On Writing, Part 1
I must be fooling a lot of people. In the past months several young authors, also in the ministry, have asked my advice on how to balance being an author and a pastor. Other people (non-pastors) will email asking how they can get published or how to work at writing. I’m no expert on writing or publishing or even managing my life. But I have thought about all three. And since I’ve been asked and, hey, it’s my blog, I thought I would spend a couple days talking about writing.
How did you get published?
I doubt I would be a published author if it weren’t for Ted Kluck. I should clarify. I doubt I would be published through a “real” publisher (the kind that pays you instead of you paying them) were it not for Ted. My first book, which you can buy on Amazon and almost nowhere else, was self-published. I’m glad I paid the $1000 to get Freedom and Boundaries in print. It was thrilling to see my name on a book and I was able to give it to people in our church.
But Ted was the one who helped me connect with a royalty-paying publisher. Back in 2006, Ted who is a friend and member of my church, had the idea to write something on the emergent church movement. Independently, I had the same idea. I was thinking journal article. Ted was thinking book. Thankfully, Ted’s idea won out.
Ted was already a published author at the time, no small feat without an agent. He knew the ropes, how to put a proposal together and shop it around. We wrote a few sample chapters and outlined the rest of Why We’re Not Emergent (we wanted to call it White Men Can’t Dance, but editors are sometimes smarter than writers). Ted sent the proposal to dozens of Christian publishing houses. Technically, almost all publishers say they don’t look at unsolicited admissions, but many still give proposals like ours a once-over. We heard nothing from most of the houses. Four or five publishers showed some interest in the projects, but we usually heard something like: “I like it, but so-and-so here is a big fan of some of the people you critique.” Or “We are intrigued, but your book would conflict with our new line of emergent stuff.” One publisher pulled out of a deal just as we were supposed to get the contracts to sign.
Moody, gratefully, was waiting in the wings and took a chance to two nobodies. Or at least one nobody. Ted’s publishing record helped us get our foot in the door. Securing David Wells to do the foreword (many kudos to my former professor) also helped a lot. It signaled that we weren’t complete loonies. In the end, I still marvel that anybody was willing to publish our book. It is very difficult to get published without a built-in audience, an agent, or another book under your belt. I had none of the above. God simply opened a door (though we knocked on a lot that never opened).
How can I get published?
First off, don’t write to get published. Write because you like to write and have something to say. But if you want to get published (and I did), look for opportunities. Don’t just think books. Submit pieces to journals or magazines. Write for your church or denomination. Find a website or blog you like and send them a brief article or book review.
When it comes to books, don’t be afraid to self-publish. Sure it costs money and doesn’t feel as glamorous (at least it didn’t to me), but your book will go up on Amazon and friends and family will be able to read it. If you are a good writer people will tell you. If you don’t get much feedback, you probably aren’t, not yet anyway.
If you know someone who’s been published ask them for a sample proposal. Don’t ask them to submit the manuscript for you. You need to do the work of finding the names and addresses and mailing your stuff around. Most authors are sheepish about promoting someone else’s manuscript to publishers. And most people in general are hesitant to tell you your dream novel is a nightmare, but it might be. So ask for honest feedback and be prepared to receive it.