King David said those words when a man named Araunah tried to give him the threshing floor on which God had commanded David to build an altar. (I won't get into all the details of the story. If you're interested, read it for yourself in 2 Samuel 24. It's actually a fascinating glimpse into free will, God's sovereignty, and man's responsibility for his choices and actions even when God moves him to make them. No tension there. Have fun!) David wouldn't accept Araunah's offer. He insisted on paying the full price for everything he needed to present a sacrifice to the Lord.
As many of you already know, after much prayer, counsel, and careful research, I felt convinced that I should self-publish Parting the Waters. I acted on that decision a couple of years ago, and I still believe it was the right choice, but there have been (and continue to be) times when I've had to remind myself that this particular book is not about business. I may never recover my investment, let alone make a dime.
Early on in the process, I adopted David's words as my mantra. Yesterday when my quarterly distribution report arrived, I had to repeat them to myself again.
Even if you don't know much about self-publishing, common sense indicates that the author will be responsible to cover all the initial expenses otherwise handled by a royalty publishing house. For a quality product from a reputable publisher, this means a significant investment. Then there are the ongoing expenses involved after the book releases. The author also pays for those. Warehousing, distribution, advertising, etc. For most of my book's first year, sales covered expenses and I came out ahead. It still bothered me that hundreds of dollars of profit went back into expenses every quarter, but at least I was coming out in the black, chipping away at the initial stakes.
Then I received my first bill. Expenses exceeded sales, and I had to write a check.
Let me just pause here and say that I love everyone who works at WinePress. They're wonderful, professional people. Every potential expense is mentioned in the contract. They only charge for work they do, and they do a fantastic job.
But still. It bugged me no end that copies of my book were selling, but I wasn't seeing any of that profit. They were getting it all and then some. All of this grated against me big time until I took an honest look at my own heart.
In reality, I wasn't upset about the money. When I said the book wasn't about business, I meant it. God provided the funds to publish the book, and God provides the funds to pay for distribution. We never counted on this project to put food on the table or shoes on our feet. The money is God's, the story is God's, and He has full freedom to do with it whatever He wishes.
No, it wasn't the money. It was a much deeper problem. Even now, as I type these words, a little raincloud of self-pity keeps trying to park over my head. "Finances are one thing," it whispers. "What about all the time, the emotional energy, the careful editorial attention you poured into this book? Is it really fair that you're still paying out?" Then, all schizophrenic-like, lightning bolts of pride shoot into the mix. "Of course, you make most of your book profits when you speak," they boast. "Sales from the warehouse account for a small percentage of the actual total. Be sure to tell them that, so they won't think you're a complete loser."
Good gravy. Am I really this pathetic?
The truth? Not only have I not made a profit on the book, when you place ongoing expenses against all income, I'm still losing ground. And that's okay. It has to be. Any writer who claims a Master must be willing to work on His terms. Like the parable says, after a long day toiling in the fields, the servant comes in, gets cleaned up, and serves his Master's meal before he takes a single bite of his own. Nor is the Master expected to thank him. He has only done what was commanded.
My flesh squirms against the whole "we are unworthy servants" thing. It wants accolades, recognition, rewards. But then, once again following in David's footsteps, I go into the sanctuary of God. (Psalm 73) I remember that all I am, all I do, and all I have belongs to Him and exists to bring Him glory and pleasure. I'm not merely a servant, I'm a beloved child. Forgiven. Redeemed. He provides everything I need, and in His mercy denies the lusts of my vanity. The only reasonable response is to present myself, a living sacrifice, giving all, content to receive what He chooses for me with gratitude and joy.
In moments of clarity, I remember how much I love being able to share our story with other hurting people. I wrote it for them, and when I see God using it, I'm deeply humbled and honored. When I consider my costs against His, I'm ashamed of self-pity and pride. My sacrifice will never match His. My love pales in comparison. "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small." I could never offer anything worthy of Him. But at least there's one thing I can do.
I will not offer the LORD that which costs me nothing.
Jeanne Damoff knows she isn't the only one who struggles with these things. She would love to hear your thoughts. How do you balance business and ministry as a writer? When discouragement or frustration strikes, how do you find your way to joy again?