Why Bother?

Sleeping_at_the_bookshop_crop“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” –Cicero (Roman statesman, died 43 BC)

“Maybe I shouldn’t even bother trying to get published,” said a writer I met at a writers conference with more than 700 women in attendance. “There’s a lot of competition, and you have to work so hard to build a platform, come up with a fresh concept, and write well. It all seems so hard.”

Have you ever had thoughts like this? As an agent, I’ve even had them myself. After all, there are more experienced agents out there—some who’ve been agenting for decades. Though I don’t have to worry about developing a national speaking platform, I do have to be known. It’s in my authors’ best interest for me to cultivate relationships with publishers and editors. I may not have to come up with a fresh concept, but I do have to recognize one when it comes across my desk. I also have to write well enough to interest an editor in a book proposal.

Why should any of us bother? In the world of book publishing, it seems like it’s all been done before, in one way or another. And then there are the numbers of books being published. Did you know that between the years of 1880 and 1980, there were about 40,000 books published in the English language? That’s 40,000 books in one hundred years. Then, between 1980 and 1990, about 40,000 books were published—in ten years. In 2011, more than two million books were published in the English language (counting both print and ebooks). With all that competition, it’s easy to get discouraged.

What happened to increase book production like this? Most people think it was the internet, and that’s certainly part of it now, but initially it was due to the fact that personal computers went critical mass in the 1980s. Word processing got faster, printing became more frequent, and distribution of printed materials sped up. It seems there is more supply than demand now.

If “it’s all been done” already, why would anyone bother writing one more book? Interestingly, statistics show that 80% of Americans feel compelled to write a book. That’s more than 200 million people. And thanks to modern technology, anyone can publish a book any time they want. Currently, there are 1,748,230 book titles available on Amazon! In order to be found there, you have to write well, develop a fresh concept, and build a platform.

It’s true that doing all of that isn’t exactly easy. But hasn’t life been hard since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden? Sometimes hard things are worth the effort. Here are a few reasons you should (we should) bother trying to get books published.

  1. People love to read. As long as there are readers who will pay money to read, publishers will publish books.
  2. Only you will say it your way. If all the problems in the world were solved, we wouldn’t need another book. But all problems are not solved, and you may have a message that will make a difference for someone who is struggling. Yes, there is a book for every problem you can think of, but not every book says what you would say or says it the way you would say it.
  3. Somebody will. Problems aside, if the world didn’t need another story, people would stop reading and watching movies. But the world is still hungry for stories, and people will always want the experience of a new story. Somebody will write the stories people will love to read, so why not you?
  4. Your heart says so. If you feel called to write a book, and you don’t do it, you’ll never know what could have been. The world will never know what you have to contribute if you don’t write. So follow your heart.

Maybe you won’t get a traditional book publishing contract. Maybe, if you’ve been published, you won’t become a bestselling author. But maybe you will. Your book may reach the multitudes, or it may bless only a handful of people. Why bother? Because your heart longs to know the difference your words will make in the world.

Question: Are you willing to do what it takes to find out what difference you’ll make?

Book Publishing Basics

Almost every week I encounter an aspiring writer who asks for tips on getting a book published. When that happens, I like to offer the following seven practical steps for starting the journey. Most of this information applies to writers who have never published before, so if you’re already a successful author, you may want to share this with the aspiring writers who ask, “How’d you do it?”

1. Write well!

Regardless of how many poorly written books get published every year, this is still rule #1. Agents, editors, and readers are always looking for well-written books. Anyone can type words on a page, but skillfully crafted messages and stories are a delight.

2. Attend a writers conference or two.

Writers conferences are an opportunity to make connections with writers, editors, and agents. While you’re there, take workshops to learn all you can to hone your writing craft (refer to tip #1).

Google writers conferences in your area or check out The Christian Writer’s Market Guide by Jerry Jenkins. The Shaw Guide also provides a detailed list of writers conferences. Know that there are hundreds of writers conferences across the world, each with a different audience, niche, and connections. Be sure that the conference you attend fits your requirements for price, distance, timing, and professional goals.

3. Write a book proposal.

This is like writing a business plan for your book, which may sound like tedious work, but it’s highly beneficial. A book proposal helps you articulate your book’s theme, purpose, audience, and competition (among other things), and it helps you create a marketing plan for when your book comes out.

A book proposal’s form may vary depending on the genre, and most agents have a template they prefer to use for their authors. But if you don’t have an agent, author Mary DeMuth offers downloadable tutorials on writing fiction and non-fiction book proposals. How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen is also a good resource.

4. Build your platform.

A platform refers to all of the activities you engage in that make people notice you and your work. It shows how visible you are to your target audience. Building your platform could include social media or blogging, speaking engagements, or teaching — anything that markets you as an author.

Platform by Michael Hyatt provides an informative, step-by-step guide to building your platform. Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz is another good resource.

5. Choose to self-publish or look for a traditional publisher.

This short ebook from literary agent Rachelle Gardner gives pros and cons of each option. Before you ever pay anyone to publish your book, know something about the company you choose. There are several different varieties of self-publishing, from eBooks to print books and many that do both. Each type of self-publishing requires different amounts of up-front cash and effort on the part of the author.

6. If you want traditional publishing, find an agent.

Editor Chuck Sambuchino releases a yearly Guide to Literary Agents. Listen to an interview between Michael Hyatt and Rachelle Gardner on new writers and finding an agent. The Christian Writers Market Guide features a list of literary agents that represent mainly Christian authors. Writers conferences are great places to meet agents in person, which can make a big difference in this relationship-oriented business. Most literary agencies post submission guidelines on their web sites, so be sure and follow those when submitting a query or a proposal.

7. Plan on a marathon, not a sprint! 

Bestselling authors don’t pop up overnight. Most of them worked on their writing and platform for many years before publishing their first book. So give yourself plenty of grace along your publishing path. Also, while you may have big dreams of becoming a bestselling author, God may have other plans. A publishing journey often brings tremendous personal and spiritual growth. “And … after you have suffered a little while, [God] himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). Smile! Though the road may be long and winding, God will accompany you on your journey.

Need more inspiration for the long haul? Check out my collection of quotes on writing and the writing life.

Powerful Non-Fiction Writing

Keeping in mind that non-fiction readers invest their time and money in books that meet a felt need, a great philosophy is, “Offer them what they want, then give them what they need.” Here are 14 questions to consider as you write your life-changing message:

QuestionsXSmallWhat problem is your reader experiencing?

How has the problem been overlooked?

What are they missing out on due to this problem?

What impact has this problem had on their life?

What misconceptions has the reader bought into that might keep him/her from experiencing the benefit you’re about to offer?

What underlying beliefs do they have that keep them from seeing a new solution or alternate view?

What solution or benefit will you show the reader?

What truths will help the reader see the benefit?

What will give them an “aha” moment?

What might influence the reader to avoid possible change?

How are others enjoying the benefit you’re teaching?

What will the reader let go of in order to adapt a new view of their life?

What choice(s) will they make?

What action(s) might they take?

Always keep your reader in mind. Offer them what they want, then give them what they need. As author Dean Merrill says, “Never stop asking ‘what’s in this manuscript for the reader?'”

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