My career in Christian publishing is a bit like a ministry, but it’s also a bit like a business, which can make for difficult decisions about what feels true to my calling and what looks viable and sustainable. It’s no doubt a walk by faith, but it also calls for frequent reflection, assessment, and prayerful course adjustments.
I’ve been far from perfect in my decisions, and honestly there are times when a decision that appeared to be a mistake actually opened up a door later on. So within a year or two of this post going live, I may have a completely different take on some of my regrets!
Yet, each year I take stock of what I’ve done over the past 12 months and what I hope to do for the next 12 months.
I’m regularly journaling about whatever is on my mind, and oftentimes I jot notes about shifts in focus or direction for my writing.
While reading other books, I take notice of what works and what doesn’t work for me, and I try to blend those lessons with my own writing style.
All of that is to say, I think a lot about the direction and focus of my writing career as a Christian author. In no particular order, I wanted to share a few of the most important changes I’ve made or wish I had made.
I wish I’d written more in the first person about my own struggles and ideas rather than writing “should” posts that were preachy and critical of others.
As the format of this post seeks to embody right from the start, I wish I’d focused primarily on my own struggles and thoughts rather than targeting others or institutions. Mind you, there were times that were absolutely appropriate to address an issue or a person, but that should have been the exception for my format.
I started blogging at a time of wider discontent with the church, so I easily slipped into a critical posture in my posts as I picked apart all of the stuff that was wrong with the church. Having said that, I don’t think I was necessarily wrong with my assessment of things, but my approach was unhelpful and alienating.
If I had written more about my personal issues, challenges, and experiences, it would have provided a better format for discussing the pressing issues of the time and could have been more productive.
If I had written more about my personal issues, challenges, and experiences, it would have provided a better format for discussing the pressing issues of the time and could have been more productive.Tweet
I wish I’d spent more time thinking about the big picture of my writing career and where I’d like to end up in the long term.
During a conversation with my agent after the publication of my second book, he asked me, “Where do you want to be in five years?”
I had no idea what to say to that. I mean, I wanted to publish more books, right? But I didn’t really know enough about what kinds of books or what else I’d do with my time. There’s a lot more involved in book publishing than publishing books, and thinking about the longer term trajectory of my career could have helped me make better choices at the beginning.
I wish I’d spent a lot less time on social media.
I got into Christian publishing and writing in general when social media held out promises of bringing us together and making everything easy and better.
There were plenty of Christian authors in my circles who were really dynamic and engaging on social media. They were wired to thrive in that format.
I was not. Something about it never clicked for me, and it was a huge challenge to try to model my use of social media after people who were very different from me. I’m much happier just being myself, and I wish I had just been myself a lot sooner.
Now we know that social media is actually driving enormous wedges between us, making it easier to spread agitating nonsense, and is great for making memes go viral but not so much for selling books reliably.
I wasted too much time on social media. Any more time than five minutes a day was too much time. When I see hopeful authors on social media begging for more followers at the behest of an agent so they can impress a publisher, I’m sad on behalf of that author. A lot of disappointment and wasted time is coming their way.
I wish I’d kept my morning habit of waking up and writing at least 500 words before the start of the day. I used to post on my blog almost every day AND work on my book projects in the morning before my day job or during my lunch break.
My morning writing habit fell apart when I learned I was supposed to promote my writing and books on social media, so I started going on there first thing in the morning. Besides, it was fun to see what my friends were up to.
That early morning writing discipline is a hard one to bring back during this season of my life with small kids who can make mornings hard to plan sometimes. Even when I try to set boundaries around my social media use and even block it, I FEEL the draw of social media’s slot machine dopamine hit in comparison to the slow satisfaction of writing in the flow.
Even when I try to set boundaries around my social media use and even block it, I FEEL the draw of social media’s slot machine dopamine hit in comparison to the slow satisfaction of writing in the flow.Tweet
I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the temptation of social media in the morning, but I’m determined to make writing my top priority again first thing in the morning when my brain is ready to roll.
I wish I’d focused more on developing expertise in the things I cared about the most rather than the things I thought the church needed the most.
Having gone to seminary and bailing out on ministry in a church, writing became my plan B because it should have been Plan A from the start.
Yet, I had a brain crammed with ideas about theology and ministry. I saw challenges and stuff that was needed, so I started writing about it. But I made the mistake of focusing on what I knew about before asking if I was passionate about it.
After attending a bunch of theology conferences and feeling completely out of place, I realized that I could write about theology, but it wasn’t my passion. I have always been wired more for prayer, contemplation, and practical Christian living issues. It has been far more joyful and sustainable to write about the things I care about the most.
If Coffeehouse Theology was my attempt to write about what the church needed (and I still love that book and stand by its message), Flee, Be Silent, Pray is my book that embodies my passion and my story. I still feel that if I only published Flee, Be Silent, Pray, I would be completely satisfied by my career as an author. I will always write, but I don’t know if I can ever contribute something to the world that captures my passions quite like that book.
I wish I’d better understood what it takes to sell books and then planned my career accordingly.
Anyone can write a book, but not everyone can sell what they write. I had a lot to learn about audiences, an author’s expertise, how to write for an audience’s urgent pain points, and how to find the audience who is going to read my books. I still feel like I have a lot to learn–not to mention that book marketing continues to evolve every year.
The publishing industry has changed a lot since I first started out in 2006 and 2007 with Coffeehouse Theology. I’m sure some of the marketing stuff I’d read about back then would still work today, but now the marketing and publishing landscape is very different with email marketing, social media marketing, and other advertising platforms such as BookBub and Amazon’s ad ecosystem.
Selling books is hard work, but I definitely had the most success on my own, managing the marketing for my independent books.
While I’m grateful for the commercial publishers I’ve worked with and am proud of the work I’ve produced alongside some incredible editors, I’m also coming to terms with how ill-suited I am for commercial publishing. I often wonder if I should have invested more into independent publishing when I first tried it in 2010.
That’s all I’ve got for now. The comments are open for two weeks (closing comments limits spam) if you’d like to share your own regrets or do-overs with writing or whatever else.
I have compiled most of my thoughts about Christians and publishing in my book Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing. It’s often $4.99 on Kindle.
3 thoughts on “A Christian Writer’s Regrets and What He’d Change”
I’ve been following you for a long while now, Ed, and I so appreciate every word of this post. As I get back into regular writing and publishing, I’m wrestling with so many of the things you’ve highlighted here, and it feels really good to know I’m not alone. You’ve given me a lot to think about today. Thank you for your honesty.
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Thanks for dropping by and for leaving a comment! Hang in there with your writing and publishing! It is a worthwhile endeavour, but it’s certainly challenging.
Ed, I always appreciate your honesty. I feel like you do write from a vulnerable and open place and that is what makes it a pleasure to read. Preachy, “this is the right way” kind of writing does not hold me for long.
I have only written one book and I spilled my whole heart in it. I do not know what else to say, so far. My regret might be that I did not pursue my love of writing enough, especially after being hurt by my place of fulltime ministry for 30 years. What if I had skipped it and jumped wholeheartedly into writing? I am 67 and I think I may still have a second chance at writing, possibly.
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