Agents of Color See Changes

Agents of Color See Changes, Challenges in Christian Publishing

By Ann Byle | Apr 21, 2021

This article was published in Publishers Weekly on April 21, 2021

(From left) Sharon Elliott, Barb Roose, Jevon Bolden

BIPOC agents say they’ve seen significant increases in interest—and deals—with Christian publishers since summer 2020 for books by authors who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color. Yet, they have reservations about the future.

Sharon Elliott, the owner of Authorize Me Literary, says, “Suddenly everyone is aware that Black lives matter. I’m proud of Christian publishing for looking at itself [now], yet we should be ashamed of ourselves. Someone shouldn’t have to say ‘that’s a white industry.’ The industry has been missing out on the richness that comes when cultures come together under the Christian banner.”

Barb Roose, a new agent with Books & Such Literary Management and an author, has seen the increase in contracts via a Facebook group for Christian women writers of color. “There was very little movement before the last six months, but now there are at least eight contracts,” says Roose, whose eighth book, Breakthrough: Finding Freedom in Christ, was published this month (Abingdon).

Jevon Bolden of Embolden Media Group says it seems that interest in publishing authors of color has increased, “especially since George Floyd’s death. But it’s hard to say if these are actual changes,” Bolden says. Although she reports close to a dozen book deals for BIPOC authors with Christian publishers recently, she’s unsure if this signals lasting change.

The ‘Platform’ Problem

One sign of doors opening is a wider awareness of authors who don’t yet have vast personal platforms. Adrienne Ingrum, owner of her eponymous agency, says, “Recently the focus has shifted from almost exclusively mega-pastors and high-platformed Christian entertainers to a wider spectrum of writers.” In the past, she continues, “If the author wasn’t a ‘name’ it was extremely difficult to interest Christian publishers. Now I see that loosening a bit, primarily due to interest in books about race.”

Leticia Gomez of Savvy Literary Services, who placed 28 books with publishers last year, 60% by BIPOC authors and a least a quarter of them in the Christian spiritual market, also points to publishers’ concern with whether an author brings a large platform via social media, speaking, or podcasting. “New books are being published [because of] the author’s platform instead of the content, and there are a lot of great books out there not being published because the author doesn’t have a great platform,” she says.

(From left) Adrienne Ingrum, Leticia Gomez, Chris Park

“Spirituality is very important in the Latino culture, but Latinx writers don’t feel they have the credentials to write for the Christian market,” Gomez says. She counters that, saying, “In order to offer a great spiritual book, publishers have to look for a fresh perspective that only a person from a different background can bring to the table. We need the hope that spiritual nourishment can provide, but not everybody eats the same way.”

For Chris Park of DeFiore & Company, half of whose clients are in the Christian/religion market, almost all the projects she’s placed there are by authors of color and almost all are women, “moving forward the conversation about race within the church.” She points to Ekemini Uwan, Dr. Michelle Higgins, and Dr. Christina Edmonson, hosts of the podcast Truth’s Table and co-authors of (Truth’s Table: The Book, Convergent), and Helen Lee and Michelle Reyes (The Race-Wise Family, WaterBrook Multnomah).

Park says she has seen limited progress in Christian publishing both for BIPOC authors and personnel. “I don’t know if Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise would have been published 20 years ago—and today it’s a New York Times bestseller, thank God. And there are a few more BIPOC editors in the acquisitions ranks than there were back when I was an editor. But there’s still a long way to go. Consider the fact that half of younger American evangelicals (under age 30) are nonwhite. Obviously, we are nowhere near that in Christian publishing. We need more representation.”

Still Roadblocks Ahead

Ingrum is concerned that larger legacy agencies “don’t seem to want to chance the fact that a Black agent could be expert in this BIPOC author niche and that it could be bankable. White agents believe they can serve BIPOC celebrity clients themselves, so agents of color are not seen as adding value or perhaps even viewed as competition.”

Ingrum adds, “I have faced obstacles from white women more than from men, and I believe it’s because my white sisters in the faith have had to be super competitive in order to gain their own place at the table, and white men often don’t even see a Back female agent as viable enough to construct obstacles.”

She also questions why “a white person in an editorial meeting or pub board needs to green-light a project by a BIPOC author. This need for white people to understand our projects ultimately results in bias, though often unintended.” Ingrum says, “Respect BIPOCs telling their own stories.”

When Roose looks at publishers for her clients, she looks for a commitment to discovery, financial equity, visibility, and credibility for BIPOC authors. Are BIPOC authors getting the same advances and royalty rates as majority authors? Are there the same opportunities and financial commitment for publicity and marketing? Are sales teams reaching into the markets that reach BOPIC readers? “These things are easier to come by for majority authors. The plan from the publisher in these areas for BOPIC authors has to be there,” says Roose.

Bolden also has concerns. She says, “I wonder if we’re seeing changes or more a desire to catch up to something that should have been done already. I don’t want this to be ‘Oh, we need to get the next Latino, Black, Asian author just to be part of the trend,’ I appreciate the effort and can see it, but I can’t say that I am full of hope that the changes we’re seeing will be sustained. We still need the infrastructure and publishing teams that are passionate about forming authentic relationships between themselves and booksellers, book reviewers, the authors themselves, and the target readers especially. We need teams that are diverse and speak the language of the diverse authors they serve and can help them translate and mold their ideas so decision-makers can give them the green lights they deserve. The audience is already there.”

No Wonder We Have Joy!

One of my favorite old hymns is “Count Your Blessings.” The song was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. and was published way back in 1897. The first two verses and the chorus say:

Verse One: When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Verse Two: Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Chorus: Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God hath done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

This hymn prompts us to encourage ourselves by looking back to remember God’s blessings. “Buck up!” it’s saying, “God’s been there for you and you have much for which to be thankful!”

Today’s verse extends the encouragement into the present and the future. Psalm 16:11 says, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (NKJ). Not only has God blessed in the past, He blesses today (the path of life is fullness of joy in God’s presence), will continue to bless tomorrow (You will show me the path), and will bless forevermore.

An investment company’s television commercial pictures a green line on the sidewalk indicating the plan the man has made for his future. When he leaves his broker’s office and detours a bit to look at a luxury car he doesn’t need, his advisor calls from the office and says, “Stay on the path.”

That’s God’s admonition for us today: stay on the path. He instructs us so that we know for sure the path of life. It is the well-trodden road laid before us in the example of Jesus Christ and of the saints that have preceded us. That path is fullness of joy, satisfaction characterized by a merry heart that puts running and skipping in our steps. On that path we find ourselves in His presence where there are pleasures – things delightful, pleasant, and sweet – offered to us by His powerful right hand forevermore.

No wonder we have joy!

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©2021 Sharon Norris Elliott. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail, and periodically check in at www.LifeThatMatters.net to see what’s going on in the ministry.

God Really Does Guard our Hearts

I couldn’t hear God as I read my Bible one morning because there was turmoil in my life. I tried and tried to concentrate on what I was reading, but kept finding my mind drifting to my troubles. I begged God for a word from Him. Thankfully, He spoke, but not from the passages I was reading. He brought to my mind a familiar passage, perfectly fitted for my present situation.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (NKJ).

I know these verses by heart. At first, it seemed not too comforting for God to be telling me, “Just stop trippin’.” How am I supposed to stop being upset when upsetting stuff is going on? Then God pulled my attention to the last phrase. That’s it. I need my heart and my mind guarded. Confusion and troubles are designed by our great enemy to turn our minds and hearts from God. When we are troubled, our thoughts dwell on ourselves and not on God. We wonder what we should do; we justify our feelings and our actions; and we worry about how things are going to turn out. I wasn’t trying to operate this way; in fact, I have been in constant communication with God, but I still found my mind overwhelmed and my heart breaking and in pain.

I’ve figured out that it comes down to whether or not I really trust God’s word. I know I do, so no matter what I’m feeling, I must put my foot down on the fact that God’s Word is true – the spiritual is in control of the physical – and that’s that. God’s Word says that God’s peace will station a guard around my feelings (my heart) and my thoughts (my mind). I didn’t get what I needed from the particular passage I wanted to read in my morning Bible-reading routine, but God’s Word still had a word for me – a word for where I was on my journey with Him. He then graciously led me to other words of encouragement from his heart to mine.

  • Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. Psalm 37:5 (KJV)
  • But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Psalm 37:11 (NKJ)
  • Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; he shall never permit the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55:22 (NKJ)
  • Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble. Psalm 119:165 (NKJ)
  • I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path. Psalm 142:2-3 (NKJ)
  • But glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good… Romans 2:10 (NKJ)
  • Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; Romans 12:12 (NKJ)
  • Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NKJ)

Sometimes, we just have to be determined to believe God’s word even when everything around us – and even everything within us – shouts the opposite.

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©2021 Sharon Norris Elliott. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail by periodically checking in at www.LifeThatMatters.net and also see what’s going on in the ministry.

Christian Community

I delivered a message for the Women’s Christian Fellowship group of the International Council of Community Churches. These women had come together from all over the country for their annual denominational convention. I joked with them, knowing they must be an august, serious group with lots of faith in me to figure I had something worthwhile to say about their complex topic – the role of women in the modern church – at 7:00AM – for 20 minutes.

Well, the gist of my message was that since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, His intention for a woman’s role, no matter where she is, has not changed since God created woman in the first place. If we look at all of Scripture, at all the many roles women have played in Biblical history, and at how God the Son dealt with women, we can see clearly that God is in the business of including women in His work and using them to bring Him glory.

Of course, I went into more detail – 20 minutes’ worth – in the actual message, and afterward the ladies were generous with their praise and encouraged at being reminded of their usefulness to the Kingdom. But I was struck not so much by the adulation, but by the oneness I felt in the room. Here we were, Christians from many different cities and states, together because of a common cause, mainly our love for our Lord. Even at an early hour, here we were, together to hear one more time from the Scriptures, trusting that we’d hear something that would change us, inspire us, motivate us, or challenge us. I didn’t need to know them and they didn’t need to know me. All we needed to know is that we all knew the Savior. This is a community – the community of the saints – of which I’m ecstatic to be a part.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rom 15:5-6 (NIV)

©2009/2021 Sharon Norris Elliott. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including the copyright line. For all devotions, comments, and questions, log onto Sharon’s blog at http://www.LifeThatMatters.net.

Ask First

Throughout the books of first and second Samuel, David usually asked God first before he made a particular move. If enemies reared their ugly heads against him, he would pray something like, “God, should I go up against these people?” and God would give him a yea or nay.

Well, in II Samuel 7, David thought about the fact that he was living in a gorgeous home, but the ark of God dwelt in a tent. He discussed with Nathan the prophet the idea of building a house for God. At first, Nathan thought it was a great idea too. Then God stepped in. God told Nathan to tell David not to start that building project. David’s son would do that. David was to just keep on doing what God had called him to do, namely, to conquer lands and subdue Israel’s enemies.

There was nothing inherently wrong with David’s idea to build God a house. The problem was that it was not what God wanted him to do, so God checked him through Nathan the prophet. It’s interesting that after this, David goes to war and makes decisions and it’s not recorded as much to see David stopping to ask God first before he proceeds. Just three chapters later, David commits the sin with Bathsheba which essentially toppled his influence from then on. Could it be that although David went on doing what God wanted him to do, he was sulking over the fact that God nixed his building plans? Perhaps David avoided close contact with God because what God called him to do was not what he really wanted to be doing. And then that separation from God led David in the only direction he could have gone–down the wrong path, the path that indulged his own desires over God’s.

 Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (NKJ). May the Lord keep us heading in the right direction as we remain open to allowing Him to check our every idea and give us clear direction as to exactly what He wants us to do.

Listen: Read Proverbs 16:9

Reflect: What are your plans? Have you checked with God to see that your plans align with His plans for your life?

Pray: Ask God to clearly show you how to align your plans with His, even if that means throwing your plans out and starting all over by managing the job He wants you to do.

(C)2021 Life That Matters Ministries

God’s Word is Enough

In I Samuel chapter one, Hannah prays to have a son. She is so distraught over her distress that she is not even able to eat, so she goes to God with a very specific prayer. She is so serious about it that she adds a vow to her request. She says first, look on my affliction; then, remember me; then, give me a male child. Finally she vows to give him back to the Lord and that no razor would come upon his head. (I Sam. 1:11)

Eli the priest saw Hannah praying and when he recognized her sincerity, he blessed her and prophesied that God would grand her petition. Right then, Hannah stopped crying, changed her whole attitude, and acted as if her prayer had been answered.

That’s what has caught my eye today. Hannah didn’t have her baby; in fact, she wasn’t even pregnant yet, but look at her attitude. Once she received the word from God, her faith in His word took over and she moved as if the manifestation was already there. May we learn to live in faith in God’s word even before we see results.  “For we walk by faith, not by sight” II Corinthians 5:7 ((KJV).

(C) 2021 Life That Matters Ministries

Hold Your Head Up (4/9/20)

photo of woman in white dress posing with her head up and her hands raised
Photo by Rômulo Carolino on Pexels.com

As­sem­blies of God pas­tor, sing­er, and Gos­pel song­writ­er Ira Stanphill composed the words and music to the beautiful hymn “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.” Enjoy the first verse and refrain here:

I don’t know about tomorrow,
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from it’s sunshine,
For its skies may turn to gray.
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said,
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Refrain
Many things about tomorrow,
I don’t seem to understand;
But I know Who holds tomorrow,
And I know Who holds my hand.

We don’t know what all Pastor Stanphill was going through, but just before he penned those words, it is possible he had been reading Luke chapter 12 in which Jesus teaches about focus and priorities to a crowd who must have been worried and bothered about a lot of stuff. The takeaway message of this chapter is, “Hold your head up.” But, you may be thinking, how am I supposed to accomplish that when so much is troubling me? This Coronavirus quarantine business is stretching out and has gotten real. I hear your heart. Here are some takeaways from the Lord.

First of all, focus on your value. Start by realizing you are of value to God. Luke 12:7 (NKJ) says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” And Luke 12:24 (NKJ) reads, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?” God is paying attention to you and supplying for your needs moment by moment. You woke up again this morning, didn’t you?

Second, prioritize what you seek. Jesus tells us in Luke 12:29-31 (NKJ), “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” Here, Jesus basically tells us to stop trippin’. The fact that God is aware of our needs

woman wearing red hat and sunglasses
Photo by Nashua Volquez on Pexels.com

presupposes that He can and will do something about them. He’s not just up there in Heaven, forlornly shaking His head and wringing His hands saying, “My, my, my, look at all the trouble my child is going through. Sure hope she makes it.” No, be it bottled water, paper towels, toilet paper, masks, hand sanitizer, or anything else you need during this pandemic or at any other time, God’s got your situation under total control.

So, if you feel out of control, let go of the wheel. Simply stop trying to have your hand in everything and be guided by God’s hand. Heads up; seek Him. He will take care of all of the rest.

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(c) 2020 Life That Matters Ministries, Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott, founder/CEO

1/18/20: Blinders and Muzzles

Here in America, we don’t often hear stories about demon possession or oppression unless we’re watching a Hollywood production. We have relegated demons to the silver screen. Actually, we somewhat enjoy being spooked for an hour and a half as the actors think it’s a good idea to spend the night in a deserted house in the middle of a forest on a moonless night. We allow the shadowy images to invade our psyches and are relieved when at least one hero or heroine emerges unscathed in the end. We exit the theaters leaving both our popcorn boxes and our fear of demons behind.

The demons might not care so much about the popcorn box, but they are certainly glad we left our attention to them behind. The principalities and powers of darkness want nothing more than for us to think they are no danger, and better yet, that they don’t really exist. They know that we neither fear nor respect that which we deem nonexistent; we are not on our guard against it either.

Jesus did not wonder about the existence of the demonic and neither did the people of his day. When demon-possessed people were brought to Him, Jesus didn’t say, “Oh my friend, you are misguided in your diagnosis. This man is merely troubled.” No, Jesus cast the demons out. In order to cast demons out, He had to recognize they were real.

Christians cannot be possessed by demons because the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within us. However, demons do their best to oppress believers. They will counterfeit within us some of the same troubles they bring upon the possessed. I believe two of their main weapons are blinders and muzzles.

Matthew 12:22 reads, Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw” (NKJ). Just as this man was blind and mute because of demon-possession, some of us Christians don’t see what we should see or say what we should say because we’re allowing the forces from hell to cover our eyes and shut our mouths. We refuse to recognize sin as sin and speak out about it.

It is our job to bring light, to be light, and to sound forth as the voice of deliverance in our world. Stop letting demons oppress you. Remove the blinders and muzzles. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” Matthew 5:14 (NKJ).

Receive your sight. Receive your voice.

In Matthew chapter 8, we read two accounts that show a stark contrast in how Jesus can be approached. Right after witnessing Jesus heal a leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many other demon-possessed and sick people, the disciples boarded a boat with Him and found themselves in a severe, unexpected storm. Even Peter, Andrew, James, and John – the skilled fishermen of the group – couldn’t control the boat and they judged that the waves were about to kill them. Meanwhile, Jesus was down in the boat taking a nap. They all woke Him up, frantically pleading, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matthew 8:25 KJV)

Jesus’ response and corresponding actions took them totally by surprise. “‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’ Matthew 8:26-27 (NKJ).

Immediately following this incident, they arrived to the other side of the sea and met two demon-possessed men who, upon seeing Jesus, suddenly cried out, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?… If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine” Matthew 8:29 and 31 (NKJ).

The disciples – those who walked with Jesus regularly and witnessed His power consistently – panicked in their crisis. Instead of approaching Him by virtue of the power they had seen Him display, they questioned what kind of man He was to be able to command even the wind and waves. By contrast, the demons immediately recognized who He was and responded, knowing what He was capable of doing and what He would tolerate.

Colossians 1:16-17 says, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (NIV)

What will it take for us to recognize Jesus’ power? Do we know Him for who He really is? Do we trust Him for all He can do? We should be ashamed of ourselves for letting the demons exhibit more faith in Jesus than we do.

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(C) 2020 Sharon Norris Elliott