Back in the summer of 2008 I first read William Paul Young’s The Shack (a publishing phenomenon that has gone on to sell more than ten million copies). Shortly thereafter I presented a couple seminars on the book which were so warmly received that I decided to write a companion to the book. I got a contract from Paternoster US (later Biblica) and wrote the book in October 2008. Just as I was finishing the book I learned that InterVarsity Press had contracted its own companion to The Shack to be written by well known theologian Roger Olson. That wasn’t good news. It was kind of like Daihatsu discovering that the platform promoting its new microcar at the L.A. Auto Show had been placed right beside the Camaro ZL1. (In case you’re wondering, in the illustration I’m the Daihatsu.) To make matters worse I discovered that InterVarsity had titled Olson’s book Finding God in the Shack, the same title we had chosen.
But there was one saving grace: Olson’s book was slated to be released in May while mine would be released on February 10th. At least that would give me a good boost. Or so I thought. Then IVP bumped up the release date of Olson’s book to February 3! Arghh! Upstaged again!
My most memorable moment came at a book signing for Finding God in the Shack. There I was ensconced in a chair with a stack of books near the entrance to the store. Suddenly a man walked into the bookstore, looked at the books, looked at me, and said with rapturous awe: “I can’t believe you’re here!” With that he grabbed one of the books and asked me to sign. Maybe this book signing business isn’t so bad after all, I thought to myself. Then he looked at the signature and realized who I was, and more precisely who I wasn’t. You see, the cover of my book looked very much like the cover of The Shack. The poor bloke had thought I was William Paul Young! The most humbling moment came seconds later when, although crestfallen, he quipped “I’ll still buy the book.” Gee thanks buddy!
Yes, that was a low point. But there were many high (or higher) points as well. I did a television interview, more than two dozen radio interviews, and spoke at the Booksellers’ Convention in Dallas, Texas. Over all the sales in North America were quite good with the book selling over 25,000 copies in its first two 1/2 years on the market.
Even after all this, the most surprising chapters in this story were yet to come…
In the summer of 2009 when the book had been on the market for six months I was surfing online when I came across an image of the first book cover pictured above. What was my name doing on a book titled Encontre Deus na Cabana? After contacting my publisher I learned that they had contracted with a Brazilian publisher to publish my book in Portuguese. Unbeknownst to me it had entered the Brazilian market in the beginning of July. Little did I know that that edition would become the real phenomenon. Encontre Deus na Cabana began to climb the bestseller chart in Brazil. A magazine named Veja maintains a publishing sales chart which is the Brazilian equivalent of the New York Times Bestseller List. And my humble little book stayed on that chart for more than 18 months. All told, sales in Brazil to date (of two editions) have topped 275,000 books. In other words, the book sold more than ten times in Portuguese what it sold in English. Among other things that success resulted in an invitation to speak in Rio de Janeiro this past June.
But the story of Finding God in the Shack is not quite finished. The last chapter is, in some respects, the most surprising of all. This past summer Biblica, the book’s publisher, decided to refocus their publishing on the Bible market. Consequently, they decided to sell off their publishing list to another publisher of similar philosophy. After several months of negotiation they announced yesterday that a joint agreement had been reached with … InterVarsity Press! Now this is definitely good news. InterVarsity is one of the best Christian / evangelical publishers out there. Since I have three books with Biblica (one still forthcoming) I can say I’m very happy that the titles will be managed by IVP. But you gotta admit it is a bit ironic. Two Finding God in the Shacks was curious enough. But one publisher and two Finding God in the Shacks? That’s worth an entry in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Jokingly I have suggested that my book and Olson’s book could be published together in an omnibus. We’ll see if that flies with the publisher!
So there you have it. The high points, low points, and alltogether surprising turns in the unlikely story of Finding God in the Shack.