Recently, I announced that I signed a book contract with Christian Focus. If you’re interested, you can read the post and learn more about the book I’m writing. In this article, you’ll find practical advice if you’d like to one day land a non-fiction book contract with a Christian publisher.
Let me say upfront that I’m not an expert in the Christian publishing industry. I don’t know everything. I write this article with a bit of reluctance because I don’t want to seem like I know the ins and outs when I just landed my first contract. And I certainly hope you don’t sense a spirit of superiority in my tone, but rather a heart that wants to serve. Please see this piece as a few useful pointers here and there rather than a comprehensive step-by-step guide. You will do well to pair this post with a companion article or book, or two.
I want to share what I know because I fear if I wait too long I won’t remember some of these details that matter, so let me share them before I forget.
How to Land a Non-Fiction Christian Book Contract: Advice for the Aspiring
Nothing I say is original to me but insights I’ve gleaned through others.
Know What You Need
You usually need two things:
1. A book proposal.
2. One-two sample chapters.
Some publishers require a resume. And still others only want a query of the idea before sending other material. You will want to learn how to write a good book proposal (some publishers provide a template). A quick google search will provide a good starting point. Book Proposal Tips and Tricks by Steve Laube is helpful. There are a host of other good resources that will show you how to write a good book proposal (Pro Tip: If you have a friend who is a published with a traditional publisher, ask to borrow his or hers and use that as your template). Make your sample chapters your best writing. This whole process is like a job interview.
Usually, you don’t submit the entire manuscript; you submit the book proposal with two sample chapters. Don’t annoy the publisher by sending more than what they asked.
When it comes to your book proposal, you will overthink it. But the publisher won’t. Bottom line: They are quickly checking to see if your idea will work, if you are a good enough writer, and if you have the platform to sell books (more on this below).
It’s possible to spend too much time on the proposal. Do it well, but don’t be a perfectionist.
Use PDF format for your proposal and sample chapters. I recommend sending it all in one document. Consider using Soda PDF.
Connections and Networking
One of the most important things you can do to position yourself to one day become an author is to befriend other authors. The right connections are crucial. You don’t want to spam those who can’t vouch for your character, but seeking to build connections through serving others likely will prove helpful.My article Christian Reflections on Networking may be helpful to you.
I was introduced to my publisher by a friend who has a book with the publisher. I did not spam him. We had a friendship and he was aware of my writing, so when the time came when I was ready to send my material, the request was natural. Remember, this is a ministry, and ministry is irrefutably relational.
It’s not wise to cold email famous authors asking them to do favors for you. This whole process is relational, and human nature likes to help those whom we know and trust.
Know What Christian Publishing Companies Are Looking For
In general, in order to land a book contract, you need the following:
1. Writing: Are you a good enough writer?
2. Idea: Will your book sell enough copies?
3. Platform: Do you have the reach to create book awareness?
4. Credibility: Are you the right person to write this book?
There you have it — the recipe you need to get signed.
You have to be a good enough writer. The publisher must think your idea will meet a need or sell enough books to warrant a contract. You must have the influence to sell enough books. And (probably most importantly) you must have the proper credentials.
Do you need all four? No. You need credibility, and then two out of the remaining three.
If you work in landscaping, and you submit a book proposal and sample chapters on biblical theology, that will be awkward. Even if it’s a masterpiece, a publisher likely won’t give you the time of day because you don’t have the credentials.
Some megachurch pastors who are not particularly good writers get major book deals simply because the sheer size of their platform usually guarantees book sales.
It’s often said that you absolutely will not land a Christian book contract without a large platform. This is an overstatement. It has to be. I’ve seen too many get signed without much of a social media presence (although social media presence is not the only indicator of your platform).
That said, not having a platform hurts. You can feel rejected when you’re told you don’t have a platform to land a deal, or you can muster up the self-awareness to put yourself in the position of the publisher and realize they’ve got bills to pay too, then humbly seek to grow your platform through God-approved means. Nobody owes you a contract. Approach publishers with humility and respect. Rejection is part of the process. It stings, but will only serve to make you a better writer (if you respond to the rejection in the right way).
If you desire to get published, consider each requirement above and work on it.
It may look like this:
1. Writing: start a blog and commit to posting once a week. Read two books on writing ( I recommend On Writing Well and Write Better).
2. Idea: Study the market and consider your talents and interests and determine if there’s something that you can write about that will fill a need.
3. Platform: Don’t become a sell-out, but commit to growing your influence through serving and creating helpful content.
4. Credentials: Get the degree or job that you need to get credibility.
Should I Get an Agent?
If you can, yes. Landing with an agent will help you get better deals, and remove a host of administrative details. But I think it’s more difficult to land one as a first-time author. Although you can cold email publishers (some publishing companies allow you to send your book proposal and two sample chapters to an email listed on the site), it is better if you can send it to a personal connection.
Bonus: Two More Pro Tips
Someone who works for a reputable Christian publishing company told me you will have a better shot at publication if you have two things:
1. A list of widely recognized names who will endorse your book.
Here’s a quick recap.
1. You need a book proposal. Learn how to write a good one.
2. You need to prepare one or two sample chapters. Let them be your best.
3. Landing with an agent will help tremendously, but getting one as a first-time author will be hard.
4. Publishers look for good writing, relevant idea, platform, and credentials when considering you.
5. Having author connections will prove invaluable.
Did I miss something? Probably. Is this article exhaustive? No. But . . . hopefully, there is a nugget or two above that will help aspiring authors.
I encourage you to read and write a lot. It strikes me as odd when someone desires to become an author but is currently not writing. That’s like someone who wants to go to the NBA but doesn’t play basketball. Since when does life work like that? If you are an aspiring author, then write regularly and read a voluminous amount of books.
Let me add one more thing: character is king. As you write, research, and seek for your dreams to come true, remember to guard your devotional life with God. Devote your time and energy to the local church. Becoming an author won’t satisfy the deep longings of your heart. Growth in personal godliness will save you from heartache and bless your readers.