Saturday, May 26, 2018

Post-Charismatic: A Publishing Journey

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

In this blog’s early days, there was a lot of discussion about a growing exodus of disillusioned people from Pentecostal and charismatic churches. Many had once viewed these churches as a valuable source of spiritual vitality — but no longer.

I decided, encouraged/egged-on by several blogging friends, to write
a few blog posts to unpack the why’s behind a growing number of people who self-identify as post-charismatic. Id do a bit of background reading and then blog a mini-series (five or six posts).

Id barely begun my research when I realized
a few blog posts 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. I jokingly referred to it as “the mother of all research papers.”

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 issues raised by the Project. To say the forum was inundated with lively conversation would be a classic understatement. Thousands of comments over multiple threads — with a surprising minimum of trolls.

The publishing angle took an unexpected turn later that year. An email arrived from jolly olde England, offering to publish the Post-Charismatic Project in book form. At first, I thought the email was the digital equivalent of a prank phone call. Just in case, I contacted the publishing house in question and inquired whether or not a certain name was associated with the company.


“You mean our senior acquisitions editor?” the polite British woman asked over the phone. “Id take an email from him very seriously, if I were you.”
And then it hit me. I’ve been discovered. Theyre going to publish the Post-Charismatic Project!

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 publication swirl. 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. Except to note that, as a guitarist, the idea of wearing a suit while playing makes my skin crawl (don’t tell B.B. King).
 
Post-Charismatic? was officially released in the UK on the first day of April, 2008. (April Fool’s Day = publication day ... It’s okay, go ahead and laugh. I did.)

And then another unexpected twist ...

Post-Charismatic? was available in bookstores all over the UK, garnering press attention and positive reviews. Emails and hand-written letters from readers across the Pond started showing up in my digital and analog mailboxes, including one from 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. Their only option was to order a copy through Amazon UK.

As I later learned, an American publishing house had bought out the British company, and their rules for publication were different. Things became clearer when I phoned the American company directly.

Do you have a radio or television presence, Robby? You don’t? Well, are you a known commodity on the conference speaking circuit? I see ... Do you lead a mega-church? No? Long pause. I guess we’re done here.”

The British publisher seems to believe in my writing.

No pause. “They don’t know what they’re doing. We downsized them.

In short, the American company’s 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. Another year passed before Post-Charismatic? became available on Amazon USA.

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 writing career.

But after the print run ended, I continued to receive private inquiries about the book’s availability. Self-described fan-boy Luke Geraty, who would later invite me to join the writing team at Think Thelogy, planted the idea of an ebook version. And I realized I had another option: the wild frontier of 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). They also waived their right of first refusal for my next book, because their sales department considered me perpetually unpublishable.

The important piece is this: with an author rights reversal, I regained creative and legal control over my work.

Post-Charismatic 2.0 is a proper second edition: updated, edited (yet again, ruthlessly), complete with the new framing story of a fictional Charismatics Anonymous meeting to introduce and conclude the book.
The learning curve to create both print and ebook formats was steep, but having artistic control of my work was well worth it.

I had no idea how this publishing journey would unfold when I began researching for “a few blog posts” back in 2004. But it’s been a challenging, satisfying, and ultimately empowering education.