Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dear America

The book idea I had called, Where Grace Abounds: True Stories from Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers, or my “pregnancy center book” was on the shelf. But writing went on. I continued to sell magazine articles and submit to compilation books.

Then September 11th, 2001, happened.

In the weeks following I kept thinking of all the things I would like to tell folks in the aftermath…like why I still believe in a good God even when bad things happen. And what I’ve learned about getting through the grief of losing a loved one. And about the differences between Muslims and Christians and what they believe about God and Jesus. And about how we can know God through the story told in the Bible. And there was more.

I’d write a letter, I thought, if I had anyone to send it to.

I mentioned this idea off-handedly in an e-mail to a friend who directs a writer’s conference. She e-mailed back and said, “If you’ll write it, I’ll publish it.”

What?! I was floored.

“Uh… Okay,” I told her, and I was off and running. I wanted my letter to America to be short and easy to read. And it was—65 pages. The writing went quickly.

Marlene Bagnull, director of the Colorado and Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conferences and owner of the small publisher Ampelos Press, edited it and typeset it and found Jo Hardesty to create my cover. I had an ISBN and bar code and I was set!

Did I get an advance? No.

Would I get royalties? No.

I paid for the editing and typesetting and cover and the ISBN and the bar code and the printing…

Hmm. Well, I guess that’s okay. I would also keep all the proceeds from the book sales, right? Yes.

I guess this was a “self-publishing” project. Not sure I really understood that up front. But, well…okay.

(Looking back I cannot believe I didn’t have anything in writing. No contract. Nothing that said this is what each person involved will do and this is how much it will cost. I’m normally a real stickler for getting it writing. My goodness! What happened here?! The only answer I can give is that I didn’t know enough to even know what questions to ask or what to ask for (like a contract). I had heard someone say she would publish my book, I had a publisher, and away we went! She did a good job, I think. I didn't get taken or anything like that. But I don’t really think I understood at the time how on my own I really was. Anyway…)

Six months to the day after September 11th, on March 11, 2002, I picked up my books, Dear America: A Letter of Comfort and Hope to a Grieving Nation, from the printer.

I had my first book in my hands.

How thrilling! How frightening.

One question nagged me: Uh oh. Now what?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Than Just an Idea – Stories Needed

If you’re a writer, you know the first thing you have to do is have more than just an idea to sell a book.

Okay, if you’re an established, successful writer, you can pitch an idea and sometimes an editor, agent, or publisher will say, “Yeah! I love it. I’ll send you a contract.” It can happen.

But for those of us who are yet to be established, who don’t have a track record of successful books, that ain’t gonna happen. You can dream, but your chances of that happening for you are, well, you might as well go buy a lotto ticket.

So, how do you sell your book idea? First, you have to have some material. Stuff that you can write up (so editors, agents, and publishers can actually see some of your writing). Then you develop that into a book proposal.

So, I knew the first order of business for me to make this book a reality, was to gather some stories from pregnancy centers that I could actually write up.

If I can write up some awesome stories, then I can show editors and publishers what I have in mind, I thought. Then they’ll understand what a valuable book this is and what a great idea I’ve had!

So I set out to gather some stories. I still have that list of possibilities…dated July 6, 2000.

First on my list was contacting my friend who was the director of the pregnancy center where I had served on the Board of Directors. I knew she had one story in particular I wanted. I dug out old issues of the pregnancy center’s newsletters to search for more stories. I called other members of the Board of Directors, and a couple had a story they might share.

Then I e-mailed a friend down in Arkansas who I’d talked to about this book idea. She had mentioned she had friends who directed a pregnancy center there. Surely she would have a story. My friend gave me their e-mail address and promised to mention me to them.

I e-mailed right away. I wrote a length explanation of my great idea and asked if they had any stories they might share with me. After some time passed and I got no answer, I e-mail again. No answer. I talked to my friend again and she didn’t know why they weren’t answering. I e-mail several more times. A writer has to persevere, right? I never did get a response. I finally gave up.

I followed up with the story leads that were closer to home. I called a friend in the next town over who worked at a pregnancy center there. She had some stories, but she had thought about writing a book, too.

That’s okay. No problem. Two different books by two different authors would no doubt turn out totally different. And there’s always room in the market for more than one book on a great idea.

I asked around every place I could think of for stories. I called pregnancy centers. Somewhere, it has been so long now I can’t remember where…or how…but somewhere I ran into this:

“No. We cannot share stories of our clients! There are privacy issues. We promise confidentiality. No, you can’t have our stories.”

Uh-oh. The foundation for my great-idea dream book began to crumble.

Privacy issues. Was that why the place in Arkansas had never responded?

I never wanted to, or intended to, step on the privacy of any client. I had hoped some clients would want to tell their stories and how the pregnancy center had helped them. But, with their identities protected, the only way I could get to the clients was through the pregnancy center workers. Couldn’t they ask a few clients if they’d be willing to share their stories with me?



Absolutely not.

It seemed like and felt like the people in the pregnancy centers didn’t trust me. They didn’t know me. Of course they didn’t trust me.

Time passed. The director of the pregnancy center where I sat on the board who had the great story I wanted had moved away. The center was struggling to stay open.

Turns out, I didn’t get a single story.

I thought it was a great idea. But I got nowhere.

What else could I do? I laid the project aside.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What I Thought Was a Great Idea

Have you ever had what you thought was a great idea?

For me, it all started back in 2000. That’s when I had what I thought was a great idea.

But let me back up and tell you how I came upon this great idea.

I had been a writer for more than ten years, writing for magazines—mostly Christian ones—and for compilation books. I was having a pretty good go of it, with more than a hundred articles in magazines and my work in four books at the time. But I had always wanted to write books. I had an occasional idea, but none had yet come to fruition.

Meanwhile, in my off time, I did charitable work, including sitting on the Board of Directors of a small-town pregnancy center. It was interesting and fulfilling work, but it had its own frustrations.

I remember one day riding home from Bible study with a friend when I mentioned the pregnancy center and the work we were doing there—providing material, emotional, and spiritual support for people in unplanned pregnancies. All our services were free. As I talked, I noticed my friend got strangely quiet. Then I realized she always got strangely quiet when I talked about the pregnancy center. So I asked her what was up.

Driving along, she stared out her side window, her lips pressed into a thin line. It took her a while to find the words. Finally she hissed, “I won’t support that place!”

Surprised, I asked, “Why not?”

“Because I believe abortion is wrong,” she spit, “and that place refers women for abortion!”

I just wanted to bury my face in my hands and shake my head. “No we don’t,” I told her. “We will help women carry their baby. We’ll help with material needs, like giving them maternity clothes, and baby clothes and furniture, and diapers. We’ll give them free pregnancy tests and help them get medical help. We’ll help them place it for adoption if that’s what they want. We’ll talk with them about sexual integrity. We’ll even talk with them about abortion. But our center will not help them obtain one—we won’t refer anyone for abortion.”

She shook her head. It seemed whatever I was saying about the pregnancy center, she wasn’t buying it. Finally she said, “Well, you’re just helping those little girls be promiscuous!”


That was my first encounter with how some people view pregnancy centers. It sure opened my eyes.

So, as a writer, what did I want to do? Of course I thought I’d write about it.

Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could tell some of the true stories that come out of pregnancy centers? I thought I could collect stories and write a compilation book, like those Chicken Soup for the Soul books. True stories! Heart-warming. Hopeful. Inspiring. Tear-jerking, because that’s what the true stories are. Stories that make you want to cheer! Or hug someone. Or hang your head and cry.

I thought if I compiled a book filled with true stories, then I could tell the world of the wonderful work that was happening inside these pregnancy centers.

I thought the pregnancy center people would be thrilled to have their story told. I thought Christians would be excited to hear of the wonderful Christian work being done so quietly there.

I thought the pregnancy centers would be behind me. I thought the Christians would be behind me. I thought Christian publishers would love the idea.

I thought it was a great idea.

I had another think coming.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Book is Born

How is a book born?

Some writers say there are a lot of similarities between birthing a book and birthing a child. The idea is conceived. There is the gestation period where the idea develops into something recognizable. Then there's the incredibly difficult labor of getting the book out of us and onto paper. We dress it up, prepare it to meet the world, and finally comes the day when we must send it out into the world to make it on its own. Will it succeed or fail? Sink or swim? We must send it out and let it go. But we are always there, nurturing it along, mothering it, hoping others will think it is as beautiful as we do.

I don't know the first thing about conceiving, birthing, or mothering a child--I've never been pregnant. But I can tell you that this metaphor is more than appropriate for the book Deliver Me, because this book is all about unplanned pregnancy.

Unlike human babies, the gestation period and labor to birth a book has no set time frame. Some books come about very quickly, fast-tracked into the world.

Others take years. That is the story of this book.

I first conceived of this book more than nine years ago. Notes in my files date back to July 6, 2000.

For a time, I gave up on it, only to have it reborn a few years later. Since then I have been working on it diligently.

It has been a long journey. Interesting. Discouraging. Full of hope followed by rejection, hard work followed by no pay-off. (Yet.) Perseverance. Disappointment. Determination. Doubts. Questions. Dilemmas. And learning.

My story as the author of this book and this book's story are not so different from a million other anonymous authors and would-be books.

Now, suddenly, I find I am in labor. This book is coming. It appears it will become a reality. There doesn't appear to be anything on the horizon to stop it now! But still, I am anxious. Until I hold it in my arms...

How is a a book born?

I'm sharing the story of this book because I think many people might find my journey interesting, informative, and enlightening.
  • Writers, especially, will be interested in how this book has developed and all the ups and downs. If you've followed my writing or e-zine, you know I help and mentor writers, letting others learn from what I experience.
  • I especially hope writers considering self- or independent publishing will read this story because there are a lot of lessons here to learn about what to do and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do.
  • Those who have contributed stories for this book--writers and others--will like to know what has been happening with it through the years...and why it has taken so long to become a reality.
  • Those who have heard about this project over the years and have encouraged me to continue with it also might like to know the long story of this book.
  • Those who are passionate about helping people in unplanned pregnancies--who often work in Pregnancy Resource Centers or Crisis Pregnancy Centers--will also find the development of the book interesting in anticipation of its arrival. You will nod your head in agreement and quiet understanding as you read about the encounters I've had with people--both positive and negative encounters.
  • Finally, women, men, and families caught up in an unplanned pregnancy, or who had an unplanned pregnancy in their pasts, may also find value in this book's story--because that's what it is all about. Deliver Me tells the true stories of real people who have been where you are or have been--what they thought, what they did, what they regret, what they're happy about...the whole deal.

So through this blog, I will share the history of this book and its current development. Its challenges. The people I've encountered. The encouraging feedback. The discouraging incidents. The surprises. The disappointments. The obstacles that threatened to cause it to be still-born, or not born at all. I will tell this book's story because I believe it will have value for many readers and writers.

As we go, I will let you know what's happening now, because things are now happening fast!

I hope you enjoy the journey.