Wednesday, July 25, 2007

the sad truth

I have heard this week that my book, Praying for Dear Life, is a worst-seller, meaning that it is not selling at all. NavPress has a policy that if anyone buys one of their books and does not like it, they can fill-out and return a coupon in the back for a full refund. Keep the book itself but get back their money. Apparently, 437 coupons were returned last quarter and it is "not likely, unless something dramatic happens with this book," that I will ever receive a bit of royalty beyond my advance.

I guess I am not surprised. Heartbroken, but not surprised. The book is a real hybrid--a "sepia toned memoir," according to the publisher's own marketing materials, but dressed in bluebird colors. PDL is a book on the hours of prayer published by a very conservative evangelical house. I am certain the sales people did not know how to pitch it. In addition, there was a major shuffle in marketing and other turnover in the house. The book is, admittedly, too sacramental for evangelicals (not a "how to" that would lead one to sleep outside in bad pajamas and jump on a bed as if it were a trampoline--that is a description of the cover), and at the same time too evangelical in both appearance/publisher for the mainline. The book fits nowhere.

I had good endorsements--from Buechner, Lauren Winner, Tom Long. But NavPress, when they finally did run an ad for it in Christian Century, did not include the blurbs and so no one took much notice. I have had a couple of nice emails from people who have read it. A few friends have commented that it was meaningful for them. I got a five star review on Amazon from one reader and a reviewer calledit "one of the four or five best books...of the last four or five years" on Perhaps if I can get an invitation or two to speak here or there things will pick up--maybe something dramatic will happen. I have a new book coming out in a couple of months, more traditional but not nearly so heart-felt. Maybe if it gets noticed a little it will throw a little light on the first one.

It is hard, though--putting yourself so out there in a way and to be so thoroughly ignored. "Love me, please"--that is what every memoirist is asking: know me and love me. Alas. My good friend and editor, Liz, says that I need to take comfort from the fact that it is a good book and that some have been blessed by it--that most books do not, in fact, sell very well. I guess.

With my self-esteem shattered the other night, my amazing son said, "How are you doing, Dad?" Okay, I told him. I am doing okay. He said, "It's all right if you aren't." I started crying, lamenting that it feels, feels, as if I am one of those guys who can work and work, try and try, and never catch much of a break. He says, "Yeah, but lots of folks can't even say they have had a book published, much less four." I do remember, God knows, the ache of wanting to publish a real book, the joy of seeing it happen...but as Stephen Donaldson says, the only way to hurt someone who has lost everything is to give a part of it back to him, broken. I have part of what I had thought I'd lost, but it is broken somehow.

Few care. But a few do. No one is buying the book, many are returning the ones they have bought, but some have been blessed. A few sentences of the first chapter formed the conclusion to a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day sermon by an Episcopalian priest in Washington, DC. That is huge, at least to me. To be mentioned in the same context as Preacher King is an incredible notion unto itself. The priest, a black woman, said mine was her "new favorite book."

Pieces. Pieces of satisfaction. Bits of significance. I will have to content myself with that. And wait patiently for the purposes of God to enfold.

I said long ago that if this book were to be published, God would have to help make that happen. The confluences of absurdity above seem to have God's fingerprints all over it. I also said that if the book were ever to have an audience, God would have to do something about that too. The harried and confused sales people at NavPress might ask the same. Will I write more? Publish more? I would like to think so, that, as Frederick Buechner has pronounced on my upcoming work, I "know how to read and know how to write," but I will have to wait. Just wait to see if God has further work for me to do, given that I obviously don't know how to sell.


Pastor John said...

Ah, but . . .

No, wait. As you and I know only too well, any qualified encouragement, any pat on the back that begins with "Ah, but . . ." rings somehow a bit hollow, at least in terms of the satisfaction is affords one's ego. How good to know that at the feet of Jesus there is unqualified welcome and unconditional forgiveness. Thank God that our entire relationship with Him is based completely upon HIS nature, and not at all upon ours!

Today I have been reflecting again on my hero in the faith, Adoniram Judson, who after several years in Burma of preaching by the roadside for hours a day had never even had one person stop to listen, wrote a letter home in which he stated, "The future looks bright: as bright as the promises of God." As the writer of Hebrews put it, "Of such the world was not worthy."

Thank God, too, that we who are in the world, are, by the grace of God, no longer of it.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Rachelle G. said...

Dear, dear Tom,

I, too, am heartbroken.

I understand, more than most, the realities of publishing. (Stats indicate that something like 95% of published books sell fewer than 1000 copies.) I understand that Nav did not know how to sell your book; that your publisher underwent a huge personnel shift at the exact wrong time; that for whatever reason, your book is a "hybrid" that is outside the box in the best and worst of ways.

Yet I share your pain, Tom, most acutely because as much as you believed in your vision, I did too. As much as you felt you were following God's leading by writing this book and seeking publication, I felt the same. In addition to all that, I have the guilt... if perhaps I'd stayed at Nav, could I have done something to improve this state of affairs? (But that is giving too much power and importance to myself, I realize.)

"It is hard, though--putting yourself so out there in a way and to be so thoroughly ignored." Oh yes, this struck me powerfully. We want to be loved, accepted, we want to be okay in the eyes of others. When we reveal the deepest parts of ourselves, is there anything more painful than to feel as if that revelation has been rejected?

(I am not qualified to mine the Jesus metaphor in that previous sentence--I'll leave that to you.)

Everyone else has already spoken all the important words of comfort, reminded you of the bigger picture, reiterated that your worth is not dependent on the sales of your book. I can only say, Tom, that I'm sorry for the heartbreak; that I relate to the pain and the downright frustration of it, of putting everything you have into something and finally wondering--for what? I am confident that God does indeed have further work to do as regards the writing & publishing aspect of yourself, but I am not arrogant enough to think I know what that work will entail. I suspect it may have something to do with the eventual ability to look back on this time and remember the pain but no longer feel the pain; and instead have an even bigger view of God and all the ways he grows us and shapes us and loves us.

In any case, Tom, I thank God for you. And while it may be small comfort, the fact remains that you and your book have changed my life for the better and you continue to be a source of inspiration (as well as edification) for me. In the scheme of things, it's not much; but in my little life, it's huge.

So thank you, Tom, for stepping out and risking yourself to write that book. Thank you for bribing me with a cup of coffee so that I could sit down and read your words and be changed. Thank you for continuing to write about this journey. Thank you for your friendship. And thank God for His incredible grace and love that is above all of this!