Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Spear + A Head = “Spearhead”

See? I'm not so bad at math after all. :)

Many of you have probably noticed by now, but there's a new buzz circulating among the readers (and writers) of Christian Fantasy and Science Fiction. The "buzz" is called Spearhead, a new Guild put together and run by Bestselling Christian Fiction authors Christopher Hopper, Wayne Thomas Batson, Christopher Miller, and Allen Miller. The Guild's launch was held yesterday, and ever since then, the world of facebook and the Blogosphere have been teeming with writers and readers interested to see where this new publishing method will go – and perhaps how they can get on board. After all, something serious must have happened to pull in these four bestselling authors and have them create a whole new system for publishing. As it states on their website:

"As culture changes, so too must the methods in which authors find their voice and share their words. Words that further move culture to change."

It also states:

"It's about relationships… The reality is audiences don't buy books because of a publisher's name on the spine. They buy books because they've been vetted and accepted by their culture. Readers flock to books they have heard about from their friends, have found an engaging discussion about, or have seen promoted by another trusted author.

Relationships matter immensely in today's socially networked world. By gathering like-minded creators and inventors whose allegiances are bound by willfully aligning themselves with one another, we hope to experiment with new distribution methods that meet our audiences where they are. And then take them further."
Ok, I'm definitely intrigued. We've all heard the term "Independent publishing" or "Indie Publishing" for short, but it looks like these four authors have decided to take that term to a whole new level. Instead of venturing out to be independent on their own, they've decided to be "independent" together – something that's never really been done before. At least not to this extent. The Guild will both publish and sell books written by its members, and as Wayne Thomas Batson stated on his blog:

"Every single title published will be professionally edited and proofed, triple checked for content, and adhere to a standard of Biblical quality."

Coming from one of my most trusted Christian author resources, I tend to believe him. And perhaps the best feature of this guild is that a user-friendly rating system will be installed to let readers know the kind of content they can expect to find. Listings, reader reviews, and an interactive forum will allow readers to help other readers find something they'll enjoy reading. If this is done properly and Spearhead is a success, it could blow the Traditional Christian Publishing meme out of the water! 

Every one of the four well-known authors who have founded the Guild, have several titles out branded with traditional publishing company names, and each one of those titles have (in my opinion) sold relatively well. So with the very opening of the Guild, the waters of the Christian Publishing World have become "well stirred".

What does this mean for Christian fiction writers everywhere? Well, it most definitely means that the tides are changing. According to the entry Mr. Batson posted on his blog concerning the Guild's birth:

"Last year, revealed that it had sold more ebooks than paper books for the first time in history…. Suddenly, the tide in the literary bay was sucked out to sea, leaving a muddy bog of barnacle-crusted driftwood and flopping fish…. iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and eReaders of all makes and models began to appear, even in the hands of the most dedicated paper-philes. Authors all over began to realize: "Wait a minute, I'm working my tail off sacrificing myself and my family for a mere pittance. But with eBooks, suddenly I can earn something much more reasonable? Hmmm…"

Well said, Sir Batson, well said. As a rather dedicated "paper-phile" myself and as an aspiring author, I couldn't have explained the phenomenon in better words.

For years I've explored the option of Independent Publishing and ePublishing vs. Traditional Publishing. At long last I finally came to the conclusion that Traditional Publishing was the way to start out in the literary world. And perhaps it still is. It's certainly a valid way to be included in many groups and bookstores that otherwise wouldn't take a second glance at an independently published book. Besides that, all four of the founders of Spearhead were traditionally published to start with before they made the decision to switch. However, perhaps what this amazing change in the wind is really saying is that once published traditionally, authors need not remain so. 

The question that I believe most Christian readers are asking is, "But if a book isn't published through a company I trust, then how will I know that it's 'safe' for me to read? Especially if I've never even heard the author's name before?" I think many Christian authors ask a similar question: "If I'm not published traditionally, then how will Christian readers know that my book is safe to read?"

It all comes down to branding. Readers trust brands that they know, or that they've researched. And it's the issue of branding that has bogged down the minds of Christian fiction writers (and writers of other genres) for years and years and years. Its hard work to become traditionally published and earn that honored brand, but its triply hard work to become known by publishing independently without the brand or a publisher's word to vouch for you. Just because the statistics show that more ebooks were sold in one year than paper books, doesn't mean that the ebooks sold were from independent authors; there are many traditional companies out there who sell ebooks as well as paper books, and they do so efficiently. If a reader were looking for Christian ebooks and they came across a few "independently published" titles, how would they know that those titles were trustworthy? 

Well, Spearhead is ready for those types of questions. As Mr. Batson also stated on his blog: 

"Spearhead is a Professional Writers' Guild… We are creating a brand, a seal of trust. When you go looking for books, we want you to have a landing pad, a place to start. Four authors now, but many more to come."

In light of that last statement, I have a question of my own: Who is going to join Spearhead next?

The major difference between Spearhead and a Traditional Publisher is that Spearhead is a community. It is a group of authors who work together to put out the best product that they can. Much like a Traditional Publisher, they don't undermine the value of branding, but they also appreciate the trust of their readers to a larger degree than I believe most Traditional Publishers do. From the looks of what I've read so far, Spearhead will strive to put quality and values before profit, and they plan to take their work to the nations.

Taking all of these aspects of Christian publishing into account, along with the shared values, morals, and advice of trusted Christian authors, and the knowledge and respect due to the hard work involved, I just have a couple of questions left: What does the Guild look for in an author, and how might another author join? Because in all reality, those shared values and morals are the values and morals that I prize so highly in the books I read, and that I strive to include in my own writings. Knowing that, you can bet I'll be looking for a way to join the Guild sometime in the future.


Jake said...

Great thoughts! I really like how you articulated this. :)

I wonder if any other Christian fiction authors will be joining. And I'm also fuzzy about the actual publishing aspect of Spearhead. Hopefully this will be cleared up soon.

Can't wait to see where God takes this! :D

Jessi said...

I'm also interested in this but I'll wait and see where it goes. If it looks like it will work and I manage to get my book the point that it could be published, I might be interested since I have considered striking out on my own rather than publishing the traditional method.

Galadriel said...

I don't have anything near ready for publishing yet, but it's good to see options like this.