Written by A Guest Author May 11th, 2023

Case Study: How “A Long Walk with Mary: A Search for the Mother of God” Was Published

By Brandi Willis Schreiber

This is part of our ongoing series on how authors published their first book. You can read our other stories in this series, herehere, here, here, and here.

I’d been driving solo for a few hours. Long, golden stretches of West Texas blurred into New Mexico, and as I scanned the thin line of gray horizon forever ahead of me, I waited for the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to emerge from cacti and brush.

It was the spring of 2019, when days vacillated between ochre dust storms and teasing hints of green, and I was on my way to a small mountain village for a weekend of rest, prayer, and focused writing. I had a book in me, I thought, because I’d been on a different journey – a spiritual one – for some time, and I believed I could use it to help or inspire others, if I could just find a way to write it. Get it into people’s hands. Publish it.

Look up books focused on faith, spirituality, or religion, and you’ll be inundated with options. The market is full of translations, devotionals, theological treatises, faith-focused fiction, and more. Hundreds of large and small publishers, including the “Big 5,” publish books in this vein. These books are important and valuable; matters of faith and spirituality provide many with sustenance, inspiration, and hope. But the sheer number of books on these topics – and which accompanying houses publish them – can be overwhelming.

My book was about a year I spent “searching” for Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and understanding her role in my Eastern Orthodox Christian faith. As a convert to Orthodox Christianity, I had a lot of questions about Mary, and for some time, I’d read, researched, and journaled everything I could about her. What emerged from that writing became a spiritual memoir about devotion to Mary and how it changed my faith during a time when personal sorrows would not stop coming. It was not a book, I knew, that would appeal to everyone, and that was okay. But it might appeal to a few people who were also searching for Mary (or at least wanted to know more about her).

So I spent that weekend in a quiet little mountain village hiking, praying, and typing the first words that would become A Long Walk with Mary: A Personal Search for the Mother of God. I also used that time to research Eastern Orthodox publishers.

Because of the unique focus of my book, I knew that A Long Walk with Mary would appeal most to an Orthodox Christian or Catholic publisher, but probably not to a Protestant or Evangelical publisher. I researched all the publishers of Eastern Orthodox and Catholic writing, including small, independent, and seminary presses, and made careful notes about their catalogs, proposal guidelines, market reach, and comparative titles. The reality is, there just aren’t a lot of publishers devoted to Orthodox Christian writing, which was both a positive and a negative for me.

The negative was that if A Long Walk with Mary couldn’t find a home with an Orthodox Christian publisher, it would be very hard to sell to a broader house. One of the top Catholic publishers I was looking at, for example, required agented work, and I knew I didn’t want to seek an agent.

The positive was that I knew I had a unique story to tell, one I couldn’t find a comparative title for in this niche market. Because there are so many religion/spirituality titles out there, it’s extremely important that writers make sure their work is one-of-a-kind and meets a need that hasn’t already been met by another book. Because of my research on Mary, I had a good idea of exactly what was out there in terms of modern-day memoirs exploring devotion to her (very little) and more specifically, books about Orthodox Christian converts integrating devotion to her (zero).

Ancient Faith Publishing, one of the largest publishers of Orthodox Christian writing in the English-speaking world, fit the bill for my book’s topic, voice, market reach, and need. When I returned from my mountain retreat, I buckled down and produced the best initial chapters I could and composed a book proposal, following all their requirements to the letter. Thankfully, Ancient Faith Publishing’s proposal guidelines were extremely detailed. My proposal had to include many elements, including a complete table of contents and sample chapters. Let me tell you, I labored over that proposal! Because of the small Orthodox Christian publishing world, I knew I only had one shot of making an impression since I had no personal relationships with anyone in the field. Submitting the most polished and professional proposal was my main goal.

After I submitted my proposal to Ancient Faith Publishing, I attended a “content creators” conference they hosted. It was a chance to meet other creators and learn more about what this publisher was seeking. This is where I encourage writers to participate in whatever skills-and-relationships building opportunities you can afford. Join professional organizations devoted to your genre. Save up and go to one conference, regional meeting, or local event to network and better your craft. Develop relationships with other authors and editors, and take advantage of online resources. While I was waiting to hear back on A Long Walk with Mary, I volunteered to be a book reviewer and joined some Facebook groups to connect with other creators in the Orthodox Christian world. I am convinced that anything can be a learning experience.

In June of 2019, news arrived. Ancient Faith Publishing was interested in publishing my book! What followed was a flurry of contract negotiations, writing the rest of the book, and – oh! – a pregnancy! The final book was scheduled to be submitted by May 2020, just a few months from my due date. Those precious, unplanned-for months with a newborn changed the course (and ending) of my memoir for the better. I edited the book and added an epilogue from my laptop while my infant son slept sprawled across my lap.

A Long Walk with Mary: A Personal Search for the Mother of God was released in ebook and print in March 2021, and over the summer of that year, I recorded the audiobook version. Since its release, I have been humbled and challenged by its impact. I have been a guest on several podcasts, spoken to book clubs, and even presented at a women’s retreat.

Reading this, you may think this case study is about one lucky chance at getting a book published right out of the gate, but I want to encourage you. In fact, I just had my second full-length book proposal, which I also labored over, rejected by my publisher. After my experience with A Long Walk with Mary, let me tell you, this rejection hurt! My debut book simply had a unique timing and journey; your books will have their own special journeys, too.

Today, I’m back at square one. Back to waiting for something to emerge from the horizon, to writing in the in-between times. Back to reading and journaling and asking myself the all-important question we must never stop asking ourselves:

“What am I going to write next?”

BIO: Brandi Willis Schreiber is the author of poetry, nonfiction, and prize-winning fiction. A longtime native of West Texas, her work has appeared in St. Katherine Review, New Texas: A Journal of Culture and Literature; Big Tex[t], The Texas Review, Red River Review, All Things Dickinson: An Encyclopedia of Emily Dickinson’s World, 2Elizabeths Literary Journal, and elsewhere. Her first full-length book and audiobook, the spiritual memoir, A Long Walk with Mary: A Personal Search for the Mother of God, were published by Ancient Faith Publishing in 2021. Her fiction has appeared in the Romance Writers of America’s anthology, Second Chances: A Romance Writers of America Anthology, and she was the 2017 grand prize winner of the 2Elizabeths “Love and Romance” writing contest. Forthcoming work includes a nativity devotional which is scheduled to be released by Ancient Faith Publishing in late 2023. You can connect with her and learn more about www.brandiwillisschreiber.com




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