THREE ON THURSDAY
Today’s topic is on writing and the path to publishing. Here are links to three articles on this topic:
Stewarding the Skill of Writing by Jen Oshman
“There are so many good reasons not to write. I mean, do people even read anymore? Everyone has something to say and the internet is a virtual cacophony. Why add to the noise? Especially when writing is hard. And lonely. Is it even worth it? The Christian writer wrestles with these questions, as all writers do. . . . But the Christian’s response is unique. The Christian’s response to “Why write?” is not the same as the non-believer’s. . . . The Christian’s response to “Why write?” is stewardship.”
Village Poet by Lauren Lundgren
“I don’t have a degree or a book or a specialty subject that I write about regularly. I’m just another woman with an internet connection and a head full of words. Instead of seeing that as a reason to stop, though, I began to see it as a reason to rejoice. . . . What if, instead of competing with other women writers or seeking a larger platform for my writing, I became the ‘village poet’ for my friends and neighbors and began to see other writers as my peers and friends?”
On Writing Books and Getting Published by Kevin DeYoung
“It’s one of the questions I get asked most frequently: ‘I want to write a book and get published. What advice do you have?’ . . . I understand the question. I asked it of my published friends before I wrote my first book. It was always a dream of mine to write and — maybe, just maybe, someday before I die — get published by a real publisher. I never imagined the open doors the Lord would provide.”
ON WRITING AND THE PATH TO PUBLISHING
Every so often I receive an email saying, “I have an idea for a book. What should I do next?”
Whenever possible, these emails lead to meeting with an old friend or a new acquaintance at a local coffee shop to talk about the world of bookmaking. I enjoy leaning in and listening close, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned from my own journey as an author and editor.
So, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve shared with friends over a steaming cup of chamomile tea with a squeeze of lemon and a drop of honey.
Before moving forward, though, it’s important to understand that writing and publishing are two distinct realms — with some obvious overlap between them. Over the years, I’ve written lots of articles about the craft of writing and the life of a writer, but this article is specifically about the path to publishing.
If you have an idea and you’re wondering if your idea can be turned into a book, here are 12 steps a writer can take on the path toward publishing.
1. Turn your idea into a one-sentence message.
Far too often someone will tell me they have a story they want to write. This is awesome, but even good stories need a concise message, preferably one that is easy to remember and repeat. In nonfiction writing, your book is not about your story; it’s about your message. Your story is the vehicle for the book’s message.
Spend some time crafting a single sentence that best encapsulates your message. One sentence may sound easy, but it’s actually one of the hardest sentences you’ll ever write. And yet, the clarity this one sentence brings is worth the work it takes.
2. Name your audience.
Even if your nonfiction book tells a story from your life, your book is not about you; it’s about your reader. Who is your message for? Men? Women? What age? What season of life? New believers? Veteran believers?
Give your reader a name and consider her history, her habits, and her heart’s desires. Seriously. The more you understand your reader, the better you can serve your reader. Always keep in mind who you’re writing for when you’re writing.
3. Do your homework.
Read lots of books and articles that are similar to your idea and determine how you will communicate your message in a unique way.
What other books have a similar message? What can you offer that’s not available on bookshelves right now? What is your unique angle on the topic? What does the Bible say about your topic?
4. Expand your one-sentence message into a one-paragraph message and a one-page message.
Why is a one-paragraph message important? Many people decide whether or not to buy a book based on the blurb on the back cover. What would the back cover of your book say?
Why is a one-page message important? Let’s say you’ve been given five minutes with a literary agent. What would you say in five minutes to grab the agent’s attention? You would want to make the most of those five minutes, and the best way to do that is to quickly get to the heart of what your book is about.
5. Build relationships with like-minded writers.
Find other authors who share a similar passion, read their books and online articles, and consider following them on social media. Chances are good that you’ll find a number of like-minded writers — as well as whole communities — already gathering in online places. Join the conversation!
Better still, plan to meet lots of writers (including agents and editors) in person at conferences. For Christian women writers, I recommend the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference on the West Coast, and the She Speaks Conference on the East Coast. Go to a conference and meet people. Absorb everything. Build relationships. Then rinse, lather, and repeat. I’ve yet to meet an author who refrained from building relationships with other authors.
6. Establish an online presence.
In the twenty-first century, it’s virtually impossible to be in publishing without some sort of online presence. If you don’t have a website, consider starting one. While a lot of social engagement can happen on other platforms — like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram — your website is your home base in the online world.
A writer’s website is the best place for people to visit so they can learn more about you and your message. Thankfully, many tools exist that make this relatively easy, even for a non-techie person. Build a community by sharing your message. Use your words to encourage and edify your readers.
7. Turn your one-page message into a 45-minute talk.
I could tell you to create an outline — the kind that would make your high school English teacher proud. And it wouldn’t hurt. If that’s your thing. But an outline is a static, two-dimensional document; whereas, a 45-minute talk means you need to imagine human beings in the audience.
When you write a 45-minute talk, you’re building your core message with key points and you’re adding stories that make those key points come alive with heart-felt meaning. (And the outline emerges anyway!)
The fastest way to lose your focus is to focus on “the book” as the goal-of-all-goals. That may seem counter-intuitive, but writing a 45-minute talk keeps your focus on a message that’s intended for real people.
8. Share your 45-minute talk with an audience.
Okay. The stakes have just been raised. Until now, you’ve read books, researched authors’ websites, and written some words. You’ve attended a conference and formed a few friendships with some like-minded folks. But standing in front of a live audience to deliver your message? This is where “the rubber meets the road” and “the writer meets the reader.”
Acquiring speaking gigs is a topic for a whole other post. But delivering your message to a live audience can yield some amazing fruit. Reflect on everything. When did the audience laugh or lean in? Identify the parts of your message that clearly connected with your listeners. And be willing to edit out the parts that seemed to echo awkwardly in the room.
9. Learn the landscape of publishing.
Think of it this way: publishing is a world of its own, including Christian publishing. If this is a world you want to be a part of, then it makes sense to get to know how that world works.
Know the particular theological leanings of each publisher. Know if they’re independently owned and operated, or if they’re an imprint of a larger publishing group. Know which genres they’re interested in publishing. (Some love memoirs. Others won’t even look at them. Some love end-times prophecy. Others won’t even touch it.)
10. Write a book proposal and share it through appropriate channels.
Take that 45-minute talk and expand it. A book proposal is a substantial document that communicates key information to publishers. Lots of resources are available on how to do this, but each agency or publishing house will have its own set of guidelines. Be sure to follow those guidelines! By simply following directions you’ll stand out. (You’d be surprised how many hopeful writers refuse to follow the simplest directions and then wonder why their great idea never garnered the attention they thought it deserved.)
11. Be open to new ideas and directions.
Perhaps something in your proposal catches an editor’s eye. Maybe it’s your idea. Maybe it’s your style of writing. Whatever it is, they’re interested in more, but they know some things you don’t. They have a strong sense of what’s happening in the marketplace. Maybe they already have a book with a similar theme under contract, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to do another one so soon, but they like you and want to work with you.
If an editor or an agent suggests a new idea or another possible direction, listen to them. Most publishers want to work with authors who have the potential for a long-term career. Maybe your initial idea was the thing that opened the door, but maybe your idea is supposed to be Book #2 or #3 or not at all. Be willing to consider all the possibilities.
This, of course, should be happening from the very start. Pray. In the beginning. In the middle. In the end. Always pray.
When it comes to publishing, I keep the story of Abraham and Sarah close at heart. They received a promise. Not your ordinary, everyday sort of promise. But a promise from God. Then the years erased all logical hope. So, they thought they’d help God out and bring the promise to fruition in their own human strength. Meet Hagar. You can read their story here. In the end, their human efforts resulted in a lot of pain for everyone involved.
As a writer, I’ve never wanted to “make things happen” according to my own human strength. So, I pray. A lot. I want God’s leading in everything I do.
And you know what?
God answers prayer. Sometimes in the most unlikely ways.