4 Things I Learned Self-Publishing My First Book

In two days, my first book will be officially released. It’s called, “Flannel-Graph Jesus: More Than a One-Dimensional Savior,” and to say I’ve learned a few things during the self-publishing process is an understatement. Here are four of my takeaways.

It’s About Dedication, Not Inspiration

When I first dreamed of becoming an author, I would write in fits and starts. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning and scribble a few paragraphs, and other times I would stay up deep into the night and polish off a few chapters. I was inconsistent and it got me nowhere.

What I found out was the only way to start and finish a book was to commit to a certain amount of writing each week and then stick to it. For me, it was Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5–6am. Rather than wait for inspiration, I learned to channel it. Just the act of sitting at the keyboard early in the morning with nothing else to distract me induced creativity.

Sure, I had days when words did not come easily. But I found that the more I kept at it, the easier it became.

Believe In Yourself, Even When No One Else Does

Years ago, when I first attempted to write a book, I became discouraged when I shared my writing with friends and family and heard nothing back. I assumed that I wasn’t a good writer and that I should give up. Seth Godin says, “No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.” I learned that other people are very busy and most don’t have time to be inspired by your dream.

Jeff Goins teaches that you have to call yourself a writer, first.Click To Tweet I remember going to each of my social profiles and changing my title to “Writer and Pastor.” Initially, it was a dubious title, but now it’s real. There’s power in words, especially when they are spoken internally and repeated often. Call yourself a writer and then work hard at it. Trust me, if I did it, you can too.

Editing Is Like Magic

In my early writing sessions, I would find myself getting bogged down in the minutia of a single paragraph — tweaking words and punctuation until I got it exactly correct. This is the wrong approach. While I was writing Flannel-Graph Jesus, I would sit down and get as many words onto the paper as possible, not going back to fix spelling or punctuation. As I learned, all of that can be handled during revision.

After I finished my completed manuscript at just under 30,000 words, I went back and did a rough edit — just fixing some obvious issues and clarifying areas of the book that needed adjustment. Then, I hired a copy-editor. Wow! An editor is a writer’s secret weapon. Yes, it cost a little money, but having a trained professional make suggestions, adjustments, and corrections was a game-changer. The process took longer than I thought it would, but I’ll be hiring an editor to help with all my manuscripts from now on. And don’t forget, all top writers have editors — it’s the just way it works.

The Publishing Process Takes Time

I self-published my book, which is to say, I was in charge of finding an editor, cover designer, layout designer, printer, shipping the books, and paying for all of it. I thought I could accomplish all of these tasks within a couple months. Not a chance.

First, I used Kickstarter to raise the money to pay for the publishing cost. This is essentially “pre-sales” of the book and allows people to support the project ahead of time. My Kickstarter campaign total exceeded my goal by more than $700, which was amazing. I raised about $3,700. However, Kickstarter takes 15–20 days to release the funds, not to mention taking about a 10% cut.

Additionally, working with the copy-editor took more time than I thought, not because she was slow, but because it’s a process that requires careful thought and plenty of decisions. Designing a book cover also takes a lot of time. Each revision may take a week or more and there are several revisions to make along the way. Lastly, it’s no small feat to coordinate the purchasing of ISBN numbers, bar codes, getting the manuscript uploaded to Kindle, iBooks, and shipped to Amazon.com.

In the end, I had to push my release date back by about 30 days and I still had to rush to get everything done.

While challenging at times, this journey has been exhilarating and fun. I’ve already started working on my next book. Armed with a little experience and knowledge, I’m hoping to publish around this time next year.

Five Reasons Every Pastor Should Be A Writer

If you’re a pastor, then you should be writing. Ok, wait! Before you start with a list of excuses just hear me out (besides, I know all the excuses because I regularly used them to avoid my responsibility as a writer).

Truthfully, I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with writing since 2003. It’s something that I know I must do, even though maintaining the discipline to continue writing every week is challenging. Writing is first and foremost an act of sheer will. It’s not easy. But if you are a pastor I am fully convinced that it’s a necessary part of your ministry. Here’s why:

Expanding Your Audience

At first, this sounds self-serving. However, remember the Apostle Paul’s desire to go to great lengths to reach people for Christ. He said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22)

As a pastor, each week your audience is limited to the number of people that will attend your church on Sunday. That’s a problem because even if you could pack the building every single week there’s still a limit to how many chairs you can set up. And there’s even a limit to how many services you can hold.

These physical limitations are difficult to overcome, but by writing and publishing there is virtually no limit to how many people you can reach. Sure, it takes a while to build a good-sized audience, but it’s worth it.

Building a legacy

Here’s one of my frustrations as a pastor: I usually spend 10-15 hours praying about, thinking about, preparing, and writing a message to teach on Sunday morning. Then, when I’m done…it’s gone. Almost forever. No one may hear it again!

That’s a problem because I believe these messages to be God-ordained and important to the cause of Christianity. Not just to my parishioners but to Christians everywhere. I don’t want them to fade away forever.

A church and its leaders can have a great impact on the community both in terms of outreach and aid. But this is also true when it comes to the philosophy, doctrine, and teaching too.

As a pastor, your teaching is part of your “spiritual fingerprint” in the world. Allow those ideas to make an impression in the world through your writing.

As a pastor, your teaching is part of your 'spiritual fingerprint' in the world. Allow those ideas to make an impression in the world through your writing.Click To Tweet

Content Availability

As a pastor, you are in the business of creating fresh content every week. Literally, it’s your job to look into the scriptures and find innovative ways of communicating those important truths to your congregation. Like me, you take those ideas, format them to be captivating and interesting, and verbally deliver them in the form of a sermon.

While the sermon is meant to be spoken, those ideas can also become source material for your writing. Whether they become a book or a weekly blog, you have ready-to-go content on a regular basis. So, there’s no need to try to figure out what to write – just write what you are teaching.

There’s considerable evidence to suggest that much of the scripture we read each week on Sunday morning are parts of sermons, regularly given by the Apostle Paul. The book of Hebrews is one long sermon!

Note: you’ll notice that Sermon Series become great books, each sermon becoming a subsequent chapter of the book. This is one of the secrets of many ministry writers, from Timothy Keller to Chuck Swindoll.

It’s Inexpensive

Previously, getting published was difficult and expensive. It’s not that way anymore. A writer can publish a blog for a few dollars per month, if not for free. Platforms like Medium are also a great way to publish your thoughts.

Even if you desire to publish a printed book, self-publishing is so simple that there’s no reason not to do it.

Increased Opportunities

Without question, published authors have greater chances to impact their community through speaking engagements, teaching opportunities, and additional writing prospects. This can lead to a larger audience but also to financial blessings as well. Some may shun the financial rewards that may accompany a writing career, but for many in ministry, this can be a realistic way to supplement ministry in a small church.

So where are you in the process of becoming a writer? Have you tried and failed? If so, keep trying! Develop a regular routine and stick with it.

“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

When Communicating, Less Is More

When communicating, there’s an indisputable truth that exists in this world. It’s the notion that less is more. But for whatever reason, Americans are stuck on the idea that more is more.

This leads to all kinds of problems in life. Think about it, your doctor never said, “Well, Bill, I would be happier with your overall health if you added 30 pounds of needless weight.” In most situations, bigger is not better.

That’s one of the reasons that all ministry leaders should have William Strunk and E.B. White’s “Elements of Style” in their toolbox. Yes, it’s an old book, but it contains ageless truths about the lost art of communication. Listen to this,

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

In ministry, brevity is an important factor while communicating. Especially in an age where the attention span is dwindling at an alarming rate. While Strunk and White’s book generally applies to the craft of writing, you can also apply the concepts to speaking. So many times I have sat in a church service listening to a ministry leader verbally wander through an announcement, meditation, or sermon with no goal in sight. Here’s what the authors say about adding needless ideas to communication,

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.Click To Tweet

The book is loaded with helpful suggestions on what it means to make your communication concise and clear. It also contains lots of examples on proper usage of grammatical challenges in writing, for example, where to place apostrophes and commas.

Next year the book turns 100. Considering that it is listed as the #1 seller in all Amazon writing and publishing categories, one can see how the book has stood the test of time.

Grab it and drop it in your ministry toolbox today. It will help you to be a better communicator!