How to write a great story

As a published author, I regularly get asked questions about how to get a book in print. Most people who ask this question don’t understand the challenges of writing for mass distribution. Many people have a book idea in their minds but nothing on paper and are just trying to understand how the literary industry works. Others however, already have something on paper and are trying to figure out how to get it into print.

When asked about publishing, I usually give the same piece of advice to aspiring authors- writing for print is hard work. It’s not something that should be taken lightly.  The most important piece of advice that I can give an aspiring author is to search their heart.  I ask authors to know what they’re trying to accomplish before they send off a manuscript.  The statistics say that unpublished authors are going to get their heart broke by publishers and the literary industry… repeatedly!  Only a solid purpose for writing will sustain an author through the repeated rejection and brutal criticism that all authors experience when trying to get a book into print.

After many such conversations, I’ve found that all authors write for one of two reasons.  Here they are:

Writing for “income”

If your only reason for writing is to make money – you’re in trouble! If this is your motivation for getting a book in print, you’re going to get your heart broke… And you will probably end up financially broke at the same time. Take an honest look at the literary industry and here’s what you’ll find; very few people will ever get a book in print. The vast majority of the authors who actually get a book published will make little or no profit from their work. They often say “writing is a labor of love” … Because you’re not going to make any money on it.

Self-published books are changing the literary industry. Anyone who’s willing to do the work to write a book and spend their own money to get it into print can use self-print service today. These agencies didn’t exist 20 years ago.  Don’t misunderstand me, I have no objection to self-published books. In fact, I think this is a good option for getting content to readers. However, with the proliferation of self-published books, the competition for making a profit became intense.

It was never easy to make money by writing a book in the first place but when self-published books started to crowd the market the ability to make a profit became even more challenging. Add to this dynamic, the rapid changes in the digital printing of e-books, and now the entire literary industry is in a fierce competition for every penny. Publishers struggle for profits against this fierce competition, even when releasing the next book from a well-respected, highly recognized author.  Here’s my advice to aspiring authors who have never tried to enter this fierce marketplace, you’d better keep your day job. If you’re writing to pay the bills, don’t be surprised when the bills are overdue!

Writing for “influence”

The best books “move” people.  Keep this piece of advice in mind – You don’t have to tell a great story in order to be a great author, but you must be able to tell the story well! Great authors are able to move you by the way that they tell their story. Telling stories well is about more than just trying to convey information. Just conveying facts and dates doesn’t inspire people, but when those facts and dates are put into a compelling story, people are impacted. The greatest writers in history are the men and women who tried to influence others through the written word.

Because it’s highly likely that your book will never make a profit, perhaps you should write for a better reason. Write a book that will change someone’s life!  When you write for this reason, your words start to develop clarity and become compelling.  Writing to change lives does two things for the author:

Writing better stories

A burning desire to influence others is the motivation for some of the greatest books in human history. When an author decides to write for influence rather than income, they select stories that matter. Because the book is no longer written to sell copies, the author is free to write about what really matters rather than what will “sell”.

I’ll say it again, writing is hard work! Why would anyone go through the hard work of getting a book into print if it is never going to make a difference in someone’s life? Don’t write the kind of work that is utterly forgettable after somebody finishes your book… Write a book that will leave a lasting impression on somebody. Writing for influence always causes an author to write better stories.

Writing stories better

Writing for influence also causes an author to write stories better. Writing is often fun for an author, but writing a compelling story is hard work at the same time. In fact, many great authors will tell you they’ve spent their entire life pursuing the “perfect sentence”.

In human history, nothing has moved people more than the spoken or written word. Great authors are artists. They craft the written word into masterpieces in the same way that a painter uses oil and on canvas. They labor over verbs and adjectives like a musician does over a score or movie director over a scene. The written word can move people like the next great blockbuster movie or a masterpiece painted on canvas in a museum. These masterpieces cause people to leave the theaters or museum deeply impacted by what they’ve seen.  The same is true with the written word. That’s why I believe the single most important piece of advice I can give an aspiring author is to write for the purposes of influencing people. Your book just might change someone’s life.

Now it’s time for me to let you in on a secret about my books- every one of my books were written to move people toward Jesus. I wrestled for a long time with the idea of writing books in the first place. When I finally overcame my objections for writing, I set about to put something into print that would change a person’s life. In my opinion the greatest story that anyone will ever hear is the Gospel story. Therefore, all of my books, even my fiction works, are written for the purposes of telling a story that would point toward the Gospel.  With the help of some amazing co-authors, I also tried to tell the story well.  When Fallen Angel received the Carol Award for the Best Suspense/Thriller category I was very proud of the work that Alton Gansky and I put into this book. This award meant a great deal to me… But not nearly as much as the letters I received from people who read the book and were deeply impacted by it. I would rather receive one letter from someone whose life was transformed by the Gospel because of my book than all the income that comes from writing a “New York Times Bestseller”, or the recognition and awards that go along the it.

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