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 🙂

You Can Have Both!

I’m going to start this post with a general observation. I’m not looking to spark a debate or touch a nerve. But I have noticed that a lot of Christians tend to feel hesitant about asking God to help them fulfill their dreams because those dreams include success, prosperity, wealth, or something else of worldly value, and they aren’t sure that God really wants them to have those things.

But here’s the thing – God doesn’t turn his nose up at blessing His people. He doesn’t mind making them successful or wealthy. He did it all through the Bible, and He’s still doing it today.

Take Isaac for example. When we think of Isaac, we tend to define him in spiritual terms. He was one of the patriarchs of Israel. He was Abraham’s son – the son of promise. He was the one that God saved from being sacrificed. He was the father of Jacob and Essau – the one who proclaimed a powerful blessing over Jacob.

But look at what else the Bible tells us about Isaac’s life:

Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him. The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him (Genesis 26:12-14).

This verse tells us that the Lord blessed Isaac with material blessings. In fact, God kept blessing him until he got so rich that the people around him started to envy him! Isaac was insanely prosperous. He had stuff. He had servants. He had a very successful life. Now that’s generally what we think of when we think of Isaac, but it was a very real part of his existence.

Why do you think that’s in the Bible? And why do you think that we don’t typically take notice of it?

Well, to answer the first question – I believe that this is in the Bible because it is a facet of the blessings of God. Deuteronomy 8:18 tells us that God is the one who gives us the power to get wealth. Why would He empower us to go out and get something that He doesn’t want us to have? That’s just silly.

But in answer to the second question I would say this – I think that part of the reason that we don’t generally notice the fact that Isaac was a wealthy, prosperous, and successful man is because that’s not what was important about his life. The important things were the ones that left an eternal spiritual difference. Those are the things that last through the centuries. They’re the things that are worth remembering and striving for.

The point that I’m trying to make is this: the fact that your dream involves a success, prosperity, or power does not make it a bad thing. God wants to give you those things. But those things are not what make your dream worthwhile. Your dream is worthwhile, because in God’s hands, it can leave a permanent spiritual impact on this world.

Don’t ever forget that. Your dream belongs to God first – and He intends to use it for His glory. If you’ll give your dream to Him, He will help you to achieve it. He’ll bless you too, with all of those material things that your dream comes with. But those are merely side-benefits of your much greater blessing – the blessing of being used to build His kingdom

Financial prosperity and spiritual success – you can have them both. God will give them to you gladly. But never forget which one is important.

It’s Not All About the Money

Just writing that title sent me into a bit of a spin … I can just imagine how much of a hornet’s nest I could potentially be shaking up with a statement like this. After all, most people who write and publish books do them with the intent to sell. And because of that, much of what is out there regarding success in publishing very often IS about the money. And that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with publishing for money, and sales figures are a wonderful (and easy) marker of success.

But I think it’s important from time to time to remember that money isn’t the only reason a book (even a good book) can be published. It’s important to understand this, because if you aren’t publishing a piece specifically to make money off of it, that means sales figures are no longer the only (or even the most valid) measure of that book’s success, and that’s really the type of thing that you should really know ahead of time.

So here are just a few other reasons you might have for considering publishing:

Exposure: I’ve been reading a lot this week about passive marketing and something that stuck with me was the idea that one of the most effective ways to market your work is to produce more work. Having a backlist of books, even ones that are less commercially successful, can expose you to audiences that your “commercial” books might not otherwise reach.

A Gift: Imagine you have a ton of faithful readers, a growing blog following, or a sold core of super-fans. Sometimes the best way to say “thank you” to those supporters is to give them something special (in this case, an extra taste of your writing). Creating something special just for them may not be about commercial success at all. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be worth your while.

A Message: Sometimes there are things that you just need to say, books that seem to beg to be written. Writing those books and publishing may not always be about sales figures. Sometimes they’re just about reaching as large an audience as you can manage. And while sales are always a part of that, they may not be the driving force behind it. You may, for instance, decide that you don’t want to sell this kind of book at all – finding that you reach larger numbers of people setting your ebook to “free” on a permanent basis.

Fun: Let’s be real here – writing can be fun, and so can seeing that writing in print. There is nothing wrong with deciding that you want to publish something just “because”. Now this isn’t permission to publish junk. If you put it in print (and especially if you charge money for it) your work should be of the highest possible quality. But there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the self-publishing market to create and publish something that may have no commercial audience whatsoever. It’s ok to publish just for fun.

Keep in mind that none of these reasons for publishing will disqualify you from making money. It’s always possible to find commercial success with a book, even if that wasn’t your original aim. The point of the post isn’t to say that money is bad. Rather, it’s to remind my fellow writers that it’s ok to give yourself permission to write and publish for reasons that aren’t financially driven.