For successful authors of non-fiction, no one career or life-path is common.
Family situations, upbringing, education and experiences are unique to each person. Listening to an author explain how they became successful is always a combination of things someone else could never duplicate perfectly.
It’s like someone giving a business seminar titled, “This is how I did it.” It is rarely an exact blueprint or helpful to another person other than giving ideas and motivation to keep pushing ahead.
But there is one thing close to being a common factor among successful Christian non-fiction writers.
The book never preceded their ministry work.
In the Christian publishing world, best-selling authors of non-fiction didn’t write a book about a certain issue and then get started working in ministry or serving others using the principles of the book.
Ministries have expanded and grown through books, but are not needed to start a ministry.
If you want to help married people improve their marriage, don’t write a book. Instead, start with one couple and then another and another. A book is an outgrowth of successful personal ministry, not visa versa.
Start serving, speaking, studying, teaching and leading, then once you have crystallized your thinking and proven the concepts over time, a book is possible.
But the book is never first.
Call it platform, credibility or whatever you want, but the best Christian books are an outgrowth of a growing personal ministry. They are the next logical step, providing resources for a growing audience, not the first thing you do to start the ministry.
If you are regularly speaking or teaching in your local church and beyond, books could come when you see a clamoring for more information or direction from those you serve.
Successful books rarely come from authors who were uninvolved in any sort of growing, vibrant ministry.
This would explain why writing alone rarely makes up for lack of platform, credentials and public persona. If a manuscript is the only thing you have, chances are agents and publishers will not be interested. They require a package of elements be present.
Let me illustrate how this plays out practically.
Maybe you have attended a seminar or read about the need to create an “elevator speech” to describe your work. The idea is to communicate in a succinct manner the theme and promise of your book as if you had just twenty seconds in an elevator with another person.
(By the way, it really is twenty seconds. You don’t get to press the red button to stop the elevator and trap the audience until you are done with your pitch twenty minutes later. In legal terms, this is called “unlawful restraint.” I am sure there will be some amount of jail-time involved.)
Most elevator speeches I’ve heard focus on the book and leave out the author, but it is the author and book together which make for a compelling description.
I recommend every elevator speech include something about you as the author and why you are uniquely qualified to write the book. It’s not solely about the book idea.
“After twenty-five years of ministry to the poor, my book compares how Jesus treated the poor versus typical church ministry today. The differences are important and life changing. I include a roadmap to revolutionizing local ministry to the poor.”
If you leave out the first phrase, the book is far less interesting. The book topic begs to have an author who has deep knowledge of and involvement in the issue.
Pick any book, even those on the best-seller list and the tipping point for its validity is the author, their credibility and ministry. Their credibility comes from serving first, not writing a book first.
Both you and your book need to ride the elevator together.
Elizabeth Van Tassel
A very excellent perspective. I’ve been writing and speaking about resilience and now get requests for something more. But had I not been blogging and in direct contact to see what people wanted (and understand my market reach, for example I have a lot of grandparents that like my messages, too) I would be spinning my wheels a bit. Thanks for putting words to the delicate dance of effectiveness.
Excellent article and great information. Thank you!
Dan, what an important reminder not to get the wrong aspect out in front. We do that sometimes, don’t we? What you shared today seems to apply more to nonfiction authors. How would you apply this to fiction authors?
Application for fiction would be similar in general. A novelist would not just get an idea to write a story with a backdrop of some geographic or culture where they have no knowledge.
If you grew up and currently live in the hills of West Virginia, there’s your core knowledge. If you live in New York City, this is your core.
If are a lawyer, doctor or soldier, those careers indicate themes and should be highlighted.
Who you are and what you write should be closely connected. Problems occur when who you are and what you write are disconnected.
Makes sense. Thanks, Dan!
I was recently reminded of this. I learned it when I was in high school. I need to remember it when I write.
Great information. I am a new writer and working on a Christian fiction story.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
You’ve done it again. This is the first piece I’ve read or heard that explains the rationale and means for developing a “platform” that has not seemed uncomfortably self-promoting. For an introvert whose primary spiritual gift is teaching, that’s significant. This makes sense. It prompted a “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. I can do this. Thanks!
This is absolutely true. It’s like listening to the person who isn’t a parent giving advice to a parent on how they should discipline. It may be good advice, but the parent is thinking, “Yeah, right, you’ve never been a parent. Why should I listen to you?”
We earn the credentials and develop the right to speak to the topic. I think this is true for most nonfiction writings.
So I should stop working on my book proposal for 52 Ways to Spearfish for Squid off the Coast of Paraguay.
Not necessarily, but do this first
1. Learn Spanish
2. Move to Paraguay
3. Read up on spearfishing and squid.
4. Work as an assistant squid-spearfisher for ten years
5. Teach spearfishing for ten years
6. Write book
It was a trick question. Paraguay is landlocked!
They have lakes and rivers teaming with squid and killer whales.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Dan, what a great point! You are absolutely right. Folks need to have the “fruit on the tree” before they can write about the harvest of apples or oranges. Superb!
Love this sentence: “Both you and your book need to ride the elevator together.”
Great post! That last sentence nailed it.
Thank you for this, Dan. It is particularly helpful to me right now.