The following is an AI-Generated transcript of today’s podcast episode. Let the typos give you hope for humanity.
The path to publishing success is not always smooth and easy. In fact, let’s be honest, it’s never smooth and easy for anyone ever. There are bumps and bruises along the way. Writing requires hard work. It often means sleepless nights and sometimes heart-wrenching disappointments.
But there’s also so much joy. God gives us joy, both in the successes and the failures. And yes, sometimes God allows us to go through the valley of death, but even there in that dark place, he is with us. And one thing that I found is helpful as we walk this journey is to hear from authors who are farther up the path who can tell us what’s up ahead.
Yes, hopefully, we learn from our own mistakes. our own victories, but there is a better way, and that is to learn from the victories and mistakes of someone else. Let someone else learn the hard lessons and let us get it the easy way. And joining us today is someone who’s experienced many bumps on the road , of her publishing journey and experienced many highs as well.
She’s the author of 37 books, including Bad Girls of the Bible. This series has sold over a million copies and she’s spoken at over 1, 800 conferences in all 50 states and in 15 different countries. Liz Curtis Higgs, welcome to the Christian Publishing Show.
Oh yeah, I have had a few bumps and lumps and happy to talk about them because the truth is we don’t usually learn from other people who do it right, we learn from the mistakes they make. , although , I’ll be honest, I still have to make the mistakes myself. I could sit and listen to a pro who’s been out there longer than me and I’d nod and I’d take notes and then I’d go make my own mistakes.
It’s okay friends, however you learn, it’s good.
That’s right. As my dad often told me when I was growing up, success is a poor teacher. So how did you get started in writing?
it’s funny. I was a radio personality for 10 years, about halfway through that radio career. I met Jesus and it changed everything. It didn’t change the station I was working on. It just changed the woman who was on the station. People always laughed and said, Liz, it became Christian radio. The minute you became a Christian, , and it was true.
I was blessed to be at places that let me talk gently about my faith. Let me do interviews with people like Amy Grant , and just kind of. Change the show, , if not the station. , but, because I had a wild and woolly testimony, , I was asked to share my testimony at my church, , in November of 1982.
I know, 41 years ago, like forever. I was a much younger woman. Not thinner, though, just to be for the record, but younger. And, , I was scared to death. I was used to being behind the microphone in a studio. Nobody looking at me. Didn’t matter how I was dressed or had makeup. None of that mattered.
Suddenly, I was going to stand up in front of my church. So, 500 people who knew me. And, many of them, I think, thought I was basically a good girl. That I came to the church and joined and la dee da. , some people, however, knew the truth. , and , that made for an interesting journey as I shared about maybe five or seven minutes, maybe one of the shortest speeches of my life.
And I told my whole, , guts to glory story. , scared to death, hadn’t eaten in three days. Oh, that I would be that scared to speak now. It would really help, but no, that’s not how it is. And, , people laughed and cried and then stood up at the end. Well. That was my first time to speak publicly and the first time to share my testimony.
And I went shaking back to my seat and my pastor said, Liz, I think this is what God has for you. And I said, No way, baby. I haven’t eaten in three days. This is not how we’re going to do this. But of course he was right. , Five different people who were not from our church were there, and they called me and said, Would you come share your story at our church? Well, I guess so. And so I began to speak. Still in radio full time, but speaking, , just when I could. Mother’s daughter banquets, youth things, whatever. , well, that kind of grew.
And church has invited me back and I said, y’all, I just have the one story, so I can’t, I can’t come back and tell the same story.
And so, then I began to develop material as a speaker. , and that grew to a point by 1987, I was speaking like 90 times a year, , and still trying to do full time radio. Oh, and I gave birth to my first child, something had to go.
So it was either going to be the speaking or the radio. And so I said goodbye to radio after having. Such a blessed 10 years in radio. , I walked away from that, which was nuts, because it was my full time job. I was the primary breadwinner. And in speaking, at that point, with 90 presentations, I had made a total of 5, 000.
90 presentat You can add that up. It’s not very much each. And, , so it was scary. It was a huge leap of faith. But I felt strongly called to become a speaker, and of course a mom, and that worked great because I could arrange my speaking, and most of it was local or regional, around my momming thing. So it worked, and a lot of times the kids went with me, so it worked great. ,
And this is all before you’ve written a single
I’d written a single book. Yep. .
So there’s two kinds of authors, and I want to point this out because this is a really important distinction to know which kind you are. They’re both totally legitimate. But there are speakers who write, and writers who speak. And so, somebody who spent five years Practicing on stage, honing their stories on stage, that’s a speaker who writes.
And the advantage of being a speaker who writes is that you get to test your material and see if your jokes are funny and see if your stories make sense and you get questions at the end and, you know, everybody is misunderstanding and they’re thinking you said some heretical thing and you’re like, no, I didn’t mean that at all.
And then the next time you clarify, you use your terms a little bit more carefully and then nobody has that problem and, you hone that way. Rather than the writer who speaks, who’s, , spending more time with editors, spending more time revising, , the book, , and , it’s a different process.
So I just want to clarify, there’s more than one path to publishing success, but this speaker who writes path is a very legitimate path. And, I can’t wait to hear what happens next.
well, and I thank you for that because you’re absolutely right. And for many years I thought of myself only as a speaker who writes. There was a shift a little bit down the way, but, , obviously I was doing by this point in my career, by 1992, about 120 presentations a year, , and real ones, big events and so forth.
Finally making some real money.
and God was kind, making some serious money , and such a blessing, , primarily, I have to say, in secular settings. So, associations and, , education, , lots in health care, some churches, , but mostly big arenas for big groups.
And what kind of topics were you talking on? Because I imagine it wasn’t just your
Oh, no, not at all. In fact, it was, I had to sneak the testimony in, , and I found lots of ways to do that. It was always really fun. , I would say to an audience, for example, , the woman standing before you today, , used to be quite a different person. In fact, I worked with Howard Stern, who told me to clean up my act.
Now that will get an audience’s attention if they’re at all familiar with Howard Stern. So then they would lean in and be like, wow, tell us more. So they’ve opened the door. It worked out really well. , and as of course in churches, I was being very open about my faith and teaching the word. , in secular settings, I was called a motivational humorist.
And so there it is. I brought motivation, which a lot of times segues to inspiration, which a lot of times can segue into scripture. And then I was funny. And humor, humor tears down a lot of walls of resistance. When you’re fun, , or sharing stories that have some humor to it, , people are just relaxed.
And I was always so relaxed, so they did too. A , bright woman once said to me, the audience feels what you feel. So if you feel relaxed, they do too. Can I just say, that’s also true with writing, that when you as a writer are relaxed in your voice, when you aren’t trying to impress, or, , get out of your area of knowledge, when you stick with what you know, and you share it in a way that is honest, and sometimes humorous, sometimes…
painful, but it’s real. , the reader relaxes too and lets you in. ,
I like to define voice as how you write when you’re not
oh, that’s so
When you’re just speaking and you’re not afraid of people criticizing you, and finding your voice, another way to saying that is finding your courage to just say what you actually think and put it on the
Right. So I had to find that voice on the platform, which made it easier to segue into that voice. on the page. In fact, people always say you write just like you speak. Good. That was the goal. That is the goal. , as I said,, lots of speaking and a publisher heard me and said, Do you mean to tell me you’re speaking to 120 groups a year, thousands of people, and you have no book in the back of the room?
I said, well, I’m working on one. They said, let’s see it. And I showed them the book I was working on. They said, that’s great. We’ll take that one and two more. , that is not the typical anything. I’m embarrassed to share that at writers conferences because it makes it sound so easy.
But it wasn’t easy. You spent 10 years building a platform, like the old school kind of platform, a speaking platform. And for somebody who has a large platform, it is that easy in the sense that publishers know regardless of whether you’re a good author or not, they can break even on an author with a big platform.
In fact, if your platform is big enough, they’ll pair you up with someone who can write.
If you’re the Prince of England, they’ll make it work.
Exactly. Well, and I think one of the things for me, cuz I was an English major in college, I was a writer, not a published writer, but I was, I had writing some writing abilities and some knowledge of how to put words together. , one of the dangers I think is that, is that, well, we’ll pair you up with somebody who’s a real writer.
I, they said that to me early on and I said, no, no. I can’t stand in front of an audience and talk about a book that I didn’t write. I can’t possibly do that. The ethics of that really just doesn’t work for me. Now, having said that, I know there are Christian authors who have writers that they co write with, they ghost write with.
Friends, this is not a judgment of that. I’m just telling you where. I’m coming from. I could not have slept at night if I had anybody else write my books. I’m very grateful for a great editor. Super grateful for input, but and happy to make changes. Always. They’re usually like 99% of the time. They’re right.
So I go with what they suggest, but I’ve got to get the material. My heart, my voice on the page. And so God in his goodness made me be a speaker first so that then I brought that expertise. And yes, that platform. Into that because remember this is way before social media. Oh, yeah, we didn’t have social media.
I didn’t even have email we had to send manuscripts on Floppy disks, right? So yeah, it was such a different world
Well, and going back to that word, platform, a lot of people don’t know where that term comes from. It comes from the Great Awakening. , when Jonathan Edwards or George, Whitefield would be giving a speech out in the open air, they would build a little wooden stage for him, a platform, so that his feet were at the eye level of all of the people, because they didn’t have amplification in those days.
And then they would put an angled roof behind him to reflect the sound waves out over the heads of the audience. So an unamplified George Whitefield could talk to 10, 000, 15, 000, 20, 000 people outside without amplification. And we believe this because, , Benjamin Franklin went because he didn’t believe that George Whitefield could speak to 20, 000 people.
He was a skeptic , and he’s a scientist. So he goes to a Whitfield presentation and then he starts doing the math of how many Whitfield could have spoken to if there had been more people there. In, , Franklin’s biography that he talks about. And the bigger the platform and the stronger the voice of the speaker, the more people that they could speak to.
So the original form of platform historically was speaking from a stage. Email, websites, social media, all of that. in the history of authors, very new, right? It’s public speaking, ? , Mark Twain going on a speaking tour in the 1870s to promote his book. This is a very old, , practice of public speaking to sell books.
Well my case I didn’t do public speaking to sell books. I did public speaking to encourage an audience. But then it made sense as people would come up to me and say, Well, do you have this in book form? Yes, I guess I need to do that. And so, as I said, Thomas Nelson came to me and said, We’ll take this book and two more.
, and that’s when I understood. Oh my word, it’s because I’m a speaker, not because I’m a writer. They don’t even know if I’m a writer yet. They haven’t read. The first page of what I’ve been writing a little scary, actually, and so I immediately realized I better get better at writing. So I started going to writers conferences immediately to get better as a writer and to get really serious about writing.
, and so I did them side by side. I’ve been writing and speaking for many, many years, , but there did come a shift for me and I’m trying to think of what year that would have been when I realized I was a writer who spoke probably around 2000 when Bad Girls of the Bible kind of Just, it was crazy.
I mean, all my books did well, but that one was crazy. , and the sales of it were so much more than my other books. , and here’s the difference. All the other books that came before it, Thomas, came from my messages. So I did it on the platform first, and then it became a message. But, Bad Girls of the Bible was the first non fiction I wrote that began as a book.
None of it had been on the platform.
So, so let’s go through that process, because that, I think a lot of people who are speaking are like, okay, so how did you turn a message, because I, I’ve got 20 talks I give around the country. How can I turn those, talks into books, right? So obviously you’re not just recording it and taking the transcript and handing it to an editor, , walk us through your process of turning a speech into a
So, I almost never write out like a whole transcript of a message. In fact, the worst speech I ever gave was one where I, I was being paid 500, which just seemed like moon, sun, stars, and a whole bunch more. , cause most of the, uh, events before that.
It was 25 and a chicken dinner. So wow, somebody’s gonna pay me 500. This better be an amazing speech. And so I wrote out every word. I got up there. I was a nervous wreck because of the money. Isn’t that funny? And I read the speech. I just read it. It was horrid. I’m lucky I ever got another booking after that one.
I really am fortunate. , so I only ever work with bullet point kind of notes when I speak. , however, when I’m practicing at home, I am filling in all the bullet points. So there’s still maybe a transcript up in my head, right? Of course, the difference there is you’ve got maybe a three hour retreat that you’re doing.
But now we need a whole book. We need 75 or 80, 000 words. , and it has to be, you’ve got to have a good table of contents. You’ve got to actually teach a lot. , and there’s no audience. Talking back to you. It means it’s just you and the words. So, , taking the message, I would create a table of contents that is like key to before you do anything else.
It’s also how, you know if you have a book, there’s some messages that I thought, oh, this would be a great book. And then you realize, no, it’s a message. There is not a table of contents here with 10 great content rich chapters. There just really isn’t.
Because a good table of contents is actually a marketing tool, right? Somebody picks up the book, for fiction, they typically start reading the story, but for nonfiction, often they turn to the table of contents and naming those chapters well, where you’re making promises. That people want what you’re promising, or you’re making them curious, and now they want to read the chapter to scratch that curiosity itch, , is really powerful.
And starting with the table of contents is actually a really solid strategy. And one I encourage all of you to copy for nonfiction, because As a marketer, I’m looking at that table of contents, and this is, often will even drive the marketing copy of, what promises you’re making on the back of the book are drawn from the promises that you’re making on the table of contents, and so that needs to be strong, , and if people aren’t excited about the TOC, they’re not going to be excited about
Nope, it’s all over. And first there’s the content of the table of contents, but there’s the actual chapter titles because the chapter titles are what let a reader know this is going to be a fun book. This is going to be a deep book. This is going to be a practical book. It’s in your titles for your TOC.
So they really matter. But first, just what are you going to write about? Just content. See what what you got there. And yeah, see if other people are interested in it. Sometimes a chapter title also will give you your book title. You’ll realize, Oh, that’s overarching. That’s going to cover the whole book.
So once I took that book. . Message that was one I loved sharing was called one size fits all and other fables became my first book. That was the exact title and here’s the other thing. If you start with the speech and you have a killer title for your speech, they’ll probably let you keep it for your book because you’re already speaking on it.
You’re already marketing it. You’re already promoting it. You already have audiences looking for that title. So my little secret of how to make sure I got to keep my titles is it was a speech title. So that would help, ,
Well, and it’s a market tested title because somebody says, Hey, Liz, we want you to speak, give us some topics that you speak on. Right. So you send them a list of topics and then they pick the one that resonates the most with them. And so event coordinators keep picking the same topic over and over again.
You’re like, aha, this one is a hit and a savvy publisher will know, okay, that one’s a hit and they’re not going to, if they’re savvy. Which you can’t take for granted the way, okay, this is a market tested title. We’re not going to mess with it, which is different from, Oh, I like it because my mother said this phrase to me when I was a small child.
I was like, yeah, but just cause it means something to you. It doesn’t mean it’s something means something to the reader.
And so, um, yeah, so love the titles and can we back up to one thing that you said about I have 20 things I speak about, , friend. You need three things, three. is the magic number. You can’t offer a particular audience or particular meeting planner more choices than three. It boggles their mind.
It’s too many. Plus, it means you’re getting all over the map. You’re getting very scattered. You need to look like a person who has one great message to share and two messages that grew from that, they have to see you as an expert in something, , and not just a speaker who has a ton of topics. So sorry, sidebar, but three is a beautiful number. Five isn’t bad either. I don’t know why odd numbers are better. They just are. I think that’s why Thomas Nelson said, we’ll take that book and two more because I had three topics that I spoke on, right? It just worked. It just worked. And the next two books were indeed the next two messages that I shared from the platform turned into books.
And I imagine the writing comes pretty quickly because you already have that, as you said, transcript in your head. And so you’ve worked through these phrases, you’ve worked through these words, and so the first draft, imagine, starts out pretty similar to the speech, but then as you revise it, you’re revising it In a somewhat different way, because normally when you revise a book, you’re subtracting.
, but for a speech, you’re actually revising it in a way where you’re bulking up. You’re adding anecdotes, you’re adding stories. And, another thing is, , when you give a speech, it’s a little bit different each time. Like, Jesus gives this story about a rich man going to a faraway country and all of the servants staying home and investing the money.
And you could tell he gave that speech a lot, because there’s different versions of it in the different Gospels. And you do that as a speaker, in some ways, just to keep it interesting for you. It can’t always be the same, or sometimes you swap out the examples, and so a one hour or. talk that you’ve been giving for a year, there may be in like alternate versions of that talk, two or three hours of total content and you’re selecting on the fly based off of audience reactions, which anecdotes.
But when you make the book version, you’ve got three hours potentially worth of content to start from. Then you’re
Right. You’re either bringing in other voices, books you’ve read, , obviously scripture, , and I never wanted to feel like I was bulking it up as in, oh, I got to hit this word count, but you do want to enhance, you want the book to be worthwhile.
, and the other thing I think has probably changed a lot. I’d be curious. You tell me, Thomas. What is the average length now of a non fiction book? What do they want?
So if you’re doing print on demand, the sweet spot is between 200 and 250 pages. Because the cost of the book scales linearly, or close to linearly, with the number of pages. And so the more pages you add, the more expensive the book is to produce. And it doesn’t increase the sales price enough, often, to justify it, if it’s print on demand.
And a lot of publishers rely on print on demand, especially for beginning authors. And so, if you come to them with a 300 page book for nonfiction, that’s too much thud. It’s too loud when it lands on the desk. And so, I think, shoot for that 200 page count for nonfiction for your… first book.
And if you’re like, but I have more to save in that, well, I have some good news. Write another book.
Exactly. Yeah, in fact, when I wrote Bad Girls of the Bible, um, I had twice as much material as was in the first book. And the first book was real close to 300 pages. But I had 10 women that I covered. I had another 10 I was writing about, and they literally said, Stop! This is long enough.
If it does well, then you’re ready to write. And I did. Really, Bad Girls of the Bible! But, you know, I, yeah, write less and, , less is, is truly more these days. But more typically, , especially in fiction, I always blew it out in fiction. And fiction is another story, Thomas.
So, this is fascinating though, because you’re both, you went through this transformation where for your early books, you’re a speaker who writes, you’re starting with audience tested material, which , feels very safe. Right, because you know that it works. , you know that the jokes are funny, and then you switch and basically learn a totally different approach to writing where you start with a blank page and material that you’ve never presented to an audience before.
Yeah. So how did you do that? How, how did you write Bad Girls of the Bible as a writer who speaks
So, by the way, once I did it that way, I did every book that way. That’s the only way I do it now is to start from scratch. , I always start with scripture. , I’m telling the story that’s in the Bible. So that was a big shift. I wasn’t doing topical books where you write your book and then find scripture that supported what you were saying.
I mean, I hate to say it that way, but that’s kind of how it was. , instead I’m starting with scripture. So , I put onto the screen. All the text that I’m going to cover. I look at it in 60 different English translations to look for nuances, so I’m not stuck with one translation. Then I’m going to look at all the commentaries.
Though first, before I even look in the commentaries, I look in my own heart and pray over the page. Literally say, Lord, what does this scripture make me think? What questions does it make me ask? How does it challenge my faith? This one verse, or this one phrase, or as people who know me well, this one word.
I’m now a teacher? I’m not a speaker anymore, but I’m a teacher and it’s hysterical. I taught Ephesians for 10 months. I am not kidding you. Do you know what the first word of Ephesians is? Paul. The first week of class, all I taught was Paul. That’s all I got covered. The second week, I got to the next, an apostle.
That was a whole hour of teaching. Crazy, right? , so, , no publisher would want to touch what I’m doing now. It’s like they’ll say, ooh, you did a study of Esther? It’s like, yeah, it was 10 months on Esther. 10 months on Ephesians. I just, I love to break it down. It’s, my son calls it a slow roll.
But that’s a teacher which is entirely different than a speaker. A speaker is a one shot. You got 40 minutes, baby. You better rock and roll. That 40 minutes better have an audience on their feet, either literally emotionally by the time you’re done. Teaching, whole different story.
Whole different story.
It’s funny, because going back to Benjamin Franklin, , that’s the very next thing he talked about, because after he listened to George Whitefield speak, he’s like, why is Whitefield so much better than my local pastor in my little church that I go to? , and so Franklin ponders it a little bit in his biography, and he’s like, well, Whitefield’s giving the same talk to a new audience.
multiple times a day for months and every turn of phrase is practiced everything is very polished whereas my pastor has to create a new talk every Sunday and it becomes a very different thing and it’s not fair to compare Whitfield’s really good polished one talk with my pastor has to get 52.
new talks, , every year. And I will say, the medium and the message, , some, , mediums lend themselves better to different kinds of messages, right? So, teaching a Sunday school class is a really good format for doing a 10 month study on something. Another thing that’s a good format, something you might consider, starting a podcast, right?
The Liz Curtis Hiddes podcast. And you do a season on the book of Esther, and you you spend a whole episode just on Paul. And the podcast listeners would be like. I want to hear that. And it’s not as polished as a book. It’s not as polished , as a presentation on the stage.
And it doesn’t have to be because it’s a different creature solving a different kind of
Correct. , the closest thing I’ve done to that is I do my studies. I teach them at church, and then I teach them on Facebook Live. So, that’s not like a podcast, though people can use it like a podcast. You can not bother to look at the screen, just listen to the audio.
We can peel that audio away and make it a real podcast.
is, this is a doable thing. Get your people to talk to my people. We’ll make
I have no people. This is what you have to get is I have no people. It’s just me.
I Think we better tell your listeners by the way when I say I’m teaching all the time I have made a big transition from being a full time speaker full time writer now I’m full time in ministry at my church here in Louisville, Kentucky where I live and so God has such a sense of humor that he would take me from a national, even an international ministry, to a local ministry.
Feels very backwards, like most people start locally and grow regionally and then go nationally and then internationally. For me… I love ministering in the local church. What’s a real giggle for me is sometimes I’ll teach a Sunday school class and somebody will come up afterwards and say, has anybody ever told you you’re a really good speaker?
It’s like, wow, thanks. I love that. I love I love not being on a platform. I’m just going to say that. I love not being on a national platform and just worrying about ministry. Just actually worrying about people and not having to worry about how many likes do I have on Facebook.
mean, that’s what happened with Jimmy Carter. From all accounts, he was much happier as a Sunday school teacher than he was as a president of the United States. So he spent decades teaching Sunday school after he retired. So he’d be there. Teaching Sunday school at his local church and the secret service are there watching.
that was his plan was to save the entire Secret Service. Love it. I love it.
Okay. So back to bad girls of the Bible. So you’re looking at this. You’re looking at this blank page. And you’re like, all right, I’m going to create something from scratch. Walk us through your new Liz Curtis Higgs 2. 0 I’m a writer now for reals approach to writing a
so, I literally throw into my Word document that I’m writing all the scripture, verse by verse, of what I’m teaching on. So, Bad Girls of the Bible, I think the first chapter I wrote, and understand, I sold that idea to Waterbrook Press over the phone. I called them up and said, would you be willing to publish a book called Bad Girls of the Bible?
There was a long silence on the other end. And then they said, send us a chapter. So at that point I had picked all the women, 20 of them, 10 of which ended up in the book. And think I did Potiphar’s wife. was the first one I wrote. So I put up the actual scripture on the screen. I quickly realized you’re not going to teach a verse at a time.
You’re going to teach a phrase at a time. So I’m breaking it down by phrases. Now I’m looking, as I said, at the other translations, and I’m literally putting into the document all the other translations that are have a little nuance difference just to Make it richer. That’s when then I stop and pray over it and put in all the Liz stuff, and I literally put the Liz stuff in red, so later I wouldn’t go back and think, where did that come from?
Was that a commentary? Was that something somebody else said? No, it was Liz in the red. So I didn’t have to go back and figure out where it came from, , then I look at the commentaries and I put all of that in, putting all the reference material so , now you’ve got a bunch of material. Now you’ve got… 30 pages, 40 pages of notes. And , now I’m going to go in and put Liz in there.
And now I’m going to tell the story. So I did the non fiction half. Just a reminder, , Bad Girls of the Bible, each chapter was opened with a contemporary fictional story based on the ancient biblical story. So, , Potiphar’s wife, I think I chose Mitzi for her name.
I put the story in Indianapolis, a town I knew well. , , anyway, so, , write the non fiction, feel good about that. Now we back up and I write the fiction based on the non fiction.
Each chapter was about six or seven thousand words. Yeah, about seven thousand words. Twenty five hundred of it would be the fictional opening story and then the other five thousand would be the non fiction.
Okay, so let me stop you right here. Because this is something I want you all to hear. Because this is a really good technique. Is that Liz created a structure or a template for a chapter. And then she copied and pasted that template across. All of the chapters. So you weren’t trying to figure out chapter 5, how should I open chapter 5?
You knew, oh, I’m opening with a fictional story. You still had to write the fictional story and do all of that work, but you weren’t restructuring every chapter. And this really makes… It makes the book more approachable for readers, but also I feel like makes it easier for you to read because once you’ve got a good chapter template, then you’ve basically got your outlining halfway done.
And now it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks.
and I’ve done that for every book since, where I had a format, , hopefully of my own creation, for every chapter. So , you have the, fictional open, the nonfiction, then I would have, , Questions worth considering. I can’t even remember what I called it. Something along those lines.
, there would be four points and then ten questions. , initially all of that came together when we went back and repackaged Bad Girls in 2013. , for the 15th year anniversary kind of a deal. , we pushed the questions all to the back of the book. Because it makes a better reading experience if you’re not leaping past questions.
anyway, , so we have the fiction, the nonfiction, the. Study questions and all of that next chapter is another bad girl. They each stand alone. Although the book has an overarching theme and there’s some connectivity, my intent was that people could use it as a Bible study right from jump because each week stands alone.
We all know in a 10 week Bible study, somebody’s going to be there. The first one, the fourth one, the seventh one, the 10th one. They’re not going to be there for all of them. And they didn’t need to be, because each week was a different woman. I didn’t realize when I created that how well that would work.
And so, you know, some, some things we stumble into and we find out they work and we step back and go, why did that work? Oh, right. They could use it as a Bible study. So that’s how she came together. , when I promoted the book, we created a bad girls tour. I did 30 cities in about four months.
I spoke in all of them, , I had to come back to churches and say, Would you mind if I spoke on bad girls of the Bible? I know you picked this other topic, but could we do bad girls of the Bible? And one of the first churches said, But what would we use as the centerpieces? They were really concerned about that, right? Some of them figured out exactly what to use. I had churches had so much fun with bad girls. They still do. I mean, the book’s been out, 24 years. Later, that’s still my biggest seller, Thomas. It’s still my biggest seller. That book alone has sold a million copies. , it’s still my biggest seller.
It’s still the one that people will call me and say, We’re doing your book. I don’t have to ask them which book. I know. Right? , so, it’s been fun. And, I don’t know how many of those you get in a career. I will tell you, I am so grateful it wasn’t my first book. Because you would have that hanging over your head forever.
When are you going to write another Bad Girls, you know?
When someone becomes famous overnight, or they’re thrust into the spotlight, it is psychologically damaging. And I got to experience this. , I wrote my viral blog post and suddenly I was the talk of the town of the infamous, you know, haters and lovers and in the middle of a little firestorm.
And then I see about internet firestorms is that they’re, they blaze hot and they don’t blaze long. So now nobody remembers, right? The conversation has moved on. , but. If I hadn’t have already done some things in the public eye, that would have been far more traumatic than it was, and it was still traumatic, and you can build up the ability to handle it, to handle the criticism, to handle the praise, which is often harder to handle than the criticism, because it can mess you up, and you can start to get it.
, weirded out. And if you’re not getting as much praise this month as you were getting last month, you know, are you, are things falling down? Am I a terrible person? And I, now I need that validation from my fans in order to keep going. , it’s complicated emotionally to navigate that. And it’s difficult as a Christian, , because God is a jealous God and He will humble you if you start stealing His glory.
You see this a lot , of people who fly too close to the sun. So to speak. And they were, they’re doing good things, but they’re like that, , righteous king of Judah who did all these great things. But then he’s like, and now I’m going to go offer incense in the temple because I’m just that awesome. And they’re like, Oh, don’t do it.
And he dies in leprosy, right? Don’t be that guy whose name, of course, I can’t remember. Uh, but maybe that’s the point,
That is the point. Yep.
yeah, so, , you may. , resent your obscurity right now, right? You’re, you’re working really hard and you’re writing these books and their base hits and you’re like, when can I have my home run?
And it may be the mercy of almighty God that you haven’t had your home run yet because you’re not ready for it. , and you may never be ready for it, right? That kind of attention is not necessarily good, right? It’s hard on your family, right? When suddenly everyone’s talking to your kids about that book that their mom wrote, and do you really agree with what your mom said?
And your kid’s 12 years old, like, I don’t know if I, yeah, I agree with it. Was it bad, right? Like, that’s weird. That’s complicated. You got, your whole family’s got to get to a place where they can handle that. , and some people have the grace for that and some people don’t. And so don’t, , resent God for not giving you the fame that you think you deserve. Because he loves you more than you think. And he loves you enough to keep you safe from something that he knows that you can’t handle.
right. It’s really true. You can go right ahead and preach that. I’ve never seen myself as famous or top of the heap or a list or any of that, but I have been grateful for the things God has done and I’ve been grateful for the things he hasn’t done. My favorite book of any book I’ve ever written is not one of my big sellers.
I’m trying to think of it ever even Did it earn out its advance? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure. But, never went into multiple, multiple printings. ..
What book is it? You gotta tell us the title of the book.
Embrace grace. Welcome to the Forgiven Life. It’s my favorite subtitle. Welcome to the Forgiven Life. It is the book that I begged my publisher, I said, when I am gone and everything is out of print, just keep printing that little book.
Because I’ve gotten so many letters about how it is ministered to people. Even if it was a small book in sales, a small book in size, a small book in length, it was a total book of my heart. And you talk about a book that I wrote. fast. I think I knocked that book out in, I don’t know, two weeks. That is not typical for me.
I take months and months and months and months, usually a year. But that little guy, that was so from the heart and full of scripture. I mean, that’s why it’s my favorite book. It’s full of scripture. So sometimes a book when people come up to me like and say, Hey, This book so spoke to my heart.
I can look at that person in the eye and say, I wrote it for you. I mean, really for you. Yep. So, you know, I’ve 37 books. You’re going to have some that were home runs and some that were base hits and some that were a fly ball that went somewhere else altogether. It’s okay. It’s really okay. , God will do with your book what God will do with your book.
And we do our part. Yes, we do. We do the marketing. We do the word of mouth. We visit the bookstores. We do all the things we do. But in the end, when they always say the first printing is a marketing printing, the second printing tells you that the book has legs. And the 20th printing tells you has a long tail.
That’s right, because it’s the second printing where the profit tends to be. So, to , put on our business hats for just a moment. Many of the costs of producing a book are fixed costs, not connected to the number of copies that are printed. So the cover design is a fixed cost, the editing costs are a fixed cost, the labor that the author put into the writing of the book is a fixed cost.
And so, the more books you sell, the more you can, here’s our one business word for the episode, amortize, that cost over more copies, right?
Because if you have 5, 000 worth of editing costs, and you sell one copy of the book, that copy costs 5, 000 to edit. But if you sell 5, 000 copies of the book, each copy costs 1 to edit. And if you sell 50, 000 copies of the book, suddenly you’re at what, 10 cents of editing costs, right? And suddenly it becomes very, very inexpensive.
And so earning out your first printing, going into multiple printings, the economics of publishing shift around and it’s why publishers really prefer to work with books that are selling a whole lot because their margins are
Yep. Yep, and they are allowed to be a business. , sometimes Christian publishers would have to like justify, look, we have to actually make money to keep our doors open. So as much as we’d love to publish your book, we’re not, it’s, we’re going to lose money, you know? And so bless them.
Can you imagine a Christian, any other kind of business being like that? It’s like a Christian plumber is coming over, like, I gotta feed my family, I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to charge you. Like, of course you’re gonna have to charge me, you’re a plumber. This is a valuable service that you’re doing.
right, right, right, exactly.
What would you say was the biggest challenge that you faced? , so take us through some of your valleys of the shadow of death in your career.
Wow, you know, I’ve been so grateful for The support of people who believed in what I was doing and I’m so grateful that God is Prevented me from doing stupid things on several occasions. Now, there were a few that he just went right ahead and let me do.
let’s talk about another book of mine, and it did not sell well. It didn’t come close to earning back its advance. Not even close, and it’s now out of print, which is not true. A lot of my books are still in print. This one is history. Why is that? I hate to be unkind, but this guy’s not publishing anymore.
So it’s okay. But , the head of the company came to me and said, you know, what kind of books I love? I love armchair travel. Couldn’t you do a book of armchair travel based on all those trips you made to Scotland to do research for your novels? And, , I’m like, well, I do have. I have tons of notes, and I’ve been to tons of places in Scotland, and making it an armchair travel, yeah, that’d be really fun.
Sure, I could write that. Now, why was that not a good idea? You go into any Christian bookstore and ask them for their armchair travel section.
There is none. There is none. Furthermore, by that point, I had written… Four novels. So when this fifth book came out, what it looked like was another novel. Even though it didn’t have a title that said that, I had lots of my novel readers who were so excited that Liz had a new novel out, and bought it and said, what was that?
When I did book signings, we couldn’t help people sort out what it was. It was a fiasco. What was the problem there? Well, the problem was, I shouldn’t have listened to my publisher. And I know that sounds stupid. It sounds counterintuitive not to listen to your publisher. But by that point, I’d had a lot of books out, and I should have said, I am so glad you love books like that.
I’ve never written a book like that. Christian bookstores don’t have a shelf for that. This will not do well. But I didn’t have the courage to say that, and I let my ego. I could write anything, couldn’t I? No, I could not write a best selling armchair travel book. For that matter, armchair travel in a secular store, a general market store, doesn’t really sell that well.
It’s not the upfront section, right? So, I learned a hard one on that.
Yeah, and the great lesson there that I think we all need to hear is that , you’re responsible for protecting your own brand. No one understands your brand like you do. And there is a thing that could be a good idea. Armchair travel is kind of an extreme example, because it, you know, was probably a bad idea for everyone.
But, but, I wouldn’t be surprised if some Christian traveler is able to make armchair travel work. And that’s their brand, and they travel, and they do TikToks of them in exotic places, sharing the gospel with exotic people, or whatever. But, that’s not, , compatible with the brand that you have. And the fact that people were confusing it for your fiction, as a marketer, that’s a big red flag.
Because… A brand is a promise. You’re making a promise that a book with Liz Curtis Higgs on the cover, you can expect certain things. And what they expect is that this book is going to be like the other books that they’ve read, right? It means something, right? Last time I went to Starbucks, it tasted like coffee.
And this time I went to Starbucks, it better taste like coffee, right? And it better taste like Starbucks coffee, right? They have that expectation based off of past experience. And when You give them something that’s not that it’s very risky like just doing fiction It was a bit of a risk and I feel like bad girls of the Bible was a perfect segue book because by opening a nonfiction chapter with a fiction anecdote It allowed you to demonstrate your fiction bona fides.
, and give people a taste without having to buy in. And so then like, Oh, a little bit of perfection wasn’t so bad. Maybe a little bit more, we’ll be a little bit better. But, , shifting again back to nonfiction, but not your normal nonfiction, it’s too broad. This is a mistake a lot of beginning authors make, is that they want to write all the kinds of books.
And they don’t want to hear that focusing is what they need to do. And focusing is almost always the path to success, commercial success, is to do less and do
Yep. Do less, do it better. So, when I look back at all my years of writing, first book published in 1993, so I’m at the 30 year mark. , I know you said people would learn by their own mistakes, but this is my, I don’t know if I’d call it a mistake, it was learning.
And the thing is, God was so kind to me and he did bless all the different avenues I went down, but it was a marketing nightmare for my publisher.
However, I’m a saleswoman. Can I just say, and I would go to them with this new, fresh, different idea, something I’d never done before, and I’d convince them that if I could sell it to them, I could probably sell it to my audiences. So, I wrote humorous. Nonfiction books based on my messages. Then I wrote children’s books, which were not at all funny, but they also sold, the four of them, a million copies.
So it did well, even though not my brand. Okay, then we did the four of those. Then of course they were excited and said, you got more? I said no. , those of the four that God gave me, I wouldn’t dare try and write without them. But they talked me into it. And I wrote a children’s book. It sold maybe 40, 000 copies relative to a million, and it took years to sell those 40, 000,
And that’s coasting off the success of those previous
it had the same author, it had the same artist, but it was a Liz book, not a Lorde book.
That’s all I can say to you. It was one I came up with in my head instead of searching my heart. And seeking God. , so that was an ego book. Okay, and all my failure books were ego books. They were, I thought I could make it work. I thought I knew enough about publishing, marketing, and whatever. Now I just know better.
Unless it’s God’s idea, God’s seed growing in me. Unless I can’t think of not writing that book. It’s beating so loud in my heart. When I’m at that stage, that is a high passion. And let me just say, publishers love an author with passion. , not just passion about being published. That’s not what I mean. I mean a passion for two things.
the reader slash audience and the subject. And in my case, Jesus and grace.
, I love that because it ties in with the first, , commandment of book marketing, which is to love thy reader as much as you love thy book. So, like, you have to love the reader. , and, it’s important to love the book, too, right? You can’t love the reader and hate the book, but you, , the more common thing is, I’m just going to write what’s on my heart.
I don’t care if people like it or not. I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna write the book that I want to write for me. Because I want to write this book. It’s like, get over yourself!
Oh, and yes, and you know what, , there’s just no fruit in that. Writing a book for your own pleasure without thinking about the other half of the story as the reader. A book that’s written and not read, I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a book. It has to be
It’s dead, it’s dead trees and ink is what it
there you go.
It only comes alive in the mind of the reader. It’s, literally, it’s dead trees and ink. And it will soon be composted or recycled. If it’s not in someone’s mind. But if it’s in someone’s mind, it’s alive. And it’s alive in a fascinating way because, we’re made of what we eat.
Right? The molecules in our body come from the molecules that we’re eating. But our mental space, our mind, is made of what we consume, of what we listen to and what we read. And so you get to put, spiritual molecules into people’s heads. And that’s a big responsibility, right? That’s something to be handled with fear and trembling.
And it needs to be something to be handled with a mind of, who am I writing to and what do they need? What do they want? Because if , what you’re writing is on appetizing, they’re not going to eat it, and it won’t have any
No, no nutritional value whatsoever and no spiritual value either. So , I think, you’ve, condensed what I’ve been trying to say, which is, yeah, , love the reader and love your material. , but it is so hard to write. Speaking is easy. You do it all day long.
You pick up the phone, you do whatever you do. Speaking is easy. Writing is hard. It’s a solo bit. You do it by yourself, you and the computer. Now, of course, the Holy Spirit is with you, and so you’re really not alone. , but you don’t have the feedback that you get from an audience. , and so when I write something, I go, I don’t know.
I think that makes sense. Does it make sense? Is it powerful? I don’t know. So you do a lot of second guessing when you write. That’s why you need great editors. early readers and people to come back to you and say, I know you think that made sense. I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Was this supposed to be funny? Because if it is, you need to explain the joke to me.
. Okay, so it was funny nonfiction with funny titles that let you know this is going to be a funny book. , and then the shift to children’s books and then the shift to nonfiction that was biblically based. So bad girls of the Bible, really bad, slightly bad that little group, , book on Ruth book on Queen of Sheba.
But along the way, the writing of the fiction for Bad Girls really opened my heart to fiction, and I already wanted to write fiction. In fact, the publisher that I did Bad Girls for, the reason I did Bad Girls was because I went to them and said, I think I’m ready to write fiction, and they said, Could you give us one non fiction first?
And of course, that was Bad Girls. And so then there were many more non fiction before, you know, I could go. Come back to fiction. , but it was a huge shift when I went to Scottish historical fiction, like what does that have to do with anything you’ve done to date? It has nothing to do with radio speaking, funny nonfiction, children’s books or Bible study.
Like, what is that? And, God in his kindness, I had an ah ha standing in a shower, , I’m thinking about this Scottish historical fiction, this story that I wanted to tell, and I had already fleshed out, I had many, many pages of, ideas and whatever, but it wasn’t clicking. It wasn’t clicking with me, and it wasn’t clicking with the publisher.
They said, we see something here, Liz, but , what is the story you want to tell? It hit me in a shower. Oh my goodness. I want to tell the story of Leah and Rachel and Jacob Set in 18th century Scotland. Oh because Jacob was a shepherd and it was it just took off So what I did was I took the story out of Genesis put it into my computer.
I literally did a Copy change search and change kind of thing. I can’t even think of the right name of the feature So I made all the Lea’s Leanna I made all the Rachel’s Rose and I made all the Jacob’s Jamie And I just let it roll out in front of me and I said, is this a story? Oh baby, this is such a story.
So then the rest came so quickly and of course the publisher caught the vision right away. You’re still writing about women of the Bible, but now you’re setting them in 18th century Scotland, but , it worked with my brand. In a funny kind of way.
And part of the reason why it worked with your brand was because it was for the same kind of reader. And this is where Christian authors have more freedom to go in and out between fiction and nonfiction because there’s a commonality in target readership and a commonality in theme. So, in the Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy visits Narnia, she comes back, and the professor’s like, Lucy’s either a liar, Or she’s a lunatic, or she’s telling the truth about Narnia.
And then Lewis, in Numerical Christianity, says basically it’s that same argumentation about Jesus, right? He’s either a liar, or he’s a lunatic, or he’s true about what he says about being Lord and the Son of God and all of that. And because of that connection, Lois can go back and forth between fiction and nonfiction, and they’re self supporting, and you can present the same truth in different perspectives, right?
Because there’s a lot of people who don’t have ears to hear the Jesus message, but they do have ears to hear the Lucy message, and maybe that softens their heart for later being able to hear the Jesus message. Whereas for secular, it’s really hard to shift between fiction and nonfiction because it doesn’t have that connection, and often it doesn’t have that shared audience.
And so this is one advantage of being a Christian author, is it can give you more freedom around your genre, as long as that target reader is staying the same. The same
one of the few examples I could think of is Anne Lamott, where she really does write fiction and nonfiction for the general market.
The funny thing was, though, When I first approached a publisher, , not the one I ended up doing fiction with, another house, about doing fiction, they looked at me and said, Well, who’s going to write it? I said, Oh, I thought I would. They said, No, no, you’re a non fiction writer. And so the expectation was I couldn’t possibly do both.
, but I have. And, , love both. They’re very different processes. I always say the only thing fiction and non fiction have in common is punctuation. And even that you don’t use the same way. You don’t use semi colons in fiction, for example. So they’re very different parts of your brain. They’re different parts of your heart.
, they require entirely different research. And I love them both.
And different skills just because you’re a successful non fiction author It doesn’t mean that you have the skills to be a successful fiction author until you do the work to learn the craft and get good as we would say in video game you got to get good and You don’t get nearly as much transfer credit As you would think, you’re like, but I did all this nonfiction.
It’s like, it’s very different. Do you know how to hold tension? Do you know how to embrace mystery? Do you know how to play with the knowledge that’s in the reader’s head? Cause in nonfiction, it’s all about putting as much knowledge in their head as quickly as possible, whereas in fiction, often it’s about.
and making them curious. , and that’s a different way of thinking
It is. And so what I had to do when I got into the fiction world is I had to get into the fiction world. I had to go to fiction writers conferences or regular writers conferences, but only the fiction tracks. I had to start reading fiction just by the ton, which I love to do anyway. It’s still all I have stacked around my feet is novels.
, but I had to get serious about… The craft of fiction, and I, yes, I had to, like, go back to square one as a writer. I really did. , and, I’m just grateful that my readers were willing to try them
because, I really had to just go to him and say, you guys, God put three words in my heart.
Scottish historical fiction. And the first time I heard those words was 1995, and my first Scottish historical novel came out in 2003. So I spent those eight years studying fiction, studying the craft of fiction, reading good fiction, and going to Scotland, amassing books about Scotland. I’m embarrassed, but I’ll say it.
I have 1, 050 books on Scotland. They are everywhere. They are all over my house, all over our garage. They’re stacked up behind me. They’re everywhere. But I, you know, I just didn’t, I didn’t want to do it in a half baked kind of way. If I’m going to be a Scottish historical writer, baby, I’m going to know Scotland, history, and something about fiction writing.
So we’re, almost out of time. But I want to give you a chance to give, your, , parting message. Cause I know you’re, transitioning out and authors never really.
finish and you may find you have another
but you’re, you’re looking back on a long career and a lot of the people who are listening to this are looking forward to their career. They’re just a couple of years in, , what advice or encouragement would you have for them?
It has got to be, if you call yourself a Christian writer, then your Christian faith, your love for Christ, your love for his word, your love for his people, has to be number one, not the platform, not even, believe it or not, your skill set. I want you to love Jesus with your whole heart and trust him to open the doors for you.
I believe that any good thing that has happened to me in my writing and speaking career is because of his kindness, his mercy, his love. It has nothing to do with Liz. It really doesn’t. And so to me, it really is all about Jesus. I remember long ago, you and I having a discussion about marketing, Thomas, and, you had all the fabulous tips that people need about building a platform and marketing and all the things.
And you said to me, what’s your marketing plan? I said, Well, I write the books God tells me to, and I trust him to put them in the hands of readers. And you said, How’s that working out for you? And I said, Honestly, pretty well, pretty well. But I never had it as my goal to be the number one anything. I just wanted to successfully, as it were.
Put my heart on the page. Put God’s heart for the reader on the page and to love my readers and loving my readers over the years has meant. If they write me, I write them back. If they email me, I email them back. If they come to hear me, I look them in the eye at the end and don’t let anybody distract me as I’m speaking to that one reader.
They matter as much to me as anybody. And I think if that’s genuine, and it has to be. You can’t manufacture this stuff. And if it’s not happening genuinely and naturally, go see Jesus about this. Cause He alone can make you. What you long to be, which is a person who communicates on the stage or on the page or on the podcast or however you’re trying to reach people.
It has got to be all the way to the bone, the message God wants them to hear and has chosen you to communicate. That’s it.
Bad Girls of the Bible is still available. I imagine you’re pretty curious at this point to see this book that a million people before you have read. We’ll have links to that and to Liz’s website, which has all of her other books on it and more information about her and Liz Curtis Higgs.
Thank you so much for joining us today on the Christian
What a blessing, friend. Thank you.
Our featured patron today is Kelly Jo Wilson, author of tearing the veil
in life, you face rejection, hopelessness and feeling disconnected from God, but you don’t need to handle it alone. Learn how Jesus made sure you never have to be separated from God and how much your life is truly worth.
Kelly Jo Wilson. Thank you so much for being a patron, helping keep this podcast on the air. I really appreciate your support. And a quick note about Patrion.
The Christian publishing show is now also on sub stack. So if you would like to support the show, but don’t want to use. Patrion, you can just go to the Christian publishing show on sub stack. . The Christian publishing show is a production of author media. This episode’s audio was edited by William I’m stamped. The blog post is by Shauna littler.
The producer is Lori Christine. Our guest was Liz Curtis Higgs. And I am Thomas I’m set Jr. Your host. You can find the blog post version of this firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for listening and live long and prosper.
You can listen to this episode Finding Peace in the Plot: How to Trust God’ in Your Writing Journey with Liz Curtis Higgs on Christian Publishing Show.