Lesson Learned (Finally)


Photo by Rod Wagoner

Last weekend, I headed out to Chincoteague Island—a beautiful little place on Virginia’s eastern shore—to help my dad with an event. I made an attractive flyer and figured I’d take along a few of my books to sell—after all, these folks knew me. Well, sort of. They’d seen me once or twice a year for a decade or two. But they know my dad and they know my brother, and a lot of them even know my son—all three widely popular square dance callers.  (We are an interesting family.)  Certainly, the dancers at this annual event would be excited for me and wildly fascinated by my new book. Right?

It was reasonably priced at $9.95, so I came prepared with fives and tens for all those twenties folks were sure to hand me. And I had plenty of nickels. I wanted to give change. Professional writers shouldn’t be accepting tips.

So I set up my books and my flyers there at the registration table among the door prizes and the candy jar game before going to work checking in the dancers and handing out program books, all the while managing to keep an eye on my display in my peripheral vision. There was the lady who picked it up and read almost half standing there at the registration table. Do you really read half a book if you’re not enjoying it? But she didn’t buy a copy.

And then someone else read a few pages and told me she didn’t know I was such a good writer, along with a few other highly complimentary things that would have meant a whole lot more if she’d bought a book. But she didn’t.

When Dad or my brother, Matt, announced I had a book for sale, the spectators and everyone on the dance floor broke into loud applause and cheered like I had won the Nobel prize. And I was hopeful.

But by the end of the first night I had sold two books. Yep, two.

We spent a good part of Saturday walking around the lovely island, shopping, enjoying the incredible weather … and I had sort of an epiphany:  I had played it safe. Or thought I was, anyway.

I had only brought 15 books with me. In the back of my mind I was certain I could sell that many. Better to take a few and sell out, than take a boxful and bring a lot home. I wanted to feel good, and it would feel good to sell them all. Come home empty handed. To have to hand the latecomers my little flyer, point to my website address, and say, “I’m so sorry. I’ve run out. I should have brought more. But you can order one here … “

I had been protecting myself.  I didn’t have the confidence to bring a big stack and pile them on the table. I played it safe.  And it burned me.

Right there, Saturday afternoon in the Chincoteague sunshine, I repented for my lack of faith. I promised that, given another opportunity, I would step out there more boldly, and do my part, trusting God to do His part … whatever that might be.   

It would be such fun to be able to tell you that I went back to the conference center that night and sold the rest of my books. But that’s not what happened.  I sold three more that night bringing my book sales to a grand total of five. 

Though I wouldn’t be selling any more books, the weekend wasn’t over. I would be speaking at the devotional service Sunday morning.  I was a bit more nervous than usual, because I’d been working on my notes for six weeks, and I just couldn’t get them to gel. I had a string of thoughts that had no point. Before leaving for Chincoteague Friday morning, I had been pretty sure the beginning of my devotional was somewhere in the middle, and I had no ending. I made a few revisions before I gave up and printed out what I had.

But I was determined not to play it safe again. I was not going to be timid. And I was not going to start off by apologizing and saying my notes were a mess (though I was convinced they were). I was going to do my part (step out there, open my mouth boldly, and do the best I could) and trust the Lord to do His part—whatever He chose that to be. I knew I was not alone. He said He would never leave me nor forsake me, and I held on to that promise.

So I only sold five books. But on Sunday morning my scattered notes came together, my eyes skipping over the parts I didn’t need, words to fill the holes popped into my mind … confidence I didn’t know I had was reflected in the strength and assurance of my voice … and it seems there was a point (and a decent conclusion!) to my devotional after all.

Funny thing, one of my points was about how often we make God our Plan A … and we figure out a Plan B just in case He doesn’t come through for us. I said God doesn’t want to be our Plan A — He wants to be The Plan. Jesus said to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls, all our strength. “All” doesn’t leave room for anything else, especially not a Plan B.

While it’s true I might have sold more books if I’d paid attention to my own notes, I think the lesson was more valuable than a few dollars in my pocket.    


Lesson Learned (Finally) — 9 Comments

  1. Oh keep trying it will sell with the economy the way it is right now the arts are the first thing people have to cut out no matter how much they want to buy it. You are a great writer and keep knowing that and it will happen. Hug B

  2. Thanks, Ed. Remember the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies where they would look at each other and say, “Hey! Let’s put on a show!” What do you think about the KPC Writers Group getting together and writing a book? Oh, yeah–we’re doing that! Now that will be worth reading!

  3. I thought of that. I almost leaped on people, wanting to tell them that it’s not a book about racing per se, but a book about friendship, about relationship, about loss–about things everyone can relate to … but I didn’t have the nerve. And I just didn’t have anyone who could do it for me. I have to step up and not be so timid when it comes to my own stuff!

  4. I might be wrong but I think that a lot of people believe that if a book is not in “Barnes and Noble” or some such that it just isn’t worth the time to read it. However, there are tons of books in Barnes and Noble that would (in my mind) only be good for starting fires or a poor substitute for paper normally used for hygienic purposes. Hang in there, Ev!

  5. I wonder if the table had been tended, would it have made a difference? I’m reminded of the sisters who spoke at writers group, one signed her books and her sister pointed people in that direction.

  6. As I read along I wanted it to end with the books all sold – but then – I had to smile, for I believe that God is not so interested in selling your books as He is in forming and fashioning the “writer” He has called you to be.