Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thinking About My Next Book

I have to be honest with everyone - blogging has transformed the way I look at the possibility of writing another book. I happen to have a willing publisher. The publisher pays me a small advance and I write a book which essentially leaves me no chance of every making any sort of money above and beyond that small advance. The structure of the deal means that I have to sell over 7500 copies of any book to start collecting royalties.

While many people might question why I place such an emphasis on 'making money,' the reality is that because I have this blog I can essentially write for free and not have a 'boss' breathing down my neck. I don't have to deal with hostile reviews, fact checking, editorial mistakes etc. I can speak directly to sixty or so readers a day and no one gets hurt. If people don't like my writing or find it repetitive or uninteresting, they simply go somewhere else.

When I was an aspiring musician there was no money but there was always the possibility of meeting girls. Being a performer has its advantages, even if you don't end up making much money from it. So without girls, money or fame - why bother end up with nervous exhaustion for a book less than 7500 people are going to read anyway?

Of course some might say - it is important to leave formally publish some of the things I have come up with here at my blog. But let's be honest for a moment. My publisher couldn't give a rat's ass about what I have to say really. They want my book to sell and rightly so. I am sure they would say it's great that you have done all that research, but we need something that will attract as large a readership as possible.

So I end up at the same place that every writer finds themselves at with regards to getting a book published. How far do I sell out? I remember being a producer of corporate events in Toronto. There were of course people who came through the door so to speak because they felt my company was the best suited for the job. Then there was the other fifty percent of my customers who wanted me - I thought I put a good show and was simply more interesting and more amusing than my competitors. Soon you start selling your soul to make the sale and it quickly goes downhill from there.

Indeed I even have to admit, as much as I find the things I write about interesting and apparently a few of you out there too, I have to ask myself - is it best to just leave things the way they are? In other words, develop a hundred or so posts a month here and die with a massive electronic 'diary of a madman' which might indirectly influence the direction of scholarship if future generations decide to develop some of these ideas further.

I have to admit I am starting to think that books are becoming obsolete. I certainly don't buy as many books as I used to. So what's the purpose of expecting someone to purchase something that I probably wouldn't buy? Does it all come down to collecting that small advance? Or can I actually develop a compelling idea for a new book? Well, these are all really good questions and I don't even know if I can answer them with any kind of honesty.

It's not like my publisher is Harper Collins. It's like one step above being self-published. They will inevitably want me to keep my footnotes to a minimum. They aren't interested in a dry, scholarly work. My book would have say something explosively compelling, something that would ignite the imaginations of readers around the globe and if it can be backed up by facts, well ... that would be great too as long as the facts don't get in the way of a great story.

So I have to ask myself - when I look at the 2000 posts that I have written here since my father's death (the time that I happened to start this blog), do I find 'diamonds in the rough' that could be turned into a bestseller without too much prostitution of the soul on my part? Here's what I think I have:

1. I have some new information about Morton Smith and his discovery of Secret Mark.
2. I have a great deal of new information about the Martyrium of St. Mark which is mentioned in the aforementioned Letter to Theodore
3. I might have some new information by April about the Jewish altar at Alexandria

While these three elements naturally fit together, do they really spell 'bestseller' to anyone out there? I don't think so.

I have always wanted to publish all that material about Polycarp but I wonder whether I can write it in such a way that 7500 people would tell their friends what an amazing book they discovered. Is there some kind of a way that a book about Morton Smith's discovery at Mar Saba could introduce the discussion about the hypomnemata of Polycarp? And could such a book be made accessible for a wide audience without losing any chance of being taken seriously by scholars? Again I don't really know.

The only thing that strikes me as a possibility - a remote possibility - is if I could write a book challenging the foundations of Christian history. There have already been enough books written from an atheist POV. I am not interested in attacking the idea of God or questioning whether there was a historical Jesus. These things just don't get me excited. Bart Ehrman has already monopolized the agnostic textual criticism market so what is left?

I don't think a book has ever been written which actually posits another paradigm for Christian history. Sure there are those authors which demonstrate how stupid Christianity is, how it all doesn't make sense. But this never been my gig. I am not into just attacking something. I like to make the effort to argue for what is more likely to be the truth than merely saying that everything is bullshit.

Of course this also explains why my books are never that successful. Arguing for something is necessarily more demanding on one's readership than merely throwing stones at sacred cows.

The question then is whether I could start a book with Morton Smith's discovery of the Mar Saba letter, make a compelling case that the document is authentic and then argue for a historical framework which better explains the development of the Church in the late second century than our inherited model. I would presumably use my Against Polycarp material here in this section - the hypomnemata would clearly be useful in demonstrating To Theodore's authenticity. Yet is this enough to make a bestseller? Is this enough to succeed? I don't really know. I think it all comes down to whether I can present a simple and straightforward argument for why people should believe that the 'Carpocratians' were somehow connected with the emerging 'great Church' of Rome.

I haven't been able to find this argument yet. The question is of course whether I will be able to come up with it in the next six months.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.