A year ago I ripped open a cardboard box stamped with “InterVarsity Press.”  There is just nothing like it, seeing your first book.  From Word doc on a screen to a thing in your hand.  Text once pixelated now reified (I really like the word “reify”).  Ripping open the box to find freshly minted copies of longsuffering labor is accompanied by all sorts of hopes (and fears).  How will God use this material?  What fruit with the book bear in the life of the church?  Who will be personally changed from flipping the pages?  And how will the book be used beyond my control?   When your book is actually in your hands as a thing, it is also out of your hands as a piece of public art.

The 1-year anniversary of the book’s release date has come.  Faith Without Illusions is a year old.  Reflections on the occasion begin with this post.  More will follow.

(Soberly) Assessing the Reception

I am going to do my best to assess the book’s reception with a good sense of humor.  I begin pointing out that FWI has maintained a 5-star review even after a year (okay, there are only four people who reviewed, one being a colleague who may still not have read it).  And I should also add that book sales tripled this past week on Amazon (I went from 1 copies to 3 in seven days).  I could see that two folks from Portland bought the book.  That’s Don Miller territory, so thanks, folks, whoever you are!

On a more positive note, FWI has been rather highly reviewed on a number of blogs.  I am just so grateful to these folks for spending the time reading and posting their reflections:

Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed)

Joel Willits (Eaungelion)

Joel Watts (Unsettled Christianity)

David Flowers (The Centrality & Supremacy of Christ)

The Making of Men

Also, the book was reviewed very nicely at the Englewood Review of Books.  Two Sunday School classes at my church in Birmingham were kind enough to let me speak on the book’s topics.   I know a handful of friends and a few family members have read the book (most of whom liked it).  Thanks to Kyle B., Ralph B., Sarah H., Linda W., Mark Y., Katherine J. and Bob W.: their encouragement means all the more now on the 1-year anniversary.

I have to say, though, that it is really hard not to feel the dull ache of disillusionment when your book addressing disillusionment seems to be suffering a year later from a failure to launch.  Don’t worry—I have all the more reason to resist being cynical since FWI is written to counter cynicism (still, it is really hard).  Yeah, I know that this sort of self-assessment would be inadvisable according to the marketing handbooks.  But to honor the cynic-saints out there, a rosy spin on things exacerbates cynicism.

Some of my humbling moments as an “author” have been rather comical.   Like my first (and only) public “book-signing.”  It was at a local Christian bookshop in Pelham, Alabama.  The owner had received a pre-release copy and found the book helpful.  Graciously, he decided to offer free copies as an Easter gift.  One lady stood by my desk all aglow, as if I were beaming on her from my hallowed position as an accomplished author.  She spoke with me knowingly, as if she had established some deep connection with me through my writing.  It was nice, you know?  Nice to feel as though you were finally an author and accomplished to boot.  Then as I was signing her book she said something and I realized what was happening.

She thought I was David Platt.

I hated to disappoint her, but at least the book was free.

Another comical moment was realizing my book came out in the midst of all the hype over Rob Bell’s bestseller Love Wins.  (Okay, maybe this coincidence is less funny).

A Lesson: There is More to Being an Author than being a Writer

I think a writer is not the same as an author these days.  What I mean is, I have been learning that writing stuff, even if somehow you manage to write really good stuff, may actually be a secondary or even tertiary skillset for an author.  Writers write stuff.  But an author writes and then nurtures her product, needles it into a readership, makes media contacts, posts with savvy strategies for increasing their blog traffic, and she tenaciously seeks speaking engagements.

I have learned that I am a better writer than an author.  I get squeamish about all the other stuff.  It even feels weird to hyperlink the image of FWI above to Amazon (but note that I did it anyway).

I have given out a lot of free and heavily discounted copies of the book (yeah, I am a poor businessman).  Many of them went to some rather influential folks out there.  I am quite sure most of those copies have gone unread.  (Probably didn’t help that in the note within the front cover I told them not to feel any pressure to read the thing, knowing how busy they were).

An IVP marketing manager tried to help me see these behind the scenes realities to being an author.  She was very gracious.  I think IVP operates with more commercial scruples than most Christian publishing houses.  And I guess they sort of knew what they were getting into with me, daringly signing on an un-platformed writer (as opposed to a platformed author).  Of course, maybe it would have helped I had not boarded a flight for Europe 5 months after the release date, but it is not like the Inbox was hopping with speaking requests.

I love to speak and teach.  I love it.  Preaching has become fundamental to who I am.  Woe is me if I do not preach.  But for years I received emails and letters from authors who wanted to speak to my own congregation or student groups.  In my view, their request disqualified them as a potential speaker.

But what if you have a message you believe to be urgent for the church?  How do you get it across without compromising the call to humility?  I know Godly authors.  They can make the media contacts and offer their services as guest speakers without conflicts of conscience.  How do they do that?  The prophets lifted their voices in the public square… how did they wrestle with the temptations to make their message more “marketable”?

Asking for Help

I think I need to ask for help.  If Faith Without Illusions is just another example of the mediocre fare, then I have no interest in getting the word out.  But I have never been more convinced of the urgency of the book’s message.  So… any ideas?  Anyone want to help me think of a (scrupulous) plan for how to celebrate (not bemoan!) the book’s 1-year anniversary?  Any other “writers” out there struggling with the vocation of “author”?  I would love the feedback….

9 thoughts on “1-Year Anniversary of Faith Without Illusions (part 1)

  1. First off Congratulations! It’s an accomplishment to be proud of, the title interests me to look more, and the cover looks beautiful and again interesting enough for me (a very critical book-cover-judger), to want to learn more about it. I’m just 200 pages into a semi-autobiographical fantasy novel. I’m hoping to build a “platform” while writing, thus when I have the finished and edited, and reedited copy to send off, I may say, “Oh and yes, I have a blog following of 1000!,” I’m only at 22 and I’ve been at this two and a half months. So I don’t have advise for you, but remember your heart can learn to “be still, and know that He IS God.”

  2. Hey Andy,

    Appreciate the post. I wrote a book a few years back that I thought was really helpful. My name doesn’t generate sales, and I couldn’t find a publisher, so I self-published. Was kind of hoping it would take off, like The Shack (also originally self-published). It didn’t. Every now and again I would get an email from someone who read it saying how much it helped. Or get an invitation to speak at a church. And I’ve probably ended up selling a 2500-3000 copies or so. But it never really went viral.

    And I would just pray, “Lord, if this is something worth getting out there, then help it get out there. And if it’s not worth it, then don’t.” And that’s how it kind of sat for about four years. Then I got a publishing contract with Crossway, and now the ideas in the first book are getting a broader exposure through a second book on the same topic. It’s selling quite a bit better than the first book; whether it gets a lot of traction or not, who knows? But either way, I guess I’m still content to let the Lord lead.

    I’m like you, I feel uncomfortable really aggressively marketing my book. I do it a bit through my blog. But beyond that, not really at all.

    An idea you could try, that I did with my first book, is to offer to give away a free copy to the first 10 bloggers who agree to review your book on their site. Best to pick a date (say, end of the summer). Then ask them if they would be willing to let you know when they post their review and link to it from your blog. You can also ask them to post their review on Amazon. That worked out pretty well for me. But be warned: About half the people I sent books to never ended up reviewing the book. Of course, you’ve already had it reviewed positively on some pretty great sites. But more can’t hurt!

    I still have am unread copy of your book. I’ll do my best to read it (at least enough to speak intelligently about it) an blurb it on the SAET site.

    Regardless, hope you are well.

    best to you in your studies!

    1. Gerald, I am so encouraged to hear from you! Thanks for the kind note. And I realized while falling asleep just after I wrote the post that Jason Hood did post some material on the book on SAET’s blog. Thanks so much for that!

      Your self-published book has fared considerably better than my own… so, well done. Glad to hear that things are progressing well with Crossway. I also appreciate you sharing that aggressive marketing is a challenge for you as well. Overall, I hope I am grateful for the opportunity to have written the book in what was truly an intimate endeavor with Christ. Being able to share those thoughts and struggles with Him in the writing… now that is gold.

      And I appreciate the blog-review idea. I will be giving it more thought!

      Yours,
      ~Andy

  3. Brother, I have no earthly idea how to go about marketing or promoting anything. However, I do know that there is no one that I know that has more passion and love for those to whom he has been called to minister! (Well, other than my wife!)

    I am so excited to be leading a small group on FWI here in India. I think we may have helped set a record week for you when we ordered our copies on March 2nd 🙂
    We are finding it a pleasure to work through your book together and believe me, there are plenty of cynics among us that need to be put back together so that we can become healing voices in our churches here.

    What you have to say in this book doesn’t tickle the ears. But, it is real, it is potentially life changing and it needs to be heard. I truly hope that it makes it into the hands of those that most need it. I will certainly link it to my Facebook page although my page is by no means wide reaching in it’s audience.

    Much love,

    Grant

    1. You have been such an encouragement to me, Grant, even when you had never seen the book! Thanks so much for your words. And that little bit you wrote (“there are plenty of cynics among us that need to be put back together so that we can become healing voices in our churches here”) was so well said. I am being rather silly if I cannot be content with the book bearing from fruit among a small group discussion on its material there in India!

      With thanks,
      ~Andy

  4. Like you, I think there is an urgent need for this book now more than ever. I fit in a reading of it in the fall between learning Greek, studying Swedish church history and keeping my family of three boys and their dad going. Actually, it largely influenced a short sermon I gave in chapel in December which I got good feedback on. Maybe the relevance of your subject is what makes it hard to sell – those of us who need this message have a hard time realizing that we need to see that cynicism is not the way forward. I read a lot of theology and ecology related writings without taking too much time for Christian living books but this book was really important for me. I will be praying that God’s timing is at work here. And I have no idea who David Platt is!

    1. Wow, Jenny… I cannot believe you squeezed my book in with all that going on! As a PhD student in theology with four kids, I know that was quite a feat! Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment. You may well be right about relevance being a detriment to marketing rather than a help! Those of us who struggle with cynicism have to be a tough niche to break into!

      ~Andy

      (David Platt is an exceptionally gifted preacher, pastor and author—you should definitely check out his book ‘Radical.’ Much easier to read than mine…. )

  5. p.s. with regard to the other book you are working on regarding technologies, I wonder if you’ve been reading or listening to Albert Borgmann? He did a lecture series at Regent in the fall which was really great and is downloadable (for a price).

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