Faith

How Home Videos Helped Me Get a Book Contract

video camera

Who would’ve guessed that when my son asked for a video camera in third grade, his movies would one day help me get a book contract?

It’s funny how things work out.

Let me rephrase.

It’s funny how God works things. I bet he delights in watching us put the pieces together, in seeing our wide-eyed wonder as we realize how perfect his design was from before day one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How did my son’s movies help me get a book contract?

After working hard on my craft, writing the best book I could, revising that book a million times, getting an agent and revising some more, the videos then helped garner interest in the book.

They were funny, and I write humor. They were about our dog, and the book was about our dog. They were an innovative way to market, and I needed all the innovation I could get. My platform was, how shall I say it?

Stinky.

Editors who got the book proposal followed the links I provided and watched the videos. And laughed. And said things like, “What a great marketing appetizer.”

Within two months of sending out the proposal, I got an offer.

It seemed strangely sudden after working so long to break into publishing. Those years (yes, years) felt like trying to chip a hole through Mount Everest. With an ice pick.

But God is in the business of doing impossible things. We’re simply in the business of being obedient.

That doesn’t mean we do nothing. It means we keep moving forward with whatever marching orders God gives us. It means we look for creative ways to solve our problems and inventive ways to tackle our tasks. It means we keep growing, working, and trusting.

No matter what mountains rise before us.

We serve a limitless God who daily stuffs our backpacks with the resources we need for each leg of the journey.

It might be a home movie your kid made. Or maybe a craft book you read eons ago suddenly sparks a new direction. Or maybe it’s a conversation with a friend who has just the right words at just the right time.

Today, here and now, with the tools God gives us, we can chip away at our mountain.

Because you know what?

Today might be the day we break through.

 

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The Book Contract Story Part IV

Surviving Henry Book Cover

“PubCo” (AKA Publishing Committee, or Pub Board): A big scary meeting at a publishing house.

Remember the editor who first receives the book proposals? Who sifts through her boundless stack, pores over the writing, debates a book’s marketability, scrutinizes the premise for defects, and then brings a “yes” proposal safely through a tough editorial committee where only a few select book ideas can move on?

Well, they move on to the last gauntlet: PubCo. A Himalaya of a hurdle that makes all the others seem like speed bumps.

PubCo is where the editor presents a proposal to all the publishing company big wigs—VPs over sales, marketing, editorial, etcetera, etcetera, right up to the head honcho himself—who make the final decisions about what is published and what isn’t. Everybody important who can ax an author’s dream in two is there to, well, ax an author’s dream in two.

And lots get axed.

But a very short list of proposals live on to receive a beautiful, wonderful, exhilarating offer of publication.

Just getting a chance in PubCo is a huge deal, so the editor often informs an author’s agent before the meeting. The agent then gives an appropriately polite, diplomatically pleased response.

Then the agent tells the author, who gives this response: PUBCO!!!!???? REALLLLLLYYYY??? AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

And then the author and agent celebrate together because there just might be a contract coming at the end of that meeting.

In light of the months and months and months all this takes, I’m not even thinking about my proposals when my agent Karen calls me for a video chat three weeks after we’d pitched the books at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference (read the whole story here). Karen has this I-told-you-so grin on her face and informs me that the dog book is going to PubCo. Then she sits back and waits expectantly for my jubilant yell so we can celebrate together.

I frown at her. “PubCo? Why?”

Karen stares at me like I’m daft. “Because the editors love the book and want to publish it.” She has that make-the-slow-person-understand tone.

“Huh.” My grunt is half-studious, half-baffled. After all, the book has that fatal flaw (whatever it is). Surely it’s doomed to sayonara city.

Karen gives up on a normal response from me. I feel bad that I let her down, but my bewilderment is constipating my emotions.

A few weeks go by and I’ve forgotten all about PubCo. I mean, these meetings happen like once a month. Or maybe once a quarter for all I know. No telling when I’ll hear something back. Then I get a video call from Karen when we’re not even scheduled to meet. I have no clue why she’s calling.

When I answer, she’s grinning. “Hey there! We’ve got an offer on the dog book.”

I’d like to say I respond with appropriate hoopla.

“An offer? Why?” I’m genuinely puzzled.

Karen squints at me like she’s trying to see if my brain is still behind my eyeballs. “Because they love the book and think it’ll do very well for them.”

I give the same baffled grunt as before. “Huh.”

Now Karen looks like she’s going to launch herself right through my computer and slap me silly.

In my defense, I’d somehow totally missed the fact that this particular publisher had put out several collections of dog and animal stories.

Karen hadn’t missed that. Not only that, she knew we’d get interest from other publishers as well. And we did.

But here’s the kicker. In the process of providing some extra information that one particular publisher wanted, I SOLVED the fatal flaw problem, which apparently wasn’t fatal after all.

So there you have it. The dog book is not only publication worthy, it gets picked up before the fiction.

Who knew it had a chance?

Karen did.

But even before that, God knew.

He set my path in motion long ago, orchestrating my writing and my rewriting, my rejections and my encouragements until I have the right proposal at the right time at the right publishing company.

It’s funny how we can see these things in retrospect. How we can retrace paths we thought were fraught with dead ends and detours, only to see that they led exactly where we had to go.

Why do we always need hindsight to see how God was working all along?

Maybe it’s time for a new view. Foresight.

God’s got this all under control.

“The Lord Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.’” Isaiah 14:24

Enjoy the ride.

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The Book Contract Story Part III

Proposal

Typing “the end” feels amazing (when it’s the last page of your novel and not some tragic note about the demise of your Oreo package).

Both my proposals are done, my novel manuscript is complete, and my agent and I are at another conference—the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference—ready to pitch my work. Yes, it seems like going to conferences is all I do, but really these shindigs are months and months apart. Everything just moves slowly in publishing.

Anyway, Karen sets up a couple of appointments with some editors and we pitch the dog book and the novel. I enjoy the meetings, which means I’m making progress in not sounding stupid when I talk about myself and my writing. Yay me.

I don’t expect to hear any feedback about the proposals for several months. (I mentioned the glacier speed of the publishing industry?)

This is my understanding of what has to happen next: The editors will put my proposal in their big honkin’ pile of 800 other proposals, and they’ll get to it when they get to it.

Mostly editors sift through their mountainous proposal piles pretty quickly.

The process, I hear, looks like this:

No…no…no…no…definitely not…oh, why would someone even send that?…no…no…no…hmm, a possible maybe…no…not a chance…yikes…never…

It’s not that editors are mean. They’ve been doing this for a long time, and they have a good idea of what can work and what can’t. After they get a stack of maybes, they sift that pile. It goes like this:

Never mind…no…no…what was I thinking on that one?…no…nah…we’ll never be able to sell that…another no…flawed premise…no platform…no…ooh, wait. This one’s a yes.

When they’re done, the yes pile is really, really small, and the rest of the proposals get rejection letters. Then they take their yes stack to editorial committee, where all the other editors in the company bring their yes piles and they decide as a group which ones they’ll pursue and which ones they’ll kick to the curb. Everyone has to be on board, or you get the sayonara story.

And yes, lots of sayonaras happen in the editorial meeting. The surviving proposals are an elite group that have great promise. They move on to the next committee, known in many publishing houses as “PubCo,” where there will be yet more sifting.

It feels like getting a book published with one of these houses is impossible. But then, a lot of things feel that way. But people do get published. They stick with their task, move forward, learn more about the industry, meet people, make connections, work harder yet on craft.

It’s a battle.

But the world is full of hard fought battles. Of feats we’re determined to accomplish. Of trials were resolved to overcome.

There’s no glossing it over. They cost.

They make us think and work and persevere.

But isn’t the sweat and struggle the very thing that makes our victory so sweet?

That makes our feats and trials and ideals so valuable?

That makes us ready, even excited, to face the next challenge?

Bring it on.

(Read more of the book contract story here)

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The Book Contract Story Part I

question mark 2

After months and months of writing work, God has led my writing career exactly where I didn’t think it was going. In a good way, though. I mean, it’s like aiming for Disneyland and realizing you’ve arrived at Disney World instead. They’re both happy places.

When we last left my writing journey, I’d signed an agency agreement with the wonderful Karen Ball of the Steve Laube Agency (read the whole agent story if you want to know about that). The plan was to finish my novel and send the proposal out to publishers.

“We need to send your dog book out too,” Karen says during our video chat one day.

I frown. “Technically it’s complete, but it needs a revision. I can’t work on that and finish the novel at the same time.”

“That’s okay. We can still send out a proposal.”

“It needs a BIG revision.”

“If we get an offer, you can revise it.”

Clearly I’m not explaining the situation properly. While the dog book has a great start—enough that even Mr. NY Times agent thought it had promise—it has some sort of fatal flaw that I’m not sure how to fix. I’m not even sure what the fatal flaw is. I only have vague notions from vague comments on previous rejections.

Hey, why don’t I just tell my agent she’s an idiot for taking me on because in reality I’m too dumb to figure out what’s wrong with the dog book.

Umm…No.

“I thought you liked my fiction?” I say.

“I like both.”

“I don’t think any publishers are going to be interested in the dog book in its current form.”

“Yes they will. It’s a great idea and great writing.”

“You’ve only got the first twenty pages.” Right before it crashes and burns because of that fatal flaw I don’t have a handle on.

“It’s good.”

I’m about to disagree, but it occurs to me—should I really be arguing with a person who’s made her living in publishing for 30 years?

But I do need to fess up about my shortcomings. “Okay, we can send out the proposal, but can you please read the manuscript and tell me what it needs in terms of revising? I’m really not sure.”

She agrees, but here’s the funny thing. Before she even gets a chance to read it, I stumble into a fix for one of the issues early in the book. At least it feels like I’ve stumbled into it. But maybe the answers were there all along, waiting for me to discover them.

I just didn’t know if I could.

Why do I doubt myself?

Am I alone in that?

Or do we all, deep down, question whether God has really given us gifts? And if he has, don’t we still doubt that we can use them effectively?

Like God is somehow going to tell us he wants us to do something, and then not give us the ability?

Sounds ridiculous when I put it that way. Yet it’s easy to slip into that mindset. We think we’re doubting ourselves, but now I wonder…isn’t it God we’re doubting?

Maybe, rather than doubting, we simply need to trust those gifts are there and trust God will enable us to use them according to his purpose.

So how do we do that?

I admit I still don’t know what fixes need to happen before the rest of the dog book takes shape into something with life and purpose and hope. But here’s my plan, and you can use it too, for whatever it is that God has put in you to do that you’re doubting you can do.

We’ll focus on being faithful, on moving forward, on doing our work everyday as best as we know how.

And then we’ll simply believe answers will come in time.

Ability will come.

Fruit will come.

Because this is what Jesus said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” John 15:16a

(Read more of the book contract story)

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The Prize

Trophy

My son Jonathan has a talent for drama. The stage kind (as opposed to the angsty teenage/girlfriend/school/car/job kind).

Not that his relationship with the stage is without hairy moments. Take his last competition for example. He comes home at dinner time from his after-school activities and announces he has to leave at 6:00 am the next morning for a speech tournament.

I give him that thanks-for-informing-me-of-your-plans look you give to independent seventeen-year-olds. “Tomorrow? I didn’t even know about this tournament.”

He shrugs. “Neither did I. Just got the script today.”

“And you’re performing it tomorrow?”

“8:00 am. It’ll be fine.”

All righty then. This totally explains why I keep having nightmares where I’m about to go onstage in front of a huge audience, and I have no idea what my lines are. I’m clearly suffering some sort of vicarious terror to compensate for Jonathan’s lack thereof. I probably ought to look into that because I bet it’s not normal.

Jonathan comes home from the tournament at 10:00 pm the next night.

With a trophy.

My mouth hangs open.

He hands me the shiny statue. “I got first place.”

“I see that. Nice job.”

“Well, there was a secret to it.”

What? He pulled an all-nighter? Wrote his words on his shirt sleeves? Had someone wave giant flashcards from the back row?

Jonathan grins. “My teacher knows I’m willing to go up there and do anything. I don’t care how I look, you know?”

Umm…Doesn’t explain trophy.

“He gave me this really funny piece about a guy who starts yelling because he can’t find his blue tie. There’s this point maybe a minute and a half into it where the audience hates you.”

Not. Following. Secret.

“You have to stick with it though. You have to go full throttle and push through where they hate you, and then they’re glad you did because it’s so worth it. It’s SO funny. But you can’t show any weakness. You can’t hesitate even the slightest bit or you’ll crash and burn.”

He talks like a stunt driver flooring it to make a jump. I have this momentary urge to check if our minivan is still in one piece.

“You have to be all in. That’s the only way this scene can take first place.” Jonathan shrugs and walks off like it’s no big deal.

In that moment I have a brand new picture of what the apostle Paul means when he says we should run in such a way as to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24). It’s about total commitment.

Only Paul isn’t talking about a drama sketch. He’s talking about full throttle devotion to God.

Where we don’t care how we look. Where we’re all in, pushing through everything that stands in our way, and it doesn’t matter that people might hurl tomatoes at us.

Because they probably will.

But we persevere because we know the prize is worth it.

My son worked hard and came home with a well-deserved, shiny trophy, which is cool and all. But eventually it will sit forgotten and dusty on a shelf until it someday lands in a box of memorabilia.

But God’s prize doesn’t work that way. He gives us an eternal gift that can never fade, tarnish, or wear out. He gives us himself.

Heaven.

Everlasting life.

For that…I’m all in.

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Stench-oscope

dead fish

“You need to take a shower today,” I tell my teenage son.

He frowns. “Why?”

After thirteen years of bathing, you’d think he’d comprehend its basic purpose. I’ve discovered the polite response is useless. “You stink, son.”

“So? I’m not going anywhere today.” His mouth curves in a “beat that logic” grin.

I’m actually going to have to argue this out. “I don’t think you should be allowed to stink up the house.”

“Fine. I’ll put on deodorant.”

“Didn’t you use it when you got dressed this morning?”

“No. Why?”

I suck in my evaporating patience. “Deodorant helps prevent odor. I bought it so you could wear it everyday. It’s not a paperweight, it’s not a decoration for your dresser, and it’s not a ‘get out of bathing permanently’ card. Now, please go shower, and then put on deodorant.”

“Whatever.” He rolls his eyes and tromps to the shower.

When will this kid outgrow odor apathy? Is it a boy thing? I mean, I’m a girl. By the time I hit my teen years, my parents couldn’t get me out of the shower. And deodorant was self-explanatory.

I’m still shaking my head over this when I get one of those pokes from God.

My nose tunes in to physical odor well enough, but when’s the last time I took an appraising whiff of my spiritual odor?

Um, is that even possible?

Apparently Christians do have a distinct spiritual fragrance. The apostle Paul wrote, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15).

I’m guessing God prefers Christ’s aroma over Powder Fresh Right Guard, so how do I make sure I’m wearing the fragrance of Christ everyday? It’s not like I can buy a bottle of Jesus Perfume.

Surely as God’s child, someone who has accepted Christ’s payment for my sins, I have the fundamental fragrance, but humor my fancy. What if my actions, morals, and values also have an odor to God?

What if the materialism choking my house with possessions smells like curdled milk? Or my little white lies are morning breath in a world of no toothpaste? Or maybe my subtle, selfish tendencies reek like month-old anchovies.

Yikes. Maybe God’s up there going, “My daughter, I love you, but you need an odor check.” Or worse, He’s abandoned the polite approach and is instead thinking, “You stink, dear.”

“Just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2b), so should we love and sacrifice for others.

That word spoken in love when we’d rather snip, that action done for the sole benefit of someone else, that willingness to put another ahead of ourselves even when it hurts—these carry the fragrance of Christ’s sacrifice, whether we’ve showered or not.

Let’s face it. Deodorant can never cover the rotting anchovies in our lives. But Christ can, and the attitude of a living sacrifice never stinks.

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Omni-tuitive

moon

I beg to differ with the word “intuitive” so readily applied to today’s technology. Every shiny, silicon gizmo that pops on the market is “intuitive.” What they mean is “self-explanatory if you’re twelve and convinced you cannot possibly lobotomize your new device by pressing the wrong button.”

I happen to have a healthy fear of unintentional consequences, so I won’t press anything unless I know what it does. Last time I forged bravely ahead, I got Spanish subtitles on the TV.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I just don’t speak its language.

Take the internet. How can my teenage son sit next to me, look at my computer screen, and know exactly what to do in less than half a second?

“Click on new,” he’ll say.

I search the screen.

“Click on new.”

I squint at the flashing colors and scattered words.

“New,” he’ll enunciate like I don’t know how to spell.

Well, if I could find the stinkin’ link, I would.

No matter how poorly I operate new technology, there’s no getting away from it. The other day, my trusty, uncomplicated cell phone died and doomed me to a new purchase—a smart phone.

Just what I needed. Something to prove I’m dumber than polymer.

The clerk unwrapped the sleek little doohickey I’d picked out, did some fancy finagling to its insides, and then handed it over.

“All ready.” She smiled like that was the beginning and end of our conversation.

The store was crowded, but I wasn’t about to fall for a doctor-visit routine where you got a limit of one question answerable with a yes or no before the white-robed apparition vanished from the room.

I planted myself firmly at the counter. “Thanks. But how does it work?”

The clerk blinked at me. “It’s intuitive.”

Right. Like the tax code.

I looked in the box. “Doesn’t it come with a manual?”

She frowned. “No. I told you, it’s intuitive.”

Obviously not the go-to help gal. I glanced over at my son. I’d bought him his very first cell phone five minutes ago, and he was sitting there diddling with it, totally button happy. For pity’s sake, what if he got irremovable Spanish subtitles?

He grinned at me. “I made three calls, got 42 texts from my friends, and found a Monopoly game. Isn’t that cool?”

Swell. His came with a manual that was lying untouched in the box. I didn’t even know how to answer my phone, let alone rule the world with it.

I tried one more time with the clerk. “Are you sure there’s no manual? I’m not technologically intuitive.”

“There’s online help if you really need it.” Her tone suggested I needed help all right, but not the kind I could get from a computer.

I wanted to tell her I could make lasagna, carry on a conversation with my husband, and still know when the dog was consuming the TV remote in the next room. I’m intuitive, just not like a teenage techno-whiz.

Every person is different, with varying strengths and weaknesses, intellect, and gifts. Can we really label anything universally intuitive?

Ah, but we can.

The knowledge of God’s existence is intuitive—plain to all, because God has made it plain. The Bible says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

No matter what technology comes along to frazzle me or help me, dazzle me or harm me, it’s not a surprise to God. He’s way beyond it. He’s the beginning and end of everything. God’s undeniable signature lives in the fabulous complexity, fierce power, and wondrous beauty of the universe around us, and that is intuitive.

Even if I don’t understand my smart phone.

 

(Check out Today’s Christian Woman if you want to see where my article first appeared)

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Impossible Possibilities

My dog, Henry, doesn’t believe in the word “impossible.” One day we walk past a lake and Henry spots some geese swimming happily about. His predator instinct kicks in, and he bursts toward them, nearly ripping the leash from my grasp.

Never mind that they’re twenty yards out from shore and have a clear head start. He can get them. Absolutely.

Never mind that their fat goose bodies float effortlessly, and Henry swims like an anvil.

He. Will. Prevail.

Never mind that if all else fails, those birds can spread their wings and fly.

That just means Henry has to jump really, really high.

Sometimes I think the dog is an idiot. But sometimes I yearn for his enthusiasm. Oh, to be so willing to overlook reason.

This is exactly what God called the Israelites to do when He brought them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. A bunch of former slaves with no military training were supposed to conquer the land of fierce, experienced warriors. Impossible.

Let’s face it, the Israelite resume would read: Can make bricks from straw. Experienced walkers. Good at grumbling.

They arrived at the border of the Promised Land and sent out twelve spies (Numbers 13), who reported the land was bountiful and beautiful. There was just one teensy problem. Big, scary natives with no intention of leaving.

What did the Israelites expect? Wimpy people? No people? People who said, “Hi, there. Please plunder us”?

Only two spies were willing to overlook the difficulties. The rest of the Israelites got stymied with the impossible and refused to follow God’s directions.

The result was a forty-year tour in the wilderness, with Israelites dropping left and right from plagues, venomous snakes, and attacks from disgruntled neighbors.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to say I’d have been all over that Promised Land routine. Sign me up for the front lines. But could I have really stared down the wrong end of a bloody sword and not panicked?

I’m glad I wasn’t there to find out. Except there’s really no escaping the question, because doesn’t God still call us to do impossible things? If we’re really listening, won’t God thrust some opportunity at us that forces us into the territory of big, scary obstacles? Maybe it’s a new and unnerving ministry we’re not sure we can handle. Maybe it’s a career or job change with an unforeseeable future. Or what about a mission trip to someplace decidedly uncomfortable? Unsafe? Impossible?

News flash: Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

Maybe we need to quit thinking so much, quit dwelling on reasons we could fail. Those reasons will always be there. I mean, what do we expect? Wimpy hurdles? No hurdles? The whole deal is going to be stinking hard. The sooner we absorb that piece of info, the better.

What happens if we go for it? If we close our eyes and take a flying leap off the edge of rationality? Isn’t that right where God wants us—anvils heading for deep water, trusting God to make us float.

He can do that.

 

(Check out the Today’s Christian Women Blog if you want to see where my article first appeared)

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Three World-Changer Things You Can Do Before Breakfast

Three world-changer things you can do before breakfast:

  1. End world hunger
  2. Reach every nation, tribe, and tongue for Christ
  3. Topple an oppressive government

I’m not saying you can do all these things at once, mind you. But one at a time, they’re not that daunting.

I know, I know. You have a pretty full schedule as it is. The kids, the house, the pets. Not to mention crayon on the bathroom mirror, spaghetti caked into the carpet, and something weird growing in the fridge. You’re hoping you’re going to make it to nap time without needing shock paddles–and not necessarily for your heart…

See the full article in Today’s Christian Woman.

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