Not long after becoming a student of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) in the mid-1980s, I became interested in its story, and the people who made that story. My writing career had begun a decade earlier as an investigative journalist — which reflected a mindset of believing that there was something seriously wrong with the world, there must be any number of people to blame, and it was up to me to find out who they were and expose them.
Becoming seriously ill at age 32 quickly knocked that crap out of me. Becoming a Course student early in that seven-year transformative crisis raised in my mind the possibility that whatever I saw as “wrong with the world” had mostly to do with how I saw it. The jury would be out on that issue for a few years to come… but I retained a reporter’s instinct about the “real story” behind significant events or social developments.
By the late 1980s, about ten years after its formal publication, ACIM was becoming a very significant social development, with sales of the three-volume teaching already in the hundreds of thousands and study groups proliferating worldwide. But there was yet very little written about it that adhered to journalistic standards, i.e, that was neither promotional nor irrationally critical, or that attempted to tell its story fairly and factually.
So I began researching the story of ACIM, meeting many of its principal characters including publisher Judy Skutch, teacher Ken Wapnick, writers Jerry Jampolsky and Marianne Williamson, and Bill Thetford, one of the original transcribers (whom I briefly interviewed just a few months before his passing in 1988). The research and interviews resulted in a series of articles that were published in print periodicals, eventually leading to a book-length history and commentary entitled The Complete Story of the Course. My literary agent Laurie Fox (also my wife at the time) sold the book to a major publisher in New York for an advance of $27,500. So far, so good.
But soon I encountered one of the vagaries of the publishing world that would seriously challenge my beginner's skill in forgiveness. After the book was fully copy-edited and placed on a publication schedule, my editor informed me that she had been fired, and her projects were being temporarily taken over by her boss. In my first conversation with him, he revealed that he had not liked some of my editor’s acquisitions, and my book was one of them. However, the house would proceed with publication on a delayed basis because the book was already being advertised in catalogs. During the delay, the book would be retitled and “reshaped.”
When I asked the new editor exactly how the book would be reshaped, he said that it was currently too journalistic, and he would rather publish a book that was “more like Marianne Williamson’s.” (Her first book A Return to Love was a best-selling sensation at the time.) In the following heated discussion, I told him that I knew and liked Marianne, but I thought she already did a perfectly good job of writing like herself. Thus I didn’t think it would serve anyone for my book to seem like hers. When I asked to be included, at least, in the revision process, he said that wouldn’t be necessary. He would make the changes needed without my involvement.
I replied that if my book was going to be substantially altered without my input, then I would break contract and pull it from publication.
The editor promptly informed me of the consequences of such a rebellion: the house would demand full repayment of the advance at once, and… “you will never be published in this town again.” By “this town” he meant New York City, the traditional heart of American publishing, long considered the gateway to a legitimate career as an author — although not so much anymore. The approaching tsunami of independent publishing, of which I was about to become a wavelet, would soon change the face of American publishing forever.
To make a long and very complicated story short, I ended up publishing The Complete Story of the Course on my own in 1997, after the publisher backed down on the demand for immediate repayment of the advance. Nonetheless it would have to be paid off eventually, and I faced the additional expense of publishing myself. This was happening at the very same time that Laurie and I had committed to buying a house.
Needless to say, what had been a rewarding journalistic adventure was quickly becoming an exercise in major anxiety. By this time, the mid-1990s, I was a Course veteran of ten years and mainly used it as a kind of oracle. Rather than studying the Workbook lessons or Text daily, I would open its pages at random when faced with a conflict or dilemma. Thus there came the day when, besieged with doubt over my recent decisions and fearful of what was to come in my foray into indie publishing, I flipped open the Course at random to see what its advice might be… even down to the specifics of what to call my publishing company.
The big blue book fell open to Lesson 48: There is nothing to fear. And that's when I knew that my company had to be called Fearless Books.
Then I met this weird guy
For the next five years I assumed that Fearless would serve only as a vehicle to keep my writing career alive. I would subsequently republish two other books of mine from the mid-90s, A Little Book of Forgiveness and The Book of Practical Faith — both of which had run into trouble with their New York publishers (don’t ask; we’ll be here all day).
"Ending My Religion" appears in my memoir Mostly a Mystic: Reflections on a Spiritual (But Not Religious) Life
Meanwhile my study of the Course continued. But I had soured on ACIM as a spiritual movement, as I watched its so-called “community” of students and teachers descend into a divisive, rancorous controversy over the legitimacy of the teaching’s copyright. Well before that fight was resolved with a 2004 court decision revoking the copyright, I had published an essay in THE SUN magazine entitled “Ending My Religion.” In that piece, I announced my retirement from any public association with ACIM, while retaining my private study.Just to show that I don't know anything, about six months after that article was published I received an out-of-the-blue letter from a weird guy named Gary Renard. This fellow appeared to be a hermit living in the backwoods of Maine where he was seeing things — or, ascended masters, to be precise — on his living room couch. He wanted to know if I would consider publishing his over-long manuscript entitled THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE UNIVERSE, a record of nine years of conversation with the aforesaid masters, who went by the monikers Arten and Pursah. (They claimed that they had appeared before Gary to teach him the Course.) I wrote back and told him I didn’t publish anyone besides myself and besides, what he was describing really wasn’t my kind of thing.
Gary wrote back and asked if I would read the manuscript if he paid me. Since I was supplementing my meager writer’s income with manuscript assessments by that time, I replied that sure, I’d read anything somebody paid me to read. But I warned him that he was unlikely to get a positive report, given my sight-unseen pre-judgment of the manuscript.
Gary replied and said, “Good. Because you’re supposed to read it.” Now that got my attention! The uppity contract-breaker within me just liked this guy's attitude.
Still, when I received the full manuscript on paper, I remember sighing as I faced the stack, preparing myself for a slow mental trudge through its 400+ pages. Since I’d been dwelling in the alt-spirituality realm for a while as a magazine writer and book reviewer, I figured there was nothing that could surprise me — but plenty that might bore me.
Instead, about thirty pages in, my eyes were streaming with tears of laughter as I announced out loud, to no one visible, “This is gonna be a hit!” And I knew already that I was going to publish the first author besides myself — since no publisher in their conventional “right mind” would touch Gary's project. Why? Because it broke almost every rule of a marketable manuscript. It was too long, it was written almost entirely in dialogue, and it was based on an entirely preposterous premise.
But there was a precedent: A Course in Miracles itself was way too long, written in an often inscrutable, lecturing tone, and based on an entirely preposterous premise. And it was increasingly recognized as a modern spiritual classic.
I'll shorten the rest of this story too. My hunch about "DU" proved out, and I sold over 20,000 copies in just under two years before we licensed the rights to Hay House, a major independent publisher based in Southern California. They went on to sell over 200,000 copies in multiple languages, and Gary went on to write three more books for Hay House.
Fearless Books 2003; Hay House 2005
Pursuing a Miraculous Business
Thus began my unexpected career as a boutique independent publisher focused on, but not limited to, books related to the Course. In 2012 I published the collected newsletter essays of the UK writer Ian Patrick: Of Course! How Many Lights Bulbs Does It Take to Change? Reflections on a Course in Miracles (now published by John Hunt / O Books). I also republished the hilarious classic parody of ACIM entitled A Course in Marigolds (originally published by author Michael Stillwater). And I've helped other Course writers publish independently in print and/or digital media. As my career in manuscript assessment and publishing consultations grew, I added "Literary Services" to the Fearless name.
Then in 2015, to my great surprise, I began working formally as a literary agent, an occupation that I had once sworn never to attempt. This has afforded me the opportunity to help a number of other writers, some of them Course-inspired, to be published with other houses — including Maria Felipe, Corinne Zupko, and Dana Marrocco. And though I publish infrequently under my own imprint, I am about to release a splendid book of prayers, Enlighten Your Life, by the French-American writer Lyna Rose.
Live Your Happy by Maria Felipe, New World Library 2017; From Anxiety to Love by Corinne Zupko, New World 2018; THE TOP TEN LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Dana Marrocco, PhD, Ixia Press 2018; ENLIGHTEN YOUR LIFE by Lyna Rose, Fearless Books 2018
While I remain a sole proprietor, I also have the privilege of working with a superb group of associates who help out with the myriad offerings of Fearless Literary, including my Associate Agent Jen Listug and, behind the scenes, my ex-wife and agenting mentor Laurie Fox.
Many years ago when I had just fallen ill and had absolutely no idea where my life was going — or whether it had anywhere to go at all — I saw an astute astrological counselor who predicted that while I would have a full career as a writer, I would have more influence as a facilitator of other writers' talents. At the time, this prediction made no sense whatsoever. I was still struggling to achieve a personal goal of Famous Writerhood, and I had no idea of how (or why) I would help other writers someday.
But I believe now that my encounter with A Course in Miracles, which steered me onto a tumultuous path of personal healing, also steered me toward a professional destiny that would embrace the creative talents and spiritual searches of many others. This was a miraculous turn of events that I would never have stumbled upon by myself, without a profound discipline that reminded me: "When I am healed, I am not healed alone."
Published in that town again
I've enjoyed other miracles in my writing and publishing career, one granting a bit of sweet revenge. Eleven years after I self-published The Complete Story, it was picked up for a revision and retitled Understanding A Course in Miracles by an independent publisher in Berkeley, CA called Ten Speed Press. Within a few years Ten Speed was purchased by Random House, which later merged with Penguin to form one of the five publishing monoliths currently left in New York City, Penguin Random House. I also wrote a sequel to Understanding for Tarcher Penguin, entitled Living with Miracles. Thus the book that was supposed to end my career as a writer for New York publishers eventually got me published in that town again, after all.
Finally, my earlier inspirational titles that ran into trouble in the Big Apple have recently been resurrected by the indie house Hampton Roads Publishing, part of Red Wheel Weiser Books.
A Little Book of Forgiveness, 1994 became The Forgiveness Book, 2017.
The Book of Practical Faith, 1995 becomes How to Be Spiritual Without
Being Religious, with a Foreword by Iyanla Vanzant,
forthcoming in November 2018.
For all those who might assume that publishing in both the mainstream and side creeks of the book industry has landed me on Author's Easy Street, a quick look at the Fearless financials would reverse those assumptions. But as I tell all my authors, no one should be in the writing business — especially the spiritual writing business — who does not regard it, first and last, as a labor of love. For love is the key to miracles, not to mention a life lived as fearlessly as possible. As I look back on over twenty years as an indie publisher, I am grateful for the progress of my own career, yet find myself more inspired and intrigued by the talents I am assisting today... and those whom I've yet to meet.
FEARLESS LITERARY SERVICES INCLUDE:
with Jen Listug and
with Alexandra Leh
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