The devotional book Heaven and Nature Sing was a collaborative effort of writing, photography and illustration between 26 different authors and artists.
One of the reasons I believe so strongly that the idea for this book was straight from the Lord—instead of from my own head—is because of this collaboration.
When the idea came to me to write a 365-day devotional for outdoor and nature lovers, part of the original idea was that it would be a collaborative effort. I honestly don’t think I would’ve thought of that on my own!
I wasn’t sure how it would work, but I knew it needed to happen. It was part of this assignment.
How Far to Cast the Net?
I already knew quite a few people who worked in outdoor ministry or in outdoor business, either currently or in the past. My plan was to go to these folks to see if they’d be interested in joining this project.
I happened to be working with a business coach at the time and she suggested I go further than that. She advised I get on Instagram, search for #outdoorministry, and create a database of every group I found. Then start to reach out one-by-one via email with an invitation to collaborate.
I said, “But I don’t know these people…and they don’t know me!” She said, “It doesn’t matter. They’ll be honored to be asked, even if they don’t end up being part of it.”
So I went and did that.
I started in the US, my own country. Turns out there are many, many outdoor ministries here! I ended up with a few dozen on my list. Then I started searching outside the US in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
So basically, I cast the invitation net over the whole world!
The Recruiting Process
Because I’m used to contacting people I don’t know through my blogging work with clients, this part of the process didn’t bother me at all.
The other part that didn’t bother me was hearing either *crickets* (as in, nothing) or no thanks in return.
When pursuing something like this you have to realize a negative answer isn’t a personal rejection. It just means that person is too busy, not interested, or has any number of other valid reasons for not wanting to participate.
A few of the 60 or 70 people I contacted responded with a lot of encouragement about the project itself, but weren’t able to accept for some reason. Another handful initially said yes, but weren’t able to contribute after all.
In the end, 25 people agreed and sent at least one devotional. 14 of them had never met me, except through that initial email. I think that’s a wonderful reflection of the Body of Christ—the willingness to step out and trust like that.
I’m so grateful for the time, effort and experience shown by these collaborators.
The Writing Process
This was all back in the winter and spring of 2020. From then until the winter of 2022, we all wrote.
As you can see from the the link just above or from the Author List at the back of the book, some of the contributors submitted just one devotional. Several submitted between 3 and 10, and a couple of local friends sent in 20 or more.
These all came in over the course of those two years. And all the while I was writing my own devotionals for the book.
I didn’t know how many I’d end up writing myself because it depended on how many I received from the others. When all was said-and-done, I wrote about two-thirds and the rest handled the other third.
It was about a year into it when I realized I’d be writing the bulk of the book. I had already gone through all the ideas I had jotted down in my journal. How was I going to come up with 60 or 80 more?
That began a really cool process of “writing with the Holy Spirit” for the next several months. Many mornings I’d read something in my Bible that stood out. I’d say, “Holy Spirit, how can I turn this into a devotional about the outdoors? What does this have to do with nature, or a wilderness experience? What are You saying here?”
He’d tell me!
I know many Christians don’t believe the Lord speaks to us personally like that today. But that’s the only way I can explain it. I’d pray that while sitting at my laptop, and an idea would pop in my head. It was fun!
I was so blessed by His faithfulness to lead me down this path to eventually finish this assignment He gave me.
Besides the writers, a couple other collaborators included my mom Kathy and my daughter Jamie. They both volunteered many hours to edit and proofread the manuscript.
I also wanted to use some artwork in the book somehow, and definitely wanted to invite my father-in-law, Steve, to contribute.
Steve made his living as an artist for most of his career, and has blessed so many people with original paintings—including us. We have his handiwork all over our home.
When I asked him about doing some black and white illustrations for a devotional about nature, I was so happy he agreed. He contributed eight in total. Four of them were ones he had done years ago. The other four are originals he hand-drew for the book.
(So the “S. Brodin” signatures at the bottom of those pieces are for Steve Brodin, not Sharon Brodin!)
The other artist is Brian Doub, one of the collaborators who had never met me. He had already agreed to write some devotionals, then one day he emailed to ask if I had considered including artwork. He had an art degree he hadn’t used in years, but wanted to experiment with digital drawing.
I happily accepted his offer, and so four of the illustrations are his (they’re unsigned—the months of February, May, August and November).
The Cover Photo
This is one of my favorite stories about the book.
I had already decided on the title: Heaven and Nature Sing. It was early on in the process—probably around Christmastime, as it’s a line out of Joy to the World.
I started to ask the Lord for a cover photo that would bring in both the sky and land. I’m an amateur photographer myself and have lots of nature photos. But I wanted one that was professional-quality. Better than any I had.
I knew I could buy one from a stock photo site, but I really wanted one by a Christian photographer—someone who shared my faith and that of the other contributors.
I decided to look for some ideas on Unsplash, a website with photos from photographers around the world. There’s no charge to use them, even commercially—just the request that the photographer be credited.
Several caught my eye, including one called Little Corona Beach by Jung Ho Park. As I started to read captions, I noticed his Unsplash handle: @mylovefromjesus. Bingo!
It took me a while, but I was able to dig up an email address for him. While I didn’t need his permission to use the photo, I wanted him to know what I was using it for. We emailed back and forth a few times. I found out he’s an associate pastor in southern California. Eventually, I sent him a copy of the printed book as a thank you.
I love this photo so much. The night sky, the ocean, the rocks, the color scheme—it encapsulates everything about Heaven and Nature Sing that I was hoping for. What a marvelous answer to prayer!
Printing and Distribution
I decided on a multi-level printing and distribution approach. I had used a US-based book printer in the past, Snowfall Press, for paperback book printing. So they’re the ones that print the books I distribute locally. The profit is much higher per book doing it this way, which means I can donate a good chunk of each local sale to my favorite outdoor ministry 🙂
I have no interest in packing and shipping books myself, though, so I also wanted the book on Amazon for online sales. For that, I went through IngramSpark, a company that prints and distributes for self-published authors via print-on-demand (POD). It also distributes to book stores and libraries.
(POD is when a customer orders a book, then the book is printed and shipped—very slick! It’s changed the self-publishing world.)
Next I formatted the book for Amazon Kindle, and went directly through Amazon for ebook distribution. I’m also creating month-by-month ebook versions for those who are intimidated by almost-400-page books. These short 99¢ ebooks also serve as a low-cost intro for someone who’d like to try it out before buying the full-length book.
I don’t get to learn much about who buys the books sold online (or ebooks read through Kindle Unlimited). But I get sales reports that tells me which countries buyers come from. As of this writing, it’s been the US, the UK and Australia. That’s pretty cool!
All-in-all, it was a 2-1/2 year journey from idea to the official Book Signing event where I had printed books in-hand (which we did at my church, along with some of the collaborators who live locally).
One of the most satisfying parts of the process for me was hearing this from a couple of the contributors: “I’ve always dreamed of becoming a published author—you helped make that happen!”
Heaven and Nature Sing
365 Daily Devotionals for Outdoor & Nature Lovers • Edited by Sharon Brodin
Heaven and Nature Sing is a daily devotional book, available in both paperback and e-book. It’s a collaborative work by 26 different writers and artists from all over the US and around the world.
We believe God created nature and He speaks through nature. These devotionals will help you connect more with our creative and loving God, and the world He made. 385 pages.