5 Do Not’s of Writing a Book

Because of the books we publish through B&H Publishing, part of the division I lead at LifeWay Christian Resources, I am asked fairly regularly about writing a book. So let me speak some truth about how to write your book. While some of this may sound cold, it is really truth in love as this could save you a lot of time, frustration, and disappointment.

1. Do not start with a book.

Usually when people ask about writing a book, they are not really asking about writing a book, they are asking about getting a publisher. The publisher will want to see other things you have written or messages you have delivered. If the only content you have is an unsolicited manuscript you send to publishers, then … well put yourself in their shoes. They (we) get tons of those, and to read through those and do research on an unknown author would take a lot of time—time away from books being crafted and authors being served. I am not suggesting you can’t write a book, but I’m suggesting that the best way to write a book is not to start with a book. Start with a message. Deliver the message in other venues and through other means. Write some articles and work to get those published first. Then listen, and discover which ones are helpful to people. Start writing on a blog or ask to be a guest contributor on someone else’s blog. Lead a study based on the content you are passionate about. Deliver messages. Writing or speaking in other places will not only hone your message but will help you understand if there is actually any demand for a book. Start there, not with a book proposal.

2. Do not sign up to do it.

This will sound cheesy but it is true. Don’t volunteer to write a book; the book must recruit you. There must be a message in you that is demanding to be put on paper. About vision and leadership, some have emphasized that “a leader must have a vision.” Others have articulated that “more than a leader has a vision, a vision has a leader,” meaning, an overwhelming burden and passion is forming the leader much more than a leader forms a pithy vision statement. Applied to writing a book, you could say, “A message has an author, NOT an author has a message.”

3. Do not expect many people to care.

If you do move on to a book, whether through a publisher or the self-publishing route, don’t expect many people to care. This will sting because you are so passionate about what is in your heart and what is being typed on your screen. Let me defend those people who don’t seem to care for a moment: it is no longer a huge deal that you are writing a book. In general, the supply of books has risen greatly while the demand of readers has not changed much. The personal computer turned a lot of people into authors. If your book is helpful and impacts other people, the number of people who care will grow. Until then, enjoy celebrating with your mom.

4. Do not think it will be easy.

After you sign a book contract and celebrate for a few moments, an overwhelming feeling will likely overtake you. You have a limited time to craft 60,000 words (or something similar). You will have moments where words do not flow, moments you must push through. Sitting on a porch with a cup of coffee and effortlessly typing out words may look good in an Instagram photo, but the reality is a lot of hard work and wondering if any of this is any good at all.

5. Do not think it is over when you send in a manuscript.

Don’t celebrate too early. You still have lots of work to do after you hit “send” on the email. Rounds of edits, forming descriptions, securing endorsements, more edits, previewing marketing copy, a last round of edits, and then actually talking to people about your book once it is out. It is far from over when you hit “send.”

Still interested? Go back to point one!