: A Publishing Journey

From an author’s perspective, the saga of Post-Charismatic provides a whirlwind tour into the strange world of publishing, and the roller-coaster ups-and-downs associated with it.

In this blog’s early days, there was a lot of conversation about the growing number of disillusioned people from Pentecostal/charismatic backgrounds. Many were opting to leave the movements they had once considered sources of spiritual vitality.

I decided—at the encouragement of several blogging friends—to begin what I conceived of as “the mother of all research papers,” a series of blog posts to unpack the why’s behind the growing number of people who self-identify as post-charismatic.

It didn’t take long in my research to realize a blog series wouldn’t do the topic justice. Instead, what was tentatively billed as the Post-Charismatic Project would be published as a subsection of my blog—an extremely large subsection, as twenty months of research and writing took shape.

Even before its release, several people suggested I look into getting the content published in book form. I did my best to shop the proposal around but received zero response. (Note: possibly because my query letters sucked.)

So I went ahead with my initial plan and designed a website-within-a-blog.

In hindsight, I have no idea what inspired this banner art.

The website went public in early 2006 and word spread quickly around the blogosphere. Brent Toderash from Subversive Influence (who also provided invaluable critiques of the early drafts) created an online forum where readers could interact on the various issues raised by the Project. To say the forum was inundated with lively debate would be a classic understatement.
The publishing angle took an unexpected turn later that same year. An email arrived from jolly olde England, inquiring about publishing the Post-Charismatic Project as a book. 
This was considered the holy grail of blogging: becoming a published author.
At first, I thought the email was the digital equivalent of a prank phone call. Just in case, I decided to contact the company in question and inquire whether or not a certain name was associated with them.

“You mean our senior acquisitions editor?” the polite British woman asked over the phone. “I would take an email from him very seriously, if I were you.”
And then it hit me. I had been discovered. I was going to be published.

A whirlwind of contract signing and untangling governmental red tape between a Canadian writer and a British publishing house ensued. I quickly found myself knee-deep in the process of editors scouring through my manuscript, suggesting additions, deletions, areas where the material could be tightened up, and so on. It was a fun learning curve.

Eventually, I was treated to the odd sensation which accompanies the first glimpse of the proposed cover art. Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of either design, to be honest (especially all the question marks), but that’s part of the swirl of publication. You don’t have control over what the publisher decides. And they’re the experts, so you need to trust their instincts.

In the end, they chose the second cover design, which was the better of the two in my limited opinion. And at the beginning of April, in 2008, Post-Charismatic? was officially released in the UK. (The release date coinciding with April Fools Day has always been a source of amusement for me.)

And then another unexpected twist ...
Post-Charismatic? was in bookstores and receiving press attention and positive reviews in the UK. I was already receiving emails and hand-written letters from readers across The Pond, including a university professor who used the book in one of his classes. 
But for reasons unknown, the release on this side of the Atlantic was delayed for over a year. My inbox was flooded with requests from American and Canadian readers who wanted copies, but there was nothing I could do.

As I later discovered, an American publishing house had bought out the British company, and their rules for publication were different. In short, their sales department determined I didn’t qualify to be published. Since legally-binding documents had been signed, they were contractually obligated to the first print run. But that was as far as they would (grudgingly) go.

Zero promotion. Non-existent publicity. No buzz.

For a writer, this was understandably frustrating and not a little deflating. The three-year print run came and went, and the muffled thud you may have heard was the (apparent) end of my shelf life as an author.

But after the print run was over, I continued to receive private inquiries about the book’s availability, and also requests for an ebook version. And I realized there was another option available—self-publishing.

It took almost half a year of wrangling with the American company to obtain an official “author rights reversal” (despite this being clearly delineated in my contract). The company also waived their right of first refusal for my next book because their sales department had already decided I was perpetually unpublishable.

The important piece is this: with an author rights reversal, I was once more in creative and legal control of what I did with my work.

Post-Charismatic 2.0 is a proper second edition—updated, edited (yet again, ruthlessly)—with a new framing story of a fictional Charismatics Anonymous meeting to introduce and conclude the book.

The learning curve to create both print and e-book formats was steep, but having complete artistic control of my work was well worth it.

I could never have predicted how this publishing journey would unfold when I began researching for “a few blog posts.” But it’s been a challenging, satisfying, and ultimately empowering education.