Aspiring author-ministers approach me regularly with questions such as these:
“Should I write a book?”
“Can you get my book published?”
“A publisher has offered to publish my book for $__. Is that a good deal?”
“My book is ready to print; where do I go?”
“Do I need a ghostwriter or editor?”
“What do printers and publishers mean by pre-press, design, layout and copy-editing costs?”
“I have a great testimony that would bless thousands of people. Would you like to publish it?”
Some unsuspecting ministers have spent thousands of dollars on publishing a book only to have most of their books sitting in their garage unsold. Before spending any money or signing any contracts, you need to understand how publishing works and what will work best for you.
We know that 2.5 people read every book printed. With this in mind, are you reaching everyone you can with the gospel-through print as well as audio media? We are still reading what Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Moody and Tozer have written. Long after Billy Graham preaches his last message, his books will be read for generations to come. My recommendation? Leave a legacy in print.
Where do you begin to create a book? Start with a premise or “God idea.” Write it down. Outline it. Study the Word, and do original writing and research. Produce an outline. Preach, teach or write your message. Then consider printing or publishing your material.
The novice author enters an intimidating world of terms, offers, contracts and hype when seeking to have a book written, printed or published. Let's first lay some groundwork so that the journey through an impending minefield might not be so hazardous.
Most established literary agents and agencies, or publishers, rarely sign on with new authors. Why? It's the “major league” principle: Until an author has established himself or herself as a marketable item, publishers and agents simply aren't interested. Buying a manuscript and marketing the finished product is a costly investment.
What makes a first-time author marketable? First, an excellent book. Without a manuscript, nobody is interested unless you have a huge platform. And I'm not talking in square feet!
Next, if you have a large marketing base through television, radio, church, speaking at events, churches and/or conferences, or supporting partners on a mailing list, you will capture the attention of a publisher or acquisitions editor. A publisher can manage the risk of publishing your book because he can rest assured that a large group of people who know you will want to buy your book.
Often a publisher will want you to guarantee a certain “buy back” of the initial print run (1,000 to 5,000 copies) and will offer you anywhere from 50 to 80 percent off of the retail price of the book. The publisher will usually offer to market your book to “the trade” (Christian Booksellers Association [CBA]) bookstores.
Even though chain or individual buyers may take your book, most books are on consignment in trade stores. That means you may learn that 2,000 books from the first print run have been sold to stores, but these same stores also have the option to return unsold books after a set period of time. This means that you don't receive royalties, and the publisher has to use other discount ways to sell your book.
You may enlist the help of a literary agent to represent your manuscript, but agents rarely consider taking on new authors unless they believe the manuscript is particularly sellable.
Agents will also help you develop a proposal for your manuscript. Most publishers prefer query letters and proposals that include the writer's résumé, book premise and outline, a few chapters and marketing strategies. The value of an agent is his or her connections directly with publishers and acquisitions editors.
A variety of terms swirl around in publishing conversations. For instance, a work for hire is a book written for a publisher for a set fee and does not usually involve any payment of future royalties. For a publisher to purchase a manuscript is rather significant.
A writer's contract (or author agreement) usually gives the publishing rights to the publisher for a set time. (The shelf life of most books is less than three years.) During this time period, Christian publishers usually pay royalties based on the net sales of your book. For example, if your book retails for $14.99 and is sold wholesale to a Christian bookstore or chain for $7.50, then your royalty of 10 percent would be 75 cents on that book.
If a publisher pays you an advance against royalties, it will be deducted from the net until the amount of the advance is paid back to the publisher. Unless a book looks like it will be a blockbuster, Christian publishers often pay small advances. However, the larger the advance, the more a publisher believes the book will sell and is willing to invest substantial dollars in marketing the book.
However, consider this simple fact: Often the best buyer and marketer of the book is the author. Through his or her speaking, networks and mailing lists, the publisher often expects to sell up to half of the initial print-run inventory to the author.
As your manuscript moves through the publishing process, it will pass through many hands. Someone will edit your book both for content and flow. Another person will copy-edit the manuscript for grammar, spelling, correct references and footnotes. The cover will be designed and the pages typeset. Someone in marketing will write back-cover copy and pitch sheets for your book as well as descriptive text for catalogs, Web sites and advertisements.
You will be asked to solicit well-known colleagues to endorse your book. You will be contracted to meet writing deadlines as your editor returns the manuscript for corrections and questions to be answered. A publicist will pitch you and your book to various TV and radio outlets and magazines for you to be interviewed. And all this must happen before your masterpiece hits the shelves of the local Christian bookstore.
Next, let's explore the three major models of publishing:
By self-publishing, the author makes the total financial investment and reaps the full blessing of the proceeds. You may employ the services of a good writer, editor or ghostwriter to help you. Sometimes, a friend or person in your church has excellent writing and editing skills.
Organizations such as Christian Writers Fellowship International (www.cwfi-online.org), Your Ministry Consultation Services (www.ymcs.org) and Christian Writers Guild (www.christianwritersguild.com) can help network you with writers, editors, designers, printers, and so on.
Expect to pay for transcribing if you have dictated or preached your material and want to create a book from it. If you are a good verbal communicator but not fond of writing, then a good “ghostwriter” can take your transcriptions and notes and develop a flow for your book. Such ghostwriters or editors usually work for a fee that can range from $3,000 to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the market for the book and its length.
In self-publishing, you will also need to plan to pay for copy-editing, cover design, layout and preparation fees for preparing your electronic file for a printer. Companies such as Xulon Press, Beacon University Press, Ingram's Lightning Source and YMCS can walk an author through the steps to self-publishing and digital publishing (print on demand [POD]). The author can be involved as much as he desires in the process, but each step of the process does involve cost to the author.
Many major publishers (such as Creation House Press [Strang Communications], Bridge Logos and Destiny Image) and small Christian presses (they abound on the Internet) will guide you through partnering and contracting with them to publish your book.
Such partnership agreements commit the author to buy a fixed number (1,000 to 5,000) copies from the first printing of your book and can ensure that all the author's ministry information is printed in the book. Printing larger quantities of books significantly lowers the individual cost of each book purchased by the author.
The author can also arrange for future partnership in print runs. The author stipulates the markets he or she sells directly to and agrees not to sell to the customers serviced by the publisher. The publisher's sales of the author's books generate royalties back to the author.
“To publish or not to publish?” isn't the question. Decide what best fits your goals in publishing with a trade company-partnering or self-publishing-then go for it. Leave a legacy in print. How you will publish needs to be your next decision. Don't let the wonderful revelation that God has given you be lost to future generations. Start writing now.
Before You Sign...
Use this handy chart to navigate the differences between getting your manuscript self-published, co-published or bought by a publishing house.
Larry Keefauver, D.Min., has written and edited numerous books and periodicals and is founder and president of Your Ministry Consultation Services (www.ymcs.org).
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