I still remember the day a California Bay Area newspaper featured an article titled “Accidental Author Shares God’s Word.” I smile remembering that it was in the front section of the paper as if this was news. It was true, I was an accidental author. It was nothing I had planned and wasn’t a long-term goal. But in the big picture, this wasn’t news to God. He had been preparing me for this ministry for awhile. It came as a result of serving women at our local church and writing spiritual growth materials for our women’s ministries. The women began spreading the word, sending it to publishers and one thing led to the next. I was contacted by a publisher and was on the road to becoming a published author. I learned then, what I know now, God is full of surprises.
That article seemed like yesterday, but was years ago. I have been in Christian publishing for over 20 year. I’ve traditionally published several books, been deemed an Amazon best selling author, contributed to several collaborative works and wrote a handful of curricula on assignment for large publishing houses. That’s a lot of writing for someone who never considered being a writer.Over the years I have discovered a few things about being a writer and now I’m discovering things about being a literary agent. Here is some of what I have learned or am learning. I guess, these are some of the things I would tell my younger writer self.
Obtaining a literary agent
In my earlier years I thought writers hired literary agents the same way you hire someone to fix something in your house. I began searching for literary agents and was sure before long that I would choose one. What I soon found out was that getting a literary agent was no easy task. The agent had to want to represent me. I was turned down more than once. Have you watched “The Voice”? There are amazing artists in some of those blind auditions, but the chair doesn’t turn. Why? Because the voice coach has to be strategic with the team they are building. They are looking for artists who are ready. I realize now that when a literary agent is considering acquiring a client, they too are looking for writers who are ready. Or a client that is committed to doing the work to be ready. There are many things to consider. When I add someone to my client list it is well thought out, prayed over, and intentional on my part as an agent. If you are turned down by an agency, it does not mean your writing has no value but may mean that you need more time to develop or that the agent you are pursuing is not the right fit. Trust God; he knows the path you are to take. But by all means, don’t base your worth on whether an agent or editor connects with your work. If this is God’s path for you, there will be one that will. It’s often about timing.
Once I had an agent, I thought it was their job to make everything happen for me. If I wasn’t getting offers, they were not doing their job. Naïve thinking. Truth is that an agent is not a fairy godmother who makes all your wishes come true. It’s not the agent’s responsibility to write your proposal or your sample chapters. They advise, encourage and keep you accountable to your goal—but the writer must do the work. Unless you are ready to do the work, no one can help you. It is your book, your ministry, your calling—not the agent’s. To represent you, an agent needs your best work. Literary agents cannot guarantee outcomes. I have had books that have done very well and are still selling after years on the market. I have others that didn’t do well at all. None of this had anything to do with who my agent was at the time. We are to work hard and stay connected to God, trusting Him with all outcomes.
Writing for the Christian market is a calling
Becoming a Christian communicator is not just a business, it is first a calling. Writing with spiritual content requires spiritual connection. My earliest writing was birthed from growth in my own life, resulting in a sense that God was calling me to share truths and encourage others. Christian communicators are focused on speaking or writing content that help others move forward or grow. It is not about us, because frankly they don’t need us to grow, they need Jesus. When Jesus calls us to hold biblical truth or principles out to people, that is a calling. When God stirs a story within our soul, that is a responsibility.
The Christian writer requires connection to God
You cannot give out what you don’t first possess. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot have power if you are not plugged in. This may be the very most important part of being a Christian communicator—connect with God, abide in Him—and He will work through you.
“ I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my father’s glory, that you bear much fruit .” John 15:7-8
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”John 15:11
Joy in the process comes as we remain connected to Jesus. Period.
Platform is not a dirty word
I resisted the idea that I needed to be concerned about platform. I assumed I would simply pray, asking God to bless my work. I thought of this platform business as unspiritual work. I was wrong. It would be like someone trying to plant a church without ever stepping a foot out their front door. They could pray, but without action, no one would know they existed, and no church would be formed.
Publishers have always taken the time to make sure an author could sell their work. My first book contract came from David. C. Cook; it was in 2000. They liked what I was writing, but after doing a feasibility study, they said it was unfeasible to publish me. But thankfully, God opened doors and they decided to take a chance. What started out as one unfeasible deal, ended up being a three-book series. That was twenty-two years ago. Those books did well and were re-released and re-packaged ten years later. They still sell, and I continue to get royalties from them.These days publishers might not take the same risks. Publishing is a business. We must accept that.
Embracing the dreaded platform
Your reach or platform is important. If you have no one to sell the books to, a publisher would not be wise to invest their money. That said, it is advised to work on your social reach, your email lists and/or your speaking engagements. You are not doing this to promote yourself but to continue walking in your calling. There are classes you can take and books you can read. Many are writing on the subject. Instead of resisting it, embrace it as another vehicle of ministry. Stay connected to God, pray about your reach and move forward by faith. As Christian communicators, the platform is about a mission…to reach others with messages of hope. Let’s not make followers our goal, but following Jesus the focus. He will lead each of us in finding ways to reach people for the Kingdom. It could be in your local church, community or in a variety of ways online.
Writing a book takes work
Writing can be a hobby or a ministry/business. There is nothing wrong with loving to write as a hobby. Have fun with it! But the professional writer or one who feels called to be, must take it seriously enough to make space for it in their life.
We are all busy and at different seasons in life. I have learned that if I am called to do something, I will find a time when I can do it. We all make time for what is important to us. I wrote a lot when I was raising a family and working at a church. My plan then was no television viewing after the kids were in bed, but instead making those hours from 9-11 pm the time I spent at my writing desk. On weekends, I would get up earlier than everyone else and be at my writing desk from 5-7 am before the kids’ sports schedules ran us ragged. It was a commitment. It was fulfilling to be able to complete something even though I was a working mother who truly put her family first.
The bottom line is this, if we are called by God to do something, we can get creative and find a way to follow that calling. We do not have to be in the mountains, at the beach or sitting with our laptop by a lake. We can be in an ordinary room, on an ordinary day, saying yes to serving an extraordinary God. If you wait for the perfect time, place or conditions, you will not find them.
Trust the process
I like to remember that God has a Kingdom Calendar at play in my life. He knows the plans he has for me. I am not to compare with others because life is not a competition. There is room at God’s table for all of us. I am to trust his timing in my life. In the meantime, I pray as if all depends on God and work as if it depends on me. It’s that old saying, pray towards heaven and row towards shore! And always remember, we can’t do something for God, unless He is doing something in us—stay connected.
What would I say to my younger self?
- Stay close to Jesus.
- Wait on Him and His call for my life.
- What in my interests or story could be passed on to others to help them grow?
- Pray for open doors.
- Learn the process of publishing a book, then follow guidelines.
- Join writers groups, take classes and grow in the craft of writing.
- Take time to learn how others are building platforms.
- Learn from those who are a few steps ahead of you.
- Do the work.
- Be brave and step out of your comfort zone.
- Look at your schedule and come up with a plan. Even 30 minutes a day is more than just dreaming about writing, it’s showing up for it.
As I close, I think of the dreams that some of you hold in your heart. Those dreams are important. I started out an accidental author but later became one with a desire to keep writing. I hold heart-dreams just like you. God knows every desire and dream. Thank God that He knows the plans He has for you—and He says they are good.
Friends, let’s all remember that we serve a God of surprises. I am quite sure He has something up His holy sovereign sleeve that will surprise you. Keep moving forward. Keep trusting. Keep remembering He has given you gifts, strengths and story for His purposes.
He’s crazy about you.