Ministry of the words
Tony Collins has published 1,400 books working for Hodder and Stoughton, Lion Hudson, SPCK and others. The Heavenly Man, the story of the Chinese Church leader Brother Yun, sold millions. Other decisions, he tells Reform, have been rather less impressive. His memoir, They’ll Never Read That: How to make mistakes in publishing, is published by Malcolm Down
You’ve spent a life in Christian books. What were the books that made you as a young Christian reader?
There was a pair of books from Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason and The God who Is There, which set my world on its beam ends, because I’d grown up in a moderately intellectual, liberal-consensus kind of world, and to receive the biblically drenched world view that Schaeffer brought to big questions was exciting. But the book which probably turned my life around more than any other was The Calvary Road by Roy Hession. He was involved in the east African revival, a man of simple, but extremely deep faith, and the essence of The Calvary Road is that the Lord will honour those who walk in the light. It was a book without style, 60 or 70 pages long, a book of astonishing simplicity but extreme depth. When I read it I knew the tentative steps I had been taking on the Christian road needed to become firmer.
You mentioned wearing out a copy of The Cross and the Switchblade, which I did too. There’s a fellowship in books, isn’t there?
Absolutely. I loved it. It was co-written by John and Elizabeth Sherrill who I was very honoured to meet once or twice, because their books achieved tens of millions of sales over the course of their working life. They also co-wrote God’s Smuggler and The Hiding Place. They were astonishingly good storytellers.
You got your entry to Christian publishing by writing around publishers saying: ‘I’m an avid reader and a Christian.’ That’s pretty lucky!
Astonishingly so. I hadn’t realised that most editors come to the job having sort of served a long apprenticeship elsewhere in the company. You have to know your way around the world of print, design, manufacturing, business, sales, editorial functions and legal aspects. The idea of somebody coming in straight from the street as an editor, wet behind the ears, green around the gills and completely useless…
This is an extract from an article published in the May 2022 edition of Reform