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Monday, May 19, 2014

#IVPFall14: An Interview with InterVarsity Press

The most recent IVP catalog caught the attention of several bloggers and reviewers as having included no authors of color in its main feature pages. Subsequently, a conversation on Twitter grew around the #IVPFall14 hashtag regarding the importance of not only acquiring authors of color, but also of prominently featuring them in marketing and publicity materials. 
           IVP graciously responded both on Twitter and with the following interview with Al Hsu, senior editor for IVP Books. Excerpts can be read below, but the full interview has also been posted, and is well worth reading (interview has been edited for clarity). Stay tuned next week for some of my take-always on issues of publishing representation and marketing as a whole. 

BTSF: So, it came as a bit of a surprise to see the composition of the authors that were featured. And it came as surprise just for the fact that we know InterVarsity broadly, and IVP specifically, to have a long stated support for the multicultural body of Christ, and in publishing specifically. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about representation in publishing and why it’s important to you.

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Hsu: Well, I can speak as one of the few Asian Americans in Christian publishing, as far as editors go in the industry. Just a little bit of background first. I have been at IVP 19 years now. Two years as an intern, so 17 years full time. And I’ve been at IVP that whole time in a variety of capacities. Most recently I’ve been an acquisitions and development editor for the last 12 years, I think—maybe 13. And so my role has been acquiring and developing books for our general trade line in church, culture, mission, discipleship, and various areas like that. And one of the things that was my part of my intent as an acquisitions editor, and has been an intent of our editorial board long before I got there, was to intentionally cultivate, seek out, and publish authors of color: Asian American, African American, Latino, and others, underrepresented populations. So that’s always been on my radar each year.
                Each year we have a certain number of books that we’re hoping to acquire. For me it’s roughly 15-18 books per year. Usually for me, on average, between two and five of those are people of color. A lot of that is through our networks with InterVarsity, so I publish a lot of InterVarsity staff authors like James Choung, and York Moore, and Tom Lin, and Nikki Toyama. So that has always been one particular area of focus for me.

How have you come to feel that representation is important to you, and then also for IVP as a broader organization?

For publishing as a whole, Christian publishing as a whole, is still fairly white. If you go to any of the Christian publishing trade shows or publishing conferences, the vast majority of the industry is White. And that’s something that has improved of the years, but it’s still very noticeable.

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Authors of color are often viewed as niche rather than universal, which compounds that issue. How can IVP ensure that the topics covered by these authors are also well distributed, particularly given that, and not just IVP but in general, authors of color are most often invited to write about justice issues or race issues, rather than writing that flagship theology book?

Right, so there’s basically three categories or so of the kinds of books that authors of color tend to write. One category is the ethnic-specific book for the ethnic specific audience. So we’ve done a series of books, you know Being Latino in Christ that’s written by a Latino author for Latino readers. Or More than Serving Tea is by a team of Asian American women for Asian American women. So that’s one category. They’re serving a specific ethnic community. The second category is the race-, ethnicity-, culture-related book that a person of color is writing because that’s their area of passion, and that’s the area that people see them as a credible author on. So that could be Ed Gilbreath writing about Martin Luther King, or Soong-Chan Rah writing about the future of the evangelical church through the lens of racial issues and cultural issues. So that’s another category. 

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                The third category is where I think we are hoping to move more toward, and that’s the ethnic-specific author writing for a general topic book for anybody, for the whole Church. And so, when James Choung wrote a book on evangelism, we very intentionally said ‘this is not a book on Asian American evangelism. This is not a book on evangelism for Asian Americans. This is a book on evangelism. And the whole church can benefit from the resources here.’ It happens to be written by a Korean American who brings in his ethnic heritage and that’s interwoven into the text, his main character in this fictional narrative that’s part of the story is Korean. And so he grapples with what does it mean to be a person of Korean heritage/descent doing evangelism in this modern context. So that’s a value that other books on evangelism don’t have. That’s something that James brings to the table that I’m glad that this book has caught on and found an audience and I’m glad we did not ‘niche’ it as an Asian American evangelism book.

Is there place for giving special attention, or special cover, to those author that you know ahead of time are apt to be marginalized by the buying public?

I think we do that…Are we doing our form, some form, of affirmative action in some way? Especially in areas where we say “There’s an opportunity with this particular book, or this particular author.” So the Urbana Student Missions Convention, for us, is a very natural way to say “hey, we’ve got this great new book by James Choung. Let’s make it a Book of the Day, and feature it.” And because it’s a constituency that’s a natural fit for us, Urbana is part of InterVarsity, James is InterVarsity staff. So things like that. We can highlight James here and it will work, it will fly, in a way that…We want to set up our authors for success and we want to seek out those opportunities where things are likely to work. So that one case where that comes time mind. 

What would you say is the racial makeup of IVP’s editorial board?

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Of the editorial board? Of the publishing committee that decides? Well, I’m the only editor that’s not white. The publishing committee, the larger publishing committee that makes decisions on books, Deborah Gonzalez, in the marketing department, is the only non-white in the marketing team at that committee meeting. Like I said earlier, publishing is a challenge. I told Deborah when she started, she is an answer to my prayers, in many ways. Because I have prayed for other ethnic minorities to work at IVP for years. And she is an InterVarsity grad, she went to Northwestern, she was in our LaFe Latino ministry, and she did an internship with us, and she stuck around and found a job. And I was very grateful. ‘May her tribe increase!’ May we have more. 

On IVP’s end, what are the sorts of things that can be committed to, to mitigate some of what we all saw in these last two years worth of catalogs?

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Yeah, I am open to ideas.  I would love to see IVP have more marketing budget, and space, and priority, given to some of our books. I don’t know what can be done commitment wise, just because I know the limitations, the demands, that everybody …and we struggle to market any of our books—all of our books. Let alone the books by authors of color or by women. I’m grateful for things like Crescendo, the women’s line. That gives us an opportunity to have some extra marketing. That’s one of the reasons we launched the line. Creating a new brand like that gave us a little more money in the budget, a little more focus in branding and in advertising, to say “ok, here are some voices that you really should hear. Here are some books that you really should look at.” And we have done a little bit of that in the past with other books, as occasion…like with the missions books, the Urbana series, things like that. When there are opportunities like that.
We have not intentionally started a line of multiethnic books, or books by ethnic minorities, because does that ‘ghettoize’? So that has not been an intentional strategy. But is there a way of allocating more emphasis? Maybe. I think part of it is, every book sort of stands on its own and has its own marketing plan and budget. Something that maybe our marketing teams do is say “ok, we do all of these individual marketing plans but then we take a step back and let’s look at the catalog as a whole, let’s look at the list as a whole. Who could use some extra help, extra advocacy, extra work?"

I really appreciate your talking with me and giving me you time. I think really the long and short of it is, all of this stems precisely because InterVarsity proclaims a mission for the multicultural Church that I think it caught our eye as peculiar. And it is out of a heart for what InterVarsity does that these things came up. 

I would say, hold our feet to the fire. Call IVP out on it. Call every publisher out on it. I’m glad that you raised this issue because it’s spurred on some good conversations here and it’s helpful for me as an insider to not have to raise it. To let somebody else raise it and say “Ok, what are we doing about this?” So thank you.

What questions would you have for IVP? What solutions would you like to see implemented


  1. Of note update from IVP this morning:
    you had a good weekend. There has already been quite a lot of internal
    e-mail dialogue here at IVP about all this. I don't check my work e-mail
    over the
    weekend, so I opened my office e-mail this morning to find a series of
    constructive, action-oriented e-mails from our executive leadership and
    regarding next steps. I am rather encouraged by the practicality of the
    items, and
    impressed that folks made it a priority to engage with all this even in
    the midst of
    their weekend.

    One item you might find interesting - attached you will find an ad that our
    marketing team booked some months ago (before all this conversation!) to run in
    the June issue of Christianity Today, and an additional 10,000 copies of CT with
    this ad will be distributed at the Hampton Pastor's Conference for African
    American pastors. The magazine should run shortly, in the next week or two. I
    hadn't been aware that this was being placed, so I'm glad to hear about it.

    Another random item - our publisher, Bob Fryling, and InterVarsity's VP of
    multiethnic ministry, Paula Fuller, are leading a book discussion on Ed Gilbreath's
    Birmingham Revolution at InterVarsity's board meeting in a few weeks. Paula
    recently affirmed to Bob her appreciation for our books and authors and how they
    serve as resources for and examples of IVCF's commitment to multiethnicity."

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  3. Are you really surprised by this?

  4. Need to reread the post.


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