“So You Want to Write a Book” by Herman Baker

One of the absolute delights about working in the store is seeing Rich Baker almost daily (Rich is the Chairman of the Board for Baker). I learned early on that no matter what subject I was talking about Rich has a story to go with it. When he takes his daily walk through the story (something he affectionately calls his MBWA “management by walking around”) he stops and connects with each of us. And if you need help–he’ll be the first to jump in (just ask him how often we’ve put him on parking lot duty). I’ll give you one example. A few years ago I came in on a Saturday to work a book table. I was packing the van and had to drive over to Calvin College. Rich asked what I was doing and when I told him he said, “I know where that is. How ’bout I help you out?” He followed me over to Calvin, helped me unload the van, gave me a story or two about some of the books we were unloading and then headed back to the store. That’s just the kind of man he is. But, as nice as he is this post isn’t really about him but about his dad–our founder–Herman Baker.

During the remodel Rich had to move out of his spacious office and was relocated into a small cubicle. As he sifted through much of the materials in his office he came across a 1959 issue of a magazine called United Evangelical Action. The front cover features a picture of Wilbur Smith in his personal library (estimated at over 24,000 volumes). By the way when I was a student at Moody Bible Institute I stayed in Smith Hall which is named after Wilbur Smith (it is now a girl’s dorm). Inside this issue of the United Evangelical Action was an article by Herman Baker titled “So You Want to Write a Book.” This was the first thing I’ve ever read by Herman so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was very impressed. Not only was the article filled with great advice but it was fun to read. Now I see where the Baker’s get their sense of humor. Here are Herman’s key points.

1) Be sure your motivation is right. “Perhaps you get a pleasant feeling when you daydream and picture your name on the jacket and title page. Again, I tell you that this sensation soon disappears when the book you bring forth is stillborn, or when reviews in polite or not-so-polite words tell you that your book is a dud.”

2) Be sure the subject of your proposed book is worthwhile. “Yes, there are some good subjects which have been over worked for the present. Please, for our peace of mind, call a moratorium on books on peace of mind–unless you can come up with a new slant. Perhaps we could drop the subject of the millennium and tribulation for a bit until we can write books which say more than ‘I’m for it’ or ‘I’m agin’ it.'”

3) Be sure you are qualified to make a contribution. “Do not try your hand at a modern translation of the Bible unless you are a competent linguist. In fact, it may be a bit dangerous to write a commentary on the Scriptures unless you have some knowledge of the original, directly or indirectly. We had a manuscript on the Psalms offered to us, but the author slipped badly when he stated that David wrote the 119th Psalm with the help of 22 assistants, the first three being Aleph, Beth and Gimel.”

4) Be sure you can express yourself effectively through medium of the printed page. “There are many who have a golden tongue but a wooden pen.”

Then I came to Herman’s advice on “vanity publishers.” In this age when anyone can get anything published this was simply priceless (and remember this was 1959!).  He writes,

“In this connection it may be well to warn you against what are known as ‘vanity publishers.’ You will find their ads in almost every magazine or periodical. These firms will publish almost any book for a fee. The result generally is that the author is out several hundred dollars and has a roomful of his own books. These firms are known as ‘vanity’ publishers because they are established to satisfy a would-be author’s vanity when he finds it difficult or impossible to get his manuscript published elsewhere.”

The article ends in an uncharacteristic taste of reality you might never see in an article on this topic today. He ends,

“Are you still with me? If you have given up already as a result of this article, nothing is lost. You would have fallen by the wayside anyway. You can thank me for saving you time and effort. If you still want to write a book, there is hope that you may become a powerful and positive influence in the interest of evangelical Christianity. May God give you strength and wisdom. We are expecting great things from you.”

Below you can see the magazine cover (with Wilbur Smith) and the article. The entire article is well worth reading. (You should be able to click on the article to get a bigger picture.) Thank you Rich for sharing this wonderful article with me. If you find any more I’d love to see them!


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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2 Responses to “So You Want to Write a Book” by Herman Baker

  1. Chris Travis says:

    Great advice!


  2. joshmosey says:

    Reblogged this on http://joshmosey.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/380/ and commented:
    This is a post from my coworker, Louis McBride, featuring an article on publishing from 1959 written by the founder of Baker Book House, Herman Baker. I think it is a wonderful post.


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