In 1893, a struggling author brought a manuscript to his publisher for consideration. Despite the author’s previous successes, the publisher rejected the newest manuscript because, in the publisher’s estimation, the book would never sell.
Undaunted, the author took it on himself to publish the book. Using money that he didn’t have, he commissioned an artist to help design the book, and after several revisions, 6,000 copies of the book were finally brought to market for sale on December 19th.
The public bought them all in less than 24 hours.
The author had the book reprinted. And then again. And then again. Soon enough that little book published in December became synonymous with the month itself:
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
There are a lot of lessons you can take away from that little story, but the biggest one to me is that there are times in life when you simply have to bet on yourself. Chapman and Hall, Dickens’s publisher, didn’t see much of a market for Christmas books (believe it or not, the holiday wasn’t as big back then as it is now), and certainly not a Christmas book by an author with less than stellar sales. That they passed only looks dumb in hindsight.
And that’s the way life works sometimes: people make rational decisions based on valid data that, after the passage of time, look considerably different. History is usually unkind to the poor souls who don’t have omniscience in moments like that. But you do the best you can with what you’ve got.
It’s the willingness of Dickens to accept the cost of publication – and the burden of getting the book to meet his exhaustive standards – that stands out most to me. There is always someone passing on the next big thing, but there’s not always someone willing to fight to bring that idea to market anyway. Sometimes, the idea just dies.
But Dickens wasn’t content to let his passion project fall into the dustbin of history. He went further into debt, pushed himself beyond his limits, and changed the course of modern civilization. It was his book, this vanity press of vanity presses, that reframed Christmas not as a second-class holiday, but as the season of giving and generosity and warm wishes. In fact, only Coca-Cola’s introduction of the man in the red suit some 30 years later comes close to the cultural impact of Dickens’s classic tale.
This story resonates with me because last week, the company I work announced that my division was being cut, effective January 1st. After 19 months at my dream job, I will be back on the street as a freelance writer. The news stung, but after a few days of processing, I’m at peace; I believe God has big things in store for me and my family and the people I’ve worked with the last year and a half.
I wish the company well, I truly do. They are excited about where they are headed, and look forward to brighter days. They are uniquely positioned in the marketplace to make a difference in the corporate culture of America – a culture in desperate need of change. The principles and practices the company teaches are based on values I hold dear, and have proven to be beneficial to me personally.
In fact, part of my process for moving forward has been to apply what I’ve learned writing for the company. Synergy, huh?
I’m choosing to approach freelancing a bit differently this time around. Instead of constantly shopping my services to other people, I’m going to take a Dickens approach and bet on myself. I have a children’s novel that needs finishing, and I’ve got at least two scripts/television series in me. And I want to try my hand at writing a feature length film as well. There are already some contacts who’ve reached out for help, and with a faith that God is ordering my steps each day, I am looking at the future a bit differently.
I don’t know how history will judge me in this moment – I doubt, in the grand scheme of things, anyone will remember it. But I do hope – I pray – that when the story of my life is told, the people I love and hold dearest will look back at this time in my life and say, “He did the right thing betting on himself.”
If you’re the praying type, my family would love to have yours. And if you’re looking for a writer, a coach, a consultant or anything else, I’d love for you to take a look at my Published Works page, which has been updated to reflect some of my more recent work.
I don’t know how Dickens felt when he made the decision to push forward with Carol, but I highly doubt he felt like he was shaping history. I know I certainly don’t. But while I may not reshape any major holidays, I am reshaping my future, and that will be just as well.