Is Yours a Book or an Article?

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.

 

 

17 Responses to Is Yours a Book or an Article?

  1. Avatar
    Terry Whalin February 17, 2020 at 5:02 am #

    Steve,

    Thank you for this article. I’ve long been an advocate for writing magazine articles and continue to do so on a regular basis. I will never forget years ago when I pitched a book to you and you told me it sounded like a magazine article rather than a book. I pitched it again to a different agent and he gave me the same response–sounded like a magazine article rather than a book. That book was never written.

    Terry
    Get a FREE copy of the 11th Publishing Myth

  2. Avatar
    Wendy February 17, 2020 at 7:13 am #

    Great information. However, I would add one thing to consider.

    I connected with someone who has authored and co-authored a number of Christian and inspirational books, several of which have been made into movies. She could not commit to working on a book, but she was an editor-at-large for a magazine with a readership in the millions, and they expressed interest in my story. She said, “A magazine piece, not incidentally, is an ideal launch pad for a book, as well as a great training-ground.” It made sense, but I wondered if anyone would want to read my book if they already knew the details.

    Later, I asked someone affiliated with a major publisher about the matter, and he said that publishers would typically not be interested in a book if the story has already been told elsewhere–that the publisher would want to control that information.

    So, I’m keeping the idea of an article in mind, but perhaps on a different topic.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 17, 2020 at 6:32 pm #

      Wendy,
      It is not true that “publishers would typically not be interested in a book if the story has already been told elsewhere.” There are dozens and dozens of books each year that tell of a story that was in some headline somewhere.

      The news cycle is so fast that a 20 second blip on the news or an article in USA Today is forgotten. Later the full story comes out in book form.

      But the key is still whether the story itself retains its commercial viability. The publisher will gauge whether or not they can sell enough books to get a return on their investment. That is why it is usually the most famous of the stories that end up in book form.

      It is also the challenge, as mentioned in the post, if there is enough story to fill a book…and how often the book feels like it has been stuffed with extraneous information so they can finally tell a longer version of the story which the book is about in the first place.

      I once tried to sell a personal story that had been told in Reader’s Digest. I thought it was quite compelling, and tugged at the heart strings. But no publisher agreed. They all felt that the author’s platform wasn’t big enough and the story not big enough to garner enough interest. The author eventually self-published.

      Unfortunately the answer to your question is not as cut and dried as you were told. Instead “it depends.”

      • Avatar
        Wendy February 19, 2020 at 12:11 pm #

        Steve,

        Thank you for this information. Is there a legal resource for writers that will explain what to expect in publishing contracts, and how to avoid inadvertently signing too many of our rights away?

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 17, 2020 at 7:44 am #

    Yes, these years have been quite hard,
    but catharsis is not what I need,
    nor to play the Poor Me card
    in a book that no-one wants to read.
    So much better is the plan
    to write a high-adventure book
    ’bout a mysterious fezzed dragoman
    my guide through Mogadishu’s souk.
    But I surely will not dare disparage
    memorializing life and pain;
    to me, it takes a lot of courage,
    and I would not go there again.
    So, some final words, advice:
    when you tell the story, you’ve lived it twice.

  4. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson February 17, 2020 at 9:32 am #

    This… is a fantastic article.

  5. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan February 17, 2020 at 11:09 am #

    Hi Steve,

    I love the Christian Writer’s Market Guide! I recommend it to Christians and non-Christians. This manual/book of awesomeness helped me find Elk Lake Publishing.

    My work has consisted of articles in faith, freedom, cooking, and keeping the brain healthy. All separate magazines and a non-fiction book, but great for writing cred (no money but cred is good).

    As I move more and more through writing fiction, I will continue to rely on the CWMG.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 17, 2020 at 6:34 pm #

      So glad it worked well for you!

  6. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield February 17, 2020 at 2:30 pm #

    The Market Guides have been sources of hope as well as information for me for many years, Steve. The chapters before the agent and publisher listings are like valuable mini-courses.

    I think I got a tangential message from your post, as well as the intended one encouraging prospective book writers to consider writing articles. I hadn’t seen much of a connection between the articles I’ve published in the academic, popular, and Christian press and the fiction books I’ve written but not been able to publish for lack of a platform. But I was limiting my view of platform to online followers. Your last sentence reminded me that article readers are “followers,” too! I just finished writing another book. I think I need to write some articles that address the theme of this novel: Christian women with anxiety attacks. Article readers will connect my name with that topic even though the topic is real and the book is fiction, and name recognition IS platform. Thanks!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 17, 2020 at 6:36 pm #

      Linda,

      You make an excellent point.
      Often a novelist can become a subject matter expert (non-fiction) and thus be an even stronger candidate for media opportunities and speaking opportunities.

      If you write about anxiety attacks you can help many who either experience them or know someone who does.

      The beauty is that some people read fiction for entertainment and come away with non-fiction answers or understanding. By writing in both fields you expand your reach.

  7. Avatar
    Angela Dolbear February 17, 2020 at 2:33 pm #

    Even though I am the author of four novels, and I have never seriously considered writing a non-fiction book, after reading your comment about how magazine articles have a broader reach, I am considering writing a magazine article about how God healed me after I experienced a heart attack and stroke in one week. I believe people need to know God still heals people. I know it wasn’t the point of your blog topic, but I am inspired! Thank you.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube February 17, 2020 at 6:38 pm #

      Writing is never limited. You might write only one article in your life. But who knows? Maybe someone would be touched by your story! Makes it worth it to get it out there.

  8. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks February 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm #

    This is similar to a question I’ve had to ask myself, is it a picture book ms. or a magazine story? Thanks for the tips!

  9. Avatar
    Carin LeRoy February 17, 2020 at 6:24 pm #

    Thank you for a great blog post. Good thoughts to consider. The CWMG is a great resource.

  10. Avatar
    Molly Weber February 17, 2020 at 7:23 pm #

    Dear Steve,

    I do believe you are speaking to me. Thanks a million! if I have not heard from my simultaneous queries in a timely manner I will certainly take your advice.

  11. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. February 18, 2020 at 4:48 pm #

    Steve, I’ve been focusing a lot on blog postings recently. Having written about the experience of putting together two shelves this past weekend, when the front of the box promised “no tools necessary” but the instructions called for a sledgehammer by step two, I found it was more fun being brief instead of trying to get a novel out of it! That said, the real reward came when one of my very sober colleagues told me, with a very straight face, how much he laughed when reading my posting. It’s not an article, but at least someone enjoyed what I wrote. You’ll find it on my website, if you would like to read it….

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