The New Rules of Publishing
When I started in Christian book publishing in 2000, no one knew how different the industry would look in a few short years.
How extremely difficult it seemed for new authors to get published. And how few were really ready.
Today it's become easier, and harder.
Anyone can publish, but the competition has increased exponentially and real "word of mouth" has become scarce. Who talks about books with their friends anymore? Truly remarkable books are the only kind that rise above the glut.
Anyone slaving away to tell a story had better have it burning inside them. That passion is pure gold. That longing is a pure, unadulterated gift and even if no one knows it but you right now, that's okay.
Every remarkable book starts with that passion. Which leads to 2 questions:
Why is this passion in me?
How will this work be born?
If you've heard those questions, you need a plan to organize your work, a process to develop your craft, and practice. Your vision is a gift for a higher purpose, to complete this journey.
I believe that by the end of this article, you will know a bit more about the monumentally difficult task of writing a remarkable book.
Start by commiting. Even veteran writers sometimes lose their way on this path. So establish right now that you've heard the 2 questions above and that means they must have answers. If you accept that, you're ready to begin.
And it's an amazing journey.
Your story came with a compass:
1. Writing - Vision-casting
2. Editing - Refinement
3. Branding - Ownership of your message
4. Networking - Organizing your influencers
5. Publishing - Multiplication
(or "V.R.O.O.M." for you observant types.)
Publishing used to effectively cut off a book's future development. Now you can upload it and just reupload it later when you've edited.
Though I wouldn't recommend it. A good rule of thumb: Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Truly remarkable books require time. They're harder to get right.
And that makes them more valueable than, say, some computer code. Sorry, Internets.
Writers are artists, pure and simple. Which means they must accept that rules govern their work. While most people can speak, there's no denying that some do it better than others. If you want to write effective, inspiring work, you need to uncover your voice.
"Uncover" because it's been buried under a lot of stuff. (More on "voice training" here.)
It's difficult committing to a story that's only in your head and translating it to the page when you haven't learned the tools. So committing to seeking out those questions above first and foremost gives you enough time to explore stage one and leave the other 4 essential stages until later, once this first one's thoroughly completed.
I can't overstate the importance of this because Stage 1: Writing is where you'll find your fuel for the journey.
Each stage also has its own process requiring several smaller steps. And of course since nothing is so nice and orderly in life, you don't really complete one and move on to the next. As one of my authors has said, "Life is a spiral of ever-deepening healing." An author works on each "stage" throughout his or her career, refining and building each time.
This is one way the Internet has significantly improved the process for committed authors. A new writer can now connect with other authors and readers, even professionals, each of them pursuing their own vision through these 5 essential stages, improving the process for developing great books, as well as great sales and longevity.
There's a tool on my homepage called “Are You Publishable?” that will help you assess where you are in the process of each stage.
So first things first: Are you committed to listening to your vision?
Writing is vision-casting. It is capturing the vision and effectively casting it on the page.
Basically, in the initial writing phase, we try our best and accept that our best won't be all that great. That's okay; that's what the other stages are for.
As we learn to capture more, see how that's received, and so on eventually, it will be complete (don't say "done" - it's never done).
Just commit to getting down the best first draft of the vision that you can. Of course that involves defining a few things: research, process, voice, audience, and your ultimate intent. When a reader comes to your book, they want an experience with its message, but often the author doesn't clearly see what the full message of the book is until it's revealed in critiques.
And then some good old-fashioned work in quiet solitude is preferrable. If that's hard in your house, go back up to "commitment" and reread...
So use all the "craft" and ability you have in the first draft, but the content must be your primary. Get. It. Out. Stay focused. Drink espresso. Turn off our friend the Internets.
Soon enough, it will be time to refine. So write it. And after you're done, read it and ask, "Have I given full expression to the story in my heart?"
If writing is the art, editing is the science. If you notice, a lot more people want to be artists than scientists these days.
Refinement is where you find out what you really said. This is why no one actually likes editing. New writers can think they said what they intended to, "Why edit out (i.e. "cut") what they said?"
Cue the tiny violins for me.
The refining is where potential becomes actual.
It's continually shocking how easily we believe we're saying what we really mean, when in reality we just mean what we said so much that we can't hear that.
The only "shortcut" to saying what you mean from the get-go more often is to be told how it's being heard.
We all start as musicians who hear a song in our heads and must struggle to get it out of our fingers. We get pieces of it, but we need skill and practice yet to express the way it sounds in our heads--how it feels in our hearts.
While carity and accuracy are the goals of editing, often editing will reveal we didn't quite say what we intended. Good editing improves your craft and your content. And while great content makes great books, great craft makes those books last.
Experienced readers' input is how you know how if your book has great content and craft. Remember, it's supposed to evoke an experience. So how did they feel about what you wrote?
"Editing" is the catch-all term for the "refinement" part of the job.
But there's another part to knowing if your full vision is on the page.
No writer can hear themselves. They have to hear it from others to know what they're really saying.
And no reader knows what's unexpressed.
So how do we know when a book's complete?
Alongside listening to readers' experiences, we must also know our message is part of us.
A brand is your essence. And it's what emerges from refinement because it's concentrated uniqueness.
In distillation, it’s the entire process that defines the end result.
Look at other authors’ brands. Then think about your work. Where do you fit as an author? If every author on the shelf is a flavor, what's yours?
Knowing what makes you stand out involves knowing what goes into your content and craft, and that defines your key value in marketing and publicity to “position” your message.
Your label, your bottle, your back cover copy, your ads, your website theme, the color of your pantsuit on Oprah, etc.
The more you think about this, the more you define your brand, the better you know how you compare to your competition, expanding daily.
Too many authors skip over this essential task because, well, they don't understand what goes into it. And they end up with slapdash approaches and diluted, ineffective statements.
And it's just not a great shock that their books don't sell.
I want to tell them, You are an author. You have one-of-a-kind strengths and decided weaknesses. But you can know which is which if you'll submit to the process of revising and refining your message.
But authors either own who they are before they publish, or they don't. I just think it's less fun to be forced to tell yourself that successful authors reach their audience because they're lucky.
The great news about branding: it doesn't need a lot of defining when you've engaged the process of refining. What's in the bottle will be clear (Jim Rubart was the first I heard define this so beautifully.)
Few authors thrill to the idea of networking. I'm one. I mean, I don't come by this dynamic, extroverted persona easily.
(Susan Cain's book Quiet describes my real personality.)
Some people love the social aspect of selling and being evangelists for their books--and frankly, their enthusiasm keeps the book business running.
But for some bookish folks, the beauty of living in the Internet age is that you don’t have to be a "commander" to connect with people and show them your natural excitement about your message!
Can I get an amen? (or a "Like!")
Being dynamic is great, but a strong brand shared with humble enthusiasm and sincerity is now--finally!--just as effective.
Your blog, your newsletter, your website, your "social network" can build directly from your personality and make you a connector extraordinaire.
I'm sure you can think of two or three examples right now--people being themselves and getting their message out.
But none of them have your message. And what if yours is one with a higher purpose? Could you use some support in that journey?
No, there's no program for gaining influencers. But there are techniques. And this site is full of people I've worked with specifically because they're a different breed of author.
There's a "social" element here, but mostly we're interested in the ideas and writing.
And it's never loud.
Networking is about connecting, and ultimately organizing your tribe of influencers. And what I love about YWG is that we're all book people and as we're naturally drawn into exploring those questions abov, people not only find what makes them unique, they find that this search is all about connection.
And, again, valuing that search is what you need most to make it to the eventual launch of your book.
Ready for the easy bit? With the proliferation of options available, there's no reason to limit yourself to one method of multiplying readers or another.
Spending your time on the first 4 stages makes your publishing decision easy. At this point, it's a simple decision:
How much control do you want to retain and how much are you willing to give up?
It isn’t a sweat-inducing decision once you’ve completed all the previous stages and done your research on the most accessible options for your particular message.
It's simply crunching numbers.
Again, it isn't such a difficult question when you've been through the work of the first 4 tasks. The YWG community can be invaluable as those who know publishing lend helpful advice. There are likely several markets for your message, but the best way to reach them is still through people sharing how your work affects them.
By being here, you’ll know if you're having this effect on readers before you publish.
To make it through the tasks, you must keep your inspiration level high. Like at full tilt.
There will be times you'll want to quit. You’ll lose your way. You'll lose your file, lose your marbles, maybe your lunch.
To resist the resistance, you'll need to begin thinking like a professional (tip: read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art). But after you've prepared for the setbacks, after accepting and learning from them, you need support to keep going.
All writers need that no matter which stage they're in.
And I believe there's no reason a writing community can't be all-inclusive, focus on encouragement, and filter out all the nonessential fluff.
For years I dreamed of a place where writers could learn from each other and gain professional peers, be encouraged to write their stories regardless of their content or craft level, and share the personal and demanding journey, bravely and honestly, unafraid of the challenging publishing realities.
The opportunity is here now. It's time to get prepared.
Become a whole writer. Seek out the advantage writing relationships can bring and enjoy the journey!
We look forward to meeting you!