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I’m the author of multiple books, including the Kindle bestsellers A Christian Survival Guide; Pray, Write, Grow; Coffeehouse Theology; and Creating Space. I freelance (mostly editing, author coaching, and website content) and write books in Columbus, OH.

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Rohr for Writers: Ending the Cycle of Offense and Hope for Redemption

Rohr forWriters

“Ken Keyes so wisely said, ‘More suffering comes into the world by people taking offense than by people intending to give offense.’ The offended ones feel the need to offend back those who they think have offended them, creating defensiveness on the part of the presumed offenders, which often becomes a new offensive—ad infinitum.”

– Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

 

My early days as a writer were often fueled by responding to people I considered worthy of criticism. In fact, a website can thrive simply by serving as the critic of certain groups or individuals. In cases where there is no accountability for abusive leaders, they can serve an important purpose.

Speaking for myself and my own situation, I didn’t have a single original or constructive thought for quite some time. I only had reactionary thoughts. I didn’t invest in the personally costly work of creating something else. I only called people to fight or oppose something—or someone. Make no mistake, it’s always easier to be a critic, not a creator.

I didn’t see that I was becoming just like or worse than the flawed people I opposed. The more I leveled criticism at those who criticized or judged me, the more I perpetuated a self-defeating cycle that only pulled me further down rather than lifting anyone up. I would have been better off saying nothing.

I routinely ran the risk of dehumanizing the objects of my critiques into mere containers for their ideologies. I painted them with broad brushstrokes, covering up any of their virtues so I could focus on what I wanted to attack. It’s much easier to pick someone apart who appears to be, on the surface at least, irredeemable and completely worthy of scorn. In taking offense and responding out of that anger, I applied a label and reduced that person to an idea that must be defeated.

To make matters worse, the moment I hit back, the original offender could claim the status of “victim,” whether rightly or wrongly. Once the cycle of mutual offense begins to spin, it’s extremely hard to end it in any matter that would come close to being redemptive or constructive for either side. In fact, both may be pulled downward, obsessing over the need to strike back after absorbing an insult or accusation.

By bringing all of this up, I can understand that some may say I’m undermining accountability and potentially propping up those in power. That’s the last thing I want. Rather, I want to talk about how we can overcome what is truly offensive by modeling something better and hopefully even more potentially transforming than what is offensive. The times I have struck against what is ugly and offensive, I have found my own soul adopting the tactics and mindset of the other side.

It has been hopelessly counterproductive to strike back against an offense in kind.

I don’t know where we draw all of the lines here, especially since each situation is unique, but I do know that I personally need to figure out a way to respond to an offense by modeling and even offering something better. The correction needs to have some sort of invitation that aims to break down walls and provide a path to redemption—the very opposite of an attack that may build up another wall and apply labels that could prove counter-productive.

This is an attempt to tread on the high road, and it is by far the most demanding way to go. I certainly don’t like it. I fear that I could get it wrong and still make a mess of things.

However, I have this one thing going for me: every time I’ve struck back at someone I find particularly wrong and offensive, I regret the outcome immediately. More often than not, the other party just retreats further into a defensive posture and sends yet another offending jab my way.

If the goal is to fester ongoing conflict, that’s easy enough to do. If the goal is loving my enemies, forgiving those who wound me, and offering the hope of transformation through the indwelling Spirit of God, there’s no denying that I must work twice as hard to offer an alternative.

 

Learn more about the connections between prayer and writing in my book:

Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together

Rohr for Writers: Writers Are Driven from Within

Rohr forWriters

“The good news of incarnational religion, a Spirit-based mortality, is that you are not motivated by outside reward or punishment but actually by looking out from inside the Mystery yourself. So carrots are neither needed nor helpful. ‘It is God, who for his own loving purpose, puts both the will and the action into you’ (Philippians 2:13). It is not our rule-following behavior but our actual identity that needs to be radically changed… You do things because they are true, not because you have to or you are afraid of punishment.”
– Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond pp. 85-86

It’s common for writers to talk about “finding” something to write about or “looking” for writing topics. We get the sense at times that we are chasing ideas that are hiding somewhere, and at times we can begin to despair that we’ll ever track them down.

Just as Richard Rohr suggests that our spirituality should originate within ourselves as we rest in God’s indwelling Spirit, I believe that writing can spring up in a similar way. As we ground ourselves in the present love of Christ and tune into what he’s saying to us, we’ll find wisdom and direction for our lives and even for our writing.

This changes us from religious people who strive and think our way to God and turns us into spiritual people who rest in God and allow God to guide us. You could say we’re cutting to the chase here, and that really is the beauty of the Gospel message after all. What we strive to accomplish on our own has already been done in us. We just need to receive it and live in it.

However, if anything takes work in the spiritual life, it’s clearing out space in our schedules and in our minds for this spiritual reality to take hold. The indwelling Spirit is all over the New Testament scriptures, and yet, how often have I tried to move forward with God’s work in my own strength and wisdom?

Perhaps you’re weary, uninspired, or just plain fearful about the direction of your life or your writing work in particular.

The Good News for you is that God is already in this with you. The Spirit is present. Your work is to rest in the Spirit of God, to trust that the words of Christ are true for YOU. There aren’t any footnotes in the words of Jesus with special clauses that rule you out.

If you can find peace in the presence of the Spirit here and now, you’ll be able to write from a healthier place of security and direction. You’ll know that first and foremost, God is in and with you, and you’ll find greater creative freedom to explore the directions that God places on your heart.

Criticism won’t sting in the same way if you’re writing out of God’s leading. Approval won’t carry the same weight. Anxiety and fear will gradually lose their power.

You’ll have freedom to seek the truth, and when you find it, you’ll have the freedom and peace you need to write about it. And when you are finished writing, you will have the comfort of knowing that writing is only a small part of the awesome mystery of God dwelling among us.

Read more about prayer and writing in my book:

Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together

Forgiveness Is the Way to Life that I’ve Rejected

dark clouds

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Luke 23:33-34, NIV

 

This scene at the cross haunts me.

I can think of no more powerful moment of forgiveness than when Jesus forgave his executioners, even as they divided his garments among themselves. They had stripped him of his dignity, tortured him, humiliated him, took his final earthly possessions, and killed him in front of his mother.

I intellectually know that the Bible reports those words, but it’s so hard to believe them, much less to fathom myself replicating them.

But this is what made Jesus so unappealing to the Jews. He forgave his oppressors and tormentors. He literally invited everyone, from the Jewish sinners who defiled the land to the Roman soldiers and officials who exploited them. He even said a Roman Centurion had the greatest faith in all of Israel.

I have wrestled with these words from the cross for years. I haven’t been exploited, oppressed, or tortured, but I do have my own pain and wounds brought about by others. The details are a private matter, but I have wrestled with forgiveness. So many of these wounds were so egregious that I’ve certainly wondered what it would even feel like to actually forgive those who wounded me.

I could say the words, “I forgive them…” In my heart, I felt like I was still holding onto my pain.

They may not have fully known what they were doing, but they should have. They at least knew enough, didn’t they? Didn’t they have any idea how much damage they were inflicting?

We talk about the cross as a place for freedom and life. I’m partial to the Christus Victor understanding of the cross. It’s not perfect or comprehensive in explaining the cross, but I find it helpful to think of Jesus continuing his work as a doctor, healing and saving his people from the power of evil. However, I’ve failed to see how even in forgiving his killers, Jesus was defeating sin and death. The forgiveness he extended was a key part of his victory.

Jesus saw the humanity and worth of the people who were killing him. He had empathy for them, remembering that they weren’t fully aware of what they were doing. He begged God to have mercy on them.

In a moment when we wouldn’t bat an eye at anyone dehumanizing the Roman soldiers as animals, savages, and barbarians hell bent on destruction and death, Jesus gave them a chance for something I’d say they had no right to expect: redemption. He offered them a way out of their evil deeds rather than standing as judge over them, condemning them for their cruelty.

I want to shout, “No, Jesus. They don’t deserve your mercy and empathy!”

What I don’t see as I’m shouting is the power of un-forgiveness and death that have started to creep into my life in that moment. As I think of Jesus dying on the cross, he’s actually opening the way to life through forgiveness, and the power of death only grows stronger the longer I deny it.

Author Cindy Brandt Shares about Her New Book Outside In

OutsideInSmall

cindy-brandt-profileEvery month or two, I take on a new book editing or author coaching project. It’s one of the most satisfying aspects of my freelancing work. Without fail, every author working on a first book is taken aback by the amount of work a book project calls for, but my latest client, Cindy Brandt, really impressed me with her determination and energy throughout the book writing and revising process.

While I don’t usually highlight the projects I’ve worked on, Cindy’s book will appeal to many of my readers, and I thought an interview with her about the process and the final product would be a fun way to highlight this service I offer while introducing new readers to her work. I sent Cindy a few brief questions to answer:

You reference that you’re a third culture kid. Explain what that means and how that shapes the way you think about following Jesus and the ways American culture may influence that.

Third Culture Kid is an umbrella term to describe kids who grow up with the influence of more than one culture. Some classic examples of TCKs are missionary kids or military kids, whose parents may be from one country but they grow up in other countries. Often, they spend time in more than one culture within the span of their childhood.

Although I was not an MK or a military kid, I fit into this category because of the significant influence of two distinct cultures in my life. I am Taiwanese, but I was educated in an American Christian school for missionary children. I became a Christian as a child because of this school so my conversion and discipleship formation took place primarily through the lens of American Christianity.

I think often Americans don’t realize how much their American culture shapes the way they practice their faith. When they transport their faith to other cultures, they often bring a lot of their American-ness to their converts. In my case, I internalized that being Christian meant acting like an American, and because I am in fact, not American, I often felt like I don’t belong to the Christian culture.

However, more and more I am discovering that following Jesus has very little to do with belonging to Christian culture. On the contrary, I believe following Jesus means dismantling the walls that are erected to determine who is in and who is outside of Christian culture.

My hope is that the book, Outside In, serves as a call to tear down some of these walls so more people can be included in the community of Christ followers.

How did your experiences as a third culture kid influence your desire to blog and work on this book project? 

In the beginning of my blogging days, I actually wrote more frequently on the experiences of being a TCK and found many TCK readers who resonated with those posts. However, most TCK blog readers would generally not identify as Christians so the blog would have fit in a totally different niche than mine is right now.

Because my faith is so important to me, I decided I want to be a voice to my people within the church, so I’ve been focused on blogging about faith. I hope my experiences as a TCK and my geographical location outside of America, can bring a unique angle to the conversation.

My book is not specifically for TCKs but speaks to the broader ideas of how to include people in the church. But I think the reason I pay attention to these perspectives is because as a TCK, I do not fit neatly into any category. As an outlier myself, my ears perk up to the stories of other outliers.

You talk about 10 different types of people the church may have overlooked in your book, but are there one or two groups in particular who really stood out and prompted you to begin writing this book? 

You know, I am very drawn to stories of suffering. I was one of those kids where if my friends got hurt with an injury I would be the one crying! The chapters on grieving and depression both come from empathizing with painfully personal stories of loved ones in my life, and I felt most compelled to use my writing voice to amplify their stories.

Of the ten overlooked outsiders, which do you personally identify with the most and why? 

I am the doubter. I speak quite openly about my story and struggle with doubt in the book. I speak on behalf of others in most of the chapters but the doubting chapter was my own story.

A second top contender would be the person who is too busy. I have a type-A personality and over commitment is my middle name. That chapter was difficult to write because I talk about slowing down and being more present, knowing how hard it would be for me to follow my own advice.

Any plans for a next book? (Looking for a good editor???) 

At the end of my book I say there are endless chapters to be written for it. There is always room in the world for one more unique story and one more perspective. I think it would be a fun project to add bonus chapters to Outside In and highlight more Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore.

I also have some ideas swirling in my head on the subject of how to be in relationship with people who are very different from us. In a way it would be a follow up to Outside In. After we have embraced outsiders, how then do we exist in community with a diversity of people?

How can readers find out more about this book and your writing? 

You can click here to find more information about Outside In. I would encourage people to sign up for my newsletter for future writing updates. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cindybrandtwriter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cindy_w_brandt

Instagram: https://instagram.com/cindybrandt/

Learn more about my book editing, author coaching, and website content services.

Announcing My Next Book: The Toddler Diet

Toddler Diet

 

Note to Readers: See disclaimer at the end of this post!

Jesus said that unless we become like little children, we will not see the Kingdom of God, and yet how many of us have failed to apply this biblical principle to our meal times?

In fact, Jesus commands us to give children exactly what they want. If a child asks us for bread, we should give the child bread—every single time.

These are direct commands from scripture. We need to stop picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we’re going to obey, and start picking and choosing—compulsively even—from our dinner plates.

My next book offers the definitive biblical dieting solution you’ve been waiting for:

The Toddler Diet:

Lose Weight and Gain Faith by Eating Like Little Children

Releasing April 1, 2016

Our culture worships at the altar of diet gurus and health “experts” with degrees from godless universities. Christians live under the bondage of bestselling “Old Covenant” dieting books. It’s time to return to the biblical blueprint for eating.

Jesus told us everything we need to know about eating properly: become like little children.

When you think about healthy eating, it should be obvious that toddlers are programmed by God to eat properly, and we only lead them astray with our fallen dieting principles as they grow up. Toddlers only eat when they’re hungry, manage their portions properly, and toss unnecessary food to the floor—scraps which come in handy for feeding people from Syro-Phoenecia who may be hanging out down there.

Toddlers are always in great shape and have excellent will power when it comes to fasting from meals. If a toddler doesn’t want to eat, that’s the end of the matter. They model will power that would make John the Baptist choke on a locust.

If only we trusted that the words of scripture—inspired, inerrant, and magically able to partially vanish when we discuss politics or poverty—we would certainly not struggle with obesity or place our physical well being in the hands of the dieting industry, which clearly has an agenda. Shouldn’t we trust Christian authors, like me, who clearly DON’T have an agenda?

If you want to be among the healthiest, happiest, and, most importantly, most faithful followers of the HOLY BIBLE, sign up for my newsletter today to pre-order The Toddler Diet, and you’ll get these added benefits:

 

A Toddler Diet Exercise DVD full of fun, effective, Biblical exercise activities like “running to the garden tomb,” 40 days of wandering in the wilderness, and dunking yourself (or others) in water.

A Toddler Diet Recipe Book full of fun, effective, biblical recipes such as locusts and honey, seafood on a sheet, and the fattened calf.

Toddler Diet Smocks that will protect you as you throw food on the floor but also double as a prayer covering.

A Toddler Diet Certificate that lets the world know you’re the most biblical dieter ever.

 

Don’t submit to the heavy yoke of Old Testament-based “Christian” dieting books. We have been set free to eat like little children. The road to life is narrow and lined with smashed bananas.

 

In order to prevent the sudden spike in unsubscribes that happens every April 1st, I need to offer this disclaimer: This blog post is an April Fool’s joke. You won’t get any of those fake benefits if you sign up for my newsletter, but you will get two free eBooks that are NOT about dieting!

 

Are You New to my Blog?

I just released a new book:
Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together.

Learn more here. (Whether or not you buy it, I offer a bunch of prayer and writing resources on that page.)

I’m running a limited time Kindle sale today.

15_02_13_PrayWriteGrow copy

Check out the rest of my books on Amazon or on the My Books page.

Redemption Happens When We Are Called to Light, Not Just Away from Darkness

Rohr forWriters

Richard Rohr writes:

“Anything downright ‘good,’ anything that shakes you with its ‘trueness,’ and anything that sucks you into its beauty does not just educate you; it transforms you. True religion proceeds like the twelve-step program—‘by attraction and not promotion.’ Simone Weil sad it so well: ‘There is only one fault, only one: our inability to feed upon light.’” Immortal Diamond pg. 77

 

When the darkness touches our lives, we’ll only recover by finding the light. That’s the hardest thing about Christianity for me most days. We don’t heal or take any positive steps forward by retaliating. If anything, we make the pain go deeper and that much harder to heal.

When I’ve been wronged or I see injustice, I want to attack, demolish, and avenge. With an important caveat about speaking truth and protecting ourselves from toxic relationships or situations, I’ve only truly recovered from the manipulation, judgment, or anger of others by finding God’s deeper love for me and for others. I’ve found life and even a sense of triumph by letting go of the ways I’ve been wronged in order to forgive.

Writing out of a place of anger or out of my wounds only perpetuates the darkness until I can move toward the light of God’s presence and love.

And here is the great irony of writing. I find that I must write out of the places of my deepest wounds, pain, fear, and shame, but the goal isn’t to rage against them, to call out others, or to even justify myself. When I’m in a healthy place, I explore these dark places through my writing in order to shine light on them, to expose their darkness with the contrasting power of God’s light.

Several of my author friends have a rule that they won’t write about their darkest moments until they’ve had a little time to recover and gather perspective. While there’s certainly a place for writing through your thoughts in the midst of the darkness, there’s also a great deal of wisdom in waiting a little bit for the light to break through. The risks of writing for others in the darkness could be great.

I can say this for myself, and I suspect that it is true for many, but I won’t point fingers: I have never been more liable to spread the darkness than when I’m in the midst of it myself. It’s the adage, “Hurt people will hurt people.”

The hardest thing to realize after going through a number of toxic and damaging church experiences was that I too had become a toxic, damaging person. The havoc that hit my own life from divisive congregations and being treated like fuel for the programs of the church infected me, and I spread that pain to others. Darkness will only bring more darkness.

I had to be healed by God’s light before I could become a presence of healing and redemption.

The words we type into our blog posts and social media profiles have real power to spread more darkness or more light. What we pass on is what we’ve been “feeding on,” to use Simone Weil’s words.

If we have only been exposed to the darkness of anger, intimidation, rejection, bullying, and injustice among one group, we may carry that same darkness to a different group. You could be judged and attacked among conservative Christians, only to find the same vices when you migrate to the liberal Christians, or vice versa.

I care less and less these days about labels and camps. One pastor once said, “I care more about your tone than your theology.” The issue of tone-policing aside, there’s something to that. Have you been feeding on the light of God’s love and does that love make you caring, inclusive, and centered on drawing others to that love? Or have you fed on the darkness that accuses, attacks, and diminishes?

We all have met someone who feeds on light and who draws us in with the acceptance of love.

We all know that darkness and light can be equally attractive.

We may forget that darkness can also transform us.

I have spent a lot of time perpetuating the darkness by telling people to stop indulging in the darkness without feeding on the light myself. I have been most transformed when those who feed on the light invite me to join them. Despite my failures in feeding on the darkness, I have found the most potential for healing and redemptive transformation when I’ve been called toward the light.

May we all find the healing we need in the light of God’s presence in our lives.

 

When Commercial Christian Publishing Was Bad for My Soul

measuring-up-writers

 

Christian publishing was bad for my soul, but I need to begin with a few caveats.

Christian publishing isn’t “bad” in every way in and of itself.

Christian publishing isn’t necessarily bad for everyone’s soul.

Commercial publishing in general could be bad for anyone’s soul.

Christian publishing isn’t even necessarily bad for my soul right now. It could be bad for my soul, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two after a decade working my way into this subset of the publishing world. I should probably leave it at this:

Commercial Christian publishing was quite bad for my soul for a period of time. I also suspect that there are many Christian authors who would agree with this assessment at certain points in their careers.

Idealistic souls like myself enter into Christian publishing with two major problems:

  1. We don’t know how to recognize when our souls are in bad shape.
  2. We can’t imagine how Christian publishing could be bad for our souls.

The two points are related of course. If you aren’t expecting a dark side in the Christian publishing world and you can’t even determine how the dark side is impacting you in the first place, you’re most likely in for a major, major crash.

I want Christian publishers to thrive, and I want Christian authors to thrive. This isn’t about pointing fingers or telling people to avoid working with Christian publishers. On the contrary, I want healthy Christian authors to work with publishers in order to produce excellent books that will help their readers. Having commercially published a few books myself, people often ask me for advice about how to get involved in Christian publishing. I usually write something like this “off the record,” but I think it would really help if we could speak about these things openly. So here we go…

 

How Is It with Your Soul?

When I started working on my first book proposal in 2005, I didn’t know how to evaluate whether I was in a healthy or unhealthy place in relation to publishing. I felt a strong calling to write, and I had a book idea that, in my view, met an important need in the church. I graduated from seminary knowing that I shouldn’t pastor in a church, but I could pastor through my writing.

At the outset I didn’t see how I tied my personal identity with my work and, most importantly, the reception of readers and influencers to my work. I cared way, way, way too much about what people thought of my books because I linked my work with their acceptance or rejection of me.

It wasn’t the sales numbers necessarily that wore me down, although we’ll get to that. It was rather an expectation that my books were only good, and by connection myself, if certain influential people noticed them, shared them, endorsed them, etc.

In addition, I waited for the feedback of editors for book projects and unwittingly began to associate my value as a writer with my status at publishing houses. I began to only think of myself as a serious author if I had a contract at a major publishing house. My “calling” to write was handed over to a few busy people who rightly wanted no part in determining my self worth or the direction of my life.

When I didn’t reach the sales goals I needed to meet, my future as an “author” hung in the balance. I didn’t know how to survive without the approval of others for my work. Adding in the pressure to make at least some money from book publishing, I had created a toxic mixture of personal approval and financial pressure that poisoned my writing work.

There are some trends or tendencies in commercial Christian publishing that feed these toxic trends, but there’s no doubt that I brought the majority of the crazy to my personal situation. I could choose to either ground myself in God’s calling for myself and my faithfulness to that calling, or I could look to my inbox and social media for approval.

 

Christian Publishing Is a Business

It’s easy to sit back and take shots at publishers for their publishing decisions. Just the other day I was thinking: if I see another Christian dieting gimmick book, I’m going pitch a proposal called My Year of Eating Under the New Covenant where I eat nothing but pork and seafood for a year.

Nevertheless, for every “Patriot’s Bible” and faux self-help author that causes me to roll my eyes, there are excellent, grounded authors like Jennifer Dukes Lee, Ann Voskamp (no “prosetry” haters allowed, Ann’s the real deal), Nate Pyle, Preston Yancey, Emily Freeman, Michelle Derusha, Christie Purifoy, and D. L. Mayfield (just to name a few off the top of my head) breaking into Christian publishing, writing excellent books, and even dominating the bestseller lists as they offer the rest of us hope.

However, commercial publishing remains a business that demands immediate results, and diet books and Amish romances do provide guaranteed sales. Every author feels the pressure to meet sales targets knowing that their next books hinge on those sales numbers. It doesn’t matter if outside circumstances contributed to low sales numbers, a marketing person dropped the ball, or, in my case, the publicist got fired before the book’s release. If you can’t produce the numbers a publisher needs, you’re getting axed and publishing another book will be tough in the future.

Suddenly sticking a woman with a bonnet on your book’s cover to jumpstart sales starts looking attractive… Amish Coffeehouse Theology Romance anyone?

Most writers either in Christian publishing or hoping to enter Christian publishing need to know why certain books are chosen over others and how publishers hope to make money from the books they acquire.

For instance, the pastor with a congregation of 5,000 people and a huge social media following can pitch a book that says something like, “Following Jesus is a relationship and church is about the people, not the building,” or “Don’t gossip!” and it may get published because his platform is huge and can guarantee the sales a publisher needs. Just create a sermon series around the book’s release and presto! Book deal!

I can only imagine what some of the authors of our spiritual classics would hear if they were pitching their books today…

“Dear Mr. Bonhoeffer,

I’m afraid we’re going to have to pass on your book proposal about creating a healthy church community. It is clearly well-written and based on your experience leading an underground church movement, but your Twitter following just isn’t up to snuff and your congregation is unfortunately too small and, most concerning of all, UNDERGROUND…”

The relatively unknown authors who aren’t household names will need to blog like crazy, make connections on social media, gather endorsements from influential people, and develop amazing book concepts that are unique and original while somehow landing within the interests and guidelines of a publisher.

That may not be true across the board for every book proposal, but so far as I can see, that is simply the reality for many. And mind you, if you create a really compelling book that a publisher takes a chance on, you really, really need to at least earn back your advance if you want to publish more books commercially. My struggle to land a second or third book deal because a first book was perceived as underperforming based on sales in the first year is not uncommon.

This puts a ton of pressure on authors to play the publicity game, and authors can really hit a wall here. We need to gather reviews, write guest posts, book speaking events when possible, and figure out ways to gain exposure for our books even though most of us have no experience in publicity, retail, or online merchandising. Publishers have essentially told authors, “This is the new normal, get used to it.”

I spent about ten years in this grind of writing proposals, blogging, working on publicity, and fighting to boost my sales. I’ve had some nice triumphs and some dismal failures.

When I started on a “Woe is me” lament with a pastor friend, he said, “But look at all of the experience you gained!”

I replied with something like, “Yeah, and that experience really hurt.”

Like I said, commercial Christian publishing was bad for my soul.

At the start of 2015, I decided that I needed to make a major change.

 

Taking a Break from Commercial Publishing

For this season of my life, I’m shelving my proposals. I told my agent that I’m taking a break. I’m not saying I’m done forever. I’m just done for now because I’ve had enough of the commercial publishing game. If I ever pursue it again, I want to develop a healthier way of publishing and marketing books.

I can tell you that this decision has resulted in both grief and relief. I never knew how tightly I was holding onto commercial publishing as the source of my identity until I let go of it. I also never knew that letting go of those dreams and goals could be so wonderfully freeing.

For now I’m mapping out plans to work on a few projects I’ve had sitting around and publishing them “Independently,” which is the term of choice over self-publishing for many. I first experimented with self-publishing in 2010 with my book A Path to Publishing (I updated the current version in 2014). Back then the majority of the people with self-publishing experience were still trying to get their books noticed through bookstores, advertising, and article placement—at least the people I read about. It was a ton of work, and sales weren’t amazing. I’ve continued little side experiments with independent publishing, and now I’m finally at a place where I think it’s worth trying.

With Scrivener, it’s ridiculously easy to put an eBook together, and tools like NoiseTrade, BookBub, MailChimp, Kindle Direct, and Draft2Digital make it easy to market your work in a variety of ways. I still have to work with a cover designer and sort out the editorial process, but it’s not that much more work than commercial publishing at this point, even if I do miss the support of some of the excellent editors and publicists I’ve worked with over the years.

Still, by going off on my own I don’t have any pressure to meet sales goals, to play the endorsement game (don’t get me started on that one), or to market my work in any particular ways. I can run promotions whenever I want and jump on opportunities for publicity as they arise. If a book flops, then it’s mainly my own time that I’ve wasted, and if a book struggles in its first month, there’s still plenty of time to figure out ways to promote it.

I can certainly still fall into the trap of judging my self-worth based on the reviews of readers or the response by my friends and colleagues. My soul isn’t in the clear. In fact, before the release of my latest book Pray, Write, Grow, I still had trouble falling asleep for a week as I worried whether enough people would like it. However, once the book released, my anxiety completely disappeared and I was able to simply enjoy the fact that readers were enjoying my book, and that the fate of my next book had nothing to do with its sales for the next month or two.

I like to think that I’m building a healthier way for me, Ed Cyzewski, to write, publish, and publicize my work. Perhaps a day will come that I can sort out a way to work with a publisher again. I’m certainly open to that possibility. But for now, I know that I needed a season to let go of my commercial publishing dreams and simply figure out a healthy way forward as an author.

 

Should You Pursue Commercial Christian Publishing?

One of my main motivations in writing this post is that I’m often asked about how to break into Christian publishing. I even coach some new authors who started out hoping for book deals and actually shifted toward independent publishing for the time being—decisions they made with zero prompting on my part.

I feel like I owe the people who know me some kind of response on the public record to this often-asked question: “Should I pursue commercial Christian publishing?”

I can’t answer that question definitely, but here’s what I know based on my experiences, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, even if my take certainly isn’t the norm for everyone:

  1. There is a ton of pressure to sell enough books if you want to make a career of commercial publishing in general.
  2. The process of publishing a book on deadline and marketing it within a publisher’s timeline can be draining and even make it hard to write the next book.
  3. Marketing support varies from publisher to publisher, and it’s hard to know if you’ve ever been given enough help or the right kind of help. (Publishers are all over the place on how to market books and even when publishers do a lot to market a book, there’s no guarantee it will work as hoped).

I still think there are some really talented writers who should shoot for the big publishers. I’m honestly looking forward to the release of many books from my colleagues this year, and I’m glad they’ve endured the challenges of this industry in order to work with talented editors who will make their books all that much better.

However, the majority of writers hoping to break into publishing simply aren’t ready for all of the demands of publishing, especially the marketing side of things. I’ve been hired to critique lots of proposals, and the vast majority are too thin in the marketing department. While I admire their willingness to take their chances with a publisher, if they do manage to publish that book, release week and the ensuing weeks could be extremely stressful and even soul crushing.

With the ease of independently publishing eBooks these days, most new authors should begin by publishing at least a book or two on their own and figuring out how they can best market it without the pressure of a publisher’s sales goals looming over them. If publishers are going to demand that authors bring their own marketing platforms along with their books, you may as well figure out a way forward that is enjoyable and, most importantly, tested in real life.

I spent years building up social media and blog contacts without understanding how to actually use them to promote books. I wrote newsletters each month without a clue about the value of those email addresses. I was just moving from one half measure to another based on what other authors were doing without fully understanding what would be most effective for connecting readers with my writing.

Commercial Christian publishing was bad for my soul, but I’m trying to learn from my mistakes. I’m hopeful that we can make things better, and we can at least improve upon the status quo.

I still believe that books are a powerful way to share carefully crafted ideas and stories that can change lives and bring joy.

I still believe that the majority of readers are looking for another great book.

I still believe that the majority of authors, editors, and publicists want to produce the absolute best works possible, even if they’re often placed in difficult situations.

The truth is that book publishing can be messy and painful. No one is going to look out for your spiritual health. Once you hop on the publishing roller coaster, it’s going to be difficult to bring it to a stop when you grow weary.

Before I experienced the publishing business from the inside, I thought that publishing books for my fellow Christians was pretty much the greatest gig ever. These days I applaud anyone who wants to get published commercially, but before you take the plunge, you need to realize that writing books for your fellow Christians could be very, very bad for your soul.

 

The Greatest Sin of All Isn’t Unbelief or Disobeying the Bible

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I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about Matthew 25. It strikes me as one of the most important passages in the Bible because it describes a striking scene where the true followers of Jesus are separated from the false followers. Perhaps something about my “closed-set” evangelical background draws me to this scene.

My particular fascination has to do with this: Evangelicals, based on Paul’s letters, teach that the righteous are saved by faith, but this passage teaches that we’re saved by what we do.

Jesus doesn’t welcome people because of what they prayed or believed. He welcomes those who gave food to the hungry, visited the prisoners, and clothed the poor.

I don’t want to necessarily create a false dichotomy here. Of course real, genuine faith is confirmed by our actions. In fact, the word we translate as “believe” is the verb form of faith, which means we’re actually “faith-ing” or taking action with our faith. Having said all of that, evangelicals such as myself have spent so much time focusing on the sin of unbelief, heresy, or criticizing those who allegedly don’t take the Bible seriously enough, we don’t have any time left to examine what we do.

In other words, we don’t say to people, “You are unloving and uncaring, and I question your salvation.” We have traditionally question someone’s salvation based on beliefs alone that we could boil down to answers on a theology exam.

We could have a whole other discussion about whether we should even question someone’s salvation in the first place (I would argue that’s never our role). That discussion is not my aim here. I’m interested in personally examining ourselves with the same standards the Jesus said he would use.

How do we know we’re actually on the right course in following Jesus?

Matthew 25 has a pretty startling, yet straightforward answer.

You can safely assume you’re following Jesus if you love other people because you see Jesus in them.

Period.

If you see the inherent dignity and worthiness of the least powerful, most vulnerable, and even the most damaged and unworthy, then you’re in good shape according to Jesus. If you love these people, then “You get it.”

And it’s not just a matter of loving the people who love us. It’s a matter of loving everyone. If you can manage to love the people who have the least to offer you and may even cost you time, money, and sanity, then it should be a cinch to love everyone else in our lives.

Put another way, if God is love, then the ultimate sin we can commit against God is to not love others.

When I am angry at people, when I ignore those in need, and when I think I’m above serving, then I am most unlike God. I’ve hidden behind my theology long enough. I should have started practicing my speech:

When did I see you hungry, homeless, and in prison? I was busy studying theology so that my faith would be pure.

I have been working on learning the startling lesson that Jesus loves me just as I am, but he doesn’t expect me to stop there. I’m learning to simply value the presence of Jesus in the first place and to receive his love. If I have truly received his love, then it should start transforming the way I view others and, most importantly, how I treat them.

There aren’t the worthy poor and the unworthy poor.

There aren’t the worthy prisoners and the unworthy prisoners.

There aren’t the unworthy, lazy unemployed and the worthy, industrious unemployed.

Every year Christians spend thousands of dollars looking for Jesus at really nice conferences full of super successful pastors and teachers. I won’t say that Jesus isn’t there, but I will say that ONLY looking for Jesus among the affluent, successful, and influential is an epic fail according to Matthew 25.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that he is among the poor, the failures, and even the criminals. The goodness we do to those we perceive as “the least” is done to Jesus.

So where does this leave us?

I still think the most important step we can take begins within ourselves: welcoming Jesus and his love. We won’t value the presence of Jesus among others if we don’t value or recognize his presence in the first place. This presence of Jesus brings the ongoing renewal of our minds and hearts that Paul speaks about and fills us with his love.

When we finally receive the love and acceptance of Jesus, we’ll have something powerful to share with others—especially the “least of these.” In fact, if we’re still dividing the world into those worthy and unworthy of Jesus’ love, then perhaps we haven’t truly experienced that love in the first place.

Guest Post for Micha Boyett: How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write

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I’m guest posting at Micha Boyett’s blog this week to talk about prayer and writing, which is pretty much right in her wheelhouse. I met Micha back in 2012, and was totally blown away by the pitch for her (then) upcoming book Found (as of this moment, it’s $3 on Kindle!). If you haven’t read it yet, I think quite a few of us will really relate this book’s stories about her struggles to pray while parenting little ones.  I’m honored to write at her blog about the Examen and how it has transformed both my prayer and writing: 

 

When I try to pray, I often find that my anxious thoughts get in the way.

When I try to write, I often find that I can’t form a single thought.

It feels like feast or famine most days.

How can I face my thoughts for prayerful contemplation without getting swept up in anxiety and worst-case scenarios?

How can I hang on to a few thoughts that are worth exploring through writing before the blank page wins?

Thankfully I’ve found that one practice can help with both problems. The Examen, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, offers a lifeline to stressed out, over-thinkers like me, while coincidentally prompting writers to address what matters most.

 

Praying with the Examen

Ignatius believed the Examen was a gift given directly from God. After spending a significant time in prayer, he found that prayer could move forward best with this time of reflection and meditation.

The Examen is set apart from run of the mill self-reflection right from the start by its first step: Awareness of God’s Presence. We don’t face the most challenging parts of our lives alone. God is with us as we begin the Examen, and as we move forward into it, that awareness will only grow. In fact, the Examen encourages us to invite God into our days and our times of reflection.

The genius of the Examen is the way it stops the roller coaster of worry and distraction when I begin praying, while still offering a path forward. It provides an orderly, prayerful direction to my thoughts so that I can honestly face what I’m truly thinking without feeling restrained.

Read the Rest at Micha Boyett’s Blog.

Guest Post for Michelle DeRusha: Where Do We Start with Prayer?

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I’m guest posting this week for my friend Michelle DeRusha, the author of the fantastic books Spiritual Misfit and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. I’m sharing a guest post based on my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. While I suggest in my book that prayer practices can help us write, we first need to sort out where we’ll begin with prayer:

 

One of my most intense moments in prayer started on a whim.

I sat down to pray in our living room one morning, and for some reason my mind kept venturing back to the moments of my deepest shame.

The relationships I’d messed up in college.

The many stupid things I said during our first year of marriage.

The time (times?) I placed unreasonable expectations on a good friend.

As I squirmed and fretted over my shame, I had a “revolutionary” thought: “What if I just prayed as if God knew all about this stuff already?”

 

We Bring Our Vulnerabilities to Prayer

I’m not breaking new ground when I say that we can’t hide anything from God or that we don’t have to be perfect in order to approach God. That’s pretty much covered from most pulpits on Sunday morning.

Actually living as if we have nothing to hide and God still loves us is quite another matter.

 

Read the Rest at Michelle DeRusha’s Blog.