Orthodox Publishers and Non-Orthodox Books

In the years since I’ve been involved in Orthodox publishing, I’ve seen numerous writers who hoped to publish a book that would reach the non-Orthodox. This isn’t unique to us. Christian publishing in general has this hope, and it is not entirely unfounded. But the vast majority of people who read Christian books of any kind are already Christian, or well on their way to becoming so.

This is not to say that when you write for an Orthodox audience, you should be inward looking and lean heavily on references and thought lines only your fellow Orthodox would understand. Clarity and kindness are always essential.

It is to say that if you want to write a book that is not intended for an Orthodox audience, you need to think seriously about why you are sending it to an Orthodox publisher.

Let me say that again.

You need to think seriously about why you are sending it to an Orthodox publisher.

Orthodox publishers have Orthodox customers. Their distribution network and marketing apparatus are designed to convey Orthodox content to Orthodox people, or to those strongly interested in Orthodoxy.

People who are not Orthodox and not currently interested in becoming Orthodox do not buy books from Orthodox publishers.

But there are other, larger flaws in the belief that covertly Orthodox and overtly noncommittal books are good publishing, or good evangelism. I’m reminded of that interesting period when many mainline churches in the USA instituted “contemporary worship” to attract young people and newcomers. In parishes, and in publishing, this amounts to bait and switch.

The religion itself is unchanged. Whatever you felt should be hidden or glossed over to make it more palatable to the uninitiated has not gone away. You’ve simply moved it further down the line, and when it reappears, you’ll face uncomfortable questions about why you felt the need to hide it.

Sincerity is a moral imperative, but it’s also a best practice when creating faith-based media. With that in mind, let’s drill down to four basic questions to ask yourself when considering an Orthodox publisher for your book.

  1. What is this publisher’s target audience?
  2. What is my target audience?
  3. What about me as an author makes me appealing to this publisher?
  4. What makes this publisher appealing to me as a writer?

The Publisher’s Target Audience

In the age of niche marketing and boundless content propagation, publishers excel when they serve a well-defined market. (This is true for other types of business as well.) They may publish books on a variety of topics, but you’ll be able to see common threads, a worldview or mindset, a branded look, that indicates who they expect will purchase and value their books.

Orthodox publishers publish Orthodox books. Some will be straight theology, some will be applied, and some will be fiction. But all will assume an Orthodox worldview, or at least awareness of that worldview, in the reader.

It’s absolutely possible for a publisher to reach readers outside the target audience. But this is more by the workings of providence than anything else. I remember reading once that the only way to expand beyond your niche market is to fill it first. A cup overflows when the water has filled every available space inside.

There are several ways to determine the audience a publisher hopes to reach. The simplest is to look at their website or catalog. What kind of books are there? Who are the authors? What do the submission guidelines say? What books seem to be getting the most attention and space on their website?

Think about the book you have in mind. Can you imagine it on their website? Would it fit in with the other books there? Would the publisher agree that it fit in?

All of these questions should be asked for any kind of publishing submission, not just those to an Orthodox publisher. But the answers should clarify whether your book is actually the type they would publish.

Your Target Audience

As you consider the publisher’s target audience, you’ll also be thinking of your own target audience. When you wrote your book, who were you talking to? Who will enjoy your book or benefit from it? Who buys books that are similar to yours?

Side note: If you believe there are no books similar to yours, ask yourself why that is. It’s a complex question. Does your book meet an unmet need? Or, does nobody publish books like this because nobody wants them?

The more specific you can be, in your own mind, about your target audience, the better. Again – you have to fill a niche before you can reach beyond it. Your writing will be stronger, more insightful and directed, if you know exactly who wants to read it.

Second side note: Remember, a target audience comprises people who want to read your book. You may think they need to read it, but yours is not the opinion that counts.

Once you’ve identified your target readers, compare them to your chosen publisher’s target audience. Are you trying to reach the same people?

If you are trying to reach Orthodox readers, an Orthodox publisher is the way to go. Orthodoxy is itself a niche in the Christian world, especially in the United States. Religious publishing is segregated by faith group, and most religious publishers are unlikely to publish materials espousing a different faith or denomination, both for marketing and for missional reasons.

If you are trying to reach non-Orthodox readers, your target audience probably doesn’t align well with an Orthodox publisher’s target audience. If your work is evangelical, you might find you’d be preaching to the choir. If the people you want to reach are truly “outside the dome,” there’s a good chance they’re also outside an Orthodox publisher’s community of readers and customers.

Appealing to the Publisher

When a publisher acquires your book, they’re also acquiring a professional relationship with you as the author. Don’t forget that you and your credentials are reviewed in any acquisitions decision.

It’s common for Orthodox publishers to publish Orthodox writers, but it’s important to understand the ways that Orthodoxy is and is not a credential for publication. The quality of your writing is the first criteria for publication. You won’t be published simply because you are Orthodox and other Orthodox people aren’t writing on this topic.

However, if you are a good writer and you’re writing on a topic that hasn’t been covered by other Orthodox writers, that’s a selling point. Maybe there are thousands of books on improving your marriage, but if there are only a few Orthodox books on improving your marriage, you have something unique and valuable to offer.

That said, if you are trying to write a book that would be unique in the Orthodox world, remember that it may not be unique in the larger world of Christian or secular publishing. An Orthodox worldview isn’t usually a valued credential “outside the dome.” The very thing that makes you a good prospect in Orthodox publishing may be a handicap with other publishers.

Appealing to the Writer

As an Orthodox writer, it’s tempting to submit everything you write to an Orthodox publisher. Perhaps you’ve published other books with them, or you know someone one staff. It feels like home, like a safe place. That’s understandable.

There’s also a temptation to feel that you’re more likely to be published by an Orthodox publisher than by a “real” publisher. Let that thought go.

Orthodox publishers ARE “real” publishers. They’re not operating from a place of desperation, whatever may have been true in the past. Every year, they receive more submissions than they can publish. Readership and sales are expanding. Many of the books published 20 years ago wouldn’t make the cut now, or would undergo a lot more editing before they did!

It is what it is

These questions and answers all add up to the same thing: Orthodox publishers seek to publish excellent Orthodox books. If that’s what you have to offer, your chances are good. If your book is excellent, but not really Orthodox, it’s time for some soul searching.

Not every book has to be Orthodox, or even about faith at all. As an Orthodox writer, your faith will always be part of your lens, part of your consciousness. But how much it shows in the finished product depends on many factors.

The important thing is to be true to your purpose. Pick a side. Take a stand. If you want to reach people for Christ, don’t hide Him.

Video Story: Ferdinand and the Geese

A few free minutes and some curiosity drove me to play with Canva, and voila! Here’s a tiny story, based on my doggy’s enchantment with Canada geese.

For the sake of historical accuracy, I must point out that the real Ferdinand is a tricolor. But not being an illustrator, I chose clip art with a good corgi expression, despite the fact that my dog is not brown.

It’s just over 1 minute long. Enjoy! #honk

Without Your Consent

Can we stop saying “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”?

That’s not empowering. That’s pain-shaming.

It’s also a load of baloney. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can break your heart.

Yes, we choose our response to injury, just as we choose our response to affirmation, boredom, opportunity, regret, and all the other facets of human experience. But when we state that a person who feels hurt is consenting to their own injury, we are enabling the one doing harm, not freeing the injured. The perpetrator can now be as hurtful as they desire to be because the pain is your fault, not theirs.

Hurtful words hurt. Hurtful behavior hurts. The pain they cause is real, and it is CAUSED. It comes from the sender, not the receiver.

So let’s stop skipping that part. Before we accept responsibility for our response, let’s assign responsibility to the person and context that made it necessary.

Unhappy Holidays

For what it’s worth:

HOLIDAYS ARE HARD.

We soak up a lifetime of unconscious hopes and assumptions about love, family, success, happiness – and those assumptions crash headlong into reality in moments when we expect to be celebrating.

You are a real person, and if you are reading this, you are not in heaven yet. Neither are the people you know and love, or the people you are related to and can’t stand. Neither are the people posting pictures of the life you wish you had.

Earth is the struggle place. If you are struggling, good job! That’s what we’re here for. You are not a loveless ugly failure. You are a human being, created in the image of God, doing the work He is granting you on your journey to grace and joy.

On earth, we catch glimpses. Minutes, or even seconds of light and relief.

Keep your eyes open for the brightness that finds its way through the cracks around you. Rest in that love for the moments when you can see it. Then pick up your tools and get back to work.

No matter what they tell you, no matter what they show you, the people around you are also struggling and waiting.

Against Followership

In a world driven by clicks and likes, I’ve come to deplore followership. The internet, on and off social media, is a fantastic resource. It’s the biggest library the human mind can conceive, conveying ideas in written, spoken, and visual media. But it’s also a constant temptation to comparison and imitation.

How often do you watch a video and decide you need to think like the speaker thinks? How often do you flip through an Instagrammer’s homeschool photos and decide you need to educate your child with the same plans and materials? Yes, these things can be resources, but they can also be an excuse to cede your agency and intelligence to someone more popular, convincing, or attractive than you feel yourself to be.

They call them “influencers” for a reason.

The longer I live, the more I see that people are just people. Even attractive, convincing people are just people. I respect actual credentials. If you have an accredited degree in your field, I’m much more likely to accept the information you are sharing.

But if your credential is the number of YouTube followers you have, I’m frankly not interested. You are a human, and I am a human. Probably, we’re both adults. Like my opinion, your opinion is just that – an opinion. It may be your best effort at putting together the disparate threads of your experience, and I can honor that. But I don’t need to bow to it.

There is only one Person we should be following, and that is Christ.

Little Lost Nun: Video Interview

This conversation was such a joy! Watch me visit with Katie Reetzke from Park End Books, unpacking the stories within and around the story that became Little Lost Nun.

We touched on so many big ideas – the definition of real tragedy, the importance of representation in books for Orthodox children who don’t live in a majority Orthodox culture, the spirituality of children – so many things! I especially loved hearing about the little girl who keep’s her home-made nun paper doll under her pillow. All the ways that children cherish their imaginative memories and bring them into life are precious.

I hope you’ll enjoy watching this interview as much as we enjoyed making it. You can find a copy of Little Lost Nun wherever books are sold.

What we want from Orthodox children’s books

Almost always, an adult is the starting point for a child’s exposure to a book. We choose the books, we purchase the books, we pack our offspring into the minivan and herd them into the children’s section of the library. They can’t obtain books without our help, so we play a large role in their encounters with literature.

That being so, it’s interesting to reflect on the assumptions and wishes that prompt an Orthodox grownup to reach for a particular book. What do we expect from “Orthodox kidlit”? There are many specific answers to that question, but here are three underlying ideas that I suspect are present when a book is invited into your child’s world.

It’s trustworthy.

If a book purports to be Orthodox, it must meet certain standards. You would be stunned to discover it was championing heresy, of course. But there are other, more subtle expectations. You expect it to support your child’s faithfulness, to offer good theology in simple terms, to help you out as a parent. Sometimes we offer a book to our children because we hope it will do a better job explaining than we could, or will at least make a change from our own voice constantly telling them how to be good. We expect the author to be “on our side,” sharing our motivation to pass on the faith to the next generation. If you’re writing Orthodox kid lit at all, you must be a member of the team that walks each child from the baptismal font to a fruitful Christian life when they reach maturity.

IT’S ENGAGING.

To be honest, parents are constantly being let down by books. Sometimes this happens because parents and children are human beings, and what they find appealing and compelling differs. Your child might not see what you see or hear what you hear in the story. But sometimes a book lets you down by failing to present concepts or adapt packaging to meet the needs of the target age. A child’s heart can’t be engaged if you’ve failed to accommodate her developing brain.

I’ve also learned, in recent years, that we adults can frustrate children by overexplaining. They quickly perceive that we don’t see them as capable of perception and discovery. The old advice to writers, “Show, don’t tell” could be a motto for adults interacting with children. I’m thankful for a recent conversation with my friend Sarah, who spoke eloquently about the importance of approaching a child as a full human, a whole person. Drawing on this wisdom, I believe a good book brings the child into experience directly, sparing them the tiresome process of being prompted to enjoy second-hand knowledge of someone else’s transformative delight.

It’s well done.

By this I mean something other than the quality of the book’s content. Like many new things, Orthodox children’s literature as a genre began life looking a bit “home-made” and frankly unprofessional in some instances. When you begin to do something no one has done before, your early attempts will be amateur and faulty. It’s the nature of new things, and it’s an honorable kind of failure, in my view. You have to start somewhere, and you have to make all the mistakes to propel the endeavor to higher levels of achievement.

But I’d posit that the exemption for new effort has expired for this genre. Our readers and their parents have the right to expect expect high-quality illustrations, well-crafted and well-edited text, good paper, durable covers, and the like. Children learn something from every facet of their daily life, and they will notice if the “church” books always look a little shabby next to the secular books.

KEep trying harder!

With no degree programs and only the beginnings of professional development or support for creators of Orthodox children’s books, it may seem presumptive to demand excellence in this field. But still – we should demand it. Any creative process thrives on concentration and persistence. We should be willing to push ourselves, to ask hard questions of our work and welcome honest answers. There’s a temptation to settle for second best, assuming that because there aren’t many Orthodox children’s books, it’s acceptable to put out work that is “at least better than nothing.” We may unconsciously expect that with smaller publishers and a market defined by our faith group, we don’t have to meet the same high standards that would be applied if we were submitting work to Random House or Harper One.

I reject that mindset.

Orthodox publishers in the United States are growing and changing. Higher standards and the ability to be selective are the natural consequence for companies that are thriving. This is an opportunity for sacrifice, or almsgiving. We can give our first fruits to the Lord, a gift that reflects the best of our ability, a gift that is, to the extent possible to a human maker, without blemish.

Kathryn Reetzke: Orthodox KidLit and God’s Saintly Friends

A warm welcome to guest poster Kathryn Reetzke, who’s sharing some reflections on her upcoming board book, God’s Saintly Friends, illustrated by Abigail Holt.

As a mother of four little ones (6 and under), Church School Director at our small parish in Bowling Green, KY, and a part-time history professor, my passions are rooted in education. Within these roles, I am constantly seeking curriculums and educational resources to use both at home and in Church School. There are a growing number of hands-on and engaging resources for Orthodox families, making it an exciting time to be a parent and Church School teacher. I appreciate all the resources being created by the many individual websites like Orthodox Pebbles, Draw Near Designs, ByziKids, and Sparks 4 Orthodox Kids. Even with the growing number of materials, I believe there are still some gaps that can be filled with meaningful and thought-provoking printed books for kids.

GETTING STARTED

At the beginning of the pandemic shut-downs, I was asked to join an Orthodox Children’s Writers and Illustrators group by Melinda. I was curious to see what ideas were circulating in the behind-the-scenes author and illustrator world of Orthodox publishing. I didn’t realize that by seeking what was missing in the market, I would be called to write a book of my own.

The idea for the board book God’s Saintly Friends came from thinking about available Orthodox books on friendship. I was familiar with some that have characters that are friends, such as Charlie Riggle’s Catherine’s Pascha and the Philo and the Superholies series, but I wanted to think of something that also brought in historic examples of Saints who were friends (history professor hat on).

SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP

The pandemic also pushed me to reflect on the importance of holy friends and how we can care for each other while apart. From there I thought, surely saints like St. Perpetua and St. Felicity became friends in prison, both being young mothers and strong in their faith in Christ. I researched and got suggestions from friends about sets of Saints who were friends (such as one of my favorite stories, St. Sophrony and St. Porphryios, from illustrator Abigail Holt). I asked myself: How can I write something that gives both a historical precedence of Saints who had healthy friendships, while also teaching basic values of friendship? After writing my draft, getting editing advice, contacting my friend Abigail about artwork, and two denied submissions, I found a supportive publisher in Park End Books (Summer Kinard), who was equally excited about making this resource available to families.

I love that the availability of Orthodox toddler board books is growing, so that the littlest ones have books to look at during church and more importantly at home. I pray that this book helps parents engage with their children both about the Saints’ lives featured in the book and also about spiritual friendships. The growing experience of friendship through the lens of social media makes early childhood development of healthy friendships key to having healthy future leaders in the Church. This board book is written to appeal to a wide range of ages as the illustrations and text allow for extended discussions about the Saints with older children.

I hope you and your children, grandchildren, and/or godchildren enjoy God’s Saintly Friends together!

NOTE: You can preorder you copy of God’s Saintly Friends HERE.

ABOUT KATHRYN REETZKE

Kathryn is blessed to be a mother of four children 6 and under, an avid reader of both children’s books and adult literature, Church School Director and founder of the nursery program at Holy Apostles Orthodox Mission in Bowling Green, KY, and Adjunct Professor of History at WKU.  She also coordinates the yearly “Room in the Inn” program to help house the homeless in our sanctuary overnight during the Winter months. She has a passion for both education and almsgiving and prays her first book will bring both to our future Orthodox leaders.

Giving away signed author copies of books

When your book is published, the publisher sends you a box of author copies. Opening that box is wonderful. Catching a first glimpse of your literary baby incarnated in glorious paper, feeling the cover on your fingertips, hefting that weight on your palm. There it is. Imagination made manifest.

What do you do with your author copies? If you are organized and a good promoter, you post an unboxing video, you run giveaways on your blog (which you pay attention to, unlike the owner of this blog who comes flying in here randomly when inspiration strikes her and forgets all about it for weeks at a time), you send some to the great uncle who always encouraged you to be a writer.

Or you put the box in a safe place on your book shelf, certain you will get back to it in a minute when your life calms down.

But it does not calm down.

This morning, I decided the time had come to send the author copies of my various books out into the world. Books are made to be read. They need to be liberated from my office and begin their happy life on your nightstand.

Therefore, welcome to my Author Copy Book Giveaway. Below I have listed the books I’m giving away, including the number of copies available. I’m happy to sign your book, and I will mail it to you if you live in the contiguous USA. If you live somewhere else, you need to pay shipping.

EXTRA CREDIT if you’ve got a Sunday school, a co-op, or some other special plan for the books!

INCLUDE THE TITLE OF THE BOOK IN YOUR REQUEST!

4 copies

Sam wants to know if animals (especially Saucer!) can speak at midnight on Christmas Eve. Grace and Macrina are competing to write a story, and Elias is losing his patience. Meanwhile, Sister Anna hopes God will rescue her from teaching Sunday school. Christmas is coming, but hearts are full of secrets and frustrations. The Barn and the Book is a story about the traps we build when we try to see in the dark. We tumble into trouble and confusion on our own, but God can steer us clear of our traps and shine His kindly light into our darkness. A chapter book for ages 7-12. Book 2 of the Sam and Saucer series.

6 copies

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace. A chapter book for ages 7-12. Book 3 of the Sam and Saucer series.

0 copies – all taken

Written by a group of friends, ​Seven Holy Women​ is a one-of-a-kind journey into the lives of seven women saints. Each section of the book includes a story from one saint’s life, told vividly and imaginatively in the second person; additional information about the saint to give her context; a reflection on ways the writer, reader, and saint intersect on their journeys; personal surveys for the reader and a friend to complete; and a journal prompt that encourages the reader to explore and document her encounter with themes from the saint’s life. Created as both a deeply personal and enriching communal experience, ​Seven Holy Women​ speaks directly to the reader, drawing her into the lives of seven saints as it invites her to look more closely and lovingly at her own spiritual journey and her friendship with the cloud of witnesses.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

Saint Ia Rides a Leaf is a charming story from the life of Saint Ia, an Irish missionary to England in the fifth or sixth century. The town and parish of St Ives in Cornwall, England, are named for her, and she is commemorated on February 3 in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Join Saint Ia and her animal friends on an adventure to spread the Gospel! Board book for littles.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

How can one little peg doll have the power to heal two broken-hearted girls?

What happens when you do the wrong thing for the right reason? In this relatable story of the restorative power of friendship, two girls – Nina, who has everything, and Tabitha, who has almost nothing – find the strength they need to heal from a very sad day with the help of nuns both little and life-sized. Chapter book for ages 8-12.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

Abigail is happy on the island of Inisheer, but God has other plans for her! An angel asks Abigail to search for nine white deer in the woods across the sea. When she finds them, Abigail will also find the place where God wants her to be. Journey with Abigail as she listens to ONE angel, sails with TWO fishermen, finds THREE deer, then SIX, then more! Count with Abigail all the way to her true home. Board book for littles, about Saint Abigail.

BOOKS FROM OTHER AUTHORS

0 copies – TAKEN

The Song of the Sirin is an epic fantasy retelling of the Russian fairy tale “Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf.” It is written in the tradition of the classic Christian fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and George MacDonald.

An evil omen clouds the sky. A song of lore returns. Can one man’s quest save the world?

Voran can’t help but believe the rumors. As blight ravages he countryside and darkness covers the sun, the young warrior of Vasylia hears of an ancient spirit that devours souls. He feels powerless to fight the oncoming devastation until an angelic creature entrusts him with a long-forgotten song. Legend has it that such a song can heal the masses, overthrow kingdoms, and raise humans to the divine. . . .

Armed with the memory of the song, Voran must hunt down the dark spirit before it achieves its goal of immortality. His quest takes him through doorways to other worlds and subjects him to ordeals against seductive nymphs and riddling giants. Voran’t journey is a trial—of faith in a world of doubt, love in a world of selfishness, beauty in a world of ugliness.

With each step of the journey, the strength of the villainous spirit grows, as does Voran’s fear that the only way to save his world is to let it be destroyed.

0 copies – TAKEN

Are you looking for a way to keep your family engaged in the true spiritual nourishment Lent has to offer? Tending the Garden of Our Hearts offers family devotions based on the scriptures for each day of Great Lent, including questions to discuss and ponder and an appendix full of hands-on activities to bring the lessons of the season to life. Whether you use it every day or dip into it occasionally as time permits, this book will help the whole family get more out of this crucial season of the Orthodox year.