I recently spoke at a Christian writers conference and had the opportunity to talk with an literary agent, in hopes that he may be willing to represent me. You may or may not realize that Rest Ministries has published all of our books ourselves; I do the formatting, get an ISBN #, etc. and upload it to a printer. Ta da. We’ve got a book. I believe if I put all minstry work aside and diligently approached Christian publishers, eventually I would be able to get some of the books published through traditional means. But I’ve also seen some wonderful Christian books on illness that end up going out of print in a year –and then the author has to "buy the books back" quick, before they sell out. One has to come up with a lot of funds fast and stack up the boxes wherever one can find space (I’m not the only one who has admitted 3000 books make great luggage racks for visiting relatives.)
With my heart really in ministry, rather than spending the time trying to find a publisher, then wait a year or two for the book to be published, and then have the frustration of being bumped "to the back of the shelf" I’ve chosen to "self-publish." This way the books can get into your hands fast! And… there is no "middle man." All of the proceeds go directly to Rest Ministries rather than giving 60% to a "publisher." It’s literally kept our ministry financial sound.
But… there is a drawback. We’re limited in the amount of people we can reach. And of course, there is always the credibility issue of "doesn’t a real publisher want you?" Really, I’m past the dream of seeing a book with my name on the bookstore shelf. (Well, nearly over it. I still go and find the books other people have written that have my endorsement on it and get bummed out when they spell my name wrong.)
But the truth of the matter is when you all read them and write to me about how the books I’ve written have actually changed your life, I am in total awe at what God has done! Really! When I read my own writing I KNOW it wasn’t me that wrote that because some of it actually MAKES SENSE. Plus, I remember writing it in between scrubbing baby spit-up off of my shoulder and coloring my hair. It HAD to be God.
But the opportunity to get the amount of exposure from having books published, and actually having them on the bookshelf at your local Christian bookstore or Borders, can’t be beat. Research has just come out that Christians give books as gifts more often (32% compared to 28%), borrow books from the library 3% more (42% compared to 39%) and loan them to friends 4% more (36% compared to 32%) than the general population. [2005 Christian Book and Consumer Purchasing Report by Ipsos BookTrends research group. ]
So the truth is, we DO buy books! Christians with chronic illness are no exception, in fact, when I was diagnosed I literally drove straight to the Christian bookstore to find something to help me accept that my illness was "chronic" and how to live with this new factor and still be joyful. What did I find? Books that told me illness was my punishment for sins I’d committed or books that wanted to teach me how to "die with dignity." And where does one even locate these books? In the grief section, stacked up next to books on surviving divorce or widowhood.
In the thirteen years since then, little has changed. Well, I take that back. There is now a "health" section (where logically most people look for books on illness if there is no illness section.) But the books there are all on how to get healed by eating the right foods, reciting the right prayers, praying "hard enough," etc. Step 1, step 2, step 3, presto! Either you are healed or you didn’t do it correctly. Go back to the beginning and try again… and again… and again.
If you’ve read my article on "WARNING: Beware of Bible Cures" I don’t need to go into an explanation on my feelings about these dangerous interpretations of theology. (If you haven’t read it, I invite you to do so!) But my fear is, what happens to all of the people who return to the bookstore six months later and can’t find anything about actually living with chronic illness? Lord knows, (and He does) that there is a large percentage that simply aren’t healed by taking the recommended vitamin or drinking the right muddy concoction. Our world is simply fallen and there will be many of us who God determines He will invite to "share in His suffering" rather than be healed for temporary comfort.
Bottom line is this: I told the literary agent, 1 in 3 (nearly 1 in 2) people in the U.S. have a chronic condition. Which means everyone either has one or likely knows someone who does. He said, "I know this and you know this, but the publishers don’t know this…"
Why not? And how can we fix this?
(1) We are buying more books online so our sales aren’t really noticed. Bookstore buyers (the owner, manager, etc.) stock the bookstores with books that they see actually going out the door. If we aren’t really out there shopping, there is no reason for them to believe that we will come in to buy the book or even if we wil know that it’s in stock.
(2) When they do buy Christian books on chronic illness, they put them in the wrong place. They don’t know where to put them; in the health section? Death and dying? Illness? Religious section? They are hidden away collecting dust. Clerks don’t know they exist (many times after a clerk has told me there is no such thing I will scrounge up a book buried in the back.) They simply are soon taken out of print and cleared off the shelves without ever getting a chance for exposure.
(3) We aren’t talking to enough bookstore owners/clerks about what we are looking for. If you can’t find the book (or even if you can) go ask where you would find "Christian books on living with chronic illness." When they lead you over to "meditations" or "Bible cure books" say be more specific in your request: "No, I am looking for a devotional book– there is a big difference between a Christian book and a New Age book." Most bookstores stock books that they hear their customers ASKING for, so if you can’t find it don’t get discouraged and just leave. Ask someone.
(4) The books that are in stock are never featured. If you’ve read a book that you like and want to recommend, mention it to the bookstore owner or buyer. Remind them that a display table would be a great idea during "health events" such as National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week or other health weeks. Tell them if you plan to talk to others about it or recommend it to your support group. Say, "I’m highly recommending this book to a lot of people so I wanted to let you know and make sure it will be avaiable and in a place they can find it."
(5) How else can you help?
- Write to Christian publishers (even email) asking them to consider printing more books on chronic illness. Tell them you are looking for books specifically for those who live with illness; there are many on caregiving, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. but too few on how to live with illness/cope/how it impacts the family, etc.
- When you hear someone on the radio talking about chronic illness (I do radio interviews as do many others on this topic) call in when they ask for callers. (The agent told me, yes, but the callers are the very few people who sit at home without anything to do but call radio shows…" "That’s not true" I said. "Many call in on their way to work when I do morning shows.")
- Continue to support authors of Christian books on chronic illness. If you do like their book, ask them for a few postcards or flyers that you can share with others.
Have you ever heard of Chicken Soup for the Soul? This is how they went from being a small self-published book to one of the best-selling book series of all time: They asked people to call their local bookstore and say, "Do you have Chicken Soup for the Soul book?"
It’s no secret that I will never get rich. Any income from Rest Ministries goes right back into it to allow us send out some magazines to Katrina victims, to upgrade much-needed software, etc. But my mission IS to encourage those 110 million people who live with chronic illness and I believe one of the best ways of doing this is through books. So, it is my goal to help get as many books into the hands of those who are hurting, that explains that God can offer comfort even in the darkest moments.
Thank you for sharing this dream with me.