I had dinner last night with a couple who had some questions about the publishing process and what it would take to succeed as authors. He was a ministry professional and she was was a business professional, but still deeply involved in ministry.

What I appreciated is that they were both professionals and approaching the world of books as authors in the same way they would approach any important ministry or business decision. And, believe me, publishing a book professionally and properly is an important decision.

Why professionals write books

As a professional, someone who has and is developing a platform from which to influence their world, a book can and should be considered much more than a book. For a professional, a book is really a launchpad, a business card, and a resume. Properly done, it opens doors and expands your audience. A book also engages your audience, tells your story and creates an environment for conversations that no other form of communication can equal. That’s why we see television personalities, politicians, and business billionaires writing books. In most cases, their lives already touch thousands, often millions of people. They have “celebrity,” but they still feel the telling of their story, the sharing of their message, is incomplete. Something only a book can communicate.

The publishing process

At dinner this couple asked me some very in-depth questions about the publishing process, which isn’t just editing a manuscript, designing a cover and printing a book, but what happens after the book is edited, designed and printed. How does it go into distribution? How do potential readers discover it? How and where will readers buy the book? How can authors connect with their readers throughout the process? And when the sale happens, how and when are the authors compensated? More importantly, how much are authors compensated for their work?

I explained how a successful relationship between the publisher, the author, and the reader involves optimizing each of these areas. There is no one secret to a successful book, other than to pay attention to every aspect of the quality of your message and how it is presented, and the quality of the relationship between you and your readers. It’s a lot of work for the publisher and the author, but success is always a lot of work.

Our track record

They asked about our track record; how many of our authors and our books would I consider “financially successful.” Any publisher would probably admit the same thing I did. Some of our books sell many thousands of copies and are financially successful; many of them don’t and aren’t.

The difference between the two groups involves message and market (is the book something people would want to read and how many of those people are there?). But it’s also about execution; how well does the author and the publisher craft and present the message and how successful are we at sharing it with people most likely to resonate with the message?

Transaction vs. Relationship

Finally, we talked about success in terms of the transaction versus the relationship. As a publisher, I could think of “landing” another author, like landing a fish. Once it’s in the boat the transaction is complete. We move on to the next author. This is how “self-publishing” companies operate; they’re in the author business, not in the book business. We’re in the book business. And the only way to be successful in the book business is to sell books, and that requires a long-term, nurturing partnerships with our authors. It’s a relationship, not a transaction.

In the same way authors, especially professionals whose book is just one facet of their career, can’t equate “success” in terms of a transaction. How many books sold is a great measurement, but it’s not the end measurement. The goal of ministry or business professionals, just like television personalities, politicians, and business billionaires isn’t (or shouldn’t be) just to sell a lot of books; it should be to reach a wider audience and reach it more deeply, with your message. If that’s your goal, you’re not in it for the transaction, you’re in it for the relationship, you’re in it to start or join a wider conversation, you’re in it to reach the world with your message. And, as a consequence, you tend to sell a lot of books. That’s success.

The couple I had dinner with last night? I have no doubts about their success as authors. They asked the right questions, they understood the real goal, and they’re committed to doing the work.

Drilling down

I wish you could have been at dinner with us; it would have been fun. Until then, in the next several posts, I’ll drill down into some of the details we discussed last night. I want you to be successful as an author. The best thing we can begin to do get an understanding of what “success” looks like and what getting there requires.

Stay tuned.

Do you want to talk about what success can mean to you as a professional and an author?
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