Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Jesuit, an essay, and the "where" of publication

One of the many interesting things about working with authors at Georgetown University versus a state university or a secular private one is the fascinating extra layer of Catholic studies and publications. Catholic publishing is a thriving literary world all its own within mainstream publishing. It even has its own industry identity through the Catholic Book Publishers Association.

Given this robust state of Catholic letters generally, it would seem to make sense that when Georgetown's Jesuit faculty or its Catholic lay faculty want to publish articles, essays, or books related to the Catholic faith, that they would turn to a faith-based publication. However, I'm going to argue just the opposite. This logical and understandable impulse -- for example, to submit an essay on faith to the Jesuit magazines America or Company, or to send a book proposal with a Catholic perspective to a Catholic publisher -- can ironically result in fewer acceptances rather than more. Why? Well, it's the old coals-to-Newcastle effect. These journals are regularly inundated with Catholic material. There's so much for them to choose from that they won't regard your submission as particularly special, even if you have excellent credentials, and even if the piece is inspiring and well-polished.

Instead, what I often recommend is taking this work out into the world where it can shine a light and do some good among literate folks who don't get to consider Catholic points of view all the time, but who might want to. After all, isn't the evangelical aspect of faith part of the Good News? And doesn't the word "news" itself suggest that the content might be fresh and revelatory to some readers?

Father Bill Blazek and I discussed this one day with his essay "Finding God on the Metro." He had been turned down when he submitted it to a Catholic publication, but it was a wonderful essay. He came to me to brainstorm what other Catholic publications might want it. When I suggested that this was a piece of particular interest to Washingtonians, and that The Washington Post might like a crack at it, he was skeptical but open-minded enough to give it a try. Then we did a little research and found the Post's section "On Faith," where the editors indicated an interest in readers' personal faith stories. Fr. Blazek submitted the piece there, and it was accepted. "Finding God on the Metro" found a home where it could minister both to Catholics and to more general readers as well. Fr. Blazek's essay appeared on Interactive on August 13, 2007.

Of course Catholic authors should still support and write for Catholic publications. I'm all for it, and this office is set up to explore uniquely Catholic publishing opportunities. But sometimes it makes sense for Catholic authors to take their words to the world, and see who out there in the secular publishing realm might also have ears to hear, and might have a greater need to appreciate the Good News.