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The Worst Publishing Advice Ever

by Tamera Alexander

When I became a member of American Christian Fiction Writers in 2001 (or actually, American Christian Romance Writers back then), I joined this fabulous organization knowing little more than that I loved story and I wanted to learn how to write.

Since then, God has brought many incredibly gifted people into my life who have graciously helped me learn to do just that. And I’m still learning. Without ACFW and the relationships I’ve made here, I truly don’t think I’d be published today. That said, some of the worst writing advice I ever received came from a very well intentioned person who instructed me at the outset of my writing journey, “Don’t write historicals! They’re not selling. Write contemporaries. And don’t aim for one of the ‘big’ Christian publishing houses. Start small instead, then work your way up.”

As my parents had patterned for me, I took that counsel and weighed it. I sought Christ’s guidance, sought advice from other writers, sifted the wheat from the chaff, as they say, and ultimately decided to do as I sensed God leading. I targeted one of the ‘big’ Christian publishing houses. Namely…Bethany House. Which, after reviewing my work, they promptly rejected it. Which then made me wonder… Had I done the wrong thing in targeting them? And in writing a historical? Had that person been right after all?
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Then I remembered the sense of certainty of God’s leading and determination kicked in, and I tried again. Over the next two years, I wrote a second novel-and Bethany House took that one! Along with eight more and counting. Now…

Was there anything implicitly wrong with that person’s well-intentioned advice? Not at all. The market was soft on historicals at the time. And Bethany House did end up turning me down at first. The problem was…

While the advice was practical, perhaps even wise to some extent, it wasn’t what I believed God was leading me to do. And that’s key. Always do as God leads you in your writing. Commit your aspirations to the Lord, seek his wise counsel-and yes, friends, as well. Then sift, sift, sift, listening closely for where He’s leading, then pursue that dream with everything you’ve got! Because you can’t outdream God.

Does that mean his plans will always coincide with ours? Ha! Not hardly. But his plans for your life (and mine) are always better than anything you or I could come up with on our own-as my very plain and practical heroine, Eleanor Braddock, learns in my upcoming release A Beauty So Rare.

And that “worst advice?” It was actually good, in the end. Because it made me question whether I was pursuing the right path, and it led me to seek God’s counsel more than I likely would have. Which, in turn, confirmed that I should write what I was most passionate about-historicals-even though, at the time, they “weren’t selling.” Because passion always comes through in your writing, as does the lack thereof.

So, I’m grateful for both the good advice-and the bad-in my writing journey.

What advice have you been given in regard to your writing? How has it changed your writing journey?

Btw, the novel Bethany House passed on-which they were right to do, it needed major work-became my fifth published novel after a complete rewrite. So don’t ever throw away a manuscript, friends. Every “No” along the way is simply part of God’s final “Yes!” when his perfect timing is reached.

TameraAlexander_PurpleTamera Alexander is a USA Today bestselling novelist whose works have been awarded and nominated for numerous industry-leading honors, including the Christy Award, RITA Award, Carol Award, and Library Journal’s top distinction, among others. She and her husband live in Nashville near their two grown children, and with a little Silky Terrier named Jack.

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15 Responses to The Worst Publishing Advice Ever

  1. Tamera, I love it–“Every ‘no’ along the way is simply part of God’s final ‘yes.'” Thanks for sharing.

  2. Gloria Fox says:

    Tamera,
    I have been considering joining ACFW and didn’t know whether I should or not. Having just read your blog sure answers a lot of questions I have. I appreciate so much what you had to say.
    I’ve written 13 children’s books but just completed a 67000 word Christian coming of age/romance novel . . . a whole new area for me.

    I don’t know if my story is a little too ‘edgy’ for the christian market and too boring for the secular market. There is NO explicit sexuality in my book but the romance is between two married (not to each other) Christian adults. Is an affair ever right? NO. Does it happen between Christians? All the time. The story is God centered emphasizing His
    forever love and forgiveness. I wrote it for all who are hurting and don’t know where to turn.

    Thanks for your comments. By the way, we are neighbors (Mt. Juliet.)

  3. Liz Johnson says:

    Tamera, great thoughts! God has certainly been teaching me a similar lesson lately. His plans are always so much more than mine.

    As for writing advice, I had seen a documentary about Amish Rumspringa about 12 years ago and put together a proposal of a young Amish woman. A mentor of mine at the time told me that Amish books would never be a hit, and publishers wouldn’t go for them. Well-meant advice, but none of us can see the future. :)

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Thanks, Richard, for sharing. Glad we’re in this together!

  5. Hey Gloria! I’m so glad you’re here and that you’ve joined ACFW. You won’t be sorry. It’s a fabulous organization with so much to offer. I’m praying for you (neighbor!) and am asking God to open the doors for you in his perfect timing. Thanks for visiting. Oh! And don’t forget the annual ACFW Conference coming up this fall. It’s the best in the industry.

  6. Hey Liz, amen to God’s plans being so much more than our own. And LOL at the Amish fiction “never being a hit.” Too funny. Always follow God’s lead, no matter where it takes you. He knows the way even if we can’t see it from our perspective.

  7. Andrea says:

    If it was a literary agent who told you that, I can understand. Agents’ advice is based on what they see happening in the market at that time. I remember in early 2000 when historical fiction was not selling. Editors wanted contemporaries. Now,there’s an Amish craze. In fact, my agent suggested that I write an Amish series, but I don’t feel called to write in that genre. So I can relate to what you wrote about trusting where God is leading, but I don’t fault my agent for wanting to see me with a new contract. That’s her job.

  8. Tamera,
    Thanks for your encouraging words.

    A piece of advice that stands out for me, even haunts me, is from a blog by Miriam Rockness where she reflects on the work of Lilias Trotter. The blog post is titled: “God of the Impossible.”

    In this particular post Rockness sites Catherine Marshall’s “Adventures in Prayer.”

    “questions to help one determine if one?s ‘dream’ springs from selfish human will or the will of God?

    1. Will my dream fulfill the talents, the temperament, and emotional needs which God has planted in my being?

    2. Does my dream involve taking anything or any person belonging to someone else?

    3. Am I willing to make all my relationships with other people right?

    4. Do I want this dream with my whole heart?

    5. Am I willing to wait patiently for God?s timing?

    6. Am I dreaming big?”

    I found this advice convicting and directing, impossible without God. It’s just so easy to get discouraged. We need people like you to help set us back on the tracks.

  9. Iola says:

    As a reader, I can see the passion come through in your writing (and I can see it lacking in the work of other authors–like those who admit to writing for the market).

    It’s a wonderful serendipity if your God-given passion is in line with what the market wants. But if it’s not … I think it’s great advice to follow your passion. And God.

  10. Hey Andrea, and totally agree! Great point about an agent leveling with you like that (and this person in my life wasn’t an agent, just an interested party). I think it’s a balance. We need to be realistic about the current market and approach writing for publication as a business, while also writing our passion. It’s a tricky dance, for sure!

  11. What great questions, Christine. Thanks for sharing those. I have a little note on my screen on my desk that simply says, “What’s my motivation?” Every time a decision is before me, I ask myself that question. Amazing how filtering every decision??however great or small??through that sieve reveals things that otherwise might slip by undetected. God is faithful to reveal our hearts if we’ll only ask him.

  12. Thanks for sharing that, Iola. One thing I’ve learned… There’s nothing better than being centered in the middle of God’s will for your life, no matter what that means. Likewise, there’s nothing more miserable than being outside it. With the gazillion books out there to read, thank you for reading mine! Truly.

  13. Great to hear your story Tamera! One of the hardest parts of writing is battling discouragement. But it always helps to be reminded that writing isn’t actually the most important thing-not by a long shot when compared to God. :)

  14. Susan Mason says:

    Hi Tamera,

    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your story. Very timely for me. Perhaps a God-wink!

    So happy you kept going on your path, because we LOVE your books. Looking forward to this one!

    Cheers,
    Sue

  15. Thank you for such an encouraging article.