What “The Shack” Says About Independent Publishing

In their January 5, 2009 issue, Christian Retailing ran an article on how The Shack became a runaway best-seller in 2008. For those of you who don’t know, The Shack was written by William P. Young, an ordinary Christian man who felt God calling him to share his fiction story with the world. He first presented his story and manuscript to 20 different publishing house editors. All 20 declined to publish the book. So, William Young and two friends started a publishing house, Windblown Media (www.windblownmedia.com), to publish the book themselves. Within mere months of publishing the book, The Shack had sold over 300,000 copies and before a year was up, it was number one on the New York Time’s Bestseller list.

Why did this book become such a bestseller? I believe it is because it has a message that resonates with people. It contains a message that God specifically gave William Young to share with others. I personally know a couple people who, after reading the book, felt God calling them into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him.

The interesting thing to me in the Christian Retailing article was the quote by an editor of a major Christian publishing house as to why he and the other editors chose not to publish the book. He stated, “You know why we can’t publish this? It’s tough to talk publishers into doing something unusual. I call it the Catch-22 of publishing. If somebody has done something like it, then we can’t do it. If nobody has done something like it, then we can’t do it.”

This is the very reason so many small independent publishers are popping up on the Christian publishing scene. When someone is given a word from God to share in the form of a book, I believe that person is best off heeding God’s calling. But what is that author to do if editors of major Christian publishing houses are not listening to God’s voice (and I believe this does happen sometimes)? I believe that these authors should do as William Young did if God is calling them to it.

People frequently ask me what small unknown publishers have to offer a community that already has a plethora of books. My answer is, and will remain, books on subjects that the large established Christian publishing houses are not publishing: cutting-edge messages that God’s people and those still outside his flock need to hear. 

timetotalkcoverphotoLet me give you a couple of examples. A couple years ago, one of Christian Small Publishers Association’s publisher members felt God’s call to get Christians and the church to talk about hiv/aids. The authors, Andrea Bakke and Corean Bakke, founded Bakken Books (www.bakkenbooks.com) to publish their book Time to Talk in Church about HIV and AIDS, A Bible Study Discussion Guide 

More recently, another member of Christian Small Publishers Association D.L. McCarragher founded Alabaster Box Publishing (www.alabasterboxpublishing.com) to publish a book for women to inspire and encourage them to pray for the salvation of their unsaved husbands. The book is titled finalcovermissionpossibleMission Possible, Battling for Your Mate’s Soul Isn’t for Cowards.

These books represent two topics I have not seen published by large Christian publishing houses in the past few years, and there are many more.

Although it is improving, over the years, authors who have established a publishing house to print their own works (and those of other authors) have been looked down upon by the Christian publishing industry as inferior. This is one of the reasons that I helped found Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA). The organization was established to promote small publishers and their works in the Christian marketplace to bring awareness to the quality books that these publishers produce.

I believe as Isaiah 55:10-11 states “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” This is true for authors who independently publish their works as well as those who are published by the large established Christian publishing houses.   

Has God given you a message that you published yourself?