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 Generally, Christian publishers in the US do not publish books by Africans, Asians or South Americans, unless the book is a narrative of suffering and coming to America through assistance of an American well-wisher.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 In 2015, I published my third book (the second manuscript remain unpublished) based on the blog posts.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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
Even if you don’t visit my site on a regular basis, you can get the latest posts delivered to you for free via Feedly or Email:
Enter your email address:
Delivered by FeedBurner
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?
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).
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.