Late last week, Hachette Book Group announced that Wendy Grisham was being let go, and that her imprint, Jericho Books, was going to be dramatically downsized. In the Christian publishing world, this is very big news. (Full disclosure: my agent, Kathy Helmers, pitched Jericho several book proposals from me; Jericho did not bid on any of them, and I ultimately signed with another publisher. I harbor no animus whatsoever, and Wendy and I remain friends.)
Jericho arrived on the publishing scene with a bang, paying significant advances to acquire big name authors like Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Philip Yancey, and Shane Hipps. Their first book to the make the New York Times bestseller list was Nadia’s Pastrix this fall.
Big New York publishing houses like Hachette have been snapping up evangelical publishers for some time now, as Christian books have one of the few bullish areas in publishing. Thomas Nelson and Zondervan are owned by NewsCorp, Waterbrook and Multnomah are owned by Penguin Random House, etc. You get the picture. The conglomeration in publishing is a reality.
With few evangelical houses left to eat up, mega-publishers looked to progressive Protestants. They buy books, right? For many years, HarperOne had virtually owned this space, with authors like Bart Ehrman, Marcus Borg, and Barbara Brown Taylor — and they’d recently gotten Rob Bell when he was disowned by Zondervan. Hachette launched Jericho out of Nashville, where they already run Faithwords. And Penguin Random House is now launching a progressive imprint called Convergent, numbering authors like Doug Pagitt and Matthew Vines, out of the Colorado Springs offices that also house Waterbrook.
Many of us have wondered about how much space there is in this market, and whether progressive titles will ever sell as well as evangelical books. Many were skeptical about Jericho’s aggressive play in the market — Convergent seems to be taking a more measured approach. HarperOne, of course, continues on the steady course that they’ve been on for a long time.
Little can be sussed out from the statements about Jericho Books. Is this the end of the line? Will Wendy be replaced? Can she take her imprint and authors to another publishing house? It seems unlikely to me that Jericho will continue without a replacement for Wendy at the helm.
On the personal side, my thoughts go out to Wendy and to my several friends who have book deals with Jericho — it can’t be fun to be writing a book for a publisher whose future is in doubt.