Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Karen Ball ~ Guest Blogger

Karen Ball is currently the Senior Acquisitions Editor for B&H Publishing Group. She learned her craft while heading up fiction for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, and Zondervan. Karen is also an award-winning author. Next to working with words, Karen's greatest joys are playing with her dogs, laughing, savoring nature and wildlife, and finding wonder in everyday life.

Publishing: The Rumors of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I was sitting on a plane the other day (something I do far more often than I'd like...14 trips this year! Yikes!), and a young man next to me asked me what I do. I'm always a bit hesitant to answer that, because, almost always, the response to "I work in publishing" is, "Wow. I've always wanted to write a book!" The ensuing conversation then centers on how I can help that person accomplish that goal. Still, he asked, so I answered, steeling myself for the inevitable response.

"Cool. So do you think publishing's going to survive?"

I sat up in my seat and grinned. This was going to be fun. "What do you think?"

"Well, people have less money to spend. That's for sure. And books are luxury items, right?"

I leaned back. "Let me ask you this. Why do you think people read books?"

Now he was grinning. " be entertained. And educated."

I waited. His grin broadened.

"To escape. You know, go places they can't go in person."

I angled a look at him. "Anything else?"

He pursed his lips and deep thoughts furrowed his brows until he finally shrugged. "Not that I can think of off the top of my head."

Fibro was making my hip ache by then, but I didn't really care. I just walked my feet up the wall in front of me (the main reason I always try to sit in the bulkhead), and nodded. "Let me tell you a story." And I did. Told him about a woman who loved her mother with a depth and devotion that never faltered. Who counted both her parents among the rarest and greatest gifts God had given her. Then her mother developed diabetes.

"Ah." He leaned back against the window, watching me. "My grandmother has diabetes."

"It's a terrible disease."

The look in his eyes told me he understood. Far better than he'd ever wanted to. "Absolutely."

The story continued to unfold as I related how the mother's diabetes worsened and finally became life threatening. How this woman did everything she could to help her mother, including moving herself and her hubby across the states to live with her parents. How she went with her mother to doctors' visits and, ultimately, the hospital. How her mother was scheduled for heart surgery that was supposed to give her a new lease on life, and instead left her weak and unable to come home. How her mother ended up in a nursing home for rehab. How rehab didn't work. How the battle to save her mother's life ended three months later when she, her father, and one of her brothers watched as the ICU nurse turned off the oxygen. Together she and her family wept, sang the songs her mother, and watched as the most precious woman God had used to grace their lives slipped the bonds of earth and entered eternity.

The young man's face was damp. Only fair, since mine was soaked with the tears I hadn't been able to restrain.

"She was your mom."

A simple statement of fact. I turned to him. "After she died, guess where I went to find help."

There was gentleness in his features, his tone. "The bookstore."

"I needed to know others had experienced this depth of despair and survived. I needed to know--"

"--that you weren't alone." As though to affirm those words, several loud dings sounded. We were about to begin our descent into the airport. He shifted, securing his seatbelt, stowing his table, making sure his seat was in the full and upright position. We rested in a cocoon of silence for a few moments, then he nodded. "Publishing will make it."

I held back a smile. "Oh?"

His arched brow told me he knew I was being coy. "We need books. They let us know we're not alone. They comfort us and encourage us. They're--"

"--our friends." Now I was finishing his thought, and we both grinned.

He nodded. "Exactly."

I liked this young man. Felt honored to have shared these hours with him. "You know what I've seen, lo these 51 years, 26 of which I've spent in publishing?"

"What's that?"

"When things grow dark, when people are caught in fear and despair, they turn to reading for relief. For help. For guidance. Even for a momentary escape. Books will go on. They'll always be there, in one format or another, to carry us through."

The plane bounced and shimmied as the wheels hit the ground. Once the flight attendant finished her welcome to our destination, my seat companion drew in a satisfied breath. "That's a good thing." Another smile. "In fact, it's a very good thing."

Again, the plane seemed to sing its agreement with a series of dings, letting us know we could gather our things. We stood, pulled our sundry items from the bins, and shifted into the line waiting to exit.


I looked over my shoulder. "Yes?"

"Thanks. For talking. And keep doing what you're doing, okay? It matters."

"Tell you what, I'll keep doing what I'm doing if you keep reading and thinking and sharing your wonderful insights with people." The line started forward. "Deal?"

A hand rested for a moment on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "You got it."

Once in the terminal, he tossed me a wave and went on his way, leaving me the richer for that encounter--and more determined than ever to do my part to keep publishing on track and strong. Because here's the truth, folks: Publishing will survive. And thrive. Because people write from their hearts, share from the soul, and speak Truth into the void. As long as writers write, readers read, and God chooses to use books to change lives, publishing will be just fine. It may change, it may even falter from time to time, but it will survive.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing.

What Lies Within - #3 Family Honor Series

Nothing’s going to stop Kyla…until the ground crumbles beneath her feet.

Kyla Justice has arrived. Her company, Justice Construction, is one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful companies in the Pacific Northwest. And yet, something is missing. Not until she’s called on to build a center for inner-city kids does she realize what it is: her sense of purpose. Now nothing can stop her, not the low budget, not supply problems, not gang opposition, not her boyfriend’s suggestion that she sell her business and marry him–and most especially not that disagreeable Rafael Murphy.

Rafe Murphy understands battle. Wounded in action, this Force Recon Marine carries the scars–and the nightmares–to prove it. Though he can’t fight overseas any longer, he’s found his place as a warrior in the civilian world. So he soldiers on, trusting that one of these days, God will reveal to him why Rafe survived the ambush in Iraq. That day has arrived.

Kyla and Rafe both discover that determination alone won’t carry them through danger and challenges. When gang violence threatens their very foundations, there’s only one way to survive: rely on each other, be real–and surrender to God. In other words, risk everything…


kc said...

Fantastic post. I've had similar thoughts about publishing in light of the economy. I agree that many people turn to reading for the reasons stated (I have six books on my coffee table and dresser just waiting to be read.) But I'm concerned we're not raising a generation of readers. Despite all our efforts, my youngest daughter refuses to pick up a book because reading takes too much time. Several other young adults that I know can barely read so they don't bother. How can we convince them to experience the acceptable voyeurism reading provides?

I also wonder what will happen to publishing in light of technology such as Kindle and the Sony Reader. Tres Trek! Even I, the one who loves the feel of the open binder in my hand can't resist this concept and in a sense, I hate that. Walking into a Radio Shack and perusing the readers isn't the same as walking into a bookstore and lovingly leafing through pages of characters lives.

Press on, Ms. Ball. I, too, appreciate your efforts.

Ane Mulligan said...

Great post, Karen!

KC, I think one day, actual books will be relics in museums, should the Lord tary, however until that time, I prefer to hold a book in my hand, too. But writing and publishing will continue, and I think there will always be those who love to escape into a good story. However they may read it.

I love audio books when I have to drive a long distance, I love audio books. It makes the drive fly by. :)

Krista Phillips said...

Great sentiment! I agree, books will go on, publishing will go on. That doesn't mean it won't change... and that some publishing houses won't fail... but this too shall pass and the strong, well managed companies will gain market share and come out stronger when it's over.

Ohhh, Ann, I just dove into the whole audio book thing! I have a 30 minute drive to work and back each day, and I realized I could use that time for 'reading' if listened to audio tapes! I found a few at a garage sale for a couple bucks, and am now enjoying my rides much better! Oh, and you can't skim audio books, which I tend to do when I read. That's a plus to!

Krista Phillips said...

Ack, sorry, ANE not ANN.

*slap on wrist*

Gina Holmes said...

Great post, Karen. I read more in a failing economy because it is escapism from bleakness, because it's a cheap week or two's worth of entertainment and for the reasons you've mentioned.

Thanks for the reminder. Great story. So glad to have you on!

msfields said...

What a fantastic story! Thanks so much for sharing. I teach Developmental Writing, so there are days when I despair over how little young people read these days. This fall, though, I've been impressed by the number of girls I've seen with the Twilight series. My work study student, who started off the semester claiming she hated to read, has made it to the final book in the series. After seeing the movie three times last weekend, she looked at me Monday and said, "Books are better than movies, aren't they? I've always thought that people were crazy when they said that, but it's true."

I just beamed from ear to ear.

Bonnie Grove said...

We need to share our stories. Books are a good way of doing that, and we are always finding new ways to share.

I think the deepening finacial issues will send people to books and stories, just as it did in the 1930's when so many people could only afford to stay home and do something inexpensive - like read. Many established genres came out of that time - the 1930's. So many readers connected with books and began to tell the marketplace what sort of books they wanted to read. It was a boon for publishing.

Publishing will survive - but there is no doubt it will morph and change with the changing culture. And that's not a bad thing.

C.J. Darlington said...

What a wonderful way to share your point--through a story.

Nicole said...

Karen . . . too cool for school. Awesome.

Dineen A. Miller said...

Karen, you are a true storyteller and such an inspiration. Every encounter with you is always a pleasure and a learning experience. God bless.

Elizabeth M Thompson said...

Karen, you blessed me today! Thanks! There is so much doom and gloom and bad news, it is refreshing to hear publishing sing out in a strong voice, "I will survive!"

christa said...

So glad the young man on the plane was sitting next to you. Thanks for sharing this.

Kelly Klepfer said...

That's a well told and encouraging story, Karen.

Thanks, Ladies.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Wow--I'm almost crying. What a powerful post! Thanks for the story, Karen. And for believing in what you do and in what we writers do.

Karen B. said...

Thanks, all, for your kind words. I was so encouraged by the encounter and am delighted I was able to share it with you!

Be blessed this wondrous season.


Lenore Buth at said...


Thanks SO much! I'm tired of the doom and gloom talk, and your post refreshes my heart.

I agree with everything you say. All my life books have been my teachers, my comforters, my friends. No technical wonder ever replaces, at least for me, the feel of a book in my hands.

Loved the way you made your point and how you touched that young man's heart. I remember hearing you and talking with you at the Oregon Christian Writers summer conference a few years ago, so I can picture you smiling warmly as you told your story.

I rejoice that you're committed to staying in the Christian publishing world, my friend! God bless you as you touch lives everywhere you go.

Pammer said...

Great post Karen. I lost my job earlier this year before the economy took a dip, but guess what? I still buy books. I buy them new, usually because I know this helps the author's sales figures as well as the bookstores (I frequent Christian ones.)

Thanks for sharing that story.

CHickey said...

An inspiring post! Thank you.

Lisa Buffaloe said...

Thank you, Karen. You've renewed my passion. Thank you.

tinaannforkner said...

Thank you, Karen! What a great reflection and a wonderful point. It's good to be reminded that God is in control of what happens with our story. People need books!

P.S. I can't believe you are in your fifties. You don't look it!

Bonnie Leon said...

Thank you, Karen, for sharing this experience and for your wonderful insights. I love optimistic people, they remind us God can do anything and that He's always around. :-)

Love ya,


Gina C said...

Wow! I'm moved and encouraged...and practically speechless. Your post is a wonderful example of the power of storytelling.