Why do readers buy books? Why do authors write them? Why do publishers publish them?
On the surface there may be nearly as many answers as there are readers, writers and publishers. But down deep are there that many answers to why we do what we do?
Oh sure, readers want information, or to be entertained, or escape reality for a bit (it’s okay to admit). Author’s want to sell books, or tell their story, or gain a little admiration from the fans (it’s okay to admit). Publishers want to create great books, sell a lot of copies, and make money (it’s okay to admit).
But down deep inside what are we all looking for in a book?
How about transformation? Isn’t that really what we’re looking for in a book?
Readers don’t want information, or entertainment, or escape; they’re looking for the transformation they believe a book will bring them. They’re not interested in information about a healthy new way to live – they want a healthy new life. They want to be transformed not educated.
Do readers really want to be entertained or escape reality for a bit? Is that what they’re looking for in a book? Or do they want to feel happiness, or feel hopefulness or even feel terror? Feelings aren’t so easy to come by in this culture. Too little time, too much input; numb with distraction. They want to be transformed not entertained. They want to feel.
What about authors?
Why do you write? So you can sell books? So you can tell your story? So you can gain a little admiration from your fans?
Or is it something deeper? A lot of writers, me included, write because we have to. We have to get it out of us, out on the page, so we can inspect it and sometimes be surprised by it. If nobody else in the world reads it, that’s okay, we had to write it. It’s … transformative.
Because we’re alive, because we’re a tribe, a family, all children of same mom and dad if you go back far enough, we share. We share space, we share commodities like food and fire, we share wisdom. For thousands of years we shared our wisdom with our little tribe, telling stories around a community fire.
We still share our stories with the tribe, but today the tribe is bigger, global even. The fire is held captive in a silicon chip, and it can spread stories around the world in a lightning flash.
Everyone has a story. Some of us write our stories down.
In the same way that receiving wisdom and stories are transformative to the reader, sharing them can transform the author.
Several years ago we planted peony bulbs in our garden. I loved the way they looked in the seed catalog. It took a while for the bulbs’ sprout to break the soil surface. The green stalks, full of leaves began to grow bigger. Peonies get pretty big. Bigger than they looked in the catalog! But no flowers. They kept growing, maybe three feet tall before I saw the first bloom. When the first red bloom opened, wow! It was beautiful. One of the grandest, most beautiful flowers I’d ever seen. I felt transformed just looking at it.
The peonies were peonies when I planted them as bulbs. They were a peonies when they were all stalk, but when the blooms finally opened the peonies fulfilled their purpose. The blooms transformed the peonies. Their nature hadn’t changed, but their purpose had been realized. That was the transformation.
That’s how I think of the transformation that happens when an author creates and then releases a book into the world. The act of writing and finishing a book is certainly transformative …and a lot of work! Just like all the energy it took those bulbs to sprout and grow three foot stalks into the sunlight. But releasing a book, your story, your message out into the world, is like those peonies finally blooming. The purpose, the magnificence of the bloom is in sharing it with the world.
I want you to sell a lot of books, I want to help share your story with the world, and I’d be tickled to see you bask in the admiration of your fans (it’s okay), but the real deal is the transformation, what becoming an author does for the author as well as the readers.
And the publisher?
How does creating and selling books … and making a living doing it, transform a publisher?
We’re participants. We play a role in facilitating the transformation a reader feels from the story and the wisdom contained in a book. We play a role in facilitating the transformation an author feels when an idea becomes words on a page, and words become a book, and that book becomes a message shared the world. Our participation in that process transforms us.
Several years ago, my wife, Elaine, and I were sitting on a loading dock late on a May afternoon. It was two days before my 46th birthday. We were tired and dirty. The dock belonged to a commercial building we were cleaning out. The building just across the parking lot was twice the size of this one. We owned both of them, the parking lot too. Our business was growing. It was a good business, industrial packaging in a booming industry. We worked hard, very hard. We weren’t rich by rich people’s estimate (it’s a sliding scale), but it had been a long time since we thought about the cost of gas or groceries. From an outside view, most folks would have considered us successful.
Sitting on that dock, I had a thought about life. We were so busy doing life for so many years that we had never stopped long enough to think about what we were doing with our lives.
We never meant to be sitting on this loading dock one day. Twenty years earlier we were broke and hungry so we got jobs to survive. The jobs led to this. It wasn’t planned, it just became. We were comfortable financially, great kids, even some grandkids. If this was our plan, life was pretty good.
I told Elaine, “I think if we don’t quit now, this will be our lives.”
“What do you want to do?” she asked.
“I want to go into Christian publishing.”
It just came out. Like a burp. No conscious thought, no life-long ambition, just burp, out there in the open. I’d say it came from out of the blue, but it didn’t. It came from somewhere deep inside. So deep I had no idea it was even in there. I didn’t know anything about publishing and I didn’t like a lot of what I saw in Christian bookstores. But there it was, I wanted to go into Christian publishing.
We’re coming up on thirteen years now since that May afternoon on the loading dock. We’ve learned a lot, experienced a lot. Some of my rough edges and attitudes toward professional Christians have been adjusted. We have published some books, and sold lots of them.
Sometimes I feel like Pharaoh during the Joseph administration. The seven years with fat cows were pretty good! The next seven years … not so much. But hey, we’re in year thirteen, things are looking up! There are so many stories to share, the tribe is bigger than it ever was, the opportunity to play a part in transformation is everywhere I turn…
Why did I choose to be a publisher? Creating great books is neat. Selling a lot of books is wonderful! Making money is great when it happens. But that’s not the real reason I do it. I do it because it transforms lives, mine included. And I think that may just be the plan.