Last week’s newsletter (#628) left me unsettled even though I wrote it. Looking back, it seems that the tone was too negative, presenting only one side of the book-publishing story. That newsletter was stimulated by comments in a business magazine that correctly pointed out the small and disappointing payoffs for the time and energy invested by most authors. This extends beyond books and includes the writing of blogs, newsletters, magazine articles and contributions to professional journals. We noted the difficulties of producing writing that is clear, unique and interesting. The newsletter alluded to the challenge of getting one’s written work published, marketed and then purchased.
But last week’s newsletter pushed me to re-evaluate my reasons for writing books at all, looking for the positives as well as what’s negative. From there I moved to doing something similar for my coaching and teaching. These were helpful exercises, building on a belief that periodically we all need to look critically at our work and calling. The negatives are easy to remember but a written list of the positives can be good to review whenever we are tired, discouraged, or tempted to quit.
Here’s a personal example. I continue writing because this:
- Provides the most effective way for me to impact others and to fulfill my life mission,
- Is an area of competence for me, a God-given ability, seemingly one of my spiritual gifts,
- Is one of the best ways for me to keep learning and be able to make decisions,
- Lets me be innovative and creative,
- Is something that I feel compelled to do, like some of you who are artists, teachers, or mentors and know in your hearts what you need to be doing.
In contrast to these reasons for writing, my thinking about teaching and coaching is producing different lists. If your work involves counseling, ministry, running a business or leading an organization, your lists would be different. But each list can help you decide whether to stay the course, change direction or refine what you are doing.
There is much in life that can’t or shouldn’t be changed. But reflective re-evaluations can increase our effectiveness and sense of fulfillment as we rethink our motives, abilities, competencies and circumstances. The same applies to our clients. Without ignoring the negatives, what is good about what you do in your life or career? Please leave a comment.
At some time in their lives probably most people dream about writing a book. I’ve gone beyond the dreaming, published some books, and have a couple of partially finished book manuscripts in my computer waiting to be completed. But is further book writing what I really want to do at this stage in my life? A recent article in Inc. Magazine (October, 2015) got me thinking about questions like the following that should be considered before anyone begins working on a book:
- What’s Your Motive? Good writing results from hard work, discipline, and usually more time than we anticipate. Write for money? Forget it. You won’t earn much from writing unless you are well known, have a big following, or are willing to launch an aggressive book-marketing effort. Self-publishing may even cost money. Write to build your ego or get fame? Inc. suggests that book-writing rarely accomplishes these purposes. Nevertheless, a book can increase credibility, especially for public speakers, academics building their resumés, or professionals looking for clients and business opportunities. Some people primarily write to synthesize ideas or develop something creative and innovative. For this group, fulfillment is in the process of writing, whether or not anybody sees or buys the end product.
- What’s Your Message? Do you have anything unique and valuable to say? Realistically, would anyone bother to read what you write? If not, writing may be a waste of your time, except for the fun or challenge of doing it.
- What’s Your Audience? It’s an old cliché that if you write for everybody, you’re unlikely to impact anybody. Clearly identifying your intended readers is at the core of any successful author’s work.
- What’s Your Expertise? Bluntly stated, some people are not engaging or clear writers, however hard they try. What’s the evidence that you are a good writer? Do you have the energy, determination and time to get through the writing, publishing and marketing process? Currently I’m working through Michael Hyatt’s course on publishing, primarily to tap into Hyatt’s knowledge about how the publishing industry is changing and what this means for writers today.
What’s your reaction to these thoughts? If you are determined to write anyhow, then probably you should. You might ask similar questions about other topics: “Do I really want to teach? Do coaching? Counsel? Go into ministry?” Ask a close friend to walk with you through this. And try to determine God’s will in the process. Please leave a comment.
Many years have passed since I first met Michael Hyatt. He was with Word Books when I was involved there in a major publishing project. Since then, I’ve watched Michael’s career evolve to his present role as an astute observer of the publishing industry and dispenser of helpful guidelines for any who want to get published and/or known professionally. I don’t read all of Michael’s blogs and I disagree with some of his self-marketing values. But much of what he writes is excellent and very practical including his recent podcast on publishing (http://www.michaelhyatt.com – November 26, 2014.) You can learn from this even if you never plan to write, but want to market your ideas and services.
- Hyatt states, “There’s never been a better time to get published. Changes in the market have conspired in the author’s favor.” But the publishing industry keeps changing. Sending a manuscript or proposal to a publisher almost never works. If you are unknown, it’s too risky for a publisher to produce your manuscript. Life stories or books on mental health issues seem especially unlikely to sell. The potential market is too small.
- The best authors have innate ability but even more, they are skilled practitioners who consistently refine their craft. They write almost every day. Most are avid readers. They know that writing is hard work.
- Successful writers (or private practice coaches) are effective marketers. Unless you are famous, a successful writer, and/or have a big platform like a major radio program, few publishers will advertise your work. It’s not worth the cost, risk, and effort. You need to do ma yourself.
- Digital publishing opens huge new possibilities. Currently about two-thirds of books published in the United States are digital. This “gives the opportunity to get your book out there…. [but] it’s not going to mean people are going to beat your door down to get your book, because if they don’t know who you are or have a relationship with you, that’s not going to happen.”
- Here’s another critical issue that sometimes we forget: No one person – writer, speaker, counselor, coach, leader – is likely to reach everybody. Decide on your audience. Know your audience well. Then focus on that group.
Is this discouraging? It’s realistic but not hopeless. Take time to learn about publishing. Sometimes a coach or friend can help. Then apply what you learn. What do you think? Please comment.
Have you ever heard of Vernon Grounds? He was a theologian, dynamic speaker and (Denver) seminary president. Born in 1914, he died four years ago but only last month did I read Bruce Shelley’s biography subtitled The Vernon Grounds Story. Vernon wrote a PhD dissertation on Freud’s view of love, spent much of his life counseling and mentoring younger leaders and professionals, and was a leader in the early debates about theology vs. psychology. It seems that everyone he met admired him and he profoundly influenced countless lives and careers, including mine.
I rarely read biographies and probably have only read eight or ten novels in my whole life. But should mental health professionals, pastors, leaders and others be learning from stories, real and imaginary? Surely these can teach us about life, leadership and helping in ways that no formal journal article or bullet point presentation can do. All except one of last week’s Academy Awards best picture nominees were stories of real people’s lives. Last month Relevant Magazine published a list of eight recommended biographies (for the list, click here) and I have committed to reading all eight. This includes Solomon Northup’s autobiography 12 Years a Slave, which was made into this year’s best picture Oscar winner. I’m reading Northrup’s book now. The March 2014 APA Monitor published an article on psychologists and novelists. Titled “Fascinated by People, On and Off the Page,” the article interviews four psychologist-novelists including one who has done research showing that reading fiction can impact readers’ personalities, increasing their empathy and social skills.
In addition to this is the recent fascination with narrative therapy in its various forms. This can include helping counseling and coaching clients, among others, imagine and seek to live out their hoped-for new life stories. Much older is the use of bibliotherapy in which appropriate books and other written materials, fiction and biographies included, can supplement leadership and care-giving.
Are any of you writers, users of narrative therapy or recommenders of biographies and fiction? Please comment. Also, what is the best biography that you would recommend? Click on Comment to let us know.
Guy Kawasaki is a no-nonsense, down-to-earth writer. His 2013 book, written with Shawn Welch, doesn’t have a captivating title—APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—or an appealing cover (as you can see). Even so, it’s a goldmine of practical information on writing a book and getting it published. I started at the beginning, intending to read straight through. The writing style kept my attention, but soon I started skipping to later chapters. These promised to tell me how to write a book (I’m still learning), self-publish, sell to Amazon readers, build a personal brand, maximize the impact of social media, or use blogs to promote books.
The authors begin with questions about why anybody would write a book. They discuss the obvious goals of making an impact, sharing a story, or furthering a cause. They dismiss the fantasy that most books are likely to generate a lot of money or fame. Also, they acknowledge that sometimes we write for ourselves, with little expectation that we will ever publish our work. I am writing a book like that now.
Kawasaki and Welch believe that overall the best way to produce a book today is to go the self-publishing route. Consider this:
- The publishing industry is radically changing. Traditional publishing still has a role but a self-publishing revolution is in process. Because of this, authors should evaluate e-books, publishing on demand, and other newer trends before moving too far into the publishing process.
- Consistent with the subtitle of the book, writers should know about three areas. First is how to be a good author. Second concerns the intricacies of producing the book (especially if you are self-publishing and know little about things like editing, cover design, pricing, or dealing with Amazon). Third we need to understand marketing. Even with traditional publishers most marketing falls on the author.
- You may be a good writer with fame and great connections, but the whole world is not panting with anticipation for the opportunity to buy and read your book.
This is a realistic and potentially discouraging look at the realities of book publishing. Nobody asked for my endorsement but if you are passionate about writing and navigating the publishing process, then Kawasaki and Welch’s book could help. Please comment, especially if you are a writer.