God’s Map

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NLT)

This has significant implications for authors and book publishers.

Over my career, I observe cases that prove that “your future is determined more by your successes than by your plans.” Anyone who knows me has probably heard me say that at one point or another, multiple times.

Of course, that statement is flawed, leaving out the “interruptive” work of God in our lives, but assuming that is always present, I have seen the successes/plans cycle play out more often than not. It would not be much of a reach to assert that our successes are part of God determining our steps, right?

Across all of the arts, there are actors, authors, singers, comedians, painters and composers who at one point early in their lives had dreams that were much wider or at least different than what they are currently experiencing, but their success in a certain arena has determined their future.

An actor who always wanted to play Shakespeare becomes famous for a specific role in a popular television sitcom that is nothing like Hamlet.

A singer who wanted a long diverse career has one mega-hit and is asked to sing it over and over and over for the rest of their life.

Composers who never intended to make a living writing commercial jingles, are doing just that.

An author who wanted to write a variety of novels, poetry and social treatises is making a good living writing just one of those types of books. (usually not poetry)

It’s all part of “We can make our plans but the LORD determines our steps.”

For authors, this principle can manifest itself in the effect a particular book might have and who benefits the most from it. Books are not tame lions. They go where they will.

You might set out to write a book to help young adults reach their potential. But soon it becomes apparent that it is primarily being read by people later in their lives who need a mid-course correction. Or the reverse can be true.

You set out to re-write the Bible so your children will understand it and you create a revolution in Bible translation.

The success principle plays out in geographical terms as well. Every author who has ever written a book sells better in some geographic areas than others. Even national bestsellers have sold well in some areas and not-so-well in others. Christian books are generally strongest in the Bible belt and weakest in the northeastern states, but when enough people in Burlington, Vermont decide you are their favorite author, you can start your book tour with a signing there.

Even more specific, your book might sell 80% of its copies in three cities and none of them would the area in which you live. Go figure.

Here’s a suggestion:

Don’t waste your time, energy and money promoting your book to people-segments or geographic locations where sales have been weak. If you want to double your sales, that will happen by doubling where you are strong, not improving where you are weak. Focus on your strengths…your future is determined by your success, not your plans or what you want to happen.

Sure, there are exceptions to all rules, but if you are waiting for lightning to strike in a certain place at a certain time, there will be plenty of people passing you by who are playing to their strengths and shifting their sights to where lightning is striking.

Finally, and most important, avoid over-thinking and over-planning. Especially for Christian authors, there is the underlying power of God who often makes no logical sense to us as to what He is doing, at least until we can see what His purpose really is. After all, we humans see God’s handiwork in the past…not as clear about today or tomorrow. Only God knows that.

More than anything, book marketing has become more reactive than proactive. Sure, plan your blog posts and social media strategy, but also be willing to set your plans aside when God begins his work of ordering your steps.

When have you seen this happen in your life?

14 Responses to God’s Map

  1. Avatar
    Anne Mateer June 17, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    Thanks, Dan. I have signed every one of my books with the Proverbs 16:9 reference, for I do know this truth. But I really, really needed the reminder from someone else today. The Lord doesn’t guarantee my plans will look as I envisioned them, even if I follow His lead. But He does promise to direct my steps in the way that He deems best to suit the purposes of His kingdom. And that is encouraging.

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    Micky Wolf June 17, 2014 at 5:58 am #

    Really appreciate your posts, Dan, and this one is no exception. If I didn’t know better, would believe you had been standing outside my study door the past couple of days. I, too, needed this reminder. Recently commented to someone that “man (woman) plans and God laughs.” Well, He does so in love and for reasons I don’t understand given the larger picture of His plan and purpose. ’nuff said. Thanks again!

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    Richard Mabry June 17, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    Dan, There have been many occasions in my life when, despite my own plans and feeble attempts at something, God essentially sent me a FedEx and directed me to what He had in store for me, something even better. I specifically recall a time when I was practicing medicine and was so disillusioned I was ready to quit. I was offered an academic position in another town, but for several reasons I elected to pass. Within a few weeks I was offered a better position at a medical center in my own home town, a position that seemed perfect for me and one that I occupied for ten years. “Man proposes, God disposes.” Thanks for the post and the reminder.

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    Teresa June 17, 2014 at 6:40 am #

    I really needed to hear that. Thank you Dan Balow.

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    Jeanne Takenaka June 17, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    Great post, Dan. This has happened many times in my life. I am a planner by nature, but I’m learning that God seldom operates according to my plans. What I’m discovering though, is that the things He has planned for me far surpass what I had in mind.

    It’s a good concept to remember on this writing journey as well.

    I loved what you said about focusing on your strengths when marketing a book. It makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing this!

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    Lancia Smith June 17, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    Thanks, Dan. This is such a helpful post and a truly timely reminder. It is such an easy thing to disregard our successes and focus so much more on trying to correct or mend our failures. You comments remind me also of the good management principle of having people lead from their strengths and setting up the rest of the team to cover their weaknesses. I’ve seen that beautifully practiced in some places and the result are remarkable. Blessings to you today.

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    Wendy Macdonald June 17, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    Dan, I especially appreciate your words. ‘Focus on your strengths’ and ‘avoid over-thinking and over-planning’. Proverbs 16:9 has been proven over and over again in my own life.

    Thank you for these wise and encouraging words. I will work my strengths and rest in Providence.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

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    sally apokedak June 17, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Usually not poetry? Way to kill dreams, Dan! 🙂

    • Avatar
      Dan Balow June 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      What can I say, it’s a gift. (Discouragement is a gift…isn’t it?)

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    Nora June 17, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Good reminder. Where have I seen God take over in my life? Ask me sometime how a girl raised (yes, raised) in La and then moved to SoCal for about 20 years ended up in Kentucky of all places. Go figure indeed!

    God bless you in your efforts for HIM

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    Ian June 17, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    Great post, Dan. When things aren’t working out our tendency is often to work even harder and try new things, etc, etc. I’ve been learning recently to better understand Jesus’ ‘easy yoke” – if He wants us somewhere doing something, we need to let Him do it and not try to do it all ourselves. But this is easier to say than do. This is why going deeper with the Lord is so much fun.

    Well done, Dan, on another excellent post.

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    Tom Pawlik June 17, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

    Thanks for this post. It struck a chord.

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    Jean Brunson June 18, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    I have seen this in my life many times. The one that comes to mind is Growing Seasons, the curriculum I wrote for grieving children at my church. Now years later, it is in several continents. It is fun that I don’t how and where God is using it.

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    Chris Malkemes June 20, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Good post, Dan. Success is what you make it. Plans are important, but only if the Planner is right. The Creator knows what’s best and our successes shine through to let us know we’re in His perfect, pleasing and acceptable will. Failure is only failure if we don’t use it to become successful. We learn more from a bad boss like we learn more from our failures. The successful pick themselves up and “carry on.”

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