So I was sitting at a table with two writers I’d just met. It was at the Easton Book Festival and since I’m new to the area I was very aware that I didn’t know anybody. I was also aware that my book, Holy Horror, wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen, despite it being mid-October. As we were talking my two interlocutors mentioned the advances they’d received for their books, one of whom was able to buy a house with said advance. As I listened I kept my mouth shut, because that’s polite, even though my jaw was slack. The other person hadn’t been able to buy a house, but after writing on a topic so obscure I can’t remember it, had been able to do something noteworthy with the advance. My royalties from Holy Horror wouldn’t have covered the cost of this dinner.
In the weeks following the festival—always busy with AAR/SBL looming, then Thanksgiving, then December—I began some soul-searching. What was I doing wrong? I also did some web-searching. One of the articles that came up, written by a business writer, suggested pulling up your socks and getting to it, demanding money for your writing. I don’t see anywhere to put a coin slot on this blog, which is more of a labor of love than anything anyway. Then the kicker came. This business writer cited Hosea 4.6, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge,” as the basis of why people would pay for content. Now pardon me for taking things a little literally, but I doubt Hosea was in the business of giving business advice. The knowledge people lack, in context, is knowledge of Yahweh.
Now here I was back on familiar territory. I’ve taught classes on Hosea, and this intriguing prophet was commenting on Israel’s lack of knowledge of God’s ways. There were some folks akin to prosperity gospelers back in the pre-Gospel days, suggesting that if you kept God happy rewards would roll your way, but history had other plans. Israel fell to the Assyrians shortly after Hosea’s time, his writing advice apparently unheeded. As I revise Nightmares with the Bible for publication—the reviewer felt it was too tradey—I have to wonder about my conversation back in October. Neither book of my conversation partners was one of broad appeal. In fact, the second was rather technical. They had, however, been paid for their work. Academic publishing is built on the paradigm that the writer already has a university job and doesn’t need the money. Hosea also said, if I recall, something about what happens if you sow the wind.