Get ready to die a little.
Last week I received my annual royalties check from my portion of “More Than Serving Tea” (MTST from here on out) and from “Raise Your Voice” (RYV). I cannot tell you how MTST changed my life with deep friendships, an ocean of tears, and a mission to see Asian American Christian women’s voices to shape and influence the world. I am still in touch with most of the other authors, and four of us are part of a women’s group that met annually until the pandemic. We still marvel at the book that I kept as a desktop file titled “Project Snowball”. Why a snowball? We were told in so many words the book had a snowball’s chance in hell to make it to print and even then there was a question of how long it would stay in print. I still remember a male colleague, Asian American male (younger because in my culture that’s also important), told me the book would be irrelevant in a few years.
The book was published in 2006, and last week I received a small royalty check.
But becoming a published Christian author killed my soul a bit. My Dear Readers, it’s a business. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s only a calling, an invitation from God. Yes, I have felt “called” to write, which is why I first became a newspaper reporter. I have kept a journal since the first or second grade. I have journals I have kept for each of my children since they were in utero. They are now 25, 22, and 20 and will receive those journals when I’m ready. Yes, I will write another book eventually some day in the future perhaps maybe. But Christian publishing is still a business.
Why are you telling us this, Kathy?
The royalty check last week and the signing of a new contract this week has me all in my feelings. (I have gotten very good at burying the lede.) I thought about the work put into both MTST and RYV – the emotional work before, during, and after, and the hours spent outlining, writing, editing, more editing, more editing, crying, apologizing for missing deadlines, and promoting. I thought about a recent thread on Twitter about the hurdles to getting published, and I wanted to thank all of you for your encouragement through the years when I blogged about my middle school children and being a Korean American Christian woman navigating ministry and evangelical/evangelical adjacent spaces. I wanted to thank all of you for SHOWING UP when it came time to promote and launch RYV. I wanted to remind myself that I didn’t do it for the money.
I really didn’t. Part of the problem with publishing as a whole, and I think Christian publishing specifically because it’s supposed to be Christian but it’s capitalism, is the lack of transparency. For example, I know my life looks super glamorous and amazing. I mean #jamvent and #snowglobe life on IG is pretty amazing, and my family is freaking beautiful. Writing and getting paid for my words is an honor, but it’s also work. For RYV I wrote about 30,000 in the final copy. I actually wrote many more words but many were wisely edited out, and there were several versions of every chapter. At the end of the day I earned about 18 cents per word.
I’ll wait for you to do the math.
My new contract involves an amazing co-author and that person’s agent so the math is better because it’s half of a book, but again this is capitalism, My Dear Readers. I’ll be sure to share more details when we are ready.
But God’s economy, Kathy.
Publishers are still companies and corporations, and they don’t actually operate in God’s economy. I guess that’s why I’m writing this. To remind all of us that we need to keep imagining better, doing better when we can, and be aware of the reality. We can say God’s economy has room for all the books, but the reality is only so many books will be published “traditionally”. Publishers can only publish so many books (and with the current paper shortage it’s gotten even more complicated and frustrating), and they can only afford to lose so much money.
And this is again where I thank you, My Dear Readers, for making sure RYV didn’t lose money!!!! Getting a royalty check means the book sold enough copies to cover the advance and get me royalties. That was what every single pre-order and sale since 2018 did. That is exactly what you want to happen as an author. It gives you a leg up when you pitch your next book because we all need to have numbers and followers and a platform. Again, Jesus doesn’t talk about platform. He talks a lot about loving our neighbors and enemies and the widows and orphans but he says squat about the number of followers and mailing lists (many of you have signed up for my non-existent email updates and that is why I keep your email, btw).
As a Christian writer I keep God’s economy in mind, but I also need to pay the bills involving three kids who went or are currently attending college on student and parent loans. I keep in mind the privilege of writing and teaching yoga for a living and the cost of that privilege as an Asian American woman who recently was named in an email sent to my place of employment. Racism is everywhere including in Christian writing and publishing. Just ask any Christian publishers how many editors and decision makers are POC.
I can wait again.
But I still want to write a book.
So if you want to write a book and get it published traditionally you will need a few things. You will need a platform – followers on several social media platforms, an email list of people who willingly shared their emails with you for, in my case, non-existent additional material, and influencers who already have all of that who will vouch for you. If you are a POC you will need influential POC and influential non-POC who will promise to write endorsements, help promote you, etc.
I don’t share this for pity. It was exhausting, but I LOVED promoting my book and getting my launch team together. I made maybe 100 bracelets and wrote notes. Every time I saw someone on my launch team post a photo, I cheered in gratitude and prayed for that person.
But part-time marketing is not what I had in mind when I imagined being a published author. Even as I sit in the exciting privilege of having signed another contract, I am humbled and terrified.
I am a little hopeful because between 2018 and now there are MANY more POC and specifically WOC in the Christian writing sphere who have gotten agents, become agents, and signed bigger deals and sold more books! BRING IT ALL ON!!!! Just remember, and this is for me as much as it for you, not all of us will receive the five-figure deal with one of the big three houses. Many of us are happy and honored and smiling all silly while I type this to get what I/we get, but I will be honest. A part of me died with RYV. It’s humbling work. Thank you for being a part of it, My Dear Readers.