When I was in the process of trying to get The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex published, I had a meeting with an important person in the publishing industry to talk about my chances. She told me, “I know an author who does very well writing on parenting. She has three kids, but she speaks forty weekends a year. Do you think you could do that?”
I took a sip of my Diet Pepsi to try to stall. And finally I replied, “No, I really don’t think I can. But I do have a plan to speak more but keep it manageable. And I have a plan to do more on the internet.” And I started telling her my plan.
But that conversation has always haunted me, because it is indicative of what is happening in Christian publishing today. Publishers are being very stretched with new ebooks and the internet. Their margins are getting much smaller, so they don’t want to take risks on any author who isn’t a sure thing. So instead of doing all the marketing themselves, they publish only authors who can generate the sales of a significant portion of their books, if not the majority. Most publishers won’t touch an author who hasn’t got a “platform”, no matter how good the book is. They have to be able to move it.
Is speaking 40 weekends a year the way to move books? It does work. But that author had three children at home, and they were in school full time. She didn’t see them much during the week. And then she was gone on the weekends. And she was supposed to teach people how to parent. (I don’t know who the author is; I was never told a name. I just know the story. And it scared me.)
I left that meeting thinking, I can’t do that. Because of this:
(They’re going to love that I chose THAT picture!)
And because of this:
When I was going through my mini-breakdown or crisis or whatever you want to call it over the weekend, that conversation came back to me. I must sell my books. If I want to be an author, and write books, then I have to sell enough of this one so that a publisher will give me another contract. If this one doesn’t sell well enough, I’ll never be able to write another. So everything is resting on this.
It used to be that a publisher would handle all the marketing, and send the author on a book tour, and take out glossy ads. That doesn’t happen anymore. In my case, Zondervan did a lot for me. But the weight of the responsibility for the sales I felt was still on my shoulders, because this was a make-it-or-break-it for me.
When I started blogging, I have to admit, I did it because I had to. I was told, you have to market your books. And so the blog became a forum to do that. If I wanted another book contract, which I did, I needed to have an online presence. So over years I built this up. And then I got the book contract. And then I had to sell the books.
I thought of myself as an author who blogs.
And it weighed very heavily on me. I blogged because it was a vehicle–I fully admit that. And I was never happy with it. I didn’t like having to market, and having to worry whether or not the sales were there. I didn’t like having to check numbers to see where I was, and try to tweak things. It was tiring. It was discouraging. It was draining.
And then when people started calling me judgmental, it just sent me over the top, because I already was struggling with what I was doing.
I wanted to leave everything in God’s hands, but I was told by just about everybody that you need to work hard to deliver the sales. You can’t NOT market, because your book will get lost. And so I trudged on.
Two things happened to me on Friday night, though. One was that through all your emails and comments I finally realized something: I am not an author who blogs. Perhaps, just perhaps, I am actually a blogger. I guess this is silly, and I should have known it, but it honestly had not occurred to me that my blog, in and of itself, was helping so many people. It honestly didn’t really register that perhaps God was using this blog.
And the other was that God told me, firmly and through several friends who emailed me, that I needed to let go of the responsibility I felt. It was draining me too much. And I needed to really learn how to trust. Throughout my writing and speaking, God has always opened doors relatively easily for me–especially with speaking. I’ve never really marketed myself; the requests just came. But somehow I have felt over the last two years that things were different. I had to perform. I had to get the numbers up. That’s how you play the game.
I don’t want to play the game. I want to trust God more. I don’t know what that will look like. But here are my thoughts:
I am going to think of myself as a blogger who writes, rather than an author who blogs. God is doing great things with this blog, and I am grateful to really see that. And so this won’t be a stepping stone, something I do because I “have” to. This blog will become my main vehicle for ministry, and I’ll think of it that way. Thank you so much, dear readers, for showing me that. I needed it.
I’m going to stop worrying so much if people react badly to what I write. I was always worried about turning people off–though that didn’t stop me from being opinionated! It just put me in a very difficult place. But if THIS is my main ministry, then I am going to share more about what God has done and what God is saying to me. One of my strengths in speaking, and the feedback I get, is that I am very authentic. I share stories, and struggles, and victories. I don’t hold back. I feel as if I have been holding back on this blog because I want to keep my audience, and for that reason perhaps I haven’t been as honest as I could have been. I want that to change. I’m not thinking of anything in particular, but rather just a vague fear that made me question myself. I’m praying through that fear.
Finally, I’m not going to stop marketing The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, because it IS a great book. As much as you can get from this blog, there’s much more in the book. If I had had that book before I got married, I would have had a much better first four years of marriage. I know it has helped so many, and so I do need to get the word out about it. So I will still mention it!
What I won’t do is check my numbers. I’ve told God that I’m not going to check my Amazon stats anymore. Or my blog stats. Or any stats. I know that 300,000 people come here a month, but that’s it. I’m not going to look again, except perhaps in January where I have to set new ad rates. But I won’t be obsessive about it. I’m really going to put it in God’s hands.
I have taken too much on my shoulders, I haven’t trusted God, and I’ve been doing things in my own strength. That is what God revealed to me.
Christian publishing is a weird business. There’s a lot of pressure to do things that would actually undermine your personal mission in order to achieve sales. And many, many people at the top of their field in Christian publishing have very messed up personal lives. I don’t want to be like that. I can’t sacrifice my family for any of this.
I have felt God saying to me, if you just trust me, I can unleash you and unleash your ministry. But until you give it to me it will always be a struggle.
And so I want to give it to Him.
I don’t know what you’re struggling with today. I don’t know what you’re trying to do in your own strength, because everyone tells you that you must. But no one can do things as well as God can. So trust Him, and stop worrying. That’s hard for this Type A personality, but I’m yielding, even if it’s slowly.
And that’s what I’ve learned this weekend.