Monday, November 9, 2009

Measuring Success as a Christian Novelist

If you choose the riskier path and decide to spend your life as a creator, you have the job of feeling successful no matter what your objective successes look like. You must train yourself to feel successful, despite what your heart and the world tell you about your lack of success.
Erick Maisel, The Van Gogh Blues

I must follow this man's advice.

My readers aren't camping out for first editions or dressing up as my characters for Halloween. Book signings are exercises in humility--or delightful parties. It depends. My royalty statements are reacquainting me with negative numbers. (I'm so grateful I taught 5th-grade math. All that number theory is coming in handy.) And my books have shorter shelf-lives than strawberries. (My husband says this is an exaggeration, but for those who have received out-of-print notices, it sure seems true.)

And so, how can I feel successful in this media-guided, capitalistic, celebrity-worshiping society?

Be a sheep!

Matthew 25:31-46 is a red-letter passage where Jesus is explaining how he will cull the goats from the sheep when he comes in glory. He surprises the "sheep" of his story by saying when they fed the hungry, offered drink to the thirsty, invited in the stranger, clothed the naked, tended the sick, and visited the prisoner, they did these things to him.

And so, in Jesus' kingdom, success is belief and meeting the needs of "the least of these." What does this mean for the writer of fictional stories?

I'm just starting to give this topic some thought. Here is my rough draft, open for critique and review:

To feed the hungry, I must offer the Bread of Life, Jesus! There's nothing like the fragrance of baking bread. Stomach juices create a symphony of anticipation as toasted wheat and yeast fills the house. That's what this sheep of a writer must aim for. I want my stories to demonstrate an aspect of Christ the Lord that is so winsome that the reader will hunger to partake of him.

My stories should offer refreshment to the parched soul, a drink of water. Erase any Pollyanna story you have in your head. My readers live in the real world. They need hope. Nothing refreshes like hope.

Not everyone who picks up my stories is "at home" with Jesus. They've come to know a "Jesus" through the media, misguided religious institutions, or family members who is NOT the soul-loving, passionate, holy, mighty, Lamb of God of the Bible. To welcome the stranger, it is my creative challenge to pull back the curtain on the real Jesus to my readers.

And yes, I have some naked readers in need of clothes, but how do I clothe anyone with words? Perhaps this is giving readers a chance through the protagonist's experiences to put on faith, see how it fits, works, and grows.

Some of my readers are heart sick. To look after them as Jesus requires, I can't be afraid of getting too close to their experience, fearing that I'll catch something. That means my stories must be authentic, populated by characters experiencing full-frontal life.

When my stories speak to the imprisoned reader, they should hear: I'm here because I care. There's hope for you. I see it plainly. There are people--lots of people--in the world just like you.

Now, I've never purposely written to these goals, but they seem to emerge organically from a story that is written for the Audience of One who is Jesus.

How do you measure yourself as successful?


Footprints From the Bible by Cynthia Davis said...

Love the quote--mostly because is is 100% true.
We, as Christian authors, cannot measure our successes in terms of copies sold, but rather hearts touched.
Like you, my book signings are often sparsely attended, but I've learned that there is usually one person (maybe the only one to show up) who needs to talk to me about faith. Then we are both blessed.
It really is more important to be a sheep, faithfully following and drawing others to Christ than to be a million seller--something I remind myself of often!

Carla Gade said...

Patti, I'm so blessed and overwhelmed by what you shared. I'm going to print it out and keep it to help me keep my perspective. That, is what it is all about.

Nicole said...

By not comparing myself to others. What's the point? If I write for Jesus, if pleasing Him is the sole (and soul) purpose for writing the stories He gives me to tell, it isn't up to me to decide what He does with the books written for and because of Him.

Yes, I'd love to have the earthly satisfaction of hearing from readers, that they've bought several copies of my novel for Christmas presents, and the rest of the "glory" accompaniments, but these things are out of my hands and in the hands of the Lord.

I've posted several times about this, too, Patti. Perspective really.

Patti Hill said...

Oh yes, Cynthia, book signings are ministry opportunities. I commit that time to his work. When else will perfect strangers come to me to talk? These are golden opportunities to be Christ to folks who present themselves.

Carla, I'm blessed by you and your heart for Jesus.


Patti Hill said...

Nicole, I've gotten myself into trouble comparing myself to others, HEART and ATTITUDE trouble, that is. I want to hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," and hearing those words is not dependent on how many books I sell or don't sell. Bestsellers will hear this ultimate proclamation and those who never publish but show up every day to do the work God gave them to do.

Lori Benton said...


This is so encouraging, and an insightful perspective. You've made me think. Like Carla, I'm printing this one for frequent rereading. Thank you!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Hi, Patti!

There's nothing like the feeling of finishing a first draft. Since I haven't received the call or held my published book in my hands (yet), this is the best feeling I've experienced so far. I'd like to say this is enough. Though I've had articles, short stories, and poems published, I still long to see my novel on the shelves. But I'm learning not to measure that as success because as soon as it's attained I imagine there would be another meter--how many books I sell, if I can do it again, etc. Seems like a slippery slope that never ends.

I believe success in writing is writing for Christ and having him use our stories to touch others, whether it be thousands or just a handful. Now I just need to remember that one the days the voices shout way too loud.

Nikole Hahn said...

Wonderful blog! I totally agree. The kind of payment I am privileged to recieve for my writing is the impact my stories have on others who are thirsty for the Word.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Your post, Patti, touched me with its truthfulness. I measure success in terms of the hearts that may be uplifted and turned toward following Jesus after reading what I write. Only His touch on my life can accomplish this.

Diane Marie Shaw said...

This morning I read in 2Cor. 4:3-4
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I was praying that my writing will always bring light to those in darkness and that the veil that keeps people in that darkness will be removed.
Then I come to your blog and you have said everything I feel in my heart about writing. I don't want my stories to be only entertaining, they must be life changing for the reader and for me as the writer. One soul, just one soul being changed for eternity that is success, but souls too numerous to count, glorious success, birthed from His heart through my hands.

Bonnie Grove said...

I have been given the privilege of knowing that one person has come to faith in Christ in part because of a book I wrote (my non-fiction strength based book, Your Best You, Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You).

I say 'in part' because this lovely woman had been on a journey toward God and had people praying for her for the past ten years. My book and seminar were the "tipping point" for her faith decision, but I wasn't the one who did all the work of bringing her there.

Success? Better than any I've ever known. I love writing fiction and will do so for as long as God allows - but in doing so I am reminded of the need to remain faithful to the people right here around me. If I want an audience of millions, I must remain faithful to the needs of the tens God has put in my path.

Great post, Patti. You inspire me daily.

Anonymous said...

This was such a blessing to read. Knew there was a reason I loved your books! They're written by someone with an amazing heart!

Latayne C Scott said...

Great post, Patti.

Too bad we can't somehow let prospective agents, editors and publishers know about these intangibles. I know they want to know if books are effective -- that is, if they reach hearts and bless them -- but that can't be measured.

I get "hype" emails every day from people who want me to believe their books/projects/missions are truly changing lives. Are they? I don't know.

I've asked the Lord to turn my face toward the task of writing and free me from any attention I might give to any quantifiable distractions.

Nichole Osborn said...

Thank you for you honest approach. I too am going to print this out, to look back on, and draw from.

s said...

Patti, I just stumbled on your blog, and I have to say your words today wrapped around my heart like a warm blanket in the flurry of a snowstorm. I'll never read Jesus' parable the same way again, and I'm going to go over that list over and over again whenever I put fingers to keyboard to write a new story. I've always wanted to write for Him, with rich depth and answers for real-life struggles, but now I have a visible checklist for the needs of this generation. Thank you! It's awesome to discover another author with the same heart and the boldness to share it!