The title question, “Is yours a book or an article?” comes up on a regular basis with nonfiction authors. Someone has lived an interesting life, survived a horrible disease, lost a precious loved one, suffered terribly (emotionally or physically) and feels led to write their story. But is it a story that can be sustained for an entire book? Or is it one that can be told in a shorter form? Or is it both?
Everyone Has a Story to Tell; Write Yours
Many counselors will say that writing can be a cathartic way to work through an experience. Putting it on paper helps memorialize the events, especially since time can blur the details. I will never tell someone not to write their story.
Be Prepared for Industry Reality
Multiple times a month I have to share the hard news about our publishing industry. It is a business. A business that tries to make a profit. No publisher can publish all the stories that are available. Decisions must be made using “commercial viability” as the criteria. Reread my earlier post “When Your Book Becomes Personal” to understand this concept further.
Sometimes there isn’t enough “story” in the experience to fill a 50,000+ word book. We have all read books that sort of peter out. Or ones where there is a lot of extra fluff added to the book to fill in the gaps around the event which caused the book to be published in the first place. This is often disappointing to the reader.
Be Prepared for Your Sound Bite
Let’s say yours is an enormous story with multiple layers of complexity. However, when standing at the watercooler at work or in a time-limited small group setting, you will be forced to tell your story in a minute or three. It is simply impossible to share it all. (Plus you will soon sense that your audience doesn’t want to be held captive any longer by the story.) Learn to tell it short and punchy with all the associated drama. It can be done.
Consider the Article
That sound-bite version of your story could become the fodder for a powerful magazine article! Magazines, both print and online, are always looking for stories to fill their pages. Yours might be one. Plus in many cases you can sell your story to more than one periodical. You sell first rights to the initial publication and sell reprint rights to everyone else. As one teacher said, “I’ve sold 3,000 articles. I didn’t say I have written 3,000 articles.”
Advantage of Articles
The biggest advantage of the article is readership or distribution. One article in a magazine can reach tens of thousands of households. Your book might reach a tenth of that. One writer I’ve known for years has a story (in article form) that works very well around the time of the Summer Olympics. So she sells it to a new publication every four years. Brilliant.
This is why I continue to produce The Christian Writers Market Guide. The annual volume is printed in December of each year. And we make it available online where it is updated whenever we have new information. It is an essential, curated tool for finding places to sell your article in the Christian marketplace.
Don’t Let This Post Ruin Your Book Dream
Don’t hear me saying that you shouldn’t write the book. What I’m saying is think beyond only one form of storytelling. Short can be sweet–and long can be wrong. So don’t eschew article writing. It can be a powerful tool. I’ve known writers who started with articles and eventually found the platform and credibility to write and even publish their book.