Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Since I first picked up books like Rome Sweet Home, Surprised by Truth, and The Faith of Our Fathers I wanted to be a Catholic author. These are the books that were central to my conversion, so I was anxious to share in that work in bringing more souls to Christ and His Church. Funny thing is, I’ve never had a penchant for reading or writing until I entered the Catholic Church. So, it’s been a road of hard work and several failures.
There’s a list of book and blogging ideas I keep close so that I’m never bored. The blogs have become easier to write publish, but the books, not so much. Self-publishing a high quality book requires a level of attention and continuous interest and is not to be overlooked. This is how I produced my 2016 title St. Robert Bellarmine. Just as well, getting a book accepted and published by a notable Catholic publisher is a daunting task on its own. The level and type of work is different from self-publishing.
My goal has been to publish through the latter course of action. And I have met that goal. In 2014 I was blessed to have my proposal accepted by Sophia Institute Press which became Filling Our Father’s House: What Converts Can Teach Us About Evangelization, released in 2015. It was a phenomenal experience. Deadlines, edits, more deadlines, and the moment I saw the cover for the first time I was blown away. But that was now a while back and I certainly did not want to stop there. I remember telling myself I wanted to write 100 books and now I’m sitting on three manuscripts and am unsure how (or if) each will be published, and one of these is of special significance to me.
This time last year I was in Afghanistan and just months prior I had promised my pastor and spiritual director that I would write and publish a book for the 50th anniversary – a jubilee celebration – of our parish in Omaha, Nebraska. The book would be about the life of St. Robert Bellarmine, our patron saint. I had lightly studied the life of St. Robert Bellarmine before but for two months I studies his life with intensity. Then, having gathered notes, bookmarks, quotes, and a general outline, I wrote the manuscript in about 30 days. Sixty days later the book was in print. It was a remarkable effort by the folks involved – almost everyone worked pro bono for the production, design, and editing of the book. Just fantastic. Of course, this is the book I mentioned above.
In the meantime, though, I began to take up a real interested in the world of St. Robert Bellarmine which was the world of the Counter-Reformation. As I read more about the saints of the time, I learned that they were not autonomous pastors, theologians, mystics, cardinals, and popes. They were an intricate family of reformers who interacted on a regular basis, sometimes personally and other times apostolically. So I was immersed in this world and I couldn’t stop reading and connecting the lives and engagements that made up the Counter-Reformation.
Then, naturally, I began to write on it. As busy as my time was while deployed, the downtime was completely devoted to whatever I wanted to accomplish, so I set out to create another manuscript on “The Saints of the Counter-Reformation.”
So I worked extra hard and wrote four chapters about the life of four saints in similar style to how I covered St. Robert’s. I re-deployed (which oddly enough means I came back home), and was in a good position to create a proposal and focus on getting this baby in print. I was excited. I had a good idea that was also novel and timely (or so I thought). Full of enthusiasm, I offered the book to a publisher (they will go unnamed) and after some time of deliberation, they decided not to take it. I wasn’t crushed.
I took the idea to another publisher. Rejected. I took it to another publisher I was sure would be the right fit, thinking to myself, “how did I not go to these people first!?” Their assessment and elimination came even quicker. I went to another, and another… none of them were interested.
“Perhaps this isn’t such a great idea.” I remember thinking. Again, it didn’t crush me, but I began to think I should focus my efforts elsewhere. “Perhaps this is a book God wants someone else to write, or perhaps this is just something I did that Jesus wants to keep for Himself.” Perhaps. But I really believed in this idea, and there was a still a little gas left in my sails.
I thought and thought. “What have I not thought of?” I’m full of patience, but I’m determined to see this thing to succeed. So I thought of something crazy: “Let me propose this to a publisher who never does saint books, but has a lot in common with the Counter-Reformers, namely, addressing heresy.” It turned out to be the right fit. As of last week, and with some work still left to do, this title will be published by Catholic Answers! Dream. Come. True.
It’s a success story, but I don’t want to keep this to myself. The axiom goes, “knowledge is power” but, my gosh, anyone keeping something like this to themselves is a fool’s fool. I’m neither powerful nor knowledgeable, but I realize I’m one of several young Catholics who really, and for the right reasons, want to be published. So I want to share some of what I’ve learned to help you do the same.
First, work hard. Remember what Thomas Edison said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is disguised as hard work.” Having a natural writing ability is great, I often wish I had that, but what will aid you more is a complete and utter devotion to your work and its success. I do not mean that you can stop being a father, mother, student, or whatever else your vocation is. But when those spare moments come around, instead of watching Dancing With the Stars, get your nose in your books and your finders tip-tapping away at your manuscript.
Second, you want to make sure you have a buyable idea. I chose a subject that had value to publishers, not just me personally. In a year, it will be the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and nobody has ever written an organized book connecting the lives of these saints. And, well, Catholics tend to never dry of interest in reading a good saint book. So you can see, it’s important to try to choose a topic that people want to read, publishers want to publish, and is relevant to some specific Catholic event/topic/milieu.
Third, you have to keep in mind that in addition to needing to sell books, these publishers have built their own audience, so it is your job to write a book that either curtails to that audience, or to find the right audience for your book.
With that said, I offer you this: Do not become discouraged if your proposal is not accepted. It might be a fantastic idea, and a letter of rejection does not imply that it isn’t. The way you need to take it is that it is not the right fit for that publisher. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t revisit the drawing board, too. But whatever you do, don’t be discouraged.
Next, when your book idea or manuscript is accepted, that’s when the work really begins. Maintain that ever-striving-for-success mentality: build rapport with this publisher and show them that you are just as motivated as they are to build an awesome book!
Finally, something I learned from The Mighty Ducks movies: “score, don’t spike.” It’s fantastic when it happens, but when it does, don’t be a showboat. Instead, put that success to work by helping others do the same. Our work, like the saints of the Counter-Reformation, is a team effort.