Overcoming Publishing’s Litmus Test
For several years editors have been turning down well-written book proposals with statements like “not visible enough” or “platform not large enough.” With platform the litmus test, I have had to turn down many fine book proposals. Then God intervened and proved that while generally true, that litmus test can be overcome. Let me illustrate by describing three book projects that would not have passed the litmus test, but were published anyway, and one fine book proposal that so far has not been able to by-pass the litmus test.
Life as a nutritionist took a new turn for Kristen Feola when the large church she attended embarked on the Daniel Fast. She turned her kitchen into a test kitchen and a photo studio and started preparing recipes suitable for anyone practicing the Daniel Fast—ending up with 100 photographed recommendations. She then turned writer and developed 21 devotionals, as well as an explanation about the purpose and practice of the fast for those considering the Daniel Fast. A rather demure person, Feola sat down at my table at the Kansas City writers’ conference for her 15-minute interview and presented her proposed book. Having never heard of the Daniel Fast, I was understandably skeptical, but eventually agreed to help her find a publisher. To my amazement Sandra Vander Zicht, Christian living editor at Zondervan, jumped on it and quickly issued a contract. For a first book author, the book’s sales have been surprising good—in fact, great.
When Saundra Dalton-Smith approached me with a proposal for a book for women, I really liked what she was writing. I also appreciated that as an African American internal medicine specialist treating mostly poorer women in rural Alabama she was writing out of her own experience with her patients. It was not a memoir, an autobiography. What I worried about was that she would never pass Christian publishing’s litmus test. And Dr. Dalton-Smith MD’s first proposal confirmed my worst fears—no editor was interested. Yet in the first week in May her first book, Set Free to Live Free, was released by Revell, one of the publishing arms of Baker/Revell/Bethany House/Chosen/ Brazos. If you are a member of Crossings Book Club you will get a chance to acquire it—and if you twirl an Inspirational Books rack placed by Choice Books you might see it. She’s also speaking at six major women’s events—and every Lifeway Store will likely have it. I consider it a miracle.
The same month as Dr. Dalton-Smith MD received her contract from Revell, another author, Rachel Lee Carter, received a contract, this one from Tommy Nelson, the YA arm of Thomas Nelson. Now unless you saw her interviewed about her book Fashioned by Faith on the 700 Club or heard her interviewed on the Moody Radio Network, or were a design major at Liberty University and been fascinated by her lecture to the design students, you probably had also never heard of Rachel. True, she has been an international model in 33 countries for more than 20 years and was Mrs. North Carolina in 2009. She had spoken frequently in churches in North Carolina, but national platform? Not in Christian circles. She definitely had not made national news by marrying the No. 1 quarterback in the NFL, like a Brazilian model named Gisele, though there’s a story cooking that will surprise you.
Contrast this with my experience with a book proposal for Comeback by Pastor Rick McDaniel. Now Rick McDaniel is no slouch. In 1993 McDaniel founded the first contemporary church in the Central Virginia area. In 2007 the church became Richmond Community Church when it opened a second campus in the Midlothian area of Richmond. Then they added a downtown Richmond Campus and a cutting edge Internet Campus, which over a year ago had 1600 “fans.” Attendance at the three campuses was 2000. McDaniel became an authority on leadership, teaching leadership principles in not only church surroundings such as the Center for Church Multiplication but also for corporate environments, where he has contracted with such Fortune 500 companies as Bank of America, Target, Capital One, and Siemens. The demand for his messages on the Internet’s Audio Book is as strong as for any of the major national speakers and writers. Looking at that you’d say, “His book will be a slam dunk with Christian publishers.” Not so. Editors responding recited “not a large enough platform.” Huh? Really? When that proposal went to editors the concept of comeback was in the national consciousness because the economy was just starting to show there might be a comeback. Comeback was/is a book desperately needed.
What’s going on, you ask. Why should three books by women without a national platform get published with a lot of promotional and marketing support when an obviously capable, well-liked and internationally appreciated pastor cannot pass the litmus test at Christian publishers? Rick McDaniel would certainly like to know.
Here’s my challenge to you if you have read either The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast, Set Free to Live Free, or Fashioned by Faith—write me at email@example.com and tell me why the book you read deserved to be published and widely promoted without the author passing the litmus test of a national platform. I’ll be happy to incorporate your responses in my personal evaluation in my next home page article on why these books broke through all barriers and were published.