Advice to an Aspiring Author

A writer who aspires to be an author asked me for some advice, clearly frustrated by the barriers facing unknowns. She said, “I’ve talked to various people (including an agent) and done some research, and it seems to me that the current advice for aspiring authors is either (1)  write a blog, become famous, and then we’ll publish your work (maybe), or (2) already be famous or someone in a high profile job, like megachurch pastor, and then we’ll publish your work (maybe).  Not being famous or likely to be, I thought I’d ask you about your editing and/or publishing coach services, and whether you have time open right now.”

Here’s my response:

I’m not going to snow you. The advice you’ve received is pretty accurate–but there are always exceptions. Publishers are risk-averse these days and are looking for people with solid platforms (meaning: many people who know them and are eager to buy their books)–hence the emphasis on blogs and megachurch pastors. I have run into this problem myself, being an independent journalist (although I have a platform with BreakPoint).

There are two ways to look at this:

1. What is your platform?

I understand you are not famous; most of us aren’t! But are you able to connect with readers (and potential buyers) of your book? Publishers will look at your church, organization, conferences, websites, social media, etc., to determine this. Are you credible on this topic, and on the ability to sell the book? They want to know if they can sell enough copies to make the risk of investing in you and your book worthwhile. 

It is very much a bottom-line business, with little wishful thinking allowed. That’s why you’ll see a lot of questionable books and authors get published–because they sell. You’d like to think Christian publishers would have higher standards, but many don’t.

2. What is the book?

Is it something new, or a fresh take on a perennial issue? Can you demonstrate this? Is it worthwhile? Professional? Compelling? Comprehensive? Clear? In short, does it sing? 

Regarding the platform, if yours is weak, you might consider demonstrating to publishers that you can sell the book anyway. To do this, you’d need to consider self-publishing first and then trying to sell it through your channels, including but not limited to book parties. I can evaluate your platform and work with you to build it.

Regarding the writing, I can evaluate your manuscript, edit it, rewrite it, etc., to bring it up to professional standards. I cannot, however, guarantee that a publisher will take it.

The thing all writers have to think about is whether they write only to get published, or whether they write because they have a purpose and a passion. Getting published is a worthy goal, but it can be a long and hard road, with no guarantees. If you truly believe God has called you to write, you won’t be able to not write, if you know what I mean! It will cost you a lot of sweat equity and money, and only you can decide if it’s worth it.
I write because I have gifts in that area, love influencing people, and can make money doing it–although I’m not getting rich (few authors do). In one sense, I write because I can’t not write!

So I hope that gives you some things to think about. Maybe it gave you more than you wanted! In any event, I’m happy to discuss my services if you’re interested in proceeding. Thanks for contacting me.

Best wishes,

Stan

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for BreakPoint.org. He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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One Response to Advice to an Aspiring Author

  1. Very solid advice Stan, and so true! ‘I write because I can’t not write!’ Your advice works just as well for non-Christian writing in my experience. I’m a published author on the secular side (Random House, political biography in Australia; goo.gl/4PH7Sb), although I enjoy writing for Christian magazines and editing other authors. Straddling both worlds is one way to exercise one’s gift in both markets—tent making (Acts 18:3) in a way between works that glorify God explicitly.

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