You Don’t Have to Publish a Book to Be a Writer
I could fill a warehouse with the number of people who have told me “I would love to write, but I don’t know where to begin.” And so, they never publish a book.
Some people are in love with the idea of writing and visualize a life of leisure, sitting around typing out a few dozen book manuscripts and raking in the greenbacks (you can laugh now). Others have one story they feel the need to share, but they have no plans to pursue writing, and therefore, lack the drive to do what it takes to get published. However, many sincerely want to write but find writing a full-length book a daunting task. Or sadly, they finish their manuscript but are stonewalled by the thought of finding a publisher or self-publishing and then (gulp!) book marketing.
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My question is: Why do you have to begin with a book?
My first book was released last summer, but I’ve been publishing since 2005. Hundreds of my articles, devotions, and short stories have appeared in outlets published throughout the world. I would have been just as happy being a writer who never published a book. A podcaster asked me recently what advice I would give to new writers, and I said, “Start small.”
My top 8 reasons for publishing short pieces:
- Good practice. Surgeons don’t begin their careers by performing brain surgery. They start by stitching a cut finger. Why should we expect to become professional authors without putting in the time to learn our craft? Writing—any writing—helps us hone our skills. The more we write, the more we learn the rhythm of words, find our voice, and develop our own unique style. Writing short nonfiction may also provide opportunities to practice doing research, which forces us to get our facts straight—always a good thing.
- Market gauge. If you’re not sure your topic will appeal to a large enough audience, try short pieces first. Especially with nonfiction, they give you a chance to test the waters without wasting time on a book no one may be interested in publishing. Have patience and write about the subject from different slants and/or submit to different publications if you don’t get takers at first. But be realistic and know that because a theme is important to you, doesn’t mean the general public feels the same way. Sometimes, you may have to start small to check the viability of your topic in today’s market and be willing to abandon the idea if it’s not feasible for a book.
- More money. If you are bringing in big bucks on your books, I applaud you. But most of us won’t. While I don’t collect huge fees on my short stories and devotions, I do make money with very little outlay on my part (none, actually) as opposed to what many spend on publishing and marketing a book. A little income can add up to more significant income over time.
- Greater reach. Again, if your books garner a large following, I’m thrilled for you. However, many magazines outstrip typical book sales. The third article I ever wrote was published in a magazine with a circulation of 2.1 million. Why are numbers important? For the Christian writer, they present an opportunity to reach more people with the gospel. In addition, many of us champion a cause, whether addiction recovery or pro-life advocacy. We can reach scores of more people with one magazine article than we can with a book that may sell 250 copies or fewer.
- Motivation booster. Nothing spurs me to write the next piece more than seeing a previous one in print. And if readers contact me to say my words touched their hearts or inspired them to make a positive change—oh, my! Hand me the pen. I’m ready. That reinforcement also builds the courage to hit send when I move on to bigger writing projects.
- Enhanced credibility. By publishing short pieces, we build credibility with publishers as someone who writes well enough to catch the attention of editors. In the case of nonfiction writing, we can also develop a reputation as an expert by publishing multiple short pieces on a particular topic. That reputation helps us build a platform and works in our favor if we later publish a book on the same subject.
- Snooze management. I love being able to write a short piece, submit it, and move on to something else. It keeps my writing fresh—no getting bored or bogged down in a complicated plot or endless research on one topic. I can write a heavy article about apologetics in the morning and a lighthearted anthology story about my crazy dog in the afternoon. At times, switching gears like that has kept me sane.
- Zero marketing! My personal favorite and probably yours—I don’t have to feel like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman struggling to sell my book. Magazines, devotionals, and anthologies already have an audience. The editors pay us for our work, and we’re home free. Yes, I do post on social media when my piece appears in a publication, but I don’t have to. Woman’s World, for instance, is in newsstands and grocery stores across the country and sells 30 million copies a year. They don’t need my help.
I’m not saying a book isn’t in your future, but consider starting with short pieces as a step in that direction. If your end goal is publishing a memoir, start with a Chicken Soup for the Soul story. If you want to be a Christian author with a devotional book in your portfolio, submit to The Upper Room or another devotional magazine. If you have your eye on a novel, try sending a “5-Minute Romance” or “Solve-It-Yourself Mystery” to Woman’s World. I’ve had pieces in all these publications and learned something with every submission.
God may have created the world in six days, but He doesn’t expect us to accomplish everything in a week. As the angel told Zechariah when the returning Israelite exiles became discouraged about rebuilding the temple, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT).
Resolve to begin today by writing and submitting short stories, articles, or devotions. Each published piece will urge you on to greater achievements—maybe one day, even a book!
About the Author
Tracy Crump dispenses hope in her multi-award-winning book, Health, Healing, and Wholeness: Devotions of Hope in the Midst of Illness. Her writing has appeared in diverse publications, including Woman’s World, Focus on the Family, Ideals, The Upper Room, and Guideposts books. Best known for contributing 22 stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul books, her course on writing for the series is one of Serious Writer’s top sellers, and her popular newsletter includes story callouts. Tracy teaches writing workshops, proofreads for Farmers’ Almanac, and edits for private clients. Visit Tracy at TracyCrump.com or Write Life Workshops.