Speakers are natural communicators. We have a story from God-the story that weaves through our lives, that shapes everything we do and who we are, and He is the author of that story. And we naturally want to share it.
Perhaps you started out primarily as a writer, and you began to speak to bring bigger exposure to your books. Or perhaps you’ve been speaking for a while now, and you now want to write a book so you gain more credibility and have something to sell on your book table. Speaking and books seem to go hand in hand.
But if you have never written a book before, I want to use this post to caution you. I don’t want to discourage you, because if you feel called to write a book, you should write a book, and speakers also have more of a natural venue to sell them, so if anyone should write a book, it should be us.
That does not mean, however, that it is easy.
I don’t mean the writing part. That’s hard enough, but at least most of us can picture what that is like. I mean the selling part. When we think of writing books, we dream of advances and publishing houses and book tours, and these things are rapidly becoming a relic of the past.
It is not that Christian books are not published; they are. It is not that there are not Christian publishers; there are. But here are some brutal facts:
1. Christian bookstores are closing all over the nation.
The number of bookstores is decreasing, which means that the place where people would naturally browse and pick up a book by an unknown author is also decreasing. Think of it this way: how often have you bought a book you had never heard of before on Amazon? Likely never. You tend to buy on Amazon when you’re looking for something specific, and you usually stick to those things.
Yet how often have you walked into a Christian bookstore and come out with a book you had not intended to buy? Likely quite a few times. Christian bookstores are the few places where a large selection of Christian material is available. When these close, the options for Christian book buying will be limited to the internet and the Christian section in Barnes & Noble or Borders. And that’s pretty small.
What is likely to happen is that the top 100 or 200 books will continue to sell very well, because these big chains will still carry them. But the rest? They’ll disappear.
That’s why publishers are very reluctant to take on new authors today, or to take on a book that is not destined to be a huge seller. At one point they would have taken a book that would sell 20,000 copies and be perfectly happy about it. Now many publishers won’t even look at it, because the retail outlets aren’t there.
Getting a publisher to look at your book, then, is becoming increasingly difficult. You tend to need an agent, but an agent is just about as difficult to find, if you’re unpublished, as a publisher is. So you’re in a catch-22. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible (I’ve had books published, and I’m hopefully going to sign a new contract soon), but it’s hard. Very hard.
If you want to increase your chances, write a book proposal. Don’t write the book yet. A book proposal is an outline of the book, a marketing plan, an explanation of who you are and what your platform is, and then 2-3 sample chapters, usually from the beginning of the book. How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen will help walk you through the process, and is invaluable! Publishers don’t have time to read entire manuscripts. They want the synopsis. They want to get to know the author a bit. They want to see that the author has thought about how to sell this thing and the author has thought about the market for it. And, once they have done all that, they then may want to read sample chapters.
If you spend your time writing your whole book, you do yourself a disservice. It’s better to write a book proposal and see if it sells. If it doesn’t, maybe you can readjust the theme of your book or the slant. That’s harder to do if it’s already all written.
So research book proposals, take a deep breath, and jump in! But remember, there are already a lot of people in the water, and they don’t want to make room for you. That’s why:
2. Self-Publishing is Growing. As publishers stop taking books by unknown authors, the tendency for speakers is to pay for them to be published yourself. Many companies will publish your book for you, for a fee! It can cost about $5,000 for 1,000 copies, though it varies significantly by publishing company. The good news is that you keep all the profits. If you sell every single one of those books for $15, you’ve just made $10,000, likely more than if the book had sold through a traditional publisher. But there’s some bad news, too.
First, it’s a lot of money up front. Do you have it?
Second, when it’s self-published, it’s not usually as well-edited. It may be copy-edited, which means that someone checks your grammar and spelling, but it’s not necessarily given a substantive edit. Pay for the substantive edit, even if it’s expensive. Pay for a critique. I have seen so many self-published books which just aren’t done well. Chapters are in the wrong order, it’s not clear what point they’re making, the voice isn’t clear. You may think you’re a great writer, but that doesn’t mean you know how to put a book together. It is better to invest the money up front and let professionals help you than to try to do it “on the cheap”.
And above all, pay for a good cover! Covers make all the difference. If you have a quality cover, with a great picture, no one can tell whether it’s self-published or not.
Just because you’ve paid for it to be published, though, doesn’t mean that marketing is now a breeze. It won’t be in any bookshops unless you personally go in there and try to sell it. You have no distribution channels, unlike normal publishers. I only suggest self-publishing if you have the personal channels (like speaking engagements) to sell your book at. Otherwise you’re going to have 1,000 books growing moldy in your garage. And nobody wants that.
What if all of this is discouraging you, and you’re not sure you want to write a book now? What else can you do?
As a speaker, I’d recommend building up your video and CD library. Get a great collection of videos to sell. It’s cheaper to pay for someone to make a video of you than to pay for 1000 books, so perhaps put the money there! Offer mp3s of your talk over the internet. You can even create ebooks of devotionals or some of your thoughts that people can download off of the internet, and that doesn’t cost you a cent.
I don’t know what will happen to the publishing world in the next decade. I don’t think books will disappear, but publishers might. Perhaps we will all become our own little publisher, and we’ll sell things more directly. We’ll likely see fewer big blockbuster sellers, and more books that sell just a few hundred copies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it does mean that it’s a different thing, and we need to be prepared for that.
If you want something to sell, but you can’t get a book published, my audio download Creating Products to Sell helps you brainstorm product ideas–that don’t cost a fortune to produce!