How do you know if God is opening a door for you? How can you tell if going through, and even changing directions, is exactly what God wants for you? Guest Mary DeMuth shares keys to understanding new opportunities—even when we feel insecure—and to following God’s path boldly in this constantly changing world of writing.
About Mary DeMuth
Mary DeMuth is an international speaker, literary agent, podcaster, and she’s the novelist and nonfiction author of over forty books, including Pray Every Day (Harvest House Publishers 2020). She loves to help people re-story their lives. She lives in Texas with her husband of 30 years and is the mom to three adult children. Find out more at marydemuth.com. Be prayed for on her daily prayer podcast with over one million downloads: prayeveryday.show. For sexual abuse resources, visit wetoo.org. For cards, prints, and artsy fun go to marydemuth.com/art. Find out what she’s looking for as a literary agent at https://www.booksandsuch.com/our-agents/meet-mary-demuth/
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Erin: Welcome, listeners, to the deep. We’re excited to have you here, and we are excited to have a guest with us, Mary DeMuth. Yay! Karen will introduce her.
Karen: Mary DeMuth is an amazing person. She does so many things and does them all so well. Her most recent thing is the Pray Every Day podcast, which, in only three years has 1.5 million downloads. You can find that at prayeveryday.show and it’s in 150 countries and who knows how many languages. She’s just really remarkable.
She also is an amazing artist. You can find her artwork at marydemuth.com/art. That will take you to her Etsy shop. But the most important thing about Mary is how much she loves Jesus and how much she trusts him and how, when the unexpected things come to her, she follows him even if it’s difficult.
So that’s the most important thing about Mary. The depth of her love for Jesus and the depth of her faith in him is just so inspiring, and that’s what we want to share with you today because she has experienced yet another change and detour on her journey in the deep.
Erin: That’s right. Welcome, Mary.
Mary: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Erin: All right. We are excited to have you here. Some of you may or may not know we’ve had Mary on in the past for one of her books. She’s written so many, but one of them that we talked about way back when. I think that was episode 25 when we talked about God’s Wild Love, but we always ask our guests what the deep means to them.
Mary may have answered that way back when, but that changes for us. That changes according to what we’re going through in our lives. So today, Mary, what does the deep mean to you?
Mary: Today, it means fostering a very strong adherence and love for the Word of God. I’ve been making the spiritual practice, over the past two years, I’ve been choosing to rapid read the Bible in two our three month increments from beginning to end, and it’s been one of the best spiritual practices I’ve ever done. It’s caused me to have really great connections between the Old and the New Testaments, and a really strong understanding of the storytelling of God.
So, to be deep is to steep myself in the Word of God, so that I know it well enough to be able to rattle it off at any moment and to recall it at any time.
Karen: Wow. That’s impressive.
Erin: It is. How long did you say you’ve been rapid reading? Like how many times now do you think you’ve done that?
Mary: I think probably eight to ten times over the past year and a half to two years.
Erin: That’ll get you a lot of insight. I love that. That’s a great idea.
Let’s talk about just the most recent change that’s happened in your life. Because we’ve talked about a few things and we want to cover all of them, but this most recent thing that you are doing now after writing and doing all of these other things, training writers, you are now an agent. How did that happen?
Mary: I don’t know, but it just did!
It’s interesting because growing up, I never thought, “Oh, someday I want to be a literary agent.” It’s just been part of this journey that God has brought me on. This last fall, I had to let go of my literary agent and was looking for a new one. During that time, my husband and I, and our adult kids were hiking in the mountains of Colorado.
We climbed a fourteener, which was crazy. But while we were doing that and I’d lost an agent, my husband said, “You should become an agent.” Of course I told him that I can’t be my own agent, but that kind of stuck in my mind, like, “Gosh, that sounds interesting.”
I have been mentoring writers for decades. The moment I learned something I would teach it. It’s just kind of in my blood. I’ve been masterminding, I’ve been doing intensives. I’ve been training, coaching. I mean, I’ve just been doing it forever.
Well, what an interesting way to use that skillset, but to mentor writers toward traditional publishing. I have a lot of affection for traditional publishing. I know it like the back of my hand, and I’ve been through the sanctification process that is publishing, which is all the sadness and all the joy and all the things thrown in. So I feel like I can be a really good empathetic agent who understands both sides of the industry.
Erin: What made you think, though, like from his suggesting this, how did that suddenly come to be as, “Yeah, that’s really what I should do”? Lead us through that decision-making process and how you came to feel more sure that that was the next move for you.
Mary: Well, my first reaction was, “That’s dumb. I don’t want to do that.”
But the second reaction was to pray. My very first Mount Herman that I went to, Randy Alcorn was the speaker, and he encouraged us to have a prayer team. And so even before I was published, I gathered this prayer team. So the first thing I did was I went to my prayer team and some of my counselors and just sent them that idea and asked them to pray.
About a month of praying, and then Cynthia Ruchti became my agent. She’s from Books & Such Literary Management. I said to her when she signed me, “Hey, I just want to let you know, I’m actually thinking of becoming an agent. Would there be like a possibility for me to do that here?”
The answer was yes. So then that opened up some conversations between myself and Janet Grant, and we had several conversations. Then I prayed some more. I just had so much peace about it, and we just went forward. I started January 4th.
Erin: As we’re recording this, that’s just a few days ago. So what has been your impression after all of one week on the job?
Mary: Oh my goodness. My impression is that a lot of writers who want to be traditionally published have not done their homework. They don’t understand what it takes and they sadly, naively believe that if they have a good idea, that that is enough.
While that can be true, there can be good ideas with no platform, that can happen, but it has to be a pretty stupendous idea with stellar writing and all of that. I typically, this is very sad and I wish that wasn’t the case, but the way I’m weeding out my yeses and nos, and mostly nos is just asking, “What’s your platform?”
I’m taking mostly nonfiction, so it matters more. If I were taking more fiction, that number and that thing doesn’t matter as much, but on nonfiction, if I’m going to take a project to a publisher, it’s one of the first things they’re going to ask. So it’s gotta be the first thing I asked to.
Karen: Right. Yeah, it’s funny, my first month agenting with all the proposals that came to me, probably 98% of them were exactly what you say. They hadn’t done their homework. When I was working as the managing editor for publishing houses, heading up fiction lines, I had readers who did the first pass read on proposals.
I didn’t have that as an agent and so I went to Steve Laube, and I said, “Who are these people? And how do they keep finding me?”
Please, listeners, don’t think that we’re making fun of you. It’s simply the fact that I had not realized, naively, I had not realized how many people just don’t understand what’s involved in seeking a traditional publishing contract.
Erin: Right. So aside from platform, what else would attract you, Mary, to working with a specific person? Because there may be lots of people who might meet some of those criteria. What would sway you in one direction over the other?
Mary: I’ve had the privilege of working with authors for about 15 years now, and so of course, one of the answers is relationship.
Mary: Relationship really matters. If I know someone well, and I know their writing, and I know their heart, and I know what they do to promote, and I know all that already, I can take what they say at face value. So that helps, of course.
The other thing is if it kind of hits a very strong pain point in the culture today. We’ve got lots of pain points thanks to COVID. So, I’m also looking for something to speak into what’s going on in our world. That could trump, to use, you know, a president’s name, but that would trump, some other things. That would maybe cancel out the need for a bigger platform if there’s something theological to say.
I’m also really, really interested in theologically sound voices. People who know their Bible very well. I have to be able to stand before God someday with the things that I champion and be able to say that this is good for the Kingdom. If it’s slipshod theology or it’s playing loosey goosey with the word of God, I don’t care if it’s going to make me a million dollars. I just flat out don’t care. I would not put it out there.
Karen: That’s integrity in what you’re doing. That’s far too lacking in our world today.
Erin: Let’s switch gears a little bit. We led with this whole idea of your podcast, Pray Every Day. That surely was a change from being a writer. How did that podcast come about?
Mary: You know, it launched three years ago in the midst of some pretty extreme spiritual warfare. That always makes me realize that God’s up to something when there’s a bunch of, you know, hoopla around it.
I was actually launching the book Jesus Every Day, which is a 365 day devotional, where it’s like the opposite of Jesus Calling. In Jesus Calling, Jesus says stuff to you. In Jesus Every Day, you get a Scripture, and you pray that Scripture back to God. So it’s a prayer that you say, or that you read back to God.
I was meeting with my mastermind group. I have my own author marketing mastermind group that I’m a part of, and we were on our retreat. I said, “I want to think of something that would be creative to launch this book.” My friend Thomas Umstattd said, “You should do a podcast where you read Scripture and pray according to the Scripture.”
I was like, “Wow, that’s brilliant.” It was not my idea. But that’s how it came about. It started on February 1st, three years ago, and it’s just that simple. It’s about five minutes long. I’m reading through books of the Bible. Right now, I’m reading a chapter of Isaiah every day. I read it and then I pray according to what I’ve read, and I pray for my audience. That’s all it was.
Karen: That’s amazing. The Word of God reaching out and touching people all over the world. That’s exactly what we need. I’m delighted that it has had the reach and the success that it’s had, because it’s the Word of God. That’s outstanding. That’s using social media the way it should be used.
Mary: Yeah. Definitely.
Erin: Actually I love this, Mary, because this idea, the podcast, you were like, “Oh, first reaction, brilliant idea.” And that moves forward. But the agent, you know, “First reaction, dumb idea.” But that still moved forward.
I mean, to me, it’s that when you go and you continue to explore, and when you see the path that God is putting you on, maybe some of us out there might have that same reaction: Oh, that’s not a good idea. But when we are open to it or continue to explore, and especially when we are willing to pray about it, I love how that opens doors that we would not have gone through.
Mary: Yeah. When authors come to me and say, “Well, what’s the best thing I can do for my career?” I always echo Randy Alcorn’s advice: Get yourself a prayer team. Have them walk you through your entire career.
I would not be where I am today without prayer.
Erin: Right. Well, let’s talk about another change or maybe it’s just an addition. You’ve got this art shop. Talk a little bit about how you can be a writer and still do all these other things. Because I think some people feel maybe pigeonholed as if they can only write, but look at all these other things you’re doing.
Mary: Yeah, I think about, you know, some people are made “Renaissance-y” that way. Like that’s just to use it, to coin a word, and I’m that way.
I just have a lot of interests. If I had listened to folks way back at the beginning of my career, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because I did write fiction, and I wrote nonfiction, and I wrote memoir, and I wrote devotionals, and I’ve done historical fiction. I’ve done everything.
I don’t know why the Lord has allowed it, but it’s been great. But in terms of the art, that was a fluke. This is why I think it’s really fun. About five or six, maybe seven years ago, I had a friend of mine who, instead of not eating chocolate for Lent, or whatever, he would create a piece of art every day.
I just loved that idea, so for about three or four years during Lent, I would just create a piece of art every day. Sometimes I’d throw it up on social media. Not often, but sometimes, and I would send it to my newsletter list and whatever. I just started having all these people ask me for it.
For years I resisted. I was like, “That’s dumb.”
I was insecure about my art. I’m not insecure about my writing. I have been working on it for decades. I’m very good at it, and I know that. I’m not saying that to be prideful, but I have confidence in all of that work that I’ve done. But I haven’t studied art. I don’t have any of those decades behind me, so I’m super insecure.
Finally I just thought, “Well, I’ll just throw a couple of things up on this Etsy shop and see what happens. It’s ended up being what helped me during the pandemic to make money. It was surprising. It’s actually been very sweet.
The thing that sells the most on that shop are 31 Scripture cards. That was an idea from my friend Susan, who is an amazing author in Austin. She said, “You really ought to make little cards of Scripture with art on them.” And I was like, “That’s cool.” She was brilliant.
I guess one of the things I’ll say is listen to your readers. Listen to the people around you. Listen to people who know you. They actually may see things in you that you don’t see in yourself.Listen to your readers. Listen to the people around you. Listen to people who know you. They actually may see things in you that you don't see in yourself. #amwriting @MaryDeMuth Click To Tweet
Karen: That’s interesting because that plays into your responses to these ideas. When your response to Thomas’ idea of the Scripture and all that was, “Wow. That’s brilliant,” it was because it was Scripture. Yeah, it was you praying what you learned from that Scripture, but it was still Scripture.
But when it was the idea of you being an agent and the idea of you doing your art, your response was, “Well, that’s dumb,” because we’re so insecure about the abilities that we have to share. Creativity in other ways beyond writing. So I think it’s a good lesson to us that if our first response is something like, “That’s dumb,” stop and evaluate why you think it’s dumb. Why are you thinking that this is not something you should be doing?
It could be God saying, “Well, that’s dumb.” Or it could be your inner voice and tapes saying to you, “No, don’t do that because it’s too scary, and you’ll be putting yourself on the line, and you just really don’t want to do that. You don’t need any more rejection, you’re an author!”
We need to be aware of how our own inner tapes impact our ability to step out and try something.
Mary: Karen, that is brilliant. I have never thought of it that way. I’m serious. You get five gold stars. I had never thought of it that way, but you are so right. I think a lot of us as artists, and I’ll just say it as, you know, vocalists, artists, graphic artists, whatever, we are quick to discount what God has put inside of us.
I said I’m rapid reading the Bible again. I just got through the temple and all of the people that God had imbued with these talents. Some of them were the jack-of-all-trades. Some of them were Renaissance-y. They were like doing bronze and then they were doing weaving and so on.
The Bible has precedent for you to be able to be you. To do the things that he calls you to do. He’s also very gracious to place people in your life to encourage you when you’re freaked out about it.
Karen: Yes. I love that. He takes care of all of it. Why can’t we just rest in that and trust in that?
Erin: Mary, as we’re starting to come to the end of our time, is there anything else you would want writers to know about change?
Mary: Well, of course, it’s the one thing we can count on.
Karen: Right! The only thing that never changes is change.
Mary: That’s right. It reminds me of a discussion on the Books & Such Facebook page, that’s the literary agency I’m with. Someone brought up new social media platforms, in light of just recent events, and should we jump onto those as well?
My first hunch was well, you know, of course we need to be flexible and nimble and go where our readers are. So I won’t say you have to go here, or go there. Just find your readers and go where they are.
But the other thing we talked about was thinking of some of those long-term things that cannot be taken away from you. Social media platforms can be, but your email list typically cannot be. My thought is, yes, there’s going to be change in the industry. There’s going to be change in our world, but building your tribe on platforms that you own is really important. On your website, your email distribution lists, those are things you own, and that’s where we should place our concentration.
There are so many stressed out authors. They’re spreading themselves thin. My advice in that way is to find one thing first. Do it well, and then venture after. You can put yourself out in all the places just don’t deal with them for awhile. Become great at one and then venture after that.
Karen: Yeah. That’s very true.
We can also hold fast to the fact that the one thing that will never change is God. He is speaking into our hearts and our lives. He’s leading, he’s directing. He is who he is now and forever, and we can trust him.
It’s clear that you’ve done that. It’s clear that you have grown and learned that when he plants an idea in your mind, yes, let’s explore this and see if this is a door he’s gonna open. I love that kind of confidence and that kind of freedom because we can just rest in the fact that he has the very best in mind for us. We can never tell how he wants to use us.
Mary, thank you for being an example of that. Thank you for looking to God and to prayer, to guide you and to lead you in the decisions you make. And thank you for reminding us that the most powerful thing we can do for not just our careers and our writing, but for our lives and our witness is to steep ourselves in the Word and to steep ourselves in prayer.
It’s been a delight. You’ve been a delight, and we just wish you every good thing in this new venture God has led you to.
Mary: Thank you so much. It’s such a blessing to be on, and I really appreciate your hearts for this need in our industry and in our writings for the deeper things of God.
I think a lot of us, we look with earthly eyes on earthly success. We forget that on the other side: new heavens, new earth. I have a feeling that the first are going to be last and the last are going to be first and the best sellers are going to be the least sellers and the least sellers are going to be the best sellers.
We are not tasked with success. We are tasked with obedience, so we have to look beyond what we see here with our eyes.
Erin: Amen. Thanks, Mary.
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