The Dark Side of Realm Makers

That headline is not about Travis Perry’s costume, Mike Duran’s horror seminar, or even post-conference letdown. All those things could properly fall under this heading, but that’s not what I’m on about.

I hesitate to write this post, because I am going to come across as Whiney McWhiner. But I figure if I feel this way, maybe someone else does, too. If not…well…someone slap me.

Even though I know comparison is bad—as Chip Ingram has said, “comparison always leads to carnality”—I can’t help it. I look around Realm Makers (any conference, really, but for some reason this one hit me particularly hard) and it’s all I can do to suppress my envy.

I know we’re supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice, yadda yadda, and on the face of it I try, I really do. And do you know, in public, I even mean it. But in the dark of my room, alone, I wallow in the envy for just a minute or two…or thirty…before I remember to pray to have that feeling taken away from me. I don’t want it.

But it’s there.

Envy is bad for me in another way. It compounds that post-conference letdown. Trashed my productivity for the week, I’m telling you.

The pictures making the rounds on Facebook are wonderful, but one of them really stoked my dark side. This one of Steve Laube with the Enclave authors. I looked at these women and honestly, I thought, they’re all young, and beautiful, and published novelists.

All things I’m not.

Kerry Neitz, Morgan Busse, Jill Williamson, Just B. Jordan, Steve Laube, Gillian Bronte Adams, Ronie Kendig, and Nadine Brandes. • Photo totally swiped from Jordan's website.

Kerry Nietz, Morgan Busse, Jill Williamson, Just B. Jordan, Steve Laube, Gillian Bronte Adams, Ronie Kendig, and Nadine Brandes. • Photo totally swiped from Jordan’s website.

Who am I? Who am I to complain about the lot God has assigned me? I know how obnoxious this all sounds. But I feel I have to confess it.

Just B. Jordan, author of Never to Live, notes on her website that she got her first publishing contract when she was eighteen. That’s when it hit me.

It’s the humility lesson again.


If I had gotten a contract when I was eighteen, I would have been insufferable. I was nowhere near as sweet and humble at that age as Jordan is.

One of the most powerful lessons of the conference for me came during Robert Liparulo’s closing keynote. He talked about how he prays over his work. Prays that God would equip and prepare him.

I am convicted. I have not prayed over my work nearly enough. And often when I do, it’s less praying for wisdom (although I sometimes remember to do that) so that the story will be what God wants it to me. More often it’s praying that whatever editor I’ve submitted it to this time will look favorably on it.

Perhaps my angst is amplified by the fact that I once thought I had arrived. I had the four-book contract—the over-the-top big hairy audacious dream. Having that fall through rattled my nerves. Now I’m back to the same old doubts and insecurities.

But let me end on a note of hope. Because even before the conference, I got a great message from Dennis Brooke, who some of us met back in the Marcher Lord Select days. Dennis’s book, The Last Apostle, was a finalist in the contest, and is now scheduled for release in February. I always thought this was the best book in the contest, and I’m surprised it’s taken this long to come to fruition. I signed up to be on Dennis’s launch team, and he sent me an advance reader copy with a note that it’s much better than the version that was in the contest. Which is saying something, because that version was excellent.

But I could relate, because Alara’s Call has also been through a lot of changes since the contest. It’s worlds better, and not just because it now has a decent title. I mentioned to Dennis that it’s now under consideration at yet another publisher, and I’m anxiously awaiting to hear whether it gets past the pub board. (I was told eight weeks ago that I would have an answer within six weeks. When I spoke to the editor at RM, I was told to wait another six weeks. Cue nail biting.)

Here’s what Dennis told me: “Prayer, persistence, and patience = published.”

Again with the prayer.

I so needed these lessons. All of them:

  • Don’t let melancholy kill your productivity.
  • Don’t covet your neighbor’s book contract.
  • Humble yourself before God.
  • Pray.

Don’t get me wrong. Attending Realm Makers is a joy, and I would not miss it for anything. Anything. I mean that.

As in every joy, there is a contrasting sorrow. But even the sorrow has something to teach us if we listen.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

42 comments on “The Dark Side of Realm Makers

  1. I hear you, Lioness.

    While publishing has never been my dream, *writing* was something I used to do as easily as breathing. Now it’s like pulling teeth to get words on the page, and watching my writing friends in my FB feed gushing about their newest this and that or amazing word count day is occasionally too much. I’m thrilled for them, but I can be jealous, too, and I have to give it to God.

    Ah, well. I’m sure those same people have their own trigger issues that evoke the exact same emotional response. Everyone wrestles their own Swamp.

  2. Thanks, Kristen. Great point about learning humility and being ready as a writer and person. Some of us, like me, take a little longer on the vine before we’re ready. But, The Lord’s timing is always perfect. He knows what we need and when. We may want to hurry things along, but may instead end up like a tomato that ripens in the store instead of on the vine. It’s still a tomato, but a store-ripened tomato just doesn’t taste as good in a salad. 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for your honesty. You are not alone. The greatest comfort I find is in continually acknowledging that God is in control, and so whatever is going on, He still has the best plans for His glory and my good. No matter what. Which can be scary, especially since I think to having the nerve to write sometimes requires Type A personalities who like to be in control and finish things. At least, that’s the case for me. 😉

  4. So well said, Kristen. Thank you for this. Such a wonderful reminder to be willing to learn what God has to teach us, even if it requires going over some bumps on the way there!

  5. Boy, can I relate! I truly am happy for all those young writers who seem to get published almost without effort, but after seven years of pursuing publication in fiction, I wonder how much longer it will take!

  6. I feel a bit of your pain. Being 38 and just breaking into this business is a little intimidating. I too felt a few pangs of envy as I talked to and mingled with so many young people already published or with a contract in hand.
    But what you touched on and what I must remember, is that we all have different journeys. My life experience has informed and molded my writing. I could not write what I do now when I was younger. In hindsight, there’s no way I would have been able to put the needed passion and fervor in my stories when I was their age.
    God has a plan, and His timing is impeccable. I’m hanging in there with you, sister!

  7. Maybe because I’m standing near the back, my age is deceiving…but I’m 45 this month–so not young. And sweet is debatable. LOL But I am with you–it was hard not to look around Realm Makers and see so many young people thriving and succeeding. I felt old and behind the ball. I’d been trying since I was 30 to get published. And back in those days, they told us we couldn’t sell speculative in the CBA market until we’d established ourselves (because speculative wasn’t ’embraced’ by most readers). “So, go out and make a name for yourself and you’ll have street cred.” That didn’t really work out because the market has changed so much, but 8 years after my first suspense novel sold, I’m finally going to be published in speculative, fulfilling a longtime dream.

    • Well, I’m pushing 50, so you look young to me! Thanks for sharing your journey. I find it funny that you were told to establish yourself first in another genre. Because I’ve written both speculative and contemporary, and I’m always told “you have to pick one.” Which I think is baloney. So thanks for showing that we can publish in more than one genre!

      • I so agree–you can do both (especially since “indie” no longer has the negative connotations and it’s viable option). I’ve finally got my career set up where I will be doing one spec book and one suspense book each year.

  8. Thanks for your transparency, Kristen! Your post reads like a Psalm of David — starting with angst and confession, a pained cry from your heart… and ending re-focused on Him and what is true and right.

    May He comfort, strengthen and equip us all for the journey before us! And I thank God for you and all my spec fic cohorts along this path!

  9. LOL. My thoughts were similar to Ronie’s when I read this, Kristen: Clearly, she overlooked the not-young, not-beautiful, and not-female goofball on the left there.

    My first book was published when I was mid-thirties, after three years of trying.

    But my first NOVEL wasn’t published for another six years. And I was fairly certain that was the last book I was ever going to write. (A Star Curiously Singing)

    That was five novels ago now, but there have been a plenty of speedbumps. It isn’t as easy as it might look…for any of us.

    As Teddy Roosevelt said: Comparison is the thief of joy. 🙂

  10. Kristen, good post! Interestingly, I just left the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference and the keynote speaker, Ed Underwood, pastor of Church of the Open Door in LA, said Writing messes with an author’s mind; writing messes with a Christian author’s heart. It’s really true. How wise of you to confront it directly and not pretend it doesn’t exist.


  11. Hey. I’m 58, and my brother, Bryan Davis, is 57.

    Neither of us had a book published a decade or so ago. So, back then, we’re both late 40s, I/T careers, and wondering what’s next.

    It is tough. It is hard. And you just have to persist. Keep moving forward. (Anyone seen the movie Meet the Robinsons? It definitely applies. You learn from failure. Success? Not so much.)

    Me? Created a publishing company with my spouse, Wrote a book about infertility. Wrote three Christmas stories about Santa Kloss. Two won national awards (Benjamin Franklin Award)

    Bryan? Well – hmmm – how about he had 2 of the 3 Clive Staple nominations this year? Probably enough said.

    And neither of our roads was easy. And even with “success” – the road continues to be rocky.

    So – bottom line? Good luck! Keep going! The dark sides will come, and come again, even with success.

  12. Thank you for having the post, It’s just what I needed to hear.

  13. Kristen this so resonated with me. At 18 all I had written were some snarky essays. And I would have been insufferable for sure. I didn’t start writing until I was 38 (with one attempt at 30 to occupy my time on a long-term work assignment). One of the questions I asked God was why not earlier? The answer was very clear. I wasn’t spiritually ready.

    Travis Perry’s comment about Ray Bradbury being known as a short story writer gave me a huge confidence boost since that’s what I’ve had published so far.

    I am so thankful that I got to attend Realm Makers. The biggest highlight for me was meeting people like you whom I’ve known virtually but never met in person. We’ve known each other pretty much since I joined ACFW. The Realm Makers are definitely my people.

  14. I was going to write an article about this exact topic a month ago when I was struggling with the green-eyed monster myself. I think he exists in every writer’s closet 😉 I’ve had some success, but mostly heartache and disappointment. Right before Realm Makers I was seriously contemplating closing this chapter of my life and finding a “real job”, one where the pay is better and I know I’m good at it. I talked to my husband and said I was done.

    Being the wise man that he is, he told me to sleep on it. I did, and I realized something: I would never stop writing. I just didn’t want my stuff out there for the public to read and critique anymore. But what good is writing just for myself? I also knew deep down God wasn’t releasing me either. I don’t know what He’s doing with my books, and I will probably never know until heaven, but He isn’t done with me or my writing. Not yet.

    At Realm Makers, I was reminded again of a truth I had forgotten: Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I stepped outside myself and served others. I rejoiced with other writers who were finding their way along their writing journey. And I sat beside those who weren’t sure they were even suppose to be there and maybe—like me—were thinking about throwing in the towel.

    I found joy again in my own writing that weekend. And that nasty little green-eyed monster disappeared back into the closet 😉

    • Isn’t it horrible how the enemy captures us with lies even when we know better? I’m glad Realm Makers served you even while you were serving others. Although I guess it often happens that way, doesn’t it?

  15. I saw this post days ago, but I was exhausted from Realm Makers, busy playing catch-up at home, and wanted to wait until I was more coherent to give this a proper reply because it *deserves* a proper reply, as it is an *important* topic.

    So many writers struggle with this, myself included. And it’s doubly frustrating because you’re discouraged from expressing it. Be professional. Put on that mask. Don’t whine because you won’t get taken seriously. Ugh. The problem is: we ALL go through it. It’s impossible to not compare yourself to others in this business and not feel as though you are wanting. And we need to share, so we can support each other. And new authors need to see us share so they know it’s *normal.*

    As for publishing–so much is subjective too. And luck. And timing. It’s no a reflection on talent, and sometimes that feels so unfair. More unfair. And even when we see fellow writers getting published who *are* talented, it’s bittersweet. You’re happy for them, and envious at the same time. I get it–we get it–you are not alone.

    And, you are so professional, and talented, and BEAUTIFUL. I envy your poise, and your love for public speaking. And if you haven’t found publishing success YET, you have made fans, and friends who believe in you!!!

    • Aww, thanks Kat. That’s very sweet.

      I think the other thing that stops people — Christians, anyway — from talking about this is that we know comparison and envy are wrong. But confession is therapeutic, too. 😉

  16. Okay, Kristen. Even though I’m a newbie to the conference scene–this was only my second one–I see where you’re coming from and can appreciate the heartache. I had four appointments to pitch at and got shot down at each. However, when I first started down this path, I was told to expect rejection. Lots of it. One well known author told me to develop a thick skin–as in alligator. He didn’t mean for me to become ugly, just tough and persistent. Also, I like the analogy of shaking off rejections like a dog shakes off water–while holding on to lessons learned. And they were plentiful.

    So back to the laptop I go. I’ve got more work to do. More rules/tools to digest and place in to my writer’s toolbox.

    Besides, learning is fun! And meeting other writers–published or not–excited me. I felt at home.

  17. Kristen,
    It’s amazing how you lay your private struggle out for all to see. I didn’t even try to get published until I was forty-five. I only gave it a few months of querying, then basically stepped out on faith and self published.

    How do I cope when I feel a twinge of envy?

    I pray, and keep in mind my work is to honor and glorify God.

    I remind myself that the work that comes from my hands will be around after I’m gone and maybe that’s when it will bear the most fruit. It’s a surprise I’ll receive in heaven, to see exactly whom it influenced, and how. (Plus, I get reader mail almost daily, which is a perk of not waiting for a publishing house.)

    I have books that God has given only to me to write, and that is such an amazing gift! I’m a voracious reader, and need lots of authors writing books I enjoy. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s and I realize that I’m blessed to feel this way.

    Keep writing. I pray the trade house route works for you.

    Blessings to you,


    • Lisa, I so admire the success you’ve had with self-publishing. I have considered it many times, but at this point I’m kind of relying on the gatekeepers to save me from myself. Because if my manuscript keeps getting rejected, there must be a reason, you know?

  18. <vent class=”whining”>
    So, my perspective is slightly different, I guess. (Perhaps I should write a full post on it.) But just after Prophetess released I went into full-time pastoring and haven’t stopped, now the lead pastor of a church three times the size as the one I started in.

    Since then I’ve struggled being able to carve out guilt-free time to write on a regular basis. But more than that, I’ve struggled with the relevance or writing fiction. It’s difficult to explain, but someone else in ministry might understand how I feel, knowing that the work I’m doing with the church and for the community is not only important, it is THE most important thing is existence, and compared to the eternal souls of people who need Jesus, what’s the point of trading that time to write fiction?

    Sigh. I love writing. But the struggle is so real and tangible. The whole “what makes Christian fiction” debate has a whole new level to me, because I don’t want to write anything if it doesn’t have ministerial value, but I also don’t want to preach in a book and just want to write for clean entertainment. I don’t want to give up, but sometimes I wonder if I’m chasing a futile endeavor.

    Add to all of that the fact that I’ve now been out of the game, disconnected from the writing community for nearly three years, with so many new faces, so much new success, so many new strategies, that I feel like I’ve lost all relevance, lost all credibility as a writer, and am now in the most difficult position of “making a comeback” if I’m going to try to keep doing this thing. In fact, there’s a good chance most of the people reading this comment have no idea I was even around 3-5 years ago. And I know if I do try to keep going, I’m just going to hit MORE roadblocks and fight that “green-eyed monster” from more directions than I ever did before. That “comeback” may require more of me than I’ll be able to give.

    I’m just not sure all of that, together, is a fight worth fighting. That’s why I’ve been climbing up and down from the ledge for the past few weeks.

    Thanks for writing this and giving me an excuse to vent how I’ve been feeling.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Keven. The only thing I can add is that you need something to free your mind once in a while. If you try to do ministry 24/7, you will burn out. I’ve seen it happen to a pastor before, and it ain’t pretty.

  19. […] The Dark Side of Realm Makers (Kristen Steiffel) – A great article about the jealousy most of us authors struggle with, when we see other authors around us having more success.  (I meant to share this one in last week’s Simmers but I forgot!) […]

  20. I wan’t at Realm Makers, but I hang around here and there, and I get what you are saying about seeing all the young faces. I feel like that too. But I remind myself that I didn’t start writing until I was 40, and there were good reasons for that. I wouldn’t go back and do it differently, because of all those good reasons.
    Now, 12 years later (gulp) I am pitching my novel. I’m not young. So what. Lots of authors are successful even when they start out later in life. God’s timing is always perfect.

  21. […] The Dark Side of Realm Makers — Kristen Stieffel […]

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