“If you’ve heard this before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.” –Groucho Marx
Folks, I am getting PUBLISHED!
I have received wonderful news that the book I’ve been working on for the last two years will be published in the spring of 2016.
I have been hoping for this day for nearly twenty years.
But let me take you back to the beginning.
Twenty years ago, in 1996, Heather and I lived in Lexington, Kentucky. That summer I sent a poem off to a small publication near the University of Kentucky. I didn’t expect to hear back, but a couple weeks later I received a letter in the mail saying my poem would be printed in a modestly circulated flyer-type publication.
That poem was the most scandalous thing I had ever written. I had been reading books on writing (Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, Stephen King) that encouraged writers to be more honest and not use the backspace button so much. I had taken their advice, but the idea of this poem being in print turned me fifty shades of red..ish-Grey. (Yep, I just did that. You’re welcome.)
The following year I started my first novel. I was certain it would be right up there with either Hannibal or Tuesdays with Morrie. I finished it in 2003. Not bad. Just six years. At 58,651 words in length, with 365 days in a year, (or 2,190 days) I averaged 26¾ words per day.
But I FINISHED that novel, which will never see the light of day. (I am telling you right now, if I knew then what I know now, there SO would’ve been vampires.)
I pursued finding a literary agent for Novel Sans Vampires, though few (none) were interested. The recession was three short years away and publishers were most likely gun shy about taking risks on lucrative projects like mine.
In 2006 I began writing my second book, The Blind Writer: Finding Faith Beyond Our Christian Subculture, which I self-published in 2008. Some of you have read it. Thank you.
I learned a lot during this time, mostly about writing with vulnerability. This was the first time I had written anything from my own life’s perspective, and the very first time I felt like I was becoming an actual writer.
In 2010, I began my third book, this time with no holds barred. I poured my heart and soul into a memoir about my troubled past. The entire experience of getting it all on the table was unbelievably cathartic. Each time I opened my computer, I felt God’s presence powerfully near. I scrawled out some of the most raw and honest words I had ever written. I loved them then. But I cherish them now. And in the painful and rewarding process of writing my story down, I now realize that I had become a writer.
When the memoir was completed, my plan was traditional publishing. So in the fall of 2012, I began sending out book proposals to literary agents in the genre of memoir and narrative nonfiction. I sent over a hundred, but when all was said and done, only five responded. Four of the five asked for a manuscript, but I never heard from them after that. Only one of the five…
I was driving down one of my favorite autumn roads when she called. She was in her car as well, heading to a meeting. I will never forget our conversation that day.
After sending my query letter to Kathy, which included three sample chapters, I put her out of my mind for one reason alone: Her agency had the following statement printed under their submission guidelines:
“We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts or book proposals from unpublished authors.”
That was me – an unpublished author. But you see, my friends, back in 1994 when I was going door to door, selling low-end tools to local businesses, a girl I trained with taught me something I’ve held on to for years.
We were approaching a gas station on foot one day and I saw a No Soliciting sign stuck to their door. “Hey,” I said pointing, “they’ve got a No Soliciting sign.”
“I know,” she said back, walking right past it. “You need to start training yourself to ignore those. All they do is get in your way.”
Nearly twenty years laters, I had ignored the No Soliciting sign. And thank God I did.
Kathy had read the sample chapters from my memoir, and during our chat on the phone, she quoted passages that had stuck with her. It surprised me to hear her rattle them off from memory. After each excerpt she would stop for a moment and then describe my writing with such careful and deliberate words. Outside of my wife, I don’t know another person who has affirmed me in such a heartening way.
Because of the “no unpublished authors” disclaimer, I had written Kathy off as soon as I sent my materials. Not doing any more research on her, I only knew that she worked for the agency, Creative Trust.
My wife, Heather, loves her research.
Thirty seconds after my phone call with Kathy ended, Heather walked into our family room, laptop in hand, and said, “Do you know who Kathryn Helmers is?
“Wait…isn’t she that literary agent who thinks my memoir is the bomb?”
“Matt, I’m serious. Do you know that she is responsible for Blue Like Jazz?”
“SHUDDUP!!! You aren’t serious!” (One of my favorite books of all time. I had never heard a narrative voice in spiritual writing anything like Donald Miller’s.)
“Oh…I’m COMPLETELY serious. She’s also responsible for Phillip Yancey’s books.” (LOVE him.)
“C’mon! You better not be kidding.”
And she’s pretty giggly now. “O – M – G!!!…listen to this, listen to this! THIS is what the president at some writing company says about her.”
She clears her throat and begins…
No one in the business is better at finding and developing great content than Kathy.
“Holy crap!” she says, and I see her eyes still moving left to right.
“What’s it say? What’s it say?!?!” I ask.
“Okay, listen to this part.”
Her reputation as a passionate author advocate and her keen sense of content development has attracted some of the most original and creative voices in publishing today.
Stares at me. We start laughing hysterically.
“Matt,” she says, looking at me kind of suspect.
“I mean, seriously? I don’t mean anything by this, but why does she want to talk to you?”
A month later I was sitting in a rustic little coffee shop in Nashville, Tennessee, waiting for Kathy to arrive. She walks in with the friendliest smile. We shake hands, briefly introduce ourselves, grab a coffee and scone, my treat, (I would’ve treated her to a car if she had asked), and sit down at a small bistro table in the corner.
She leans across the bistro table, looks me directly in the eyes and begins our professional relationship with these words:
“Matt…I am not going to represent this memoir…” (Mouth agape. Sweaty palms. I want a mileage check.) “…Because no one wants to read your memoir.”
She didn’t wait for me to ask why.
“Because no one knows you.”
But my mother…I wanted to say.
Lyrics from the worst country song of all time came to mind. “You done tore my heart out and stomped that sucker flat.” I would download it when I got home.
Kathy went on to explain.
“What you have here is a beautiful memoir, but it is a second or third book. No publisher I know would consider a memoir as a first book unless you have a huge platform, or have established a readership from another book. Does that make sense?”
It made all the sense in the world. I didn’t like it, but I knew she was being honest. And while honesty can hurt something fierce, it is essential when you’re trying to get from here to there.
“But Matt, let me also say this; I love your writing. You write some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. Like this…” And she did it again…quoted another passage from the memoir. “Matt, when I read those words, they were arresting to me in the best possible way.”
I knew the words she quoted like the back of my hand. There were tears in my eyes when I had written them.
I sat quiet for a second, my mind racing with the idea that she wasn’t interested in the memoir. I finally said, “All due respect, Kathy, but why did you bring me down here?”
Kathy pulled a small flip notebook from her purse. She opened it and began writing something down. “Because Matt, I want to talk about writing another book. Does that interest you at all?”
Without giving it a thought, I responded instantly. “Absolutely. I want to be a writer. I want to help people heal. I’ll do whatever you think I need to do.”
On the ride home from Nashville, I thought about the second half of our conversation. She said I needed to write a book that was for others, and not for myself…something I was passionate about.
I had an idea.
I mulled it over for the next week and when I felt confident it was book worthy, I explained the idea to Kathy.
“Yes, Matt. I love it.”
So I went to work.
I’ll spare you the ups and downs of the journey, except for this; my biggest setback came when Kathy had proofed the first ten chapters. “These chapters have the most beautiful endings to them, Matt. But you don’t have a book here. This is more like a collection of chapters.
“You need to start over.”
“Dear God, make me a bird. So I could fly far. Far far away from here.” –Jenny, Forest Gump
There were many deep-cleansing-breath moments along the way, but within a year and a half, I finished the book. And Kathy approved.
Kathy: friend, mentor, risk-taker, believer.
“We can sell this, Matt. You’re ready. This project is the pure thing. You just keep reinforcing it for me.”
The process has been long…a snail’s pace at times. And if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure anything would come of it.
But here’s what kept me moving forward…my love for The Broken.
I have this insane belief that there are people out there who are hiding from themselves, from the world, and from God. They are wearing business suits, doctor’s scrubs, sitting behind desks, at PTA meetings, in bars, churches, AA meetings and bible studies. They are afraid to tell the truth – about themselves, about how they really feel about God, about what happened to them, about how they just can’t seem to break free.
The abuse, the neglect, the addiction, the control, the insecurity…coagulating into a shame scab that has never healed.
These people, who can’t seem to make life work, who can’t find peace…I know them.
I AM them.
And I love them.
They keep me awake at night. They’ve kept me busy writing every morning at 5:30am, searching for words that would set them free.
I can’t express my gratitude for this opportunity. When your passion for setting people free collides with the means to get the word out (literally), it feels like the anxiety, the love, the hope, the waiting, the blood, sweat and tears, all get mixed together, and the only words you have are…
Thank you. God…thank you.
I feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of it. It’s kind of hard to explain.
THIS MOVIE CLIP pretty much says it all for me.
So it has happened. The contracts have been signed and I have a book due to be released in the spring of 2016, by David C Cook publishers, out of Colorado Springs, CO.
I’m also blessed to be working alongside Tim Peterson, who will be editing the book. Tim went to bat for this project as soon as Kathy sent it his way. Thank you, Tim. Thank you, Kathy.
Thank you, God.
And I want to thank you for any support and encouragement you’ve given along the way. I may be calling on you for help promoting the book via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and whatever else is out there) as we approach the release date.
Also, thank you for reading and recommending my blog to your friends, and for sharing my blog articles on Facebook and Twitter. The more who subscribe and read, the more people we can reach. Please continue to get the word out so we can…
Call people out of their hiding places.
Peace to you, and so much love,