In the Christian publishing world, some authors walk on water; others do not. I used to think if God gave you an idea that kept you up at night until you made a book out of it, then God would guarantee the transmission of that idea to the world. I thought walking on water was solely about trusting God. But it seems like walking on water in Christian publishing is more like waterskiing. With the right combination of factors (or a Harper One contract), you get up and glide elegantly across the surface. Otherwise, you drag behind a giant wall of water until you let go of the rope. So does faith look more like holding onto the rope and trusting you’ll eventually get on top of the water or letting go and making peace with whatever happens? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
The last time I tried to slalom (single water-ski) was four years ago. I was at a family reunion in Arkansas. I did everything the same way I had done it as a teenager, but for some reason I didn’t pop up out of the water like I had before. There’s definitely a difference between 160 pounds and 195 pounds. My back is also a lot weaker than it was at age 16. I held onto the rope until it almost ripped my arms off and pulled every muscle in my back. After five tries, I had to give up because it was somebody else’s turn.
I have hit a wall with my book promotion process. I am completely spiritually exhausted. I’ve almost reached 2000 sales, which is actually supposed to be pretty good. But my sales goal is 4000. From everything I’ve heard, authors sell most of the books they’re going to sell in the first month. So doubling what I’ve already done after having saturated my reach seems about as likely as Bernie Sanders getting the Democratic presidential nomination.
Unless a miracle happens. Like bumping into a progressive Christian celebrity like Krista Tippett or Science Mike at Wild Goose and slipping them a book that for some reason they actually open and somehow land on a sentence that’s actually well-written enough for them to say hmm, maybe I should get Morgan on my podcast that has hundreds of thousands of followers. That’s the Hail Mary that I’m hoping for.
For some reason, with a few amazing exceptions (THANK YOU!), Christian writers who walk on water seem very averse to giving a hand to those of us who are dragging in the waves beneath them. I wonder if it’s the fear of precedent. If you promote one person’s blog or book, does that mean that a whole stampede of B-tier Christian writers are going to come after you? By the way, if you’re reading this and you have a smaller following than I do, please ask me to share your blog posts and review your books! It makes my heart happy every time somebody has the courage to ask that. I promise to always at least give you a response, even if I can’t do what you’re asking.
I had an exchange with a famous Christian writer on twitter. He had written a piece in which he complained about the way a megachurch pastor was too much of a diva to answer tough and honest questions for an interview about his new book (an intransigence he rewarded by giving him more free publicity he didn’t need). I sent a tweet to this famous Christian writer and said that I would be happy to send him my book and answer any tough questions he had. He liked my tweet. Basically the internet equivalent of patting me on the head. I sent a follow up tweet letting him know that I really did have a legit publisher and some quality endorsers. No response. I sent four more followup tweets, kind of like when Jon Favreau’s character in the 1996 movie Swingers keeps on leaving messages on the hipster girl’s answering machine until she finally picks up the phone to say, “Don’t ever call me again!”
I know that I’m supposed to be wearing a game face right now. I’m supposed to say that it’s going awesome (and there are many things about this journey that have been awesome). I’m supposed to thank people publicly in order to make sure their followers see that they’re supporting me. I’m supposed to be subtly calculating how to leverage all my relationships to build my brand while deftly presenting what I’m doing as mere community-building. But the cognitive dissonance is too overwhelming. How am I supposed to market a book whose central claim is that our ruthless culture of marketing is poisoning our souls?
It’s hard not to suspect that God is the one holding me down in the water to teach me trust (or something?). There are so many blog posts that I thought were going to “win the Internet.” They never do. It seems like the more awesome I feel about something I write, the more likely it will be completely ignored. Today there was about an hour span when nobody visited my blog right after I posted something. That’s never happened before. It felt like a supernatural curse. I honestly wonder if that was God saying I will close up the sky just like in the time of King Ahab if you keep on refreshing your google analytics.
I know that God is with me. Every time I preach, God gives me fire that is completely incommensurate with my level of sermon preparation. On my fast days, when I actually make time for solitude, I am soaked in God’s presence. I can’t deny that God is intervening very personally in my life all the time. He just won’t make it rain for me in the publishing industry the way I want. So what does that mean I’m supposed to do?
Do I grit my teeth and hang onto the rope? Do I phone-bank all the Christian education directors at moderate/progressive United Methodist churches around the country? Do I try to find Christian podcasts I haven’t yet tapped? Do I try to land more guest posts on Christian blogs and websites that might expand my reach? Do I set up guest-preaching gigs at cities within a three hour radius of New Orleans that I could cover in the fall when my campus ministry is back in session?
Or do I let go of the rope? Do I give myself permission to let my book sales take their natural course from here on out? Do I decide that 2000 is good enough even if falling short of my sales goal risks forfeiting my ability to publish another book? Do I enjoy the rest of my summer with my family and decide that it’s just going to be up to God whether or not my book gets a second wind?
I have a feeling I won’t be able to choose either.