5 Questions to Ask B4 U Write that Non-fiction Book

So, you’re getting better at tweeting and messaging. You always felt that you had a book in you? If only you had the time, you’d punch it out. You resolve to write it this year on vacation? Jesus once said that before you undertake a project, you should count the cost. So, before you write that book, ask yourself the following questions: 

1.   Do I have the year or so that it will take to research and write my book? Writing a work of non-fiction is a longer process than most people understand. Research, note taking and ordering, sifting through what is or is not important, and knowing what to discard and what to keep take time. Outlining and writing, then rewriting, checking accuracy and attributions, formatting to publishing standards until you’re happy with the manuscript you’re going to submit, take more time. Publishing your new manuscript will take even longer.

2.   Do I want to publish through a traditional publisher or should I try assisted publishing? There are pros and cons you will have to weigh when deciding who will publish your hard (and we hope, important) work? Traditional publishers may do much more of the editing and marketing phases of your book, but you have the following to consider:


Suppose you have a friend who works for Bethany House Publishers (I’m just picking from a hat). Practically meaningless. It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you. Unless someone knows you (and/or your work) already, you will probably not get your manuscript read. You might get someone to look at a proposal . . . MAYBE. But that depends on so many factors (have they just added new authors, is one of their signed authors complaining that she’ll leave if they give one more dollar to someone new when she’s in need of more attention, etc.), that it’s not very likely.


Most pubs, do not receive unsolicited manuscripts anymore. You must send a proposal. Proposals are almost as difficult to write as your book. Perhaps harder. They ask for information and demographics that you need an MBA to find. If I knew the answer to most of the questions they ask, I wouldn’t need THEM!  Then you have to hope that your proposal actually arrives to someone who has had a good day (or expects to have one). Then, just because that person is wild about your proposal (which is a dream in itself), they have to convince their supervisor or next reader up the line. If your proposal (remember, this is not your manuscript, this is your proposal) finally gets to an editor that believes in it (and that editor has a reputation to uphold before the acquisitions committee–other editors vying for the same dollar to produce what they’re passionate about) presents it in their team meeting, yours will have to be the one of maybe five that rises to the top. Then there will be other hurdles. And forget telling them that God gave you this book. Or that your book is the next revelation from heaven. That doesn’t work with those who will be reading your proposal. They’ve heard it all before. God may be able to turn the heart of a king, but it doesn’t say anything in that text about the heart of the acquisition editor. The chances of you getting your book published are about as good as winning PowerBall™. Well, I may have overstated, perhaps you have a better chance at PowerBall™, or lightning strike. But . . . I’m told, being published is still possible. How?


Some editors are looking for the next great book–the next The Shack or Experiencing God. Just remember, they’re already written. Also remember though they may be looking, they’re not looking at you. They’re looking at their existing authors or students of those authors or professors or pastors of mega-churches. None of which are probably you. For a reality-read I recommend: Book Proposals That Sell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success, by W. Terry Whalin. He has edited for big Christian publishers. He will give you what you need in order to understand the exact process and why you won’t likely get published. I was depressed after reading his book, but at least it was a wake up call and saved me lots of unnecessary stress and heartbreak.


Now you’re being more realistic. You still need an MBA, but at least it’s not crucial to a hearing or reading. Here all you need is a good manuscript and money. If you have the $1000. or so that you need for one of the publisher’s packages, you can see your book in print. Now, it is still hard work. You have editors, artists, marketers, and order takers, but you don’t need a proposal. You save tons of time. And get to the point. Shaping your book for publication. It’s no longer a chance you’re taking. But you must have a platform. For more  about this read:


You have to have an audience ALREADY. But they’ll help you develop one. All it takes is money and more money. One assisted publisher will market your book and you’ll have a video, direct mailings etc. for between $8,000-$10,000. If you don’t have that kind of money, then you can market it on your own (the reality of most authors). The benefits of this type of publishing are:

  • More control over the final product
  • Larger royalties
  • Faster publication time (3 mos  where with traditional pubs, 1-2 years, unless your topic is time-sensitive and highly popular)
  • Someone assigned to walk you through the process
  • You can decide to have both softcover and hardcover. Electronic is automatically included at no extra cost.
  • No huge purchases of books necessary. This is Print-on-demand technology. No need for unsold inventory.
  • Some help in marketing. Your book will be submitted to the major booksellers. And you will be featured on the publisher’s web store site.


Choose number 3a if you chose the traditional route

Choose number 3b if you chose assisted publishing


3.   Do I have . . .

o   A year or two AFTER the writing, to work through the traditional publishing phase?
You will have edits, proofs, emails and calls back and forth. Stops, go’s. You will wait for editors, cover designers, committees, and more. You will have no control over any of these steps, although you may have some say depending upon the publisher (the smaller, the more personal input you may have). With traditional publishing it’s about money too, only not yours–theirs.

o   Do I have the money to purchase the level of services my book may need? Depending upon your ability and resources, your book may need more or less investment. If you are a poor writer, you can purchase Ghost writing assistance or a book doctor. If you
are a mediocre writer or writing a first book, you can purchase a line editor. If you are more advanced, then copy editing will suffice. Whenever you need services other than those provided in your initial package, they will cost you more. If your writing is excellent, you may qualify for awards that get you more services and/or more attention. Some of these are free. If you have some talent and can start with $3000. you should be able to complete and market your book in 3-6 months. Then you will see some sales. If you can spend more, then by all means do. Just be aware that with assisted publishing, it’s all about money. That’s very up front.

4.   Am I free and savvy enough to market my new book? Unless you have ways, and means other than what are normally available to most first-time authors, you will be marketing your own book. And marketing takes hours, weeks, months. Marketing takes sharing your passion online and in person, and hoping someone else shares it with you. You will not have time for writing. If you have a follow-up book, your next book will have to wait. You will be too busy to write books. You will write tweets, blogs, emails, letters. You will speak at book signings that you set up. You will interview on local channels and in little venues that become available through word of mouth. All this takes time. If you have a full time job, then marketing will suffer. So will book sales. Unless you have a patron (and I have never seen one or heard of any in our day and age), then you will have to come up with the money to take a year off or stay up every night until 2AM. You will also have to learn and read about social media. Get ready for an education. But it can be done!

5.   Is what I have to say worth all this? Many people want to write, but the desire is self-centered. It’s about them not their readers. Relevant authors care about their readers and write to be read. They have something to offer. They have a message that can make your life better. If you do too, then you’re one more answer closer to writing it. But is your message worth the publishing phase? If so, then you should get started on
that outline, proposal, book, and push through as far as you can. Don’t give up and don’t be discouraged. If it’s of man, it will not amount to anything, but if it’s of God, no one will be able to thwart it.


I wrote this tongue-in-cheek, not to discourage you, but to help you realistically count the cost. Ask yourself these five questions, then do what you have the confidence to do.

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