So, I had a strangely thrilling experience last week. I had five manuscript requests and three contract offers for my books.
And I refused. All. Of. Them.
This has never happened to me. I have never had a single contract offer, and I always thought that I would pick up the first offer to come along. Well. They came. And I refused. Because I’ve been feeling a nudge to add more spiritual themes into my book.
Really quickly, let me say, I don’t think there’s a problem with being a Christian who writes for the secular market. I think you can be very effective in doing this, and set an example of hope to those who don’t claim to be Christian. C.S. Lewis did it. J.R.R. Tolkien did it. Some claim J.K. Rowling did it, but I’ve heard mixed reviews on that so I can’t say for sure if she did it purposefully or not. The point is, you can reach people with the message of God without even saying His name.
And I had intended on doing that.
I had small glimpses of God in my book, but they were about as watered down as those found in Divergent. Which was my plan. Because I wanted to appeal to a broader audience. Because I wanted to sell more books. But lately I’ve been feeling this pull, like maybe I should be a bit louder in my writing about God. Not to a preachy level, by any means, but not a quiet whisper, either. And I always admired my favorite singer/songwriter, Andrew Peterson, and how he offers glimpses of God through powerful lyrics. And I thought of all my favorite authors (Francine Rivers, Angela Hunt, Lynn Austin) and how it was their books that inspired me to write in the first place, and the reason they inspired me was because they were filled with so much hope and I wanted to do that. I wanted to offer hope to my readers through my books.
And I while I was thinking all these thoughts and trying to decide if I should publish with the Christian market or the secular market, I decided, what better way to put this decision in God’s hands than to submit to both markets and pick whoever takes me first?
So I did. I submitted to five secular indie publishers and then I submitted to ONE Christian agent, and that was that. (I don’t know why I only subbed to one Christian agent. I guess I’d pretty much closed the door on Christian publishing at this point.)
Then come Sunday. Church. I’d already had three full manuscript under consideration, two contract offers, and was waiting to hear from the publisher (non-christian) that I was really banking on. I had been praying all week that God would open this door, and they would offer me a contract. But everything that happened on Sunday completely wrecked my life.
In a good way.
Scripture reading: Romans 10:9-10, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Message: Don’t only believe, speak out.
Suggested book to read: Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus”. And here’s a direct quote from the book: “The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation.”
Message: Don’t be relevant.
Podcast listened to: Write from the Deep, an episode called “Creating with God”. And here’s a quote from Allen Arnold. “What [God] most wants is us to do things WITH Him. And when we miss the with, we really start to lose the whole reason He gave us the gift to begin with.”
Message: Work with God.
Then prayer, in which I strongly felt God saying, even if this publishing company offers a contract, don’t go with them. And I was like, “Um, if they offer me a contract, nothing’s stopping me.” Because, seriously, who wants to miss an opportunity like this? What if another opportunity didn’t come along? It’s a terrifying thought.
So, last Monday, this company I really wanted to go with offered me a contract. I was so overjoyed. I looked over the contract and was pleasantly satisfied with it. I contacted a few of their authors just to make sure they were content with the company. (All of them were very satisfied.) And then I wrote to the Christian agent I’d sent a proposal to, just letting him know that I had a contract offer by an indie publisher, and if he was interested in the material before I signed with them.
I honestly expected a “Good luck. Best wishes” response. Instead, while he said he didn’t have time to consider my proposal at the moment, he offered sound advice. (Just fyi, it’s in my understanding that agents do not usually do this for people who aren’t their clients, much less people they don’t even know, because they’re pretty busy.) So when he offered me advice, I took a pause and seriously considered it.
His advice to me was to seriously consider who I signed with, because signing with this company could be a challenge to my career moving forward. (This based on their list of bestsellers.) He asked if I really wanted this publisher to represent me and my work, and he told me to be very careful.
Now, let me back up again and say, I don’t think God always cares about what hobby/career/job we take. I believe that whatever we’re doing, as long as we’re glorifying Him, we’re doing the right thing. But occasionally, I think he does nudge us in a specific direction. And that’s how I felt with this book.
So after that advice, and after that message on Sunday and the book by Henri Nouwen I’d read and the podcast I’d listened to, I was forced to pause. To take a step back. To think about who I want to be as a writer and to remember why I started writing in the first place. I had to remember that I’m writing stories to offer hope, not just entertainment. And I realized that, with this specific project, God is pointing me in a specific direction as a writer, and that’s to boldly glorify him, and again, to offer hope to other believers.
So I turned all the publishers down.
All of them.
And I’m back to square one.
Except that I’m not.
Because I took these past few days to go through my manuscript and add in spiritual themes that I’d bottled up before. I let everything that God’s been telling me to write, to flow into my story. And it feels great. Freeing, even. Like He’s been filling me to the brim with holy water and I’ve finally opened the dam and now everything He said to me is a river flooding the pages of my story where it’ll hopefully weave its way to the minds of future readers.
See, writing isn’t about being relevant or successful or selling the most copies of a book. It isn’t about offering a shallow, purely entertaining story that people will read and forget. Being a writer, for me, is about offering hope to a broken world. It’s about encouraging others through the form of story. It’s about connection.
And I should let that be enough.
So my challenge to you is to think about where God is leading you as a writer. Is He leading you to be more forceful in your message about him? Or is He leading you to be less obvious, so you can reach out to a broader audience? Or do you feel like this is just a hobby and maybe God doesn’t really care what you do with your writing, as long as you’re not leading people to destruction? I don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” answer here. But part of the submission process is knowing who you want to represent your work, which comes down to figuring out who you want to be as a writer. And you should not go with just anyone because they were the first to offer, nor should you go with someone just because they seem to have a good sales record.
You should go with someone who believes in the foundation of your book, who understands its themes, and who will be the best representation of you, your work, and ultimately, God.