Category: Communication

Everything I Need to Know About Publishing I Learned from my Preacher Father

My father, G.H. Cummings, preaching on the radio as a young man

Practically being raised on a church pew helped set me on a literary path. We sang with gusto the gospel song, “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” During my growing-up years as my father’s daughter, watching him and my mother minister in many churches, I learned:

The potency and potential of words in a book.

In those days in church we were people of two books: the Bible and the hymnal. Every church service began and ended with opening that wondrous, heavy book, often holding it so the person next to you could share it. The hymnal united us as we joined our voices in lilting melodies and straightforward harmonies accompanied by my mother’s lively piano playing, often eliciting “amens” of blessing. All the symbols to help us make music together resided on the pages of that book, all the words to elicit such response, blended in heart-stirring, mind-engaging, and soul-satisfying rhythm, sense and rhyme.

In every meeting the Bible was also opened—and revered. The congregation stood for “the reading of the Word.” With a reverent, sonorous, unctuous voice, the preacher read a passage from the Bible, then exhorted from its inexhaustible storehouse of truth, wisdom, and life application. I saw evangelists hold their big, black, leather Bibles aloft in one large hand while exclaiming something like, “The Word of God is alive! It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing enough to reveal your sin.” And I quaked. But I also learned, quite young, that real comfort could be experienced from those pages. No mere words on paper. But alive! Jumping off the page and into the mind and heart of the reader or the listener. Quickening!

The preacher and his family. I’m the older sister there.

The joy of writing, printing, and disseminating words on paper.

I watched my preacher father as he typed the church bulletin—and perhaps a newsletter—during the week on his old black typewriter (I loved the clicking of the keys and how the little hammers hit the paper, resulting in words appearing and forming themselves into sentences that said something and that people would read and use to plan their week). On Saturday Daddy would crank out maybe two-hundred copies with his mimeograph machine. I can still smell the ink and hear the sheets of paper swoosh round the rollers and shoot out onto the pile of materials ready to be folded and stacked, then handed out and read—to inform and influence—to be published!

The importance of getting the word out.

Twice a year our churches held extended revival services with an itinerant evangelist, and, in preparation, Daddy would mimeograph a flyer about the upcoming week of meetings. I remember a few times when he paid my sister and me 5¢ each per city block to take the flyers door-to-door and invite people to the services (though “city block” doesn’t quite describe neighborhoods in these rural towns surrounded by farms). My sister and I learned the importance of overcoming our trepidation, knocking on doors, and getting out the word (much like the publicity side of book publishing).

The value of reading and sharing books.

We had few toys and TV (which we got when I was about 11) was our only “tech” entertainment. But always there were books. Books lined the shelves in my father’s study. He took my sister and me to the public library regularly, encouraging us to browse and check out books that interested us. My sister read every horse book she could find, especially those by Walter Farley. I read all the Louisa May Alcott books. And when we brought books home from school or library, our mother often read them, too, and we all enjoyed discussing together the stories. In fact, my sister and I always told each other the stories we read. As a result, I felt I’d read the Black Stallion books even though I never did. And she knew the characters and plots in Little Women and Under the Lilacs even though she didn’t read them. She didn’t have to. That ability to vicariously experience the stories really helped, because there were so many more books to discover! (A side note: When I was a girl I’d hear people argue their point in conversation by saying, “I know it’s true. I read it in a book!” Whether people were readers or not, I observed that most had a sort of reverential awe of books.)

G.H. Cummings in 2009

The importance of knowing your readers, your audience, your market.

My father made it a practice to call on his flock in their homes regularly and also to be there whenever trouble hit a family. He would stop by their businesses, farms, and work places for a friendly chat. When he stood in the pulpit to preach on Sunday, he knew those people. He knew their families, their joys and sorrows, the challenges they faced. He also knew their interests, their hobbies, what made them laugh or cry.

How to recruit, train, and encourage workers.

The work and mission of the church needed people of all abilities and ages (and still does). I saw discernment in operation, encouragement expressed, and responsibilities entrusted. Organizing, scheduling, holding meetings were necessary. But loving God and loving people mattered most. Whether or not I heard that expressed in so many words, I definitely “caught” the mindset. As a publisher I want to see sales and increase distribution. I want well-edited and designed books, I want engaged authors, reliable print providers, and enthusiastic book reviewers. I want customers to buy our books. But most of all I want to experience God’s presence in all we do. I want to always remember that, as a Christian publisher, what we publish truly is “glad tidings.”

My dad and me in a recent “selfie” shortly before his passing.

~Catherine Lawton

(This post was first published in 2013. I revised/edited it slightly and added more photos this time.)

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