Open Letter To Christian Publishers


ReadingDear Christian Publishers,

I’m not a happy customer, and I think it’s time I stop complaining to my friends and come right out and say what’s bothering me.

The problem leaked out as I wrote my review for Wayne Thomas Batson’s recent (excellent) middle grade / YA novel Dream Treaders. At one point I said that middle grade boys were an under-served reading market, but that’s only partly true. In reality, all children are under served by Christian publishers!

I find this to be a horrible state of affairs. The few books I see in book stores and in publisher catalogs more closely resemble Sunday school material than entertainment. Don’t misunderstand—I’m a big fan of Sunday school. I just don’t think kids like going to school—no matter what kind of school it is—when they want to play and imagine and get lost in a story.

I understand from discussions on agent and editor panels at writers’ conferences that the topic of the paucity of children’s books comes up from time to time. In explanation, industry professionals identify two problems. First, there are so many clean books available in the general market that there is no real need for Christian children’s books. And second, Christian children’s books simply don’t sell.

I find the first reason to be reprehensible. Yes, reprehensible. Since when is Christianity limited to moral living? Do believers have nothing else to say about life except, don’t use bad words, obey your parents, and be nice to the little disadvantaged boy who lives next door?

I mean, really. Are we content to let the world tell our children how they should think? That’s precisely what we do when ALL their entertainment—TV, video games, movies, and books—espouse the same humanistic agenda. The two hours children spend at church on Sunday (and it’s a pretty shaky assumption that they do spend two hours there), is not enough to counter the multiply hours they spend every day hearing that they are good (not sinful), need only look inside (not to Jesus) for strength, can do whatever they put their mind to (not what God has gifted them for), and many other principles that fly in the face of Scripture.

Who, I ask you, Mr. and Ms. Publishing Professionals, will counter the humanist, postmodern worldviews that children are being taught?

Ah, someone is bound to suggest that parents are tasked with that job. I couldn’t agree more. Moses certainly gave parents the responsibility of teaching the Law to their children:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:6-9)

The idea is that parents are to use every occasion to teach their children the things God wants them to know. Every occasion. Including their reading time.

Yes, parents can use reading time, like they must for movies and video games and TV and public education, to teach how the worldview behind the stories and games and curriculum is false. But is it too much to ask that Christian publishers give parents a better tool than negative examples?

Seriously, why aren’t all Christians up in arms at the poor pickings we are offering up to our children?

Which leads to the next issue. Publishing professionals say that parents don’t buy Christian books. Well, here’s the thing: some don’t know any Christian books exist. What’s more, the few books that are on the shelves in book stores may not be geared toward the needs of the parents who are looking. If there’s one book about pumpkins at Halloween time, for example, what does the parent do who is looking for a book for her little boy who loves horses?

The other “not buying” issue is price. Publishers say, all that color and thick paper for children’s books make printing children’s books prohibitive. Their print runs aren’t big enough to bring the cost down, so given the choice of buying a cheaper general market book and an expensive Christian market book, parents go for the less expensive.

Both these issues can be taken care of if you, Mr. and Ms. Publishing Professionals, would think creatively and take seriously the need for adults to pass on the Truth of God and His love for the world to the next generation.

First, the not knowing. There are plenty of women buying Christian fiction by everyone’s calculation. Why not package a popular author with a children’s book? You could work with an author who is best-selling and might be willing to contribute to this cause. The idea would be to give Popular Best-selling Author’s latest book away for free to everyone who buys brand new children’s book–for a limited time, if you choose.

That’s just one idea, but I can guarantee you, women who love Popular Best-selling Author will buy that children’s book and therefore discover Christian children’s books.

As for price, there are ways to cut costs. Like making the pages of children’s books smaller (that’s already being done by at least one publisher, and if I recalled which one, I’d stand up and applaud).

And of course, cost isn’t really an issue for middle grade or young adult books. Those don’t have the expensive art work or the glossy paper or any of the other high cost elements.

For teen and pre-teens, it’s really a matter of letting readers and their parents know the books are available. So why not do a little bit of old-fashioned promotion? Why not set up an author to speak at schools, selling books along the way? A few fantasy writers have done this, and teen Christian fantasy came into being.

It’s doable, Mr. and Mrs. Publishing Professional. It’s really a matter of whether or not you think it’s important enough to work at it and make it happen.

And here’s a secret. If you invest in this next generation, chances are, they’ll become your customers of the future. And when they do, please work to keep them happy.

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