A pastor once told me there were seven words that could kill a church’s growth: “We’ve never done it this way before.” I think those seven deadly words can apply to writing too.
I started in this book writing/publishing business about thirty years ago, although I was doing newspaper and magazine writing even before that. (Yeah, okay, I’m old. That’s the point of this post.) Anyway, I got my foot in the book publishing door by accepting an entry-level, low-paying, part-time, no-benefits position at Gospel Light Publishing. My job title was editorial assistant in the adult curriculum department. But as I said, it was a foot in the door, leading to other positions and jobs and even book contracts. It was also my first experience at writing/editing on a computer. I didn’t have one at home yet, but I got to learn some basics at work, and that convinced me to trade in my IBM Selectric typewriter (which, when I first got it, seemed to be top-of-the-line technology!) for my very first PC. And believe me, I asked a lot of questions and did a lot of research before I invested in one, but I sure was glad to have it when I tackled my first full-length book project. (I can’t even imagine writing one on a typewriter, can you? But I knew people who did and who swore they’d never switch to a computer. Wish I could interview them now!)
Within a few years I was getting my books published fairly regularly, thanks in part to my switch from stone-age typewriter to modern-day computer. But the publishing world was still very different then. For one thing, the vast majority of us Christian authors never dreamed of having an agent or publicist or speakers’ bureau. That smacked of promoting oneself, a definite no-no among us humble believers. Hence, we were free to write our book, turn it in, and move on to the next one. It was glorious!
But somewhere along the line I missed the signs that warned I was fast becoming a publishing dinosaur. Oh sure, I’d upgraded my computer/printer set-up and had even begun to find my way around the Internet. But the fact that Christian authors were now expected not only to have agents but to partner with their publishers in marketing and promoting their books had completely slipped past me. It didn’t even occur to me that there was a problem until I suddenly found my proposals being rejected faster than I could snail-mail them out. I could only surmise that I wasn’t polishing my proposals enough or hitting on the right topics, so I tried harder. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. To say I was getting depressed would be an understatement at best.
Then one day, as I was prowling around at ICRS (still called CBA then), an editor friend sat me down and said, “Kathi, no one in the business doubts that you can write; what we want to know now is, can you sell?” Those words rocked my world! All I could think of was, Christians aren’t supposed to promote themselves…are they? We never did before… (Can you hear those seven deadly words echoing in my brain???)
And so, after thinking and rethinking–and yes, even praying–about what my friend told me, I went home with a mission: learn how to market. Being a firstborn, type-A personality, that meant jumping in with both feet and never looking back. I recently did a podcast for Active Christian Media on why many people in the industry now refer to me as the “marketing maven.” Hilarious!
But you know something? It shows that we “old dogs” are never too old to learn new tricks–not so long as we are convinced of the necessity of doing so. I realized that day at ICRS that what my friend was telling me had a lot of truth in it. The industry had changed, but I hadn’t changed with it. Like the church that dies on the vine because they’re not willing to switch from singing Hymn #87 at the close of every service to trying out an occasional new worship chorus now and then, I was going down for the count. And it was completely unnecessary. It wasn’t as if I were being asked to do something immoral or illegal (though I had to work through that in my head first); I was simply being asked to get on board with the program if I wanted to continue to be an active part of it.
How about you? Whether you’re a writer or a reader, a plumber or a psychiatrist, a truck driver or an NFL quarterback (can anyone say “Peyton Manning” or “Tim Tebow”?), how have changes affected you? Have you ever found yourself in a similar position to mine, challenged to make what might seem a painful change? If so, what did you do, and what was the outcome? I’d love to hear about it!