Overcoming The Harsh Realities of Book Publishing

On Saturday, September 26, I’ll be conducting a workshop at the annual San Diego Christian Writers Guild  conference entitled “Overcoming The Harsh Realities of Publishing.” Since most of the conference attendees will be curious about getting published in the Christian book market, I’m sure its the “harsh realities” of that realm of publishing I’ll be expected to address.

So I should probably start thinking of what some of those harsh realities are.


You need a platform.

That’s pretty much it. If you’ve got a solid platform, all the other problems with Christian publishing—needing an agent, needing ideas, needing marketing savvy, needing to know how to write—pretty wholly dissapear.

A “platform” is the means by which you personally, without any help from its publisher, can sell a minimum of 30,000-50,000 copies of your own book. It’s the nationwide ministry or mega-church that you lead, the nationally-broadcast television show on which you preach, the popular radio show you host, the seminars or conferences that have you speaking before tens of thousands of rapt listeners a year. Your platform can even be the blog you write, if your blog is insanely popular. But it’s got to be something you do that makes thousands and thousands of people want whatever else you do.

All publishers need to make money off their books. (And that definitely includes Christian publishers, by the way. The first thing any aspiring Christian market writer should do is rip off those rose-colored glasses.) That means they need to sell  their books. And that’s really, really  difficult to do, because there are some 200,000 books published in America published every twelve months. How do you break through the water’s surface in an ocean that packed?

One way to at least have a chance is to start out being a big fish. Publishers don’t want to market your book. That costs them way too much money; it takes mad cash to run even the most modest ad campaign. What a publisher wants is an author who shows up with their own advertising campaign, their own marketing clout, their own known brand.

What an author can do and bring a publisher doesn’t have to make and deliver.

Publishers aren’t risk takers. They can’t afford to be. (And who can be these days?) What publishers are—or certainly what those holding the Publishing Purse Strings are—are business people. And—and this is everything—they’re business people trying to make money selling art.

Business and art: that’s the Ancient Dichotomy. The people in publishing who cut the checks that keep the rest of us in publishing aren’t artists. They’re not Aesthetic Visionaries. (And again: Who is?) They’re people trying to make a living. They’re people trying to keep their jobs.

Just like every other company that interrupts your television viewing for twenty-two out of every thirty-minutes, book publishers are people with products they need to sell.

But how do you sell a book? Books are based on writing—and writing is, still (and ever, of course) an art. Business people don’t understand art. Or, rather, what they do understand about art is that it can’t be quantified. They can’t predict it. They can’t turn it into a formula. They can’t anticipate who’s going to like it, or why, or when.

Business people don’t like that. They want numbers they can count on, formulas they can depend upon, market analytics they can apply. They need stuff that, as much as possible, they know will work.

The answer? Publish a book with the name of someone on its cover who can effectively promote and sell that book.

You tell a publisher how many copies of your book you can sell, and you just became someone that publisher can work with. Make that number even fairly substantial, and you just became that publisher’s best friend.

If you’re a writer going into publishing without a platform, you’re going in without much of a chance at all.

Now. That’s true.

But, ultimately, it’s not the whole story. Look at me! Not that long ago at all, the only platform I had was on the forklift I maniacally drove around in a warehouse all day. I had no connections; the only person I knew in “publishing” was the dimwit who used to tag the inside of the trucks I was helping load. And look at me now! Arguing with atheists on my very own blog!

So while needing a platform is huge, it’s not everything. Like all Monolithic Realities, it leaves all kinds of holes you can wiggle through. So it’s how to do that about which I’ll be speaking at the conference. ( “… about which I’ll be speaking…” See? That’s what I’m talkin bout!)

Come to the conference if you can! One of these days I’d like to meet at least one of you guys.


Related posts o’ mine: Why A Book Proposal Is Everything, and How To Make A Living Writing.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Hey John, Come to DC or Baltimore and voila! You will me at least one of us! C'mon, California is not the only state in the union.

    Good stuff. Thanks. Your harsh reality posts actually encourage me.

  • Wow, I'd love to go to the conference…but, we are still cleaning up here in Houston! Why don't you come to Houston? Even Dallas is only a 4 hour drive from Houston….

    Great points…one of those posts that I saved to read again…thanks for the information. The hardest part I have found about writing the book I am working on – is my brain gets ahead of my fingers on the keyboard – or worse, something that needs to go into print often cruises through my brain at the most inconvenient time (i.e., while I am screaming at a crazy driver who has just completely cut across 5 lanes of traffic with no regard to anyone else….lol)!

    Also, how "rough" should a "rough draft" be when submitting it to an editor? I struggle with wanting the manuscript to be in near perfect condition – but, my hubby keeps reminding me that "the editors are there to help you fine tune it, silly"! I have several friends who have published books and they basically tell me to just "get on the computer and start typing away"…but, when I do this…it almost seems like a train wreck! (Case in point, this comment)! 🙂

    Any suggestions?

  • arlywn

    you know john, I reject your use of 'atheists'. not every one on here is an atheist. I'm not. I'm just not christian. But- I do like this post!

  • Arlywn: I didn't once mention atheists in this post. So … I don't know what you're talking about.

    Kelly: Your mss. has to be as perfect as it can possibly be before you send it to your agent or your would-be publisher. Your husband is mistaken in his advice.

    Ric: THANKS! I do mean my advice about this stuff to be encouraging.

  • What about an "editor"? I was under the assumption (which is usually not good) that you should have an "editor" look at your manuscript before sending it to the agent or publisher.

  • Kelly: No, editors WORK for publishers. (Though you can hire freelance editors on your own if you'd like—but [in a word] don't.) First your agent okays your book or proposal; then your agent sends that book to a bunch of publishers; then one of the publishers buys it; then you send your whole mss. to that publisher; then the publisher assigns an editor to that editor–with whom you then start working. Then you hope the editor now in charge of your book isn't a moron.

  • Great, thanks for the advice! I appreciate it!

  • Hey John, either you pay for my flights or you come to New Zealand!!! We would love to see you here!! I could be your marketing campaigner and I am sure I could get a crowd of 4 mil (which just so happens to be the pop of the country LOL). Would love to meet you and to hear you speak one day

  • Hey, Kent. Thanks a lot for stopping by. You'll see I've added a couple of links at the bottom of this post—see if those help you at all. If not, let me know what sort of (other) helpful resources you might have in mind.

  • kentsanders

    John, thanks for this post. This is the first time I’ve come across your blog. I’m an aspiring author and I appreciate your thoughts. For those of us who haven’t published a book yet, are there one or two helpful resources you’d most recommend?

  • arlywn

    did too john…. right. here.

    "Arguing with atheists on my very own blog!"

    and the post about 'where does god being love leave us? (And get back here, Atheists!)' See? It's even in the title! I'm just saying it isnt the politically correct way of presenting non christians. Like how, we us non christians go, 'oh… your a christian.' it can make ya'll feel like thats a bad thing. So when you say 'atheist' when we arent all atheists, that makes us feel like you arent bothering to find out what we really are, and are instead just lumping us all into on category.

  • Jim Johnson

    Hi John,

    This is a great article. Very sobering.

    Do you think it is worthwhile to self-publish or write e-books for a new writer who doesn’t have a platform and wants to build a base?

    Do you have any tips about how to build a blog following?

    I'll take my answer off the air – Thanks!

    Jim in Berlin –

  • Having a platform can make a HUGE difference when you're submitting your work, but unfortunately only some authors already have that kind of base to promote their works to… if there is anyway you can create one, though, it's highly recommended! 🙂

  • Yes. All you have to do to become a famous writer is become famous for doing something that has nothing whatsoever to do with writing.

    Oh, the irony!!

  • "Yes. All you have to do to become a famous writer is become famous for doing something that has nothing whatsoever to do with writing."

    HA! So true. 🙂