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The doctrine of the Fall and, consequently, the Atonement, are potentially Godthe biggest areas of incompatibility between belief in God and extraterrestrials. If one believes what the Bible teaches, that the human race is fallen and Jesus has died for our sins and been raised from the dead, then those beliefs have serious repercussions upon the possible nature of life in outer space.

God’s redemptive program, which is the over-arching narrative of Scripture, is set in motion because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Their fall not only damaged their relationship with God, but it set the entire earth out of whack. As a result, Satan is described as “the god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4) and “the whole creation groans” (Rom. 8:22 NKJV), subject to the blowback of Man’s rebellion. In this way, global catastrophes, disease and human suffering are often seen as the fruit of the Fall.

But how far did these dominoes tumble? Does Satan’s reign and the pollution of creation through sin extend to the Milky Way and beyond?

The answer to this question is important because it forces us toward one of two conclusions:  If extraterrestrials exist they are either fallen or unfallen, subject to the law of sin or not. (Of course, this assumes that they are moral beings infused with God’s image. If they are angels, animals, or vegetables, then our approach to them must be adjusted accordingly.)

This concept was explored by C.S. Lewis in his Space Trilogy, most notably the first and second books, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. In them, the fallen earth has been quarantined lest it pollute the rest of the cosmos. Thus, to the citizens of outer space, earth is the silent planet. Lewis conjectures that space travel only extends the arm of sin, and speculates what Man’s interaction with unfallen entities might look like. But even then, sin is not inherent in worlds outside of earth, only potentially polluted by encroaching humanity.

Some go so far as to suggest that the entire concept of Original Sin would need reworking if extraterrestrials were discovered. In the Scientific American interview with David Weintraub, the astronomer conjectures,

Let’s say you discover some aliens on some other planets and you decide that you should convert them to Christianity. A reasonable question should be why? If they live on planet Earth, they could be descendants of Adam and Eve but if they are Klingons living on planet whatever, they couldn’t suffer from original sin because they’re not descendants of Adam and Eve. Christianity would make no sense for these creatures, unless our understanding of original sin makes no sense.

While it follows that a race not descended from Adam and Eve may not require redemption, such a scenario would hardly dent the doctrine of original sin. Indeed, Weintraub appears to stray far from his field of expertise by concluding,

The idea of original sin may be recast not as sin that comes directly from a literal Garden of Eden and a literal Adam and Eve but that original sin somehow simply exists in the fabric of the universe.

Suggesting that original sin “simply exists in the fabric of the universe not only pivots away from historic Christian interpretation, but it forces numerous other implications. Like where did sin originate and where, exactly, does it reside? Jesus’ death on the cross assumes that the death of a Man was a necessary penalty for sin. But if Man is but the victim of a universal contagion, why is he held accountable and punishable? Interpretations like these, I believe, reveal an underlying motive in much of the speculation about evangelicals and extraterrestrials: It seeks to undermine and reinterpret Scripture. The bottom line: It is not necessary to tweak our conception of original sin to conjecture intelligent life outside of earth. Unless, of course, those beings are found to be sinners.

So while the Bible teaches that sin’s power is corrosive and far-reaching, it is unclear how life outside our planet might, if at all, be affected. Once again, we must construct our conclusions by inference.

Scripture plainly declares that the Atonement was a one time shot:

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (I Pet. 3:18 NIV, emphasis mine).

If this is true, it implies that Jesus cannot die multiple times, for multiple people groups — or extraterrestrial ones, for that matter. So once again we are left with limited options. If aliens exist, they are either

  1. Non-moral beings (animal, vegetable, mineral) outside the scope of redemption
  2. Unfallen moral beings not needing redemption, or
  3. Fallen beings whom Jesus died for, meaning they are awaiting The Gospel of Earth (i.e., the proclamation of Christ’s sacrificial death on the third rock from the sun).

There’s other biblical positions that provide more clarity to this issue.

Not only does Scripture teach that Man is unique in the cosmos, but that the fate of the entire universe revolves around Planet Earth. The apostle Peter described Christ’s Second Coming as the consummate cosmological event:

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” (II Pet. 3:10 NIV)

Furthermore, Christ’s return to earth and the final judgments of humankind herald the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth” (vs. 13). This Blue Planet is the theater of God’s power, love, and judgment; ultimately, the destiny of Man determines the Fate of the Universe and all life in it. In this light, extraterrestrial life appears somewhat inconsequential.

But what makes speculation about extraterrestrials so difficult for evangelicals is the message typically attached to them. Nowadays, most aliens are portrayed as conveying a humanistic, anti-Christian, even occult, message. (It’s no coincidence that Weintraub, in his SA interview, suggests that Buddhism and Mormonism are the two religions that would be most open to extraterrestrial life. Both Buddhism and Mormonism are considered far outside orthodox historic Christianity.) This is why, for believers, the authority of Scripture is central to this debate. The apostle Paul wrote:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8 NIV)

Yes, there are beings not of this earth who have a message for homo sapiens. But even more important than the nature of these extraterrestrial entities is the message they carry. As much as one would like a close encounter of the third kind, if that encounter involves the conveyance of “another gospel,” the Bible warns that it is not from God. Again, from my perspective, the proposition of “another gospel” is indeed the impetus behind much of this conjecture. At the least, many of those who speculate about the coexistence of evangelicals with extraterrestrials do so with the hope that the Christian Gospel will be found wanting. In other words, part of the hope that propels those to conjecture about alien existence is that, in such a discovery, the Bible will be debunked.

However, until there’s an actual discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life, the problem it creates for evangelicals is completely hypothetical. In fact, the longer we go without such a discovery, the more a biblical worldview is buttressed. Man, indeed, appears to be the crown of creation and Earth, the center of this cosmic theater.

In summary, then, belief in God — at least, the God of historic orthodoxy — is NOT incompatible with belief in extraterrestrials. The real issue is not whether one chooses to believe in alien life, but to what degree they allow the Bible to inform that belief. If Scripture is to be taken literally, believing in extraterrestrials is not as important as the type of aliens we believe in and the type of “gospel” they convey. In this sense, then, the real (potential) incompatibility is not between belief in God and extraterrestrials, but between the Bible’s assertions, and our own chosen beliefs.

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“The discovery of life beyond Earth would be a triumph for science but might wreak havoc on certain religions.”

Flammarian engravingThat’s the estimate of Scientific American’s recent article, Did Jesus Save the Klingons? The piece is based on the new book Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal with It? (Springer Praxis Books, 2014), by David Weintraub, Professor of Astronomy at Vanderbilt University. When asked “Which religion will have the toughest time reconciling aliens with its beliefs?” Weintraub responds:

The ones that have decided that we humans are the sole focus of God’s attention. The religions that see the world through that viewpoint tend to be some of the Christian evangelicals.

At this stage, asking how Christians would respond to the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life is like asking how scientists would respond to the discovery of intelligent evangelicals. From my perspective, discussions like these have one primary objective: to debunk or undermine Christianity. Why else would Christians always come out looking like Neanderthals?

For instance, in his article How Would Christianity Deal With Extraterrestrial Life? Mark Strauss suggests that

…Christianity, among other faiths, is the least resilient to the concept of extraterrestrial intelligence.

To illustrate this, Strauss quotes Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University. Davies believes that the potential challenge the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence to Christianity “is being downplayed” by religious leaders:

The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they’re in this horrible bind.

But until there’s an actual discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life, as opposed to the discovery of celestial algae or space slugs, the “horrible bind” created by evangelicals is completely hypothetical. It’s sort of like asking how scientists would deal with the discovery of Michael the Archangel. In fact, the longer we go expanding our understanding of the size of the universe and its habitable planets and NOT discovering a life form above that of an amoeba or a ground squirrel, the more a biblical worldview is buttressed.

Nevertheless, the question of evangelicals and extraterrestrials always seems to cycle around.

For example, in the summer of ’08, the Vatican issued a statement saying that belief in aliens doesn’t negate faith in God. Father Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible that there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

“How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Funes said. “Just as we consider earthly creatures as ‘a brother,’ and ‘sister,’ why should we not talk about an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? It would still be part of creation.”

In the interview by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Funes said such a notion “doesn’t contradict our faith” because extraterrestrials would also be God’s creatures. Ruling out their existence would be like “putting limits” on God’s creative freedom, he said.

Funes’ view was backed up by fellow Vatican Observatory astronomer and Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno in his essay Intelligent Life in the Universe?: Catholic Belief and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life, in which he writes

“The limitless universe might even include other planets with other beings created by that same loving God… The idea of there being other races and other intelligences is not contrary to traditional Christian thought. There is nothing in Holy Scripture that could confirm or contradict the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.”

Compound this with Pope Francis’ recent (and rather bizarre) statement that he would welcome martians being baptized and you get the sense that Galileo’s heliocentric heresy is a thing of the way distant past.

But as much as the Catholic church wants to open its arms to an ‘extraterrestrial brother,’ there’s legitimate reasons for Bible students to hedge.

On the one side of the spectrum are Christians who claim the Bible leaves no room for extraterrestrial life. Aliens, they assert, are New Age, atheistic constructs, designed to supplant God and undermine our theology. On the other hand are those who suggest the universe is a vast place, God’s wildly creative, and if E.T.’s real, he’s just one of God’s many creatures. So what gives? Is belief in God incompatible with belief in little green men?

This debate is important for several reasons. One is our continued infatuation with the idea of life in outer space. Whether it’s SETI projects or the proliferation of pop cultural noodlings about alien life (see Prometheus, Contact, Super 8, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Avatar, 2001 A Space Odyssey, etc.), the human race cannot seem to help but look to the skies.

But also at stake in this debate is the authority of Scripture. Imagine if Klaatu landed on the White House lawn, but along with his message of global peace, he said the Bible was a hoax, that God was a myth, and that Christians were a speed bump in the roadway of planetary evolution. As I said above, some advocates of extraterrestrial life cling to their beliefs in the hopes that a similar scenario will unfold; that a biblical worldview will, some day, be knocked back to the stone age by a more advanced civilization. Of course, allowing Scripture to inform our understanding could make evangelicals “the least resilient to the concept of extraterrestrial intelligence.” As a result, believers DO have much at stake in this discussion.

So is belief in God compatible with belief in extraterrestrial life? It’s a tough call to make because the Bible is relatively silent on the subject. As a result, both sides end up arguing from inference. What follows is a compilation of inferences that influence this discussion.

Scripture is clear that the universe is a vast, mysterious place, full of bizarre beings. Seraphim, cherubs, archangels, territorial spirits, principalities and powers, inhabit the dimensions around us. In fact, when the apostle John is caught up to heaven in the Book of the Revelations, he describes some of the most exotic beings in ancient literature — winged, glowing, snarling beasties that would make even George Lucas envious. So in this sense, the believer must concede a cosmos filled with outlandish, albeit inter-dimensional, creatures.

However, Scripture is also clear that humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation. Not only are we created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), but we are given authority over creation (Gen. 1:28). In fact, after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus claimed “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18), and on the basis of that “universal authority,” commissioned His disciples. So in this way, human beings are presented as a superior life form. God’s imprint separates us far above animals, and Christ’s authority empowers us in the cosmos.

For the Christian, this simple but most basic belief in the Nature of Man, has serious repercussions regarding the possible Nature of Extraterrestrials.
Since man is at the apex of creation, invested with supreme authority, Christians must then assume that extraterrestrials — if they exist — are either

  • Angels  (fallen or otherwise)
  • Animals  (living organisms NOT created in God’s image), or
  • Humans  (in the sense they share the imago dei)

“Any entity,”  said Consolmagno, the Vatican’s astronomer, “no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.” However, many tentacled entities exist on our own planet. And unless Consolmagno believes that squids and jellyfish have souls, we are forced to conclude that if extraterrestrial squids and jellyfish were discovered, they too might not. In that case,

  • If extraterrestrials are animals then they have no more moral impact upon us than a platypus or a pufferfish. Other than speculation regarding their place in the evolutionary food chain, humans are still above them.
  • If extraterrestrials are angels, then, Scripturally speaking, we must discern their Master and/or Message (i.e., are they fallen or unfallen?).
  • If space aliens are created in the image of God then we ARE indeed “brothers.”

What throws a monkey wrench into this last scenario (actually several monkey wrenches), is Adam’s blunder (the Fall) and the atoning work of Jesus Christ that occurred some 2,000 years ago on the third rock from the sun.

Continued…

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For the longest time, the Christian fiction industry seemed somewhat impervious to changes in publishing and the economy. For instance, back in June 2009, at the front-end of the recession, Christian Retailing reported:

Defying current sales trends, Christian fiction continues to grow, offering a bright spot for retailers, publishers and readers in a bleak economy.

But in 2014, reality appears to have finally caught up.

Take for example, Publishers Weekly reporting of the most recent ACFW conference which notes up front that

“…four publishers closed, paused, or slimmed down their fiction lists.”

The “slimming down” and “shrinkage” of front list titles is important for an industry with a limited number of big houses. But despite the “winnowing,” industry reps framed the changes in an opportunistic light:

A lot of the buzz this year was about “hybrid” authors, defined fluidly but generally meaning authors publishing via some mix of digital, indie, and traditional means. ACFW offered a session on the indie option. “The biggest challenge in ACFW is trying to serve indie members,” said Colleen Coble, novelist and CEO of the group, which has more than 2,600 members worldwide. “We still are going to be very focused on traditional publishing, but we don’t want to leave behind the indie writers.”

Although the number of fiction slots may be shrinking at traditional publishers, industry veterans saw plenty of opportunities, even if those opportunities look different in a changing business in which agents can be publishers and authors must be social media-savvy marketers. Major established fiction publishers aren’t pulling back, and there is room for the new, small, and nimble as digital becomes the accepted vehicle for risk management and author audition.

(A possibly interesting sidenote: PW appears to have changed its initial headline from “Christian Fiction Writers Meet Amid Shrinkage, Growth” — see Tweet below — to “Hybrid Publishing is Hot at Christian Fiction Conference,” the article’s current title. Feel free to speculate as to the reason for this change.)

A result of this “shrinkage” seems to have whittled the industry down to its core audience:

As the Christian retail channel continues to contract, general romance readers are an especially attractive market for Christian/inspirational publishers. HCCP has begun exhibiting at the RT Booklovers Convention, where Katherine Reay’s Dear Mr. Knightley, a debut novel that won two Carol Awards this year, gained readers and traction. Changes in the way Christian readers express their faith–toward greater engagement with the broader culture–have affected book content, Hutton noted. “A different demand is being placed on the books by the readership,” making them more attractive to general readers, she said.

From my perspective, this is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s fantastic to see Christian writers seeking “greater engagement with the broader culture.” In this case, that means crossing over into the general market. The downside, again from my perspective, is that “general romance readers are an especially attractive market for Christian/inspirational publishers.” So while market / industry changes are causing publishers to look more to the general market with more nuanced “book content,” general romance remains the go-to Christian genre.

As a hybrid author, it’s the industry’s changing stance on independent authors which fascinates me. The ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers, the world’s largest Christian writers association) recently made significant policy changes by allowing indie authors and publishers potential inclusion into their ranks (see THIS post on the ACFW website as they address policy changes). This coincides with mainstream publishers making “room for the new, small, and nimble as digital becomes the accepted vehicle for risk management and author audition.” Of course, it’s that caveat — “risk management and author audition” — that makes digital publishing through a mainstream house rather unattractive to many indies. Either way, it’s easy to see the Christian publishing industry and the ACFW’s renewed emphasis on indies as begrudgingly reactionary rather than forward thinking.

Whatever your perspective on all this, the changing economy, the morphing book business, and the “shrinkage” in the Christian fiction industry potentially provides a great opportunity for Christian indie authors. Not only is it good to see mainstream industry insiders finally making room for authors outside their approved circle, it concedes important ground to an elusive, but very important demographic: the Christian reader / writer who doesn’t like Christian fiction.

The affirmation of the “Christian indie author” is important for a number of reasons. Here’s five of them:

  • Christian indie authors potentially broaden the reach of Christian storytelling. If a goal of Christian publishing is to expand the harvest field, empower more Christian artists, and draw more readers to the Light, then having more Christian artists tilling the soil and sowing seeds is a good thing.
  • Christian indie authors force the industry to adapt. Like any industry, the Christian publishing industry can calcify and fossilize. Conceding ground to indie authors forces the industry to rethink its methods, values, systems, goals, and product.
  • Christian indie authors can broaden our conception of what Christian fiction is or can be. The mainstream Christian market, whether intentionally or unintentionally, reinforces a concept of what Christian fiction is. The indie author is not bound by the typical guidelines used to frame the culture’s concept of Christian fiction.
  • Christian indie authors are free to cull genres typically ignored and under-represented by Christian publishers. The predominance of certain genres in the Christian market — women’s fiction, Amish, romance, historical — have forced, or limited, the representation of other popular genres (like horror, crime, sci-fi, steampunk, literary, comedy, space opera, Western, epic fantasy, etc., etc.). The indie author, however, is not bound by such genre restrictions.
  • Christian indie authors can potentially reach audiences who don’t like Christian fiction. Mainstream Christian fiction appeals to, and is marketed to, a specific demographic of person. The indie author is free to attempt to reach people who would typically not buy Christian fiction or shop in Christian bookstores.

The changes in the Christian fiction industry potentially provide a great opportunity for Christian indie authors. Not only does it empower more authors, it enables us to potentially expand our conception of Christian storytelling and get it into places mainstream inspirational fiction would never tread. The indie and hybrid author could prove to be the most important thing that has happened to Christin fiction in a long time.

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The Hunger Games has spawned numerous copycat novels and revived the dystopian genre. But while the YA dystopian bubble is sure to eventually burst, humanity’s nagging belief in societal collapse and impending apocalypse remains alive and well.

Dystopian themes have been a part of our pop cultural landscape for a very long time. Stories about crumbling governments, pandemics, plagues, and looming apocalypses, whether made by man, alien, or artificial intelligence, cycle through or collective psyches with startling regularity. Whether it’s George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Blade Runner, Soylent Green, Mad Max, Terminator, Children of Men, or The Hunger Games, we seem instinctively drawn to stories about the worst possible End.

Of course, there’s a difference between shambling zombies, nuclear winters, biological fallout, tyranny, and alien invasions. Not all of these fall neatly into the category of dystopia. Nevertheless, all of them are tied to a view of the future that is bleak.

So why do we keep coming back to this particular view of the future? Why are dystopian themes so compelling? You’d think we’d want to focus on futures more rosy. I mean, what happened to our belief in utopia, the one where we’d cure cancer, stop nuclear war, stop fighting, and evolve? Frankly, it got T-boned by reality.

Utopianism is rooted in modernity — the belief that technology and human ingenuity can build a better world. Industrialization bolstered the utopian dream, leading us to believe we could harness the better angels of our nature, conquer disease, aging, poverty, etc. But it wasn’t long before reality sunk in. Several world wars, genocides, natural disasters, governmental collapses and overthrows, overcrowded jails and over-medicated masses, has deflated the notion that we are anywhere able to right the world’s wrongs. Much less, our own personal wrongs. There isn’t enough silicone on earth to keep us from sagging — both physically and morally. No amount of good deeds can stop the decay. And as long as a human walks the earth, dystopia is inevitable.

Sure, it sounds pessimistic. But it’s a fact. Manmade utopia is simply an oxymoron. As such, a dystopian future seems far more realistic than a utopian one.

Interestingly enough, our inclination to envision a dystopian future has roots in a very biblical worldview.

The Bible does not paint a rosy picture about the fate of mankind. Whether it’s Jesus warning about natural and cosmological catastrophes, plagues, and times of great deception, or the apostle John’s hellacious account of the end of the age, Scripture paints a picture of things getting worse before they get better.  Apparently, all our peace accords, technological advances, and therapeutic skills still land us in Armageddon. Far from Shangri la, we end up in an arena, pitted against God, nature and, each other. No amount of firepower or psychobabble can stave of these approaching hoofbeats.

The genre of dystopian books and films reinforces a vital biblical theme Man is broken. No amount of moral or technological “tweaks” can correct the malfunction that is Us.

In a way, our embrace of dystopia is both a rejection of utopia and the notion of inherent human goodness. History and personal experience have shown us, over and over again, that when left to his devices Man fails. No amount of drugs, diplomacy, technology, education, or entertainment can prevent collapse, both internal and external. Dystopia is an admission of depravity. We are the anti-Midas: Everything we touch rots. And the bigger our contribution, the more pervasive the decomposition.

In this sense, the dystopian trend is evidence of a creeping realization that we are broken and things will only get worse. So whether it’s Katniss against the Capitol, Logan running from Termination, 1984′s Thought Police, Blade Runner’s glitching replicants, or Wells’ Morlocks, something rings true about a screwed up future. Why? Just look in the mirror.

In this sense, the dystopian trend is a very good thing. It is an affirmation of a Christian worldview, one which admits that no earthly power can save us from ourselves. In popular culture, dystopia trumps utopia, not because we are inherent pessimists, but because some truths are too obvious to be fiction.

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I recently spent twelve bucks on a book that I discarded about 50 pages in. In my opinion, I felt the book was poorly written. Frankly, I suspected this going in. So why did I spend twelve dollars on a book I knew was probably poorly written? CONFESSION: Because it was enthusiastically endorsed by a well-known author. Yes, the premise sounded interesting. Yes, it’s in the genre I write in. But the primary reason I bought this poorly-written book was because it was endorsed by someone I respect.

I hate when that happens.

Unless you can get Stephen King or J.K. Rowling to blurb your book, chances are most endorsements matter little to sales. Call me a sucker, but in my case, this endorsement mattered. Which is probably why gathering endorsements remains par for the publishing course.

I’m in the final leg of publishing my next novel and because it is

  • My first full-length self-published novel (my previous self-pubbed projects were a novella and an anthology)
  • A change of genre (from dark fantasy, horror, and supernatural suspense to urban fantasy)
  • A change of audience (from religious to general market)

Thus I have felt the need to enlist other writers to assist me with the crossover. So I held my breath and contacted about a dozen authors, asking if they would be interested in considering writing an endorsement for my forthcoming novel. Aside from one individual who didn’t respond to my request, everyone was quite polite and gracious. Of course, some declined for various reasons — deadlines, mainly. At this stage I’ve received about a half-dozen genuinely positive blurbs. The rest are still pending. As my publication deadline approaches, I will debate whether or not to contact these authors to gently remind them about a possible endorsement. However, typically, I avoid such follow-up because I hate bugging busy people.

Asking for blurbs is one of the most uncomfortable realities of being a writer. It ranks somewhere between watching The View and having your fingernails pulled out with rusty pliers.

Before The Telling released, I determined to aim high for endorsers. Nothing but “big names.” I contacted a dozen high-profile authors, most of whom I’d had personal contact with, about blurbing the book. When the publication deadline was reached, I had approximately…

ZERO ENDORSEMENTS.

In all fairness, I haven’t met an author yet who isn’t REALLY BUSY. Between deadlines, marketing, social media, family, writing, and other authors bugging them for blurbs, the average author is seriously pressed for time. Which is why asking for endorsements feels like a serious intrusion and inconvenience upon another writer. Especially if that writer is more established than you. Either way, seeking endorsements for The Telling was quite a let-down for me. The publishers slapped on the endorsement from my previous novel — authors to which I’m incredibly grateful — and that was that. All that to say, gathering endorsements is a nasty affair.

The truth is, until authors are banging down your door to endorse you, getting blurbs for our books remains a necessary evil.

The longer you survive in the writing biz, the more chances you will asked to give an endorsement. I occasionaly have authors ask me for blurbs. In one sense, being asked endorse another author’s book kind of sucks. Don’t get me wrong, it is quite flattering that ones name would be considered a positive commodity. Furthermore, it’s good form to throw writerly love around, whether it’s in asking for or giving endorsements.

Bottom line: Being asked to endorse another writer’s book is a totally awesome problem to have.

The ugly part of this deal is being caught between wanting to be a “blurb whore,” endorse EVERYTHING, and only wanting to endorse books and authors I can GENUINELY get behind. (Here’s a dirty little secret: Sometimes authors endorse books out of friendship or career profitability, not because the book is really that great.)

There’s a downside to both these extremes:

  • The author who endorses EVERYTHING loses credibility, especially when books they endorse turn out to be not so good (like the anonymous author I mentioned above who coaxed me into buying a lousy book).
  • The author who only endorses books they GENUINELY like looks like a chap ass, a snobby elitist who lets taste interfere with friendship. (Note: Some authors completely avoid this quandary by making it their policy to never agree to endorse ANY books.)

So I had to contact a couple author friends recently and tell them I could not endorse their book. I felt like a total schmuck. I couldn’t offer an endorsement not because I didn’t like their books, but because I didn’t read them. I was just too swamped with my own projects. Perhaps I need to rethink my standards for endorsement. Do I really need to read a book in its entirety and enjoy it before I can attach my name to the title? Why not just endorse the book and stop being a jerk?

Anyway, I felt like a piece of garbage.

And when it comes to blurb etiquette, maybe that’s the first piece of advice I’d give to an author: When you ask an author for an endorsement, you are potentially putting them in a place to feel like a schmuck.

Respect that. Do you think they like saying “no” to you? Do you think you’re the only one whose career, reputation, and time is in the balance here?

Which is why it’s good policy when seeking endorsements to simply be polite. Use terms like, “Would you CONSIDER endorsing my latest novel…” or “IF time allows…” In other words, don’t act like a blurb is pending. Or, even worse, don’t act like your author friend owes it to you. And by all means, do not keep score. By that I mean, “So-and-so never gave me an endorsement so I’m never buying another one of their books.” Listen, don’t take it so personal.

Finally, when the potential endorser gets back to you and says they’re unable to endorse your book at this time, please — please — don’t pout. In fact, this is the time when bridges are strengthened and industry relationships are built.

Perhaps your response to NOT getting an endorsement may pave the way for future endorsements.

When said author says they can’t blurb you, write them back and thank them for considering. Don’t go sulking into the shadows. Don’t hang up and leave static. And don’t throw a pity party. Tell them you appreciate their time, you understand how busy everyone is, wish them luck on their current projects… and log the relationship. The worst thing you can do after an author informs you they can’t supply a blurb is to start sniping with them.

Instead, be gracious and thankful for the blurbs you do receive. If you haven’t received any yet, “Keep asking. Keep knocking. And keep seeking.” And when another author approaches YOU for an endorsement, you’ll have a richer appreciation for this ugly affair. And, trust me, endorsements are an ugly affair.

Either way, until authors come banging down my door begging to endorse me, I won’t be too shy about asking them. You shouldn’t be either.

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Review: “Renaissance” by Os Guinness

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Subtitled “The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times,” the prolific author, speaker, and social critic Os Guinness pulls no punches about the bleakness of the times we live in. In his latest book entitled Renaissance, writes that “…all civilizations, whatever their momentary grandeur, have an ultimate flimsiness that is paper thin and cannot […]

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Arthur Machen’s “Holy Terror”

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“Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen.” — -H.P. Lovecraft Props from H.P. Lovecraft, the icon of horror lit, definitely doesn’t suck. But only  recently has Arthur Machen begun receiving the acclaim he deserves. In 2011, Penguin Classics released […]

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Is “Poor” the New “Rich”?

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This info-graphic has recently been shared around on Facebook. The man pictured  is  Scott Neeson, former head of 20th Century Fox International. Neeson sold his mansion, Porsche, and yacht, and left Hollywood for Cambodia’s garbage dumps. There, he’s sought to provide food, shelter and education to destitute children. The former studio exec now cares for […]

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Colin Cowherd on Race in Sports

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In sports, it is NOT racist to say “White men can’t jump.” But it IS racist to say “Black men can.” Why? I’m pretty much burned out on the topic of race in America. Chalk it up to my European ancestry. Then again, it’s possible that the topic is so overdone and so laden with […]

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Does Your Writing Style Match Your Personality Type?

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It is commonly recognized that a child’s personality type affects their learning. Some kids are more conceptual learners while others are more visual learners, meaning some can handle text books while others need hands-on. Which creates a problem because our public education system tends to approach all kids the same, giving them little freedom to […]

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How to Determine If Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 (More) Quick Questions

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Is your religious liberty at risk? The answer to that question depends on the kind of “religious liberty” you hope to exercise. If your “religious liberty” involves support for abortion rights, denunciation of capitalism, removal of creation science or Intelligent Design from public schools, sympathy for terrorists, LGBT issues, animal rights, doctor assisted suicide, militant […]

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“Check Your Privilege” (Bible Edition) — Pt. 1

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Other than vague, rather generic calls to “repent,” “confess,” and “humbly listen,” there appears to be few concrete solutions offered to evangelicalism’s perceived problem of “white privilege.” Of course, calls to “repent,” “confess,” and “humbly listen,” are very much biblical! But in the aftermath of incidents like the recent tragedy in Ferguson, those calls appear […]

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