In 2006, Rick and Jane McKinney heeded God’s call to walk across America. Shortly afterward, Rick took the two journals Jane had maintained during their walk and compiled the beginnings of a book.
Yet they didn’t publish And…So We Walked: The Inspirational Story of a Couple’s Walk Across America until spring 2023.
In this episode, I ask Rick about the publishing delay, which leads to a number of important writing truths that will help you determine when it’s time to publish your book and several proactive steps you can take to speed up the process.
Be receptive to constructive criticism
In 2007, Rick intended to send the manuscript to some publishers, but it coincided with when he started back to school to earn a master’s degree and learned that he wasn’t a good writer.
“I turned my first paper in and he [re]turned it to me the next week; it looked like a can of red paint had exploded all over it. He was nicer than this about it, but he basically said, ‘You’re a terrible writer and you’re never going to pass these courses if you don’t learn how to write. But if you will let me teach you, I will teach you how to write. And so during that course, I kept turning in papers and he kept turning them back and I kept making corrections.”
Learn to become a better writer
“I think the reason why I delayed the book so long was because when that happened, I thought, ‘You can’t write. You can’t even write a paper for your master’s degree. How in the world are you going to write a book?’ And so I just kind of put it on the back burner.”
Rick successfully completed his master’s degree and went on to pursue a doctorate degree. His doctoral dissertation was on storytelling as a tool for evangelism,
“I learned more about storytelling than I could ever imagine, so when I graduated in 2014, I pulled the book back out and over the next couple years I’d pick it up and revise it.”
Know your market and your publishing options
“I kept reading that memoirs were one of the hardest things to get publishers to look at. And so finally last year I said, ‘We’re going to self-publish because that’s the way to get this story out. It’s too good a story to just sit somewhere in my office.”
Remember that your wait is never wasted
“I’m glad we waited because I think God’s timing is perfect. I have so many people who are writing me now who are reading the book right now and saying, ‘For such a time as this, I read this book.’ ‘It has spoken to me.’ ‘It has ministered to me.’ ‘It has challenged and encouraged me.’ And I think, ‘Thank you, Lord, for delaying the process to this point so that it is exactly where it should be at exactly the right time.’”
Even though we have doubts about our abilities, we can continue to learn the craft and ultimately trust in what the Lord’s calling us to do. – Dalene Bickel
Understand the benefits of writing partners and beta readers
“I would run things by Jane and ask, ‘Is this exactly how this happened? What do you remember emotionally at this moment?’ The journals only documented the dry facts, but I wanted to make sure that the reader could feel like they were walking along with us.
“I didn’t want it to just be a travel log or basic timeline of the steps we took; I wanted it to be about the stops we made and the people we talked to – the people who were discouraged, who had children in prison, the people who were sick, the people who had wandered away from God.
“The book contains wonderful stories about God’s provision, about God’s healing, about the way God moved in our lives and changed us.
“So she was very much a part of the writing process. I couldn’t have done it without her – the walk or the book. I would’ve quit many times along the way.
“I now always tell my students, ‘Let somebody else read your papers before you turn them in because what you thought made sense might not make sense to the reader.’
“You have to learn to convey not just the facts, but to convey, especially in Christian writing and memoir writing, the thought process you went through, what you felt, what other people were feeling as you talked to them, how they responded and how you responded. All those things are refined by reading and rereading and rereading.”
This is where beta readers prove to be beneficial. Having several people read your book in advance of publication is to address confusing parts and capture missing information.
Recognize that being a speaker is different from being a writer
“In the very beginning, I thought that because I could preach and speak in front of 10,000 people that I could write. That is a huge misconception because when you preach, you have facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact, the inflection of your voice – you have all these tools to communicate with.
“But when you sit down and write with pen and paper, you don’t have any of those available. You have to learn to use words alone to connect with the reader.”
Overcome your fear of sharing your message or story
“The homeless and the disenfranchised people were very easy to approach. As a matter of fact, the most positive experiences we had on the walk were with people living under bridges, living in back alleys, eating out of garbage cans.
“We never feared for our lives from people. We did fear a few times from dogs. We had been told that dogs would be the greatest problem and they really were. But God delivered us even in that.”
Don’t be surprised when those closest to you don’t support your work
“We stopped at as many churches as we could and just said, ‘Hey, is there anything that you would like us to pray about for your church? We’re walking across America to pray for our country.’
“We got the coldest, rudest receptions from churches along the path – much more so than we did from people who weren’t believers.
“Many times people would tell us right up front, I’m not a believer, I’m an atheist, I’m an agnostic. I don’t believe in God. But they were always civil, they were always nice. They were always interested in hearing our story.
“But unfortunately, many times the churches weren’t. We actually had a couple of pastors who just said things like, ‘I wouldn’t be interested in talking to you about anything like that.’
“For whatever reason they weren’t interested. So we shook the dust off our feet figuratively, and we moved on to people who wanted to hear the message. And that was a lot of people.”
This ties into marketing our books because a lot of times, especially as first time authors, we’re very hesitant to promote ourselves.
But it’s not about us. It’s about promoting the message. – Dalene Bickel
God has given us as Christian writers particular messages for a reason, for a purpose, and that is to share it with others. Of course, sometimes there are certain pockets of the population that are harder to market to, but as Rick stated, “move on to people who want to hear the message.”
Create a marketing plan before you publish your book
“I had listened to enough podcasts to know that we were going to have to do a lot of self-marketing. And so we’re doing Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest and all those kinds of things. Running a few Facebook ads, not spending a lot of money. But we’re trying to get the word out.
“One of my goals is to move into some different markets, such as people who are interested in cross country walks, hiking, those kinds of sports.”
Rely on God
“Most people would never know this about me, but I am a profound introvert, as I understand most writers are. However, I’ve learned to be a functional introvert.
“The walk taught me that walking up to someone and talking to them about eternal things is something that God will empower you to do, even if that’s not who you are naturally. Jesus promised his disciples that when they faced trials and even stood in the courtrooms, that the Holy Spirit would put the right words in their mouth.
“We found that to be the case. The divine appointments that God set up for us all across the country were just absolutely amazing.
“My attitude came to be if God is willing to set these appointments for me, then I have to be willing to speak to people.” – Rick McKinney
Don’t wait for perfection to publish your book
“Once the writing was done, it took about six months to edit and clean it up. I’m kind of a perfectionist so I kept reading it and running it through editing programs and I’d find the little something here and a little something there, and my wife finally said, ‘You’re gonna have to go ahead and pull the trigger. If you wait until it’s perfect, we’ll never get it up.’”
Like Rick said, no one’s perfect and no book is perfect.
That’s the nice thing about self-publishing: If necessary, you can go back and make corrections later, even after it is published.
“We started with KDP exclusively. The more I listened to podcasts and the more I understood about going wide and all those kinds of things, I thought, ‘I’m 67 years old. The learning curve is pretty steep on publishing a book. I think it’s a lot to take in and learn at my age.’
“And so I decided to start narrow with KDP. I’ve been very pleased with the process and the product itself.”
Play to your strengths and start simple. – Dalene Bickel
You can always add more things later. A lot of us – of any age – need that reminder. Do the work and publish your book.
Connect with Rick McKinney at andsowewalked.org and sign up for his newsletter to get the booklet, Demolishing Strongholds.
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