One fact of my work is that I can say virtually nothing about a project until it’s published. Contractual confidentiality obligations. However, once it’s published, I have some freedom, and in fact the publisher would like for me to talk it up. So let me tell you a bit about its making.
First off, here’s the link: Armchair Reader: Fascinating Bible Facts. It will be available in about a week; they’re taking pre-orders.
Those of you who know me well might be pretty surprised to imagine me working on such a book. I’m Asatru (basically, old-time Germanic religion). I do not deny anyone’s god or gods, but I’m not a Person of the Book (Christian, Jew or Muslim). And when pushed, I can be rather strident about it. There’s a reason there is a placard on my front door that says POSITIVELY NO SOLICITORS, NO MISSIONARIES. I can get along great with nearly all people of any faith or no faith long as they respect mine. But a Bible book? Me?
Well, in the first place…suppose you asked me: “J.K., do you have more in common with atheists, agnostics, Jews or Christians?” The answer would be that I have the least in common with atheists, since they are convinced there are no supreme beings of any kind. Next agnostics, who don’t know. Next Christians, who believe in a supreme being but who in many cases proselytize, an act alien to my thought. Finally, Jews, with whom I have the most in common. They are theists, like me, but they do not proselytize. My point is that because I too am a theist, I’m not so ill-equipped to write about matters of faith. Just happen to profess a very different faith, that’s all.
The way I get engaged for a project is, an editor contacts me and says, “We’re interested in having you do this. What do you think?” I usually ask some questions and get a feel for it. Sometimes it’s e-mail, sometimes a phone call. Most editors, at some point, seem to like to talk on the phone at least once, just to get a sense of me. (“Who is this guy, anyway?”) Since turning down work is not typical for me, I usually sign on. Since it’s a buyer’s market, I really don’t have a strong negotiating position, so I don’t dicker about payment rates. Some think that’s selling myself short, literally: “Why not go out and get what you’re worth? You’ve done great for them!” Answer: perhaps I have–they keep hiring me. And I might get more money. But what then? “Well, we could engage J.K., but it’ll cost more, and we have plenty of others just as capable who cost less. Sorry, J.K.” And who could blame them?
So, when the acquisitions editors approached me for what would become AR:FBF, I was pretty straightforward. “You do realize, I trust, that I’m not a member of any of the faiths represented in this book?” I did point out however that I had a degree in ancient history (with specific focus on the early Roman Empire, which happens to coincide with the early Christian Era) and read some Hebrew, plus a bit of Latin and Greek. They rejoined that, as a non-Person of the Book, I didn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak. Not being predisposed toward any of it, I might treat it with more balance. I signed on.
It turned out to be both a very fun and edifying project. I had three great editors to work with. Whether I subscribe to John 3:16 is immaterial to my education; what is material is that the rise of Christianity is an important event in the history of western civilization, and I ought to have perspective on it. I could not have researched this work without acquiring this. In short, if you love ancient history, the Judeo-Christian scriptures are among your ancient sources. You may, if they are not your religious scriptures (or perhaps if they are, or because they are; your call), evaluate their credibility with the same historiographical eye with which you’d examine Tacitus or Plutarch, and conclude what you will. What you cannot do is dismiss them, even if you’re an atheist. Not if you are worth a damn as an historian, you cannot. Whether you believe the supernatural parts is no more material here than if you were studying Native American oral traditions, or even Scientology.
Having not yet received my complimentaries, I don’t know how much of what I wrote and was paid for was actually printed. I’m pretty sure a lot of it was, and that I did a disproportionate share of the book, because in the Amazon blurb, most of the features they mention, just so happens I authored those particular manuscripts. The basic process is that I’m either presented with topics, or invited to select from a list, or asked to suggest a list. Sometimes all three happen. The editors make some decisions (usually with some input from me, naturally) on length and subjects, and assign me the work. I do it and turn it in. The sooner I do that, the sooner I get a new assignment, so it is in my best interests to bust my butt and get all over that.
I am contractually obligated and expected, upon request, to rewrite or edit MS to the editors’ satisfaction. Sometimes this is wanted, sometimes not. But once I turn it in, I have very little influence over how the MS is used (if at all). The publisher may use it in this book, or in a future book, in as many as they wish, with or without attribution to me (though they have historically been quite kind about that). I have transferred the ownership rights, and in so doing, have warranted that they are rightfully mine to transfer (meaning, that it was my original work). The publisher’s duty to me ends when I am paid. That said, I’m very fortunate to write for PIL, because they’ve nearly always been kinder to me than the strict letter of the contract obligates. They’ve been classy and professional and considerate, and I’m pleased that my name is in over a dozen of their books. Good advice for ‘lancers: try and be classy, professional and considerate to your editors. If you are, you’ll probably be seeing them again. People prefer to work with people who are easy to work with.
The whole process can take months to a year. I know it’s going live when they contact me for a contributor bio. That seems to be the publisher equivalent to a submarine skipper ordering the last man down the hatch to dog and secure it–when that happens, next step is to submerge.
Anyway, if you’re interested in some thoughtful takes on matters Biblical, the new book may be of interest.