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?


One thought on “A Little Something about Publishing

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

    I struggle to answer this question. I somehow feel like I’m sitting in a job interview for something I’m not qualified to do. Or worse, I’m back in college writing an advanced English Literature essay 15 minutes after I was practicing artificial insemination on a pig. In case you are wondering, we used Kool-Aid instead of very expensive semen….I’m pretty sure our conception rate was 0%. And I’m pretty sure the Swine Production Unit gave us females that weren’t EVER going into the breeding line…..and I’m pretty sure now you know why I feel like I’m going fail this test question!

    So, deep breath! And FOCUS!

    That lack of focus created the “opportunity” for me to honestly answer this question. Almost 5 years ago, I broke 4 bones across the palm of my right hand, blew out half the muscle between my thumb and wrist and ruptured a tendon in my thumb. How many lessons can one person learn from a 2 second (wrong) decision????? Here’s a few of mine:

    1) I can’t hide from the truth. Sure, I pretended I was a tough-girl. I wanted to believe that I could do everything without my right hand. I wanted to believe that comments that people made in jest didn’t bother me. I wanted to act like the 16 days between surgeries and weeks without work was a “vacation”. But in the end, I spent the summer physically exhausted and mentally drained.

    2) REAL compassion for the sick/disabled. Until I broke my hand, I thought I knew pain and overcoming it. I laugh at my “before” self! I use to think that someone with chronic pain was like a sprained ankle multiplied by every day…..I was so wrong. In all honesty, it’s more like hoping you feel like you just sprained your ankle.

    3) Work. I can slog through a creek carrying a newborn calf or stretch fence wires with the best of anybody. But that is nothing compared to 5 hours a day of physical therapy just to almost make a fist. Pounding posts or vaccinating cattle pales in comparison to drinking from a glass with a healing hand.

    4) Dedication. Almost 5 years later, I still do 45 minutes a day of physical therapy. If I don’t, my hand will start to throb by noon and I can barely lift my ipad. And don’t even try to talk to me; I promise that you won’t like me.

    5) Respect everyone’s journey. Whenever someone complains to me, I try to remind myself “what they’re going through is a big deal to THEM”. Maybe it isn’t a big deal to me, but if something is taking their attention or creating stress, it IS a big deal to them. We all have different experiences and different filters that we see the world through. It’s important to try to see the world through their eyes. That’s real empathy.

    These life lessons intersected with Mary’s project. When Mary first told me that her friend was dying and she wanted to preserve her friends work, my life lessons told me to support Mary’s project any way I could. Mary asked me to proofread her work, which was easy for me; Mary is a couple credits from a Masters in English, not an undergrad in panic trying to overcome the smell of pig manure to write her name.

    And now, I sit in amazement. Mary was right: teamwork can move mountains and make dreams come true. Without teamwork, how can lives intersect the way they do? How can I feel like I know the spirit of a woman I never met, just because I’ve read her sermons? How can I feel more connected to my friend from 1,000 miles away than I did when our offices were across town? How did an email that said “I have an idea for a book” become an order confirmation from Amazon.com?

    Shameless book plug: I hope you consider purchasing Mary’s project. It’s available on Amazon.com and searchable under the author Wanda McNeill. The title is “Heart to Heart: Earthly Reflections for Heaven-Bound Believers”.

    My wish to you in 2017: May your coffee be strong, your friendships even stronger, and may you enjoy them together often.


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