So I had a difficult chat with my agent last week. Not bad – she was encouraging and supportive and generally optimistic – just difficult. We talked about the market for spiritual memoirs, and let’s just say it’s not great. In fact, it’s bordering on abyssmal.
“I don’t get that,” I told Rachelle. “It seems like there are tons of memoirs out there right now. Memoirs are popular. So what’s the problem?” The problem, she explained, is that for every memoir published and on the market, there are hundreds and hundreds being pitched to editors and publishing houses – there is simply a deluge of memoirs.
Apparently everyone has a story.
Combine that fact with this problem: my memoir doesn’t exactly have a “knock ‘em down” hook. “Describe your book to me in a sentence or two,” Rachelle said. “What’s the hook?”
“Well…it’s about a girl who’s estranged from God, a girl who perhaps never knew or believed in God to begin with, and her journey from that desolate place, through wrestling and questioning, eventually into a real relationship with and faith in God.”
See what I mean? No hook.
The trouble is, my book isn’t dramatic. Frankly, my story isn’t dramatic. I haven’t suffered abuse or illness or a major life-altering event. I haven’t traveled the world or served in the Peace Corps or founded a mission in Africa or a homeless shelter in downtown Chicago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that I haven’t suffered. I don’t think I would make a good sufferer, actually; I’m too wimpy. But it’s not like I can say, “My book is about how I found God while I was held hostage for six years in a Turkish prison.” That would be a hook.
On the other hand, what a two-sentence hook about my book can’t describe is this: that it’s a universal story. Sure the words on the pages are mine, and they describe my personal faith journey, but the truths embedded in those stories – truths about joy, pain, fear, doubt, hope – are woven into your life, too. These are the truths that connect us. These are the truths that comprise the fabric of life, your life and mine.
A good story can do that.
A good story can inspire you to think, “Hey, yeah, I get that. I’ve been there. I am there. That’s me!”
A good story can bond you to someone you’ve never met and introduce you to your own unique place in this world.
A good story can make you think about your own faith, ask questions you might not have otherwise, discover truths you didn’t even know existed.
Last week I tried to convey all this to Rachelle, but since I’m a writer and most definitely not a speaker, I’m not sure I succeeded. In fact, I’m quite sure I bumbled and stuttered and perspired rivers while I paced around the living room with the phone pressed to my sweaty ear.
And then, once I was off the phone, I promptly announced to Brad that I was going to quit this whole writing business.
“That’s it. It’s hopeless. I’m done,” I told him (I do tend toward the melodramatic, you know). “It’s useless. I’m pathetic. I don’t have a story. I can’t hook a reader. I can’t even describe my own book. Thank God I didn’t quit my day job.” (I also enjoy a good pity party from time to time).
Then Brad hugged me and talked me off the ledge (how many times do you think he’s done that already?), and we laughed a little when he mentioned that I can’t quit now because really, I’m right in the middle of this thing. Which is true. Brad is really good about pointing out details like that.
And besides, as I told my sister later on the phone, “I can’t imagine quitting for real. This whole writing thing is completely woven into who I am now. What am I gonna to do? Go back to watching HGTV and organizing my spice rack?”
“Actually that works pretty well for me,” she said. And then we laughed about it together, because that’s what sisters do.
So tell me: What do you think? Can a hookless book sell? And have you ever read a book that helped you understand something about yourself, even though it wasn’t exactly about you? [An example, I feel that way about Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam. While I don’t have a child with Down Syndrome, there was so much in that memoir that I could relate to on a very personal level].
Sharing at Emily’s place today…
I’ve been saving money bit by bit to buy a new camera. You know, a fancy camera – a DSLR – because I love to take pictures. In fact, I spend a lot of time taking pictures, mostly in my own backyard and neighborhood. Taking pictures helps me slow down and focus on God’s intricate handiwork. Peering through the viewfinder, I spot beauty I would ordinarily brush by in a flurry of haste and multi-tasking.
So why then did I take the money I’d saved for a camera, money given to me by my parents and sister this past July for my birthday plus some I’d saved on my own, and spend it on a pair of boots? [super cute boots, but boots, not a camera, nonetheless]
It wasn’t a rash decision, believe me. Over the last month or so I realized that I can’t pursue my love of photography and my dream of becoming a published writer. And I can’t do both (or at least do both well), because both require a lot of time and dedication.
The truth is, to do both means that one will suffer. And I know myself well: I know I would snap pictures to procrastinate writing.
This isn’t to say I won’t ever take another photograph. I’ll continue to take photos in my backyard with my perfectly good point-and-shoot camera. But I won’t spend hours and hours reviewing a complicated manual and learning every facet of a sophisticated DSLR camera. And I won’t diminish writing time by pursuing photography.
Sometimes pursuing a passion requires tough decisions. I’ve made more than one lately. In addition to the camera decision, I also resigned from a freelance writing job. Over the last year I wrote devotionals for Tandem, which is a part of Back to the Bible, an organization based here in Lincoln. I loved working with my editor there, and my writing improved through the process of learning to write short pieces (350 words for this wordy girl is a challenge!). Plus I got paid – and believe me when I say I don’t get paid for many writing gigs. In fact, the money I saved from writing for Tandem paid for my conference fee and airline ticket to attend the Relevant conference at the end of this month.
But the hard truth is that writing anonymous devotionals on deadline twice a month took time away from my primary goals: building readership for this blog (and hopefully someday an audience for my book) and finding the time to begin a second book. And so after much contemplation and angst, I emailed my editor to say that I needed to step down.
I’ll be honest: part of me resents the fact that I have to make these decisions. Part of me resents that I have a day job that takes time away from my passion. I bemoan the fact that I can’t build a blog, write a book and earn money in the process, too.
But for now I tell myself that it’s all okay. I tell myself that there will be time for other pursuits later. For today, and maybe tomorrow, I am keeping my eyes focused firmly on my passion.
Have you ever had to put something on the chopping block to make room for pursuing a passion in your life?