This past week, I had the pleasure and opportunity to speak at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, which is one of the premier conferences for writers and authors focused on the Christian market. It was my first time there, but it was a very good conference. There were a number of informative seminars and the closing banquet and awards ceremony were broadcast over the internet. In the afternoon, I offered a seminar on Four Paths to Publishing which has become a very popular session at conferences this year. The free white paper on the topic is available for download here.
I also had the privilege of giving the closing address at the conference. I titled my remarks, The Second Gutenberg Effect: How self-publishing is creating exciting new opportunities for Christian authors. I based my premise on some information I uncovered about Gutenberg and his personal views about his Christian faith and his role in helping spread the Christian message. Even if this is not a market you are focused on, I think you may find my statements helpful. I received a significant number of positive comments from people at the conference right after the banquet and even the next morning. What follows is largely the text of what I presented.
I would suggest in time, the effect of self publishing will be as profound and potentially far reaching as the effect of Gutenberg’s invention.
The Second Gutenberg Effect
A few years ago, the editors of Time magazine published an issue ranking what they believed to be the most significant events of modern history. The list was not that surprising. The invention of the automobile was near the top. So was putting a man on the moon. But according to Time, the most important event in recent centuries was the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg.
That is not that surprising, when you consider Gutenberg’s invention helped fuel some of the most significant social and cultural changes including the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. According to one historian, it also orchestrated the creation of the “middle class,” as the free flow of information between common men and women gave power to the people and struck a fatal blow to the absolute rule of the elite. Gutenberg probably didn’t recognize it at the time but his invention would, either directly or indirectly, play a role in dismantling empires and empowering common people. But we know that was not his primary concern.
Instead, he was driven by a mission that was far simpler but had eternal consequences. Johann Gutenberg wanted to make the message of God available to everyone and, in so doing, share the good news of Christ with people all over the world. Gutenberg stated his mission with these words.
God suffers in the multitude of souls whom His holy word cannot reach. Religious truth is imprisoned in a small number of manuscript books, which confine, instead of spreading the public treasure. Let us break the seal which seals up holy things, and give wings to truth, in order that she may go and win every soul that comes into this world, by her word, no longer written at great expense by a hand easily palsied, but multiplied like a wind by an untiring machine.
Gutenberg also saw his invention as more than just technology, but actually as an instrument in the hand of God. He made this statement in reference to his press.
Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall soon flow, in inexhaustible streams, the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men! Through it, God will spread His word. A spring of pure truth shall flow from it; like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst men.
Most know that the first book ever produced on his press was the Bible, but authors of all backgrounds took advantage of this new-found freedom. Mystics, Theologians, Hymn writers all published their work to help spread the message. Some impacted hundreds. Some thousands and some like Luther, and Calvin and Zwingli and Wycliffe left legacies in print that have edified and exhorted the church for ages.
The effect of Gutenberg’s press was profound and far-reaching both for culture and the church, but not much changed in publishing for nearly 500 years.
Then around 1998 three technologies emerged at the same time to create another unprecedented opportunity for authors called self publishing.
Together, Desktop publishing, digital printing and the internet as a distribution channel made it possible for authors to produce and distribute books without working through a traditional publisher if they chose.
And much like Gutenberg’s first press, this latest development has become disruptive and controversial, but it has also created new and exciting opportunities for authors. And I would suggest in time, the effect of self publishing will be as profound and potentially far-reaching as the effect of Gutenberg’s invention.
Both for culture and the church–because now stories and sermons, bible studies and personal testimonies and biographies that would not –or could not– be published before can now be shared with readers to edify and exhort, instruct and inspire.
As before some of these books may only impact a few, others thousands and still others may become the print legacies of this generation. Only time will tell.
But there has never been a better time to be an author because there are a number of different ways to publish these days. These choices can make it exciting and confusing at the same time, but the opportunity for authors to impact others with their writing has never been greater. So no matter which publishing path you chose, I want to encourage you to not neglect the opportunity to get your book into the hands of readers because you never know what could happen.
In my next post I am going to provide some examples of how this 2nd Gutenberg Effect is actually happening with authors, including something cool that has happened with one of my own books.