Reflections from a First Time Author
Since my book was released I’ve had a few requests to share what I’ve learned about the book-writing process. Friday seemed like a good day to do that. On the whole I found writing the book to be an overwhelmingly positive experience and one I hope to enjoy again. There are currently no plans for a second book but I do hope to begin again before too long.
What I’d like to do today is share just a few entirely subjective thoughts on my experience in the hope that it will prove useful or interesting to you.
Writing the Proposal
I was blessed to be able to avoid much of the thankless chore of submitting the book (unsolicited) to all kinds of different publishers and just hoping against hope that it would stand out above some of the rest. But usually there is no way of avoiding this. I do not have much wisdom to share when it comes to actually finding a publisher. One thing I can attest to, though, is the value of having a blog. More and more I think we’re going to see the blogosphere serving as a kind of minor leagues where writers can establish first that they can write well and second that other people will be interested in reading what they write. It is a proving ground, of sorts. In the coming months and years you are going to see more and more books written by people who came to the attention of publishers through their blogs. Get used to it.
Publishers differ on how much input they wish to have when it comes to the actual writing process. Some involve themselves in each word of each sentence while others prefer that you simply submit a manuscript to them when it is complete. In either case, it is usually best not to write a complete book before shopping it to publishers. Instead, write a complete outline and submit that with two very good sample chapters. Make these your two best, strongest, most complete, most biblical, most amazing chapters. Edit and proof-read them thoroughly and get others to do the same. Here are the areas you’ll likely wish to cover in a proposal: A Brief Introduction to the Book, The Need for This Book, Competition or Similar Books, The Audience for This Book, Biography, Promotion (ways you will be able to promote your book), and Endorsements (people who are likely to endorse the book).
In your proposal outline every single way you may be able to sell the book through your own channels. As the publishing industry changes, it is becoming increasingly important that you prove able to assist in selling the books. This is particularly true with smaller publishers.
If all goes well, your proposal will be accepted and you’ll be offered a contract. This contract will help you understand that, unless you end up selling books like Don Miller or John Eldredge, you won’t be wanting to quit your day job anytime soon!
Writing the Manuscript
When you begin to write the book you’ll probably learn how silly your initial proposal was. The outline will morph and evolve until it’s scarcely recognizable. It’s all part of the game, I guess. Just yesterday I had a friend, who is also writing a book, remark on the strange nature of writing. You hole yourself up for days researching a subject and writing down what you need to communicate about it. And then you emerge into the sun again, asking people to read it over and critique it. You’ll do this time and again as you move through the book. Because I’ve only written one book I haven’t really established a system, but I did find it best to try to set aside at least one or two days for writing. I got more accomplished this way than if I only worked for an hour or two at a time. As the book grew in length, it took longer and longer to find my context. I would often have to read the entire book before I could continue from where I left off writing. And as the book grew, this would take several hours out of my first day of writing.
I had intended to write the book in order from chapter 1 to chapter 10, but soon found this wasn’t as easy or as logical as it at first seemed. Instead I wrote the book thematically. As I searched the Bible and other resources I would find topics that seemed to fit well under a particular category. I would then try to write about those topics, regardless of the chapter they fit into. This system (or lack thereof) may not work for everyone, but it worked well for me. It also made things less rigid, I think, as it meant I could hold off writing about subjects that I had not adequately researched. It meant that I did not have to write chapter six if there was still research to do on that chapter.
Prayer support was indispensable at this time. I had asked many friends to pray for me as I wrote the book, and particularly on Fridays which I tried to set aside for research and writing. This prayers, I am convinced, made all the difference.
Your contract will specify how long you will have to write the book. In all likelihood you’ll require six months or a year to complete it. From the time you submit a proposal to the time the book actually hits store shelves can easily be two years. Patience will prove a virtue.
A Published Author
Seeing the book in print was not nearly the experience I had thought it might be. No angels sang and no trumpets blew. It was, of course, good to see the book in print, but I don’t think it registers up there with marriage and the birth of my children. Nor should it, I guess. Since the book’s release I’ve done all kinds of interviews (both radio and print) with many more to come. If you write a book you’ll want to prepare yourself to talk about it. This can be a little more difficult than it sounds since it will probably be at least six months between the time you complete the book and the time everyone wants to talk about it. So you’ll want to spend some time re-reading the book to make sure that all of its content is fresh in your mind. Make sure you write out a good list of “Questions about the Book” and be prepared with good answers to them. Your publisher will probably help you with this.
And then prepare for the unexpected. Lots of strange and interesting and uncomfortable opportunities are likely to arise as the book begins to make its way into the world. Pray a lot and ask others to pray for you during this time. You’ll need it.
I thought you might get a laugh out of this and figured I’d just add it in here. In the most recent issue of Christian Retailing magazine is the first half of an article called “40 Under 40” (the second half will be published in the next issue). It is a listing of people they consider influential future leaders in the publishing industry. “The future direction and health of the Christian retail channel depends much on the next generation of leaders emerging to shape the publishing and selling of Christian resources in a world very different from its formative years. Christian Retailing identified 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are widely considered to be influential figures for the days ahead. Young leaders in eight categories are profiled, beginning in this issue, by Natalie Nichols Gillespie.” The list includes lots of people I haven’t heard of (primarily industry insiders) and a few I have (e.g. Rob Bell, Matt Bronleewe, David Crowder, Kirk Franklin, etc). Somehow they saw fit to include me in this list. It’s an honor of course. But just in case it was going to give me a big head, they declared me the least recognizable on the list. Those who know me will know that I’m just fine with that status. Click on the picture to see an excerpt from the article.