Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘Books are a bit like sausages – don’t worry about how they’re made’
Paul Kerensa has too many publishers
I recently brought my standup show to the Christian Resources Together conference of godly publishers and booksellers. It went fine, you’ll be pleased to know – but was also joyously awkward, you’ll also be pleased to know.
The organisers are of course a lovely, dedicated bunch at the coalface of the Christian commercial crossover, deserving of our respect as they suffer the struggles and uncertainties of modern retail. They occupy an unusual position in the industry: in competition, yet all working for a shared goal – not financial success but God’s glory (but also financial success). The conference had a fascinating mix of mutual learning, worship and the odd bit of industry gossip, such as when I gatecrashed a conversation between two publishers – one of whom used to publish A Certain Famous Christian Author, the other of whom was about to.
I’m further down the pecking order of writers, but I’m guilty too of drifting between publishers. I’ve not deliberately switched for any dramatic, career-minded reason. It’s simply that one publisher asked if I wanted to write a memoir, so I did, then another asked if I wanted to write a history book, so I did. A third asked if I wanted to write a children’s book, so I did. (The third of those, Joe’s Bros and the Bus That Goes, is out this month by chance, though this article isn’t a blatant plug, promise. It’s a subtle plug.) A fourth publisher asked if I wanted to write a joke book, and so it goes on.
On each occasion, I checked with the other publishers, and they seemed fine with me ‘writing around’. What I hadn’t reckoned on though, was that one day I’d be asked to do a standup set in front of them all. It was like that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral where Hugh Grant encounters a tableful of exes at a wedding reception.
Early on in the show, I thought it best to simply apologise to the various corners of the room (I did notice that all four of my publishers sat in separate corners, which added to the awkwardness.) I don’t quite know what I was apologising for, but it felt appropriate.
After the show, the organisers had arranged a book signing. There was a nicely clumsy moment when one publisher shoved some books from their rival on the same table. I just signed what I was told. Some of them weren’t even my books. Still, JK Rowling signs a lot of Robert Galbraith’s books and he doesn’t seem to mind.
Later in the bar, I saw Publisher #2 talking to Publisher #3. They stopped when I approached, so let’s assume they were saying nice things, trying to outbid each other for my next literary attempt, or maybe readying for a tussle in the car park. Most likely they were both bemoaning by terrible speling.
I’m well aware that books are a bit like sausages – best to just enjoy them and not worry about how they were made. But it’s good to know that these fine and noble Christians are furthering God’s kingdom by publishing the finest works they can get their hands on.
I have to be nice to them. I don’t know if I’ll ever work again. Not since I was spotted pitching to a fifth publisher, anyway. Well, after the memoir, the history book, the children’s books and the joke book, I’ve always fancied doing a Christian cookbook. Anyone for locusts?
Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster. His latest book, Joe’s Bros and the Bus That Goes, is published by SPCK (2019)
This article was published in the November 2019 edition of Reform