Be a Professional. Don't Get Left Behind.

I was driving through Louisiana this week on my way to a funeral, trolling radio stations that kept fading in and fading out and changing from country music to rap, from conservative talk shows to air sucking preachers with almost every passing mile. The one clear channel I found was a religious station where the hosts, two counselors, were interviewing Jerry Jenkins.

He’s a writer.

He’s a very good writer.

He’s a very successful writer.

Jerry Jenkins

He and Tim LaHaye created and engineered the famed “Left Behind” series based on a world struggling to survive during and after the rapture, the return of Christ. In doing so, they triggered a brand new approach and appreciation for real Christian fiction. No longer did it have to be interwoven with devotionals. No longer did it have to be smitten with heavy doses of a fundamentalist denomination.

Now novels could be real fiction with real plots and real characters, and a whole new breed of Christian fiction writers began churning out murder mysteries, complete with serial killers, thrillers, complete with assassinations, and books about almost any kind of crime within the intriguing confines of Amish communities. Romance? Sure, as long as we didn’t go behind closed doors once they were slammed shut. There is even at least one good, solid Christian novel with a vampire running amuck.

Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, in 2005, were ranked ninth on Amazon’s tenth anniversary Hall of Fame Authors, based on the number of books sold at during the decade. Sixteen books written by Jerry Jenkins have reached the New York Times bestseller list, and the “Left Behind” series of twelve novels have sold more than sixty million copies.

When Jenkins speaks. I listen.

He points out one single problem created by the plethora of authors turning out a plethora of books these days.  So many people, he says, believe that if they can write a complete sentence, they can write a book.

He was once visiting with a counselor who told him, “When I have the time, I think I’ll try my hand at writing.”

Jenkins smiled.

“That’s great,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to help people. Maybe I can start counseling them like you do.”

The counselor frowned. “But you can’t do this job without the proper training,” he said.

Jenkins raised his eyebrows. “Oh,” he said, “so let me see if I’ve got this straight. I need training to do what you do, but all you need in order to do what I do is a little spare time.”

It doesn’t work that way, he said. Good writers train for their profession. They read a lot. They journal a lot. They blog a lot. They study other writers. They take as many writing classes as they can and take advantage of every writing conference they can attend.”

Writing is indeed a profession. It needs professionals.

Amateurs need not apply.

What’s the difference? He told the story of Red Adair, who gained fame around the world by taking his team into the most difficult of places, fighting raging infernos, and extinguishing giant oil well blowouts. Adair charged a million dollars just to show up. Then the cost really began to skyrocket.

He was once criticized for charging so much money for his services. Adair simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “If you think it’s costly to hire a professional, you should see how much it’s gonna cost you to hire an amateur.”

The fire might burn until there’s no oil left to burn. And at a hundred dollars a barrel, a fortune could be lost by amateurs messing around with water buckets and hoses spouting foam.

A professional writer has an outside chance for success. Amateurs, unless they are born with literary genius, and some are, face an even longer and more difficult struggle.

The host finally asked the question I knew would ultimately be asked.  All I had to do was wait. “What do you think about self-publishing?” Jenkins was asked.

I have read about so many big-name authors denigrating independent writers that his answer surprised me.

“Until a year or so ago,” he said, “I firmly believed that writers should work with agents and a publishing house that would pay them for their book. I don’t believe that anymore.”

“Why not?”

“In today’s publishing world,” Jenkins said, “it is so hard and practically impossible to find a good agent, much less a good publisher. A writer simply has too many odds against him. If he has a good book, I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be self published.”

Don’t trust an agent, he said. Don’t trust a publishing house. Bookstores are closing. There is only one critic that counts. “The readers will tell you if your work is any good,” Jenkins said. “If they buy it, you have a good book.”

Then again, he said, that’s the way it’s always been.

Caleb Pirtle III is author of the Christian thriller, Golgotha Connection.

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