So you are interested in book writing? This is a worthy calling, one that reflects the image of God. God is the Creator, the One who made all that there was, is, and will be. When one engages in writing, it is an act of creation. For example, J. R. R. Tolkien created an entire world that captivates readers to this day. He invented languages and cultures, people and countries, mirroring God’s creation of our own world.
If one is writing non-fiction, then he or she too is engaging in creation. The act of writing in itself is a work of creation as one is creating words through the compilation of markings, then sentences, paragraphs, and chapters from combinations of those words, spinning ideas together. This culminates in the creation of the book itself, a new creation that conveys the ideas of the author. A writer also engages in co-creation because he or she is writing about an aspect of God’s creation. Nothing is outside the purview of His dominion, so any writing is ultimately writing about or utilizing something He has already created. All writing is co-creation, using God’s creation to mimic Him and create something else.1
Being a writer is an honorable calling, but it is not right for everyone. As with all vocations, one must be called to it by God in order to truly succeed. However, an interest and desire to write, along with the desire to increase one’s writing skills, are a good indicator of God’s call. It may not be a call to professional writing but it at least indicates a call to engage in lay writing. In either case, below are five traits one must have to be a good book writer.
First, one must be able to put in the time when book writing. Writing a book is a great undertaking, taking a considerable amount of time to research and then complete the rough draft. One must then work on researching which publishers accept their topic, would be a good fit, and are currently accepting manuscripts (assuming the author does not have an agent but that is another discussion).
Many publishers also want the manuscript proposal to contain certain information and be formatted a certain way. As it is an author’s chance to catch the publisher’s attention, these proposals can take considerable time on their own. Once a manuscript has been accepted, there are then rounds of editing, designing, formatting, and layout before the work goes to print. One must be in it for the long haul if he or she wishes to write a book as it can take well over a year from beginning work on the book to seeing a finished print.
Second, one must be qualified to write a book. One may have the desire and skill to write a book but may not have the qualifications. Qualifications are not everything, there have been several famous authors who had little to no formal education (e.g. G. K. Chesterton, a Christian intellect of the 19th-20th century whose higher education consisted of a few years of art school). However, publishers may refuse to consider a proposal from one they believe is unqualified. Whether through experience or education (or both!) publishers want to know the author knows what he or she is talking about.
Publishers expect authors to present their qualifications with the proposal. This is usually done by including a short biography and one’s resume/CV. Each publisher has its own qualification requirements, though the most respected publishers usually only want to publish respected authors. As such, publishers often look for those who have a good amount of experience and education. Your book may be well done but if you do not have the right qualifications you may find large publishers will not pick up the book.
Therefore, when writing, it is best to consider two aspects of one’s qualifications. First, do I know enough about this topic? Second, which publishers will consider my qualifications? Aim your writing towards the publishers who will consider your proposal and demonstrate your knowledge of the subject through careful and well-researched writing. If the right publisher will not pick up the book, consider waiting a few years and trying again with more on your resume/CV.
Third, one must have an audience to whom he or she can market the book. Publishers often expect authors to take part in the marketing of their books. Often, this involves an author having an idea of an audience to whom he or she can market directly. This is often related to the previous requirement as qualifications usually come with a certain audience. If one is a professor, then their classes, their colleagues, and those who read their other works would be an audience he or she can market to directly.
In the age of social media, one’s online following can also be a great marketing target. If one has 500 followers on social media or 500 subscribers to their blog, then that is 500 potential buyers for the book. The author already has their ear, he or she just needs to tell them. While the author reaches out to people directly, the publisher works on getting the book out where people can find it. While an audience is not a necessity for book writing, most publishers want to work with someone who can assist in marketing their book.
Fourth, one must be able to persevere through rejection and changes. Publishers accept few of the manuscripts sent to them, meaning there is a high chance at least one publisher will decline your proposal. Most of the time, the publisher will not provide an elaborate reason for the refusal either, offering only a few words or just silence. This means months of work followed by weeks of waiting can result in a flat refusal with little explanation. An author has to be able to take the rejection and persevere through it.
A refusal does not mean one’s work is bad, just that it is not right for that publisher. However, if a publisher does accept the manuscript, then the author must be willing to persevere through the changes. Publishers will assign the author an editor who will guide the author through editing the book. While these edits may be small stylistic edits, they can be large content edits as well. The author must be willing to persevere through the editing process, realizing the editor is there to help make the book as good as possible.
5. Heart for Ministry
Lastly, one must have a heart for ministry. This is a question of motive. Why do you want to write a book? Why do you want to be published? If the answer is to get rich, you are in the wrong field. The writers who make a fortune are those who sell millions of copies. Often, writing does not net a huge profit.
Maybe your motive is time. You desire a passive income or a flexible schedule. While book writing does check both desires, it is more complicated. As mentioned above, book writing is a major time commitment and publishers do set deadlines. Writing is a job and not for those seeking to get rich quickly or lay around.
One may even wish to publish in order to be famous. He or she desires the book signings, the interviews, the recognition. While this is a possibility, it is like making money as a writer. One may become famous to their readers, but wide fame and recognition require millions of copies sold.
Not only are these poor motives, but they could also be the results of sin, greed, laziness, pride, etc. They represent one centered on him or herself. Instead, one’s goal in writing should be to minister to others. Writing should be done out of love for God and other people. It is an act of service.
Book writing is a worthy calling. As with all callings, God uses it to spread His kingdom and His work through the earth. This article discussed five needed traits to be a good book writer, but do not worry if you are missing one or more. God equips those He has called. If God has truly called you to book writing, and a strong passion and desire for it is a good clue, then He will either give you these traits or overcome them to show you His power. Follow God’s leading and He will guide you along the way.
Read other articles in the Book Writing Series:
- Tips to Improve as a Book Writer
- Christian Publishers Who Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts
- Preparing a Book Proposal
- Lucretia B. Yaghjian, Writing Theology Well: A Rhetoric for Theological and Biblical Writers, 2nd ed. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 145.