So a lot of of you have been asking about the publishing company that I work for. I love Lily and all that she stands for. Here is an Interview that was done with Lily. I have permission to Post. So here it is The Fig and The Vine interview
How did you know you wanted to publish books rather than just write them?
Well, it was a really tough decision in many ways but in hindsight it makes so much sense. But I never would have been gutsy enough to take such a big leap if God hadn’t really intervened. I want to encourage people to really reach out to God and just keep asking Him “What have you created me for?!” And that part is often a long process. I know that I felt what some call a “divine discontent” that told me I was almost there, but not quite for a few years leading up to this. I was writing books, I was getting publishing / agency offers on my work, I was often called upon to be a leader for various things, I was really feeling a tug to do more, but my future was unclear. And I believe what had to happen was a sort of “cellar to soul” cleaning first, where I just surrendered and said “God change me, use me, whatEVER!” I think often we must get to a point of utter frustration before we surrender to God. But the smart people in the world will make their own journeys shorter by surrendering first and trusting! Then I began to really think about God having a plan for each of us and knitting us in our mother’s womb and that sort of thing. I would think about my natural personality traits and why God would make me like that and even how the natural personality traits I had could have both a positive and a negative effect on my life and others’ lives… I really made peace with many of my personality traits that seemed so different from others’ and seemed to often lead me on a different or even a more difficult path.
I am very good socially and a very good leader. But I crave and need way more solitude, quiet, and nature than most “normal” people for example. But that just makes for a good writing and editing environment, enables me to hear God speak, and helps me work for others. I am tough and feisty and direct – I say it like it is, I don’t like a bunch of whining, and I believe in just doing your work without a lot of fanfare. That makes it hard when I work for others, but it makes me a natural born leader and boss and mentor. I have such a spiritual awareness of others’ spiritual state that it is literally exhausting to be around people other than my closest friends and family. But this helps me know what others need, what is going on with them, and it helps me protect myself and my family from harmful influences… basically, in looking at these traits that God had put into me and seeing them as being there for a reason, I was able to go further in discovering His will for me.
I journaled a lot and really spent time learning the Word, talking to God, and being involved in serious study. It seemed like a long time of wondering and waiting at the time (and it was – it was a few years), but now I realize I was being strengthened and prepared for the next leg of my journey.
So then I had this amazing prophetic dream, too long to go into now. But although I have a lot of pretty intense and important dream experiences, I knew, even as it was happening, that this was so important – life altering important! So it really haunted me and made me dig deep and talk to God and I felt it was about my calling and what I was supposed to be doing. But of course, you always have the little voice of doubt, saying “Maybe that’s not what it meant! Maybe I’m missing the mark, maybe this is not right…” I remember talking about it to my friend, neighbor, and co author and she thought I really needed to be in a leadership role for authors. Her opinion meant a great deal to me. We had shared a pretty negative experience with our publisher and thought their behavior and way of doing things left a lot to be desired. We had heard of many, many negative experiences of authors with their publishers and were talking about a lady who wrote a beautiful book that was rejected because it had God in it and the mainstream publishing house thought it would be a great book if she would just take God out of it – like most of mainstream society. The conversation really resonated with me and I believe that’s the first time it was in my heart that I should help authors like that – and authors like us!
But immediately, I began to be overwhelmed. Like what, should I try to be a publisher or something? It was so terrifying and I began talking myself out of it. “I do not have any real contacts in the publishing world other than my own publishers, whom I don’t even like or respect. I don’t have the business experience in the publishing realm. I don’t have the money. I don’t know how to do it.” I kept squashing the idea every time it popped up.
Then another amazing dream experience happened. The first of its kind, definitely. A loud, audible voice, extremely forceful, and very deliberate, said “I TOLD you to cross the fig and the vine!!!” The voice was so loud it woke me out of a dead sleep and I even woke my husband up and told him about it. I kept thinking “Was that Jesus?! Am I crazy?!” It got my attention, I can assure you. The voice was commanding and I felt a sense of impatience in it. I thought it was lighting a fire under my fanny! I was completely flabbergasted and although I spend much time in the Word, I was really completely unfamiliar with verses dealing with figs and vines. I felt like it meant “cross” in a horticultural way, like to blend them together into one plant. I read all the verses about the fig and the vine, I used my concordance, and every other resource I could to see the Biblical and spiritual significance of figs and vines and wrote pages in my journal about it. I wrote in my journal, in November of 2008, “Revelation – start my own publishing company?!”
I spent the next couple of months telling God it was way too hard, I wasn’t equipped, etc. but then I would remember the dream I had – the earlier one – there was something symbolic in that dream that told me if God gave me something, I wouldn’t fail and in the dream, I had complete faith and courage. I guess it was my spirit self, the one who knows God intimately and His plans for me that was so brave in the dream. When I began looking at the proposition of beginning my own publishing company from a business perspective, and a reality perspective, it really began to make more and more sense. I could use all my experiences as an author to guide me in my mission, I could apply such an endeavor to my own personal mission statement, and I could be smart about it. I found a publishing mentor and there was a very significant symbol that occurred there leading back to the most important dream symbol that really validated the path. God was willing to encourage me and sent me verses and other signs along the journey. But in between the validations from God were lots of weeks and months of planning, fear, and stepping out on faith.
Once I made the decision, cleared it with my husband, and set about getting in motion, things accelerated so quickly! I just still can’t believe how fast everything has happened. I do feel I was prepared for the pace, though, for the dream had an element of rushing and hurry and safety to it; so although on a business level, it’s hard for me to believe that in less than a year of operation, I will have 7 titles out and 3 more on the way, in a spiritual sense, I really felt I was warned to expect that frantic pace. Having said that, however, I am still constantly struggling to keep up. I always say I’m on a galloping horse, and I’m hanging onto those reins with all my might. It’s a hard, hard struggle and I’m not going to pretend it’s an easy journey but God is very good and He will strengthen and encourage anyone who is being obedient to His will, and He certainly does so for me every single day!
It’s a huge change – and change always comes at a huge emotional cost, and of course since it’s a business, it has huge financial costs and sacrifices of time and attention and my family has to share in those as they stand by me in my journey. It’s not like I don’t sometimes think longingly of just being a wife and a stepmom. I miss the days when my most important decision was what to cook for supper! Truly, I’m completely happy growing gardens and making elaborate homemade meals, going to the farm, and just having a slow, boring, insulated life with extremely limited contact with “outsiders.” But God has plans for each of us and it’s our responsibility to do our best to fulfill those plans and use the gifts He’s given us. There was a time when my “mission” was to heal my family (I am my husband’s 2nd wife and there was much to heal from the destruction and influence of the first marriage for the whole family) and that healing included me providing a safe, comfortable, beautiful nest for all of us to grow in. It involved giving my family years worth of sitting at the table together, going out on the boat and going on family trips and just “normal” bonding to provide a ballast for what was happening in the kids’ other household.
But that time has passed, my oldest stepson is in college and the youngest will be a senior in High School next year. I would never have undertaken starting this company during those formative years because it would have really stolen something from them that I knew they needed – whether they even realized it or not. But now God is calling me to step out of my comfort zone and really help others develop their gifts and to publish the works He has put in my heart as well. I have to have faith that in fulfilling His will and at least trying to be obedient, He won’t let me stray too far or do the wrong thing. As long as I’m in motion and stay plugged into my Heavenly Father, I can be steered in the right direction. After all, like the old saying goes “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are made for!”
WHAT MAKES THE FIG & THE VINE DIFFERENT THAN OTHER PUBLISHERS?
Well, first of all, it’s as much my personal ministry as it is my business, of course. This is the first time I’ve been able to truly meld my business and my faith together. I may have always said prayers about business decisions in the past, but now I’m in a position of authority and I can say “Let’s pray about that” to an author, client, or staff member. That’s a real blessing! But I am also an experienced business woman, so I am able to operate on the reality part of it, which is often difficult for someone following a dream. The truth is, every dream takes a whole lot of hard work to make it come true and folks can get discouraged at the real life challenges inherent in stepping out in faith to do something. For me, it’s certainly a hard challenge, but I expect it and its par for the course.
The second thing about us that I really think illustrates who we are was recently beautifully expressed in an interview given by one of my first authors, Galina Fouks Abele, who was being featured in a magazine. She is an artist and she illustrated a beautiful children’s book called Maurice’s Daughter, about a real experience she had with the death of her father. In a nutshell, having been raised with no religion whatsoever, when her father died, she was not able to cope, even though she was an adult when it happened. Despite all the therapy and things she tried to do to deal with the grief, she wasn’t healed. But then she experienced what she calls God sent dreams, during which she was taken to Heaven by angels to see her father, to know he was safe and with his own Heavenly Father, and guided by him and her angel to let go of her grief and wake up to a new hope and a new life. She felt a real call to share her experience, especially with children who lost a loved one, so she literally painted the whole journey and tried to tell the story.
She said in the interview that she had been turned down literally for years by mainstream publishers. She realized something I never articulated to her but was definitely part of what I considered when looking at her book – that it was for such a small, niche market that most publishers weren’t that interested in the title. It wasn’t a sales generator and it wasn’t a big hitter on any kind of a numbers game. It had God and Heaven and angels in it – and even though it was addressed in a fairly neutral way, you can imagine the big publishers not wanting to “go there.” Also, the book came to me very, very rough. She’s an artist, not a writer, so her story needed a whole lot of work.
But you know, when I saw her images and read the phrases she had written about her true life experience, I GOT IT. I was really moved by the kindness of God in showing her He was real and her father was safe. I thought the pictures were gorgeous and perfect – a really gentle, fanciful look at a hard topic. The tone of the pictures was loving and exuberant and hopeful. I appreciated her own sense of responsibility and even obedience in using the experience to help others heal. Although the text was rough, I knew exactly what she was trying to say and was able to use almost all of her own words and phrases and complete it into a flowing, coherent story. Although being the author and the illustrator is pretty rare in the publishing world, and I knew I was sort of breaking the rules right out of the box (it was only our second title), but I really wanted to credit her as the author as well as the illustrator. I felt a responsibility to help her take the gift that God had put in her heart and put it into a product that could be sent out into a wounded world for healing. I added a special journaling section at the end of the book to help the reader switch focus from “loss” to “healing” with questions like “What is the funniest memory you have about your loved one?” and “What do you think the biggest wish of your loved one is for your life?” By thinking of how to honor the memory of the loved one and focusing on good memories, rather than feeling sad, the reader goes that extra step in healing.
That’s a perfect illustration of how we operate, because often a title we choose isn’t the sure thing, it isn’t neutral, it isn’t mainstream. But if God tells me we should publish it, I know we can find a way to get it where it needs to go. I’m not as interested in “Is it perfect?” or “Is the author new or experienced, is she or he a name in the business?” as much as I am “Is God asking me to do this?” and “Do I see the intent behind it? Do I clearly understand who it is meant for?” and questions like that.
And I really think outside the box as far as marketing goes. Sure, I can get the book mentioned above in traditional indie and chain bookstores. But because of the topic – bereavement – it’s not like they need 50 copies of it. However, when the marketing team goes the extra mile, and gets bereavement groups and hospice organizations interested in it, and hospitals and children’s support groups, they not only use it in their therapy (helping others heal), but they can partner with the author in special events so that an ordinary book signing becomes something really meaningful and helpful in the community. And that helps the traditional vendors become more interested, too. It becomes a bigger “sell” to the toughies like Barnes & Noble or Books A Million. And because she’s an artist, we targeted a lot of art gallery and festival venues, too, creating even more book selling and signing opportunities. And it’s really boosted her career as an artist, giving her the entre she needed and the credibility and exposure to help her go to the next level. We really see each title as a different and unique project and it gets its very own, individualized marketing plan. And we see the AUTHOR of each book as being just as important as the title. Because they are!
Another example is our latest title, which is actually a very dark, gritty, and even controversial tale about how abuse from a controversial church (often accused of being a cult) resulted in a life that was spent in despair and terrible choices. It was a hard book to agree to publish and we could definitely foresee a backlash from the church in question, which is huge and international. And the content wasn’t always wholesome, either. But the end of the story is complete and total redemption and healing through an encounter with Jesus Christ! Even that part of the book has its inherent controversies – I’m sure folks will have a problem with that, too, because people have set ideas at times about how God works. But I kept thinking “Who am I to say how Jesus would show up to someone? Isn’t that exactly the person Jesus WOULD show up for?” And every time I prayed about it, I felt that if it helps someone heal from the same abuse and mistakes, isn’t it worth it? It was a really scary choice to make, but in the end, we will always try to be obedient to God and after all, our mission statement is “To restore to the world, through our work, a portion of its lost heart.” If a title fits into that goal, we just have to go for it!
But of course, we’re a very “normal” publishing house too, and not all our titles are like that. We have non Christian titles, like an upcoming Young Adult Historic Fiction story, we have fun, light, uplifting fare… I’m even planning a gardening almanac and heritage vegetable cookbook.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH YOUR COMPANY’S GROWTH?
It is absolutely imperative that we maintain quality control, so I am definitely limiting the number of titles produced in certain time periods. We will have ten titles out by summer of this year! And we’re not even a year old company yet! Each title takes so much work and it takes months and months to truly get a book out into the marketplace. So we’ll be spending the next year focusing entirely on marketing and sales of those titles, author development (because each author must realize that he or she is a “brand” and needs to learn how to operate professionally in the publishing world), and the scheduling of special events, both for the authors themselves and for the company as a whole. We may obtain new titles, but they won’t go into production until the titles we have now have had our undivided attention for a full year. Once the titles are firmly established, we can go onto newer titles. By that time, we will have recouped some of our initial investment – which is considerable!- and we will be able to expand our staff to be in place in time to deal with the next growth spurt.