Though I haven’t said much about the project to this point, I’m thrilled and somewhat nervous to have it out in the reading public. I think it’s better written than my last one, more accessible, and–well, it’s on a subject that I am deeply committed to and have been for the past fifteen years of my life.
When I set out to write it, I placed on myself what appears in retrospect to be an unreasonable challenge: I wanted the book to be so well written, so well done, that it would “sell itself.” My inner logic was that if the words themselves didn’t move people to tell others, then no marketing technique or “platform” could save them. And even more damningly, such words wouldn’t be worth saving. I wanted the words themselves to be of the sort that might endure to eternal life and the process of writing to be an act of faith, a sign between me and God of my faith in him and in the calling I had once discerned to say things in public.
None of that was particularly reasonable, as my writer-friends reminded me. We should eat, drink, be merry, and let the words flow as they come to us while we tarry beneath the shadow of death. An obsession over creating words that endure can be just as much a denial of sovereignty as entrusting ourselves to the power of savvy marketing. And the actual book itself destroyed any pretentions of greatness: it is a better book than my last one, of that I have no doubt. And some of the people who have read it have told me that they found it personally helpful, a commendation that I take to heart. But if you want great prose, well, there are better bits in Lewis’s diaries before he became a Christian then there are in nearly any living writers‘. We shan’t see the likes of him for a long, long time.
Words, of course, have never sold themselves. That is a romanticized fiction, necessary perhaps to motivate the act of writing, but impossible when actually facing the release of a book. Writers need help. We need people to tell others about our words and commend them. We need gratitude for those who do read, and the courage to ask those we admire to read them as well. We need the people we write for to care enough about the words to pass them along to others, which means the words must be worth caring about.
Finding those people, though, and helping those people find the book is fraught with danger, as doing anything at all will be. The possibility for writers turning into narcisstistic monsters obsessed with sales opportunities is one that is well-known, as is the reduction of the author-reader relationship into the author-centric concepts of “tribes” and “platforms.” Authors have even been known to turn to a trumped up controversy: Dorothy Sayers once anonymously skewered her own book in order to generate interest in it, a strategy that I have been sometimes tempted to undertake.
Against this: faith and works, lots of hard work, and talking with people and writing and trying to explain what I meant and didn’t mean, and lots of saying “thanks.” I live now on gratitude and celebration for a work that is (finally!) coming into light. That gratitude can not only be extended toward those who helped the production happen, but those who will risk their money to buy it, especially those who will make that risk without a long list of Amazon reviews to guide their way. That gratitude extends toward those early readers of Mere-O, some of whom are with us still. That gratitude extends to a publisher who, despite my last book not exactly being a blockbuster still decided to take a chance.
And the celebration, that too should happen. I am glad this book has made it. I plan on throwing myself a party, to which I would invite you if we lived in the same country, but seeing as we don’t I’ll keep it a private affair. For the moment, though, I will extend my joy as I have always done around the internet world: by pointing you to a few words I wrote elsewhere on a question that matters.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.