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.
- What is this publisher’s target audience?
- What is my target audience?
- What about me as an author makes me appealing to this publisher?
- 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.