“Thank GOD I’m so humble.” Do you know anyone who seems to think this about himself? Ever catch yourself thinking that? Well, then it’s time to take a hard look at what is true—and false—humility. Especially when it comes to promoting your books…
As Christians, we’re told to be humble. As writers, we’re told we need a platform. We’re told we need to promote ourselves and our books. How do we reconcile those two things? What about awards? Is it right to want to win a writing award? Gain bestselling status? What about when we’re writing a proposal or talking to a prospective editor or agent? Or other writers? Or readers? We don’t want to be tooting our own horn, but we don’t want to give the impression we have nothing to offer.
What exactly IS humility and how does that work for writers?
First, let’s give you a new perspective. Promotion isn’t about you. It’s about God. We’ll talk more about that as we go.
What is humility?
A Psychology Today article had this to say about humility: “The humble person keeps her accomplishments, gifts, and talents in a proper perspective…”
That last bit is the key. “In a proper perspective.” It’s not saying accomplishments, gifts, and talents are bad. But you have to understand where they come from. Who gave them to you? Who gets the glory for those things?
- Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 4:7 “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
- Humility is understanding that our talents, our achievements, come from God, and they’re meant to bring glory to Him, not us. This is part of what we mean when we say promotion isn’t about you. It’s about God.
The Psychology Today article goes on to say: “…humble individuals are also oriented towards others, they value the welfare of other people…”
- Philippians 2:3 echoes that idea of valuing others: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
- 1 Peter 4:10 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
We need to ask ourselves what our purpose is in this writing task. Is it about us?
Are we doing this to serve or are we doing this because we’ve always wanted to be an author and sell lots of books?
Jesus is our model for serving with humility.
- Matthew 20:25-28 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
- Why did He do this? Because He loved us. He valued us. Let this be our motivation too.
- Whether you write greeting cards, devotionals, or sci-fi thrillers, serve your readers with humility because you care about them, you respect them, you value them, and yes, you love them.
God gets the glory for that, because we’re reflecting God’s glory and grace when we love others and imitate God by walking in love.
What is False Humility?
This is a heart issue. It’s when you put on the cloak of humility, but in reality, your ego is at work making sure people know how humble you are.
- Matthew 6:1-5 in The Message says, “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good (or humble) so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace.”
Signs that you’re giving in to false humility when you’re doing promotion
- When you make a performance out of “being humble”
- When it’s done for any audience other than God
- When you’re pretending like you’re stepping out of the spotlight, but in reality, you make sure the spotlight follows you
- One example is constantly slipping in references to your accomplishments: “Even though I’ve written 80 books, I struggle with that sense of not being good enough…” What would show true humility? Something like, “Those feelings that you’re not good enough are always there…” Then turn the conversation to how God deals with that struggle. The focus is on God, not on you and your accomplishments.
Low self-esteem is NOT humility
- Pastor Marty Brown’s definition: It’s not thinking more highly, OR more lowly of yourself than you ought. It’s accepting what God says about you without argument.
- Some of us may struggle with low self esteem. That’s not humility. God says you’re fearfully and wonderfully made and that you’re valuable to Him. Christ was willing to die for you because He loved you. He valued you.
- C.S. Lewis says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” That goes back to valuing others and being outwardly focused.
Why is humility a desirable trait?
The same Psychology Today article mentioned these benefits of humility: “Interestingly, the empirical research on humility shows that this trait has great value. Humility has been linked with better academic performance, job performance, and excellence in leadership. Humble people have better social relationships, avoid deception in their social interactions, and they tend to be forgiving, grateful, and cooperative. A recent set of studies also shows that humility is a consistent predictor of generosity.”
What does God say about humility, and why it’s desirable?
- Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
- Proverbs 22:4 “True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.”
- 1 Peter 5:5 “…All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
How writers can practice humility
Listen to others
- Don’t listen so you can talk. Listen so you can get to know that person.
- Ask questions. Understand them. Hear what’s underneath what they’re saying and think about how you can meet their needs.
Don’t use being “humble” as an excuse for not doing your job, which is promotion
- Don’t worry about being a bestselling author. Focus interviews and promotion on talking about God and why you felt led to write this book. Talk about your own struggle. Be transparent and authentic.
- Focus on marketing with excellence, but leave the results in God’s hands.
- Promotion doesn’t equate with pride or thinking more of yourself than you should. For writers, promotion is serving the readers who need your book. Remember, it’s really not about you or “your” book, it’s about letting people know about a message God breathed into you for your readers’ benefit.
How do you communicate your ability with humility when speaking with prospective agents, editors, or readers?
- Let your writing speak for itself. Don’t tell someone you’re an excellent writer, even if you have 5 star reviews on Amazon. Let people judge your writing for themselves.
- What you want to do instead is communicate your passion. Why are you writing what you’re writing? What excites you about it? Talk about the reasons why you can’t NOT write this.
How do you build your platform with humility?
- Don’t focus on building your platform. That’s about you. Focus instead on connecting with those you can help. That focus is on the readers.
- Engage people with your passion, with your message. Doing that with all your heart is what matters. It’s up to God to determine the level or size of your platform.
Should you try to win awards?
First, you should write the best book you can. Always. That’s the focus.
- Don’t enter a contest to stroke your ego, or because you need someone to tell you your writing is good, or because you need validation, or to boast.
- But awards can sometimes be useful for promotion – to help people find out about the book and/or to help build your reputation for writing your message. This may be useful to you as an indie or hybrid author. Also, many publishers enter their authors’ books in contests.
- However, Karen doesn’t think entering contests on your own is a wise thing to do for your heart. She’s seen writers struggle with hurt, rejection, even resentment and envy when they don’t win. Don’t put yourself in the position to be tempted.
- Bottom line: contests are a danger area. Search your heart. Don’t enter if it’s going to bring a challenge to you in terms of comparison, or begrudging someone else. Make sure you can do this to honor your publisher and honor God first.
If you do win an award, should you post on social media?
- Yes you should post, because it’s an award to your publisher too
- But focus on thanking those who gave you the award, on the readers, and on those who helped bring the book to publication
Final thoughts on humility
Exercise trust and patience in this whole process: 1 Peter 5:6 “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor.” Do your work in humility. Trust Him to do what He wants to do with you and your career.
Finally, be prayerful. True humility is a gift from God. Being able to be truly humble comes from Him. It doesn’t come out of the motivations of the human heart. It’s too conflicted and too full of the need to be acknowledged. We need to submit that heart to God, submit all those places where we feel inadequate, submit all the things that could be translated into false humility. Surrender all those things on His altar. Your desire to be recognized, your desire to be a bestseller. Put all of that on the altar and tell Him, “Do with me, do with my career, what You will.” Whatever comes your way, you will know it comes from Him. And you will know that you’ve found and embraced humility because your response will be gratitude. And your response will be to put the spotlight on Him.
We want to hear from you
What helps you distinguish true humility from false humility?