Let me back up to the beginning of this journey.
Preaching to Publishing
When I started in ministry at Grace Baptist, the senior pastor had me preach every six-to-eight weeks. While some pastors’ sermon notes are abbreviated, I found it necessary to write out a manuscript. I’d invest about thirty hours of work preparing each sermon. By the time I preached, I had a polished and refined manuscript.
Katie and I talked about turning my sermon manuscripts into books; therefore, when I was a candidate for the senior pastor position at Woodland Christian Church in 2010, I shared this with the search committee and they were supportive.
Fast-forward to 2015 and I still hadn’t written a book because I could barely stay on top of my other responsibilities. I preached a series on marriage and Katie kept saying, “You’ve got to turn this material into a book.” We decided to use my two weeks of vacation and go to our hometown in northern California to stay with Katie’s parents. I worked fourteen-to-sixteen hour days, but when we returned to Woodland I had the manuscript for what would become Marriage God’s Way. Since I had no idea how to publish or market a book, I wrongly thought most of the work was done.
The Hard Truths of Traditional Publishing
Here’s what you need to know to understand what transpired over the next few months and why I self-published.
Publishers don’t want manuscripts sent to them, because they don’t have time to read them. Instead, they want proposals that contain important information to help them make decisions quickly, because they have hundreds to consider. Regardless of how great a nonfiction book might be, if nobody knows the author (he has no platform) nobody will read his book; therefore, nonfiction proposals contain as much information about the author (primarily his platform), as they do about the book itself.
This might be an oversimplification, but imagine there are three categories of publishers:
- Small publishers who have no marketing budget, but they receive unsolicited proposals from authors.
- Medium publishers who also have no marketing budgets, but they’ll produce higher quality books than small publishers by using better editors, cover designers, and typesetters (for the interior layout). Some receive proposals from authors, but others only from literary agents.
- Large publishers with marketing budgets who only receive proposals from literary agents.
The Discouraging Pursuit of a Literary Agent
When I learned how things worked I quickly went about obtaining a literary agent. Most require a query letter and if it interests them, they’ll ask for a proposal. If they like the proposal and sample writing, they’ll sign the author as a client.
I sent out multiple query letters. One or two agents responded that they’d like to see my proposal. I sent the proposal, but I don’t think anyone responded.
Then I received an email from a literary agent that could be summarized as, “You seem like a nice person, so I want to let you know that you have almost no chance of getting a literary agent because you have no platform.” I was shocked because as a senior pastor I thought I had a decent platform. I wrote back, hoping for clarification, and he responded with something close to, “Publishers are looking for people with huge speaking engagements and thousands of subscribers to their newsletters, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, etc. You have no speaking engagements, website, or newsletter. You should self-publish.”
The email was very:
- Discouraging because I saw how far I was from my goal
- Helpful because it prevented me from further wasting time pursuing a literary agent at that time
The Move to Self-Publishing
I investigated small and medium-sized publishers that received unsolicited proposals, but didn’t experience much success. Two small publishers offered me contracts for Marriage God’s Way, but they offered no marketing, which left me with two choices:
- Sign with a small publisher. The upside is the services they offer, such as editing, cover design, and typesetting (the interior of the book). The downside is they keep most of the royalties.
- Self-publish. The upside is larger royalties. The downside is being your own publisher, i.e. responsible with all aspects of the publishing process, such as cover design, editing, and typesetting.
I was convinced I could hire people to do the cover and editing, and I learned to do the typesetting myself.
Because I wanted the validation that came from saying I was traditionally published, I still considered one of the small publishers. Katie repeatedly told me, “Do not give them this book!” Thankfully I listened to my wife and self-published Marriage God’s Way.
I created my website and started my newsletter. I learned book marketing by reading, watching videos, and taking online courses. I familiarized myself with advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Amazon. Speaking engagements developed.
I continued self-publishing with the team I assembled: two editors (one for content and one for proofreading), a cover designer, and an audiobook narrator. I steadily built up my newsletter subscribers and launch team members. I’m thankful that God allows me to share the Word with these people and make a difference in their lives. Many of them have become friends.
What About Sales?
I wasn’t encouraged or discouraged since I had no idea what a good number of sales would be: three, or thirty, or three hundred per day or per month? Many authors wrongly believe you publish your book, get it on Amazon, and it sells itself. I’ve read statistics that the average self-published book sells 50-to-200 copies.
I was still entertaining traditional publishing until I spoke to an established, traditionally published author. He asked me for my sales numbers, I told him, and he said, “You shouldn’t minimize how many books you’re selling. Keep self-publishing. That’s probably more than you could sell with a traditional publisher.” He also went on to describe some nightmare situations authors experienced working with traditional publishers.
That was enough for me. I’d keep self-publishing.
When God Seemed to Redirect
In September 2019 I spoke to another author, Dennis Ricci, and he said, “I checked out your stuff, and it seems like you have a lot of good things going on. I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine who’s a literary agent, Blythe Daniel.” If Blythe wanted to speak with me, I figured it couldn’t hurt to see what she had to say. Plus, as I researched Blythe I saw that she was literary agent of the year, and her clients I contacted said she was wonderful.
Blythe and I started communicating, and I liked what she had to say. Most importantly I was impressed with her heart for the Lord. You can read this post for details about me signing with her. Blythe has become a good friend, and I hope she would say the same about me.
Hearing from Harvest House Publishers
Blythe said to expect to wait months to hear anything, but within a month of sending my proposal and sample chapters, something dramatic happened. An editor at Harvest House Publishers told Blythe he and his wife wanted to meet with Katie and me since they would be in the area.
The four of us met on January 20th in Portland and it went wonderfully. Although we spoke for hours, it felt like a few minutes. I could share about the technical side of the discussion, but I think it would be boring. Instead, I’ll stick with two highlights.
First, Harvest House’s Spiritual Integrity
I was speaking with an author friend who publishes with a medium-sized publisher. I asked him why he didn’t try to publish with a large publisher. He said that to publish with some of them would mean “selling his soul,” because of their business practices and books they publish.
I never forgot this sentiment so every time a publisher showed interest, I’d research their site, books, and anything else I could find out about them. Prior to the meeting with the editor and his wife, I tried to learn everything I could about Harvest House Publishers. The editor told me to come to the meeting with any questions I had. Maybe he thought I was trying to interview him versus the other way around. Even if that was the case, they were very gracious in answering all my questions, including those that alleviated any concerns I had.
Spiritually speaking, I was impressed both with Harvest House Publishers and the editor and his wife. I shared my conservative views, figuring it would be better to scare them away now versus later, but they were agreeable.
Second, the Harvest House Family
I knew Bob Hawkins, Sr founded Harvest House Publishers in 1974 and passed the business on to his son, Bob Hawkins, Jr. I liked that Harvest House was a family-owned business, because perhaps that meant their authors become part of the family. Some authors have books with multiple publishers, but I shared with the editor that I’d love to have a long-lasting relationship with the same publisher.
I hoped to get to know the team that published my book(s), develop a relationship with them, and work with them for the long-term. Their investment in me would be an investment in future books with them and vice versa. I thought it would be easier for both sides to continue working together, versus having to change relationships and learn new people.
The editor thought this was fantastic too. Harvest House Publishers is located only about two hours south in Eugene, Oregon. If I became one of their authors, we discussed me visiting with my family.
I liked the editor and his wife and hoped to see them again, even if things didn’t work out with Harvest House. The meeting concluded with Katie and I feeling wonderful, but the editor was clear that he was only one person at Harvest House. The acquisitions team had to be on board too.
From Encouraging to Discouraging with Harvest House
The meeting with the editor was only one month after pitching the proposal, which was encouraging considering I expected to wait much longer before hearing anything. But after this meeting things drastically slowed down. Blythe said it was unusual for editors to meet with authors before signing them, because all communication typically takes place between the publishing house and agent as the publishing team considers the author’s presentation; therefore, when my meeting with the editor concluded, I didn’t communicate with him further.
Weeks passed before the editor was able to meet with the Harvest House team. When they met, he wrote Blythe that the presentation went well. Then more waiting, another meeting, and a pandemic.
The Coronavirus made things even more uncertain. As I read about the effect on publishing houses, I learned that some were rejecting all proposals and delaying the publication of scheduled books. It wouldn’t be too much to say that pitching a book to publishers during a worldwide shutdown is the worst timing imaginable.
While I believed God was in this, more rejections came from other publishers and each one tempted me to doubt myself, my work, and this direction. Katie has repeatedly reminded me that my daily prayer with my family was for God’s will. Despite my excitement about the possibility of signing with Harvest House or another publisher, I tried to hold it loosely. I asked God to close all doors with traditional publishers, including Harvest House, if He wanted me to keep self-publishing.
The Offers from Harvest House
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.Ephesians 3:20
The three times I feel like God fulfilled this verse in my life are when:
- I baptized my parents
- God allowed us to have more children after my vasectomy reversal
- I received the offer from Harvest House Publishers
Blythe said that first-time traditionally published authors typically receive contracts for one book, but she was hoping to receive an offer for the book we pitched and possibly a second book. Considering everything going on with the Coronavirus, a one-book deal would’ve been great.
On April 3rd I received an email from Blythe with the subject line, “Congratulations! Offers from Harvest House.”
The first sentence was, “Wow, Scott, this is incredible! I’m so happy for you!”
Harvest House Publishers wanted to sign me to a three-book deal. Then Blythe asked if they’d be interested in a fourth book to complement the third and they agreed. If one book would’ve been great, and two books would’ve been amazing, I didn’t have words for a four-book deal. My prayer has been, “Thank you Lord. I feel like You did this. I don’t know why, and I don’t deserve it, but I hope you use me for Your glory.”
God’s Effort Versus Mine
Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.Exodus 2:11-15
In Moses’ best effort all he could do was bury one Egyptian and it caused problems. When God was in charge He was able to use Moses to bury the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea.
In my best effort, I sent numerous query letters and could barely get a response, say nothing about a publisher. I give God all the credit. He got me signed with the literary agent of the year without sending one query letter, and contracts for four books with a fantastic publisher.
Since I published my first book, there’s been discouragement, usually in the form of people who didn’t like what I was doing. I’d hear about it, the elders would hear about it, or Katie would hear about it. But I always felt like I was doing what God wanted. When we recognize we’re doing what God wants, hopefully that’s all the encouragement we need.
God has also graciously provided encouragement from elsewhere, such as messages from people telling me God used my books in their lives, or my church family asking how the next book is going. Most recently I shared this news with the other elders and their wives, and Katie and I couldn’t have asked for better responses. They were all very supportive of what God’s doing.
I still plan to do some self-publishing. My next book, Work and Rest God’s Way, should be published in the near future.
In October 2020 I give the first two manuscripts to Harvest House for a book and accompanying workbook. They should be published around September 2021.
What can you do?
- Follow the journey by subscribing to my newsletter (below).
- Be part of the journey by joining my launch team.
- Follow me on Booksprout to receive ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) when they’re available.
Most importantly, please pray that God uses my books to exalt Christ and draw people to Him.
Thank you for being part of my life and letting me be part of yours.