It started at our first booth at the Catholic Marketing Network. We were new as a guild and with CMN, and incredibly hopeful that bookstores would fall in love with the books we were offering (or in the case of Ellen Gable Hrkach, pushing. That woman can market!) Again and again, the question came up, “Does this have an Imprimatur? Has it been approved by a priest?”
Later that year, we actually received a complaint letter from someone who was considering one of our books for their store, and was shocked by what she said was New Age philosophies mixed in with Catholicism. You see, we take all members on the honor system, and that year, all books as well.
So the next year, we talked to bookstore owners with a different goal in mind—what can we do to reassure you that our books are worthy of your store?
And the CWG Seal of Approval was born.
For those that don’t know, the SoA program looks at books that might not receive an Imprimatur because they are fiction, self-published, or the local bishop doesn’t have time to evaluate them. Three to five readers in good standing with the Guild read the books for minimum editorial/storytelling quality and Catholicity. Those that receive the Seal of Approval get art they can incorporate into their covers and seals they can put on their books to show they meet standards. CWG member books that meet the SoA also qualify for display at our CMN booth and can be featured in our monthly newsletter to bookstores. It’s a terrific program, and a LOT of work for those who run it.
Unfortunately, as the program has grown, so has some confusion about its purpose. I’d like to address some of those issues.
1. This is not a competition. This is a certificate, if you will, of meeting minimum standards of writing and Catholicity.
2. This is for the benefit of bookstores first. The SoA reassures the Catholic/Christian bookstore owner that your book does not contradict our faith and is of suitable quality for their store. This is not geared as an author bennie. Yes, you may benefit from receiving the SoA, but our focus in this program is to serve bookstore owners.
3. This is for books who are reaching a Catholic audience, and specifically Catholic bookstores. If your book would not be at home on the bookshelf of a Catholic bookstore, then it may not receive an SoA. You won’t get an SoA if your book is not Catholic, even if it does not contradict Catholic teachings. Merely having a Catholic character or being an author who is Catholic is not sufficient to qualify for the SoA. Just because your book does not receive an SoA does not mean it wouldn’t be at home on the shelves of B&N or your local Indie bookstore.
4. Not receiving the SoA does not mean your book is bad. Nor does it mean you are a bad writer or a bad Catholic. It means your book is not really something you’d find in a Catholic bookstore. Many of us in the Guild write books that will not qualify, often because they are for a more secular audience (which includes Catholics, of course). And that’s a good thing—we are supposed to reach the world, not just preach among ourselves.
5. Just because you don’t get the SoA doesn’t mean you can’t sell your books to Catholics. The great thing about Catholic readers, especially when it comes to fiction, is that they are generally open-minded and interested in things beyond our faith.
6. We don’t actively seek books to approve. Nor do we ask the big Catholic publishers for their books. Bookstores already trust what comes from Ignatius, Pauline, etc. They have their own vetting process. We are trying to open the eyes of bookstore owners to the small press and self-published works that they may never find out about or feel leery of because they aren’t published by the big names. If you have a book from one a large Catholic publisher that you wish to submit, you may, but really, the bennie for you is just the sticker and the possibility of being in the newsletter.
7. The decisions of the SoA committee are final. When we have a doubt about a book, we take it to a second committee of “experts” in the Catholic faith (usually clergy.) So please don’t argue the decision, and don’t harbor hard feelings. Again, we are evaluating for a specific audience.
Of all the programs the Guild has started, the Seal of Approval has been our biggest and farthest reaching. It’s building our reputation among bookstores, readers, and the publishing industry. That helps us all, as well. Sarah Reinhard and her team have done an amazing job building and modifying this program so that is serves a definite purpose—to show bookstores that there is a whole plethora of worthy books coming from diverse authors—authors like you.