Straight Talk About the Seal of Approval

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.

About Karina Fabian

Karina Fabian writes everything from devotionals to serious sci-fi to comedic horror. Her latest novel, Live and Let Fly, stars a Catholic dragon and his magic-slinging partner, Sister Grace, as they save the worlds from maniacal middle managers and Norse goddesses. (Coming April from MuseItUp) Karina also teaches writing and marketing online. Learn more at http://fabianspace.com
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8 Responses to Straight Talk About the Seal of Approval

  1. Excellent article, Karen. We should make sure that every author submitting for the SOA is pointed towards this link. Ever since I joined the CWG I’ve served on the SOA committee and really love doing it. I’m very proud of the Catholic writers who work toward a high standard of excellence in their writing and want to help them get as much exposure as possible.

  2. Don Mulcare says:

    Hi Karina,

    Thanks for the history and perspective, especially as it comes from the pen of a CWG “Founding Mother” and sustainer.

    God Bless,

    Don

  3. Thanks, Karina. As someone who plans to self-publish, this is really helpful.

    But I wonder if people are thinking an Imprimatur is harder to get than it actually is. I’ve read comments by members saying, “I don’t know the bishop,” or yours that “the local bishop doesn’t have time to evaluate them.” My understanding is that most dioceses have a person on the bishop’s staff that has the role of evaluating books for the Imprimatur. The bishop doesn’t actually do this himself–he just signs off on the evaluation of an employee he trusts.

    In our diocese, the Director of Ministries has this job. (It used to be my husband as Coordinator of Staff–can you say, “Conflict of interest?” Then he created a new position last year.) If people are looking to get an Imprimatur, I would suggestion calling the chancery/diocesan offices to get the name and address of the right person. The moderator of the curia or director of staff will lead you to the right individual, if the assistant who answers the phone doesn’t know. I don’t imagine most dioceses get many requests for the Imprimatur these days. There is usually a separate individual who is in charge of giving the nihil obstat.

    I’d be interested to know if members have actually tried to get the Imprimatur and been told, “Sorry, we’re too busy,” or if they have just assumed the bishop was too busy and haven’t pursued it.

    • Heidi Saxton says:

      @Connie. An imprimatur can typically be secured through the diocese of the publisher or the author. The problem is that there are dioceses that don’t have the “bandwidth” to handle requests in the time frame a publisher requires. The Philadelphia archdiocese (mine) was always extremely responsive when I was at Ascension. However, in years past (prior to my being at Ascension) I have encountered situations where a diocese is not nearly so “engaged”.

      In addition, some authors are reluctant to go to a particular bishop because his reputation is “too liberal” (or “too conservative”), such that the author perceived the endorsement unhelpful. In such cases, these authors may have real difficulty securing an imprimatur from outside their diocese.

    • Because my book was catechetical, I needed an imprimatur. My bishop gave my book to the head of Faith Formation & Catechesis. She went over it carefully in about a month, then responded with a list of recommendations. It was an interesting and helpful process, and the book is better for it.

  4. I learned so much I didn’t know about SoA. Thank so much and I thank all the volunteers who are making this work for the booksellers and for us.

  5. Jen says:

    Great article Karina. @Heidi, good to know. I’m in the Philadelphia diocese as well.