So, you want to write a book?

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The writer of Ecclesiastes notes, “of the making of books there is no end.” And so, I regularly receive “I’d like to write a book” emails. I don’t mean to be impersonal, but here are some bits of advice I hope it will be helpful.

Why do you want to write a book?

Most people who want to write a book have a story they want to tell: a tragedy they lived through, a medical healing they’ve experienced, etc. And they want a large audience to share their experience.

Here are some harsh realities in the book publishing industry:

1. Unless you’re incredibly famous, were involved in a well-known news story (think 9/11) or have an amazing story (Heaven Is For Real), a book publisher won’t be interested in your book.

2. Book publishers want authors who have a “platform” from which to promote their book: a busy national speaking ministry, a popular TV or radio show, a well-trafficked Web site with 100,000 daily visitors, etc.

Without these platforms, a royalty publisher won’t be willing to gamble $50,000 or more on publishing your book. But, if you do have a national platform, yes, do pursue a royalty books publisher.

How many people do you want to reach?

The average book sells only 500 copies. Yep, just two zeros! However, most national magazines have hundreds of thousands subscribers.

So, if you want respect, write a book. If you want readers, write an article. Because periodicals aren’t risking thousands of dollars on one story, they are more willing to risk running the story of an unknown author.

I would urge you to consider reaching multiple thousands times more people with an article than spending time and energy, writing an entire book and then more time trying to find a publisher to reach 500 people.

You can find listings of magazines and their editorial needs in Writers Market, available at your local library.

Do you regularly speak about your topic or story?

If you’re doing a good deal of speaking about your topic or story, you do need a book to sell from the back of the room. This is a good reason to self-publish your book. However, do be aware that there are hundreds of unethical and unprofessional people preying on people eager to get their book published.

Please read my cautionary article on self-publishing.

With print-on-demand technology, many authors can break even with just 200 copies ordered. (And to estimate the number of books you’ll sell per year, add up the number of people in a year’s worth of speaking engagements and divide by ten. If you speak to a thousand people per year, you’ll sell 100 books during that year.)

Do you have the time to promote your book?

The illusion of an author sitting at home with a cup of coffee and their laptop is indeed an illusion. Successful authors spend as much time promoting their books as they do writing them. Unless you’re willing to spend hundreds of hours with radio and TV interviews, social networking, travel, etc., your book will not succeed.

And if you think an expensive marketing and distribution program will sell books, please read my post, “Marketing Myths and Distribution Disasters.” Marketing and distribution only work for already well-known authors!

Do you need a ghost-writer or co-author?

Here’s an important consideration. Say, for instance, you car is making a strange sound. You have two options. Enroll in your local tech school and invest a good deal of time and money learning to tune cars. Or spend a couple hours at your local automotive repair business and have a professional fix your car.

The same is true in writing. You can invest time and money learning to write. (The book Outliers suggests it takes 10,000 hours to become competent in a skill.) Or hire someone to write your book or article for you.

Do you still want to publish a book?

If you do have a national platform, then I would suggest you either write the book yourself or hire a co-author, then find an agent and begin pitching the project. (I have another cautionary post on agents.)

If you’re regularly speaking to local groups, then I would suggest self-publishing your story to sell at the back of the room. (You may want to hire the book written. And always have it professionally edited to catch the errors we all overlook in our own writing.)

Regardless of your situation . . .

1. Write a 1,500-word article about your story or topic and start submitting it to periodicals. (Your portfolio of articles can be used to prove to a book publisher that your story or topic has a wide appeal.)

2. Set up a Web site or blog in which you can tell your story or expertise to the 3 billion Internet users in the world. (Book publishers are looking online for book ideas. That’s why even blog posts should be carefully edited. Your reputation is online!)

3. Start speaking about your topic or story at local churches, organizations. Then network with local, district, state and national organizations to move your speaking to the next level.

God bless you as you get your message into pulpits, publications, pixels and publishing houses! (I have a lot of resources to help you do that at www.jameswatkins.com/writing.)

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