March 20, 2012
"Its Author Claims No Special Importance for It."
“It is with many misgivings that this little volume is committed to the press. Its author claims no special importance for it. It does not pretend to be a complete and connected history of our Church, either in the period of which it treats, or in the territory to which it relates. He is fully aware of its fragmentary and imperfect character, and of the very limited interest that will be taken in its pages. His excuse for offering it to the public, already surfeited with books, is the fact that its publication has been insistently urged by judicious friends, who have some knowledge of its character.”
So goes the preface of a book published over one hundred years ago, in 1904.
The language and self-effacing posture of the author bespeak a bygone era, both in the broader culture and in publishing. No special importance? Incomplete and disconnected? Fragmentary and imperfect? Limited interest? Brother, let me tell you something: You’re not helping me get your book through our publishing committee! You’ve got something to say. Put it out there with pride! Tell me where your passions are. What’s your platform? I’ve got to put together some sales projections if I’m ever going to get this thing through.
But this would be showing disrespect to my elders. And perhaps my cultural obtuseness. The author was my great-great-grandfather, The Rev. James Graham, D.D., in the preface to his book, The Planting of the Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia Prior to the Organization of Winchester Presbytery, December 4, 1794. It was published by The Geo. F. Norton Publishing Co. of Winchester, Virginia, Graham’s hometown for over half a century. As far as my cursory search concludes, they published books of local interest. So the market was well known to the publisher and it was one he knew how to reach. There were probably enough Presbyterians in the region who would want this book, written by a man who had ample local platform, having pastored a Presbyterian church in Winchester for over fifty years.
One hundred years ago, New York publishers trying to reach a national audience, would be asking many of the same questions a publisher would ask today. But here was a book aimed at readers in a specific region with specific interests, and it would be served by a publisher who knew the audience and had established sales channels for reaching it.
All that I know of him encourages me to take Graham’s self-effacing demeanor to be genuine. But he was also writing to an audience who expected it of him and knew how to read it.
Consider too his dedication:
Imagine that. More than half a century of harmonious fellowship in a presbytery, over a period that included the period of The War of Northern Aggression. And he, a Yankee, who having married into a Southern family of proud lineage, pastored in a town that changed hands between Confederate and Union armies as many as seventy-two times. I’m sure he could tell stories. How did the underside of those labors and trials look, huh? But looking back he views with affection all the fellowship, kindness and cheer of his parish.
This is the power of local platform. That book will sell. Locally. And in some theological libraries. Today I might be tempted to tell him, “You know what, you might think about publishing it with Amazon to make it more broadly accessible.” (I’d warn him not to expect too much. But that’s grist for another blog on another day.)