by Brandilynn Collins
By 2012, I’d written a lot of novels and had a certain amount of success. But I felt it diminishing. I was constantly disappointed in sales. I was supposed to do better.
That fall I was driving into town from my Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, home, blasting rock music and enjoying the scenery. God spoke in that moment: I want to talk to you. I turned off the music so I could concentrate—and listened. He told me a number of very specific things. One was to continue to write Christian fiction. The last one was this: I am going to take you deeper. I didn’t know what that would entail. I imagined it wouldn’t be something fun and easy. We humanoids don’t tend to grow so much in the good times. I told God that kind of scared me. But I said, “Okay, Lord. Whatever this means, I’m in.”
No Agent. No House.
That month I had another suspense released. Sales were considerably lower than the one before it. Same thing would happen with the next two releases. In the spring of 2013, my publisher, Broadman & Holman, decided they weren’t going to publish any more fiction, and my contract was cancelled. My agent at that time was Lee Hough. Jane Jordan Browne had died early in my career from pancreatic cancer. Lee had been struck with brain cancer. Two months after my publishing house folded, he died.
Such a loss for the world and our industry. And I was left without a house or agent. It would not have been hard to sign with a different agent in the same agency. And I could have resold my books to a new publisher. But after much prayer and due diligence, I decided to go indie full time. I’d cut out the middleman. Make more money.
At first that was true. But then my income started to slip. Writing had always been really hard for me, but it got even harder. I couldn’t write books as quickly. I worked harder at my brand and at marketing, but sales continually disappointed me. As 2013 passed, and 2014, and 2015, I slowly began to realize I would never see my dream of being a huge star, a major success, happen. I’d nourished that dream, fought for that dream, for twenty-five years. But I had to let go of it. Bury it. I came to a major realization. That had been my dream. My plans. My brand for myself, if you will. It had never been God’s plan.
God had better branding in mind.
Every summer I host a writers’ retreat at my house for eleven authors. They come on Thursday and leave on Monday. We call it our Plot, Pray, and Play retreat. We help one another plot our next novel. We support and pray for one another throughout the year. We have been meeting since 2003. (By the way, one of those authors is Frani—Francine Rivers. Isn’t that just like God? After her books had so affected and helped me, now I get to host her in my home every year.)
For some time now, the eleven of us have been asking God to show us what specific word he has for us in the coming year. A word that reflects where he wants to take us. Toward the end of 2016, God told me his word for me in 2017 was PREPARATION. I didn’t like that word. Sounded scary to me. What exactly was I preparing for? But I said, “Okay, Lord. Whatever that means, I’m in.”
My sales and production continued to slump.
But God began talking to me in a major way that year. He began teaching me how to trust him. How to quit worrying about sales and income and fully trust him to give me the amount of success he wanted for me. I started that year worrying every day. But God in his mercy took me on a journey. Not an easy one.
I came to realize that either you trust God, or you don’t. You can’t fully trust God and worry in the same moment. The Scriptures say, “Do not be anxious.” It’s not a suggestion; it’s a command. When you dwell in anxiousness, you can’t trust God. I learned to turn my emotions over to him. I began to learn how to take my every thought captive, as Paul says. To say, “God, I denounce these negative thoughts I’m having right now. I don’t want them. I reject them. I want complete faith and trust in you. Help me have that.”
And he did help me. Because God is faithful in doing the best for us.
In the summer of 2017, I was on a plane, reading a book, minding my own business. But I started to feel … restless. I couldn’t concentrate on reading. I tried to push through for a minute, but the restlessness grew. Then I realized what was happening. I closed the book—and my eyes, and said, “God, what do you want?”
He said these eleven words: “I want you to be a burning brand for all peoples.”
That is a weird sentence. Nothing I would ever think up. It was so strange; I immediately wrote it down in my iPad so I wouldn’t forget it.
Peoples. With an s. Plural. Which I took to mean all kinds of people. As for the “burning brand”—a vision flashed through my head as God said these words. It was a vision of a blazing torch in darkness. That is what he meant by “burning brand.” A torch.
Well, that’s … interesting, God. Why didn’t you just say the word torch?
You know you’re a writer when you try to edit God.
I sat in that plane and thought and thought about those eleven words. No way could I know all they entailed. All the ways in which I was to be this “burning brand.” But I realized one thing: This was God’s brand for me. And it would last the rest of my life. I was to carry out this mission for the rest of my life.
I didn’t know everything those eleven words would mean. I still don’t. That will unfold over many years. But I said to God, “Okay. I’m in.”
By the end of 2017, my sales were no better. And I knew they would keep going down. I knew that. And I was at a place of complete trust in God. What a relief. We put such weight on ourselves. Jesus said, “My burden is light.” Yes. It is.
My word for 2018 was PEACE.
This year, 2019, it is IDENTITY. I have a new identity to live out every day in Christ. My identity is not what I do for a living. It’s not being an author. It’s being his child. His servant in the world. His burning brand.
This year God has begun to stir my heart in new ways as I look at our country. The United States is in a complete mess. There is so much hatred. So much intolerance of someone’s differing opinion. So much sin and complete disregard for God’s truth. You and I—we’re the Church. We’re on this earth to make a difference. As the spiritual warfare in our country increases, and our days grow darker, we can’t stand back and be silent. Our voices must be heard. We must be bold.
You and I—we’re blessed! We’re writers. We can reach people through our words across the country, across the world. Whether you’re writing a blog, magazine articles, or books. Fiction or nonfiction. We can write Jesus’s truth. He is the answer to our dark world. He is the only Redeemer. We should be proclaiming him with all we do. Pointing to him through our lives and our words. Not focused on ourselves, as I was for so many years, even as I carried out his mission for me at the time.
I have come to see that part of my mission in being God’s burning brand is to urge and encourage and exhort others to be a burning brand. In this world of deceit, we know the truth. In this world of darkness, we carry blazing torches. In this world of lost souls, we know the way. In this world of despair, we know the ultimate source of joy. In this world of people headed for eternal damnation, we know the secret for eternal life. We need to speak what we know. Live it. We need to write it—without apology, without timidity. The days of this earth are getting shorter. We need to be braver. Stronger.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to work hard on your career, on your marketing, and on your branding as a writer. It does mean we need to put all that in perspective. We need to see that our writing career is merely a tool God wants to use to bring others closer to him. Ultimately, we need all that we do to point to Christ, not ourselves. This is the journey God has brought me on and continues to take me on. This is God’s journey for all of us. Will you be God’s burning brand for all peoples?
Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling and award-winning author of more than thirty books. She is best known for her Seatbelt Suspense®–fast-paced, character-driven suspense novels with myriad twists and an interwoven thread of faith. Her nonfiction title, Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors, is a popular and effective teaching book on the craft of fiction. www.brandilyncollins.com
Brandilyn has long been a favorite of the Mount Hermon writers conference. In 2002 she won the Mount Hermon Writer of the Year award. She was a keynote speaker in 2019.