Advice for an Aspiring Author

My daughter’s in-home nursing assistant mentioned to me that two friends from her church were writing books, and wondered, since I was published, if I had any words of advice for her friends. I told her I’d jot down a few notes. My .02 worth follows. Do note that I am assuming the author(s) are writing inspirational/spiritual non-fiction. Obviously, this advice might not fully apply to writers in other genres.

Advice for an Aspiring Author

  1. You need to be able to explain what is the “purpose” or “mission” of the book, in 1 to 2 sentences. This is called the hook.
  2. Who is the book written for? This is called the audience. Note: Be specific. If you say, “This book is for everyone,” the publishers will reply, “That’s too hard to promote – unless the authors are world famous.” It’s better to narrow down your audience: what age level, for men or for women, for active churchgoers or for those who don’t have faith, etc.
  3. What work is the author doing right now to reach people in the target audience? In other words, do you have a teaching ministry, a speaking ministry, are you doing workshops at different churches that are aimed at your audience? Do you have a website, or radio show, or TV show that reaches out to the audience? The more active the author is at reaching out to members of the target audience, the more appealing the book will be to a potential publisher. The publisher wants to know that you, the author, are actively doing everything you can to  promote your message – even before the book gets published. In other words, what is more important: the book, or the message? You’ll be more attractive to a potential publisher is you are mainly focused on your message.
  4. What credentials does the author have? Do you have a college degree in the subject area? Have you been involved in a ministry related to your topic? For example, if you’re writing a book on why Christians should be taking care of homeless people, you should probably already be doing this yourself – for example, you might be in charge of your church’s food pantry. Publishers will want to know why you, rather than someone else, are the right person to author this book. Note: If you don’t have strong credentials, one strategy is to find someone who does, and co-author the book with him or her.
  5. What sets your book apart? To answer this question, you need to be familiar with other books that have already been published that discuss a topic similar to yours. Why is yours different, and why is it better? Don’t be shy! Remember, publishing is a business, and the publishers will not take on your book unless they are convinced that it is a “superior” product. It’s up to you to explain to them why it is the best book on the topic.
  6. Once you’ve answered these questions, but before you begin to shop your book idea around to a potential editor or agent, you need to develop a Proposal for the Book. It’s just like a Grant Proposal: it’s a document that will introduce your book to a potential editor/publisher, which will explain why it makes good business sense to publish the book. If the thought of writing this intimidates you — in other words, if you cannot put into words good, persuasive arguments why your book will be profitable for a publisher — then you have some work to do. The best book I’ve found for guiding you through this process is Write the Perfect Book Proposal by Jeff and Deborah Herman. Deborah is also the author of a lovely book on the entire process of spiritual writing, called Spiritual Writing: From Inspiration to Publication (she quotes me in it, so I’m partial to it!). Both of these books are well worth your money and time.

Best of luck, and God bless you!

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Claudia Mair Burney

    Great advice, Carl. Thank you for the reminders. I’ll be reviewing Spirituality soon. I’m excited!