About two years ago Tom Corcoran (my associate) and I began talking about a book, as in writing a book. Many of the pastors we admire and have learned from around the country have written books that have been extremely helpful to us. We began to feel God had placed it on our heart to write down our story, what happened to us, what we learned and what we know about growing a healthy Catholic parish as a resource for other parishes.
But even so, it seemed like such a stretch. Where do you begin to write a book? How do you start? We talked about it for what seemed like forever (and was really about 6 months). And then one day Tom just started sending me stuff he was writing. And because editing someone else’s work is irresistible to me, I started editing what he was sending me (which is our usual form of collaboration). And there we were, writing a book.
Over the course of about a year we remained somewhat disciplined to the project: I found myself working in the evenings after work, at least for a little while every night, and I usually wrote on Friday afternoons too. Last summer we stepped it up, finishing at least a first draft of all the chapters. Then in the fall we started the search for a publisher.
We quickly learned that it is more work, and more difficult work, to find a publisher than it is to write a book. And because our book is a so-called “trade publication” (one written for a professional audience in a particular field or industry) only a small number of “houses” (that’s what publishers call themselves) would even look at it.
And what they’re looking at is not the book. Nobody wants to look at your book. Maybe, just maybe they’ll look at your book proposal, if you’re lucky. And we were definitely not lucky. Besides just being ignored we received our share of rejections and I eventually got better at dealing with the disappointment (I did not get good at it, but I did get better).
One house actually agreed to see us at a certain point, which we thought was a huge break and a giant step forward. Turns out, they hated our book so much they just had to tell us in person. They called us wrong and irresponsible in what we have to say about parish life. They trashed the book from cover to cover and we walked out of the meeting completely wasted.
At times the whole process felt frustrating and futile and it seemed foolish to go on, I stopped talking about it to anyone because that felt foolish too. At other times I was so demoralized and depressed about the project I couldn’t even pick up the manuscript, just seeing it made me sick. Maybe we can’t write, maybe we have nothing to say. Maybe we are wrong about what we think we know. At the very least it was clear we didn’t know what we were doing.
And yet, this was not a project we sought. We believe it was placed on our hearts by God, and again and again we had to remind ourselves, if it happens, it happens according to his plan and by his power.
One house did begin a serious conversation with us. But it came in fits and starts and it was hard to tell if they like our project or were just trying to figure us out.
About two weeks ago I got an e-mail from a house who had previously agreed to look at our proposal. Ave Maria Press (at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana ) a very distinguished and widely respected publisher. It simply said:
“Send more chapters.”
After months and months of being ignored, declined, and castigated, these three little words were like water in the desert, like food after a fast. Since then we have agreed to publish with Ave and are very excited about working with them. And we are very pleased that they also seem excited about this project.
But it was never about us and our need to be published, or our need to be known, or even our need to be right. It was never about making money (we’re definitely not going to make much money in this effort) or even selling books. The project God put on our hearts is to reach out to people and parishes who know they need help and a way forward and are looking for resources to do it. It is about making disciples and giving God the glory. And as long as we kept our focus on his plan, he showed up with his power.