The Shack – Too Edgy for Christian Publishing?

‘Big Evangelical’ acquisitions editor Mick Silva and lit agent extraordinaire Chip MacGregor offer two nuanced takes.

As many readers here know, I’ve been friends with Windblown co-publisher Wayne Jacobsen for years. (We have similar house-church-like roots, though neither of us exactly claim that nom de plume now) When he approached me in (I guess it was) late 2006 about this novel he’d acquired, he and co-publisher Brad Cummings knew they had something special on their hands. I agreed, so much so that we gave their newly-minted Windblown Media a super-good deal on my time-tested grassroots blog publicity.

I should probably clarify something right now: The deal wasn’t quite as good as the oftquoted $300 pre-Hachette acquisition ‘total marketing budget.’ That was a benignly unaware statement said early on and picked up the the newswires. Nonetheless, we were indeed The Shack’s total marketing budget, though, helping facilitate one corner of the word-of-mouth that has made The Shack the runaway hit that it is.

So: ‘Too edgy’ for Christian publishing? Some acquisitions editors still claim they wouldn’t take it, citing poor writing or not living up to ‘the rules’ of novel structure (ie, way too much socratic dialogue – the same ‘problem’ that killed that other best-seller, the A New Kind of Christian trilogy – now available in nice new paperbacks, by the way). So much for what the ‘experts’ say – the people have spoken, and they are compelled.

Of course, ‘the people’ have been wrong before – The Prayer of Jabez, Left Behind, and The Secret, anyone? – but the edge is definitely why people are picking up The Shack – Its depiction of suffering is realistic, its depiction of God is controversial, and God’s depicted outlook on living is most bold. It’s clear to me that both the CBA and ABA markets need to expand their horizons if they want to cultivate readers into the 21st century. Otherwise, authors and readers and going to bypass traditional publishing channels altogether.

Coming up in a couple of days: Is ‘God’ a matter up for discussion? Can we fruitfully (and faithfully) re-vision the Divine? Or is searching for a ‘better God’ a fools errand? And, we continue with our series on Emerging Worship…

4 Responses to The Shack – Too Edgy for Christian Publishing?

  1. Paul Wilkinson November 3, 2008 at 12:19 am #

    When I’m not blogging, I own a couple of Christian bookstores, where there might as well be a big white line down the middle of the store separating the fiction buyers from the non-fiction buyers. It’s nice when there’s a book somewhere in the middle, like Shack and Jacobsen’s So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore.

    So my take on this is: Bring on more socratic dialogue. (What do publishers really know about my customers anyway? They certainly aren’t up to doing much in the way of listening to what retail is trying to tell them.)

    BTW, it’s interesting to note that the last time we had a really big landmark Christian fiction title — This Present Darkness, 22 years ago — there were actually very few imitators. If anyone wants to imitate anything about Shack, they should consider the whole didactic conversations that, as you note, are also common to McLaren’s trilogy.

    Actually, I need to divide the store into friction and non-friction! (Read last sentence again if you missed it!)

  2. Jenny Hainsworth November 17, 2008 at 8:10 am #

    Nope, just too lame.

  3. Christopher Cocca January 13, 2009 at 8:44 pm #

    I’m intrigued by this post in that I didn’t find “The Shack” to be edgy at all. I’m all for writing the pushes the envelope: bring on original structures, new forms, the Socratic method, etc. I don’t think it’s the structure that hurts “The Shack.” On the literary side of fiction, these forms are always being pushed. The problem with “The Shack” is that I don’t think it’s really literature in this sense. That is, there’s a dearth of artistry in it that makes it harder for people to ingest the novelty. You mentioned that some houses cited “poor writing.” No offense to the parties involved, but I’d have to agree with that.


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