Writing One’s Way to Obscurity
12th in a series: Read Part 11 or Go to Beginning
At the first major Christian writers conference I ever attended, author Jerry Jenkins made a comment I’ve never forgotten: “I’m the most famous writer you never heard of.”
Back then, Jerry had already written a number of New York Times best-sellers, working with some famous athletes and other household-name type folks.
I saw the truth of his statement when I got back home. The Sunday after my return, a fellow church member asked how the writers conference had gone.
“It was fantastic,” I replied. “I got a lot of great insights and the keynote speaker was Jerry Jenkins.”
You can likely guess the comeback: “Who’s Jerry Jenkins?”
The year after this conference, Jerry (who did the writing) and Tim LaHaye released their first Left Behind novel. It sparked more than a dozen sequels and went on to become Christian fiction’s all-time best-selling series.
Yet a few years later when Jerry visited Louisville for a book signing of one of his solo works, there weren’t any lines at the Christian bookstore where he appeared. No autograph seekers flocked to his signing table.
Contrast that to the hundreds who came to another Louisville bookstore to see country music singer Naomi Judd after she released her autobiography.
Several years after the modest turnout for Jerry Jenkins’ signing, best-selling author Cec Murphey emailed me to ask if I could arrange a morning interview at a Louisville TV station. He was the keynote speaker that weekend for a Christian writers conference, which started on Friday evening.
In addition, Cec asked if I could arrange a couple afternoon signings at Christian bookstores, suggesting that I join him and invite a couple other local writers to create more traffic.
A Quiet Afternoon
That proved to be a rather uneventful afternoon. At the first signing, the only books sold were to three friends of an author who had won a prestigious Newbery Award for her novel.
At the second, no one sold any books. Not even Cec, who years before had ghostwritten future presidential appointee Dr. Ben Carson’s memoir, Gifted Hands.
That didn’t surprise me. Several years earlier, after a book I coauthored was commercially published, I did a signing at a seminary bookstore with a couple other authors. The only people who showed up at my table were members of our church.
A few months later at another signing, the only books I sold were the three my father gave me money for so he could send copies to his brother and two sisters.
Writing for Profit
Many don’t realize the fact that there’s folks like John Grisham and Danielle Steele, and there’s the rest of us.
One time a woman in our writers group in Louisville told me she was thinking of writing a memoir about a family ancestor. He had been involved in a controversy more than a century earlier with vigilantes in southern Indiana.
I encouraged her to pursue it, for its historical value and modern-day application. She replied that an uncle with the most knowledge of those long-ago events wasn’t cooperating.
Seems he thought he could strike it rich with a book deal, so wanted money before he would be willing to cooperate. She was trying to decide whether she could gather enough material without his assistance, and withstand the family controversy that might ensue.
“Tell him to come see me,” I replied. “I’ll be happy to disabuse him of any notions that he’s going to get rich.”
If you’re writing for similar reasons, you’re in the wrong business.