I suppose it’s appropriate that this post has a title that contains several questions, since the book itself opens with a chapter called “The Importance of Questions.” The answers to the (six) questions posed by the title could take the space of another book, but I will try to compress a bit.
As all writers know, writing a book and getting it published are two entirely different things. I don’t have a terribly clear answer as to why I began “writing” this book, other than I have always loved writing (this is not my first book) and at some point I thought it would be good to put many of my thoughts about science and my growing Christian faith on (what has now become metaphorical) paper. I put the word writing in quotes in the previous sentence, because what turned into this book began about a decade ago with putting together a bunch of paragraphs and snippets from earlier writings. From then until my retirement in 2015, the book grew slowly as I added more material, moved stuff around, and began thinking about what I really wanted to say.
With advice and help from my wife (more about her below), I started working on the book in earnest after retirement. I started constructing chapters, threw out a lot, and tried to develop some themes and consistency.
A couple of years later, in the summer of 2017, I began showing the chapters to my wife, Aniko. Although not a native speaker, she is an expert linguist, writer, and editor in English, as well as a brilliant researcher (which is the only reason that some of my initial errors in the science part of the book were corrected). She began to edit the chapters as I finished what I thought was the final version (Ha!). I had another reader/editor, a friend from my church, Mark Meredith, the husband of our pastor (Pastor Martha Meredith wrote one of the endorsements of the book). Mark was and remains a huge supporter of the book and is also a skilled editor with a slightly different perspective on some of the material that either Aniko or I had. During the late summer and fall of 2017, I was sending chapters to Mark, and then giving those edited pages to Aniko for the (as we began calling them, somewhat prematurely) the “final final” versions.
In late 2017, I began to think about the terrifying process of seeing if I could find some way to get the book published. My initial thought had been self-publishing, based on a realistic appraisal of the chances of any new, unknown author finding a publisher or an agent. Those odds have been estimated at around 1%, but I decided to at least give it a try before going the self-publishing route. I found a list of Christian literary agents and began writing proposals. From my experience as a research scientist and then an administrator of the review of research proposals at the NIH, I had learned the most important thing about writing proposals: FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS!!!
This meant writing a different proposal for each agency, since, of course, they all have different requirements for what to include and how. One size definitely does not fit all, and the chance that an agent will even look at a book proposal, which is already quite low, drops to zero if the supplicant does not follow the submission guidelines precisely.
So I wrote about a half dozen different proposals and sent them out in two batches. The first batch of three got one reply: “Thank you—this looks interesting, but I cannot take it on.” I focused on the “interesting” part and was encouraged. The next set of three included one to an agent at the Steve Laube Agency, which everyone on the internet seemed to agree was the best Christian literary agency in the country. I sent the proposal to Dan Balow, a relative newcomer to the agency who specialized in non-fiction, and whose blog I liked. Yes, when pitching to an agent, learn who they are, and what they want. It’s worth the time and effort. At least it was in my case, because on January 16, 2018, I got a reply from Dan telling me he found the proposal interesting—and could we talk on the phone the next day?
I was stunned, flabbergasted, amazed, grateful, and totally euphoric. (Aniko sometimes says I am prone to what she calls Syperbole—I don’t know where she gets that idea.) The next day Dan and I had a great conversation, and he became my agent. We quickly finished the final edits on the final chapters, sent him a full manuscript, and began the next phase of the publication adventure—waiting for news.