How I Got My Book Contract

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The “How I Got My Contract” story for writers is much like labor and delivery stories. Oddly fascinating, terribly messy, always unique. When I was “on sub” I found myself reading loads of these stories. Like, an unhealthy amount. And I knew that when (if) my day came around, I wanted to share my story, too. So, without further ado…

March 22, 2018: Met with an editor friend and unofficially sent her my manuscript
May 17: Editor friend passed on it so Awesome Agent swiftly sent it out to a few houses
May 21: I was chatting with another editor friend (whom I’ll affectionately call HOUSE EARL GREY) and she asked to see m/s
May 23: Unbelievably, in only two days, editor (HOUSE EARL GREY) read entire manuscript, liked it, and was sending it on to editorial team to read and review! After having two previous manuscripts taking months and months for anyone to read, if they ever read it at all, this was super exciting
June 6: Agent emails that another publishing house (HOUSE GINGERBREAD) has read my proposal and wants to read the full manuscript
June 27: Editorial team (HOUSE EARL GREY) approved manuscript and went on to recommend a two-book deal, pending it passes the financial meeting
July 9: Manuscript passes financial meeting and official 2-book deal offer from HOUSE EARL GREY!!!

yeah

At this point, I am incredibly excited and assume that we will take this offer. But when I message Awesome Agent, he informs me:
July 12: A third house, HOUSE CELLO, wants to take it to a team meeting on 7.24. HOUSE GINGERBREAD is still reading and interested. And a new HOUSE CANDY CANE is possibly interested as well.

Suddenly, things get messy. It’s the prom date scenario everyone and no one wants. The perfectly lovely saxophone player/friend asked you to prom, and he is wonderful, and you are thrilled, but then out of nowhere the new guy with the really cool hair winks at you in the hall. No promises, nothing asked, but he looks directly at you and winks. 

Saxophone player is a sophomore. This guy is a senior. Rumor is, he came from California and has a pool.

That’s okay, I thought. I have a little wiggle room in time, I don’t have to answer EARL GREY today. I’ll give it a few days and decide. Surely they’ll all have a definitive yes or no by then.

But days pass.

A week.

Two.

Nothing. Finally agent and I have a chat. What’s the saying? A bird in hand is worth two in the bush? It would be a real dream, going with California-pool-owning-nice-hair senior, but I knew rejection well. There were so many meetings and levels my manuscript still needed to pass. SO OFTEN the manuscript gets turned down at one level or another. I’d been through this before with the whole submission process with Red Carpet Summer (available for free here). I was tired, so tired, of rejection. Even more tired of the wishy-washy, never-ending “this has real potential, give me more time…” maybes.

Saxophone player was very sweet. It was a good offer.

BUT then I had a phone call with my good author buddy (Bethany, I’m calling you out), and she said something that really helped determine my course. “Melissa, if you find out two weeks after you say yes to EARL GREY that you get a contract with CELLO, would you be really disappointed?” And I realized then, yes. I would feel positively devastated if CELLO actually said yes and it was too late by two weeks. 

It was a real risk. EARL GREY could pull back the offer, and nobody could end up offering anything. I’d be going stag to prom, or rather, not going to prom at all.

Again.

But, for me, it was worth the risk. I mean, he winked. And, right then, his cousins GINGERBREAD and CANDY CANE were also standing there, giving me decent, wobbly smiles. 

So, finally, being a bit unconventional, I had a heart-to-heart phone conversation, across the ocean, to EARL GREY. I spoke honestly. And EARL GREY, dear, wonderful EARL GREY, was understanding and said they would wait until I heard from CELLO and his friends. I am forever grateful for how much that meant to me.

Then, more painful waiting.

July 24: HOUSE GINGERBREAD says still reviewing, busy time of year.
August 14: HOUSE CELLO says manuscript passed the acquisitions meeting and they ask when I want to do a group phone call! I reply that I would be available anytime. Ever. At 3am if they wanted. (yes, really replied that.)
August 27: CELLO group phone call with Awesome Agent, three editors, and publicist! Took the phone call in the quietest place I could imagine, my car, and prayed desperately against the sudden fear I’d develop a tic in those forty-five minutes and say something totally crazy about wild ferrets. Actually ran through a mental list of all the bizarre things that could potentially slip out of mouth, thereby sealing my fate forever.


Sept 13: THE MOMENT.

After yet another eighteen days of watching my inbox on my phone every five minutes, I was at the salon getting my hair done and saw Awesome Agent’s name across the screen and, of course, my stomach flipped. I swiftly turned the phone over on my lap. My hairdresser noticed and I said I couldn’t look, that it was only the most important email ever and I didn’t have the heart to read it right there. If it was a NO then I’d have to sit there, with a thousand pieces of aluminum foil in my hair, trying to process with a smile plastered on my face. If it was YES, however, I still had the problem of there being a thousand pieces of aluminum foil in my hair, and it would be terribly tedious to run around the parking lot like a wild, silver-headed chicken, still having to return to my seat at some point. My hairdresser tried to convince me, but I finally compromised. If it was a YES, then I’d call the salon in the car and relay the message to her from the receptionist with one word: YAY.

I got to the car, pulled the door shut, tried to convince myself to wait until I got home, got to a drive-thru at Dunkin’ Donuts, and pulled out my phone. Sure enough, it was BLANK. The message was blank. My luck. I emailed him swiftly asking if there was a message… And finally, I saw it.

I got a THREE BOOK DEAL FROM THOMAS NELSON!!!

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Unbelievable. I was going to prom with my Californian-cool-hair dream date. And the after party. And to his parent’s summer home in Vienna.

I called the salon and gave the receptionist the word: YAY! Receptionist asked for clarification. I gave none.

I was, and still am, truly floored. And grateful. And fully aware of how blessed I am.

Awesome Agent and Awesome Editor went back and forth on details of the contract, and the official contract came October 2nd. With a couple more questions, the contract was finally signed and shipped October 5th.

So there you have it. This is the messy, wild, terrible, wonderful inside world of the frenzied writer while on submission. If you see one of them around, biting her nails, checking her email like a nervous tic, get her a coffee. Take her on a stroll. Offer sympathetic nods often. 

 

To stay updated on my new book debuting November 2019, I’d love you to join my newsletter. Monthly giveaways from Barnes & Noble, book deals, more fun stories. 

Just click here. 

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

 

 

Do Christians Have to Go to Church?

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After years of teaching, I’ve found a comment thread going like this:

“I went to church as a kid, but then XYZ-terrible-thing happened by the elders/preacher/church members/Sunday school teacher/youth pastor/parking attendant, so we stopped going.”

Often, this is followed by a statement that he is still a Christian. Many times, it’ll become apparent that the student has rarely, if ever, cracked open a Bible. That he relies more on phrases like “I feel like God wants…” or “I feel like humans should…” rather than, by knowledge of Scripture, actually knowing what God thinks on a certain topic. Sometimes, he finishes by declaring his church is in nature.

And while I have no doubt there’s something majestic in forests and rivers, and “The heavens declare the glory of God,” there is a question that remains. Do Christians have to go to church?

Here, after reading 12,653,345 critiques from students on the topic, is my response.

NO, HEAVENS NO, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian.

But before everyone starts exchanging Bibles for fishing poles, please let me clarify.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is this:

IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, `

IN NONESSENTIALS LIBERTY,

IN ALL THINGS CHARITY.

Reread this. Slowly.

What, according to Scripture, is essential in being a Christian?

Well, we have plenty in the Bible to go off of. Take Romans 10:9-10:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Or consider the criminal on the cross beside Jesus, to whom Jesus said in Luke 23, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” That criminal never had time to jump off the cross, get baptized, give money to the orphans and widows, apologize to those he’d harmed, and go to the [then nonexistent] church building to sing through his hymnal for an hour of good, solid worship. And yet, Christ said that this criminal would be entering paradise today.

Yes, we are saved by faith alone, and there are plenty of verses backing up this fact.

However.

Numerous, as well, are the verses emphasizing that genuine faith is demonstrated by a desire to do God’s will. How do you know God’s will? Not by going, “Well…hmm…just off the top of my head, I think that God wants…”

God states His will plenty of times in the Bible. We need to know Scripture thoroughly so that we are better equipped to please God. And one of the things emphasized is Hebrews 10:25:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The earliest churches began with Christians meeting together in homes.

To worship God together—as Scripture states God desires.

To pray together—as Scripture states God desires.

To learn together—as Scripture states God desires.

To grow together—as Scripture states God desires.

To support one another—as Scripture states God desires.

To persevere—as Scripture states God desires.

God desires Christians to habitually meet together for these reasons. Will Christians screw up? Sure. Constantly. But that’s exactly why we need to keep meeting with each other.

Abigail Van Buren stated, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Try to be understanding. People inside the walls of a church are broken, too. They mess up. Say things they really, really, really shouldn’t. Do things they really, really, really shouldn’t. Forgive them.

But, if you find the broken people in a church to be too much, or those in leadership teaching something absolutely contradictory to Christ’s message, then pray about it. Perhaps go for it. Try another church.

But by all means, whatever you do, please God. Don’t quit church altogether.

 

Wishing everyone the support of a church home and family,

Melissa Ferguson

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Three Things You Don’t Know About C.S. Lewis, But Want To

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C.S. Lewis. The legend.

Put your finger on any page bearing C.S. Lewis’ name and you’re bound to find the kind of thought-provoking words worth cross-stitching on a pillow, printing neatly on an index card to tape onto your fridge, or throwing out mid-conversation at any dinner party, birthday, funeral, baptism, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

Lewis untangled labyrinthine theories of life and faith until they were so plain it felt elementary, then turned around and discussed the plain, obvious world in such poetic descriptions you felt yourself rising on your toes.

And while many Lewis fans know a thing or two about this man who was once a toddler declaring he would henceforth be called “Jack” (and was for the rest of his life), who was injured in the first world war and called on to preach to the troops in the second, who spent hours each week writing letters back to every single person who’d sent him mail, there are several more details about Lewis’ life that are both inspiring and convicting:

  1. From his first writings, Lewis gave at least two-thirds of his royalties away

Most of the money went to orphans and widows in need. And even more astounding, his charity was largely kept secret until after his death. He says,

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.  I am speaking now of charities’ in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation” (Mere Christianity).

 

  1. Lewis cared for the mother of an army friend for over thirty years

Regardless of speculations on the details, the fact is that Lewis promised Paddy, an army friend, that if he should die during the war, Lewis would look after Paddy’s mother. After Paddy’s death, Lewis was true to his word. Not yet twenty years of age and pinched for money (as he was all his life), he shared a home with this woman he called “Mother” and cared for her the rest of her life. When she went into the nursing home for dementia, he visited her nearly if not every day.

  1. He was extraordinarily prepared for his passing

After recovering from a heart attack in 1963, Lewis wrote to a friend, “Tho’ I am by no means unhappy I can’t help feeling it was rather a pity I did revive in July. I mean, having been glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one’s face and know that the whole process must some day be gone thro’ again, and perhaps far less pleasantly! Poor Lazarus! But God knows best” (The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 1963). Hooper could not be more right in stating regarding his death, “No one was better prepared” (Readings for Meditation and Reflection).

 

In these ways and so many more, Lewis not only stepped out of the box of what was standard and accepted, but flung the whole flimsy box in the river and proceeded to write soundly against the soppy, wet thing it was.

Both in his writings and in his life, what a guy.

 

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

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Shooting Stars in Christendom

 

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You think it’d be a good thing to be a shooting star. After all, they’re the Maseratis of the sky. The phenomenon that draws your eye as it streaks across an otherwise black canvas. Nobody cares about the boring satellite orbiting overhead, but catch a glimpse of that moving light and you’re treacherously waving your s’more stick with flaming marshmallow in the air and interrupting your friends mid-story.

Shooting stars are special.

My pastor was spot-on this weekend, however, in his definition of shooting stars in Christendom, and exactly why that is the opposite of what we want to be. Why? Because as great as their capacity is to draw attention, as beautiful as they are, there’s still another trait they hold.

Fleeting.

I remember how jarring it was the time my dear friend told me she was rethinking this whole Christianity thing. Sure, there was no lack of people in my life who’d gone in and out of the church doors like a revolving door. I knew plenty who took Christianity about as seriously as a New Year’s Resolution. But this friend? This girl? She was so on fire! How was it possible?

She came to work with a bang the year prior, and her enthusiasm for God made waves across town. It wasn’t long before people were gathering at her apartment, driven to explore this thing called faith. I felt like she’d started a little revival—even in my own weather-worn heart. Sure, she was a bit more emotionally-driven (or was it Spirit led?) than I was used to. Yes, I’d heard of a time she used a “word from God” in a way that was self-serving and out of context from Scripture. But she was only human, and given she’d only become a Christian the year prior—and in the type of way that rivaled the drama of Paul on his missionary journeys—it was nothing less than extraordinary how hearts were revived in her presence.

Eventually she quit, relocating to another state for a healing ministry. And a few months later, she called and dropped the bomb.

While I’ve often prayed for her over the years, I also learned something that day, something I was reminded of when my pastor spoke last Sunday. We all know everybody has different gifts, as 1 Corinthians 12 states. It’s a wonderful thing to be the gal with the smile as wide as Arkansas shaking your hand on Sunday. Likewise, it’s all well and good to be the man with his hands glued to his pockets as Mrs. Big-Grin dances down the aisle beside him. God loves the silent types just as much as the vibrant. But the common thread, what’s oh-so-important about it all, is consistency.

I won’t try to guess what only God knows about my friend (and others), and neither will I pretend there aren’t real hardships that sometimes leave people doubting their faith. But I did learn it is so important to step into the circles of those who sometimes aren’t the most exciting Christians around. To build relationships and glean wisdom from those Christians who’ve been around a few terrifying blocks I haven’t turned yet and still came out with faith like a child. Who are they?

Not necessarily my peers chasing around toddlers, but the ones who’ve lived to see their toddlers grow toddlers.

Not necessarily the books with the mirthful young woman on the cover, but the old man who’s been through wars, and cancer, and still has enough hope in his bones to fold his hands in prayer.

As much fun as it is to see the shooting stars of Christendom fly across the sky—whether on a campus or the front page or on stage—the true test is watching to see if their tail lasts, or if their light fades.

 

To all you seasoned Christians who

share your lives with the younger generation,

many thanks and blessings.

 

Melissa Ferguson

 

P.S. If you’re from the tri-cities and seeking an amazing church home,

you’re going to want to click here!

 

Take Away from My Terrible, Horrible, No Good…Wonderful Birth Story

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I had a horrible birth experience this time around. My doctor decided last second not to deliver our baby. The moment I stepped inside the hospital an announcement went around for all nurses, doctors, residents and janitors to grab their needles and come take a stab at my unyielding veins. My blood pressure dropped dramatically and nurses had a hard time pulling it back up. For twenty-four hours doctor after doctor warned us that this “abnormally large” baby would tear me to pieces, come out with broken shoulders, or die. Die. I got a spinal headache from the epidural that made me pass in and out of consciousness during actual delivery. The blood patch to fix the spinal headache failed.

Ben and I had never been so emotionally wrecked in our lives.

But thankfully, Elizabeth Grace came perfectly at 12:24pm, weighing at a not-so-abnormally-large 9.2 pounds.

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The spinal headache, however, continued on. Day after day I stared up at the ceiling, painfully unable to lift my head a mere ten degrees. Unable to look down at my baby. Hardly managing the excruciating pain of walking to the bathroom. Worst of all, though, was the fear.

What if I was the anomaly who never got better? What if I was the anomaly who went blind from the spinal fluid that I felt leaking into areas of my body it should never be? After all, I was that 1% who got a spinal headache and I was that 10% with a failed blood patch. Why not be that girl who went blind? Why not be that girl who tried the blood patch a second time and got paralyzed? Who never got better?

In the solitude of my sick bed, fears like this surrounded me, sucking away my hope and joy.

In desperation, I sent my first Facebook request asking for prayers, and wept to the ceiling as the responses flooded in. Prayers came. Calls came. Texts came. People came. So many wonderful meals came. And I got better.

I learned at least one deep lesson from everything: to never ever make light of the power of encouragement or the sweetness of community. We need each other. I tend to forget that when life is full and busy and I’m running around as a happy, healthy mom.

We need each other.

I will strive to remember others, whether by quick text or intricate deed, because I was changed by the kindness of others. I was given hope and love when I needed it most. And thatnot the to-do lists and dishes— is what life is really about.

                “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:34-40

                Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

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happy daddy!

 

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Sitting up a bit at about two weeks