This opinion piece is by Karen E. Yates, who works as an editorial patron for @YatesandYates, a leading Christian literary agency representing Christian communicators in publishing and media ministries.
On an ordinary evening in 2010, I sat in my pajamas in front of a muted television reading the blog of then 19-year-old Katie Davis. Every word of her story captured me. How and why would a young, privileged homecoming queen from Nashville move to the middle of Uganda, adopt 13 children and start an organization that fed hundreds of starving children? I sent the link to my husband, a Christian literary agent, with a note, “You MUST read this and she MUST write a book.”
And she did write a book. “Kisses from Katie,” published in the fall of 2011 by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, spent 35 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and has sold roughly 350,000 copies to date.
Not too long ago we lived in an era in Christian publishing where a woman like Katie Davis would have never had the opportunity to publish a book. My father-in-law, Sealy Yates, the first literary agent in the Christian publishing world, represented publishers and served as the general counsel to the Evangelical Christian Publisher’s Association in the 1970s.
“Publishers needed content, so they would go looking for pastors, for dynamic preachers, who were good at drawing a crowd, and invite them to write a book,” he said. Because few women were pastors back then, and fewer still were recognized as dynamic Bible teachers able to attract an audience, women were slow to break into Christian publishing. And yet today, 11 of 20 of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association top 20 non-fiction books for May 2015 were written by women.
Before blogs and social media, popular female Bible teachers didn’t get their start in publishing right away. Kay Arthur, Bible teacher and co-founder of Precept Ministries International, didn’t publish her first book, “Lord Teach Me To Pray in 28 Days,” until 1995, about two decades after Christian trade books entered the scene and over two decades after beginning her teaching ministry.
Joyce Meyer, a charismatic Bible teacher and televangelist, wrote her first book “Beauty for Ashes” in 1994, nine years after she began her public radio ministry “Life in the Word.” And respected speaker and Bible teacher Beth Moore published her first trade book “A Heart Like His” in August of 1999.
Today, however, women are making headway faster than ever. Between word-of-mouth marketing, the chatter of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and a female-dominated online retail space, Christian women are breaking through barriers. With online aggregate sites like Her.meneutics, (In)Courage, Sojourners, and Patheos, female Christian thought-leaders are conveniently and openly speaking into the wider Christian conversation on topics ranging from theology to doctrine to Church subculture — a privilege they did not have just decades ago.
Women are able to share their teaching and testimony without being confined by the four walls of a church building, without bumping up against theological debates over the role of women in the church. My 10-year-old daughter sees a slew of Christian female role models in evangelicalism who are gifted not only in hospitality, mercy and service, but also teaching, preaching, administrating and prophecy, something I could never experience when I was a child.
We cannot go so far as to say the pulpit has lost its influence in Christian publishing. But there is no denying that book agents and publishers look to social media as a new sort of lectern. Nearly every day an aspiring writer pulls me aside and wants to know how they can get a book published. It’s not rocket science, I say. It just takes a lot of work and a little bit of luck. Because in today’s publishing industry, there is no Greek or Jew, male or female, slave or free. Anyone can press “publish,” build an audience, and be discovered.
A talented communicator like Katie Davis, living in Uganda, 7,700 miles from her hometown, can find herself a New York Times bestselling author at the age of 21.
A poetic creative like Ann Voskamp, author of “One Thousand Gifts” and a homeschooling mother of six can publish posts from her farm in Canada and go on to sell over 1 million copies of her first book.
Kara Tippets, a 38-year-old mother of four with stage 4 breast cancer, can invite thousands of readers into her life and graceful death through her blog, and later write her first book, “The Hardest Peace,” recently named an ECPA 2015 Christian Book Award winner.
Women today are publishing at an incredible rate without the title of pastor, without a seminary degree and without a traditional pulpit. Some might call it a little Martin Luther-esque; we’ve decentralized the power of Christian publishing from the pulpit to the common man and woman.