Saturday, September 16, 2023

My Independently Published Book Catalog

I have two sets of books that I have written. First, there are the books I have published with established publishers. These range from Cambridge to Westminster John Knox. I have a book coming out soon with Cascade. My general goal is to publish a book a year the old-fashioned way. These are the ones I put on my C.V. and that have the more extensive footnotes. I think I'm around 31 books in this category.

Then there are the self-published ones. Unless you're N.T. Wright or a small handful of authors, you can't always get a publisher. And normal publishing is slow. I'm sure it has hurt my reputation, but woe is me if I publish not my thoughts.

I also wanted to see if they could be a revenue source. Only a few select individuals can make significant amounts on officially published books. And I did make a little money when my NT Survey was part of the adult program at IWU in the 2000s. Over 10,000 copies sold. In the heyday, IWU automatically shipped new copies to students. It was a nice check every year. At its peak, it was maybe a seventh of what I was earning with my day job. 

I have yet to make more than a few hundred dollars a year on self-published books. I am strategizing and learning. Stay tuned. At the same time, I'm not sure I've ever cataloged my "independently published" books. That is a significant failing on my part. They are not widely known. I hope to have a Shopify store up in the next month or two. 

But for the moment, here is a catalog of the books I have self-published.

1. Who Decides What the Bible Means? (2006, 2018)
This was my first self-published book, back before CreateSpace and KDP. Keith Drury put me on to Lulu Publishing. I had first submitted it as a part of a contest to WJK. Got an interesting eyebrow-raised response. Waited a year on Abingdon to respond. In the meantime, they published a similar book by a more famous author. I always found that sequence suspicious. I think the book would have done well with Abingdon if they had gone with it.

"Walk down the typical city street in America and you will see church after church, all with different beliefs. What is even more intriguing is the fact that most of them claim to get their beliefs from the Bible. Who decides which interpretation is right In this book, Ken Schenck explores why Christians believe so many different things about the Bible and suggests the best way for Christians to use the Bible with integrity."

2. The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Why Does God Allow It? (2012)
This was my first with CreateSpace when it was a distinct element in Amazon's network. This was exciting--to be able to publish directly to Amazon. Since I don't have a silver bullet on the problem of evil, not least, this book never made the rounds.

"Those who believe God is loving and good have always wrestled with the question of why he allows evil and suffering to continue in the world. This short book presents some of the best suggestions."

3. The True Wesleyan (2012)
Named after an early Wesleyan Methodist magazine, my goal in this short work was to capture what was distinctive about the Wesleyan Church's identity. I was Dean of Wesley Seminary at the time and still had hopes to see the Wesleyan Church be a thought leader. I saw such great potential.

I suspect some of this book would be more controversial now than it was then since the frog has been boiling in the kettle in the broader culture. But I still think it is a good presentation of some of the strongest potential contributions of the Wesleyan Church to the church and world today.

"A brief overview of the historic strengths of the Wesleyan tradition, including its optimism about what God wants to do in the world and its focus on the heart."

4. Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology I: The Word of God: Summary and Evaluation (2013)
I thought I might catch some spillover traffic from individuals going to buy his infamous theology book. I do still get a regular trickle on this one, although it's hard to beat Amazon's algorithmic filters.

"Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology is widely influential. It is well laid out, easy to understand, and has components that make working through it a spiritual experience. The problem is that it is wrong at a number of fundamental points. This is the first of seven booklets summarizing and evaluating Grudem's theology. This first booklet evaluates his theology of Scripture, whose underlying problem is that it is riddled with anachronistic thinking. Grudem neither fully knows how to read the books of the Bible in context, nor is aware of how fundamentalist Reformed influences have skewed his interpretations of Scripture."

5. Explanatory Notes on Galatians (2013)
The next month after I self-published the book on Grudem, I self-published the first in my "Explanatory Notes" series. I had long been inspired by Wesley's Explanatory Notes that he wrote during a year when he was sick. I have all sorts of fragments of these on this blog. My goal was and I suppose still is eventually to publish these notes on the whole Bible. The thought was to keep myself motivated by doing it in atoms, then molecules. I have several of these in various stages of production, now linked to my weekly podcast, "Through the Bible in Ten+ Years."

6. God and Creation: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections (2015)
As I was finishing up as Dean of Wesley, I blogged through Wesleyan (Church) theology systematically. I used short articles with one-sentence theses to capture our shortened spans of attention. I tried to make it fit what I take to be the pragmatic potential of our tradition. And of course, I engaged Scripture extensively. It was not until this year (2023) that I finally published all the pieces of what was originally a blog series.

"This book explores the classical topics of Christian theology in relation to God and creation from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective."

7. Six Years a Dean: Reflections on the Founding of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University (2017)
I wrote this about a year after I left the seminary to go back to the undergraduate school of ministry. The historian in me wanted to preserve the founding of Wesley Seminary because I thought God had done something pretty spectacular and exciting. It still has a strong Hispanic MDIV program going, but it seems to me that it has generally lost its original flavor.  

"The founding of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University was an adventure in academic innovation and entrepreneurship. This book gives over six years' worth of reflections by the founding Dean."

8. Gabriel's Diary: The Incarnation (2017)
This was the very first novel I ever finished. I have over fifty more that I started over the years, going back even to before my England days. The goal was to tell the story of the Bible from Gabriel's perspective. Writing in novel form allows not only speculation but going well beyond. The goal was eventually to have a compilation volume going from creation to Revelation. I did three of five proposed volumes, but lack of interest killed my motivation.

"Gabriel is the archangel God uses more than any other to communicate with the universe. In this first of several entries into his diary, Gabriel recounts the coming of the Logos to the Earth as Jesus the Christ."

9. Gabriel's Diary: The Enthronement (2018)
The second installment looked at Jesus' earthly ministry, death, and resurrection.

"In the first installment of his diary, the archangel Gabriel shared his reflections on Jesus' incarnation as a child. In this second volume, he shares the story of Jesus' earthly ministry, death, and resurrection."

10. Gabriel's Diary: The Creation (2018)
I sensed a little interest in the first two volumes. There didn't seem any interest at all in this third volume, although I was very excited about it. I thought this might be an experimental niche volume for nerds interested in cosmological physics and science. It also was a chance to explore whether it was possible to integrate evolution with the biblical narrative and Christian theology. The result had a C.S. Lewis feel of a sort. But the book has been a dud so far as far as sales. The cover didn't help.

What I've realized is that it is almost impossible anymore to sell books on Amazon without a lot of work and investment. I'm currently studying how to do it. I may resurrect this series in a new form. For example, "The Story of Romans: Gabriel's Diaries."

"This third novella in the Gabriel series has Gabriel recount the creation of the universe up to the fall of humanity in the rainforest of Eden. The account implicitly speculates how the perspectives of modern science might cohere with Scripture and Christian theology."

11. Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory: Schenck Notes (2018)
Similar to the book on Grudem, I thought I might capture a niche of people trying to understand this classic philosophical, hermeneutical work. I thought I might do my own "Cliff Notes" on key biblical and philosophical writings. I had blogged through this book, so it also fits in the category of taking material I had blogged and translating it into book form."

"Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory is a classic in hermeneutics. These Schenck notes walk through the text, breaking it down so it can be understood and connected to related works."

12. A Horse Strangely Warmed: The Life of John Wesley as Told by His Horses (2019)
I don't know what I was thinking. I just had a funny thought one day. Tell the story of Wesley from the standpoint of his horses. This is my fourth novel finished. How one laugh sustained me to finish this book I don't know. Very unusual. It took a bit of research, since I'm not a Wesley expert. I have memories of writing it in my office at IWU in the library. I thought it might be popular with Methodists and Wesley fans. It does have a prancing of sales from time to time but never a gallop.

"See the ministry of John Wesley as seen through his horses--Maggot, Holey, Sophy, Grace, Georgy, and Charlie."

13. Explanatory Notes on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (2020)
After a seven-year hiatus, I took some of the explanatory notes from my blog and published another volume of the Explanatory Notes series. Three out of Paul's 13 down, 10 to go. I have plenty of fragments wanting to be filled out. For example, I think I have all of Philippians lying here on this blog somewhere.

"In the spirit of John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, Ken Schenck translates 1 and 2 Thessalonians verse by verse. The book gives general insights into the original meaning of Paul's earliest letter, as well as plenty of speculation about the setting of Paul's most mysterious letter."

14. God with Ten Words (2021)
I was also excited about this one. It attempted to capture some key insights into Christian beliefs about God in ten words. Simple, I thought. What I have learned is that, as much of a reach as I have, I will never be able to make substantial revenue off of my current social media network. Self-published authors have to market to 10,000s and spend $100s a day to find and maintain an audience.

"It is common to speak of the attributes or characteristics of God. This book picks ten key characteristics of God and explores them both biblically and theologically. God is mystery, love, power, knowledge, presence, Immanuel, good, parent, justice, and savior."

15. Profound Spiritual Reflections (or not) (2022)
I did make a good first round of sales on this one. Many of my students from the 2000s bought this compilation of Deep Thoughts as a good memory from their time at IWU. Dave Mason brought them back by having me give them at Silver Lake camp in Ontario.

"Life is serious. These thoughts are not. Amid the insanity of life and current events, these thoughts will hopefully brighten your day."

16. Profound Halloween/Reformation Day Reflections (or not) (2022)
I wondered if a follow-up edition focused on Halloween and Reformation Day might be a hit as well. Not so much. It was the memory of earlier days that sold the first more than the jokes themselves, it seems. Volumes I pondered on Christmas, July 4, and beyond have not materialized.

"The Reformation was serious. Halloween and these (not so) profound reflections are not. Amid the frivolity of Halloween and the never-ending splintering of Christianity, these thoughts are meant to brighten your day."

17. Christ and Salvation: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections (2022)
In 2022 I resolved to finish editing the systematic theology I had blogged through several years previous and publish it. After God and Creation, the next block of material was on Christology and soteriology. Seven years later.

"This book explores the classical topics of Christian theology in relation to Christ and salvation from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective."

18. Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Birth (2022)
Following the same idea I had used for Gabriel's Diaries a few years earlier, I resolved to have Explanatory Notes on key passages in the Gospels ready for Christmas and Easter. I needed to be a little earlier, but managed to publish this one December 16, barely in time for Christmas.

"This book is part of a number of "Explanatory Notes" I have published on the New Testament. This one looks at the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, as well as the Prologue in the Gospel of John. We go verse by verse through the biblical text, with a special view to the original meaning, but also to theological and practical significance."

19. The Spirit and the Church: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections (2022)
The third and final volume of the systematic theology portion of my blogging was done, published on Christmas Day. Since this is the area where I think Wesleyans are the most distinctive theologically, I was especially proud of this one. 

"This book explores classical topics of Christian theology in relation to the Holy Spirit and the Church from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective."

20. Christian Ethics: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections (2023)
The fourth part of the theology series was on ethics. I published it as a separate volume. It uses the Ten Commandments as the framework and, again, I was very happy to see this volume get into print. In these volatile times, I tried to represent the current sense of the Wesleyan Church while engaging in broader dialogs.

"This book explores the key topics of Christian ethics from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective. The basic structure of the book follows the Ten Commandments but views them through the lens of the New Testament, especially the twin commands to love God and love neighbor."

21. Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections on Christian Theology and Ethics (2023)
This is the only hardback I have ever self-published. It is the compilation of all four theology and ethics volumes in one. It's a big book, the longest I've ever self-published, well over 700 pages.

"This is a compilation volume bringing together in one place four smaller volumes that are already available in paperback. These were 1) God and Creation, 2) Christ and Salvation, 3) The Spirit and the Church, and 4) Christian Ethics. This hardback volume brings all four of those "Wesleyan-Arminian reflections" in one place."

22. A Wesleyan-Arminian Systematic Theology (2023)
It seemed to me that the big hardback was a bit cumbersome and that a more desirable package would be the three theology volumes together, so I published the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pieces together soon thereafter. I might be most proud of this volume of any book I've self-published. The Wesleyan Church and its forebears have not produced much along these lines. Luther Lee wrote one in 1859. That's about it.

Now, whether it likes it or not, the Wesleyan Church has a systematic theology. I think the fact that it's self-published, along with the style in which it was written, fits some of the pioneering spirit of the Wesleyans this last century and a half. The style and spirit fits with the original founding of Wesley Seminary. It fits the spirit of IWU's ministry department in the 2000s, IMO.

"This volume brings together in one place the three theology volumes of the Wesleyan-Arminian theology series. These were 1) God and Creation, 2) Christ and Salvation, and 3) The Spirit and the Church."

23. Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Resurrection (2023)
Soon it was Lent, and I did my best to publish Explanatory Notes on the resurrection narratives before Easter. I had initially wanted to do all the passion narratives as well, but it was just too much. Perhaps before Easter next year.

"As part of the Explanatory on the New Testament series, this book provides Explanatory Notes on the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels, with some additional material from Acts and 1 Corinthians. We go verse by verse through the biblical texts, with a special view to the original meaning, but also to theological and practical significance.."

Much more of this series to come. I suspect that, when I have enough to start bundling, I will get more interest.

24. Chats about God: A Novel Seeking Faith (2023)
This was my first color book and my fifth novel. Late 2022 and early 2023 saw the advent of ChatGPT. I suppose our reactions to such things are somewhat predictable. As someone who likes innovation, I was excited. I actually used some early AI image generation in it. Midjourney would knock the socks off it now.

It actually gave me good motivation to write a novel idea I had toyed with for a few years--processing faith with an "objective" AI. I thought curiosity would get me sales on this one. But very little. 

"In this novel, a young college student works through his faith questions by dialoguing with "Chat," a voice-activated artificial intelligence, and a small group of friends that call themselves the Seekers. One by one, he looks at the various arguments and objections to the existence of God. In the end, he concludes that Christian faith is reasonable and that God reaches out to each one of us in the hope that we will move toward him."

25. Plato's Republic: with Condescending Remarks (2023)
Convinced AI was a path to crank out some things, I returned to the same genre as I had done with Grudem and Ricoeur. But now, I thought, Chat could instantly generate the summaries that I had painstakingly generated by blogging before. I had ChatGPT generate summaries of Plato's Republic, book by book. Then I "trashed" Plato thereafter. Not a single sale as far as I know.

One challenge is that Chat is not always right. Sometimes it just makes stuff up. I ended up doing a lot more checking and editing of its summaries than I had hoped. In the end, the absence of interest and my inability to pierce Amazon's algorithms killed my enthusiasm. On my hard drive is a half-finished expansion of this idea to Plato's other treatises. I still hope to do versions of this on Augustine and beyond.

"In this first of the "with condescending remarks" series, ChatGPT summarizes the ten books of Plato's Republic (as well as Plato's life and broader thinking). Then I provide condescending remarks of superior intelligence putting that Plato in his place. Yes, yes, I know, the Republic is allegedly the most influential book of philosophy of all time."

26. A Pastor's Brief Guide to Business (2023)
Again, I had what I thought was an exciting idea. Use ChatGPT to write brief guides to various topics. "A Pastor's Brief Guide to Science," "A Pastor's Brief Guide to Philosophy," etc. This book is spectacular, in my opinion. I sent some copies out. I took out some small paid ads on Facebook and Amazon. Nothing. I've come to realize the amount I spent was not nearly enough to pierce the odds.

"This book overviews the main topics of business in summary fashion as a potential help for pastors and churchpeople who may have little knowledge or training in this area."

27. Teología Sistemática: Reflexiones Arminiano-Wesleyanas (2023)
This is my first self-published work in another language. When I first published the systematic theology, one comment was to remember the need in Spanish. Indeed, after I published the Spanish version, someone reminded me about the frustration we had in the seminary when Grudem was mostly what was available for theology in Spanish. This one might have some legs. The question mark of course is how good the translation is. I used three different tools to translate it. These tools are clearly getting better and better, but they're not perfect.

"Este volumen es un tratamiento sistemático de la teología cristiana desde una perspectiva wesleyana-arminiana, lo que lo convierte en uno de los pocos tratamientos de este tipo en español. Bajo los títulos generales del estudio de Dios Padre, Cristo y el Espíritu Santo, este libro también presenta las doctrinas de la creación, el pecado, la expiación, la salvación, la Iglesia y los sacramentos.".

I've gotten better and better with the covers. I'd like to think I've become a better writer. I think all the reasoning behind the book ideas were sound. I think the product is good enough. I simply have lacked the right marketing approach and spend. Nevertheless, "a writer writes," whether she or he has an audience or not.

Much more in the works, both fragments on my drives and ideas in my head. There are whole books sitting here on this blog (e.g., the equivalent of a pastoral leadership book and almost an entire pastor's brief guide to biblical scholarship). We'll see what pops out over the next year.

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