A History of Hallelujah

Adapted from “From Six Weeks to 10 Years: The Writing of Hallelujah!”
by Cathy Fyock


This the story of Hallelujah! An Anthem for Purposeful Work, my new book that will make its debut in May of 2015. This is a story of hope for those of you who have been struggling with your manuscript for one, five, or even ten years. Yes, you can publish the book of your dreams, even after all that time!

I first envisioned the book as I re-joined the Chancel Choir at my church in Louisville, KY—Christ Church United Methodist—the church where I’d grown up and was married. When I re-joined the choir as an adult, I had been working as a human resources consultant for several years and found that my love of music was calling me. (While my undergraduate degree is in vocal music, my career had taken a side trip into human resources.)

As I watched the choir director—Dan Stokes—lead the choir, I compared what I saw to the leadership theories I knew and studied, and I concluded that Dan was far more effective than most business leaders in creating a high-performance team. The choir is a “no audition” choir with no paid soloists, where all “applicants” are welcome, regardless of their ability to match pitch or read music. Yet the choir, with this uneven talent, is arguably one of the best church choirs in the region. The choir has been invited to sing with the Louisville Orchestra on many occasions, and the choir’s Christmas programs are highly attended and widely acknowledged as a “must do” activity for embracing the spirit of the Christmas season.

Listen to the Christ Church Choir here.

As I watched Dan’s leadership, I thought about what a great example this could set for business leaders who were struggling to develop high-performing teams, leaders who were trying some of the “textbook” business techniques and tactics to no real effect.

After joining the choir I had lunch with my mentor, Dr. Lyle Sussman of the University of Louisville, and he asked me if I had ideas for my next book. I confessed that I’d been toying with a business parable focusing on the lessons I’d seen in the choir. It came as a pleasant surprise to me that Lyle had witnessed the choir’s magic himself—he attended a Christmas concert the previous year. We became more excited about the possibility of collaborating on this venture. We approached Dan and the choir, and upon receiving their blessing we began writing.

The book quickly took shape. Together we worked on the “testaments” or principles that each chapter would illustrate.  I wrote the first draft and sent each chapter to Lyle, who then tweaked the chapter, adding his own insights, and within a few months we had an initial draft.

But things started slowing down. Early reviews from friends and colleagues were positive, but they betrayed none of the enthusiasm Lyle and I felt for the book. We approached several agents, who were also optimistic but ultimately failed to place the book with a traditional publisher. We spoke with more author colleagues, who (more candidly) said that the book was good, but not great.

By this time, Lyle and I were hesitant to push on. Our meetings to figure next steps were turning up fewer and fewer fresh ideas, and neither of us had the energy for another round of revisions, so we decided to shelve the project. Over a ten-year span, Lyle and I would meet periodically for lunch, but neither of us had the time, interest, or resources to do anything with the project. And so the manuscript (then called The Choir) sat on the shelves until 2014.

In 2013, I’d approached my then-22-year-old nephew, Kevin Williamson, about co-authoring On Your Mark, and he enthusiastically joined me in writing it. On Your Mark helped me launch my book coaching business in 2014 and Kevin’s new business as an editor, ghostwriter, and web designer. Early in 2014 I met Lyle for lunch, and we spoke about our old book project, The Choir. Putting pieces together, I asked, “Lyle, what would you think of asking Kevin to take a look at The Choir?”

“I don’t know if nepotism is the way to go,” Lyle said.

I laughed and admitted that I could see his point, but still encouraged him to meet with Kevin and make up his own mind. I also told Lyle that, as an added bonus, Kevin had sung with the choir the semester before he left for college, and therefore knew the choir and Dan first-hand. Lyle reluctantly agreed to meet.

Lyle and Kevin were impressed with one another, and we all agreed to work together to complete The Choir. We told Kevin all about the feedback we received back in 2005, and then we gave him carte blanche to work his magic on the original manuscript.

Work continued gradually until an editorial meeting several months later, when we were debating the central theme of the book. At some point the phrase “purpose-driven work” entered the conversation. We all stopped dead in our tracks thinking about it. AHA!

At that moment we realized that the original text had been about the surface details, about the What and the How, and not the WHY. That realization transformed the focus, content, structure, and essence of the book in all three of our minds. It also explained—to us, and then to our readers—how the Choir was able to make its soul-stirring sounds. Hallelujah!, as we renamed it, became a primer on how to walk the talk, and how to make the WHY—the purpose of our lives, the purpose of our labors—a daily reality in today’s organizations. As authors, we evolved from being laborers on a manuscript to being believers in the goodness and importance of an idea.

Hallelujah! then became a labor of love, important and yet somehow easy, much like the labors of love I know from the CCUM choir. We finished the book swiftly and happily. After a bit more trimming and tweaking from everyone, we finished the edits for the book and were ready to call it done. And thus the remaking of Hallelujah! was completed.

Now, however, we had to begin work on the altogether-separate challenge of publishing the book. We believed that we could have more artistic and financial control by publishing the book independently, and started to explore self-publishing options. At this point Kevin suggested that he might like to publish the book and begin his own publishing company. We were a bit reluctant initially, but after several meetings we were convinced that this was the perfect way to bring Hallelujah! to market.

My hope is that you will be inspired by Hallelujah!, by the way in which it was written and eventually brought to life, and by its illumination of the meaning and purpose in our work.

For Aspiring Authors: Why a Ten-Year Project?
There is a lot more to the story, but I thought you might like to understand the factors that made this project a ten-year project, as opposed to a six-week project.

  • It was an oddball format and genre—a business parable that was part fiction and part nonfiction—that put everyone off balance during the writing and editing process;
  • Despite being “good but not great” and stuck initially, we knew that our concept was great, so we decided to “let it age” for new opportunities; and
  • There were first two, then three co-authors, each with differing perspectives, experiences, and styles that needed to be reconciled throughout the writing process;
  • We changed our approach to publishing several times during the process—first from using a traditional publisher, then to working with a self-publishing house, to finally moving toward pure self-publishing.

And I won’t lie: this is a book borne of passion and belief. For me, it was borne of my passion for music and my belief that meaning and purpose in our work is the essential ingredient for peak team performance (and your own happiness). There are some matters of the heart that must be given their time, that must be perfected before moving forward, and that was certainly the case with Hallelujah.

Lessons Learned
What are my lessons learned that I might share with aspiring authors and established authors who are having difficulty in pinning down their next book?

  • Wait until the time is right for your project. I truly believe that the time is right for Hallelujah! in 2015.
  • It may take a while for your ideas and your words to come together in a way that makes sense for you.
  • You may need to rethink your strategy for your book. You may need another author or different co-authors, you may need to change your process for writing, or you may need to rethink how you will bring your book to market. In short: you may need to try a bunch of different things.
  • Each book has its own gestation period; each book has its own time and season. Many can be done quickly; others must be done slowly; yet others fall in the middle.