Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Catalog of Concerns

I'd like to thank those who commented in the "At the Crossroads" thread below, suggesting that I try to find a Catholic publisher for my manuscript. Unfortunately, from the research I've done so far, it appears that there simply aren't any Catholic publishers who publish young adult fiction; in fact, other than the new company I've already heard from, there don't appear to be any Catholic publishers who accept fiction at all at the present time.

(If I'm wrong, please, please correct me. I'd love to be wrong about this.)

So I'm continuing to ponder my choices: secular publisher or Christian publisher? But while I think about it, I've got to wonder what has happened to Catholic publishing.

It's no secret that Catholic publishers are struggling; it's also no secret that they're not alone. The world of publishing is a complex one; booksellers have much more power than many people realize, and the larger the bookseller, the more power they have to dictate price, send back unsold inventory which then becomes the publisher's problem, even decide for seemingly arbitrary reasons not to carry a certain type of book at all. In this day and age of leviathan booksellers who have both physical stores and huge Internet presences, publishers, especially small, specialty publishers like those who publish Catholic books, are fighting just to stay in business.

This, naturally enough, means that they have to be careful about their resources. They may not have the money or the skills to market books by unknown authors; it's safer and more lucrative to publish the works of well-known Catholic writers, and then round out their catalogs with some new editions of old Catholic favorites by such people as Chesterton or Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

But this strategy may be beginning to backfire.

There are more and more Catholic converts, smart, faithful people who are used to buying and reading vibrant new Christian literature, fiction and non-fiction. Are we really reaching them with our dusty old displays of the latest book by a random EWTN celebrity and handsomely-bound new editions of What's Wrong With the World?

There are more and more Catholic reverts, too; smart, faithful people who have decided to separate themselves in some way or other from the poisonous prevailing culture of the present age, and who would like to encounter other Catholics like themselves, Catholics who are rediscovering their ancient roots while looking forward to a bright, positive reflowering of the faith. Are we reaching them? What do we have to offer?

To be honest, when I receive a catalog in the mail from a Catholic publisher, I tend to glance through it and then throw it away. This is largely because my husband and I have a fairly nice selection of Catholic books in our home, and many times the books being featured by the publisher are books we already own! Oh, sure, they might have a nice new cover, or a new introduction by the author written on the tenth anniversary of the book's original printing, but there's nothing new about the substance of the book. I'm not really a big enough fan of any Catholic author to shell out roughly thirty dollars for a new cover or a new introduction, and I'm not alone. But many publishers out there don't seem to understand this simple truth, and will take up a whole page of their catalogs with breathless copy that says, "New edition! New cover art! Introduction by Father EWTN Celebrity! Read what Noted Catholic Personality says about this book!" followed by a quote in which the Noted Catholic Personality says something nice about the author that somehow manages to point back to the NCP's own books.

Unfortunately, the Internet hasn't really made things much better for Catholic publishers. Ads will show up in my email inbox as well as in my physical mail box, but the ads are much the same. If I do hear about a book I want to buy, chances are I'm also going to use the Internet to find the best price rather than buying the book from the first company to send me a catalog. Again, I suspect I'm far from alone, here.

Do I know the answers? Not at all. But from what I can see it seems as though the old way of doing things just isn't working anymore for Catholic publishers and small Catholic booksellers.

Is is all about religion? That is, is this a problem because people aren't buying or reading religious books? I suspect not. There are, after all, people publishing all kinds of new books about faith and family, who seem to be doing a rather good job of marketing them and selling them. Maybe we need to learn a few things from our Christian brothers and sisters who manage to publish a not insignificant number of books that sell very well indeed.


AnnonyMouse said...

I am sorry to hear that the Catholic Publishing Company is not doing well and not...interested (maybe?). I will keep my eyes and ears open. From what I hear on the EWTN radio, I know that there is push to get good Catholic writers/actors/actresses into the secular world.
Will listen and ask and say a prayer.


Sheila said...

You raise some excellent points. Have you contacted John Barger at Sophia Institute Press?

Sheila said...

What about Crossroads Publishing Company? They published the hilarious Catholic (non-fiction) books by John Zmirak. Also, does ISI publish fiction?

Red Cardigan said...

Sheila, thanks for the suggestions! I'll look into those companies.

AnnonyMouse, you are so funny. If sitcom scripts start showing up on this blog, it'll be all your fault! :)