Thursday, May 19, 2005

Need a TAN?

Catholic bloggers have been buzzing the last week or so about the Catholic publisher, TAN Books, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. If they don't show a profit soon, they'll be liquidated. So everyone's been encouraging everyone else to buy TAN Books.

But let me tell you why I - a young, devout Catholic who loves to read - don't buy TAN Books. Why not? Simple. In my experience, they're not very good products. That's hard to say about an established Catholic business that's in trouble, but I think that may be one of the reasons they're in trouble. Here's the main problems I have with their books (or, at least, all of their books I've read):

1)The translations aren't good. Now, I don't speak lots of foreign languages (I'm at an intermediate level in French), but I can tell good translations from bad (especially when I've read more than 1 translation of a particular work). In my experience, they've all been bad. Either that, or the saints really aren't as eloquent as I thought they were.

2) Sloppy copy. I continuously find spelling and grammar mistakes in their books. I lose confidence in the author and publisher when I see that and it makes me want to stop reading. If you can't even spell stuff right, why should I trust you know about matters of faith? Seriously, no matter the size or wealth of an operation, there is no excuse for sloppy copy.

3) Design. Hello, guys, it's 2005, so stop designing your books like it's 1973. Seriously, TAN has some of the worst designs out there. It's like they're designing covers and jackets on some antiquated version of Microsoft Publisher. I look at their designs and I think, "This is the cheesiest thing I've ever seen." And then I don't want to read it. Also, they have very bright white pages, which throws me off. Also, the font they use for their books is not a good one. It gives me a headache while reading.

I know TAN Books does really good work and all Catholics should be appreciative of that, but if you can't present a good package, you're never going to sell your product.

The other reason why I think TAN is not doing so well is actually a heartening one: Mainstream publishers are publishing Catholic works now. They always have, of course. But who's the biggest American Catholic author right now? Scott Hahn. Who's his contract with? Doubleday - a huge, mainstream publisher. Pope John Paul's publisher in the U.S. is Warner (as in TimeWarner). Now, mainstream publishers aren't going to publish lots of traditionally Catholic titles, but it's exciting that they'll publish Hahn and JPII.

Finally, a recommendation: I saw a friend of mine the other day reading St. Therese's Story of a Soul. Except it was the John Beevers translation. Boo. If you're going to buy Carmelite-related materials, get them from ICS (Institute of Carmelite Studies) Publications. It's headquartered in DC and run by Carmelites themselves. The publisher, Fr. John Sullivan, I met a few years back when he gave a conference on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) at the Carmelite Convent in Covington, La. He was really helpful in sending me materials and giving me tips on how to read Carmelite works. Not only are these Carmelites excellent translators and scholars in their fields, but they also live the Carmelite charism - which is helpful when you're publishing Carmelite works.

I don't mean to dismiss TAN Books. They do lots of good work and I hope they're able to show a profit soon. But people like me won't buy the books unless they're publishing improves. I hope it does soon.