Last week, I wrote a post about why I think every preacher and teacher of God’s word should publish a book, and I talked about all the new opportunities that exist to publish books apart from traditional publishers. Today, there are several options for independent publishing platforms and formats that cost authors little or no money.
The main value of independent publishing platforms is that they remove the major commercial constraints from publishing. A book can be valuable even if it could never sell 100,000 copies, and independent publishing allows books to be published even if they will sell at a lower volume.
But this doesn’t mean that everyone ought to publish a book. Just as there are several reasons that you should consider publishing a book, there are also several reasons that should keep you from publishing a book, no matter what opportunities are presented to you for publishing. Here are four of the biggest reasons you shouldn’t publish a book.
Don’t Publish a Book to Build Your Ego
When I was ordained as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, I was asked this question as a part of my ordination vows:
Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son? (BCO 21-5 (5))
Now, I’m a sinner with a mixed bag of motives, so this is a question that I wrestled with a lot—and continue to do so—as I examine my own motives for ministry. Do I serve because I love God and I have a sincere desire to promote his glory in the gospel of his Son, or am I in this to establish my own glory?
Publishing a book is a facet of your teaching ministry, and so we need to examine ourselves with this kind of soul-searching question as we seek to publish a book. Are we looking for ego rush of seeing our name on the cover of a book, or do we genuinely want to extend our ministry out of love to God and a desire to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ? If pride is at the center of publishing, then we should not be publishing at all.
Don’t Publish a Book to Get Rich
Sometimes the motive for publishing isn’t so much pride, but greed. We hear some of the sales figures of certain books, so we start seeing dollar signs in our heads as we calculate our potential earnings from the book we want to publish. There are two problems with publishing from greed, however.
First, greed is specifically forbidden among Christ’s elders in the church: in the qualifications for serving, Paul writes that anyone aspiring to the office of elder must not be “a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3).
Second, the fact of the matter is that most books don’t make much money. In fact, if you calculated out your hourly wages from your royalties divided by the time you spent working on the book, well, you probably would have made more money working minimum wage somewhere.
That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it, though! The value of your book is not defined by the number of copies that you can sell. If you write a book that helps even one person in your personal sphere of influence to come to a more complete understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, how would you put a price tag on that? For a minister of the gospel, there are far better reasons to publish a book than money.
Don’t Publish a Book if You Aren’t Under Authority
I don’t have a naive, pie-in-the-sky optimism about universal access to publishing as an inherently good thing. Some people think that the value of these new, independent publishing options is the ability for anyone’s voice to be heard, as though every opinion were equally worthy of our consideration. I am very much in favor of free speech, but not because I want to see Christianity democratized. Christianity is a Kingdom, not a democracy.
But Christianity isn’t about your kingdom. It’s about Jesus’ kingdom, and even Jesus was a man under authority (Matt. 8:9). There are far too many stories about pastors going off the rails, without any checks on their authority. Don’t become another tragedy. If you don’t have people in your life who can remove you from a position of formal ministry if you started drifting from the gospel, then the last thing you need is the bully pulpit of a book.
Depending on your theological tradition, you might have elders or deacons or bishops who can remove you, but that kind of check and balance is really important to keep our pride and greed in check. If you don’t have those safety rails, then don’t publish a book.
Don’t Publish a Book that isn’t Ready
Not every kind of publishing requires the same level of polish. So, when you hit the “Publish” button for a blog post, you’ll probably put out an article that’s a higher level in quality from the notes you scribbled on the back of a napkin, but not quite as high in quality as if you were seeking publication in a major magazine. There are proper venues for working out your thoughts, which is why I think that blogging plays such an important early role in the publishing process.
But when it comes time to move your writing to a move permanent format, whether in print or for the Kindle, don’t just dump your blog posts into one file and send it off to the printer. If you aren’t ready to publish a book, then don’t. Write in your journal or on your blog or on scratch paper, but don’t publish a book until you are ready to put something into a permanent format.
Did I miss anything? What other factors should keep us from publishing books? Leave a comment below.