So, You Want to Write a Book? Step 1: Get real.

Advice to would-be authors

One of the ways I see writers making a living these days is by selling the dream of authorship. It works like this: Thousands upon thousands of people want to publish a book, so writers who have published books provide them with training, advice, and support – for a fee, of course. Much of my livelihood, in fact, works off this model. As a ghostwriter, I help would-be authors write and publish their messages, often in the form of books.

As with all good things, however, I’ve noticed this model has a dark side. Since the Internet-of-today is all about – jargon alert! – “scaling businesses through platform building,” some writing services are going bonkers with their mass-marketing approach to the business. Some offer great advice and services. But what some are marketing in attempt to scale their businesses is – and I know this will shock you – a distortion of the truth, aka, a lie.

Ring Lardner (famous author)

So at the risk of being labeled a fuddy-duddy, allow me to suggest that all aspiring authors of the world take a moment, pump their proverbial breaks, and evaluate a few deeper realities of writing and publishing. Before shelling out boatloads of money for help with your book project, carefully consider some of the deeper realities that reside beneath the “marketed truth.”

Marketed Truth: You can write a book in a few weeks.

Deeper Reality: Very few authors have written a good book that quickly. Writing with excellence takes time and effort. It’s not always hard. Sometimes the words flow easily and quickly. But it’s not always easy. Most of the time, in fact, the writing – and especially the rewriting – is challenging. Consider these words from a few successful writers:

  • “Easy reading is damned hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann
  • “When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” – Enrique Jardiel Poncela
  • “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

Marketed Truth: It’s easier and cheaper than ever to publish a book.

Deeper Reality: Services like Create Space make it easy, and you no longer need the help of a traditional New York-based publishing house. But … it still will cost you if you want a quality product. Even if you’re a great writer, you’ll need great editors (plural), a great designer to make it look good and great marketers to help sell it. You’ll have to spend time and money to get the attention of the book-buying public. And, ultimately, you still probably won’t sell very many books. Most likely, you will spend far, far more to write, publish and market the book than you will make on the sales from the book.

Marketed Truth: Everyone should write and publish a book.

Deeper Reality: Speaking of fuddy-duddys, anyone remember writer/contrarian Christopher Hitchens? I seldom agreed with much that he had to say, but that doesn’t mean he was never right. For instance, he’s generally credited with saying, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” Very true. And Walter Bagehot, a British essayist, once pointed out that, “The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.” Also true. So if you are a great writer who doesn’t have much to say or a poor writer with nothing to say, you certainly can write and publish a book. But please don’t inflict it on the rest of us.

OK, enough cold water. The point of all this isn’t to discourage most of you from writing and publishing a book. Really, it’s not. The point is to encourage anyone who is thinking about writing and publishing a book to do so with a clear view of reality. Measure the costs. Set a budget. Be smart about it.

When I talk to people who are thinking about writing a book, I almost always encourage them to do so. That’s because most of them feel a compelling need to write something that’s on their heart. The bigger question is this: To what end? I believe God sometimes tells us to write a book, a blog, an essay, a poem, or some other musing simply so that we can process a lesson He wants us to learn. The audience is me and God (or you and God). No one else.

Writers write because they have no choice. The message within them longs to break free and live in some form, and to suppress that message is nothing short of disobedience. So write. And if you are so called, publish what you’ve written. And, if so called, market what you’ve published. But no matter where your obedience to a message takes you, bury your expectations. As the great Flannery O’Connor put it, “When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.”

Want Free Help? Here’s a Checklist.

Want some free tips to help you think through a potential book project? I put together this list a few years ago, and I periodically update it. Click here to read my Author’s Checklist. You don’t even have to give me your email address. All it costs you is the time it takes to click the link and read it. But, hey, if you want to sign up to receive my blog, by all means, go for it!



Click here for more information on books I’ve written.  

Tips for Life … from Me and some Harvard Grads

Lessons for Grads …

We interrupt the original iteration of this message to graduates due to what possibly could be a Divine course correction. Maybe not a new course, but at least an updated direction. This blog, you see, was first-draft finished when some unrelated research landed me at an expected website with a mother lode of wisdom — for recent graduates, for me, and for anyone. So I feel the need to share it.

When the Harvard Business School Class of 1963 was planning its 50 reunion, organizers asked class members to jot down advice they would pass along to future generations. The answers became a book and website by Arthur Buerk called If I Knew Then. The collection is filled with great advice from successful people (a two-term governor, a U.S. senator, and several CEOs and executives with Fortune 500 companies). It also caught my attention because I was born in 1963, back when the average price of home was $12,650 and these graduates would command an average starting salary of $9,500 a year (according to Bloomberg).

You can look up the mostly short, practical snippets of advice by author or by these topics: careers, marriage and family, business, leadership, wealth, growing older, charity and spirituality, happiness and success, turning points, and life’s lessons.


Here’s one on “marriage and family”: “Marriage is an 80-20 partnership, on both sides. If you each understand that, you always go out of your way to please your spouse. When both partners do that, you have a happy marriage. The greatest gift you can give your children is to love one another.” – Donald P. Nielsen

Or this one from the “happiness and success” chapter: “I think about all my blessings and keep an attitude of gratitude. Success is leaving this world better than when I arrived.” – Robert McNutt

Or how about this one from the “life’s lessons” chapter: “Have fun. You’ll be dead a long time.” – Anonymous (Who knew Anonymous was a Harvard grad?)

So here’s my revised first piece of advice to graduates of the Class of 2017 (high school, college or grad school): Go to the If I Knew Then website and spend at least an hour perusing these nuggets. Anonymous alone is worth the time and effort.

And what can I add to what these men and women had to say? Not much, perhaps, but I’ll try.

My suggestion to graduates, specifically to those who are followers of Jesus, starts with a simple but challenging idea: Own your faith. Whatever you believe, whatever you value, whatever shapes and defines your character, it won’t be real of meaningful unless you own it. You simply can’t get far on a faith that belongs to your parents, your peers, your co-workers, your teachers, or anyone else.

How do you own it? Here are a few tips:

Think Critically. Authors, teachers, pastors, professors, and the members of the Harvard Business School Class of 1963 all come at life with a worldview that shapes their agendas. When you read or hear messages, don’t embrace them on face value. We tend to look for things to confirm our biases and run from things that don’t (see Notre Dame’s recent graduation ceremony). We also tend to naturally believe those we see as “experts.” Be open-minded. If you test the messages you hear – those that sound great and those that don’t – you’ll end up owning what you believe and respecting the beliefs of others.

Test what you hear against what you know to be true, not just what the experts or science says is true (science is always changing its version of truth), but also on other factors, like what you see in the world around you. In my personal search, I began with the claim that the Bible is true. I looked at it critically and came to embrace that reality. Now I use the Bible as a filter for evaluating what others claim as truth.

Pray Fervently. You won’t find truth worth owning without some help, and the things of this world offer only the help of this world. Foundational truth begins in the spiritual realms, which makes it inherently mysterious. But those who ask God for revelation are promised a response. Knock and the door is opened. Seek and you will find. Ask and it will be given. Read through the Psalms and you’ll find example after example of the authors pleading with God for insight and revelation. They knew the value of the desperate pleas of God’s children.

Practice Luke 2:52 Discipleship. Jesus tells us to “go and make disciples,” and we don’t need to wait for some disciple to come along who will follow us. We can (and should) start with ourselves and then expand to others. Jesus grew in four key areas – wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with man. Growing in those four areas will strengthen the faith you own and prepare you to withstand the onslaughts that come against you.

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Beating the Odds to Vegas

Our Vegas Vacation

My wife and I aren’t gamblers; at least that’s what we thought before we went to Las Vegas. Turns out, we rolled the dice the moment we booked our flight.

Red Rock Canyon

It’s interesting, perhaps revealing, that when I told people about our trip, I immediately felt (and acted on) the urge to add a qualifying statement: “We’re going to Las Vegas … (pregnant pause) … but neither of us drink nor gamble.” Part of the reason I pointed out that we don’t drink or gamble was that I didn’t want people think I was going to Sin City for the purpose of … you know … sinning. It was my pride speaking, and, frankly, it was a lie to imply I never drink or gamble. But it was accurate to say those weren’t the reasons we were going to Las Vegas. We had a great deal on a condo for a week, and someone who lives there convinced us there was plenty to do that didn’t involve drinking or gambling.

So why do I say we rolled the dice? Because our biggest gamble of the trip came when we bet on a low-fare airline. Our original Sunday afternoon flight was cancelled, so we drove two hours the next day to catch a flight in Tulsa. It, too, was cancelled. So we were re-booked on a Tuesday flight and spent Monday night in a Tulsa hotel. On Tuesday, the inbound plane from Las Vegas arrived on schedule, but a maintenance crew nixed the return flight. This time, however, the airline sent a “rescue” plane (which took three hours to get to Tulsa). We finally arrived at our condo in Vegas late Tuesday night, roughly 55 hours behind schedule. (The airline gave us vouchers for future flight, which felt a little like paying for a bad rib eye and being told the next bad steak will be free.)

Hoover Dam

Despite the delays, we squeezed in everything we had planned – except for some of the “do nothing” time. We rescheduled a couple of shows, visited Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam, and even added in a visit to Casa de Shenandoah, the estate and mansion owned by singer Wayne Newton. We saw a mentalist, acrobats, a hologram of Michael Jackson, and Elvis (or at least a decent impersonation of the King). And, as a confession, I drank one beer and we combined to wager (and lose) $15 on Wheel of Fortune Slots and Video Poker (our contributions to help pay for the fountains at the Bellagio.)

We enjoyed the food and the shows and most of the natural scenery, but we won’t go back, and not because of the airline ordeal. There’s no way to avoid the glitz and the casinos, which, despite their bright lights and bells and whistles, are nothing short of depressing. As we walked through three different casinos en route to shows or restaurants, we literally saw hundreds of people playing the games. We saw one who looked like he was having a good time gambling, and we suspect the odds caught up with him later.

Click to buy Grow Like Jesus