Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
As we tumble into the fall of 2016 and continue the 20th-anniversary celebration of our agency, please join me in taking an instructive look at the writing career of one of my first clients, Joanna Weaver.
An established author introduced me to Joanna, an unpublished writer. I recall our talking about her dream book ideas that ranged from gift books to children’s books to nonfiction books that dug deep into our relationship with God.
Not being sure where to focus her energies, Joanna sent me proposals for all of the above. Not long after I sent them out to publishing houses, I was serving on the faculty at Mount Hermon Writers Conference when I received one of those pink “You Received a Call” slips from the conference center’s switchboard (after all, this was 20 years ago). I was to call back an editor at WaterBrook Publishing House.
As a new agent, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pretty sure good news awaited me. I rushed over to the telephone booth and dialed in. A sale! For Joanna Weaver’s gift book on marriage, With This Ring.
Good news kept tumbling our way. Shortly after that, I received a call (with me back in my office) that a publisher wanted to produce a series of Joanna’s children’s books. That piece of news was followed by WaterBrook’s decision to publish Joanna’s first full-length nonfiction book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.
She and I, of course, had no idea that this book would flourish into a great oak tree, appearing regularly on best-seller lists and selling more than a million copies. It’s still going strong sixteen years later, selling tens of thousands of copies each year.
Let’s peek behind the scenes. Writing is agony for Joanna. She’s a perfectionist, and perfection is such a hard goal to attain. Having a Mary Heart wasn’t an easy birth. It was an act of sacrificial love for God and of obedience to finish the manuscript. Some days both she and I wondered if she could complete the task. We had many a phone call filled with prayer for strength and perseverance, and she and I both crying our fair share over how hard this task was.
She did, of course, finish the book, and it immediately was met with enthusiasm. I recall Dan Rich, who was the president of WaterBrook at the time, telling me that on its release, three authors were invited by WaterBrook to attend a book convention and sign their new releases for booksellers. Two of the authors were best-selling, well-established writers with several books to their credit. And Joanna, the newbie.
Dan watched as booksellers entered the room. As anticipated, most darted over to the two established authors to receive signed copies of their books. But then something unanticipated happened. As more booksellers came through the door, they looked at the posters of the three available books…and picked Joanna’s as the first one they wanted.
A seasoned publishing pro, Dan took note and sauntered over to the marketing staff who were overseeing the event. “Let’s put some more marketing into Joanna’s books,” he said.
Readers responded just as the booksellers did. They wanted Joanna’s book. They still do.
Joanna and I often marvel over this unforeseen reception to her labor of obedience. All we know is that God placed his hand of blessing on that book. It’s a humbling, inexplicable thought.
Lest you think that’s the end of the story, let me give you a glimpse into the years following the release of Mary Heart. Five years came and went, and Joanna’s life took her in many directions, none of which included writing another book. I would call Joanna and ask her if she had found the time and the wherewithal to start book #2. The answer was always a quiet no.
“Joanna,” I would say, “you do realize how incredible it is that sales have continued for Mary Heart at the pace they have.”
“You do realize you must be working on the next book to keep the momentum up.”
We ended the conversation with my saying, “Joanna, only write when God gives you something to say.”
I don’t actually recall saying that, but to Joanna it was the most important part of our exchange. She relaxed and let the tide of life pull her in other directions that included a new baby and her responsibilities working alongside her pastor husband.
She did eventually write two more nonfiction books, Having a Mary Spirit and Lazarus Awakening, to complete what she calls her Bethany Trilogy. She also wrote a four-hundred-page devotional book and created a video series with study guides for the Bethany Trilogy. She’s been busy.
But each writing project has been one of obedience for Joanna, never an easy tapping out the words on a keyboard but more one that is agonizing as she writes from the deep soul lessons God presses her into.
You can learn more about Joanna at her website here.
What are you, also a writer, to make of Joanna’s journey?
- Obedience to the call is paramount. Even when the way forward is harder than you ever thought.
- God’s ways are mysterious. Joanna’s children’s book series never experienced sales of any note; yet, Mary Heart just keeps chugging on. Since we receive the royalty statements for these two books generally within days of each other, I look at the two and just shake my head. There’s no explaining God.
- Some doors will close, others will open. Your job is to try the doorknob. Gift books and children’s books haven’t composed the focus of Joanna’s writing career. The door that swung open was writing adult books about deepening one’s spiritual life.
- Don’t force yourself to write because others (or yourself) pressure you into it. Wait until God says, “Write.”
In what ways do you relate to Joanna’s writing journey?
Lessons from a writing life’s retrospective. Click to tweet.
What makes a book successful? Click to tweet.