I’ve mentioned Chip Macgregor’s blog on the site before. He’s a sought-after agent in the publishing world. Recently someone asked him: “What did you think about the quality of writing in The Shack? It’s become a phenomenon, selling more than a million copies, but I heard the author had to self-publish because it was ‘too Christian for the general market publishers, and too edgy for the Christian publishers.’ True?”
I don’t know why everyone rejected The Shack, but I can tell you that I’ve talked with a few editors who will openly admit they turned it down because they felt the writing wasn’t up to par. There’s been a rumor floating that CBA houses were scared off by the story (or the notion of God being in the form of an African-American woman), but I’ve yet to talk to the publisher who agrees with that scenario. The fact is, the author showed it around, couldn’t find a taker, so he self-published some copies. It started to grow via word of mouth, he printed some more, advertised on “The Ooze,” and eventually it took off. Recently the authors sold the package to Hachette.
We live in a world of spiritually hungry people, and The Shack speaks to that need. So while I found the story interesting, I thought much of the writing was weak. In fact, I might very well have rejected it had it come across my desk (and since I had a computer die, I admit that I don’t have a record of having done so, though I’ve talked with plenty of agents who claim to have rejected it). Of course, I take no pleasure in saying that. I’d have loved to have represented a million-seller. It proves, once again, that this is an art as much as a science. I’m not sure I agree with those in the industry who seem to think this proves that people have bad taste — the fact is, there are numerous writers who have done well with novels the literati look down on (J.K. Rowling and Jerry B Jenkins are two recent examples). Perhaps we sometimes want to impose rules onto novels unnecessarily. My guess is that the author of The Shack, Paul Young, hears the criticism of academics, then cries all the way to the bank.
I agree with Chip that the writing was a bit weak. I thought the same thing as I read through the book earlier this year. Interesting to hear that it might have been more of a factor as to why it was not originally published than the “too Christian for ABA, to edgy for CBA” reason.
That said, I still enjoyed the book a lot. It challenged a lot of the notions that I have of God, mostly in good ways. Is there some sketchy theology in there? Yeah, I think there is. (for a comprehensive breakdown of the theology of the book, check out Tim Challies review). But on the whole, I was glad I read it.
Have you read it? If so, join the conversation and share your thoughts on the book…