What’s Up at Jericho Books?

What’s Up at Jericho Books? December 9, 2013


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.

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  • Jeremy Ritch

    That is a bummer if they go away because few Christian publishers are doing anything worthwhile. I had a publisher for my first book and financial issues cause them to not be able to release it so I ended up with my manuscript back after a year and had to release it myself. I gave up looking for Christian publishers and then gave up writing Christian books. I write poetry now and actually by some miraculous event got a deal so anything is possible.

  • With few evangelical houses left to eat up

    That image reminds me of the opening line in Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve:

    “It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”

  • Digger

    My latest trip to the book store has revealed a startling truth. Nearly every book in the “christian” section is written by a false teacher. And no need to throw politics into the mix. The false teachers come in a variety of colors. You’ve got your “I’ve been to Heaven and survived” books, you’ve got your Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyers, all selling 15, 20, 25 books each, all preaching prosperity gospels and varied other false doctrines; you’ve got your Rob Bell lying to you about Hell, Red Letter Christians and other progressives denying the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, the creation, end-times issues, Pauline doctrine, etc. Yes, I’m sure there were sound books to be had, but they are hidden in the mine field. And what do all the false teachers–Republican and Democrat alike–have in common? Their motivation is money.

  • Probably because there isn’t enough of a market to make a large stand-alone imprint. To be honest, there are a lot of Christian books that aren’t. I try and write about Christian SF, and you’ve got two small presses, a bunch of self-pubs, and the occasional “girl in a dress” book from a major publisher. Us conservatives with a literary bent have been endlessly talking about how entire genres are underrepresented and our best talent is tempted to hide their faith and go secular.

    You guys probably have the same issue. Why bother with Christian LGBT books when you can just get normal LGBT? It’s not like there’s a lot you’d find in them that would offend a progressive, and I doubt you have the same need for clean language as the CBA market.