Thursday, December 31, 2009

How I wrote my first Christian book

I suppose it started years ago when my husband, Chuck, and I were what we'd call "Macaroni and Cheese Poor."
I thought I could earn a little extra money by sending a story into Guideposts magazine. I read several cover to cover and figured I had the style down pat.
So I wrote a story about a time when I really down. I was a single mother who wondered if she was ever going to get married. I went to a women's retreat and heard the verse "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord of hosts, plans to prosper and not harm you; plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11.
Whenever I was really sad or scared, I'd say that verse repeatedly to myself - trusting God to pull me through.
And he always did. He still does.
I did marry a wonderful man, but our first few years were financially difficult.
Anyway, I wrote the story and sent it off, figuring about three different ways we could use that money.
I got a rejection letter. It was a form. We weren't any richer.
But not wanting to waste anything, I decided to use the column on the religion page in our newspaper. I'm the news editor at the Fremont Tribune in Nebraska. Back then, I didn't have that title, but I did work with those pages.
Well, I put the column on the page.
I was amazed at the response I got. Normally, you're doing well if you get one comment. I got more than that.
I'd written other columns before and had good response so whenever I felt inspired I'd write about God and how he was working in my life and we'd run them under the name "commentary" on the religion page.
There was a time when I didn't write any columns about faith. Then in 2008, our newspaper underwent a redesign.
I'd been feeling like I'd like to write another column so I asked our executive editor if I could write one for our new Faith page.
He agreed.
So I began writing the columns.
I called them "Spiritual Spinach." I got the idea when I was preparing a talk/training session for Sunday school teachers.
I wanted to remind them of the importance of daily Bible reading. If you want to be a good Sunday school or children's church teacher, you need to read the Bible consistently.
I compared it to a cartoon I used to watch as a kid. That cartoon was Popeye.
Remember what made Popeye strong?
It was his spinach. He'd be tied up, chained up or otherwise down on his luck and then he'd get some spinach.
Suddenly, he was Superman in a sailor suit. He'd punch his nemesis, Bluto, and save his girlfriend, Olive Oyl, and he'd be a hero.
Just as spinach made Popeye strong, the word of God makes us strong.
I know it. I believe it. I've lived it.
So I began sharing my life experiences and talking about things I'd learned in Bible studies and by attending church.
Just three years earlier, I went to my first Beth Moore Bible study. It was called, "Believing God." I learned so much. I kept going to those studies.
My faith grew.
Week by week, I'd just write the columns.
The response was astonishing to me.
One woman called our office crying. She was undergoing cancer treatment and going through a divorce. She said how much my column on forgiveness had helped her. I didn't get to talk to her, but when another woman at our front desk told me I threw my arms around her and gave her a big hug.
Still another woman e-mailed me saying that she carried one of my columns in her day planner.
I've had other nice e-mails since then. A woman living in another state e-mailed me to say how much a column I wrote about spiritual burns helped her.
I've had several good comments from men. A Baptist men's Bible study even wrote me a thank you note for the columns.
As time passed, I began thinking about compiling the columns into a book. My company graciously granted me the copyrights to my columns for commercial purposes.
I started looking for a publisher.
I examined all sorts of options. Some companies wanted a bunch of money up front.
Please believe me that I don't mean to sound smug, but I didn't think I needed editing help since that's what I do for a living.
I know how to write a press release.
To make a really long story short, I opted for a company out of Franklin, Ill. It's Truth Book Publishing. James and JaNell Lyle are the owners.
I haven't dealt with James, but JaNell is marvelous. She's so tender and compassionate and encouraging.
I sent her a Word document and they printed proofs and e-mailed them to me.
There was certainly an upfront cost, but not as much as I would have had with other companies.
JaNell designed the cover. Actually, she designed several options.
My son, Zach, and his friend, Joe, helped me pick out the current cover.
Local pastors wrote really nice endorsements for me - which I'd find out later were a big help.
For my table of contents, I followed an example of those in the John C. Maxwell books on leadership.
Maxwell has a way of not only giving a chapter a title, but adding a little paragraph about why you should read it.
I think the guy's a genius.
My book is titled "Real Spiritual Spinach - Faith for the Journey."
Get it?
My maiden name was Tammy Real.
The "Faith for the Journey" part sort of came from one of our freelancers - Dean Jacobs - a photographer who's traveled the world, most recently photographing gorillas in Africa.
Fremont photographer, Becky Novacek, took a photo of me that's on the back cover.
The book contains 59 of my columns.
Why 59?
Well, I'd gotten up to 64 and Chuck said we needed to cut about 5 columns.
So that left 59.
I've heard that odd numbers are in these days.
The book is 177 pages. The cover price is $17.99.
It came out the day after Labor Day in 2009.
We got our first 150 copies.
My first book signing was at Hy-Vee Food Store in Fremont. Chuck and I sat at a little table with a poster board sign with foam letters that read "Spiritual Spinach."
We sold quite a few copies.
Next I went to a women's retreat in a town about 4 hours from us. I only sold a couple of copies that first night.
But I sold a whole lot more after I read one of the columns aloud to women at the retreat the next day.
We had a more formal signing at our local art association one Saturday night.
Here's a rule of thumb: Don't schedule your book signing the same night at the high school musical.
We sold quite a few books, but not as many as we did at the other places.
Our oldest son, Michael, married his lovely Rachel in November. So between the wedding (which was a joy) and Thanksgiving, we didn't have any events that month.
We sold a few books at a craft show in December. I have some good stories from that event!
And a weekend later we were at the Divine Truth Christian bookstore in LaVista. It was cold that day.
My husband was really tired. He fell asleep in a chair and snored really loud. It seemed like they turned up the Christmas music, but I could have been imagining that!
Our Web site, complete with Pay Pal, went up Dec. 30, 2009.
Someone has already ordered two books. (Yes, she's related to me!)
This is my very first blog. It's New Year's Eve 2009.
Thanks for reading.

Tammy M.