The story of a book


The journey of a book from idea to publication is always different and rarely straightforward. Each of my books have made their way into the world unexpectedly, but this last one has the best story of all because it has the most conflict. You need conflict for a good story.

I have wanted to write about the idea of home for a long time. It is a theme that’s been weaving in and out of my life since I was a child and I have a lot of things I want to say about it. Three years ago I put together a proposal. Scripture Union, who did God Hunting, Keeping Faith and Forty Days, shut down their book publishing arm, so I had to be brave and try and find someone else to take me on. I sent it first to IVP and then to Monarch. IVP turned it down on the basis that my proposed readership was too broad (can’t say I understand the reasoning there), and Monarch weren’t convinced they could make money on it. They had reason to be wary- Cheerful Madness didn’t do much for their finances.

While Monarch was still deliberating I was contacted by a commissioning editor from another publisher, Authentic, who’d caught wind I was shipping around a proposal. We had a meeting, and while she liked the idea of Home, she felt I would do better to stick to something I’d written on before and develop my brand more effectively. I’m sure it was good advice but the whole personal brand thing, along with the self-marketing it seemed necessary to do to get the next publishing contract, plus the fact I was burning to write about home sent me down a negative spiral. I got stuck in a loop of logic that went: I want to write= in order to write I must be a brand and promote myself= I don’t want to do that = therefore I can’t write. This conclusion was something of a crisis. If I wasn’t a writer, what was I? And what on earth was I going to do instead?

By this time, we had moved to Surbiton, and I was busy settling us in and working on various bits and pieces of writing and editing. The autumn went by fast, and just before Christmas in a totally unforeseen turn of events I found myself employed by the Leaders of Worship and Preachers Trust. The book-writing dilemma moved onto the back burner and I threw myself into growing the work and reputation of the charity. It was a huge relief not to be engaged in developing Jo Swinney Inc.

I’d known since we first came to visit our new church that the head of religious publishing for Hodder Faith was a member. Hodder seemed a very long way out of my reach and I was still giving serious thought to quitting the author thing. For the whole first year I never talked books with him, although Shawn and I went over for dinner with him and his wife and they came for dinner with us. That first summer we were at New Wine together and another member of our group brought up the subject of Christian publishing. Many questions were asked, and there was a lot of discussion, but what I remember Ian saying was that Hodder really believes in good books, that they should be published because they can change people and change the world, and that they don’t publish many but they invest heavily in the creation and sales of the ones they do. I felt almost sick with a longing to work with people who felt that way about books. As people started drifting away, I said, heart in my throat, that I didn’t suppose he’d want to hear my book idea. It turned out he did.

Two years later, I signed a contract. Those two years were spent thrashing around trying not to drown in my job. Any sooner and I wouldn’t have had the time or the emotional strength to take on a book. I am wary of throwing around references to God’s perfect timing. So often there is nothing perfect about life, timing or any other aspect of it. But this process, even the rocky parts, has had God’s fingerprints all over it, so I feel the need to acknowledge that, and express my gratitude.

Those of you who publish books will know what I mean when I say that writing is a beautiful privilege and a terrifying burden. I so nearly walked away in sheer cowardice. I’m glad, today at least and hopefully tomorrow, that I didn’t.

Photo credit: Florian Klauer,

3 thoughts on “The story of a book”

  1. David Bloomfield says:

    Once again another beautiful testimony as to how the Lord leads. Thank you.

  2. The Art of Steering says:

    Thank you that you don’t sell out to becoming brand ‘Jo Swinney’. You encourage me so much in your perseverance and belief that we can write out of a place of integrity and still be heard.

    1. joswinney says:

      Thank you lovely. You’ll have to alert me in a kind yet cruel manner if it seems like I’m slipping 🙂

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