BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

#IVPFall14: An Interview with InterVarsity Press (Full Interview)

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. The full interview has been posted below, and is well worth reading (interview has been edited for clarity). Stay tuned next week for some of my take-always on the issues of publishing representation and marketing as a whole. 

BTSF: As you know our conversation is coming after seeing the recent IVP catalog that came in the mail, and 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. So it’s kind of that that the dialogue online happened and I appreciate being able to have the conversation with you here to continue that.

So I guess starting narrowly, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about representation in publishing and why it’s important to you.

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.

Do you have a sense of whether Christian publishing is on par with secular publishing?
My sense is that it is behind. Part of it is that secular publishing, general market publishing, New York publishing, have the advantage of being centered in New York. And New York is of course a very diverse community to draw from. And historically, Christian publishing has been located in places that are not well representative: Grand Rapids, Michigan; Wheaton, Illinois; Nashville Tennessee; Colorado Springs. And another challenge in particular for Christian communities in of color, is that Christian publishing has not often been held up as a career option. I know in my Asian American community it’s always, you know doctor, lawyer, maybe engineer. Or for some it’s pastor or missionary. But Christian publishing or English major, or communications, or journalism—that’s not held up as a common career path. It’s not as prestigious, it’s not as lucrative. And so Asian parents tend to discourage—or it’s just not of the radar—it’s not that they actively discourage kids from it. It’s just that it’s not something that is held up the way that it is for med school or law school.

Seems like would be true whether in secular or sacred [publishing]
Probably. In general. In African American and Latino communities also there’s just not as strong of a history or heritage of book publishing as a viable career option. And so that’s part of the problem. I think part of the challenge is, from a training up and recruiting standpoint, it’s not just a matter of encouraging writers. It’s also to encourage editors, publishers, journalists, professionals in the field. And so that starts college level, earlier I guess. And to the extent that Christian colleges or Christian campus ministry groups can encourage their students to pursue these fields as vocational options, the more the better.

So a lot of what you’ve talked about there is sort of ‘pipeline’ issue—getting more authors to be interested in publishing. So do I understand correctly that there just aren’t a lot of authors with the willingness or the interest?

Well, it varies. On the one hand, there are more authors than ever before. Part of that is the relative increase and advance of self publishing. When I started in publishing in the mid-90s, there were about 50,000 new books each year in the English language in North America. These days it’s 400,000 new books per year, or more depending on how you count it. A lot of that is because of print-on-demand, self publishing, online publishing. There’s just a lot more books out there. And so the availability of authors in publishing is unparalleled. It’s huge, it’s a flood. And it’s more difficult to weed through the noise. It’s just a very crowded world. And so part of the challenge for publishers is discerning what authors are a most suitable fit, are most viable. There’s just so much competition. And the other thing too is that the overall book market is flat—it’s static. And so the individual book numbers—the sales per book—are smaller per book, especially since the recession of ’08, ’09, recently. And so it’s harder to make each individual book viable.

And so that necessarily drives publishers toward who’s got platform, which authors bring a constituency, whether it’s a megachurch or a denominational, or an organizational buy-in of some sort or another. And that can be a challenge for ethnic minority authors that may not have those networks or resources to bring to the table. To go back to those 400,000 books per year that are published, the vast majority of them sell 500 copies or less. So self publishing usually sells a few hundred copies around that author’s own network’s orbit. And so publishers are looking for authors that have organizations and networks beyond their immediate family and friends. You know, are they connected with a foundation or a ministry? So part of the challenge is, for any author not just authors of color, how do they build their platform, how do they become known, especially in a universe where your facebook newsfeed is just filled with all these, you know blogs and tweets. There’s just so much noise out there. It’s hard for anybody to carve out space.

So then that becomes, of course, a challenge as you mentioned for writers of color who are often at a systemic disadvantage when it comes to exactly that issue of platform. White and male colleagues are often going to overlook those works, those voices, as people of authority. They are often going to get overlooked for conference keynote speakers. So on a lot of these metrics that build up that platform, it seems there is a bit of a vicious cycle going on there. So I guess my question would be, to what extents do publishers… as one of the gatekeepers of that system…to what extents is there on the publisher’s end, particularly a Christian publisher professing the value of the multicultural church to break that cycle?

Yeah, publishers definitely have the opportunity to help create platform, to establish first-time authors and to help them find a larger audience. And in some ways, in book publishing, there’s a little bit of synergy with what used to be magazine publishing, and what is increasingly now online publishing, blogs and other social media. What happens a lot is that, say with Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog authors will write there, and it’s an easier entry point to write an article or a blog post. And as they build a reputation and traction, a publisher may pick them up. And then the publication of a book becomes an opportunity for more marketing or publicity, or social media about that book, so then magazines or periodicals or online social media then pick up on it. So yeah, there’s a cycle, something of a machine I guess in the Christian communication, writing, publishing world. To the extent that publishers and gatekeepers…If the pipeline is primarily white then that cycle continues to feed primarily white authors. It’s incumbent on both in the individual writers as well as the gatekeepers at every level, whether that be online or book publishers, to help cultivate and identify, to lift up those voices that are not necessarily getting invited.
                I should say this. Another cultural barrier often, is that the whole publishing world depends on self promotion, at least increasingly so, in the last decade or so. And that is very counter cultural for many ethnic communities, especially for women of color and others that don’t inhabit sections or locations of power and privilege. So, like one of my friends who is an Asian American author, when his first book was published, he was speaking at a church and he could not bring himself to say that the books were for sale in the back, because that just seemed so counter cultural to an Asian cultural—you don’t self promote. So he ended up giving away all his books, which doesn’t help him as an author. So what he needed was an advocate to come along side him and say “hey, books are for sale, $10 in the back.” Authors need those kinds of advocates, whether a majority-culture person or a person with a sphere of influence. So I know a lot of our authors, are championed by other authors. And we hear about a new author from a name who’s already been published, an Andy Crouch or a Soong-Chan Rah, or somebody says “hey you need to hear about this person. This is somebody worth listening to.” And for us, in our networks, those recommendations and advocacy are very strong. They carry a lot of weight.

Along those lines, could you maybe tell me the way IVP publicity and marketing works for its books?

Sure. Every book has sort of a front list cycle that’s most active for the first 12 months after publication. It starts a few months before publication. And there’s sort of the sale and marketing, two sides of that: one is making sure that the book is available in sales channels, distributors, online, brick and mortar bookstores. So that book is available for sale. And then the other side is the marketing, publicity, promotion side, which is customer awareness, it’s radio interviews, it’s magazine reviews, it’s social media. So ideally the customer, the potential reader, hears about a book though whatever promotional venue, and then they go to buy the book and it’s available through its sales channel, and supply and demand meet. And so that’s most active in the first 3-6 months for sure, and then after 12 months a book goes from front list to back list. And then that first 3-6 months, the book is repped to our sales reps, who take it to bookstores and accounts, and chains, Amazon and everybody else, and present the books, and accounts order the books based on those initial presentations. And then advance galleys, type set page proofs, are sent to media, magazines, industry trade magazines like Publishers Weekly, consumer magazines like Christianity Today. Those publications will review books, they may excerpt a chapter as an article, authors may have blog tours around the release of their book, having people talk about here’s a new contributions, here’s what it brings to the discussion. So all that happens most intensely in the first 3-6 months.

And there’s usually a budget for every book for things like paid advertising in magazines, or online advertising. Everybody is disputing the value of advertising these days—does it work, does it matter. It seems like personal recommendations online, social media is more valuable in many ways, and more cost effective, in terms of actually spreading the word about a book. But anyway, there’s all these different possibilities that a book might have. And I should say that the marketing for every book is tailored or customized, based on the author’s networks and constituencies, and also whatever genre or professional societies, organizations that book fits in. So the marketing for a theology textbook is very different than the marking for a social justice book. They go to different conferences, reach out to different publications. And our marketing team tries to figure out who are the most likely readers for this book, and we align author/book with that audience—what’s the best way of getting to that audience. Often the challenge is that we may have a hunch that there is an audience for a book out there, but if there isn’t a channel to get to that audience it’s like that audience doesn’t exist. So the publication of a book is just half the story. It does no good to publish a book and have it sit the warehouse. The publishing process is not complete until the book actually gets into the hands of readers who will read it and benefit from it.

And that of course comes with some set of issues in and of itself.  On the one hand it makes sense to market toward target audiences, but particularly when it comes to topics and authors that are not visible readers aren’t necessarily going to know that they want that material anyway. And to add on top of that, 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 flag ship 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.
                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.
So that’s sort of the hope. And a lot of it depends on what the authors themselves feels called to write on. Authors can write on any of these three categories. Do they feel like they have a word specific to ‘well, here’s the future of the Latino church’ by Daniel Rodriguez. That was his research project. He was studying how second generation Latino churches reach their communities, so that’s his way of serving the Latino church. Now another book might be Daniel Hodge writing on hip hop. Well that’s a general topic and of wide interest to any number of people that might like hip hop and looking for the theological significance of it. So a lot depends on what the author is interested in.

But I also wonder if authors might not feel empowered to write on broad topics if they feel like ‘gosh, I really want to get published, and this is what I’m supposed to write about. So, okay, I’m going to write on these more specific niche thing so I can get my foot I the door.’

Right. Part of the challenge is that we have moved from a broadcast culture to a narrowcast culture. That’s true in general, you know. We more moved from three networks to satellite cable and hundreds of networks channels. So it is very hard to do sort of the general, ‘oh, here’s a book on prayer’ or ‘here’s a know-why-you-believe apologetics book’ or ‘here’s life of Christ.’ If you’re Rick Warren or Max Lucado or somebody, you can write a very general book like that. But for most of us unknown people, you need to find what’s your niche, what’s your thing. What are you able to say that nobody else is really saying?

But surely there are multifaceted characteristics of authors of color that there are other niches that they could be plugged into.

Oh yeah, sure. So some of it is like when we’re talking with one author, a Korean American woman. She could write about issues of race and ethnicity, but she’s also thinking about a broader topic on ambition. And we’ve sort of honed in on that topic, saying ‘man, that’s a general topic that strikes a lot of people grappling with.’ What’s appropriate, what’s not, especially as a woman, as a mom? How do you deal with all that? And she would bring something to the table as a Korean American woman that’s not being said by Lynne Hybels, or Kay Warren, or whoever. So, I think we do encourage and try to help authors say ‘what can I speak on?’ for any book, regardless of the author, the challenge is lining the right author with the right topic, with the right publisher, with the right audience, at the right cultural moment. And if any one of those things is out of whack, the book might not fly. It’s a mystery why sometimes some books work and some don’t. So we try to cultivate authors to say ‘ok what do you have an opportunity do you have to speak on?’
And I hear what you’re saying as far as the invitation or empowerment of those authors. For the book ‘More than Serving Tea’ on Asian American women, that was a case where we very specifically said…well actually, let me back up. I can tell that story. I was at an InterVarsity conference. This was probably in about 2004 or -05. And I was giving a report ‘Ok, these are books we published in the last year by our Asian American staff’, this was our Asian American staff team for InterVarsity. And I listed of 5 or 6 books by some of our Asian staff authors and at end of the meeting, Nikki Toyama came running up to me and said, ‘Now, every author on your list was a man. Where are the books by the women?’ And it’s like ‘let’s talk!’ So we had lunch right there and said “What would it look like for a book by Asian American women? What’s needed? What’s the niche, the gap, that needs to be filled?” And they said, “you know what be really great?” (There were about 5 people at this lunch) “It would be great to have a book that would help Asian American women find their voice, grapple with issues of leadership, gender, sexuality, how to partner with men…” All of these different issues. And so I said “all right. That sounds great. Let’s assemble a team.” Because part of the challenge was that no one of them felt like they could write the book themselves. So I said “Let’s gather a team of five or six, or however many women. And you all take two chapters.” That’s a lot easier to do. You don’t have to write a whole book, you just write one or two chapters and then together you’ve got something that can be a resource. And they did. And so a few years later we published More Than Serving Tea.
On the one hand I saw my role as the editor to be the advocate, to invite and to say “yes, we need to hear your voice, and I will be your champion, I will be your advocate, and I will make the case for this book to our publishing committees.’ And they still had to work their butts off. They still had to make the case saying “Ok, here are the churches that are going to use our book. Here’s ministries that are going to buy our book. And they had a pile, a list, of 40 or 50 endorsers, and communities, and constituencies, to say “yeah, we can cobble together enough copies to make this book viable.” They still had to make the business case for the book.  But they did the work, and they hit it hard, and they did it. And the book did well.
And so what helps is both an advocate on the inside, that was my role, but also they needed a person like Nikki Toyama as the point person for the book to be the champion, to say “Ok. We’re going to get this done. We’re called to do this. We need to do this.

So as I recall, that book came out about, what seven, eight years ago?
Yeah, I want to say ’06? I could look it up. I don’t remember now.

And so, have you seen fruits as far as additional Asian American women authors on your bylines?

Yeah. I mean, part of the hope for something like that was, ok we have this team of five authors writing this book, then can they each launch and write their own book? And so Nikki Toyama eventually became the program director for the Urbana Missions Conference. And so, as part of that, she and I met and we talked about “Let’s do a series of mission-related themes, minibooks. So, she wrote a book in that miniseries and we got some other books by some other authors in that series. We’re talk with other folks… I should pull up this list. Because part of it is, sometimes a chapter or an article is a stepping stone to a full book. A lot of people want to write a book, but don’t think they can do a whole book, or it’s just very daunting to go from zero to 60. So, to cultivate writing some articles, to cultivate writing some chapters, that’s often the stepping stone to help them get to that level.

Of course the concern that sometimes comes up is that, there might a ‘special edition’ or a big push, but then if those efforts aren’t sustained, then it can become, kind of, tokenism. I’ve got some information here about the last several years of catalogues, and I’m drawing this information from the authors that are features. So, going back a little bit to the original #IVPFall14 hashtag, the idea was, “Who is being featured? Who is being promoted in these front pages? “With full pages for the books, the author’s picture is there, a big write up. And who are those folks being promoted, in the way that a publisher can potentially do? And of those folks, I’ve got six catalogs here, and the numbers aren’t great. 
               We’ve got, obviously the last one that started this, that were 100% white. But they one before that we’ve got 96%, 92%, 93%, 83% and 98%. And it’s worth noting that there’s one drop there. The Winter 2013 catalog has 83% white authors, which is actually much better than the others, and that’s largely thanks to that Urbana series that came out. But it’s worth noting that that wasn’t necessarily sustainable over the next four releases. Similarly, the Spring 2013 [catalog] featured the Crescendo edition for women authors. And that catalog had 73% men, which is actually much better, it’s about 15% better than other catalogs, but again once that big push happened, it kind of went back to the broader trends.

Yeah, and that says something about institutional inertia and the challenges of turning a ship. Part of the challenge is too that we have very little control over when authors actually deliver. On the one hand, we can do everything we can to try to recruit and acquire books by authors of color and people of diverse backgrounds, and women. But it’s kind of a fluke sometimes. Like, I’m waiting on a manuscript from an African American woman right now, one of my authors. And she’s got half the manuscript, but I’m waiting for that last half of the book and I can’t schedule the book until I have the full manuscript in hand. So it’s just sort of sitting. And it was going to be scheduled for Spring 2015, but it looks like it’s going to be scheduled for fall 2015, or later.

That’s understandable. That said, these are six different catalogs going back two years…

Yeah, because when we acquire a book, it’s going to be two or three years before it’s published. Obviously, the more diverse pipeline we have, the better chance that any catalog is going to have more representation. So the better work we do on the front end, the better work that’s going to result in the catalog in the back end.

So speaking of particularly about publicity and marketing, because that is was I as a consumer see the most on the public side of InterVarsity Press. What are some of your ideal solutions to increase visibility for the IVP authors of color you already have? Given the fact InterVarsity wants and talks about being intentional about bringing in the authors, once you have those authors, what are some potential resolutions for marketing those author is a way that can overcome some of the systemic disparities that we’ve just talked about, as far as their platform, or being perceived as niche authors? What can the marketing on IVP’s end do to overcome those things?

Well, one is to promote them as experts in their field, whatever the area or the topic is. We have a publicity, media idea kit/catalog that comes out periodically, where authors are promoted to radio interviewers, or magazine editors, to say “hey, if you need somebody on the future of the church, or the rise of millennials, or whatever the topic might be. Here’s the go-to people.” So an example might be Brenda Salter-McNeil who is obviously an expert in the field of racial reconciliation, but also speaks to issues of justice, evangelism, witness. So she’s included as “okay, if you’re looking for someone who is credible on this topic, go to her. And here’s her contact info, here’s her book.” We do that with all of our authors, and we want to include all of our ethnic minority authors as well.

It is something for all authors. 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 Mission 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.
                Heh...I’m probably not the best person to talk to you about marketing stuff, because it’s not my specific area.

Because you bring that up…I do appreciate you talking to me…who contacted you as far as interviewing? I was curious why you might have been chosen to conduct the interview. I don’t mean that in any funny way, it’s a great conversation.

Yeah, Leah Kiple asked me if I’d be available to answer questions. Yeah, I’m not on twitter, but I did read the thread. And I have read your blog in the past; I’ve seen links to it. So, I mean, I was probably asked because I am the longest serving Asian American on the publishing committee at IVP. We do have a marketer who is Latina, but she hasn’t been here as long. She’s been here three or four years. She’d probably be a good person to talk to about the marketing side of things.

So my questions then is, why necessarily again is it a niche thing that editors of color would necessarily be the ones that are having the conversation?

Well, I think they thought I could help fill in the picture on the acquisition side of things too. I mean, all of us know the whole publishing process to some extent; we’re all sort of in all those meetings together. Editors are concerned about successful marketing, and marketers are concerned about successful editing our books well, and acquiring good books. So we’re all invested in the whole process.
                Yeah, I’m a sympathetic person. In many ways, I would be you on the other side, asking IVP why don’t we have more of this or that...authors, marketing. I share your concerns, which is why I’m still here, and doing what I do. And I hope I have been able to be that kind of advocate for growth and change over the years.   

And your work is certainly appreciated in that sense. It’s just the irony, you know, we’re talking about niche authors into niche topics. Is the same thing happening on the editorial level, that editors of color are 'niched' into taking on the questions about multiculturalism in publishing?

Heh, yeah…a little bit. But, I should say that, my white colleagues on the editorial team edit plenty of authors of color. And I’m not Brenda Salter McNeil’s editor, or Christena Cleveland’s editor, there are other editors that work with them. Or Alexia Salvatierra. It’s not like people are assigned, “Oh, you’re the female editor, so you’re going to edit all the female authors.” We all edit and acquire authors based on our relationships. And so all those relationships are cultivated organically. We meet folks at conferences, we get to know them, we like them. So, I’m editing Helen Lee for her book, not because I’m Asian American, but because we’ve been friends for 20 years. So a lot of these relationships happen organically. And I get assigned a lot of books, or they’re not necessarily assigned, but I get a lot of books that I may have nothing in common with the author personally, demographically. I have a lot of books by older, white males. But that’s ok. I’ve come to get to know them, and they’re friends, and I appreciate what they do.

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

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.
                We actually did have…we invited folks to come to a multiethnic publishing workshop for potential employees. This was about, gosh, I want to say four or five years ago. I think it was more than that. It was before the recession. It was when there was money for the budget. But we actually, we paid people’s flights. I think Bob Fryling, our publisher, had either a donor gift or some extra budget to allocate thousands of dollars to fly people in, people of color, young 20-somethings, recent grads, people interested in publishing. And “Consider working at IVP, and we’ll fly you in for two or three days, and explain the publishing process to you. Here’s what it looks like, the different kinds of jobs, in marketing, in editorial. We brought in our authors like Ed Gilbreath, Nikki Toyama, and Soong-Chan Rah, here local and nearby. They talked about their experiences as authors and working in Christian publishing. I think we have 16-18 people at that consultation. And we hired one. One was Nick Liao, Taiwanese American, and he became our academic sales manager for a few years. He has since left. He got married and moved to DC. But, I was really glad to have Nick, here at IVP. So he was also on the publishing committee, though he’s not here now. So I’m grateful for stuff like that. I’m saddened when, Nick moves on to other opportunities—he’s at Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, which is a great opportunity for him. But, step by step.

As I’ve mentioned, I really do appreciate IVP’s responsiveness, both online and then in our talking together. I’m wondering if I can get some sort of commitment from commitment, or maybe brainstorming together as far as more equitable marketing and publicity for authors of color, to kind of combat some of the systemic things that are often working against them. 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?

Yeah, boy, 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?"

Absolutely. I think that’d be great. Because I understand you get focused on a book, and ‘where should this book go?’ But, yeah, taking a broader look at the context within which those books are going to be viewed makes a big difference. Who has the big features in our catalog? Who gets the early pages? And who’s in the back of the book, as it were? Who is featured on the header of the web site? Who’s on the front page?
                Take a look, for example, at what’s currently on the IVP homepage, the Media and Publicity page, the Books page. Each of those, unfortunately parallel what we see in the catalogs. And so, even just being aware of those to say “ok maybe we’re going to shift that around a little bit.” Specifically because, obviously the marketing and the publicity has a direct tie-in with what books do well, and that vicious cycle, to say who’s getting noticed.

Yeah, I’m curious and I’m glancing at our own website right now. The front page right now is Elizabeth Gerhardt’s book on ‘The Cross and Gendercide.’ Turn to the Books page is Steve Garber, Academic page is an Encyclopedia. And they are rotate, so the next time I click on it, it’s different. Now this one is Dallas Willard, when I re-click on it it’s Helen Cepero, it's Caryn Rivadeneira. Yeah. Bob Fryling sometimes says that “Publishing a book is like shooting a gun in the air and hoping a duck flies by.” We sometimes have no idea why a book works and why it doesn’t. But we do what we can. We try to help every book along.
                Yeah, I mean it’s obvious why some books are in the front of the catalog, right?  Os Guinness is obviously a much better known name than a lot of folks in our catalog. And we do publish a lot of first-time authors that have never been heard of, so that’s part of the reason some of them are in the back.

And a lot of it has to do with topic. As you mentioned, the more ‘Knowing God’, books like this that have broader [scope]. And so the importance of inviting and affirming authors of color that, yes, you have something to say to a broad audience---and therefore we can market it in that way, as you’ve mentioned is important.
And you’ve also mentioned that anymore institutionally it’s very hard to, kind of create trends, and that social media is often a better venue. And so along those lines, I’d also encourage you to take a look at whose being tweeted every month. Just considering non-RTs [retweets], what is the content about an author that’s put out by the IVP handle? And again unfortunately at this time, those numbers are also pretty similar. And that’s an easy, really quite free way to bring some equity to the table.

Yeah. I’m part of Evangelicals for Justice, and one of the things that they have been doing in the last few years has been really hitting hard the Evangelical conference thing: speakers, and having a diverse slate of speakers at conferences. And I remember, it must have been the 2011 Justice Conference, that had all white speakers. So the team at Evangelicals for Justice, Soong-Chan Rah, Lisa Sharon Harper, Randy Woodley, met with the Justice Conference organizers and said “Hey, I know you are probably very well intentioned in scheduling this conference and booking these speakers, and they’re great speakers, but there are no people of color. What can we do to help you get some voice that your constituency, your conference attendees really need to hear. And they responded really positively. It took some work, but I think by the 2012 or ’13 Justice Conference, it was a very diverse slate of speakers. So that was encouraging. And I am grateful for how InterVarsity has modeled this with Urbana. I think starting with the Urbana conferences in the ‘90s, they very intentionally had a diverse slate of speakers. And that’s helped us publish those speakers. So when InterVarsity says “we’re committed to multiethnicity and we’re going to put people of color on the platform in very visible ways and be advocates and champion for them, that helps us say “Yeah, we’re going to champion a Peter Cha, or Paul Tokunaga, or Nikki Toyama, or York Moore. And we can publish them. And that helps.

Yeah, those things certainly do feedback on each other in a real way. And as you mentioned, a lot of diversity conferences will still have narrow faces, diversity conferences with all men, or general Christian conferences with all white folks, one way or another.  And absolutely, they do cycle in on each other. And I think InterVarsity does have a great opportunity because it does run both conferences and also happens to be a publisher, to bring those two ends together.

Yeah, I actually did a paper for a Sociology of Religion class, in my PhD program. This was in about 2010, I think. I was looking at conferences in April of 2010. And it was Together for the Gospel, Exponential,   Wheaton Theology Conference, Calvin Festival of Faith Writing, and 4 Days 4 Justice in North Park. And I looked at all of their speakers, and all of their platform people, and broke it down by race and gender. So Together for the Gospel, was all white men. But Calvin Festival was almost 50/50 women and men, that was pretty good. But the vast majority were all white, except for the 4 Days 4 Justice Conference, that was very diverse. So it was just interesting to map out the different communities that each of these different conferences represent. All of these Evangelical subcultures. So if you Google me and ‘Evangelical tribalism’ or something like that, I have a blog post on Patheos kind of about that. It’s funny because IVP…we go to all those conferences, we exhibit there, we sell books at all these conferences, and they’re just so different worlds. The Gospel Coalition world is one world, Q is a very different world, Exponential is a different world. We have a foot in all these worlds, and so I think part of our opportunity, or prophetic role as a publisher is that…so we publish authors from all these worlds, and we introduce them to each other. So, we can introduce Urbana speakers to the Gospel Coalition world. We hope. We hope that we can be some help that way.

Right. Absolutely. Well, hey, I don’t want to keep you too much longer. I really appreciate you 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.
And honestly, I don’t know all back end, but a lot of the marketing things, like with Twitter, or what order pages come in the catalog, because you often do have a lot of authors of color, there are potentially easy fixes to get the marketing and the publicity in line with what the byline numbers are. And so there’s, to some extent, some hope with that. It’s a complicated thing, because ultimately IVP is function within a system, within a broken world, but as you mention, I think there is opportunity to be prophetic in that position.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this interview. Thought provoking and challenging


Creative Commons License
By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at @BTSFblog