“Does this mean you won’t be commissioning any more study guides for a while?”
It was six days before Christmas 2011. I’d finally connected by phone with the editor at InterVarsity Press (IVP) who would now be overseeing the series of guides I was writing. Biblica had decided to concentrate on what it identified as its “core competencies”—Bible publication, Bible translation, and Bible engagement—and so it had shut down its book publishing operation and transferred all of its titles to IVP. By this point Biblica had contracted with me for 14 guides. They had been planning to commission 11 more. But something about the way my new editor was talking made me realize I’d better ask IVP about their plans directly.
The answer was, no more guides for now. As a not-for-profit Bible society, Biblica could afford to create resources in the hopes that people would find them useful, particularly since their work was underwritten by donors’ gifts. IVP, a for-profit publishing house, needed to see a certain level of sales, which we hadn’t reached yet, to justify commissioning further guides. In other words, the income I’d been counting on for the next two years had just evaporated. Merry Christmas.
We were scheduled to leave in a couple of days for a two-week holiday trip that included a family wedding, so there wasn’t much I could do about this until we got back. But in the new year I started contacting all the people I could think of who might give me work writing or editing. I got two small nibbles. For one job I eventually earned $500 and for the other $750. This wasn’t going to support us through 2013.
Towards the end of January I wrote in my journal that I was “slowly sinking into a funk” because I’d “run out of leads to pursue.” But now that I truly had done all I could, a cluster of gifts arrived. Some were from friends who had already been supporting us from time to time in our work with Grad IV, though they had no idea of our new circumstances. Other gifts were downright mysterious.
We received an envelope in the mail from people whose names we didn’t recognize. It contained a supermarket cashier’s check that was for a generous amount, but which bore no personal information. It took some creative internet sleuthing based on the envelope’s return address to track down who had sent us this gift. It was from some relatives of a friend of ours. We’d only met these relatives once, years before at our friend’s wedding. Nevertheless, God put us on their hearts, and they responded generously.
Gifts like these took the financial pressure off while we got our new bearings. Then freelance jobs started coming in.
In February, a doctoral student at Michigan State asked me to edit his dissertation. (This was above-board and acceptable in his discipline, where what mattered was the data and analysis, not particularly the writing. I’d heard of students in similar departments being told by their dissertation committees, “Why don’t you give this to an editor?”) He and his committee liked my work. He gave me more and also referred me to other students. Eventually I got referrals from those referrals.
In March a friend put me in touch with a university literally on the other side of the world that was responsible for its country’s submissions to various international conferences. Their papers were typically written in parts by different authors whose first language was not English. Creating a unified whole in a consistent style was a challenge, but I told myself, “Never complain about having work, even if the work is difficult.” This university became a repeat client.
In April a contact at Biblica asked me if I could come to Colorado Springs for a two-day consultation that would have a bit of follow-up afterwards. They were moving towards using XML (Extensible Markup Language) to publish their editions of the NIV. They were hoping this would model the use of this simple but powerful tool for translation teams around the world. Biblica wanted me to facilitate the conversation between their IT specialists and the people who worked with those teams because I was familiar with HTML (a similar markup language) and had done translation. The “bit of follow-up” kept expanding as the project, perhaps inevitably, reached into more and more areas of Biblica’s portfolio. This XML consultation ultimately “extended” over two years.
In May a large church in town contacted me to see if I would adapt a commercial curriculum each month to suit the particular needs of their middle school teachers and classes. And later in the year I started getting freelance editing assignments from a Christian publishing company.
The study guides had been a joy and a privilege to write. I woke up every morning excited about getting right back to work on the latest one. But the only way I’d been able to meet their deadlines, which loomed relentlessly every eight weeks, and still have time for our student ministry was to maintain a fixed and demanding daily schedule of research and writing. My new work was flexible in terms of when it could be done during the day, and for much of it I could negotiate due dates with clients. I had no idea that I would soon need to make Priscilla’s care my first priority and fit my work in around that. I could never have done this if I’d still been writing the guides. But God knew what was coming and gave me a new kind of work for a new season of life.
I’ve just looked over my financial records for those years and done a quick calculation. It turns out that from these new sources of freelance work, I eventually earned 98.5% of the amount I would have been paid if I’d been contracted to write the remaining study guides.