Publishing History

Writers as Students of History

Anyone reading my posts on this agency blog will get a sense of my opinion and perspective on the publishing life. Of the fifty or so blog posts I write each year, many connect something in publishing to a historical event or attempt to draw some sort of application or conclusion from the books which were selling at some point in the past.

To be honest, I don’t know how anyone can understand anything without knowing from whence it came. How could I grasp the publishing industry today without some knowledge of what it was before?

I can’t imagine what it would be like to process national and international news every day without some perspective on history. Here’s a little history lesson which will help you understand the world in which we live:

History Lesson #1 – Racial issues in the United States have been divisive for 200+ years. Like all evils, it dates back to the garden…Eden that is.

History Lesson #2 – Tensions between Israel and other people groups in the Middle East go way back. Way, way back.

History Lesson #3 –China was a unified country for over fifteen centuries before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. To think the Chinese won’t take the long view on an issue is rather foolish.

History drives just about everything in book publishing as well. Publishers make decisions about publishing future books based on a historical perspective.

What worked in the past?

Much of the mystery surrounding publishing for aspiring or experienced authors could probably be traced to a lack of historical understanding about the industry.

But today, I am not talking about the industry, but the aspiring author who would like to be considered a professional writer.

Writers need to be students of history. And not just authors of history books or biographies.

Can you imagine working as a journalist in a certain town’s media and having no idea of the town’s history? You would be laughed out of the county.

Most topics found in non-fiction or fiction require some knowledge of history. It could be argued all authors should have substantial knowledge of history.

Context is important, especially for writers of books with Christian themes.

One cannot write about much from Scripture without some knowledge of the historical context of the passage. Few passages can be effectively understood or applied without it.

Writers of historical fiction would have three hundred blank pages if they didn’t thoroughly research the timeframe encompassed by their book.

If you write with the US Civil War as background and have never walked an actual battlefield, you are walking on literal thin ice.

In addition, non-fiction books on marriage or parenting would be less interesting and helpful for the reader if the author had no understanding how family and relationship dynamics have evolved over the decades or how God originally intended them. That’s history.

How can you write about culture without knowledge of how it changed?

Studying not only political history, but voting rights, civil rights, labor laws…or whatever field is best suited to your message will better illuminate your work. Be an expert other people can call on.

How can you suggest a new path for a church leader if you didn’t understand where previous paths led?

The best news about history is it is accessible to everyone. You don’t need to go back to school or invest a lot of money in learning about it.  If you didn’t give much attention to it in high school, don’t worry, it’s never too late to pick it up.

But it will take time.

Can you recall learning something new about a certain topic and getting excited about discovering an entirely different perspective on life? That’s what learning about history can do.

Historical context in any type of writing is a magic ingredient which not only enhances a story or point to be made, but energizes the reader to keep reading as their eyes are opened and perspective expanded.


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