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Tim Challies

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July 23, 2010

Friday morning seems like a good time to give you a couple of personal updates and to ask you a question about this web site. But make sure that you don’t miss today’s A La Carte and Free Stuff Fridays.

Quality

I have been thinking a little bit lately about the quality of the content of this site. A few times I’ve run back through the articles I’ve written in recent weeks and have thought to myself that the quality of the posts is suffering a little bit. As I look to what I was writing a year ago, or even six months ago, and compare it to what I’ve been doing over the past two months or so, I can’t help but feel that the level of quality has dropped off. And I’m sorry about this. I’m quite frustrated by it.

I think this drop in quality is directly related to the book I’m writing. I’m into crunch time with the book and it is sapping the vast majority of my creative energy (and just about every other kind of energy I can create or can pour into my body through caffeinated beverages). This is inevitable, I think, and yet it is still frustrating. I am trying to adapt a little bit, mostly by readjusting my daily blogging routine. But I think the problem remains.

So what I want to do today is to ask you to bear with me. The book is due on September 1 and I think that as soon as it is complete and submitted to the publisher I will suddenly find myself with a lot more energy and a lot more creativity. There are several blog series I’ve been wanting to write, but I just haven’t been able to find time and attention to research and to write them.

March 10, 2010

I have been introducing you to the team who will help make my next book a reality. First you met Ryan the Editor and then Chris Fann the Marketing Man. Today I want to introduce you to Agent Andrew (known to some as Andrew Wolgemuth). He is, as you may have guessed, my agent. His job is to represent me before the publisher (first to help find one who would like to publish my work, then to negotiate a contract and then with anything else that happens to come up). He will stay involved with the work from beginning to end.

I’ll let Andrew introduce himself… 

I’m Tim’s literary representative. Or – a bit less dramatically – his agent. Though I didn’t set the course of my professional life after seeing Jerry Maguire (I’m sure a movie about a literary agent would be just as compelling) and while I didn’t grow up aspiring to be a member of the publishing industry, I’ve been surrounded, challenged, taught, and blessed by books and great authors for my entire life.

In fact, my first official paycheck came from Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers a couple of decades ago (the “Wolgemuth” in that company was Robert, the owner of the agency that I now work for; the “Hyatt” was Mike – now the CEO of Thomas Nelson; my dad, Dan, was CFO for this house. They published Orel Hershiser’s Out of the Blue, Max Anders’ 30 Days to Understanding the Bible, and Patrick Morley’s Man in the Mirror, among many other excellent titles). I helped W&H with mailings or marketing…or something that felt pretty big time for a seven-year-old.

My second employer was Can-Do Trash and Recycling Service. That was a good gig, but it’s significantly less relevant to my present occupation.

March 06, 2010

Earlier this week I began introducing you to the people who will be involved behind-the-scenes in bringing you my book The Next Story. First I introduced you to Ryan the Editor who will (obviously) be responsible for editing the book. And today I’d like you to meet Chris Fann the Marketing Man. His job is to try to convince you that your life will be incomplete if you do not own at least one copy of this book (and, preferably, many more than that). His job will be complete and successful if and when every Christian in North America knows about the book’s existence. Here is Chris’ bio:

Chris will market and position Tim’s book in such a way so it will sell more copies than Harry Potter and Twilight while having the longevity of Homer and Plato. (Nothing like over-promising, right?)

The vast majority of his efforts go toward creating awareness of the books given to market. According to Warren Bird, author and Director of Research at Leadership Network, “The average book in America sells about 500 copies a year. Only 10-25 books sell more than a million copies in a year. Fewer than 500 sell more than 100,000. Nearly 200,000 new titles are published each year.” There are thousands of books published each month, and even more content than that put up on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. There is a great deal of noise in the world today, and Chris’ job is trying to find ways to speak uniquely, not louder.

March 04, 2010

Writing a book is a team effort. Of course I’m the one who has to spend endless hours hunched over an endless success of books, tapping away on a keyboard and staring pensively out the window. So let’s be honest—I do most of the work. But still, there are lots of other people involved. I figured it would be fun to introduce you to some of the people who will play a role in getting my next book into your hands.

First up, I’d like to introduce you to Ryan Pazdur, a.k.a. Ryan the Editor. An Acquisitions Editor by trade, he has already helped convince the good people at Zondervan to take a chance on my next two books. And as we put together The Next Story, it will be his job to make sure that the book I write is worth the $12 or $15 I’m hoping you will spend on it. To him will fall the inevitable but thankless task of reminding me of a little thing called deadlines (I’m going to be late for everything, Ryan. Deal with it!). He will also be reading what I write and telling me what’s good, what’s bad and what’s just plain awful. He’ll work with me on content, on tone, on voice, on all of those things that make a book what it is. If the book stinks, you’ll blame me, but his boss will blame him.

So world, meet Ryan the Editor:

What does an editor really do? Sitting around reading books all day may sound to some people like the best job in the world. And certainly, that’s an important part of an editor’s work. An acquisitions editor (AE) spends quite a bit of time reading book proposals, attending conferences, and looking for worthwhile books to publish [in Canada we know this as schmoozing]. As the primary contact with an author, AEs typically work with authors to help them refine their proposal, structure their book, advise throughout the writing process, and make revisions to the manuscript. They serve as an advocate for the author and communicate the expectations of the publisher back to the author. From the proposal stage to the completion of a revised manuscript with solid content, AEs work back and forth with authors, clarifying ideas, altering the tone of the writing, and strengthening the content of the book. It’s a pretty amazing process, filled with lots of prayer, conflict resolution, and creative thinking. There is nothing quite as satisfying as holding a printed book in your hand after months of editing and revisions.

June 12, 2009

Yesterday I described the book as The Perfect Technology. There was perhaps a little bit of hyperbole involved, but I think the point was well-taken. I was actually surprised to see how many people agreed with me. Maybe as Christians we are unusual in this regard; maybe Christians are, almost by definition, readers and, thus, people who will toss away their books only with great caution. This is good, I think, as Christians tend to be too pragmatic, prone to believe that any innovation that claims to make life immediately easier or more convenient (without violating any clear teaching of Scripture) must be good.

Today I want to carry on with a few more thoughts about reading in a digital world and I want to focus in on one issue in particular.

I have witnessed recently what I consider a disturbing trend—Christians coming to church armed not with a Bible but with an iPod or an iPhone or another hand held device. With many versions of the Bible available in electronic formats and with the widespread popularity of MP3 players, cell phones and other digital devices, I guess it just makes sense to some people to bring Scripture in that electronic format. Pragmatists that we are, I believe many Christians have done this without thinking at all about the implications.

I want to encourage you not to bring an electronic Bible to church. I want to encourage you today to bring to church a Bible—an old fashioned kind of Bible, with ink printed on paper and slapped between two covers made of cardboard or leather or pleather. I also want to encourage you not to get into the habit of doing your daily Bible reading using an electronic device. I think we stand to lose far more than we gain.

In the past couple of months I have spent a fair bit of time reading the works of Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman—gurus of the technological age. I tend to prefer Postman as I find him not only more accessible but also more accurate and more realistic. McLuhan is prone to hyperbole, excessive hyperbole even, and I find that this detracts from his effectiveness as a communicator (though I know that many would disagree with me on this point).

McLuhan is undoubtedly best-known for his catchy little phrase, “the medium is the message.” It sometimes helps to emphasize that little word is as if to stress that the the medium and the message carried by that medium cannot be neatly separated. This is exactly what McLuhan emphasized time and time again—we cannot afford to fall into the trap of believing that media are neutral, simple bearers of a message. “The medium is the message.” In a classic case of McLuhian hyperbole, he would say that the content of a particular medium “has about as much importance as the stencilling on the casing of an atomic bomb.” He turns the equation right around, saying that the content is nothing, the medium is everything.

I think McLuhan makes an important point and one that we discount at our folly, though he overstates his case here and elsewhere. Still, where McLuhan is so important is in understanding that every medium carries with it a message that necessarily impacts the content. We like to think that we are smart enough, holy enough, to draw complete and utter separation between medium and content. Christians do this all the time when we assume that there is no difference between singing songs from a hymn book and singing songs via a projector and Powerpoint. We do this when we listen to sermons online instead of listening while seated in a pew. But what if we are fooling ourselves? What if the medium really does radically shape our perception, our understanding, of the content it carries? What then?

This is where Neil Postman comes in. In Technopoly Postman says that, when two technologies come into competition or conflict (two technologies such as the Bible printed on paper and the Bible on an iPod), it is more than technologies that are squaring off, but rather, entire worldviews. Every medium, he says, carries with it some kind of an ideological bias, “a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing more than another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another.” Thus, again, the method we use to convey information is inseparable from the content of that information. And even more so, every medium carries with it both content but also a worldview. When we read the Bible electronically, we read the very same words, but in a way that influences us toward a different worldview, a different way of understanding the reality of those words.

Postman also adds to this discussion a phrase that is so simple but so important: a technology does what it was created to do. Over time, a technology will play out its hand, to to speak, and it may do so in ways we would not expect. Had Gutenberg known what would happen through the invention of the printing press, do we believe that he still would have invented it? That printing press was instrumental in forever changing the Roman Catholic Church (of which he was a faithful son). How many other technologies have played out their hands in completely unexpected ways? Should we not be on our guard, then, when considering such new innovations?

So where does this leave us? It leaves us wondering what ideological bias, what predisposition, is carried in the book and in the electronic book. It causes us to wonder what skill or attitude is amplified in the book and what skill or attitude is amplified in the iPod.

But I will have to take this up in another article. Check in next week for that.

May 10, 2009

It is amazing to me, but it was almost eighteen months ago that Crossway published my book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. I finished writing the book nearly a year before that. It all seems so much more recent. The reality is, though, that it has been a long, long time since I’ve actually been involved in writing a book. I did not intend to wait so long between books but, to be honest, I just did not have a topic that I thought was worth a year of my life. I read a lot, considered a lot, but honestly, I could not find just the right topic.

Well, over the past couple of months I think that problem as resolved itself and I am currently in the midst of crafting a proposal for a new book. I have a soft deadline of the end of May to finish up this proposal and get it submitted. One difference between this project and the last one is that I now have an agent working for/with me. So I will hand the proposal to him, he will work his magic by making it look all pretty and professional, and will then share it with a few different publishers. If all goes well, one or more of those publishers will be interested in it, leading to a contract. At that point I will get writing in earnest. I’ll tell you a bit further into the process why I decided to pursue representation by an agent.

Why am I telling you all of this? I am hoping you will be willing to pray for me as I begin creating this proposal and as I begin turning my attention to a new book. This new topic, which I hope to tell you about soon, is one that is important to all of us, but one to which I think Christians have not given enough time and attention. I expect my research to first help me think rightly about the topic so I can then help others think rightly about it. It is a huge topic—my initial reading left me with forty or fifty books in a big stack beside my desk. And it is a critical one.

And so I am asking if you’d consider praying for me over the next few weeks. Though I am excited about the topic and though I’m convinced that it is a topic I can (and should) write about, I have had a good bit of trouble formulating my thoughts on it and actually getting them committed to paper (or pixels, as the case may be). In particular, I need the Lord’s help in finding my “angle” into the topic, in coming up with an outline that can best lead readers into the subject, and with wisdom to know whether this really is the subject I can best write about right now.

I really felt that prayer was the lifeblood of my last book. Many readers of this blog prayed for the book and I still remember the most encouraging comment I’ve received at a conference: a woman introduced herself to me and said, “I pray for you and your book every week.” It was such an encouragement to me, I hardly knew what to say. As the book progresses, I will be sure to give updates to let you know what it is about and how it is coming together. But for the time being I am asking if you could just spare the time to pray for it as it comes to mind. Please accept my thanks in advance.

January 07, 2009

A few days ago somebody posted at Amazon a rather unique review of my book. Though he gave the book only one star out of five, I was far from upset or outraged when I read it. I was more perplexed. In fact, I didn’t quite know what to do with the review and thought maybe I’d post it here to see if someone can explain it to me. Because, frankly, I’m confused.

The author, going by the name Arktophylax, posted it under the heading “Horrible Self-Congratulatory Conformist Liberalism.” Here is what he wrote:


The author attempts at transcending pseudointellectualism but is unable to discern what constitutes orthodox Christian spirituality and his own distorted, incomplete psychological development and off-putting androgyne tendencies. There was a distinct lack of appropriately masculine tone to the whole book sure to alienate those orthodox Christians who still believe in a “manly Christianity” instead of the New-Age, gnostic, nihilist revision of Jesus. Overall, the theology reminds one of a limp-wristed, liberalized neo-deism with heavy doses of left-wing psychology. In all harshness, a most infelicitous theological scribbling by a liberal solipsist confusing his own mentality with that of normative Christianity. There is definite potential in this author if he outgrows the comfortable belief-systems of liberal-modernity he is still unconsciously enshackled to in his personality.

Addendum: Confusing one’s own ego with revelatory capacity is the fall of religion. This is a common symptom among today’s “post-modern” Christians—the insipid, bloodless psychological atmosphere of little boys self-complacently playing video games, little girls playing tea-party, or, the air of laid-back coffee-houses, rather than the harsh tragedian desert where Jesus taught a new revolutionary way of self-denial and self-sacrifice. A person can read a book and tell whether the author has tasted noble suffering or whether the author has led a modernist consumerist life of easy self-contentedness and egocentric domesticity; whether they use their intellect to play intellectual games or offer blood-bought truths, and nobly-endured suffering is the key to Christianity. The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity by Leon J. Podles comes highly recommended in this context.

April 19, 2008

Recently I’ve spotted my book in some interesting places. This first picture was one I snapped a short time ago in a bathroom. My book is at least in good company there, sandwiched between titles by Sproul and MacArthur. While I won’t identify the owners of this bathroom, those who know me may be able to read the clues in the monogrammed towels and figure it out.

spotted.jpg

This second photo was snapped by a friend (or really the younger brother of an old friend) while traveling in Cambodia. He writes, “I took your book along with me to Cambodia when I went there for an internship. I also took it along with me to Rabbit Island, off the southern coast of Cambodia, by Kep. While reading it, I was struck by just how far this book has traveled….and took a picture, thinking you might enjoy seeing your book in exotic locales.”

spotted2.jpg

If you’ve got my book in a strange place or have spotted it in a strange place, send along a picture!

March 28, 2008

It’s Friday and there are a few things I’ve been saving in my Favorites folder that I’d like to mention today.

The Internet Effect on News

I say, without any hyperbole, that this article from TIME may be the most important you read today. In it Michael Scherer explains how news has become commoditized through the internet.

Here is a basic shift that has occurred in the news business: Because of the Internet, you, the reader, no longer have to buy information in pre-fabricated packages like “newspapers.” You can just go online and individually select the articles you want to read. And there are lots of websites and blogs to help you out. Every day, Matt Drudge, the Huffington Post, Yahoo, Google, Swampland, or a hundred other different bloggers, will pre-select articles for you and provide links. You choose your own adventure.

There is a corollary effect here: As the value of the package declines, the value of the individual article increases. Online, news organizations charge advertisers based on the number of hits they can get on a site. And since the hits are often coming for specific stories, and not the entire site, a blockbuster story that gets linked to, say, Drudge, is money in the bank.

This means that the competition on the level of the individual story is more intense than ever before, and there is enormous pressure to distinguish yourself from the pack. Assume, for instance, that 12 news organizations do the same story on the same day about how Hillary Clinton has a tough road ahead of her to get the nomination. Which story is going to get the most links and therefore the most readers? Is it the one that cautiously weighs the pros and cons, and presents a nuanced view of her chances? Or is it the one that says she is toast, and anyone who thinks different is living on another planet?

The author explains that, as we rely more on isolated headlines and less on the total package, we become enamored with flashy headlines and stories that are fast and provocative rather than methodical and accurate. “This trend towards story-by-story competition, and away from package-by-package competition, is a blessing and a curse. It is forcing better writing, quicker responsiveness, and it is increasing the value of actual news-making and clear-eyed thinking. But it is also increasing pressure on reporters to push the boundaries of provocation. I am not sure that the Politico story crossed any boundaries, or distorted the truth. I do believe that what Allen and VandeHei did is very much the future of news.”

This is something that we, as Christians, need to consider and consider well. Of all people we are the ones who should value truth above speed or controversy. We should be people who do not allow what’s controversial and provocative to titillate us, even while many of the facts may be wrong. I’ve seen this tendency in my own heart and at times even on my own blog.

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

I just found out yesterday that my book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, has gone into a second printing. I’m not too familiar with the whole publishing industry and associated terminology but what I do know is that this means the book has sold most or all of the copies Crossway printed. I’m guessing their sales forecasts were for the book to sell fewer copies than it has. So I suppose that’s a good thing.

Thanks again to all of those who purchased it. Since the book’s release I’ve been blessed with many kind and encouraging emails. Several people have written to say that they are using the book with youth groups, Bible studies, and so on. That is both humbling and gratifying.

The Atonement

Some time ago Shai Linne was kind enough to send me a copy of his new album The Atonement. I can’t say that I listen to a lot of rap music so I’m not the kind of person who can adequately evaluate the album from a musical standpoint. However, I can say that it is very strong lyrically. The only real parallel I can draw is to Voice and his albums. The songs deal with real and deep theology. The music is interspersed with snippets of sermons by John Piper and C.J. Mahaney.

Here is a brief biography:

shai linne is living proof that God has a wonderful sense of humor. He once told his mom that he would never, ever become a Christian, completely oblivious to the fact that God had chosen him to be a Christian before time began. He doesn’t like the spotlight, so God gave him natural gifts that put him on stage as an actor. He doesn’t like to be in front of people, so God gave him spiritual gifts that are mostly public in nature. shai has appeared on numerous independent and national Christian Hip-hop releases, including his 2005 full-length debut, The Solus Christus Project. All this from someone who doesn’t like hip-hop and never pursued a career in music. Someone in heaven is having a big laugh at his expense. After all this time, shai still doesn’t get the joke.

For more information and to listen to song samples, check out his MySpace page.

Earth Hour

Tomorrow is Earth Hour. People around the world (but mostly around North America) will be turning off their lights for one hour at 8 PM. “Join people all around the world in showing that you care about our planet and want to play a part in helping to fight climate change. Don’t forget to sign up and let us know you want to join Earth Hour.” Toronto is a flagship city and many people here will be participating (though surely far less than the organizers would like). I noticed that even the Toronto airport will be dimming the lights for that hour. The management of a local mall just held a contest to seek ways to save energy. The prize was a trip for two to Australia. I couldn’t help but wonder…wouldn’t that trip to Australia cause more pollution than anything they might hope to save by turning down the lights? But I digress. I don’t think I’ll be participating (though it’s possible I’ll change my mind if we’re the only family in the neighborhood with lights on). How about you?

January 25, 2008

Since my book was released I’ve had a few requests to share what I’ve learned about the book-writing process. Friday seemed like a good day to do that. On the whole I found writing the book to be an overwhelmingly positive experience and one I hope to enjoy again. There are currently no plans for a second book but I do hope to begin again before too long.

What I’d like to do today is share just a few entirely subjective thoughts on my experience in the hope that it will prove useful or interesting to you.

Writing the Proposal

I was blessed to be able to avoid much of the thankless chore of submitting the book (unsolicited) to all kinds of different publishers and just hoping against hope that it would stand out above some of the rest. But usually there is no way of avoiding this. I do not have much wisdom to share when it comes to actually finding a publisher. One thing I can attest to, though, is the value of having a blog. More and more I think we’re going to see the blogosphere serving as a kind of minor leagues where writers can establish first that they can write well and second that other people will be interested in reading what they write. It is a proving ground, of sorts. In the coming months and years you are going to see more and more books written by people who came to the attention of publishers through their blogs. Get used to it.

Publishers differ on how much input they wish to have when it comes to the actual writing process. Some involve themselves in each word of each sentence while others prefer that you simply submit a manuscript to them when it is complete. In either case, it is usually best not to write a complete book before shopping it to publishers. Instead, write a complete outline and submit that with two very good sample chapters. Make these your two best, strongest, most complete, most biblical, most amazing chapters. Edit and proof-read them thoroughly and get others to do the same. Here are the areas you’ll likely wish to cover in a proposal: A Brief Introduction to the Book, The Need for This Book, Competition or Similar Books, The Audience for This Book, Biography, Promotion (ways you will be able to promote your book), and Endorsements (people who are likely to endorse the book).

In your proposal outline every single way you may be able to sell the book through your own channels. As the publishing industry changes, it is becoming increasingly important that you prove able to assist in selling the books. This is particularly true with smaller publishers.

If all goes well, your proposal will be accepted and you’ll be offered a contract. This contract will help you understand that, unless you end up selling books like Don Miller or John Eldredge, you won’t be wanting to quit your day job anytime soon!

Writing the Manuscript

When you begin to write the book you’ll probably learn how silly your initial proposal was. The outline will morph and evolve until it’s scarcely recognizable. It’s all part of the game, I guess. Just yesterday I had a friend, who is also writing a book, remark on the strange nature of writing. You hole yourself up for days researching a subject and writing down what you need to communicate about it. And then you emerge into the sun again, asking people to read it over and critique it. You’ll do this time and again as you move through the book. Because I’ve only written one book I haven’t really established a system, but I did find it best to try to set aside at least one or two days for writing. I got more accomplished this way than if I only worked for an hour or two at a time. As the book grew in length, it took longer and longer to find my context. I would often have to read the entire book before I could continue from where I left off writing. And as the book grew, this would take several hours out of my first day of writing.

I had intended to write the book in order from chapter 1 to chapter 10, but soon found this wasn’t as easy or as logical as it at first seemed. Instead I wrote the book thematically. As I searched the Bible and other resources I would find topics that seemed to fit well under a particular category. I would then try to write about those topics, regardless of the chapter they fit into. This system (or lack thereof) may not work for everyone, but it worked well for me. It also made things less rigid, I think, as it meant I could hold off writing about subjects that I had not adequately researched. It meant that I did not have to write chapter six if there was still research to do on that chapter.

Prayer support was indispensable at this time. I had asked many friends to pray for me as I wrote the book, and particularly on Fridays which I tried to set aside for research and writing. This prayers, I am convinced, made all the difference.

Your contract will specify how long you will have to write the book. In all likelihood you’ll require six months or a year to complete it. From the time you submit a proposal to the time the book actually hits store shelves can easily be two years. Patience will prove a virtue.

A Published Author

Seeing the book in print was not nearly the experience I had thought it might be. No angels sang and no trumpets blew. It was, of course, good to see the book in print, but I don’t think it registers up there with marriage and the birth of my children. Nor should it, I guess. Since the book’s release I’ve done all kinds of interviews (both radio and print) with many more to come. If you write a book you’ll want to prepare yourself to talk about it. This can be a little more difficult than it sounds since it will probably be at least six months between the time you complete the book and the time everyone wants to talk about it. So you’ll want to spend some time re-reading the book to make sure that all of its content is fresh in your mind. Make sure you write out a good list of “Questions about the Book” and be prepared with good answers to them. Your publisher will probably help you with this.

And then prepare for the unexpected. Lots of strange and interesting and uncomfortable opportunities are likely to arise as the book begins to make its way into the world. Pray a lot and ask others to pray for you during this time. You’ll need it.

Top 40

Top 40I thought you might get a laugh out of this and figured I’d just add it in here. In the most recent issue of Christian Retailing magazine is the first half of an article called “40 Under 40” (the second half will be published in the next issue). It is a listing of people they consider influential future leaders in the publishing industry. “The future direction and health of the Christian retail channel depends much on the next generation of leaders emerging to shape the publishing and selling of Christian resources in a world very different from its formative years. Christian Retailing identified 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are widely considered to be influential figures for the days ahead. Young leaders in eight categories are profiled, beginning in this issue, by Natalie Nichols Gillespie.” The list includes lots of people I haven’t heard of (primarily industry insiders) and a few I have (e.g. Rob Bell, Matt Bronleewe, David Crowder, Kirk Franklin, etc). Somehow they saw fit to include me in this list. It’s an honor of course. But just in case it was going to give me a big head, they declared me the least recognizable on the list. Those who know me will know that I’m just fine with that status. Click on the picture to see an excerpt from the article.

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