Moving Your Message Beyond the Walls of Your Church: Why Every Pastor Should Self-Publish a Book This Year

godvertiser —  2010/01/20 — 8 Comments

I have recently been mulling over a few concepts in order to publish a book over this next year and recently met Jeff through Twitter and blog. For many reasons, I believe self-publishing is a great option for those wishing to further their reach and influence. I asked Jeff if he could help introduce the concept of publishing a book to the pastors and ministry leaders who haven’t even considered it to begin with. Here’s his guest post — I’m interested in your thoughts regarding pastors publishing books…please read this post and then leave a comment below!


With the start of the new year, agents and publishers alike are being deluged with record numbers of query letters and book proposal packages. But while publishing dreams are at an all-time high, the cold, hard truth is that not everyone will make the cut into the ranks of the commercially published. But that’s no reason to give up hope, keeping your message under wraps.

The self-publishing model is nothing new. From Martin Luther to Joyce Meyer, writers of all stripes have stepped up to take matters into their own hands in sharing their work with the world. And with the current array of technology to help both produce and promote their books, aspiring novelists, business owners, and yes, pastors too, are increasingly seizing upon a quick, efficient, and cost-effective way to reach their target markets.

pastors-publish-book

While there’s no question that taking the traditional route over the self-publishing route garners an added level of prestige — no matter how imagined — the lines between approaches are increasingly blurred. In fact, there’s really only one core question separating the two: who fronts the money?

Here’s how it works: with the traditional model, the publisher, e.g. Thomas Nelson, commissions a team to have a book written, edited, designed, printed — and to some extent — marketed. The publisher pays an advance to the author on estimated future book sales, and in return, the publisher reaps 85-90% of the profit. And when you think about it, why shouldn’t they – it’s their investment!

In the self-publishing model, however, authors come up with their own funding for book production, promotion, and distribution, and as a result, stand to make 100% of the profit – depending on the company and services being utilized.

Granted, we’ve all seen material on the racks that we consider “not ready for primetime.” But that’s certainly a matter of opinion. With respect to your own work, you’re now empowered to make that call for yourself. If you believe in your message, and you invest the proper energy and resources to do it right, the self-publishing path can be a tremendously rewarding experience. And it’s especially true with pastors.

Here’s an introductory Q and A that may help you understand the process:

Is self-publishing expensive?
Not really. Any legitimate self-publishing service provider will offer reasonable rates for their services and expertise. In fact, we offer a special discount to pastors to help defray the costs.

Can pastors use existing sermons as source material for their books?
Absolutely. Many pastors are excellent orators, and we highly recommend playing to those strengths. We offer a transcription service to capture the message from a recorded sermon, which we then use to repurpose the content into book form.

Where is the best place to sell my book?
Congregations are often a great source of initial book sales. The book can also be used as an entryway to guest speaking engagements at other churches. Many large churches even have in-house bookstores that will carry a pastor’s book.

Bottom line: If you’re a pastor interested in spreading your message in 2010, self-publishing a book should be among the top methods on your list of considerations.

Have you ever thought about publishing a book? Leave a comment and share what you are thinking of doing next!


Jeff Smith is a writer and publishing professional with Smith Publishing & Communications in Colorado Springs. He can be reached via his company website at www.smithps.com or via email at jeff@smithps.com.

Todd Rutherford and Ryan Sheehan of Yorkshire Publishing (www.yorkshirepublishing.com) also contributed to this article.

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8 responses to Moving Your Message Beyond the Walls of Your Church: Why Every Pastor Should Self-Publish a Book This Year

  1. I thought it interesting to see this post mention Thomas Nelson as a traditional publisher, when it also happens to be a company that'd launched a self-publishing service called WestBow Press, too. See :
    http://michaelhyatt.com/2009/10/should-you-consid

    Now the question I've got is — what's a "reasonable rate" for a self-publishing service provider? I think I've seen some go for as little as $0 and some well over $3,000 for their fees.

  2. DJ, you mentioned what I believe is probably one of the biggest hurdles for 1st time authors to break through the inertia of writing and publishing a book. Thomas Nelson’s WestBow Press supposedly offers a $999 price level. LuLu and others are much cheaper, but perhaps include less services. ISBN numbers are cheap to acquire these days for $100-150 I believe – which is from my understanding one of the necessary things to get your books distributed, into Amazon.com, etc.

    I believe the big variable is the marketing part. Self-publishers have to do all the marketing (but also reap all the profit) and I’ve seen some of these self-publishing houses include various levels of marketing collateral production & support in their offerings. So the question is do you go bare minimum and figure out how to push your book yourself? Or do you risk paying more without knowing concretely if the extra “marketing dollars” you are paying in the upsell from the publishing house is really worth it…

  3. Thanks for the great comments to further the discussion.

    Indeed Thomas Nelson, a traditional publisher, recently launched a self-publishing arm. That’s precisely my point: “the lines between approaches are increasingly blurred.” When you start seeing traditional publishers getting into the self-publishing game, you know the industry is experiencing a seismic shift.

    In choosing a self-publishing service provider, just make sure you know what you are getting for your money. If you are the one funding the project, it’s only fair that you should keep all the profit from book sales. But make no mistake, books don’t always fly off the shelves. That puts the self-publisher in a tricky situation. In order to give your book the best hope of selling, it will require the proper services, which cost money. Still, there is no guarantee that you will succeed.

    You have to know what your goals are, know what the risks are, and proceed according. These same risks exist with traditional publishers, which is why they are so selective about their investments.

    As for “reasonable rates,” these, of course, come with a measure of subjectivity. In my opinion, a reasonable rate is a modest markup of services that allows me to make a profit and stay in business, while not taking advantage of the hopes and dreams of aspiring authors. Our pricing model reflects those standards.

    I certainly don’t claim to be the cheapest, but I can promise you that there is tremendous value in what we offer. Our team, with over 50 years of combined experience in the industry, has helped 1,000+ authors produce and promote their books effectively, including several New York Times bestsellers. Our quality, customer service, and depth of knowledge are second to none — we’re confident in what we do. At the same time, we are not for everyone. I would advise any person interested in self-publishing to do their homework to determine what they are getting for the price.

    And Kenny is right, the marketing and promotion component is crucial. Unless you are only interested in distributing your book to family and friends – which is often the case – you are responsible for selling your book. We offer custom outreach programs that target the top booksellers, TV/Radio shows, and book reviewers. But again, you have to determine what your budget allows and weigh that against your risk tolerance. That's the reality of the publishing business.

    We’re always happy to set up a free consultation to learn more about a writer’s goals in order to devise a custom plan to help meet them.

  4. Jeff, thanks for the response. For churches/pastors, my guess would be that the revenue/profitability would not be one of the first issues. Most pastors encouraged to publish probably would not start out thinking that it would become a consistent side income stream, although you are right, it could. The thought of "back of the room sales" whenever you are guest preaching/visiting just doesn't sit right for most people in ministry I would guess.

    Rather, I think if there were some solid examples of how publishing would help further a pastor's vision for his ministry, it would be helpful. Your original mention of publishing sermons is a great idea. Some others I can think of off the top of my head are compilation of sermons based on a specific theme (such as parenting), series (perhaps going through a specific book of the Bible), concerning specific characters (women of the Bible?), etc are initial thoughts. The church recipe cookbook is another great idea which has longevity, fund-raising capabilities and ability to have relevance/reach beyond the local church, especially if you are part of an ethnic-centric church and can pull together specific genres of recipes. Devotionals would be another great idea – pull together 30 short essays to guide people through Bible study and you have 1-month devotional book! If it is well received, you have found a repeatable format to pursue. In the end, somehow re-purposing all the great sermon content a pastor generates weekly would be a great place to start.

  5. Great ideas, Kenny.

    And you're right about the profit angle. Though it's important to note, any revenues generated by book sales don't have to end up in the author's pocket. They can certainly be sunk back into the church, used for charitable purposes, or reinvested to further share one's message.

    It should also be pointed out that revenue from book sales is often quite minimal — especially for a first offering while one is still building a platform. Like business leaders and other professionals, pastors often see the greatest value in self-publishing on the back end — reaching more people, sharing their messages, building a community.

    At a minimum, as you mentioned, repurposing sermon content is a great place to start.

  6. Hi Kenny…about the Q&A "Can pastor use existing sermons as source material"…maybe/maybe not, unless the pastor negotiated an extraordinary deal when called by the church. Usually, the pastor writes sermons while at work, or on payroll. This is called "works made for hire" in the intellectual property world….simply, it means the church owns the sermons. Pastor would ethically need to share copyright (and royalties) with the church.

  7. @BillSpinks – thanks for the input. I believe you are correct in that most works made under hire have the employer as the IP owner. But I would also venture to guess (and recommend) that the pastor fully disclose his/her plans to repurpose/publish the sermons. There are a couple of issues I can think of immediately:

    1) I would assume that a pastor who wants to pursue publishing of sermons preached at church has a positive and constructive relationship with that church currently. And transparency/disclosure/collaboration would not only be ideal, but that the pastor would fully engage in this manner.

    2) My guess would be that most church leadership and the pastor could come to a mutual agreement about financial considerations for this. In fact, the church may be willing to underwrite the upfront costs of self-publishing.

    3) The profits of self-publishing are typically so small that this is not an issue. Publishing sermons would typically be toward spreading the Word vs. financial profit.

    There are other issues on the table of course…thanks for the note/reminder on this issue! I'm sure many pastors would benefit from knowing about this.

    • Hi:

      Q–
      does anyone know if the pastor can lawfully advertise the book in church and retain all of the profits. Especially if it is a big church and the pastor starts to make a LOT of money from sales. Does the pastor have to give all profits back to the church?

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