Saturday, December 20, 2008

Auld Acquaintance

A few weeks ago there was a meeting in Philadelphia that brought together all sorts of Christian speakers, authors, thinkers and activists. I have little sense of what they talked about, since I wasn't invited. (Sniff.) But I know that at least a few of the people there talked about me.

I know because some of them told me. Several of the people there I've had the pleasure of editing their books; a few of them are early in the process of being edited by me. Some of them I occasionally fantasize about editing their next book. Many of them I've met face to face; some of them have let me crash their parties or camp out on their couch; a couple of them I know only through e-mail or Facebook. They spent a few moments in Philadelphia laughing together over my quirks and nincompoopery, and those who hadn't seen the seven-minute video of me prancing around in a spandex bodysuit were strongly encouraged to do so by the others. Ha ha very funny.

As I heard back from folks who attended this conference I realized why the past year and a half has been so gratifying for me professionally--to the point where my job satisfaction is now linked to a different set of expectations than previously. Somewhere along the way in the last couple of years, many of my authors became my friends.

Editing is, perhaps surprisingly, in many ways a numbers game. How many books did you acquire this year? How many did you publish? How much did you pay out in advances? Which book sold the most copies? Books are artifacts, someone like the great Andy Crouch might tell you, and as such they're objects that we can be objective about as we reflect on our career path.

These days, however, I think of my publishing career more in terms of relationships. I think of Andy, whose book I had nothing to do with, who indulged my geeky hero worship and allowed it to morph into friendship, who offered me gracious yet candid feedback about the first draft of my own book. I think of Karen Sloan, who is everywhere and knows everyone. I think of Scott Bessenecker, who gets this look in his eye when he's about to be a genius. I think of Chris and Phileena Heuertz, who let me sleep on their couch and drink their wine and crash their parties and pester their colleagues, who make jokes that nobody else in my life has the moxie to make, and whose work with Word Made Flesh inspires me and convicts me. I think of Jason Santos, who wears cool glasses and left the staff of my church long before I arrived and who makes me laugh even while we're discussing the sixty-year evolution of the Taize community. I think of Kimberlee Conway Ireton, who fed me souffle and killed me at speed Scrabble, and who brings a bold thoughtfulness and authenticity to everything she does. I think of Tamara Park, who cracks me up, devotes the lion's share of all our conversations not to her book but to my psyche, and who teaches me about writing simply by showing me what she's written. I think of Mike Sares, who can't get his book finished because he's too busy ministering to the right-brained and the left-out. I think of Matt Rogers, who popped out two books in one calendar year and was shockingly humble throughout the process. I think of Laura Barkat, who's far too young to be a sage but seems to nevertheless serve that purpose. I think of Andy Marin, who is unrelentingly optimistic even when people are banging on him for no good reason, and who showed up out of nowhere to singlehandedly change a controversial conversation.

Then there are folks whom I've not yet had the pleasure of publishing: Dan Kimball, who can't help but be cool; Margaret Feinberg, who can't help but be wonderful; Sean Gladding, who can't help but be insightful; Anthony Smith, who can't help but be brilliant; and Kent Annan, who now that he's signed his contract can't help but be edited by me. These and all sorts of other people whose orbit of the Christian publishing industry occasionally crosses my own are what make publishing fun, fulfilling, worthwhile work.

I know for certain that I'm forgetting more than one person whose book I've edited or whose path I've crossed as part of my job. I also know that publishing is not the only environment in which I've made meaningful friendships in the past couple of years. I further am painfully aware that this is a uniquely sappy post. I apologize for all these failings, and yet I write this post for a relatively modest purpose: to serve as an artifact for 2008, a reminder to myself and a symbol to the folks who wander by here that, despite all its challenges and frustrations and even great sadnesses, at the end of this year I am content.

***
Go to ivpress.com to find books by many of the people I mentioned in this post. If you don't find them listed there, here's to hoping that I can get their signatures on a contract and their last names on the spine of an IVP book.

4 comments:

L.L. Barkat said...

Aren't you dear....

(well, that seemed like an appropriate response to a post you christened "sappy." :)

bob/sir pent said...

You never mention the book I wrote.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Ah yes, Bob's book. I don't have characters from the Lithuanian alphabet on my computer keyboard, so I can't type the title.

Bob/Sir Pent said...

It roughly translates to "1001 Lithuanian Swear Words".

Self published.