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Can Amazon Save Your Life?

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This last week I went to Amazon to look for a book. Did you know they sell those too?

Their home page directed me to an IndieReader.com article (also published here at The Huffington Post) by Jessica Park ("How Amazon Saved My Life"), author of several books, but whose book Flat-Out Love is her first Amazon book. Needless to say, Park is exuberant about her work with Amazon and for Amazon the feeling appears mutual.

Most of Park's books were traditionally published under a standard contract with all its usual difficulties and blessings. Her article is an interesting look at the pros of self-publishing with a big force like Amazon and includes the benefits from choosing your own cover to the potential to make big money.

I admit that I was intrigued by the money side first. After all, as a traditionally published author, I (like so many others) hope to at least earn as much from the book as I spent in buying coffee while I wrote it.

Up until now, and outside of blogging, I've not given self-publishing too much thought. Part of the reason for that is the reputation that the self-publishing world has -- whether it is deserved or not -- for being average or even subpar. I am also a professor, meaning that promotion and tenure are things that require a certain publication history not generally associated with the self-publishing book world at this point.

Park pulled no punches in her opinion of traditional publishing, and her belief in the superiority of self-publishing was far from reserved. Declaring anything one's savior is usually a bravado reserved for religious tracts. Should it be followed-up with "Amazon has a wonderful plan for your life?"

Despite the usual criticism of self-published books, I had an experience recently that reduced some of my skepticism of that industry.

I received an email a little while back from Nick Fieseler, a debut author. He asked me to look over his manuscript for his forthcoming book, Imago Dei: The Evolution of Man in the Image of God (WinePress Publishing). In this, Fieseler suggests a theological solution for discussions of evolution and Christianity. Reading my articles here at the Huffington Post on religion and evolution, he thought I could offer suggestions.

I receive requests to look over self-published books every so often, but my schedule is usually just too full to read everything. The summary of his book, however, caught my attention, perhaps for more narcissistic reasons. In brief, his approach to evolution neither involved a hands-off God nor the need for the God of the gaps asserted in intelligent design. In fact, it involved lesser-known discussion of a theological idea called middle knowledge and delved into classic theologians and philosophers.

In short -- for all of you theologians out there -- of all the possible worlds God could choose to create, and which he considered by using his foreknowledge, he chose the one in which evolution would (on its own) lead to the world we now inhabit given precise circumstances. Being in the image of God is something that occurs at a point in human evolution, rather than from the start. This avoids the need for God to tweak creation to fix evolution, according to this view.

What caught my attention was that as a student I had considered a similar approach to what he was advocating. In fact, when I received his book, it was like reading some of my past notes--thus my narcissism.

I abandoned the idea years ago because my life took a different turn. I am not seeking a theological solution to evolution, since I do not see evolution as a problem to be solved, but that is just me. I understand fully why theologians feel the need to do just that. Based on recent polls, Americans identifying themselves as Christians may very well want to see an interesting theological answer that is both orthodox and innovative.

This is where I found my hope raised a bit in self-publishing.

If an otherwise good author may find it difficult to publish due to credentials, experience, or lack of faith from inundated and cash-strapped publishers, but has something interesting to contribute to the conversation of his or her community, especially if this helps to resolve the difficulties many Christians have with evolution, then by all means, put the idea out there and let it stand or fall based on its merits.

It is likely that there are many interesting books that should have seen the light of day, but never made it past the slush pile.

It is not that I don't have some skepticism still. I grade papers for a living and I'm all too aware of what is out there and what I would never want to see published. However, I remember when blogging began and suddenly everyone was a writer. Now blogging has become a standard for media, readers have higher expectations of bloggers, and there is even a greater sense of accountability.

Perhaps the self-publishing world is venturing into that realm a little faster thanks to companies like Amazon, where if you want to sell your book, you have to allow customers to review it, and if you want Amazon to feature it or for it to win an award, it needs to be decent. And perhaps the world of book bloggers can spread the news that your book is great or that it belongs in one of Dante's circles of hell.

It is not like that doesn't happen in the traditional world, and it's not as if traditional publishing has always produced quality literature.

I'm not saying that I'm ready to jump on that bandwagon yet; I have a new traditional contract for a book that I'm signing right now that should pay for a couple mochas eventually.

I do, however, have a better appreciation for those who are sticking their necks out there without much of the protection afforded by a safety net of editors or an agent. They are not letting life happen to them; rather, they are engaging it head-on.

And in all the possible worlds one could inhabit, living in one in which you are never risking anything seems like a waste. It can be dangerous, but perhaps having the help of a big player like Amazon can, in fact, save your life.