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)
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….