What Everybody Ought to Know About Publishing A Book

Photo credit: Jim Harris
Publishing serenity. Photo credit: Jim Harris

If You Dream It …

One year ago tomorrow, my first book, Saffron Cross, was released.

Publishing  changed my life, but not in the way I imagined it would.

Like most humans living in an industrialized, ego and productivity-driven society, I believed that traditional publishing would alter the course of my life forever. I daydreamed that a book with my name on it would pave the way for a promising literary career, and I’d never have to pitch (or beg) for writing work again.

This ideal came to me in early adulthood, when I read Unlimited Power, Anthony Robbins’ treatise on how “Limitation Disengage,” an empowerment process designed to trigger neuro-linguistic programming, would help me achieve anything I could believe. After grad school, The Secret,  Rhonda Byrne’s collection of mastermind quotes, took Robbins’ psychological wisdom to the next level. In the law of attraction, what we attract what we think about.

If you dreamed it, you could attract it.

Despite Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird warnings that publishing would not attract serenity to my life, I bought in to the hype. Surely, I thought, a book on the Barnes and Noble shelves will win me all the things I’ve spent the last three decades obsessing over: self-confidence, money, fame, and attention.

[My students] believe that if they themselves were to get something published, their lives would change instantly, dramatically, and for the better. Their self-esteem would flourish; all self-doubt would be erased like a typo. Entire paragraphs and manuscripts of disappointment and rejection and lack of faith would be wiped out by one push of a psychic delete button and replaced by a quiet, tender sense of worth and belonging. –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I was wrong; Anne Lamott was right.

Reality Bites, or Does It?

Saffron Cross did erase my deep -seated psychological needs; it didn’t delete the chapters of self-doubt. It wasn’t a best-seller in the New York Times sense. It didn’t even land me a second book contract.

But, what it did do was so much more important.

This little boy-meets-girl love story became a cherished narrative among thousands of readers who saw their lives in between the lines of mine. From Louisville to Jackson, readers resonated with our theological twist–they saw themselves and their relationships in the beautiful messiness of our faith combination.

Their expression of connection gave me what Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery fame calls “Perspecticles.”

And, sometime this past year,  on country road or domestic flight, I realized that Saffron Cross was not my book to be visualized, controlled, analyzed, and marketed. Instead, it is a story gifted to Fred and me through some divine purpose, a cosmic craziness that landed us in a November 2008 vortex call eHarmony.

It’s a love story against odds, which makes it God’s story, because that is what God is about. Beating the odds, loving enemies, conquering death, and making the unthinkable real.

Our love story hasn’t attracted a royalty windfall to pay off my student loan debt, but it has attracted the thousands of interfaith stories waiting to be told.

Saffron Cross took us to towns where we met a young Muslim woman who dated an Orthodox Jew, where we encountered the anxious Baptist worried about where she and her betrothed Methodist would get married. On tour, we hugged tearful Christians who said, “I’m so grateful that someone is telling a different kind of Christian story.”

This made me realize what fortune it is to share stories so that others can tell theirs, too.

Perspecticles

Are there still grandiose days when I am disappointed that I haven’t had tea with Oprah or landed a six-figure advance for my next book? Certainly. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t admit to that.

But there’s so much more to a book that the money it makes, the fame it fosters, or its status among its colleagues.

“If you’re not good enough before the gold medal, you won’t be good enough with it.” –from Cool Runnings, as told by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

Last week, the students in the college-level Humanities course I teach offered visual presentations on the arts and culture. One young woman chose to present on the intersection of dreams and Skid Row, an area of Los Angeles that is “home” to some 6,000 homeless people. My student showed a video from The Jubilee Project, a nonprofit organization that seeks to tell stories that inspire.

In, “50 People, One Question: Skid Row,” the camera crew asked:

“What is your dream?”

Skid_Row

From there, the Skid Row residents confessed to wanting to make it in their careers and their art. They longed for homes and health–a restoration back to being productive citizens who could help prevent one another from falling through the cracks. They wanted to be elsewhere, but to have remembered where they’d been.

Even among such sorrow and such brokenness as having lost everything, we all still have our dreams.

On the days where I kick myself that the book supposedly didn’t accomplish didn’t reach this or that, I recall those testimonies, and I remember this:

An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.
–Charles Horton Cooley, Sociologist

No matter where we live, or what artistic purpose  we find ourselves dabbling, we must remember that is an honor just to call oneself an artist. Whether you write poetry from your prison cell, work in the post office by day and paint by night, whether you are a successful weekend potter, or sketch during your breaks at the overnight security shift, you are an artist. You “success” lies in your connection to humanity.

Publishing changed me, but not in the way I thought it. Instead, it gave me a platform from which to share a story that continues to be beloved to me. By doing so, others have come forward to share how interfaith conversation has shaped them.

It takes a village to birth a book, and I’ll never forget the friends, family, hosts, and supporters from far and wide who attended events, hosted events, bought copies to share, and reached out to offer a word of encouragement.

Publishing a book doesn’t attract what you think it will. The pay-off is much bigger than you anticipated, and it arrives in an unexpected form.

Your Turn

Tell us about a time when you achieved a dream or goal. How has accomplishing your dreams changed you? Was it all you hoped it would be? What was the real “fruit” beyond your accomplishment?

This week only! Purchase your Kindle copy of Saffron Cross for only $2.99 ($13 off the print list price). Happy anniversary!

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