God, the Generic Character
Sunday, May 20, 2007
I asked Sue (my better half) what I should write here and she said, “Tell about how you got your first novel published. People seem to think that’s interesting.” Lest I be accused of asking for her advice and then ignoring it, here’s a link to an interview with Gina Holmes on Novel Journey, where the story is already told.
Since the whole story is out there in the blogosphere already, there’s no point in repeating it here. But one thing deserves a little more background.
If you read Gina’s interview, you’ll note that a major New York publishing house wanted to get my first novel into print, but only (according to my agent at the time) if I was willing to tone down the references to Jesus. Specifically, they asked me to replace “Jesus” with the “more generic God.” They claimed it was necessary to reach a wider market. Making the main characters overtly “Christian,” wouldn’t sell. Especially since the characters were (shudder) evangelical Christians in the south.
Now, imagine if a publisher today asked Herman Hesse to tone down the Buddhism in his classic Siddhartha (Buddha’s given name, and an excellent novel). I can hear it now. “Let’s change his name to ‘Everyman,’ or maybe ‘Bob,’ and then even the Jews and Christians will like it.” Or what if someone had suggested that Chaim Potok make his wonderful novel, The Chosen, a bit less Jewish? “I don’t know, Chaim. Maybe you could set the story in…just thinking out loud here…say, Omaha?”
What would people call such outrageous suggestions? Surely the words “prejudice” and “discrimination” apply. Yet in the early 1990’s, acquisitions editors at major New York publishers felt quite comfortable making such demands to Christians.
Why the change since then? I think it’s pretty obvious. They figured out their prejudice against my form of Christianity is costing them a lot of money. To understand the amount of money involved, check out a few of the industry statistics on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association website.
It’s easy to see why the New York houses have been falling all over themselves to put out Christian imprints lately. I doubt the same publisher would ask me to replace “Jesus” with the “more generic God” today. So evangelicals have won a battle against discrimination in the years since I got started writing. I just wish I could say it’s because the publishing establishment got a conscience, or even better, it's because we evangelicals have improved our reputation. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure it’s just about the money. And that’s something everyone should think about.
Posted byAthol Dickson at 5:07 PM