Should you publish a book? Ideally, I think that every preacher and teacher of God’s word should.
But let’s take a step back to ask a more important question: what does it mean to publish a book?
Publishing in the 21st Century
We live in a publishing environment today that is radically different from any time in history. In the past, publishing a book (or producing any kind of media, for that matter) was very expensive.
Chris Anderson explains in his excellent book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006) that our society has undergone three major shifts in how we produce and distribute media. First, Anderson points out that the means of producing media were democratized with cheap hardware (computers, microphones, cameras) and with cheap software (Microsoft Word, Audacity, Garage Band, iMovie). With these inexpensive tools, anyone can independently publish a book, record an album, or produce a video.
Second, the means of distributing media were also democratized with internet superstores like Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix, so that even the most unknown writer, musician, or filmmaker can get their creation into the marketplace and sell to anyone, anywhere. And if you don’t care about selling your media product, then you have even more free/cheap distribution options, including blogs (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger), streaming video services (YouTube, Vimeo), and podcasting (iTunes, Stitcher).
Third, advanced filters like Google’s search engine or suggesting selling algorithms (“People who bought this book also bought…”) connect buyers with exactly the kind of content that they are looking for, regardless of the seller’s geographic distance or obscurity. Every one of us has the opportunity to discover media from a very narrowly-defined niche of our own choosing instead of only the mass market hits.
Certainly, this new media landscape creates a host of opportunities as well as problems for our society, but we don’t have time to explore all of those issues fully in this article.
For now, consider this one thought: we have publishing resources at our fingertips that our forefathers could not have imagined.
There’s More than One Way to Publish a Book
One of the most important things to consider in all this is that all of this new technology has created multiple kinds of publishing. Publishing a book no longer requires a large book deal with a major publishing house. Instead, you could publish a book that exists only on your blog, so that people just click through from article to article to read your book.
Or, you could take the text from that online book and convert it easily into an eBook for Kindle, Nook, or any of the other e-reader devices.
Or, you could skip blogging altogether and simply export a PDF from your word processor that you can distribute as an electronic book.
Or, if you wanted to introduce some design and visual elements into a PDF eBook, you could lay your book out on Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress, Scribus, or even a presentation program like PowerPoint or Keynote.
Or, you could record an audio book that people can subscribe to as a podcast or download in a zip file.
Or, you could go to one of the self-publishing services and produce physical copies of your book that look indistinguishable from a book published by one of the larger publishing houses.
And if all that fails, the traditional publishers are still going to be around for a long time.
The issue right now isn’t whether you are able to publish a book, because you can do that easily and cheaply, even without the help of a major publisher. The issue today is whether you should publish a book.
So, Who Should Publish?
Really, the only thing that authors should worry about when they are considering publishing a book is quality. Would this be a valuable book? Is this book worth the time and effort to prepare the manuscript for publication? Would someone benefit from putting this writing into book format?
And this explains my initial answer: I genuinely believe that every preacher and teacher of God’s word ought to seriously consider publishing a book. We need to stop looking at publishing as a commercial venture (although that’s still important to some degree) and primarily in terms of ministry. If we start thinking about publishing as an extension of our teaching ministry, then the reasons in favor of publishing start to pile up pretty quickly.
Let me put this bluntly: If the content you are preaching and teaching isn’t valuable enough to preserve in some kind of book, you need to change your approach to preaching and teaching.
That doesn’t mean we can simply push our transcribed sermons directly into print—getting a manuscript ready to publish takes a lot of time and effort. But it does mean that if we take our ministry seriously, we ought to be preaching and teaching content at a level worthy of preserving.
And if we do take our preaching and teaching seriously, then publishing books (of some kind) ought to form as much of a part of our ministry as recording our sermons or writing an article in the church newsletter—and in doing so, we might open wide doors for effective ministry, according to the grace of God.
What do you think? Have you considered publishing a book? Leave a comment below.
Note: The section about Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail was adapted from chapter 7 of my forthcoming book, That You May Know: A Primer on Christian Discipleship. There, I talk more about the dangers of this new age of media production, distribution, and filtering.