The Spiritual Disciplines of a Book Release

by George Guthrie on December 19, 2010

One of my favorite quotes from Tolkien’s The Return of the King is spoken to Pippin in a moment of calm as war approaches the gates of Minas Tirith: “It is but the deep breath before the plunge.”  Put on the lips of Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s wonderful adaptation, in the book the words are spoken by Beregond, the faithful guard who had befriended the hobbit.  The words capture the “hold-your-breath” intensity of the scene.

In the life of an author of books there comes such a moment on the brink of a book’s release.  The frantic rush to get words on the page, edits done, design-decisions landed, and final page proofs read (again), is past.  The thing is out of your hands until of course it flies back to your hands as a finished product.

The book arrives in the mail.  Elation.  You like the feel of the book, the dream having become waking reality.  The freebies sent by the publisher are distributed; friends and family celebrate.  They assure you that your book will change the world (but will they really read it?).  And now, now in this moment of the deep breath, you wait.  You wait to see if anyone in the wider world will take up and hold this baby you have birthed and thrown out into the world, vulnerable; will anyone at all be drawn to it with affection?  Will they share that affection with others (say, on Amazon, blessing your baby with 5 stars)?  Surprisingly, in this moment of birth, which should be all joy and hope, the storm clouds of war loom on the horizon.  For it is not the book that is vulnerable; it is you.  The book, solid paper and ink, can last for years on dusty shelves in obscure used bookstores.  You are flesh and blood and raw emotion.

The war is within.  It is a war of numbers, for in the world of publishing books, numbers mean everything.  Numbers mean that you truly have something to say, which is recognized as worth reading.  Numbers mean money, dollar figures beyond the limits of your advance, paid out by the publisher in hope.  Numbers mean the publisher was not a complete idiot for signing you up in the first place.  Big numbers mean you rise in visibility in the broader world and get another book contract—so you can go through all the pain and stress and joy and hope again—and perhaps send your children to college.   Little numbers mean your plunge has become a plummet off a cliff, a fall into continued obscurity.

So the Christian author is confronted with a spiritual challenge in this war, a clarion call to come over the ravine and face Goliath; for in the quiet of this moment before the plunge or plummet, a still small voice reminds you that this work cannot be summed up with numbers but rather has to do with individuals and ministry and integrity, has to do with gifts given and gifts opened with joy, and a different set of measurements altogether.  Hopefully, you followed the Lord into the pages of this book, and the Lord is with you here in this moment of crossing the ravine, in the gibbering insecurity you feel. The angst of rising and falling rank on Amazon, of the number of twitter followers and blog posts read, must be crucified with Christ, must be resurrected in a clear-eyed, authentic living, day by day, moment by moment focused on the advancement of the Kingdom that lasts.

What then are the spiritual disciplines by which you can live in this moment?

First, go deep with God each day in the Word and in prayer, remembering who you are and who you are not and why you are doing what you are doing.

Second, in the activities related to your book, gaze at the Lord and refuse the incessant checking of the numbers to “see how we are doing.”  Be clear on the difference between sales and success.

Third, remember that the only reason for the book is to advance the Kingdom in the lives of individuals and churches.  Glory in the gospel and not in your own “good news” about your project.

Finally, live with integrity the things you have taught in your book, not getting so busy with the work that you destroy the work of God in your own life.

“It is but the deep breath before the plunge.”  The only safe place to be on the brink of war is in a Mighty Fortress.  Thankfully, we have such a retreat, a refuge from ourselves, a place of peace and perspective.

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  • http://blog.jasonkuo.com Jason Kuo

    Thank you for sharing those thoughts, Dr. Guthrie. A great reminder of what’s important in any endeavor – Christ Himself.

  • chuck maxwell

    As a partner in ministry with the author for many years, I feel like I have been reading this book for a long time, just not in printed form. And while I hope the numbers are big-the universal church will benefit from the content, and ours could benefit from the royalites!-I expect the challenge and fruit to continue regardless. Thanks George for seeing this work through to its completion for the church to benefit the way I and our church already has. God will honor the reading of His Word.

  • http://www.disciplemakingpodcast.com Jason Dillingham

    Thanks for the great reminder that not just our pride but also our fears and insecurities need to be crucified with Christ. And that will allow Him to bring the advance of His kingdom despite our imagined “success” or “failure”.

  • William P. Farley

    I am an author. I have two books in print, and the final draft of the third is due on Dec. 24. You have described the emotions an author goes through quite accurately. Thank you. Your advice will be enthusiastically taken.

    • http://www.georgehguthrie.com George Guthrie

      Thanks, William. I am familiar with your book on parenting. The Lord’s blessings on you as you get another manuscript finished. Merry Christmas! George

  • http://www.woodbridges.wordpress.com Russell Woodbridge

    Thank you for this post. With my first book coming out in the next few days, I appreciate your advice. Success is more important than sales and hopefully God will see fit to use the book for His purposes and glory.

    • http://www.georgehguthrie.com George Guthrie

      Congratulations on your new book, Russell! I pray your book will work to advance the Kingdom.

  • http://www.jkitchen.org John Kitchen

    Thank you, Dr. Guthrie. Having just had books number 7 and 8 released in recent days I constantly live out this battle. Good, sound, soul-saving counsel here … thank you!

    • http://www.georgehguthrie.com George Guthrie

      Congratulations on your books, John. Perhaps we can all pray for each other that our hearts will stay solid.

  • http://www.uu.edu/personal/jpatters James Patterson

    Thanks for your wise counsel and encouragement, George, my esteemed friend and colleague! Christmas blessings to you, Pat, Joshua, and Anna!

  • Carla Sanderson

    Glory in the Gospel it is! And thanks be to God for George Guthrie, colleague, revelator and friend.

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  • http://www.hieropraxis.com Holly Ordway

    Thank you. My first book came out this spring, and you described to the very last detail what I have been going through.

    One thing I’ve realized is that even apart from whatever good work God is doing with the book itself, He has used the process of writing it, and of dealing with “being an author,” to do a lot of His transforming work in me. I certainly pray a lot more than I did when I started, and with a deeper sense of my utter reliance on Him. And now that I’m in the “what is my next project?!?!” stage, I am discovering that He is still working on me, helping me learn to be faithful “in the moment” even when I don’t know exactly what work He has for me to do next.

    • http://www.georgehguthrie.com George Guthrie

      Holly,
      Thanks for your comment, and congratulations on your book. Isn’t it interesting how God uses all the details of our lives to draw us to Himself. I pray that this will be a fruitful season for you.
      George

  • http://www.megmoseley.wordpress.com Meg Moseley

    When I stumbled upon your blog, I had no idea it would give me exactly what I need right now. I’m reading the final page proofs of my first book, which releases in May, while I’m trying to meet a January deadline for two new proposals. Thanks for the reminder to stay in the Mighty Fortress. I’ll need to read your post again in the spring.

    • http://www.georgehguthrie.com George Guthrie

      Meg,
      I am glad the post helped. I have already had to go back and re-read it! One of the unexpected pleasures of this post has been to connect with other authors. Congratulations on your books! Blessings on your year ahead!
      George

  • http://www.nancyguthrie@comcast Nancy Guthrie

    I started working with authors in 1984 as a publicity assistant at a major Christian publishing company. Over the years I noticed that authors rarely experienced a sense of satisfaction in regard to their books but were most often disappointed—with the cover, the promotion, the response, the sales, etc. So before my first book came out in 2002 I came up with my own definition for what would make it a “success,” not wanting to become one of those never-satisfied authors. I asked God to generate spiritual fruit from it. He has been abundantly good to not only do that but to continue to pull back the curtain to let me see what he is doing. I wanted bookstore managers to discover it and want to keep a copy on hand to recommend to grieving people, and occasionally I’ve had a bookstore manager tell me exactly that. But mostly I determined that the “success” of the project had much more to do with who I was in the process of publishing over the long haul and if I was found to be a faithful steward of what was entrusted to me in big and small, public and private ways. But every six months, when the royalty reports come, I am tempted to believe that those numbers reflect my “success” or more accurately my lack there-of . That is when the spiritual battle rages and just what you’ve written must be grasped and taken hold of once again.
    Thank you for this wisdom and grace. I am often asked if I am related to you, and while we’ve never met and are not related, I sense we have the same heart to be humbly faithful to the work God has called us to.

    • http://www.georgehguthrie.com George Guthrie

      Nancy,
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. Yes, the spiritual opportunities in this ministry are varied and come at different points in the process. I remember almost twenty years ago having a VERY popular author in our home, and what struck me was the intensity of his angst over the falling popularity of his books. May we never go there. The fruit that comes from a work may come out in the most humble, unlikely places, years removed from the release date or the popularity of a book. I agree that we need to focus on walking with integrity and depth with our Lord and let the rest fall where it will–but boy that can be difficult!! I am sure I will return to this post time and again to be reminded of what’s important and how to keep oriented.

      I too have been asked if I am related to you! (although I most often get asked if I am related to the New Testament scholar, Donald Guthrie). Well, cousin, I am sure we are related if we go back far enough. In 2005 my family and I had the opportunity to visit Guthrie Castle in Scotland, and we visited the spot where James Guthrie was martyred in Edinburgh. Very meaningful!

      I am familiar with and appreciate your ministry to those who are suffering loss. You are a good writer and have graced my blog with your words. Thanks! I hope we have the opportunity to meet at some point. Grace and Peace.
      George

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