16 Lessons I Learned from Writing A Christian Book in 2015

Writing Lessons

In 2014, I published my first book, The Good Shepherd: Grace Sets Back Your Setbacks. It really felt good holding a book with my name across the cover. I had finally achieved one of my dreams. It didn’t matter that the book was self-published with a cover and interior layout I designed on my own even though I had no background in graphic design.

I had big dreams. I dreamt of landing a book contract from Christian publishers. I studied how to write a book proposal. I followed former Thomas Nelson executive, Michael Hyatt’s advice on writing an effective book proposal. Throughout 2014, I submitted a book proposal for my second book to dozens of publishers.

Most publishers did not bother responding. The handful that responded referred me to their vanity press alternatives. One acquisition editor pointed out to me that my major weakness was that I was unknown. I had no platform and didn’t know any popular people. She was write. I was an outsider, I didn’t have a qualification from any of the famous theological seminaries and I wasn’t part of any evangelical cliques.

I checked if publishing companies published work by unknown African Christians. The results where shocking. Generally, Christian publishers in the US do not publish books by Africans, Asians or South Americans, unless the book is a narrative of suffering and coming to America through assistance of an American well-wisher. I know it sounds hyperbolic, but that is the reality, especially for African writers; remember stories of refugees from Sudan and Rwanda. What most African writers do now is to publish in their home countries at poorly staffed and poorly equipped publishing houses. According to my survey, most of the books are substandard, but there is nothing they can do about it.

So, what did I learn in 2014? Nothing. I wanted to quit instead out of frustration with the publishing industry.

I read the book of Luke for a month and the Lord’s Prayer caught my attention. I spent a few weeks writing longform posts on each petition. In 2015, I published my third book (the second manuscript remain unpublished) based on the blog posts.

Every month I receive emails, especially from my African brothers and sisters. How can I get my book in print? What does it take to write a book? What advice can you give if I want to write a book? What challenges did you have in publishing your book?

Today I want to share some of the lessons I learned writing my third book. I am in the process of writing a book on writing a book on writing as a tool for proclaiming faith to a sensational generation. I hope I will use these lessons in preparing the manuscript.

  1. Don’t write to be a bestseller

Someone once landed on my blog after searching on Google, “How can I write a Christian bestseller?” Well, it’s easy reject the Bible inerrancy, find a few scriptures to misquote and suggest that they support an immoral behavior, blame Christians for anything you might think of, quote CS Lewis, reject all Christian traditions and tell people your will free them. Don’t forget to say you are a Christian and your book is a result of serious research and consultation. God called you to write not sell. Being a bestseller should never be your goal or else you will compromise.

  1. You might never be traditionally published

I still hope that one day I will sign a book publishing contract, but I know the chances are slim. Most of us are outsiders in the publishing world, we don’t have what publishers want and it’s okay. Have you ever considered that God might have orchestrated your life so that you might not have what it takes for a reason? I have learned to embrace not having a degree from Fuller or Westminster Theological Seminary, and lack of connections with famous theologians a blessing. No one and nothing will take away God’s glory in my publications.

  1. Writing a book doesn’t make you an expect

I wrote a book on prayer because I realized my prayer life sucked. I taught people how to pray, but never understood prayer. Writing the book gave me an opportunity to learn and practice prayer. I still don’t know everything about prayer, I am still learning and I am not done. The problem most authors have is to think they’re now experts when their book is listed on Amazon.

  1. You are called by God

It was only after the disappointment of the book sales that I learned that God called me to be a writer. If called, then my duty is to be a faithful steward of the gospel. Like Apollos, I only water what someone else planted. Importantly, it is God who gives the increase. When I see bumps in sales of my book, I ask myself does The Secret Place clearly reveal God’s thoughts regarding prayer?

  1. It’s not mandatory to write a 200-page book when you could get away with 80 pages

Have you ever noticed that most Christian books could have been better if they ended after the third chapter? I am not immune to this. Writing a plan listing every chapter and its big idea might help in creating new content in every chapter. It’s okay to write a 15,000-words book, actually readers prefer since they are more concise, often thorough and not unnecessarily repetitious. I used to think writing a book with less than 100 pages is cheating the reader. It’s actually saving the reader!

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  1. Find your writing hour and keep it

Not all advices thrown around work, but this one has stuck with me. Write at least 1,000 words every day at a scheduled time. I wrote The Secret Place in less than two weeks writing on average 2,000 words per day. Every morning, at 4:30 I would work up an write. I still work up at 4:30 am every day to write. The purpose of writing always isn’t for you to finish your project on schedule, but to help you develop your writing skills. If you have incorporated writing into your Bible study and prayer, then writing offers a unique avenue of reflection and exploration of the potential application of the text in your life. I have learned to view my writing exercise as a practice of righteousness, depending on the form and style, it can be a prayer, a moment of reflection during fasting or an exercise of giving secretly. Isn’t that the purpose of Christian writing?

  1. Write for yourself

I am selfish writer. I wrote The Secret Place to help myself pray more better. I resolved to spend one week praying the Lord’s Prayer only. Each day, I focused on one petition, studied it, meditated on it and prayed over it again and again throughout the day. Finally, I wrote at least 1,500 words describing what I learned. As I am writing my manuscript on writing, I am also putting to practice every suggestions I make. I believe a book is not ready for publishing if I fail to see it’s benefits in my own life. Luke could confidently write two long letters to Theophilus only if he saw the power of the gospel in his own life. This is why it seemed good to him, having followed all things [events surrounding Christ’s life, death and resurrection] closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for Theophilus that he may have certainty concerning the things he was taught (Luke 1:3-4).

  1. Edit for the reader

My writing motto is, write for yourself, but edit for the reader. I still suck at self-editing. I can edit my science journal papers with ease, but struggle with editing my books. But, I have to. I edit every paragraph as I write, edit the chapter next, then edit the whole manuscript. I have found the best way to edit is to look at the manuscript as a reader and not a writer. Some things I think are creative expression of my thoughts might be actually distracting to the reader.

  1. Software can help you in editing

Like I said, I am terrible at editing Christian material, but unedited material is useless to the reader. Repulsive actually. I have learned to use editing software in all my projects. I use Ginger Software for correcting grammar, spelling errors and punctuation. WordRake helps me to unclutter my work by removing all unnecessary words like, ‘that’, ‘now’ and ‘very’.

  1. You manuscript is awesome, but it’s terrible if no one else read it

Softwares only do a quarter of the job. Nothing beats a professional set of eyes. I paid almost $100 on Fiverr for editing. Grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors frustrate the reader, but poor plot and organization makes you lose readers. I have learned that as a writer it is faithfulness to God to edit my work on my own and it even honors God to let others do the editing. After I received my manuscript from the editors, one of the pages had a note saying the editor was going through some tough times and reading that chapter really helped her. God wants to bless editors with our rough and unkempt manuscripts. I never thought about that before.

  1. My book has errors and I can’t afford to correct them

Although listed on Amazon, The Secret Place has errors only a professional editor can correct. I have learned to live with the reality that my books will have errors and there’s nothing I can do about it because I can’t risk losing $1,000 for a book that may only amass $50 in royalties. Good editors cost money, a lot of money, money that I don’t have and I know fully well I might never recover it from book sells only.

  1. Beta readers are good, good luck on finding them

Friends and family sucks as a beta reader. You’re lucky if they read the book and even more lucky if they give you a feedback other than, “I enjoyed reading your book.” I requested for beta readers for The Secret Place on this blog and more than 20 people responded. I was ecstatic. A handful followed through their promise and provided great feedback. These lovely people had other things to do, but volunteered to make my book better. This taught me that God doesn’t expect me to reach the word with the gospel alone. He has appointed lovely saints across the globe who are devoted to make this ministry better for no reward. Looking at my book on Amazon reminds me of Gideon. It could have felt good and comforting going to war with 10,000 soldiers, but God doesn’t want to share his glory with anyone. God appointed 300 people to support God’s calling on Gideon. I had less than 15 people, who do not have an idea their work is blessing probably more than 1,500 people today.

  1. People judge a book by its cover

It’s bad, we all know that, but good books go unread if the cover is ugly. I carried out a survey on why people do not read books by African authors. Together with lack of substantial editing, poor cover design topped the least. I spent less than $30 on Fiverr for the book cover and 3D mock-ups. Of course, I haven’t recovered the money through my royalties. At least my book is not ruining the aesthetics of my bookshelf. It’s not vanity to have a good cover, it’s being considerate. Remember, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for condemning him for eating and drinking, I think putting a good cover is like that and if you are serious about publishing do not shy away from parting with $5.00 on Fiverr.

  1. Don’t expect reviews from people who get your book for free

I have been writing book reviews for a long time and I know they influence book sells. They are some books I decided to buy because of a thoughtful and insightful review. I gave away my book free of charge expecting to get reviews. Nearly 1,500 downloaded it. I only wanted 1 out of 100 to honor me with a review, negative or positive it didn’t matter. Several studies on book sales show that books with more than 20 reviews often sell better. None of the people who downloaded the free kindle left a review. The five reviews I have came from the beta readers and customers who used their money to buy the book. Amazon free kindle promotions did not work for me in getting reviews. I am still waiting for reviews, I asked family and friends, I reminded people who read this blog, but they ain’t coming and it’s fine. Leaving behind a review is just a favor for the author and every reader is not mandated to do that. I have learned to expect zero reviews and see each new review as a blessing from God, a pat on the back or a nod from a God who already told me that he is pleased with me. That, my friend, is liberating.

  1. You’re not your family and friend’s favorite author

If everyone who said they bought my book actually did I would have sold double my current sales figure. If all my friends and family bought my book, I could have been a bestseller. This isn’t because the book is expensive, after all it only cost $0.99. On several occasions, I have requested my friends and family on Facebook to send me their email if they can’t afford the book. Of course, no one responded. The problem isn’t they don’t like reading, but the book has my name on the cover. Sometimes, I think of using a pseudonym, may be I might fool them. I know they would have bought it already if it was by Myles Munroe, Kenneth Hagin Sr, Joel Oesten or any other popular American author. I have learned to stop asking my friends and family to buy my books, why burden them when they ain’t going to read it?

  1. Good writers are good readers

I read several books on prayer when I was preparing the manuscript for The Secret Place. I didn’t want to repeat what other authors had written before. Above all, I wanted to know how they organized their material and what important things on prayer they missed or overlooked. Other books only served to broaden my views, the Bible remained my grounding. I read Keller because I admire his grounding in sound theology, I read Max Lucado because his storytelling is exceptional, I read African authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and NoViolet Bulawayo because I envy their boldness and enjoy how they embrace their identity through their writings.

  1. I am an African author, I am a Christian writer

The current publishing environment considers being an African a disadvantage because people only expect a narrative of suffering from us. No one wants to read a book on prayer by an African, it lacks the sophistication of a graduate of Gordon-Conwell, Fuller, Moody or Dallas Theological Seminaries, the depth of students of Calvin, Edwards or CS Lewis and the blessing of Christian authorities like Keller, Parker, Carson, Lucado etc. Writing The Secret Place taught me that my background has been sanctified for service by God. Christ knew where I was born when he called me to be a writer. What the publishing world consider my weakness, Christ made it my strength.

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26 Comments

  1. The powers that be wouldn’t publish Jesus if He were here, writing today. You are in good company and for what it’s worth, as a common, work-a-day believer, I’m not so impressed by the ivory tower types who’ve never labored a day in their life. Often, what they teach has an inapplicable, surrealistic quality. A lack of common experience with average people leaves many seminarians unable to minister effectively. It isn’t unusual for laymen to be ministering to them.

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  2. Be encouraged that you self-published! The writing world has changed immensely in the last 20 yrs – almost by 180*
    I had hoped to pen my own book long before now. I queried magazine articles and got no where. The digital industry has turned the book world upside down. If you were called to write your book, he will use it.

    As far as reviews go…yes. They are “Gold” to the published author – and can be a challenge to get from readers. Plus, they’re needed not just on Amazon but BN, Goodreads & (as far as I’m concerned) Pinterest.

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  3. Welcome! Don’t get bogged down thinking it is an ethnic problem. I am a white, middle class, pastor’s wife, musician, whose friends know some editors, and I have heard every word…..except the African-American references. When money is the bottom line we all get lost in the slush pile of the publishing industry. By the way, I have had and am having a lovely time publishing my own non-bestselling books. Keep the faith. Blessings

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  4. I’d love to read your books and comment on them. One caveat though: in return I would ask you read mine and comment as well.

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  5. I appreciate your openness about the struggles of getting published. I also appreciate you leaning on God in your endeavors. Also, thanks for the practical advice on spending the time writing if you want to improve and setting a certain amount of words to write each day. God cares about our heart and conforming us to the image of Christ. God bless you as you bravely share your lessons from life, from others and mostly from God’s word.

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  6. I know this too,Edmond,and God blessed me by connecting me with the senior pastor of our church to help him write five books.My words were published because his name sells books. I just [aid to publish my own devotional prayer journal, based only blog. Prayerfully it will help others going through tough times. Move Your “…BUT…” – a Journey Into God’s Heart. I may never make back the money I paid to publish,but it’s God’s glory,not mine. You glorify him,Edmond!

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  7. Greetings in Christ, Edmond. I so relate to what you have written! And I’m saddened for you that little has changed with Christian publishing in the last 40 years since I had a similar experience.

    In 1970, I wrote my first of many original Christian songs and began dreaming of record deals and touring. When I sent demo cassettes to a number of representatives in the Christian music industry, their comments were perplexing. All were complimentary while at the same time faulted me for not imitating popular artists and songs of the day. The most frustrating comment came from someone who “greatly enjoyed” my humorous songs, but closed with “there is no room for humor in popular Christian music”. At the time, my band was doing 2 or 3 concerts a week locally, where my original songs were not only a hit, but often requested as an encore, rather than the popular songs my band also performed.

    Rather than be forced into the industries’ mold, I abandoned my dreams of “making it big” and gave myself wholly to the local music ministry God blessed me with. The free-will offerings were given back to the host church for the poor in the congregation or the food bank (soup kitchen). During the concert ministry years, we never recorded a record or tape; we just encouraged people to bring tape recorders and make their own.

    When I got too old for carting music gear in and out of churches, prisons, etc., I bought a digital audio work station and recorded 2 CDs. Still hoping to sell CDs, the Lord told me “freely ye have received, freely give” with explicit instructions to give them away. A benefactor came forward and paid to have 1000 CDs pressed and I’ve been blessed to give them all away. With the internet and Mp3 files, it’s no longer necessary to give away CDs; people can simply download the songs.

    It’s only been within the last 2 or 3 years that I finally understand why the Lord frustrated my plans to “go professional” with my music. He never intended the music for touring, radio play or the like; rather they are an eclectic collection of songs chronicling the ways in which the Lord has revealed Himself to me over the course of my life. What the Lord ultimately intended them for, is a musical that I only completed last year. It has been“in the works” since I was 15; I’m now 60 years old.

    My present frustration seems to mirror yours, Edmond; wondering how my script will ever be choreographed, music re-arranged for stage production, cast, etc. But then, the Lord’s words to me back in 1970 were “write a musical”, not “produce a musical”. So it may well be that my work is done.

    About all this, there is an admonition of Paul that the Lord brings to mind in closing:

    Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. (Colossians 3:23 NLT)

    Perhaps for me, that is what my life’s work has been all about; loving the Lord enough to complete the work He appointed me to do (Ephesians 2:10), in spite of the roadblocks, setbacks and discouragement. Though I must admit, I’d still like to see the day that the curtain goes up on my musical.

    Hang in there, brother. His “well done, good and faithful servant” and the crown He will give you, is far better than the success and accolades of men.

    Jack

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    1. Reading your comment has encouraged me even more. I pray God will continue to remind me this, he is my reward and I should write only for him. He gets the glory in my obedience and not in my sells or publishing contracts. Thank you very much.

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  8. Wow my African brother. Great lessons! I am working on my first book the Lord has asked me to write. It pleases Him to release a message, a call to the global church and clergy through His own disciple who has fully paid the price for discipleship.
    I know the Lord is preparing the global church, and the global clergy to receive the call, the message from Him.
    Today who is focusing on making disciples for the Lord in all the nations?
    Today who are the disciples of Christ? Is it you or your neighbour? Do you love your Christian denomination more than the owner and head of the church?
    Only disciples can make more disciples true or false?
    Motivational speaking can not make disciples for Jesus and this is one of the plagues of the body of Christ, but discipleship of Jesus makes more disciples.
    All the best my brother.
    …..Albert Etornam Dogbe.

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  9. This is a very inspiring post sir! I am not trying to write a book but I want to produce my blog as something worth the read in the future and a good relationship with God. I hope I will be able to buy your book and read it. 😁 God bless!

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  10. I enjoy your writing as it is fresh and from a different viewpoint to most authors. However I do notice a lot of errors in your writing. They are the kind that won’t be caught by a spellchecker or even a grammar checker, for example, ‘least’ instead of ‘list’. I would be happy to help out with proofreading, though I am not a professional, if you are looking for some more volunteers.

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  11. Edmond,
    Thanks a lot for sharing this. I’ve learnt a lot reading the lessons you’ve learnt. As a blog Christian writer, you’ve helped me a lot to ensure I write for myself, then edit for the reader. I have also appreciated that God wants us to reach the world with help and partnership with others!
    Thanks again for the article.

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