Show Notes:30. Barnabas Piper — Why Writers Need to Stay Curious
Curiosity is at the center of the writing life. Barnabas Piper joins me to talk about his book The Curious Christian.
Barnabas’ insights into the life of the writer are honest and insightful. We talk about the importance of curiosity and ways in which you can continue to stay curious.
Barnabas also offers a unique perspective on platform and the author’s relationship with marketing. His role as a marketing manager at B&H Academic means he has given thought to the complexities and challenges facing both the author and the publishing team.
I think you’ll find our conversation to be encouraging and loaded with helpful advice and guidance.
The following is an automated transcription. It is recorded exactly as it was spoken.
Chase Replogle: 00:00 You’re listening to the pastor writer podcast, episode 30. Today on the podcast, I’m joined by Barnabas Piper, who not only has a track record working in publishing, but it’s also a three time published author himself. We focus our conversation on his book about curiosity and the importance of curiosity in the life and voice of a writer. He offered some great advice for writers and I know this episode is one that you’ll get a lot out of. Thanks for listening. Joining me on the podcast today is Barnabas Piper. Barnabas works in marketing at B and h academic publishing and he’s had a long career in the publishing industry. He’s also the author of three books. The pastor’s kid help my unbelief and the one will primarily be exploring today, the curious Christian, how discovering wonder enriches every part of your life. He also blogs@BarnabasPiper.com and as the host of his own pod casts the happy ramp podcast, which we may get into as well. So part of this, thanks for joining me on the podcast today. Thank you for having me on. I’m looking forward to the conversation. Well, maybe a good place to start as a little bit of background, you’ve got track record in publishing, but as well as your own writing. I’m curious how writing developed as a calling for you and then also where the interest in publishing came in.
Barnabas Piper: 01:11 Yeah. It calling his award that that I am always a little hesitant to, to handle that sort of handle, handle a gently and carefully because I don’t different people mean different things by I think. I think for me what it became, especially in my mid twenties was writing became a thing that I couldn’t not do, which I realize if you’re an editor listening to this, you hate that sentence because that’s a double negative. So I was just compelled to write, um, what that meant was kind of tbd at that point. I just knew that it seemed that when I wrote things and put them out on the Internet for people to read or in a newsletter or whatever, there, there was a people respond to that a little bit and I knew that I, I thought most clearly when I was writing things and over time it’s become a thing that no matter what direction my career takes in the future, um, I just, I don’t think there’s ever a chance that I’ll stop writing until, you know, if, unless I was to lose the capacity to do so.
Barnabas Piper: 02:12 So in terms of calling, that’s kind of, that’s kind of the compulsion and the compelling aspect of it. And then, and then the message aspect of it is just I want to help people discover something they haven’t discovered before. So not I’m not looking for, for catchy things or, or, um, you know, being, being edgy, but just helping people see things from a different perspective. So sort of examining truth from a different perspective and, and writing is my best avenue to do that and something that I find a lot of enjoyment in. So I think, I think that’s sort of the longterm steady aspect of the calling. I don’t feel compelled to write a certain amount or x number of books per year or on specific subjects or anything like that. Just always wrestling with questions and pursuing truth and trying to communicate it in a way that makes people see something they hadn’t seen before. I’m on the publishing side. I actually wasn’t interested in publishing when I got into it. I was interested in being employed and uh, so I got out of college at Wieden and um, just needed a job. So I got sort of an entry level sales job at crossway books, which is about three quarters of a mile away from the campus and developed a love for publishing. Got Out of it for about a year and a half. Kind of not by choice. And uh, and
Barnabas Piper: 03:37 I didn’t enjoy the experience at the other job and it confirmed that publishing is a really good fit for me, especially Christian publishing because I really love serving the church and serving believers. But I don’t want to work at a church and I love books. And I love writing and so publishing is this great combination of business and ministry and content and so it’s just been a thing that I’ve been very, um, very connected to since about 2005. And, um, I see no reason to leave. I really like it.
Chase Replogle: 04:09 One of the things I heard you sort of mentioned as you were talking about your own writing is that it sounds like you’re saying writing is kind of your way of thinking or processing through things as you’re coming across them. Not, not necessarily like I’ve got these themes that I’m gonna spend my life exploring and writing, but sort of using writing as a way of understanding what’s happening around you and finding sort of your thoughts on it. Um, what role do you think about writing as a spiritual discipline or the practice? The faithfulness of that over time. What role has writing played in you personally as a person? And also sort of in discipleship as you’ve come to sort of deepen in your walk with Christ?
Barnabas Piper: 04:45 Yeah. Flannery O’connor has a quote, I suspect one of your other guests is probably also mentioned this, where she says, I don’t know what I think until I read what I say. And so there’s, there’s a, there’s a significant processing aspect to, to writing. Most, most writing has never published. Most of my writing has never published and most people’s writing probably shouldn’t be published. I mean the, the bulk of the work we do, it should be scratches and rough drafts and journaling and you know, you write three paragraphs of what you think is going to be an essay and you. Because that’s all you had to say, but that’s so valuable because because you’re running the train, you, you run the train of thought out to the end of the track and sometimes the track is just around the corner and sometimes it’s miles and miles and that’s, you know, that’s a book.
Barnabas Piper: 05:32 And so, and so for me it has been, it’s been profound because that same thing applies to processing scripture or praying and so pouring all of that thought into a journal and, and so there’s a, you know, the capacity to be honest in a journal is almost infinite. You can say anything you want and close it and it’s, and it’s between you and God and it’s writing, it’s practice, it’s putting things into words, it’s learning how to communicate feelings and thoughts. And so and so there’s writing, writing is an essential part of, of my call them spiritual disciplines. I know that that probably set some people’s teeth on edge, but I don’t know a better way to put it because it is, it is a vital part of my prayer life. It’s a vital part of my, my, my thinking, my processing, my understanding, God, my exploring deeper realities of God or theology.
Barnabas Piper: 06:32 Um, because, because writing is how I figured out what I think because the thing is you put down your thoughts on paper and you look at them and you go, that doesn’t seem quite right. Either. Didn’t say it well or it’s off kilter or it’s not what the Bible says or something. And, and so you become a better thinker, a better believer, a better friend, a better parent because you write and then kind of reflect on, on the thoughts that you have put down on paper or on a screen or whatever your chosen medium is.
Chase Replogle: 07:05 Yeah. It makes me think there’s this kind of theme I seem to come across, especially online when it comes to writing advice that sort of the best thing you can do is just write a lot and write really fast and write as often as possible and just publish it all and then let it sort of sort itself out. And I always sort of. I don’t know if that has not worked well for me. Maybe there’s a place for it, a time for it. But uh, I tend to think kind of as you’re describing it as well too, that some of the writing that happens in my life should be unpublished. Some of it should be for me to sort of sort out, okay, what do I really believe about this thing? And it is feasible that I might write something and then a couple of days later realize that’s not actually what I believe about this thing or that’s not true what I’ve written. Um, so this idea of thinking about writing not as just something that we produce, right? Not just something that we put on word press articles get published as quickly as possible and then see how many people have read it. But rather something that we use to sort of hone our prayers honer thinking really come to a conviction about something is I think an important reminder to a lot of people taking in so much of this writing advice.
Barnabas Piper: 08:03 And I think it’s important for readers to understand. I mean, so much of what is published on the Internet now. I mean everybody is a writer these days kind of by accident. Uh, I, I put, I would put writer in quotes there, but you know, lengthy facebook posts, instagram captions, you know, tweet threads, whatever it is people are writing their thoughts down. Most of that is just sort of a emotional and mental drooling, you know, just sort of onto onto a screen. There’s not a processing and a craft. I mean I don’t think. I don’t think our deepest processing should be done publicly for public consumption. I think it should be done privately and and in community with people who care about us and who, who we trust. That’s another aspect of writing that’s valuable is being connected to people who can read it and who you can converse about with it, about both the craft and the, the heart and the beliefs behind it, but then you publish once you’ve arrived at a place of not necessarily a conclusion, but at the very least a a direction.
Barnabas Piper: 09:15 This is a clear direction that I am pointed in that I can share maybe other cars because writing is a process and a journey and we change over time, but, but not so much of it is just sort of aimless word drool and it and it’s, it’s, it’s, it clutters things up. It messes up. I mean it, it muddies up publishing. It muddies up readership. It, it, it makes, and the problem is we have the compulsive to treat all those thoughts as equal instead of saying this is a well process thought, that’s a better kept to yourself thought and so and so for me, I, I’ve tried to find that the discipline of doing a lot of that processing in um, in solitude and then in, in some level of community before I, before I hit send or publish on anything.
Chase Replogle: 10:06 Yeah. It reminds me of one of our previous guests. I loved the line, said, you know, some books should be articles and some articles should be tweets and some tweets should be thoughts and some thoughts should just be held captive and never take it any further. And some thoughts should be confessed that people who have read your book book on curiosity, I think we’ll recognize in the way you’re talking about writing some of the themes that come up early on. I’ve got a quick quote to sort of frame it as we get into that book. But early on in the book you write this, you say, I’m in the chapters that follow. I will do my best to show how curiosity is one of the most significant ways we have to be image bearers of God, how it can deepen and expand our relationships with others, how it can lead us to an entirely more significant impact on society and how it will lead us deeper into a beautiful relationship with God for all times. I’m a lot put on this idea of curiosity here. Um, I’m interested how for you, curiosity became one of these sort of passion areas where as you were processing your thoughts and your opinions of, you began to recognize, okay, this is more than a thought more than an article, but there’s really something substantial enough to put down in a book here about the importance of curiosity.
Barnabas Piper: 11:15 It, it took a, it took quite a, you know, it takes several years to sort of crystallize as a thing. Um, you know, I mentioned at the beginning that part of what I’m passionate about in writing, part of the reason that I write that, that thing that compels me is trying to find a perspective on truth that will help people recognize something they hadn’t seen, sort of that Oh, kind of response that that’s, that’s the response that I value from readers. The, you put it into words, something that I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate that kind of thing and not because I want a pat on the back, but because that means that eyes have been opened something. And, and if you’re looking for different angles on something, there’s a, there’s a, there’s a lot of questions that are asked. There’s a lot of not quite being satisfied with old tropes, whether it’s theological truth or political drew, their societal truth or I mean I’m a huge sports fan, so you know, you listen to coaches speak and they just say the same thing as you.
Barnabas Piper: 12:13 That doesn’t quite seem right that, that’s just an old cliche. So what is, what’s a better angle on this? And I, you know, and so part of it was self examination, part of it is my own, my own process of growing in faith with a lot of questions, struggling with doubts at various points and then some of it is an outward observation of just the abundance of simplistic thinking and binary thinking that that is so pervasive today where people just there, there’s so much sort of either or thinking, you know, well it’s either this or this and you kind of look at it, you go, there’s a massive amount of gray area in the middle or it’s a both and you know whether that’s, there are some things that are more, more moral in that in that kind of a situation. So you know, the Christian liberty types of things.
Barnabas Piper: 13:09 There are, you know, there there’s political things either Republican or Democrat as if those are the only two options there are you all of these things and people just settle for simplistic binary thinking and they just, they just go with it. And I just thought that’s. That is such a sad, pathetic way to live that ignores so much richness as well as so much just faithfulness because faithfulness is finding the best way to be an image bearer of God, the best way to reflect Jesus Christ and and rarely is that simplistic and binary. And so all of that kind of distilled over time down to there’s a thing that we lack that’s a discipline and a focus of curiosity. And so I just wanted to put it to put that down as, as a not as a discipline per se, as much as a almost a way of life, you know, it is, it’s a perspective.
Barnabas Piper: 14:10 It’s the Lens through which we view other things. So the lens through which we view God and relationships and society and work and so many other things because it gives life, it enriches those things so that. So that we see more than the two simplistic options. We see the gradients, we see the depths, we see the uniqueness. We see people for who they are, not just with the label that’s been slapped on them and so forth. And so, and so that’s kind of what, what brought it together and then my aim was to do my best to write it in a clear, hopefully compelling fashion and keep it short enough that people don’t get bored. Well, what are the big points that came through to me that I really thought it was fascinating as you talk about in the book,
Chase Replogle: 14:52 as Christians, we kind of have this concept of maturity that we imagined sort of outgrows curiosity that as we mature we become sort of more set in our responsibilities, more set in our, our perspectives or ideas more serious about the things that we have to contend with. And that curiosity doesn’t fit into so many of our ideas about what Christian maturity looks like. I’m, I’m, I’m, where did that come from? The recognition that. No, no, no. Maturity actually involves holding onto curiosity.
Barnabas Piper: 15:24 A huge influence on me. And that, um, was, was reading the works of Cs Lewis and gk Chesterton. And I’m not a scholar in either of those guys, but I’ve tried to read a fair amount because I think every, every writer has, has other authors who they read and they just say, I would, I would like to be like them when I grow up. And uh, you know, even if we are adults who are fully responsible for our lives, we still look at them and go, that’s the grownup version of my writing. And I look at those guys and think that’s, that’s it. That’s what I want to figure out how to be. Because they were, they were scholars, they were poets, they were novelists, they were essayists, they’re Christian nonfiction. Their societal observations, they’re political discourse was just brilliant because it refused to be simplistic, it and, and so it.
Barnabas Piper: 16:19 And, and, but both of them took great joy in mundanity and they took, they took immense pleasure in the physical aspects of life, the food, the drink, the relationships that, you know, so, so they, they weren’t so, you know, so pious that they were boring. And I think so much Christian maturity over time has become a thing where we, we outgrow enjoyment and we outgrow exploration and we outgrow, um, the willingness to, to, to really to really dig into the silly or the fun or the, the, the uh, tangible and, and those guys loved that stuff. And Lewis has some fantastic quotes about, you know, any book, any book that’s worth reading it. 10 is also worth reading at 50 essentially. So there is no such thing as sort of children’s literature. Literature is beautiful and good and if it’s good, it’s good for any age and you should revisit it. And, and so those are the things that just show that they opened my eyes to the fact that Christian maturity has depth and richness and passion and enjoyment in it. Not just a level of, of knowledge and piety and discipline, although it does have those but not at the expense of the childlike wonder and pleasure of kind of all things in the world
Chase Replogle: 17:42 does seem like there’s something culturally going on right now. Um, both within Christianity, but broader than that to where a, to be taken seriously as a writer or a voice that you’re sort of expected to niche down into sort of your thing, right? Like there’s this one topic that you become known for and maybe there’s a part of that and hey, you got to be able to build an audience and get that voice through and it’s, there’s a lot of voices, but I think most people who write would say who they are as a person, a whole person really is more connected to this curiosity. It finds interest in depths and all sorts of things. I want to be more well rounded as a person and as a writer than just sort of this one topic that seemed to break through for me. Um, what role do you think curiosity plays in the life of a writer or somebody who’s beginning this process of writing?
Barnabas Piper: 18:27 The short answer to that is that if you were an uncurious writer, you’re a boring writer. Like you just, you’re just boring. And that doesn’t mean that you have to focus on a thousand topics, but if you’re going to focus on one, you have to do it in, in an enormously curious waste. So finding new things to say, a new ways to say them in new information and new stories to, to share, uh, a lack of curiosity just makes people boring. And, and, and it, you know, it, it, it also makes them bored. I think the idea of being a niche writer is that, is that is the talk of somebody who’s interested in platform building, not so much creative passion, creative passion can be niche or it can be enormously broad. And that’s the beauty of curiosity. You can go a mile deep or you can go a foot deep and a mile wide, you know, and both of those are, are significant expressions of curiosity.
Barnabas Piper: 19:28 And so I, I think, I think it’s in terms of the topics that you write on or developing your voice as a writer, that their curiosity is involved in that just enhancing yourself as a craftsman or craftswoman, uh, as a writer. That’s curiosity cause because you’re exploring how do people do this? Well, when you read a book or you read an article and it captures you as a writer, you have to look at it and go, what is it about it? It’s not just this nebulous, oh, it was beautiful, is wonderful. But there’s a, there’s a craftsmanship to that that, that you should dig into. Um, the perspectives you take, the stories you tell, all of those things are compiled, expressed, and then change and develop and grow over time because of an intentional curiosity. And so I think if you want to have a shelf life as a writer, if you want to be sustained over the years, you know, if you want to be a niche blogger on leadership, it might take it to different kind of curiosity because you’re going to probably end up saying the same things repeatedly because, you know, you just sort of, there’s a, there’s a finite amount of, of, of wisdom on leadership out there.
Barnabas Piper: 20:36 So what is, what is curiosity look like for you in that? Whereas if you’re sort of the Jack of all trades writer, what does curiosity look like? How are you picking your topics? Are you, how are you being passionate? How are you expressing them? So I think it’s just sort of the lifeblood of being a good and growing writer.
Chase Replogle: 20:55 I’m sort of a little suspicious that for many as we’re beginning this process of writing, um, we’ve talked about on the podcast before too, there’s this deep compulsion to sort of emulate yourself after someone that you like. And so it can happen, I think, is that the curiosity can just be sort of this one direction. To this one person that I’m trying to become, but if you step back and look at so many of the writers that you do appreciate or that have meant something to you, it always seems like, and I think this is probably the best example is Louis and maybe token that you already, you’ve already mentioned, um, when you look at their writing, you recognize what they have written is, is so small compared to what you can sense through the writing is behind their life. The writing is always sort of this window into something that you realize is much wider and much deeper and much more curious than just the thing that comes through in the writing and when we sort of set ourselves up to just try to emulate a particular work or a particular voice, what gets cut out is that that life behind the voice that really gives the voice or gives that work so much of its power and so much of the meaning being sort of taken into a bigger perspective than you had before you read it.
Barnabas Piper: 22:01 Yeah. I think. I think influence should be more color, more atmospheric then then, um, then imitation, meaning you need to live in the atmosphere of brilliant writers and thinkers, so surround yourself with their works, whether it’s things you’re listening to, read an enormous quantity, read a variety of things that, that’s all part of being curious as a writer too. You know, if you’re somebody who’s an essayist, you still ought to read poetry and novels and history because, because that’s an atmosphere of influence in both linguistically and topically and philosophically and, and you know from perspective, from a perspective standpoint, those things should be the things that influence us not copying another writer. And you know, I realize I realized that this is about, there’s a writing podcast, but you do have pastor in the name of it. So this applies maybe more so to preaching.
Barnabas Piper: 22:57 I’m imitating is it just cheapens your work. You’re never as good as the original and, and it just, it, it diminishes what you’re doing. Whereas if you are influenced sort of atmospherically and by surrounding yourself with this quality that will enhance over time and it’s going to be a slower burn because you have to put in the work of practice and improvement, but don’t imitate imitating. I know there are writers who say you should start out by trying to imitate and develop from there. But I think usually what happens is that means you learn how to run with a limp and you never learn how to actually run.
Chase Replogle: 23:39 Yeah. I, I think you make a strong point because you do hear the advice. So, and I do think you’re right. What he can do is it can sort of, as you’re learning to imitate this person, you sort of weed out all the other interesting things around it or the interesting perspectives around it or the other voices that would add to it. Um, and I think it does. It’s sort of robs you of some of the curiosity. And when I read your writing as well as, um, you know, we might talk about the podcasts as well to you’re quoting from, um, from movies, from music, from literature, you know, for those who listened to your podcast, which maybe we can, you can describe a little bit too, but I’m, the happy rem podcast sort of has a wide spectrum of topics you guys cover from sports to writing to faith.
Chase Replogle: 24:19 I made sort of all over and, and my sense is that those, for you, those places like the podcasts are really some of the tools you have of just reminding yourself to stay curious, forcing sort of that curiosity into new angles, new places. Is there a way that a writer is intentional about curiosity? A way that you sort of make sure, okay, I’m not just getting caught in imitating one thing, but I’ve put in place some disciplines in my life to remind myself to keep searching, to keep looking, to keep taking in new things through curiosity.
Barnabas Piper: 24:50 Wait, I think, I think reading, reading habits is probably the easiest way to discipline yourself in that because. Because you can. Because it’s the easiest thing to define, it’s hard to define what is influencing you buy, you know, just by kind of what you’re around. But, but in terms of like if it’s podcasts or audio books or listening to or reading habits, those are things you can look at and go, you know, I’ve, I’ve looked at the books I’ve read for the last year there they all kind of fall in this lane, this lane of thought, this lane of gender, this lane of genre. And I need to switch it up. And so I think, I think just for me, I try to do it by, I’m the type who does not read one book at a time. I read, you know, four to seven books at a time depending on how, you know, kind of manic.
Barnabas Piper: 25:40 I’m being I guess, um, but something for my soul, something for my mind, something for my work, something, you know, something more story oriented. And then maybe something more poetic or artistic and just sort of juggling those things. So that ideally, if I’m reading, if I’m reading a poetry compilation, it influences how I read a book on management or leadership, which might also feed into how I read a book on discipleship. And so there’s, there’s this, there’s this sort of constant swirling mix of things. Whereas if all you’re reading is theology, um, you’re not gonna, you’re not going to be a very creative, uh, you’re not going to be very creative in your expression. You’re not going to be very poetic and your thought. You’re going to have limitations and in a defined set of language, all of those kinds of things. And so I think, I think that’s the easiest way to define it.
Barnabas Piper: 26:39 But I think, I think the other way it’s just sort of generally looking at life going, I want to perspective where my eyes are up instead of down, which means I’m noticing the world around me instead of just thinking about my space, my mind, my navel, you know, just that naval gazing mentality. And then the other is try one more thing. You know, just if you’re going to go out with friends or a loved one or a spouse or your kids on a Friday night, go somewhere you haven’t been. Do something new. Try something different because that’s an expression of curiosity. Go with somebody you haven’t gone with before. Just all of those things. Just one more thing. Just just add one thing periodically and the seeds are planted for curiosity because all of those things lead to other things, other conversations of the things you notice and as a writer, everything is writing fodder. Literally everything in the world could be the spark that leads to a thought that grows into something that you write and you just need to put yourself in the way of as many of those as possible.
Chase Replogle: 27:45 For some people who were probably saying, you know, grit, now I have new things to read, new things, Spinjitsu. I was already busy. I do think as a writer, you have to be honest that if you want to have a unique voice, it probably means you’re going to be consuming things unique from everyone else. So it means you may not be caught up on every single netflix series that’s releasing that everyone else is watching because you’re putting time in somewhere else to get a perspective or something that no one else has. Um, I tend to think a lot about where I have holes in my, in my experiences. So, um, I, I think probably a similar to a lot of people listening. I came up through a Bible college and then went to a seminary and so I didn’t have a ton of exposure to just classic literature, classic writing a little bit, but not, not very much.
Chase Replogle: 28:27 And so I started recognizing early on, okay, why, why is Shakespeare a big deal? Like it’s almost a cliche how big of a deal he has. Right? And like my exposure, like ninth grade Romeo and Juliet is not deep enough to understand why, why Shakespeare is a thing. And so, um, it’s hard to get into. But I went through a phase where I, instead of the Netflix, I subscribed to the Broadway pass on Amazon and I watched as many of the sort of Shakespeare plays as I could. And then try to get into some of the writing and I didn’t, it wasn’t exhaustive, it wasn’t, but enough that I wanted to get a better handle on, oh, this is why people are still talking about Shakespeare. It turns out there’s a reason. Or um, I did the soar sort of. Same thing with a, especially as Christians, sort of the classic Russian novelists, whole dose of Sq.
Chase Replogle: 29:08 Like why do people keep talking about them? So I needed to get somewhat of a handle, which there’s audio books, they’re short stories. So that’s been heLpful. Or you mentioned flannery o’connor lately. Again, okay. One of the greatest christian writers and american history. So why? Why have I not had very much exposure will not a ton of people are sitting around on weekends reading flannery o’connor. But maybe there’s something unique there. I’m curious about it. So I’ve been working through her short stories and so it doesn’t mean you have to become an expert on them, but I want there to sort of be. I want to know if thoughts are leading in a direction, you know, I know that person speaks about that or you should go read that and you know what, it always turns up in my writing. So the project I’ve been working on right now, I’ve been retelling one of flannery o’connor short stories and it’s been perfect. So yeah, the more, the more I can try to fill in those holes and they’re sort of never ending. Right. That’s kind of what’s fun about it. Did you kind of move to the next thing is it comes and explored deep enough that you get a sense for it and then it works its way into your voice.
Barnabas Piper: 30:03 It’s fun if you can make peace with it. I think there, there, there are people who have a level of sort of responsibility guilt or something. I don’t know how to phrase it better than that where they’re guilty. They and I, I struggled this sometimes. You know, you just mentioned a russian novelists and shakespeare. I’ve read more shakespeare because I took some literature glasses through college and things like that have not read much for fun and minimal, minimal russian, you know, classic russian literature, which I realize is, is it genuine classic genre. So I feel low grade guilt for not having and, but that’s, that’s okay because as a writer you have to look at that as, and this is part of the mindset of curiosity. It is infinite possibility, not infinite responsibility, you know, so all of the things that you can engage in, you can explore, you can learn about, you can gain a level of understanding and you can be influenced by that is almost infinite possibility.
Barnabas Piper: 30:58 It is not our responsibility to have read at all or to engage at all. It’s also perfectly acceptable to not like those things, you know. So if you get into shakespeare and you’re like, look, this is just sucking the life out of me, go read something else. Because as a writer you need to. You need to have a life breathed into you by what you’re consuming, not just, you know, sometimes you have to bog through some things. And her slog through them, but most of the time you need to move to those things that are,
Chase Replogle: 31:24 that are compelling. You not, not dragging you down. Yeah. And that’s sort of the barometer I’ll use for that is I always try to say I want to understand why they’re a big deal. So sometimes that will mean, and I always point this out, sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is go watch youtube videos about that work and try to understand the context or what it was doing, historic like you may find you actually enjoy reading it a lot more when you understand a little bit about the author of the context and again, if you hate it, but you’ve kind of figured out why there are people like it that might be enough time to move onto something else, but just that curiosity to keep exploring. And I do think you’re right, for whatever you pursue, there’s something else you neglect. And so I don’t think we should feel guilty about that as long as that curiosity’s continuing to sort of enrich us and lead us into new things, new thoughts, new perspectives.
Barnabas Piper: 32:09 Yeah, totally agree. I think, I think, you know, creative, a creative fomo, that fear of missing out is a, is a disaster. You’re always missing out on something so, so relish, relish which you are engaging in and just try to move from one thing to another to take on, to take on a new thing, to expand your horizons, but don’t feel the responsibility to do it all. That’s just that will, that will ruin you because that, that takes away from a unique voice as well.
Chase Replogle: 32:38 Well, and it’s a, it’s a good transition opportunity because the truth is, I know you and I both have jobs outside of just writing, so I’m listeners know, actually do a couple of things on bi-vocational. So I do freelance web design as well as pastor. So I mean, let’s be honest, the amount of reading for a classic russian literature is smaller and smaller these days, which by the way I read in english, so just get that straight as well. So, um, but, you know, that makes me feel a little bit. Yeah, don’t, don’t feel, don’t feel too bad. Um, I know you have a role that you have at b and h as a marketing manager and so I wanted to get into it that a little bit. Maybe you could explain sort of what your role is there and I think it’ll sort of bring us back to observations from that seed about what you see in authors and their writing.
Barnabas Piper: 33:17 Yeah, so I’m, I’m responsible for marketing the academic books at b and h publishers, so broadman and holman where’s there’s a trade side, so that’s going to be books aimed at sort of people in the pews, christian living and then the academic is going to be sort of seminary level on up. Um, and, and I, I’m the marketing guy for that or responsible for the marketing. So that means that, that my job is to, we know we are publishing books aimed at that market. How do I get these books into the right people’s hands, make them aware of it, platform these authors, as much as we are capable in the academic side of things, that’s a different. There’s a, there’s a whole different sort of reality both marketplace. And then the mechanics of marketing than there is on the trade side. I have a background in that as well.
Barnabas Piper: 34:01 I worked sales and marketing and even did some acquisitions on, in trade publishing for several years. Um, yeah, that’s the majority of what I do. The other piece of what I do is developing the books that ended up on word search, which is our bible software that, that. So b and h is part of lifeway christian resources. Word searches are bible software platform. And so I’m responsible for the team that, uh, that develops the books that go on that. And then so that’s a, that’s a bible software to help pastors of the sermon preparation seminarians with their studies, that kind of thing. So kind of a dual role, but marketing was my, was my primary when I was, when I was hired on at bnh.
Chase Replogle: 34:37 Maybe you could give some observations then we’ve been talking about sort of the voice, the develops, the curiosity that drives a writer into who they are as you are working with new authors. So having acquired some in the past now as you see them come through, um, when a publisher thinks about a new author or what they’re looking for in a new author, what are some of the things that you think creates an opportunity or makes an author valuable to a publisher?
Barnabas Piper: 35:02 That iS a really hard question because It’s, um, so much of it is timing. Um, you know, if, if you are writing, if you’re, if you’re a writer and you’re writing a, a really fantastic fresh perspective, new voice, really well crafted book on parenting and you take it to a publisher and the publisher has recent, they’ve released two of those books in the last 18 months that are not as good as yours. They probably will still turn you down because,
Barnabas Piper: 35:33 because of timing you, you know, you were a day late and a dollar short at no, no fault of your own. So what I think, I think just generally speaking though, that’s outside the author’s control, you are writing the thing you’re passionate about and you’re writing it as well as you can. I hope that that’s the idea. So I think that they look, all publishers look for a fresh voice, so just or a unique voice, a distinctive voice. What is the voice in the perspective on this topic? Whatever that topic is, whether it’s first corinthians or, uh, you know, parenting, marriage, money, you know, faith and doubt, whatever it is, craftsmanship matters, you know, are they a good writer, a good communicator? And that’s a sliding scale, you know, depending on the kind of book it is. Um, I wish publishers held that in higher esteem than we do collectively speaking.
Barnabas Piper: 36:26 I think sadly, the last thing I’m going to, the next thing I’m going to list is, is often more important than that’s audience and platform. You know, you can be a brilliant writer, but if you have 150 twitter followers and no website, uh, it’s very hard to get published because, because the marketing relationship with the author is a, it’s a, it’s a symbiotic relationship where the publisher needs the author to do marketing for successful sales. And the author leans on the publisher in marketing for successful sales. And since it’s a business successful sales really matters. Um, that’s, that’s the thing is that if we, if publishers, we’re just publishing books that we thought were fantastic and we didn’t need to worry about money, it would look like an entirely different industry because most people in publishing love great books and we turned down great books because we can’t sell them.
Barnabas Piper: 37:25 The marketplace demandS a certain kind of book and so then there’s a chicken and the egg question of who influences the market place, the publisher or does the marketplace influenced the publishing, etc. Etc. And it gets all very muddy but, but platform matters a lot. I think the last thing that publishers look for is pertinent just the time, the place, the topic. So sometimes that you know, that’s timely cultural issues, you know. So like right now if a book came out about evangelicals and political division in the United States, that’s a very timely book. If that came out, you know, 10 years ago, it might be timely, but maybe not quite as much as today. Or if you’re writing kind of like a Eugene Peterson does, which just sort of a timeless look at faithfulness to christ. Well, that’s pertinent because it’s cOnstant. Um, there’s, there’s sort of a, there’s a, there’s an evergreen aspect that’s so what is the pertinent of this book and that kind of thing. So voice and perspective, the craftsmanship of the work audience and platform and pertinent are all really important things. um, in the publisher’s,
Chase Replogle: 38:37 one of the themes that I sort of come across quite a bit with a guests on the podcast, especially those who are working in a professional capacity within publishing is no one’s in love with the way the system works, but there are just realities that shape it. Realities that allow publishers to continue publishing necessarily necessitate that sOmetimes the reality of platform and audience and the ability of an author to sell books just matters to what gets published. Um, and sort of as a writer, you can kick against that and say, well, it shouldn’t be that way. And I think you come to learn that there’s people all the way across that say, I wish there was another way, but like so much they’re just sometimes isn’t. as you talk with authors or people who are thinking about writing, how do you frame this conversation about platform or maybe another way to ask the question is what, what do you wish authors understood or thought about when it comes to marketing?
Barnabas Piper: 39:30 I think, well first I first I would want aspiring authors to realize something by getting published, and this is something I say as a published author, um, it doesn’t change your life, so it’s getting published as a low level author. I would cAll myself a low level author as you know, as compared to the, um, you know, the, the best sellers out there that the really prominent names. I remember, you know, the day before my first book released, my first book was the pastor’s kid came out, I don’t know, four or five years ago, and uh, the day before it released, they just, as I had this great sense of anticipation, the day it released was really exciting. The day after it released was exactly like the day before it released, except without any excitement. It just, nothing it. There’s not a profound change to your life when you get published.
Barnabas Piper: 40:26 I say that to set expectations, realistically it gets a big deal to get published, but it’s also not the end of the world if you struggled to get published because the work is the thing. The craft is the thing. The message is the thing, yes, getting published can help you spread that word, but it’s not, it’s not the bln doll and it won’t. It’s nOt going to launch you into any different stratosphere of life. 90 nine times out of 100. Um, so that’s an important thing to realize. But then about marketing. Um, I would say this, foCus on promoting a message, not a product. People who are constantly pitching a product get tiresome, but people who believe in the message of what they’ve written and are putting that out because they actually believe in it, that, that has legs. So if you’ve written a book about being a pastor’s kid or faith and doubt or curiosity.
Barnabas Piper: 41:27 So the three thAt I’ve done, those are, those are messages like I still, I still believe in what I wrote in all three of those books, which means I still share things from those books without saying, buy my book, buy my book, buy my book, buy my book guests what’s on sale. It’s my book, it’s my book. At the same time, it’s okay to tell people that you have something new out. Be excited about it, be proud of it, share it if you’ve done an interview on a podcast, if you’ve done an interview in a magazine, if you know the, if you see it in a bookstore, take a picture. You know thoSe things are good and you should be excited about what you, what you have invested yourself in. Um, so it just to try to find that balance between being a shill and being shy.
Barnabas Piper: 42:06 And that’s a hard balance to strike, but you don’t want to be a shill, but don’t be shy either. It’s okay to, to do those things. The other thing is I would just expectations why is realized that publishers depend on the author. Publishers can’t create a best seller, we just can’t, you know, 15, 20 years ago maybe that’s why book contracts look different than you know, a first time author could get a big contract, you know, in the eighties and nineties because a publisher could distribute the just the fire out of this thing to the tens of thousands of units and that’s what drove people to buy it. Now people want to have social proof of the author’s validity and so you know, that’s that they and a publisher can’t give that. We can raise awareness and we can do distribution, but the best thing a publisher does it support the authors. So with funds, with, with connections, with some advertising, potentially those kinds of things, but the author is, is the face of the book more often than not, and that’s the thing to remember. That’s why platform matters so much platform doesn’t matter because publishers don’t want to market a book. Platform matters because authors need the publisher to successfully market the book.
Chase Replogle: 43:28 One of the big themes that has developed in my own writing but really has come through, I hope people are hearing through our interviews and the podcast is a, it seems like the path is always to just enjoy and learn from the process. So for me as the podcast has grown, one of the just real joys that I didn’t really anticipate was so many of the people I’ve gotten to meet or interact with just listeners, people who will share stuff they’re working on or a man that’s been really fun and it doesn’t feel like the show that you described, right? Of pushing a product. Uh, and so that process like, you knoW, is the platform big enough? How do I get a bigger, how do we increase the numbers? Like a, that stuff can, you know, maybe there’s a place or a time, a consideration of it.
Chase Replogle: 44:07 But to enjoy the process of just the work that’s involved In it. The same with writing, you know, that it’s not just this end goal, this life changing event, a publishing, but how do I come to actually just enjoy putting the words down and revising the words and getting feedback and if you can enjoy that and if you can enjoy interacting with the audience, I think a lot of those things begin to fall in place a little more naturally if you can get that desperation right, sort of dream of the end goal out of them.
Barnabas Piper: 44:33 Yeah, absolutely. I think I, I love what you just said about the, the joy of doing the work. So, um,
Speaker 3: 44:40 it,
Barnabas Piper: 44:42 promoting promoting a book for me is probably the worst part of the publishing experience, um, as an author, as a marketer in publishing, not so promoting other people’s books. I love to do pr, but self promotion, that aspect of it is probably my least favorite thing to do, but the best parts of doing that are the content aspect of it. So I don’t, I don’t love, I don’t love the sharing of it as much as I do this kind of conversation. So, I mean, I guess technically this could be considered a promotion for my work, but this is a conversation about something that I love. I love writing, I love discussing writing with other people who care about it and learning from others. You may have listened to podcasts that you’ve done because I like to learn from the same people you’re talking to that and if you can find those avenues for quote unquote promoting your work, but all you’re really doing is something that you believe in, that you love, that you’re passionate about. That’s, that’s the best case scenario. I think.
Chase Replogle: 45:47 Yeah, the podcast has been that way for me. I mean, you probably don’t have to look too deeply to realize this is a part of my platform, if you want to call it that. I mean, uh, there are people who listen that I have access to because of the podcast. But honestly, all of that aside, I just enjoy the opportunity to have the conversations to learn from people, to get to sort of pick people’s brains about things I’m already interested in. So if I think, if you can find a way into it like that where it’s just the joy of the work builds the thing, then it becomes much more doable and kind of lets that pressure off a little bit and can actually be something that’s beneficial. [inaudible] totally agree. well, maybe we could wrap up this way. I think there’s been a lot of this already sort of advice for aspiring writers, but if you imagine I’m one of our listeners out there who maybe they’re working on a project or writing articles, thinking about a book. They’re sort of just beginning this journey of what does it look like to sort of give seriousness or faithfulness to my writing. What’s some advice you would give them about developing as a writer?
Barnabas Piper: 46:44 Yeah, I mean there’s, there’s, there’s so many pieces oF advice that writers can find, you know, in terms of writing consistently. Um, you know, writing a lot. I think those are good things I would say. But, but in terms of aspirations, um, yOu don’t need to aspire to be a writer. Just write everybody. Everybody has the capacity to right now the publication aspect that can be an aspiration, so just I think, I think that’s sometimes it’s just getting over the hump to just, I’m just going to create a piece of, of work, a piece of writing work and so you don’t need to aspire to that. You just need to do it. Um, there’s a great Book by steven pressfield called do the work. It’s, you know, 60 pages and it’s basically just a real hard kick with the steel toed boot right in your backside to just do what you need to do as a writer to get the work done so that that’s one thing.
Barnabas Piper: 47:36 It’s just do it and don’t, don’t worry about aspiring, you just, you just do it and continually focused on getting better. But the two things that come to mind most, especially in this day and age of everybody’s a writer, et cetera, is the first piece is try to be timeless, not trendy. Trendy writing is meaningless writing and about two weeks. And that’s not what any of us want to do. Now obviously if you are, if you’re a reporter or a journalist, you’re writing on things that have a shelf life that’s different, but if you’re writing for someone’s soul or you’re writing a novel, don’t try to catch a wave. Just try to write things that, that you think that you think somebody might benefit from 10 years from now or 15 years from now because there’s timeless realities in them. Um, I think everything in society is, is, has a short shelf life and his is based on trends right now, especially in terms of media and entertainment consumption.
Barnabas Piper: 48:42 You know, what is, what’s the hotness right now? Book should not be like that. Especially not books for souls because souls are eternal and the writing should reflect that. And so try to be timeless. Not trendy in terms of the value of what you’re writing because in just thinking about the thing that I think about is I don’t have high aspirations that people will know who I am in 40 years, but maybe somebody will stumble across a copy of my book at the back of some thrift store in 40 years by it. For a quarter, and it might be meaningful to them because because maybe I succeeded at writing something that wasn’t just based on the realities of 2017 and 2018. The other pIece of advice is worried more about your quality than your reach numbers take care of themselves. And if you jen up numbers it, you are building a platform that will not stand because you’re, because you’re the, the character and the quality of your work.
Barnabas Piper: 49:40 Do not match the stature of your platform. And so worry about the quality of your person and the quality of your work far more than you do. How many people read it? Your blog traffic does not matter in the grand scheme of things. Neither do your twitter followers. Neither doeS anything like that. Um, and are we realized that there are probably those who hear thIs and say, that’s easy to say when you’re a published author who has more twitter followers than I do. Um, but I don’t try to gain followers. I’m not interested in that. I really want to write a thing that I can interact with somebody about. The thing that matters to me is when a reader read something and comes back to me and says, that helped me, that helped me see something that helped my soul, that encouraged me, that made me laugh. That stuff matters to me because that’s quality. That’s, that’s, that’s reality. That’s connection. Those things matter. So worry about quality of who you are and what you are creating. Far more than the reach that it will have.
Chase Replogle: 50:42 Yeah. Good advice. I’ll uh, I’ll throw out as well as stay, stay curious and pick up barnabas’s book on curiosity if you want a place to start. So it’s a good one. I would recommend it. Um, what are ways people can follow you, um, the podcast, your blog. Just stay connected to the writing you are putting out.
Barnabas Piper: 50:58 Yeah, I think the easiest way is a, I have a website, just barnabas, piper.com. I do blog there occasionally. It’s mostly sort of where I compiled the things that I’ve written elsewhere. I’m not a real good blogger in terms of, you know, multiple times a week and that kind of thing. It’s also where the podcast is. So that’s the one that I cohost with ted clark and ronnie martin and we cover all sorts of topics usually from a sort of sardonic tongue and cheek perspective, but you know, we were not afraid to get thoughtful and serious as well. Uh, that’s at the website as well. So barnabas, piper.com and twitter is my favorite social, a social platform. I’m just at barnabas piper, so keep it simple and love to interact with people there as well.
Chase Replogle: 51:37 Well, I’ll make sure I share links and I just wanted to say thanks again. the work you do as well as being a guest today. I think there’s a lot for people to take away some good, good thoughts in there.
Barnabas Piper: 51:46 Well, thank you so much for having me on. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation and it has been a privilege.
Chase Replogle: 51:54 Thanks for listening to today’s interview. As always, you can find show notes as well as the links for all of the books that barnabas has mentioned as well as his own podcast and site by going to pastor [inaudible] dot com slash 30. If you haven’t already, I would really appreciate you leaving a review on itunes. It’s simple. If you’re listening in the app, you can just click one of the star ratings or go to the podcast page, pastor, writer.com. Click on itunes and it’s easy to do online as well. You leaving a review is one of the best ways for new people to be able to discover the podcast and for me to get feedback about how the show’s going. As always, thanks for listening. Until next time.