On a regular basis, people will approach me in person or message me online and let me know that they’ve always had a dream to write a book and get it published. I’m always thrilled when I hear the ideas for their books. I can tell that they are passionate about their topic and really want to write about something that is meaningful to them. More times than not, it seems like it’s something that I would like to read. But after these people finish giving me the abbreviated version of their book, and my interest is piqued, there is always a bit of sadness in their subsequent comments and demeanor as they explain some of the road blocks that keep them from making it happen.
“I don’t have the time right now”
“I’d like to write a book ‘someday’ soon.”
“I don’t feel like I’m that great of a writer, and I can’t articulate in words what is in my brain.”
“My grammar stinks.”
“I’m not sure people would be interested in what I have to write.”
“I have no idea how to publish my book.”
“I’m not sure a publisher will want to publish my book… I’m not really known”
“I don’t know how to find a publisher.”
“I sent in a book that I finished and it got rejected.”
These are the most common concerns for people as they explain to me what is holding them back from publishing a book and fulfilling a dream. But to each of these concerns… there is an easy answer.
Make the time
If you don’t feel like you have the time, then make the time. Using quarterly Netflix investor metrics, reporters were able to determine that “each individual subscriber spent 568 hours watching Netflix in 2015 on average. That’s 1 hour, 33 minutes per day of streaming. That’s also up from 2014, when each subscriber averaged 505 hours on Netflix, or 1 hour, 23 minutes per day.” 568 hours! Can you imagine if you spent 568 hours writing a book? Netflix also released some information about “binge watching” revealing how fast most people will take to finish a season of a TV show. It takes people “about five days, give or take, spending two hours a day watching” to complete a season of their favorite TV shows. Keep in mind, that many of the TV shows people stumble upon have anywhere from 6 to 10 seasons. Other findings released by Nielsen showed that even though we have all of the other distractions, we still watch “an average of more than five hours a day” of live television.
We are consumed by media, suffocated and paralyzed by its addictive nature and propensity to make one lazy and envious of others. The average Facebook user spends about 50 minutes a day on the platform. Add in Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Youtube and social media scrolling and idle consumption might hit upwards of two to three hours of your day. And what does a person ultimately have to show for it at the end of the day? Lots of wasted time.
Your story is worth telling
I honestly believe that everyone has a story worth telling. You have a story worth telling and there are people out there that can be blessed by your story. Consider the best selling author Richard Paul Evans. Growing up in Murray Utah, and attending the University of Utah, Evans decided to write a Christmas story for his own children while holding down a full time job. Being an unknown author, he decided to self publish his book and distribute the books himself to local book stores in his community. His book, called The Christmas Box, became a local bestseller. That book went to #2 on the New York Times best seller list prompting Simon & Schuster to offer him a publishing deal for 4.2 million dollars paid in advance. Had Evans spent his night consuming other people’s ramblings in the media and entertainment world, none of this would have happened for him.
I didn’t include the dollar figure that Richard Paul Evans raked in on the book deal to get you excited about money. If you’re writing for money, you’re probably not going to produce anything worthwhile. Your motives need to be pure and the subject matter is something that you need to be passionate about. For Evans, it was his kids. For you, it might be New Testament Christianity, a meaningful historical event, or a book that helps people gain financial stability. The money and the book syndication might come later… or… it might not come at all. But it shouldn’t matter to you. Your aim should be to change at least one person’s life for the better because of the words you write. If you look at it that way, you can never go wrong.
Keep it simple
There will be many obstacles to writing a book that you can overcome just by keeping it simple and not overthinking the process. The way I started was by downloading a word processor that was built for writers called Scrivner. This application helps me keep track of and organize my chapters and ideas much more efficiently than Microsoft Word or other similar word processors. There are many other writers applications out there to help you organize your thoughts but Scrivner is the one I use. Then I took my notes and thoughts and tried to come up with chapter headings and a table of contents. That acted as a skeleton for the book I was going to write. Anytime I had a thought come to me during my work day or at any other time of the day, I would jot that note down under the chapter heading so that I could expound upon those thoughts when I had the time. I found that I was also able to use content from many of the blogs I had written in the past in order to speed up the process. Keep in mind that writing a book doesn’t need to take a lifetime. I wrote my first book, “Dads Who Stay and Fight” in about 30-45 days while working a full time job… and if I can do it, then you can do it.
How to become a great writer when you stink at writing
High school Language Arts was the only class in which I got a D. It was embarrassing. Although my grades improved in language arts, I seemed to have problems with English teachers for the remainder of my schooling days. Fortunately, the last English professor I had in college turned everything I had been taught on its head and helped validate what I believed all along about writing. She said, “write as if you were talking to your best friend or a family member.” I know that there are thousands of English majors that will cringe at me even suggesting that but this one piece of advice is at the center of everything I write. I want to create a friendship with anyone who reads what I write, and so I write to them in the same language I would speak to them. A great writer is not someone who hits every item on a technical checklist, but someone who changes lives through their passion, excitement, and enthusiasm for what they’re writing about. It’s a person who is consistently willing to deal with scrutiny, but who also remains undeterred in their quest to bless others by the things that they have experienced in life.
How to actually get your book published
Writing a book is one thing. Getting it published is a whole other ball game. I made a conscience decision to try and get a legitimate publisher to publish my book. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of publishing the book myself and then syndicating the book to retail stores. They have the resources and connections into retail stores that will help get your book in front of a lot more people that you would not be able to otherwise find on your own. If you try and self publish, you will need to find a graphic designer, a printer, a copy editor, money, and a host of other key individuals to get the book out into the world quickly. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time, but it can be done. If you can do all of that on your own, then you will make a lot more money on the book if the book ultimately sells. You will own the rights and collect the entire margin on the book. For me personally, writing a book was more of a hobby and not a profession. I didn’t have the time to do what the publisher did for my books. They take the financial risk of publication and syndication and hope to receive a return. My desire was just to have as many people as possible read the book and hope that the book would improve the families of those that read it. So a publisher worked really well for me.
Ignore rejection… it means nothing
Publishers get thousands of submissions each year. If you submit a manuscript to them, they “might” get back to you 6 months later after they’ve had a chance to “review it.” The thing is, you don’t even know who is reading your manuscript and if you’re even going to get a fair shot. It could be some intern that would never appreciate the value of the things you’ve written. It could also be a very technical senior editor reading your manuscript that doesn’t really like your style of writing. I know I worried about that a lot. So throughout the whole publishing process, I learned some really important lessons.
First of all, there is a good chance you’re going to get rejected. The first book I submitted was rejected. Why? Because it was a “missionary book” and according to the publisher, “there were too many missionary books on the shelves.” It didn’t really matter whether the book was good or not. It could have been the best missionary book ever written and they still would have rejected it. So, lesson number one is to write about something that is not found on the shelves. I had an almost 300 page missionary book finished and ready to go… and it had to be placed on the back burner because of saturation. If you want a publisher to pick up your book, then try and find a niche to write about, and then write about that niche in a way no one else has before. If retail stores have too many books in any one kind of genre, the buyers will reject the publishers attempts to get them into the retail stores. If that happens, then the publisher will have stacks of books sitting in their warehouse collecting dust. So don’t take it personally. Publishers like money. Of course they do. It’s their job to make money off of your book.
Why you should try to build a small following
Another thing to consider is what kind of following you have online. That is why writing a blog or producing online content will help you in the publishing process. Publishers are looking for people who they know will help them sell their book. If they see that you are not active online and that you don’t have a base of people who will buy your book, then that factors into their decision making. Publishers are often looking for people who have gained notoriety even before they’re actually looking for good writers. I know it’s sad and unfair to legitimately great writers… but that is the reality. In my own situation, when the publisher rejected my missionary book, they simultaneously told me that they were planning to reach out to me about writing a book for them to publish. So they had me come up with another topic. I chose to write about “being a dad” for that upcoming Father’s Day. So… my first book “Dads Who Stay and Fight” wasn’t even finished and they had already created a cover, sold it to retail stores, and prepared a launch date. I remember thinking to myself, “What if the book stinks?” But they were pushing forward with promoting my book because they were banking on the fact that approximately 7 million people had read my blog in a relatively short period of time. So really… why did the publisher want to work with me? It surely wasn’t because I wrote a great book, because the book I was writing for them hadn’t even been written yet. The readership I had attained over the years was of more value to them than the actual contents of the book. They were more willing to take a gamble on the book I was writing because of the 15,000 email subscribers, 30,000 Facebook fans, and other social proof. I know it’s unfair to writers that are far better than myself, but it’s a business to these publishers and they are making calculated risks.
Politics are everywhere… so don’t take it personal
After my book was published, I was introduced into the curious world of retail book placement. I had no idea what I was getting into once my book was published. Like most things in life, the retail and in-store carrying and placement of a book was as bureaucratic a situation as I had ever seen in my life. One of the definitions of “bureaucratic” says that an organization is “overly concerned with procedure at the expense of efficiency or common sense.” Just as in a grocery store, it is who you know and what you pay that generally takes the cake. If you sell beef jerky, and you get placed on an end cap, then your jerky will most likely sell. You will have the greatest opportunity for exposure in those given stores. It doesn’t matter if there are ten other brands of jerky in the store that are far better than what is on the end cap, the end cap will get the eye balls. Most of everything in a retail store is laid out by someone at corporate who has decided how and where the publisher and/or retailer can make the most money. There is a high probability that the person making the store configuration decisions hasn’t even read the books that they are placing front and center. A book could be poorly written with no substance and horrible reviews, and yet it may still be placed front and center with hundreds of copies on the table next to the front door. The books are placed in the stores not on merit or peer reviews, but on the opportunity for margin. I understand why a publisher or retailer might do this. I own a business and I know how it goes. But when I wrote a book, I wrote it in order to change lives and help people. For some ignorant reason, I allowed myself to completely forget that my book was just another book on the shelves that represents a dollar sign to the merchandiser. I forgot that selling books is a business to the people who sell them.
Life isn’t always fair
Beyond the politics of retail book promotion is just plain ol’ good and bad luck. As I’ve traveled around to various retail book stores, I’ve noticed that my book is in the same place at the very back of the store and on the bottom shelf. Why? Because no one liked the book? I had no idea. So I asked the store workers if there was any rhyme or reason as to where my book was placed and they simply said, “It’s because your last name starts with ’T’.” That was it. Where I fell on the alphabet made it so that if anyone was going to even be able to see my book on the shelf… they’d have to get on the ground just to know it was there. Just the luck of the draw. Nothing personal.
Why am I sharing all of this with you? Because life isn’t always fair. We’ve just deal with it and do your best. Find other creative ways to get your message out there. Relish in the opportunity to be an underdog if you find yourself in that situation. The cream always seems to rise to the top and your book will be no exception. Don’t get caught up in all the politics. Don’t worry about the money. Write for the love of your subject and the passion of your cause. Write for your kids and your grandkids and for anyone that might come across what you have written. Whether it is one person or a million people, you will have done something special that very few people on earth have the discipline to do. Every time I get a message from someone saying that my book changed their life… that is what it’s all about for me. Just keep going, regardless of how big the obstacle, how severe the rejection, or how unfair the circumstance. Just keep moving!
You’ll never guess how many times the best authors in the world were flat rejected
A man named James Patterson kept moving forward into the Guinness Book of World Records with 67 No.1 New York Times best-sellers. But check this out! The first book he wrote and tried to publish was rejected over a dozen times. J.K. Rowling’s book “Harry Potter” was rejected by 12 different publishing houses. Rudyard Kipling was told that, “he doesn’t know how to use the English language.” John Grisham was rejected by 16 publishers and an agent. William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” was rejected 20 times before being published. Jack Canfield’s “Chicken Soup for The Soul” received a whopping 134 rejections. And the famous “Diary of Anne Frank” had 15 rejections. Can you imagine how badly those publishers are kicking themselves?!! But this list is just a small excerpt of the many great and previously unknown writers who have been rejected over and over and over again. So no matter how insignificant you think you are… you can do it. One way or another, you can do it. If you make the time and have the discipline, you are just a few months away from having a completed book. If you have to self publish, then do it. And once you’ve done it and you hold that book in your hand knowing that you’ve left a piece of your heart to this world, you will have a sense of relief come over you that is hard for me to describe.
I hope to read and share your book someday soon!