A Little Something about Publishing

I know little about publishing — very little — but I know more today than I did in August when I proposed an audacious project to a friend.

At the time, I was being — gulp, I hate to admit this about myself — selfish. And, perhaps a little insensitive. My friend was dying; she stated the fact simply, as if it were of no greater concern than the weather. If she had wrestled with demons when she received the diagnosis, she hadn’t shared them with me. However, part of my reason for visiting was to give her that opportunity. When we lived in the same community, we shared matters of deep personal concern, and I wanted to make sure she had someone in whom she could confide if she felt the need.

She didn’t, so I made my request. Wanda preached beautiful sermons. In all my many — and I won’t share how many — years of church going, I have encountered few pastors who could inspire me with both their ideas and their presentation. Most of the time, I just listen respectfully  — or try to. I have cultivated the habit of taking notes at worship services in order to focus my attention. Otherwise as soon as a cliche is out of the pastor’s mouth, my mind starts wandering.

I asked Wanda if I could have her sermons after she died. I wanted to edit them into meditations and try to get them published. Wanda didn’t so much deny my request as question it. She didn’t think they would be of much interest to people who didn’t know her. I argued that her wisdom was on par with Kathleen Norris and Sr. Joan Chittister. I proposed a couple ways they could be organized — by gospels, by liturgial seasons, by themes. I said I wouldn’t know until I’d actually started reading them.

She was skeptical, and wanted to think about it. Later in the day, after she had rested, she came back with a counter plan. Rather than give me the sermons, she would select those she would like to share, and I could shape them into a book. She didn’t make the project conditional, but she did ask that I consider finishing it quickly. She felt the window for sales would be very narrow — right around the time that she died. Since her doctor had suggested she begin receiving hospice care, we both knew that created a very short timeline for the project. Still, I agreed.

I had to agree. Even five sermons would be better than what I had — newspaper articles I had written after a community event, such as the Christmas Eve worship service. That was not enough — not when I was losing someone whose friendship I valued so highly. Never again would her ideas sharpen my own, enable me to see the world in a whole new way. I was willing to take what I could get.

And so, three months later, I began to edit 20 sermons into meditations for a book. After consulting a friend who is an editor for a Christian publishing house, I decided the best approach, considering the timeline, would be to self-publish. That meant I not only had to consider the content — the sentence structure, cohesiveness, grammar and punctuation — but also formatting issues.

The project is finished now, and this is what I learned:

  1. It’s entirely possible for someone who knows nothing about getting a book published to self-publish a book, if that is what they want. Research and patience are the key. (For example, who would have guessed you need to export your document to a PDF, not save it to a PDF?)
  2. If you love someone, you will find the time to do what needs to be done in order to help them to achieve their dreams before they die. I’ve been making all kinds of excuses for not writing a book that someone suggested I write — and lack of time heads the list. I have the time to do what is important.
  3. Formatting a book is a bit like weaving a Persian rug — not a huge bit, a tiny bit. Legend has it that a Persian rug is always woven with a flaw because only God is perfect. Well, even after carefully reviewing the book, not once, but four times, when I received the proof, I found a couple minor flaws — and decided to approve the book anyhow. After all, only God is perfect, and I knew that if I corrected those, I would find a couple more in the next proof, and the book would never be finished. (I think I am hardwired to see areas for improvement.)
  4. No project of this scope can be accomplished by one person alone. I’m incredibly grateful to Arla for proofing each meditation, and to Jeff for designing the cover. Without their assistance, this book would not be finished and available for sale. Teamwork can move mountains and make dreams come true.

What project have you tackled which has taught you a major life lesson or two, and what were the lessons?