You’ve just published your first book and you’re preparing to become rich and famous. Prepare instead to be surprised and humbled.
Yes, bestselling authors often do become rich and famous. Reality tells us, however, that many, if not most, book authors are some of the poorest paid people on the planet. If you figure out how many hours it takes to write your novel and figure your hourly wage, it can be depressing.
Sorry to start this blog on a negative note, but writing books is no shortcut for becoming rich. Writing articles and publishing them is generally a faster way to make money than writing books. Some writing positions give you a salary, but freelance novelists have to become very successful before they can make a living at it.
As for fame, a few friends and family members may offer words of congratulation and encouragement, but, face it, most of the world doesn’t know or care who you are.
Don’t get me wrong. Writing is not without its rewards. Most consistently published authors love writing or they would have never walked past the first stages of writing for publication. We pour energy into our writing the way a gourmet cook stirs passion into her cooking. We tinker with words much like a mechanic restoring a classic car or a quilter rearranging quilt squares to maximum advantage. It’s not about the money. It’s part of who we are.
Most of our friends shake their heads and wonder how we can waste a year or two writing a novel with no guarantee of publication. Sometimes we can’t explain it to ourselves either. It starts with a great idea and we can’t quit until we finish the marvellous, frustrating, stupid project which is sure to become a bestseller—or trash. We’re not sure which.
I feel a need to write which is even bigger than this creative urge. It is the need to share a message. I feel God has put me on this earth to communicate his truth, and writing for publication is one of my ways of doing that.
Writing a book or novel is also more challenging and rewarding emotionally than writing an article. Even if you are making less money, you feel like you are achieving something greater. You are honing your craft to a much higher degree. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with a hundred thousand pieces. Or enduring a year-long pregnancy to produce a precious child. You live that story or message for probably at least a year of your life.
When you’re done writing you labor to attract a publisher’s attention. Or perhaps you self-publish and are forced to learn a whole new array of skills. Maybe you’re given a thousand dollar advance for a year’s hard labor, and will call yourself blessed if you ever make more royalties. Maybe you’re trying your hand at self-publication and are hoping you can at least make back your expenses. But that’s okay because this is your next step on your path of publication and you know you have to pay your dues.
Finally you hold your finished book in your hand. You can’t wait to show it to all your friends and family. You congratulate yourself on making it past the finish line—when someone moves the line. Now you have to promote your book and sell it. What? You haven’t started yet? What’s wrong with you? You should have started six months ago!
Today most publishers expect you to work to promote your book. If you’re self-publishing, the job is all yours.
“But I don’t want to promote myself,” you say. “I just want to write.”
Too bad. In today’s world promotion is part of the process of writing books. To a Christian sometimes this part of the process feels wrong. It helps if you first settle a few things in your mind:
It’s not wrong to make money writing, even if you consider it a ministry.
Scripture clearly says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18 NKJV) Pastors and missionaries make a salary from their ministry. It may not be a high salary, but it should be enough to support them and whatever family they have. This is right for any kind of minister.
You can promote your message and serve the reader at the same time.
A pastor can and should be both a leader and a servant. Even Christ, God in the flesh, modelled servanthood. In the same way a writer needs to promote his books to spread his message, but he can do so with a servant’s attitude.
“Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45 NKJV)
So how can you promote yourself, serve your reader, and glorify God at the same time? It starts with a heart attitude, but the practical aspects of that task are the subject of my next blog.