Friday, March 28, 2008

Lessons Learned at "The Shack"

Wow! I recently finished one of the best pieces of Christian fiction I've read in a long time..."The Shack" by William P. Young. I'm not a big fiction reader, but this book is one of those rare life-changing gems.

I guarantee that this book will give you a new perspective about God, your relationship with Him, and provide answers to that ever-gnawing question, "If God is so loving, then why do bad things still happen?" Here's a brief glimpse at a few other lessons "The Shack" brought home:

1. God loves you more than you think...way more than you think. If we can get this concept through our thick heads, then life takes on a whole new meaning. It's hard to think sometimes that God really loves a screwup like me, but it's true. This book gave me a picture of that truth like nothing I've ever seen.

2. Life is about relationship – period. As Americans, we tend to strive too much to achieve goals, find success, and accumulate wealth. But, without relationship, none of that stuff matters. I was challenged to examine everything I do in the context of relationship. And, not just people, but seeing God more in my everyday relationship with Him.

3. Any pain you’ve experienced can always be redeemed. No if's, and's, or but's about it. Even if you've been victimized, abused, or rejected, there is redemption and healing available to you - if you want it. Actually, I've watched this principle come true throughout my life, but it's still hard to remember sometimes.

Alright, most of you know that this a marketing blog to help authors and speakers sell more books. So, besides the incredible spiritual lessons that I learned at "The Shack," let me also share some interesting publishing lessons as well:

1. Get your message out - even if other people (or publishers) reject it. Here's the amazing part - "The Shack" is self-published, and it's already sold over 300,000 copies in the first 9 months! (It's Amazon ranking is at #9 at the time of this blog post, and #44 on the CBA retail bestseller list!) Unbelievably, two Christian publishers turned this book down! Bet they're smacking their heads 'bout right now. So, what's the lesson? If you know you've written a message that makes people respond positively, don't let rejection stop you from moving forward.

I experienced this battle with my first book seven years ago. I knew I had something to say that would help people, but I was a "no-name." So, I had to do it myself and start by self-publishing. (I don't recommend self-publishing for everyone, but it's better than a dream dying.) Later on, I got picked up by a great publisher, and the rest is history. But, there were many days early on when I felt like quitting. When you hit those tough spots, don't let the passion for your message die out. God still makes miracles happen.

2. Write something unique that truly helps people. There seems to be too many books these days, especially fiction, that are just an outlet for someone's vain ego, or an attempt to heal their past pain by writing about it. I'm sorry, but that's selfish. If you don't have something to say that really makes people's lives better, then keep it to yourself.

There must be real value in your message in order for it to be marketable. Sure, entertainment provides value. But, go deeper than that, and show your readers redemption, wisdom, inspiration, or advice that improves the condition of their lives. This leads me to my next point...

3. Word-of-mouth is the Key. If you want to sell a lot of books someday, then you've got to create a message good enough to generate strong word-of-mouth. For example, I had two friends urge me to read "The Shack," and I've already bought 5 copies to give away to family and friends.

Word-of-mouth only happens if readers feel like you made their life better. What's a great way to determine if your message has word-of-mouth power? Create several focus groups of people who are willing to give you their honest feedback. I'm not talking about friends and relatives who will tickle your ears. I'm talking about people who've got nothing to lose if they tell you the hard truth. Find those kinds of folks, and give your message a real test.

According to the author, "The Shack" was never intended to be a book. He just wanted to create a good story for his kids. But, when he let a few people view the manuscript, they couldn't keep it to themselves.

If you can't generate serious "buzz" among your focus groups, then you've got to go back to the drawing board. However, if you can get people who barely know you to voluntarily express a desire to tell others about your message, then you're on to something good. Find out what makes your focus group readers excited, and really build on those points.

So, I'm back from "The Shack," and thankful for the lessons learned. I hope they encouraged you as much as me. If you need your own visit to "The Shack", click here.


Kristi Holl said...

What an inspiring story! I heard of The Shack from several people at a recent conference, and now after your extensive review, I have to read it! Thanks.

carebear said...

I just read The Shack and found myself crying through most of the last few chapters.

Having said that let me qualify it by saying there is much erroneous in Young's writings which shows an obvious foray into Universalism. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to base context and characters of a story on figures we all know only and exclusively through the Bible and then totally disavow much of what else is written in that book.

Either the figures in the Bible are real and factual and therefore the premise in the book is also real and factual, or it is all false together. For Mr. Young to give us the Jesus of the Bible and then undermine much of what he said is disingenuous. There is a danger here for those not fully grounded in the truths of the Word.

But, those grounded and sure of their understandings of the gospel will be able to find the pearls in this lovely story as there is much good to be found. I came away much more devoted to the desire to serve and love and devote my whole self to the relationships in my life which all too often take backseat to the front seat prestige given the cares of the world. It was emotional for me to be reminded of how completely and unreservedly I am loved by my Father and Jesus Christ, and how the Spirit binds me to them. That and more was worth the cost of the book and made mucking through Young's fallacious and esoteric theology worth it.

C. S. Lakin said...

I haven't read this yet, but affter reading how unchristian this book appears, I am hesitatnt. Care to respond?

CS Lakin

Rob Eagar said...

As they say, "Don't judge a book by its cover." So, don't disregard a book based on others comments until you've read it for yourself. There's a reason why it's sold over 1 million copies. said...

I have to say that "The Shack" by William P. Young was a very thought provoking read.

After reading the book, I was left pondering several things about it – which is a true testament to the book's worth. I had several questions on the validity of some of the descriptions of God but I had to humbly admit that there may be no answers this side of heaven for how God presents Himself to each individual.

I posted a more in-depth review of this book on my own blog