Having just returned from the Florida Christian Writer’s conference, I’m primed to blog about a topic that comes up again and again as I meet with aspiring writers. Many people go through extraordinary adversity and, understandably, want to write about how they came through it. But, sorry to say, these “personal experience” book proposals almost never find a home with publishers. The reason is, of course, that few people buy such books. I often ask the writer of such a book proposal how many books of this type did he or she read when undergoing their own trial. Usually they will admit to having read “none.” And yet they seem to think if they write a book, others will want to read it. That’s nice in theory, but it just doesn’t seem to work that way.

There are some exceptions, of course. An example is Kent Whitaker’s Murder by Family. I had to reject it, but it went to be successfully published by Howard Books.

Despite the difficulties, some writers are determined to write their story anyway. That being the case, here are a few hints for writers of all types of books, but especially those who are determined to write about a specific experience (usually bad, but not always) they went through.

1. Make sure your writing is absolutely stellar. Excellent writing will cause your book to appeal to a wider audience.

2. Plan your promotional efforts. Perhaps even more than other non-fiction authors, you will need to convince a publisher that you can generate sales through speaking engagements and/or other venues.

3. Consider aiming your book at the reading population at large, not just the smaller Christian audience. Secular publishers have taken note at how well books with Christian content sell, so while you may have to tone your message down a tad, you can certainly still weave it into your book.

4. Rather than seeking a large publishing company, you may want to consider a smaller company that isn’t as dependent on mass sales as are larger publishers. One of my favorite proposals that I had to reject went on to be published successfully at another house. It deals with the author’s father and his sometimes humorous and always poignant experience with Alzheimer’s. I love The Hedge People by Louise Carey and wish it could reach a large audience.

5. Don’t rule out self-publishing. If you believe in your story and are determined to see it published, you might save yourself a lot of time by simply going straight to a company like Winepress. They do a great job. And, if your self-published book sells well, a larger company may eventually offer to pick it up. At Harvest House we occasionally publish a self-published book that has done well.

Akin to personal experience books is the memoir or autobiography genre. I’ll blog about that next time. Stay tuned.

8 replies
  1. Kathy Pride says:

    This is a great post, and so, so true.

    I also had a personal experience story, and was fortunate enough to get it published with a smaller Christian Publisher. My book dealt with substance abuse issues and was written in a devotional format for hurting parents to extend a hand of hope and healing.

    I believe a couple things that worked in my favor were that there were other books dealing with the same topic, but none that also included the voice of the struggling teen. And I also had some strong endorsements, but despite that, sales were not great. But I didn’t give up, and if you have a story to share, follow Nick’s advice and don’t give up either; there are many different approaches and ways to share your message, which, after all, is what you seek to do.

    I think we all somehow believe we will be different; I guess that is the dream! But we can always learn more, and this is a great place to be to do just that.

    And Nick is a great encourager. Thanks for all you do.

  2. Cynthia Cabo Sellers says:

    Thanks so much for your informative post and for meeting with me at the FL Christian Writer’s Conference. My experience at the conference was a case in point. A first time conferee presenting my proposal of a personal experience story directed at “spiritual growth through loss”. Fortunately I knew beforehand that the hope of finding someone willing to publish it immediately was an unrealistic expectation. What I could not have imagined was how valuable a learning experience the conference could be for a novice!

    I discovered a wonderful spirit of comradery among Christian writers and the relationships gained were worth the trip. The wisdom imparted by the keynote speakers, continuing class and elective workshop leaders, as well as freelance authors and editors was a treasure. They all emphasized there are no overnight sucesses in Christian writing — everyone has to do the hard work of establishing themselves as a writer and it takes much time.

    This conference has given me the tools with which to do just that — create a plan for establishing myself as a voice within the Christian writing community. Returning home I have taken the following actions in response to what I learned:

    1. Because it is my passion to write non fiction books which encourage the reader to dig deeper for understanding into the Word of God and discover its application to all areas of the Christian life, I must be willing to qualify as a “speaker” as well as a “writer”. Consequently, I have registered to attend a CLASS Seminar next month in SC at the recommendation of Linda Gilden. I will seek out opportunities to speak to local chapters of “Stephen Ministries” and “Grief Share”. Already I have been encouraged to talk to the “Visually Impaired Persons” group in my community and been asked to serve on their Board of Directors.

    2. I’ve contacted Moody Bible Institute to take steps to gain “certification” in a Biblical Studies Program.

    3. I now realize it is easier for a first time writer to have an “article” published than a “book”. I plan to write a few articles and submit them for publication to build my exposure before writing another book.

    4. Another item, one of the greatest challenges for me, will be to prepare a website, learn how to blog, and all those other things connected with modern technology — I hate that stuff! But, I’ve learned I will simply have to get with the program, if I want to be a writer!

    5. Lastly, the conference afforded me information concerning the “options” for publication, i.e. “self-publishing”, “co-publishing”, the “traditional publishing house”, or the possibility of using the services of a “literary agent”.

    What an equipping experience! I can’t help but be reminded of Ephesians 4:12, “…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”

    Thanks to you, Nick, and to everyone who made the Florida Christian Wirter’s Conference a blessed time for this newcomer.

  3. clella camp says:

    Nick, I too want to thank you for meeting with me at the conference and appreciate your response to all of my questions. Cynthia has certainly made a worth while plan also. My plan is to write the proposal you suggested in the next two months and then submit it to Harvest House. It is also my plan to search out more platform for this type of book.
    Thanks again for meeting with me. I was blessed by the conference as always. Blessings Clella Camp

  4. Shirley Corder says:

    Nick, I also want to thank you for your suggestions at the conference. I will submit the proposals as you suggested but have already taken steps to increase my speaking platform. I am also going through my ideas to see how I can improve their wider appeal.

    Thank you for your encouragement,

    Shirley Corder (South Africa)

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