Grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you about my journey.
I’m often approached by people who have a desire to write, but much like myself starting out, have no idea where to begin. I know how overwhelming that feeling can be. The writing life can be intensely lonely and navigating the publishing industry can feel like trying to find your way in a completely different world. I’m grateful for those who came alongside me and helped me on my journey. I hope the following story and resources I’ve gathered will help as you pursue the path God has chosen for you.
In the beginning…
I never dreamed I’d be a writer. Though I’d always loved to read, the thought of actually becoming an author was completely foreign to me.
However as I began to journal my quiet time with the Lord, many entries seemed to come out in the form of essays – even articles. Many years ago, after submitting one of those entries – a tribute to an elderly friend – it was published in our denomination’s magazine. That was nice and would have been the end of it, except several years later a desire to write for publication began to stir in my heart. That desire led me to attend my first Christian writer’s conference – a small, regional affair. Though the editors reviewing my submitted pieces were polite, my writing was evidently far from impressive.
I went to bed that night certain I had no business trying to get published. I reminded God that I didn’t have time for a hobby. That I needed to know this was His idea and not my own. In a special, divine way the Lord confirmed that this was, indeed, part of His plan for my life.
From the moment I accepted the call to write, I began scouring our local library for books on writing. Lisa Collier Cool’s How to Write Irresistible Query Letters and William Zinsser’s classic, On Writing Well (Collins) among others were very helpful.
I also purchased the highly recommended Sally Stuart’s Christian Writer’s Market Guide and began to get a peek into what publishers were looking for. I especially looked at the magazine market, because I knew it was the easiest place to break in and get much-needed publishing credits. At the time, I had no illusions of writing a book, I just knew God wanted me to “cast my bread upon the water” and give Him the chance to use what He had given me. But that wouldn’t – and couldn’t! – happen if I left my writing attempts sitting on my hard drive. I’d have to learn how to submit my little darlings.
So I took a night class on writing articles at our community college. The instructor taught us how to analyze a magazine and shape our writing to fit their style and format. She also drilled the importance of writing clean – eliminating weak verbs and passive tense – and challenged us to be especially assertive, confident and concise in our cover letters.
Looking back, I’m amazed I stuck with the intense learning curve writing for publication requires. Fear of failure and fear of rejection have always haunted me which makes God’s call to write quite funny when you think about it. Failure and rejection make up the bulk of the writing life.
For over a year, I sent out queries and manuscripts to magazines. For over a year, I was rejected. Time and time again. But for some strange reason the rejection didn’t seem to sway me. Perhaps it was because I was simply being obedient. God had told me to write and submit. It was His job to get me published.
During that time, I also subscribed to Writer’s Digest Magazine which gave me a monthly dose of encouragement and teaching as well as a sense of community in this strange, lonely world called writing.
God was good to bring me a companion for the journey. Tricia Goyer was pursuing a writing career as a Christian novelist. Although not yet published, she was definitely ahead of me in many ways. Tricia introduced me to Mount Hermon’s Christian Writer’s Conference. Held over Palm Sunday weekend each year, I had no idea this conference would change my life.
With my new friend’s help and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats, I pulled together two proposals and submitted them early for editorial review. (Just to note, though all of the excellent resources I’ve mentioned are still available you may want to check more up-to-date resources as this was many years ago.)
I went to the conference with a bit of fear and trembling. After all, while God may have called me to write, it didn’t necessarily mean I was any good at it. But the Holy Spirit gently reminded me, once again, that my job was to be obedient. The results were entirely up to Him. Besides, with four full days of morning tracks and afternoon workshops, I was certain to go away richer in knowledge than when I’d arrived.
That week in Mount Hermon, California, turned out to be a Cinderella story for me. God granted favor on both manuscripts – one a children’s picture book and, the other, a special event handbook for churches called, Celebrate! Planning and Decorating for Special Events. By the end of the week, four houses wanted to see the decorating handbook – one of the editors was so in love with the concept he hand-carried a copy home to present to his publishing board immediately. Four other publishers were excited about the kid’s book and four houses wanted to see a novel I’d brought in pieces but, hadn’t actually submitted. To top that all off, I was given a most-promising-new-writer award and was approached by an agent asking to represent me.
Wow! Heady stuff for this hick from the sticks – open doors and affirmation I’d never even dared to dream about! Excited, I went home to wait for my phone to ring frantically with offers of publishing contracts and – dare I hope? – news of bidding wars.
Though I was intrigued with the agent’s offer to represent me, I felt fairly confident and even eager to negotiate a contract on my own. After all, with twelve possibilities on my horizon, who needed an agent?
Evidently, I did. In the next six months, one by one, the twelve potential placements each bit the dust. Publishing directions had changed. Editors had left positions or similar books were already in place. Even the male editor who had been so excited by the decorating manual (go figure?), had to call me back to let me know that marketing had shot the project down. They didn’t know where to place the book in the bookstore (a legitimate concern at that time) and so, sadly, he had to decline my project.
Finally, I realized I didn’t want to do this alone. Waiting for phone calls and constantly checking my email for signs of interest was emotionally exhausting. So I contacted the agent who’d offered to represent me, and much to my relief, she was still interested. She asked me for a list of project ideas, and when I sent them to her, she pointed to a wedding gift book idea and said, “I want that one.”
Using Michael Larsen’s book as a guide, I wrote a proposal for With This Ring: Promises to Keep, including an overview, an analysis of other similar books on the market and a summary of the sections of the book. I also wrote and included the first quarter of the book so they could get a sense of the flow as well as my writing. (Two sample chapters do the same job for a non-fiction or novel proposal. A chapter-by-chapter summary is required as well.)
Six weeks after my agent submitted the proposal, WaterBrook Press offered me a contract. And so my “career” in publishing had begun.
That is my story and the journey God has led me on. It is in no way a template for yours. Every writer I’ve ever met has a unique story and your journey will be different from theirs. But may I leave you with a few final thoughts…
Tips for Writing From the Heart
- Hold your gift loosely. You see, writing – like any kind of art – can turn into an obsession. The call to any kind of ministry is fancy food for the flesh. Without realizing it, “God’s dreams” can easily turn into “man’s schemes” if we don’t constantly check our motivation and heart attitude.
- Be obedient. If God is calling you to write or if you simply have ideas that won’t rest until you put them on paper, write. Then rewrite until it is the best it can be. Then submit. And when you are rejected, submit again. And again. And again.
- Don’t try to “make it happen.” Just be faithful and do the work. Invest in learning the craft of writing. Read a book. Take a class. Attend a writer’s conference. Don’t look for someone to provide a shortcut for you or your book. Take the first step and then the next. Let God open doors and then walk through them.
- Concentrate on your walk with God. The most important advice I ever received was this: “Your job is to deepen the message. Let God broaden the ministry.” Our effectiveness for God’s kingdom is determined largely by our character and our maturity in Christ. Trust God to know the time to unleash you and your opportunities on the world.
- Don’t become fixated on one project. The first thing you write may not be the first thing that is published. I’m fairly certain Celebrate! will never be published – it’s not even on my hard drive anymore. It’s housed on a floppy disc that my computer can’t even read! Its destiny was not a book store. It was simply a vehicle God used to get me on my way and a tool He used to open doors for other projects.
- Don’t fall in love with your words. None of us, no matter how godly we are, transcribe holy writ. We simply spill ideas and thoughts – yes, even God thoughts – on paper. Then, with a lot of hard work and discipline, we shape and hone those words until they sing. And sometimes, as sad as it is, the most melodic words end up on the cutting floor. Don’t be afraid of that.
- Be patient. Publishing goes in cycles. That means that publishers’ interests change frequently. Ironically, the publisher who first declined my kid’s book was the house that eventually published my Attitude Adjusters series (now out of print.) Remember, God knows the times and the seasons He has purposed for us and our writing.
- Learn from rejection. Be teachable. Ask for input from well-read friends, but don’t get all bristly when they give it. Take a step back from your manuscript for a week or two, then ask God for fresh eyes to see what is needed and get back to work. Don’t be afraid to try a new approach.
- Above all, commit your way to the Lord and then trust Him with it. Lay down your dreams and ask Him to give you a willingness to persevere, to grow and stretch and change. Allow God to get His hands on you in transformational ways. As you learn to die to self so that Christ might live in you, that abandonment will birth truth the world needs to hear.
Thank you for the privilege of walking beside you for this small part of your journey. Bless you, my dear friend. May the Lord lead you to the tools, the people and the places He has preordained for your journey. Remember, have fun! It’s His work. While you may be the hands He’s chosen to use, your only job is to cooperate and obey. He’ll do the rest.
Writer’s Digest Magazine – lots of helpful info and archived articles
Great writing tips and insight from Tricia Goyer
Terry Whalin’s Right Writing — a generous, info-packed site from a well-respected author and writing instructor
Christian Writer’s Conferences:
Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference – California
Blue Ridge Mtns Christian Writer’s Conference – North Carolina
Northwest Christian Writer’s Renewal — Washington
Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference – Estes Park, Colorado
Write to Publish Christian Writer’s Conference – Chicago
She Speaks Conference – North Carolina
Write His Answer Christian Writer’s Conference – Philadelphia
Click here for a more complete list of writer’s conferences.