The Ten 21st-Century Principles of Religious Publishing
Originally posted from the GreenWood Chapel Conference of ReadTheSpirit, Saturday, August 11, 2007, and still guiding us.
Principle 1: It’s about the Voice, not the book.
This religious truth cuts across spiritual traditions. Our Scriptures talk about Voice, Message and Word. And, today, this principle remains profoundly true. In this new century, power lies in the message, not the specific packages, which are constantly evolving. So, we are not merely a community of writers; we are a community of Voices preparing ourselves to speak in a variety of media. Recognizing that the power is in the message, not any specific media product, gives us tremendous freedom and speed—because our messages begin to have impact the moment we voice them, not merely on some arbitrary, fleeting product-release date.
Principle 2: If we are people of Truth, then we have nothing to fear from creatively, vigorously searching for Truth.
Our books (or videos, broadcasts and Web sites) don’t need to answer every question. We’re not replacing the fullness of scriptures. That’s not our role. We only need to truthfully seek and helpfully point people along the journey with us. This gives us an enormous territory in which to work, because we can boldly and creatively look for truth anywhere—and we should do that, because other people are already out there in the most unlikely places—looking on their own. Ultimately, this principle relieves us of the impossible burden of trying to act and talk and write like gods ourselves. We can be humbly humorous about our own occasional failings—and that realization, in itself, is an expression of Truth, as well.
Principle 3: We must look for Truth in every stage and condition of life—and in every corner of our human family—because our traditions call us to overturn false assumptions about the vulnerable.
For example, just as Dr. Benjamin Spock overturned truths about childcare at the dawn of the Baby Boom, it’s time to overturn the belief that aging is a disability to be suffered or, at best, a problem to be solved. There are spiritual gifts in every stage of life—and America is poised at the precise moment when millions will be searching for that new truth about “The Gifts of Aging.” Just as we have deceived ourselves about the spiritual nature of aging, we have fresh work to do in seeing the truths among millions of people within our so-called religious minorities. The 21st-century truth is that we are all religious minorities. And, contrary to popular belief, this strategy actually can be Good Business in media—as “Baby and Child Care” proved in 1946 by becoming the most successful English-language nonfiction bestseller other than the Bible itself.
Principle 4: It’s about connection, not competition. Our Voices should call people together, not separate them.
We’re building community, not marketing niches. During the boom of “church growth experts” in the 1980s and the explosion of religious publishing in the 1990s, we bought into marketing principles that may have helped us spread the word for a time—but that ultimately run counter to our core religious principles. All of our religious traditions call us to connection and cooperation. In religious publishing, fragmentation and competition has led us only to reduced margins, a confusing torrent of messages and an uncertain future.
Principle 5: The most powerful spiritual stories are in the lives of the ordinary people we meet.
This truth was demonstrated repeatedly by Jesus and the world’s other great religious teachers, but we have forgotten this enormously important lesson in our chase for tales of celebrities, powerful preachers and exotic heroes. As American media fragments and publishers cut back on their budgets to send reporters across the U.S. and around the world, we risk missing out on telling some of the greatest spiritual stories of our age – the stories of real people who may be sitting next to us—or may be living in villages half way around the world.
Principle 6: Millions of people are looking for the best path toward a spiritually satisfying Home.
As Americans, we’re a restless, rootless people searching for Home. Compared with the rest of the world, religion matters deeply to the vast majority of Americans—but a restless desire for individual choice and self-expression also is nearly universal. The good news is that this is the perfect opportunity for reintroducing highly motivated readers to the often-forgotten treasures of their own religious roots.
Principle 7: We are in an era of profound cultural change that raises spiritual questions, across the spectrum, about our relationship to our planet—and the meaning of the place in which we live.
Americans are already asking—and answering—these questions for themselves. In our daily habits, we have transformed Starbucks coffee shops into the most successful new denomination of urban temples. Buzz words like green and eco-theology are rising from the Orthodox and Catholic churches all the way to the far end of the evangelical world. We need to explore what our religious traditions – including largely overlooked realms, such as Native American wisdom – can teach us about the sacred meaning of place. And, we need to creatively seize this opportunity to rethink spaces in our communities. Perhaps bookstores themselves, which are endangered in many areas, can be celebrated as sacred spaces – an idea that could transform the religious community’s relationship to many local stores.
Principle 8: The Spirit moves in community.
Scriptures echo this truth, but we don’t act like we believe it. Religious media currently segments and separates spiritual Voices, often rejecting promising work for a lack of resources to shape these voices and frequently boxing voices into preconceived niches, thus crippling them. Writers, filmmakers and artists usually work in relative isolation, in many cases experiencing real community only in brief periods like author tours or festivals, if they are so lucky. We believe that, in religious publishing, we can form diverse communities of Voices who work in different areas of our communities and explore widely divergent spiritual issues. This timeless principle of community also reflects emerging theories of social networking in this new century. Almost without realizing it, each of us carries a network of people wherever we go – and linking our networks into spiritual, creative community will produce wiser, more creative work that can reach a far larger audience than any one of us can reach alone.
Principle 9: Radical transparency is good business.
From Open Source software to crowd-sourcing projects like Wikipedia, millions already are throwing open the doors and windows to flood the creative process with sunlight. We must do the same, because even the technology of book publishing is radically changing through tools that finally are democratizing even the printing, binding and distribution of books themselves. Publishers no longer control this means of production—even though the book remains a remarkably flexible, mobile, universally celebrated product. We intend to connect and promote important spiritual Voices both with existing publishers—and through these new means. We also intend to reinvent the way spiritual books are presented online with simple domains that are easy to remember, easy to access—and become places of community. In this new century, the doors and windows are opening already – and the truths of our religious traditions suggest that our calling is to bring light, not darkness.
Principle 10: Peace is possible.
This is The Ultimate among all the ultimate truths of faith. But, most often, we voice this claim only apologetically in media, especially after troubling religious claims are made in defense of some new hateful or violent act. Why don’t we boldly seize this truth and see where it leads us in religious publishing? We agree that there is value in exploring and understanding the nature of conflict so that we can chart fresh approaches toward making peace – but, too often, we merely publish shrill and angry voices or report suspenseful tales of religious conflict deliberately calculated to raise anxiety. There’s enough of that on bookstore shelves — and a new millennium ahead of us. Let’s form a vanguard of Voices, talking to the whole world about Peace.