So how was I bombarded with this concept? First, I took note of a blog conversation that occurred over the weekend on the subject of Christian fiction and whether it remains in a vacuum of sorts (as in a preaching-to-the-choir fashion) or whether writers of Christian fiction should endeavor to crossover into the mainstream and perhaps garner more secular readers (in a spread-the-Gospel fashion). The conversation was lively, professional and brought up many interesting facets from all points of view. Issues were raised regarding Christian novelists winning awards, making the NY Times Bestsellers list, etc.
This discussion came on the heels of one of our own novels winning the Christian Small Publishers Assn's Book of the Year award, of a different book being critically praised for stretching the boundaries of Christian fiction in such a way that didn't offend Chrisitan sensibilities, one of our books being picked up for foreign-language publication and of another reviewer talking about how she could always count on one of our books to be an entertaining read. (yes, I know...what was I whining about!)
Add to that, my pastor's sermon this Sundayon the Good Shepherd whereby part of the story he told was about a priest of his own childhood who was influential in his own faith journey which eventually led to his ordination. (this may not seem as though it fits the topic, but it will.)
So, as I was sipping coffee and chatting with the Lord about success, this concept really hit home: Success must be measured in comparison to the price of a soul. (Souls are more precious than gold or silver, so shouldn't be measured by the ounce.)
What is the price of a soul? On one hand, we know the price of all the souls is Jesus' own life--but only if they accept Him (Yes, it still "cost" Him even if they don't accept, but the soul benefits only through its freewill acceptance.). That's where we come into play--being His hands and feet, voice and example. We are our brothers' keepers. Through our words, actions, or failure to act, we can effectively gain or lose a soul--our own and someone else's. So, if you had it within your power to save a soul, what would be a reasonable price? Five dollars? If God came to you and said, "Give five dollars to XYZ charity and that person over there will be saved" would you do it? How about one dollar? What if it cost only seven cents? Would you do it, then? What if it cost only a smile or a kind word? Would you do it, then? What is the price of a soul?
I'll tell you. The price of a soul is obedience. I have always confessed that Pelican Book Group belongs to God and I am just the steward (hopefully a good one who muliplies her talents). Because of that, I do take a rather unconventional approach to how I decide to offer contracts--I judge each manuscript on its own merit. I won't contract a book solely because it's written by a big-name author or because so-and-so's last book with us sold like hotcakes (nor do I reject a contract because so-and-so's last book took a nosedive). Sales figures and popularity don't play into my contracting decisions. (I know some will think that's bad business, but I feel it's the best way for me and my ambitions to stay out of the way, thereby leaving room only for His ambitions to flourish.) Only the quality of the manuscript at hand has a bearing on what we publish. And that is for one reason: The price of a soul.
For each book we publish, I believe God has a purpose, an intended readership. Sometimes that readership is many, sometimes it's few, sometimes it's exclusively Christians and sometimes it's Christians, non-Christians and those on the fence. I don't know who that readership is. I don't know what His ultimate purpose is for each book. Will I try to market and sell as many copies of each of our titles as possible? Of course. I don't think I would be a good steward if I just sat on my hands all day and waited for a miracle. (although I have seen miracles happen--quite often, actually.) Does it mean I don't want our authors to make money? Nope! I think it'd be cool for our authors to become millionaires. Does it mean I wouldn't be head-over-heels Snoopy dancin' if one of our titles hit the NY Times Bestsellers list? Oh, Snoopy wouldn't have anything on me, let me tell you! What it does mean is: none of those things are my goal. My goal is to remain obedient--to purchase a soul.
You see, for any given title, God may have only a readership of one in mind. Perhaps it's a lonely soul who's lost all hope and picks up one of our titles as an escape from a life he/she feels is wretched, and within the pages finds hope, starts going back to church, rededicates his/her life to Christ. That title is infinitely, profoundly successful--even if the NY Times doesn't say so.
Perhaps our books reach only a Christian readership. Does that mean we're not evangelizing and spreading the message of Christ to a secular audience? No way! Christians interact with non-Christians, lukewarm Christians and others every single day. If one of our books uplifts the Christian reader, gives that reader a sense of well-being, strengthens his/her faith, that reader will go out and affect (in a positive way, let's hope) each person he/she comes in contact with. (Which is where my pastor's sermon comes into account in all this.)
You see, his childhood pastor--the man who had such a profound influence on my pastor as he was growing up--was preaching to the choir. He pastored a flock of people who attended church every Sunday, who professed and lived their faith. He wasn't out pounding the pavement and talking to every non-Christian he could find. But, he had a positive influence on my pastor--a man, by the way, who was instrumental in the conversion of both my husband and me. So, that long-ago pastor, a person I never met, a man who didn't seek riches or fame, through his obedience to his ordination purchased a soul. Mine. Thank God he didn't decide to reach for the accolades of man. If he had, he may not have influenced that little boy who was sitting in the pew listening to his sermons. And that little boy may not have grown to enter the clergy, may not have become the pastor of my church, may not have been around to answer my spiritual questions and to be influential in my conversion. In my husband's conversion. In the conversion of my children.
If you are called to write, and called to write Chrisitan fiction, I implore you not to be tempted to water down the message so that you can gain the accolades of man. Write with this in mind: Obedience to His will and the price of a soul. The confirmation is nice, yes. (Sometimes we never discover the true influence we've had on someone, and that's hard. My pastor's pastor didn't know he affected my life. But he did, and him not knowing doesn't make it any less so.) The rising bank balance is nice, yes. The public recognition is nice, yes. But are those things worth the price of a soul?
What is the price of a soul? If it would save a soul would you give up the back-pats from your family and friends? Would you leave the Pulitzer to someone else? Would you give up the royalty on one sale? On ten sales? On ten thousand sales? . . .What if the soul was yours?
I'm not saying don't strive for greatness or for your writing to pay off monetarily--or for your book to win some prestigious award. What I am saying is always check your motives. Store your treasure in heaven, not in this fleeting life where "our days may come to seventy or eighty years...for they pass quickly" (as the psalm says). Don't measure success by what you can see with your limited vision. If your story helps to save one soul, you are the success of successes (even if no one notices, and even if you don't discover so until eternity).
Amen. I'm done!
Go write, people. Be a success. :)