Christian writing is any writing inspired by the Holy Spirit with the goal of advancing God's kingdom on earth.
This definition implies that ultimately, we want our writing to find an audience so that it can touch lives and change people, at least in some small way. That means, for our writing to achieve its purpose, we have to get it out into the world. We don’t want to hide our light under a bushel. We don’t want our writing to sit in a drawer or computer file where no one can read it. There can be a therapeutic type of personal writing, however, if you’ve invested the sort of time I've suggested in this series, that is probably not your goal.
For smaller pieces like short stories, articles, devotionals, and poems, blogging can be a fun and easy way to find an audience. You can also begin to look for magazines and journals. The Writer's Market, available at bookstores, libraries, and amazon, is the best resource for finding places to submit your writing. They have new versions each year and multiple editions specializing in various genres. There is also The Christian Writers' Market Guide. If you regularly follow a certain periodical, consider writing something specifically to fit their needs.
Now on to full books. Here’s the bad news, on a very practical, business type level, in order for your book to sell well, you will need to begin to view your precious baby--the result of years of blood, sweat, and tears--as a product. Yes, you heard me, a product not at all unlike a Big Mac. It will need to be packaged, distributed, and marketed. What we have previously called your “audience” will now become your “target market.” While on some levels marvelous writing speaks for itself, there is a business side of writing as well. You need to get at least some people reading your book and spreading the word if you want it to reach farther than friends and family members.
On the other hand, be realistic and understand that only a handful of Christian writers actually make a living at writing. Writing can be a profession, but at least in the beginning, it will probably need to be more of a hobby or a ministry. Still, we want to reach the largest audience possible. There are three main routes you can take for getting your book out into the world. So let’s discuss the pros and cons of each.
The traditional route, which is preferred by most authors, is to find a major publishing house to contract your book. If you can find a major publisher, they will do an excellent job editing your novel and making it the best it can be. The con is that you lose some control over the content of the book. They will provide a professional cover design. However, you will have little or no say concerning the cover. Your book will be distributed in bookstores, on Amazon, possibly even retail stores like Wal-Mart, so they will reach a large potential audience. On the other hand, a good run for a Christian novel is about 10,000 books, and you will receive only 5-10% of the profits. Probably less than a dollar per book. Another pro for traditional publishers is that you will receive a lump advance. In other words, you might make $5,000, even up to hundreds of thousands for secular best-selling authors, in advance. The down side of the advance is that if the publisher does not make their money back, you might have a hard time contracting another book--with anyone.
Traditional publishing is still the preferred route, because it provides a large potential audience. It also provides marketing and promotion. However, the traditional publishers have less influence in this area than they used to because their primary sales are switching from small booksellers to mega bookstores and online booksellers. These days, royalties are smaller than ever, and at the same time, authors are expected to do more and more of their own marketing and promotion. Not a great deal. At the end of the day, I think most authors still dream of the big publishing houses because they offer instant validation and respectability. If you’ve been published by one of the big Christian companies: Baker, Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, Multnomah, etc… people know that you have made it, and you are now a “real” author.
Now for more bad news. If you decide to go the traditional publishing route, you will not be able to send your manuscript to any major publishers. You will need to first find an agent. In order to find an agent, you will need to prepare query letters, book proposals, and sample chapters. (You will also need this if you decide to go the small press route.) Go online and begin researching agents who represent your genre and how to write these all important marketing tools. You may want to consider hiring someone to help you write your first proposal. I did, and I had many requests for full manuscripts from agents. Agents generally charge about 15% of what they help you earn. In addition to being your gateway to the publishing world, they also provide legal advice, handle contract negotiations, and in many cases, even help you improve your writing. If you want to go the traditional publishing route, finding an agent is well worth the effort.
If you truly want to forego the agent, you have only a few options left for pursuing a major publisher. You can try to meet acquisition editors at writer’s conferences and pitch your book to them in person. Make sure you do your research and learn which editors will be there ahead of time. There are also a number of writing contests that send the winning entry to an acquisitions editor. Again, do your research. Finally, there are online services that will advertise your manuscript to editors for a fee. I personally don’t know anyone who has gotten a contract through this route.
The next way to get your writing out into the world would be to look for a small publisher, or “small press” as they are often called. These publishers do not pay large advances, and they generally do not sell as many books. On they other hand, they are more accessible, more personal, and willing to take more risks. These publishers are more likely to contract a book with a smaller market such as literary writing or an obscure genre. They are still respectable, and while they may not have the name recognition of the big companies, an author can still feel that their work has been validated and someone is willing to invest in publishing their book. Books published by small presses are eligible for all the same awards and accolades as books published by large publishers. In addition, the author tends to have more input, and in many cases, earns higher royalties. While an agent can still be helpful, many small presses will accept queries and proposals directly from authors. You can find lists of small presses in The Writer's Market and The Christian Writers' Market Guide. Be careful to follow their submission guidelines to the letter. Same is true when submitting to agents. Please remember that a reputable small press will not charge you a penny to publish your book.
The final way to publish a book is “self-publishing” or “vanity publishing.” This should not be a first choice, because in addition to the cost, it is not as respectable and could actually hurt the author’s reputation. However, there are instances in which self-publishing can be a good idea. If you are a pastor, public speaker, or well-known in your field and write a nonfiction book in your area of expertise, self-publishing can be a good option because you already have an audience and the name recognition to sell books on your own. You keep a much higher percentage of the profit when you publish your own book, so if you already have access to an audience, this can be a wise business decision. Self-publishing is a great idea if you primarily wish to distribute your book among family and friends. Finally, in rare instance where a book has no clear genre or an unpopular genre, self-publishing might be the only way to get it off the ground. I can only think of one example, but it’s a doozy. The Shack is a bizarre Christian allegorical novel that started as a self-published book and went on to make the New York Times best-seller list and millions of dollars.
If you decide to self-publish, again, do your research and make sure you are getting a good deal. WinePress and Westbow are two Christian companies reported to have good reputations. You can also do small print on demand runs or even offer your manuscript as an ebook and keep the cost low in that manner.
So, as I’m sure you can see, no matter which route you go, you will need to learn the business side of being an author. Writer’s networks and conferences are great places to learn the tricks of the trade. Christian conferences and loops will provide information specific to Christian publishing.
And, as I’ve mentioned, even once you have the illusive contract in hand, most publishers will still ask that you be active in marketing and promoting yourself. This is something you can actually begin now through methods like a website, blogging, and being active on social networks such as Facebook. Once your book is published, you can also consider methods like book launch parties, book signings, interviews, and speaking engagements.
As always, what I’ve shared here is just the tip of the iceberg for getting your writing out into the world. You can see it’s a lot of hard work, but if God has truly laid this message on your heart, then it will be well worth the endeavor. Writers go through the pain of writing and editing because they need to write. They go through the pain of publishing because they need someone to read what they have written.
So, I hope that in these eight weeks I have given you a picture of how a book is brought into being--from the idea stage, through all the hard work of writing and editing, and now out into the world. For many of you, this has probably been a reality check on how hard writing actually is. For some, it has provided a much needed roadmap for a journey you long to take. For yet others, it has helped you to spot areas in your writing process that can be honed and strengthened in order to take you to that next step. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did learning about “The Inspiration and the Perspiration.”
Homework: Finish that book and get it out into the world!