A Little Personal Publishing Insight
Lately I've been getting some great questions about writing from friends so I thought I'd spend a few blogging days writing about writing. When I was just starting out in my pursuit of a publishing deal I Googled all manner of things to find out about the process. It's a different world and I'm still just in the early stages of publishing, but since I was helped so much by those who shared their stories on their blogs, I would like to do the same today.
First, people ask if I always knew I wanted to write a book. The answer to that is a resounding "no." I mean, I was a writing minor in college, so I've always enjoyed writing, but more along the lines of research papers and less of the gross, awkward journaling I attempted to do in the past (am I the only one who hates journaling?). In fact, I feel like I'm just impersonating a writer most of the time. I'm insecure about the fact that I have no platform, no real experience and no idea what I'm doing. Yet there are much better writers out there who have labored for years without quantifiable success. And this is the best introduction I can give to the publishing industry--it doesn't always make sense to me. And yet God is sovereign even over book deals.
So the process began a little over a year ago as my mom and I sat down for coffee one night when she was in town for a few days. We somehow got on the subject of weddings and the need for a resource applying the gospel to wedding planning. We joked about how we could write a blog or a book on the subject, and then suddenly it didn't seem like a joke. The next thing I knew I was Googling "How to write a book" and asking advice from writer friends. I met with my pastor, Byron, for some guidance--both on publishing and on weddings--and worked on a proposal. I have done some proofreading in the past for a writer friend so I was familiar with the format of book proposals, but I checked out a couple of library books and read some online resources as well to make sure I was doing it semi-correctly. I sent the first two chapters to my pastor, who talked to his agent (also a member in our church), who in turn called me to discuss representation.
Now, this is the way it worked for me. However this is extremely rare. Most people don't have literary agents in their churches who are looking for new authors. In most situations authors must query agents for representation by sending query letters and/or proposals. My mom and I are totally blessed by our agent, Patti. She has been in the industry for years, has worked on both the writing and the publishing sides of the business, and as an incredible bonus she totally loves the Lord. From the very beginning Patti understood the book, knew the audience, and pinpointed the best publisher for our work. She sent the proposal to seven publishers, we were rejected by the first four or five, then her top pick asked for another chapter (which, naturally, I had not yet written and had to rush to complete within 48 hours, leading to a dentist appointment because I had been grinding my teeth so hard at night I had done some kind of nerve damage...not advisable).
Anyway, the book was picked up by B&H Publishing, which is actually right here in Nashville. Our editor said this is not usually the type of book published under their Christian Living division, but at the time she was pitching the proposal she had just finished helping with a niece's wedding and another member of the team had a granddaughter getting married. They saw the need, understood the concept and went for it.
Now, let me also say, I know. It's a niche book. In fact, because the idea is unique I have a lot of doubts about my writing ability. Rather than knowing the book was picked up on the strength of my writing, I know it was picked up on the originality of and need for the idea. On one hand, this is a huge blessing. I can struggle and write and labor over the words, knowing they must not just come from my own strength, thus limiting my over-abundant pride. On the other hand, though, I sometimes think, "How on earth did this happen?" and "What do I think I'm doing?"
Both reactions cause me to run to the cross, trusting the work Christ has done, believing He has given me this work to do and striving to do it to His glory alone. I would appreciate prayers during the process for both me and my mom. It's a lot more difficult than I thought, especially for someone who never proofread a paper I turned in during college. My "writing process" included all-nighters, Dr. Pepper, lots of notecards, an uncanny ability to write fluff and the speed to sprint from the printer to the classroom in less than 30 seconds.
If you are writing, or want to write a book, I would just say two things by way of advice. First, know your subject and have a great understanding of the main message of your book before you ever start even the proposal. Time thinking on the front end will save lots of time on the back end. Second, and most important--pray. The process of looking for a publisher or agent can be a crazy roller coaster of emotions, pride, being humbled and generally just learning you aren't in control. I have to pray repeatedly that God would protect my heart from both pride and depression. Ultimately it's His glory that matters, not my own. There is something about praying this that refocuses me and comforts me, and I hope it will do the same for you.
If you are a writer trying to figure things out, I'd love to share my limited wisdom and experience with you and help in any way I can! Shoot me an email or leave a note in the comments and maybe we can have coffee (or virtual coffee).
If you're interested in writing resources, here are some that helped (and continue to help) me:
Rachelle Gardner - this agent's blog is a great resource for anyone from a newbie to a seasoned veteran
Michael Hyatt - this former CEO of Thomas Nelson gives great insight into the publishing world, although his site is not just dedicated to writing so you might have to filter through some of the non-relevant stuff
Rachel Held Evans - Evans has several posts on writing/publishing, but this one telling her "Publishing Story" was particularly helpful for me.
Nathan Bransford - another great site detailing the whole process
How to Write a Book Proposal - this book by Michael Larsen is what I used from the library
Tony Reinke - Reinke's blog category list earns the blog its title: "Miscellanies." He has great thoughts on all sorts of things, but in particular I appreciate his writing tips and book reviews. Just a few days ago he posted a list of helpful books on writing, which is what I will link to here.