It has been four years since I said my final goodbye to my irreplaceable mom.
I still think about her every single day. It's not that I haven't grieved. I have. It's not that I'm stuck and can't move forward. On the contrary, I have grown and made discoveries about God, myself and life after loss. It's just that when you lose someone who is a core person in your life, someone who helped shape and mold you, someone whose voice lives inside your head and your heart, you don't forget. You don't ever stop remembering and calling to mind the words and the tone and the warmth of who this person was.
It has been two years since I drove roundtrip for four consecutive days to Wheaton College--thirty miles from my home--for the Write to Publish conference. I was prepared. I had spent months writing and editing my book proposal. I had my one-sheet and my elevator pitch. (The elevator pitch is what you would say to a publisher if the two of you happened to get on the elevator at the same time and you only had 30 seconds to explain why he/she absolutely had to publish your book. I wrote my pitch and then avoided the elevators completely.)
Over the course of those four glorious days I immersed myself in the world of writing. I listened to faculty members teach on how to write a hook that gets you published, how to craft successful titles and market your work, how to write a non-fiction book, and how to jump-start your speaking career. I overdosed on words, written and spoken.
I made several ten-minute appointments with as many editors, agents, and publishers as was allowed, and then I mustered all the courage I had and pitched my book. I wanted to write about my mom and what she taught me about living and dying. how she showed me that I don't have to be afraid. I wanted to write about my grief journey and my faith and the messy way my heart was healing.
I left the conference with a handful of publishers and editors that wanted to see my proposal. So I spent the next several weeks sending it out, crafting cover letters and waiting for responses.
I hate waiting.
When responses came in, they were often similar in their wording. "Your writing is good. You tell your story in a compelling way. But this book would be hard to market." In other words,...memoirs are a hard sell and as a first time author, no one knows who you are. Or, "we already have a similar project in the works. We hope you find a home for your manuscript."
We hope you find a home for your manuscript. My manuscript was homeless. And I began to lose hope that my book would ever get picked up by a publisher. My dream of publishing my book was beginning to feel like a burden--a constant reminder of my failure--and I came to the point where I decided to give up my dream. I should have done it from the beginning--given my dream up to God. If He wanted my book to be published, He would open a door. If not, that was OK, too. I surrendered it and wrote about it in a blog post called, "When it's time to give up your dreams."
It was my friend Steph who finally asked me, "But you wrote it, right? You wrote the book? Because you can publish it yourself, you know, just for your family and friends."
Um, no, I haven't written it yet. I mean, I've written a few sample chapters, and I have an outline. And I've started several chapters, but no, I've been too busy writing my proposal and pitching my book. I haven't had the time (or the courage) to actually write it. What if no one wants to read it?
"You're right. I just need to write it."
So I hunkered down and wrote it. I woke up early and stayed up late. I wrote it in my head during the day when I was working and I wrote down notes on a pad of paper I kept on my nightstand just before I turned out the light. For about six weeks, I poured over my journal and I poured out my heart. And as I did, healing came. Sometimes I couldn't read the words on my computer screen through my tears. I felt as if I was turning my heart inside out, and the healing and comfort I experienced went just as deep.
I sent every chapter to Steph, and she read it all--more than once. I sent chapters to family and friends, and the book came together. Paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, it assembled itself into a story of love and loss, healing and hope.
I followed up on one last lead--a small publisher out of Colorado, and the editor said, "Send me the book when it's done." So I did.
And they gave me a contract. Just like that. And then, as I was working my way through the contract, I heard back from one of the editors I met at Write to Publish nine months earlier, asking me if I was still working on the book. I told him I had just finished it, and he said he wanted to see it.
They sent me a contract also. I ended up going with the second publisher, Kregel, out of Grand Rapids, and over the course of the last year my book has gone through a transformation. They had me double the original length, which seemed like an impossible task. But in the end they were right--there was more story to tell. I just had to dig deeper and find it. They changed the title from Holding On, Letting Go to Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy--which I wasn't happy about at first, but again, they were right. The new title made sense, would let people immediately know what the book is about, and has key words so it's easy to find. Each editor I worked with was amazing, and I learned to trust them with my story. They took what I gave them and made it so much better.
I am profoundly grateful. I'll be sharing quotes and posts over the next several weeks leading up to the book's release on September 26. I warmly invite you to come along on this journey with me. All of us have experienced loss, and I'm praying that together we can heal and find joy in the most unexpected places.
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