Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (Spanish philosopher George Santayana).
Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it (Winston Churchill).
If you remember the past and learn from history, you can see some things coming a long way off (Dan Balow, Literary Agent).
Books acquired by traditional publishers are a best-guess what readers will desire two to three years into the future. Experience, wisdom, and informed intuition are the tools editors use to determine what to publish. Even if a book is published quickly, it is desirable to have it relevant for years.
In a sense, Christian writers and publishers have it comparatively easy over those who are not believers. Since Christians see the world through the lens of Scripture, which never changes and is not subject to the winds of societal fads or trends, we are generally not in a desperate search for the next “big thing.” Doesn’t mean we don’t look for fresh ways to communicate. But theologically, things are pretty straightforward and immovable. For instance, we know for certain:
- All humans are sinful, unable to make themselves righteous, and need to be saved by God’s grace.
- God established certain righteous behaviors for our own good, like a loving Father does.
- The Church is best when it is a humble servant of the living God, working for unity of its members and for the good of its neighbors.
- The Church under duress is a powerful force for God’s Kingdom.
- Jesus Christ will return to defeat evil once and for all; and Christian disciples will live forever in a new earth that we can hardly imagine, but we try.
- We have no exact idea when the previous event will happen.
On a simpler, less theological level, for Christian writers the practical differences between those who are new at writing and those who are experienced and with a sense of historical context are also revealing.
New writers might see their potential careers as logical, predictable, and fair processes. But experienced writers, looking back, see their lives as nonlinear journeys where twists and turns take them here and there into unexpected places, far different than planned or imagined.
Rarely is life logical, predictable, or fair. But writers learn from experience and have a pretty clear idea how to approach the future.
Still, this journey doesn’t make for a satisfying writers-conference workshop where new writers are looking for something concrete. So teachers like me will continue to present attendees with (hopefully) helpful and actionable items, frequently using the phrase “It depends” as a universal publishing disclaimer when asked for absolute truths about establishing a successful writing career.
Of course, there are some exceptions where a writer seemingly violates all the “rules” and still succeeds, but relying on exceptions is almost never a good strategy for a writer or publisher.
Looking back, experienced Christian authors know:
- Everyone you work with is a spiritual and professional work-in-process.
- Few things happen exactly the way they were supposed to.
- Who are their real friends and who are not.
- Readers are very important, but they can also be fickle and hard to figure out at times. (See previous point.)
- From whence their talent, strength, meaning, and fruit come.
When you’ve been on a journey long enough, the path becomes familiar; and you can focus instead on the unexpected and amazing sights and sounds you might have missed otherwise.
Asking someone who traveled the road before what to expect is always a good idea. It’s why writers conferences and communities exist.