The first time I read the phrase “just keepin’ it real” on a friend’s blog a few years ago, I didn’t know what it meant. I honestly had to use context clues. So no, I’m no maven of pop-culture phraseology. But I eventually figured out that my friend was telling her readers that she was committed to honesty and authenticity rather than presenting herself as fake-y happy or as if she and her household, about whom she was writing, have it all together.
While I haven’t managed to work “keepin’ it real” into any actual conversation—I’m a little old to do so without, well, seeming fake—I’m taken with the idea behind it. So much of contemporary culture feels affected or even artificial—from our sweeteners to our built environments to our breathless Facebook status updates. So much feels fake, in fact, that reality and authenticity and honesty are exceptions to the rule. And sometimes you just need to name the exceptions.
A few recent events here at work have convinced me that, even if we’re not hip enough to say it, Herald Press, MennoMedia’s trade books division, is—let me see if I can pull it off—keepin’ it real. Here are some stories.
1. We are courting a young author, who writes a very successful blog with thousands of hits a day. We’ve been in conversations with her about writing a book for us, and she is also being contacted by other publishers. We’re not surprised that other publishers are interested in her work, because it’s so well-written and because she has developed such a large platform already. What struck me, however, was what she said about why she is interested in Herald Press more than some of the other publishers trying to woo her. “[I] am still very interested in Herald Press,” this author wrote to me the other day. “The honesty and integrity appeals to me. I appreciate that.”
I don’t know exactly why our honesty and integrity stands out to this young blogger, and I don’t know what she’ll ultimately decide. But in an era in which the large Christian publishers are owned by multinational media conglomerates, I do know that Herald Press stands out. Our publishing program holds appeal to both writers and readers because of the attention we give to our authors in terms of helping them craft their narratives and build their platform.
2. Another story comes from our marketing and sales director, Ben Penner. Ben was recently meeting with a book buyer for a chain of Christian bookstores. As he began introducing our books to this buyer, the buyer responded enthusiastically, “Oh, I know all about Herald Press. I really like your books, and I know that I can trust your authors.”
I’m not sure which authors the book buyer distrusts, but it is true that authors don’t always come out with clean hands. Beyond the fairly predictable cycle of some famous writer being nabbed for plagiarism—what could be more of an antonym of “keepin’ it real” than plagiarism?—come occasional other cases of author misbehavior. A Seattle pastor apologized not long ago that the aggressive marketing campaign for his recent book manipulated sales data and inflated sales enough to launch the book, however briefly, onto the New York Times bestseller list. Many people perceive this type of marketing campaign to be unethical, and the pastor has pledged not to work with such a firm again and has committed himself to moving out of the limelight as much as possible. Still, the damage had been done.
3. The last story comes from a conversation I had with my pastor about one of our authors, Rachel S. Gerber. Rachel grew up in the congregation that I now attend, and she spoke to a crowded room of women at a spring women’s event this week. Last week I was making copies in our church office and talking to my pastor about Rachel’s upcoming event at our church. “Rachel is a great communicator,” I said.
“Yes, and she’s real too,” my pastor interjected. He paused. “I mean, some folks may be great communicators, but they’re fake. Rachel is a great communicator—but she’s real, too.”
Honesty, integrity, trust, real: these are weighty words, and ones we’re proud to have associated with our publishing program. In an airbrushed era of falsified marketing strategies, “reality” TV, and social media half-truths, I’m happy to work for an organization that values the real, the authentic, and the true. It’s in keeping with our attempt to follow Christ in all the ways that he modeled real human life: by being less concerned about first impressions than about lasting relationships. It’s in keeping with our identity as children of God, who have nothing to prove, and heirs of Anabaptist faith, which emphasizes real practices of discipleship, community, and nonresistance.
So keep your eyes open during the next few months for more ways that Herald Press is continuing to value what is real, From real recipes found in real kitchens around the world, to real stories of reconciliation, to real stories of the daily life and faith of Amish and Mennonite writers, we at Herald Press are committed, in word and deed, to—all together now—“keepin’ it real.”
Maybe someday we’ll even be able to lose the quotation marks.
Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.