Thursday, February 24, 2011

Frank Viola on Publishing

Frank Viola and I agree on a lot of things, and differ on a few. Mostly, we emphasize different but equally important aspects of the organic nature of the church (my opinion at least).

His latest blog post to aspiring authors is outstanding. So I thought I would mention it here (with a link) and twitter it out there.

There is nothing in the post that I could possibly disagree with. I do sometimes think that self-publishing is the only way for some good, but unknown writers to get their foot in the door (worked for me...and him). Frank isn't disagreeing with this, just pointing out that self-publishing doesn't produce as good a product as going with established publishers (and he's right).

Because Frank did such a good job with this I do not have to write much on the subject–I couldn't say anything any better anyway. If I could summarize my own thoughts about writing books in two sentences it would be:
The best distribution means I know of is to write such a good book that people can't help but tell others about it. If you write one that needs a strong marketing system to get it out, than it may not be worth distributing (or writing) in the first place.
Now, because Frank is a good writer he has inspired me to add a bit to the conversation as well. Aside from what he says in the post, I would also suggest that any aspiring author do a few other things:

1. Journal. Write something every day! Blogging is good for this as well, but it may be helpful to also journal which is just for yourself.

2. Occasionally write poetry, even if it isn't any good and you are afraid to show refines your use of the language.

3. Read, a lot. Do your homework, especially if you are writing non-fiction. There is a lot of unsubstantiated fluff out there presuming authority it should not. Don't add to the white noise just to see your name on a cover. Vary your reading. Read classics, biographies, journal articles, cutting edge books and blogs. Read non-fiction too because it exercises your brain's creativity muscles (you may argue that there is no such thing, but I just proved there is by imagining it!). Learning is more important than writing, because learning makes for good writing.

4. Write a lot knowing that your best work will not get written until after all the bad and "so so" stuff gets out of the way. Frank mentions to wait until your 40, which is not bad advice. Really it is better to not wait, but write (just don't publish a lot of it). If you wait until you are 40 you will have better life experience and wisdom behind your words, but you may not have the craft as well refined unless you practice before your 40. I can't imagine Frank would disagree. My experience tells me that those who are meant to write couldn't wait anyway.

5. Think about your book as a combination of two parts: content and craft. These must come together to produce a good book. You can transcribe and publish a sermon series and sell a lot of copies, but that doesn't mean you've written a good book, just hit a hot topic with funny anecdotes. Blend both good content and good craft and you will have a good book. We need more of those books than the former. It is one thing to say something that is good, it is also another to say something well. Give yourself to doing both.

6. Learn to value and desire good editing. This is an acquired taste because at first we may not like someone tearing up our creative work, but good editors will make you seem much smarterer than you really are.

7. Finally, know what makes for success in publishing. There are two very different kinds of success in publishing books. One is the quick sale of many books, the other is the slow burn that builds. I personally think that still selling the book 75 years later is better than selling 75,000 in the first five years, though most publishing houses would disagree with me. Write a book with this perspective in mind. Not every book will meet the second kind of success, and that doesn't make it a failure...but the best books do.

Here is the link to an outstanding bit of advice from an experienced author:

Well done Frank!



Per Filip said...

Great stuff, Neil! I'm looking forward to read Frank's post as well :-)

I've heard the 40y.o.-argument before, but have never agreed. (So thanx for balancing it a bit..) If people under 40 never publish stuff, the market would be narrowed down a whole lot. Established thoughts would not be as radically questioned - and we wouldn't reach as broadly with out message (especially reaching the young readers). Some of the best and most challenging books I've read the last couple of years, are written by young guys. Though I understand the point behind this tip, I would say that it easily could rob us from great books from a new generation of writers, with a prophetic and new voice - now.

Anyway.. Your post challenges me to get back on the saddle and start writing again, even though I’m waaaay to young to be publishing stuff ;-)

Blessings brother!

Will Rochow said...

Thanks Neil for your wisdom here. As an aspiring author, I do strive to glean as much as I can along the way. Your posting here just added to that. Perhaps one day, the Lord willing, I will be a published author of a "quality" book as well.