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