Christian Message Writing: or Why I’m Uncomfortable With Marketing My Books

If it’s ok with you, I’m going to get a little bit introspective. Today’s post isn’t really a matter of advice or a how-to style explanation. It isn’t a list of 5 (or 7 or 9) steps you can take to do anything. It’s more of a question. How does a Christian nonfiction writer with a “message” book approach the problem of marketing?

Now at first, this seems like a bit of a silly question. I mean, it’s not like we can’t successfully market our books the same way everyone else does. We can go out there and do book promotions, blog tours, book signings, and event tie-ins. We could write press releases and try to get interviewed by local radio and newspaper outlets. But while that might work with a lot of writing (even a lot of Christian writing) it never really felt right when I tried to do any of those things for my own books. For a while I wasn’t really able to put my finger on why. But every time anyone (read: my BFF/SNOO) pushed me to develop a specific and actionable marketing plan, I found myself slamming on the brakes.

So after a year or two of doing virtually NO marketing for ANY of my books, I sat down and asked God what the deal was. Why was I so reluctant to do this? Was it just that I had an aversion to marketing in general? Was it something that I needed to get over?

The more I prayed about this subject, the clearer it became to me. I was avoiding marketing because I was inherently uncomfortable with the idea of “selling” the message of my books. I didn’t write these books because I wanted to become a published author. I mean, let’s be real – I absolutely wanted to become an author. I’ve wanted that since I was 8 or 9  years old. But that want never led me to write a book. And if success as an author was my main goal, I really should have picked a friendlier and more popular genre.

No, I wrote these books because I had a message on my heart for the people of God, and I wanted to share it with them. At the risk of sounding insanely self-important and pretentious, I’ll admit that I really believe the messages in these books are ones that God placed in my heart. I didn’t come up with them on my own. They aren’t my ideas. And because of that these books have become (in my heart, at least) much more a matter of ministry than business. I see them more as God’s work than my own.

No wonder I’ve struggled with the traditional marketing schemes that focus on “selling” the books as a product. They aren’t really my product to sell! In fact, even the idea of letting my friends and acquaintances buy these books from me has always bothered me. I’ve come to realize that while selling books is the easiest and most far-reaching way to spread these messages, it’s never really been about sales for me. It’s always been about getting the word out there to as many people as I can.

Now I know that this may sound a little crazy to most of you. But I have a feeling that for at least a few other Christian authors, this is going to ring true. So the next question that we have to ask ourselves is this: what do we do about it? How to we adapt our approach to marketing in order to adjust for our different perspective. How do we reach a broader audience without focusing on getting people to buy a product?

The answer (for me at any rate) is simple, Biblical, and effective. Start sowing seeds. 

What that means will be different for each of us, and that’s ok. This isn’t meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a new way to look at marketing from a Biblical and ministerial perspective. All you have to do is look at your books as seeds that you are planting into people’s lives and ministries. The harvest that you hope to reap is a widespread understanding of the message that God has given you.

In the morning sow your seed,
And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
For you do not know which will prosper,
Either this or that,
Or whether both alike will be good (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

Start looking for opportunities to sow the seed of your message into people’s lives. Maybe that means giving away free copies of the book to local pastors and ministers who you think may benefit from reading it. Maybe it means taking advantage of Amazon’s KDP Select program so that you can “sell” your ebook for free for several days each quarter. Maybe it means carrying hard copies of your book around with you so that you are ready to give them to people who might benefit from reading them.

What do you guys think? How can you stop selling and start sowing? Leave a comment below 🙂

Own Your Voice: Tips and Tricks

So in my last post, Own Your Voice: Here’s Why, I talked a little bit about how important it is for us as authors to acknowledge the value of our unique voices. We all have authors who inspire us, who make us want to be better writers. But there’s a huge difference between being influenced by someone else’s writing and attempting to copy it.

In fact, I believe that this is one of the biggest sources of frustration that new authors face. When you try to write “like” someone else, it can feel forced, inauthentic, canned, or shallow. If your writing doesn’t have the depth or the spark that you want, the solution may be as easy as letting your unique voice shine through.

So how do you go about “owning” your voice as a writer? Here’s a few tips that might help.

1. Know Yourself: It is impossible for you to write in a way that is authentically your own  unless you know a little bit about yourself – about the way you speak, think, and write. The specifics of what you’ll need to know vary depending on what kind of writing you do, so this type of self-analysis will be very different for each individual. But the fundamental question is the same: What are my natural tenancies and strengths in this area?

Remember that this is not about the kind of writer you want to be. This is about acknowledging the way that your mind naturally flows, the well-worn paths that your thoughts tend to take. For instance, I’m a non-fiction writer and my books tend to be either informative (teaching a lesson) or persuasive (making an argument). So in order to know myself better, I should ask – how do I explain things to people? How do I try to convince people that I’m right?

In my case, I tend to explain from the big to the small. I like to understand the big picture before I get into the minutia of the smaller details. I find it easier to understand them when I can place them into a larger whole. So when I’m teaching I tend to present things the way that works for me. I’ve also found that I like to tell illustrative stories and anecdotes in my explanations or arguments.

Knowing this about myself in advance has helped me tremendously when planning out new books. Instead of building a structure and then trying to fit my personality and preferences into it, I have learned to build my book around my natural tenancies. That, in turn, has made it easier for my voice to shine through.

2. Write What You Know. Or more accurately “Write What You Understand.” This is applicable regardless of what kind of writing you’re doing. If you can’t wrap your head around a concept or if you don’t “get” your characters enough to not only understand their motivations, but sympathize with them (at least a little bit) your writing won’t work – at least, it won’t work from the perspective of your voice.

Jane Austin is famous for saying that she would never write a scene between two men without a woman present. She knew that men spoke and related to one another differently when they were alone, and she didn’t trust herself to write those scenes with any authenticity. Now I’m not saying that’s a rule you have to live by. By all means, use your imagination to take your writing places you’ve never gone and to explore concepts you haven’t experienced. But don’t let that exploration take you so far that you lose what’s grounding you in reality. Make sure that whatever you’re working on starts from a place of personal truth – it’s the best way to keep your voice, your point of view, your flavor shining through.

3. Read Your Writing Out Loud. And as you do, ask yourself one question: “Does this sound like me?” Now I’m not saying that every character you ever write will have to speak exactly like you do. Of course you’re creating someone fictional, and so their speech and thought patterns will all be different. That being said, while your characters or exposition might not mirror your speech, you should always be able to recognize your own voice in the overall tone of the piece.

If, while reading out loud, you find yourself stumbling over phrases, getting lost in your own sentences, or struggling to find the flow of your writing – you’ve found a problem. The problem might be a matter of structure. Maybe you just need to polish a few things out. But you might also be struggling because the tone of what you’ve written no longer rings true to your authentic voice.

So if you find yourself stuck, unable to easily read your own writing out loud, ask yourself another question “How would I say this?” Don’t ask how you would write it differently. Force yourself to say it out loud. You might be surprised at what you come up with. At the very least, it will bring  you closer to your authentic voice.

4. Let Someone Else Read It. This is one of those tips that seems so pointless, but has actually worked wonders for me. Find someone who knows you well, someone you trust, and ask them to read your work. They don’t have to be a literary professional – this is one of those situations where your bookworm mom or best friend who majored in English will be completely fine. You don’t need them to edit or proofread what you’ve written. Their only job is to tell you if the writing sounds like you.

Now this can be a frustrating process – so make sure you’re prepared before you go in. The idea of what a book “sounds” like can be difficult to pin down, and the feedback you get may not always be  helpful. But if you’re hunting for the authenticity of your voice as a writer, these are the people you want to listen to. They’re the ones who will tell you if the words on your page sound the way you think they sound.

My mother did this for me after I’d finished my first draft of Dream Chasers. One afternoon she sat in my living room, skimming through the book and reading out loud the passages that were so formal, dry, and clinical that they sounded like someone else entirely. Mind you, they didn’t sound that way in my head. When I wrote them, they were filled with tone, nuance, and wit – I promise. But one glance from a perspective other than my own showed me what those words sounded like to other people’s ears. She was able to demonstrate very quickly and concisely just how far I’d wandered away from my authentic voice.