What Makes a Banner Book?
There are a number of things that make a Banner book. In summary:
It must be a book worthy of publication irrespective of its likely commercial success; it must pass theological and doctrinal scrutiny; it must promote practical Christian living; it most likely has enduring application and will be as relevant in 100 years as it is today; it must be well written and carefully edited; it must be well produced.
In a little more detail, what makes a Banner book?
1. They are not driven by commercial considerations
From the early days of the Banner of Truth Trust, there was a recognition that there were going to be books that needed to be put in print that would not be a good commercial proposition. Books that would be beneficial to the furtherance of the work of the Gospel, but which would never sell in sufficient quantities to be a profitable publishing undertaking.
On the other hand, there would be books that were expected to sell in sufficient numbers that they would be commercially viable.
Putting these two things together, the Trustees have agreed that financial considerations alone should not determine what titles are published. If a book is worthy of publication, but is not commercially viable, then we seek to support its publication from the proceeds of the sales of those books which are financially successful.
Over the history of the Banner of Truth, this policy has enabled many books to be produced that otherwise would never have been published. God has been good, and to date, the Trust has not been in a position of being unable to publish a needed book due to lack of finance.
2. There are theological/doctrinal considerations
All of our books are subjected to theological and doctrinal scrutiny. Our full-time General Editor makes the initial assessment of a book, and if he feels that it is a worthy title, it is sent to two of our Board members for review. If they agree, then the book is presented to the full Board for approval.
We believe that this process helps to ensure a consistency to the material that we produce, and to ensure that whatever we produce is theologically sound, biblically based material.
3. There are practical considerations
We stand for experimental or experiential Calvinism. We don’t want our books to promote religiosity, or purely theoretical theological learning. We are looking for practical books that will promote the doctrines of grace in an experimental way, a way that has an impact upon our lives and brings glory to God.
And for modern day authors, we are looking for books that stand in the ‘stream’ of the writers of old whom we have republished.
As a result, we tend not to publish academic works. We have some books that started off life as an academic thesis, but they were usually extensively re-written before we considered them for publication – converted from a thesis to a book!
Related to this, a book that is poorly written is not helpful. And so we look to publish books that we believe are well written, and work with our authors to ensure high quality writing, more of this in (5) below.
4. We believe in longevity
The Banner of Truth came into being by republishing books that had been long out of print. Books that 100, 200, 300 years after they had first been written were seen to be still relevant and helpful. Nearly 60 years on, we still bring back into print old books, and any older book that we reprint has to meet this standard of being relevant and helpful today.
For the books that we publish today by living authors, that is part of the quality that we are looking for. ‘Will this book still be helpful and relevant in 100 years time?’ is a question that we ask.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t take on books that we recognise as having a short life span of relevance or usefulness; we have a number of books, primarily paperbacks and booklets, which would fall into that category and address more contemporary issues.
But it does mean that more often than not we are looking for books with a long lifespan, books that are based more on principles to be applied to any new situation that may arise rather than books that are dealing with specific limited-time issues.
This view of the desirability of longevity of content also has implications for the production quality of our books, and the length of time that we keep things in print. As a general rule, the Banner of Truth tends to keep books in print for longer than many other publishers. If we believe that the content has longevity, then we have a responsibility to keep that content available, and hence keep it in print. Today we still have in print some of the books that were first published back in 1958. There is more on production below.
5. We believe in quality of writing and editing
If we are to have quality content which has longevity, it deserves to be well written and well edited.
We look for authors who are able writers. This means that there are times when we might reject a manuscript not because it is theologically faulty or on a subject that is not of interest, but because we do not think that the quality of authorship is good enough.
We try to set high standards of editorial work as well. No professional publisher should publish an author’s manuscript without editing it. Even the best authors need editors. Manuscripts are edited, checked for house-style, typeset, and proof read before being passed as ready to print. We readily admit though that we are far from perfect and it’s always difficult to catch everything, so we are always pleased when people send in things that our proof readers have missed, and would then correct mistakes in the next edition.
The page layout, or typesetting, is something that we work hard at. We aim to get settings that are pleasing on the eye and easy to read.
6. We believe in quality of production
In line with believing that our content is worthy of publishing and that it has longevity, we try to set high standards in our book production. Even our paperbacks are printed to a high standard of production, using quality papers and binding. Our hardbacks are designed to survive a lifetime of use, and to be passed on to your children and grandchildren.
To do this, we use good quality papers, sewn bindings, and real cloth for the covers rather than any paper based cover materials. One of the industry standard publishing textbooks in a section looking at lowering production costs gives the following advice: ‘Use “permeated” paper covers on hardcover books instead of cloth. While cloth used to be the norm, strengthened paper covers have replaced cloth in the majority of cases. While it certainly doesn’t have the wonderful tactile feel and strength of cloth, paper does have the benefit of lower price. And with a dust jacket over it, the public doesn’t notice.’1 We know that many of our customers do notice, and even if they don’t we do. And if you haven’t noticed yet, take the jacket off one of our hardback books and see the quality of the cloth binding, you’ll notice it and appreciate it from then on!
We like our books to be aesthetically pleasing too, and so we always fit head and tail bands on the bindings of hardbacks, and foil block the spines. On many hardbacks we also use printed endpapers which adds a nice finishing touch. We work hard on jacket and cover designs as well to produce books which are pleasing on the eye – it’s a very subjective thing though, so we realise that not everyone likes all of our designs, even among our staff we have differences of opinion!
So, what makes a Banner book?- it must be a book worthy of publication irrespective of its likely commercial success; it must pass theological and doctrinal scrutiny; it must promote practical Christian living; it most likely has enduring application and will be as relevant in 100 years as it is today; it must be well written and carefully edited; it must be well produced. These are the standards that we seek to achieve and what we aim for as the hallmarks of a Banner book.
- Publishing for Profit, Thomas Woll, P178, Chicago Review Press, 2010.