The Hidden Danger of Business for Creative Workers


“I just want to create things. I’ll let someone else handle the business and marketing side of things.” I hear this all of the time. I thought the same thing for a very, very long time.

That mindset may have been the most damaging mistake for my creative work. It laid a foundation for a myriad of other mistakes, resulting in hours and hours of work for books that suffered from my ignorance. Had I actually understood the business of publishing, how the industry has evolved, and where I fit into it (the hardest piece to sort out), I could have invested significantly more time in projects that would have been both creatively fulfilling and financially sustainable.

I’m not alone with my mistakes when it comes to the business side of creative work. I’ve seen friends literally lose control of their books because an inexperienced agent made a bad publishing deal with a new publisher who went out of business right after the book released. I’ve seen colleagues get more of less dropped by their publishers before or during their book releases, with publicists offer very vague, limited support.

Other professional writers and bloggers have suffered from SEO changes that hurt their websites or social media shifts, such as changes to Facebook’s author pages, that sent their click-throughs and ad revenue diving.

There are so many things that I wish I had done differently 5-6 years ago that could have helped myself immensely today. That isn’t to say that I wish I had given myself over completely to the business side of the publishing and writing industries. Rather, I wish I at least knew what I was missing and had been more intentional about the direction of my creative career.

Creative workers can mistakenly think that ignorance of business is a virtue that makes their work pure. 

Ignorance of the business end of creative work is by no means a virtue. It may actually hold your work back, deprive you of opportunities, and even prevent you from being generous with your work. For instance, some publishers make it very difficult to share a high quality eBook with potential readers and reviewers. You would think publishers understand the value of putting books in the hands of reviewers who can help improve your ranking on Amazon by putting your book over the 50-review threshold. However, there are many, many cases of employees at publishers shipping PDF’s of the book’s print file to reviewers, which appear as a mangled garble of words and punctuation in most eReaders.

The more you know about business and marketing going into creative work, the better off you’ll be in choosing the direction that is most sustainable and consistent with your values. I have taken one self-directed crash course after another in the publishing business and marketing. I’ve made enough mistakes over the years that I’ve been very motivated to sign up for industry publications and blogs such as Digital Book World, Jane Friedman’s blog, Writers Digest, Joanna Penn’s podcast, and many more. I’ve read books about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and how independent authors make it work. I’ve read about the marketing strategies and tactics that are available.

None of this has taken away from my creative vision. I’m not changing my plans dramatically. Rather, I’m learning where my creative work can overlap with the strategies that work best today.

Here’s the ironic part of this shift: the more I understand the publishing business and where I fit into it, the more I’ve been able to invest in the kind of work that I love. Back when I was completely ignorant of the publishing industry, I wasted so much time on social media, chasing influential people, and more or less wringing my hands about the things that didn’t work out.

With a better picture in my mind of what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve invested in tools that make my work time more efficient so I can focus on my creative projects and the freelancing that will help pay the bills.

Understanding the business side of my creative work means I can choose what to ignore and compensate for the gaps that creates. For my independent books I spend very little time courting endorsements or reviews on top blogs. Rather, I focus on sharing guest posts and give out the books liberally to all who will read and review them. It runs against some of the industry advice, but it feels like a good path for my work. It’s a choice that I’ve made with full awareness of my options.

These are the decisions that no one else could make for me. I couldn’t just “trust” the experts to tell me what to do. The experts can tell you what has worked for them and for other people, but they can’t tell you how to chart your creative career.

Most importantly, if you don’t set your own course with the backing of research and self-knowledge, you could end up running from half-baked ideas to half-hearted projects over and over again. It’s far better to spend time focusing on what you need to do and then jumping in with both feet and playing the long game. It’s a risk and you’ll certainly need to make adjustments along the way. However, it’s far better to give yourself to a particular plan in order to know with a fair amount of certainty that it doesn’t work than to dabble in three different directions without a clue about what would actually work if you give yourself fully to one of them. 

There’s a danger for creative workers when it comes to the business side of their work, but the danger in most cases is ignorance of business, rather than selling out. I only have my own network to go on, but I think the number of sell outs to business are far fewer than those who flounder because of ignorance of the business side of their work.

Authenticity and integrity do not demand ignorance of business.

If you value integrity and your creative vision, there’s no harm in learning about the business side of your creative work. Dig in and sort out which advice rings true and which doesn’t. Take a look at how you fit into your industry and how your creative work can either reach more people with this knowledge.

If any particular practice in your creative industry strikes you as troubling or unsustainable, no one will blame you for avoiding it. It’s better to see the opportunities and obstacles with clarity than to avoid them both in ignorance.



I’m Offering a Big Discount for Book Proposal Evaluations This Winter

book proposal editing penAt the start of 2005 I had just finished seminary and had a long, rambling paper from an independent study that I wanted to publish. I had no idea what I was doing, so I started asking around at my seminary, and my professor put me in touch with an editor. The editor sent me a book proposal template, I filled it out, hit send, and waited.

I waited, and waited, and waited.

Finally, he replied with a firm “No.” His message made two things clear:

This was not a good book idea.

I wasn’t the guy to write it even if it was.

Crestfallen, I tried to redeem myself by contacting two other publishers. I once again filled out my book proposal according to their guidelines, and they also rejected me. I’m sure I still have the emails buried in my GMail account, but I’m afraid to look.

I finally signed on with an agent who overhauled my proposal several times before we pitched the book again.

The idea was still basically the same.

I was still the same guy, albeit with a blog.

As if my agent had accomplished something magical, NavPress signed me to a contract to write what later became Coffeehouse Theology. It’s no mistake that my book was only accepted after I received professional help.

Why Are Book Proposals So Hard to Write?

Nonfiction book proposals require a unique blend of creative writing and marketing know-how. You have to pitch a winning idea, demonstrate that people want to read it, list ways you can reach those people, prove you have the credentials to write it, and convince an editor that they’re the right publisher for this book.

Over the years I’ve pitched a variety of nonfiction book projects to many publishers, and while it hasn’t necessarily become easier, I have a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t work. In 2013 alone I signed three book contracts based on my proposals.

Along the way, I routinely overhauled my proposals and refined the message of each unique section. I’ve also consulted with a number of aspiring authors on their proposals, and many of them have since been published.

A Special Offer for You…

This winter, I’m offering 10 nonfiction book proposal critiques for $200 each, a $100 savings from my regular price of $300 per critique. I’ll also throw in a copy of my book A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book to help you refine your proposal along the way.

I’ll offer the critiques on a first-come, first-served basis, aiming to work on 2-3 proposals a week, with the last day of March as my end date.


If you’re interested in signing up or if you have questions, email me at edcyzewski (at)

What I’ll Do for Your Nonfiction Book Proposal

Nonfiction book proposals can be divided into two basic sections: the marketing information (book summary, audience, promise for readers, competing works, publicity, etc.) and the book content (chapter list and 2-3 sample chapters).

I’ll read through your proposal from the perspective of a potential editor. I’ve worked with and spoken to enough editors that I have a clear idea of how most publishers approach book proposals. I’ll suggest revisions, offer ideas, and do everything I can to point you in the right direction for your project.

While I can’t guarantee that an agent will take you on as a client or that an editor will accept it, a professional critique will increase your chances of acceptance exponentially. I can’t think of a single author I know who has sold a book proposal without some kind of professional help.

I’m not saying you can’t write a proposal on your own. There are some great books out there that will walk you through it. However, if it’s your goal to publish a book, a personal evaluation of your project will give you specific, concrete ideas that you can work on today and help you spot problems in your proposal before an editor emails you about them.

Questions? Email me at edcyzewski (at)


Why Now?

I’ve been using book proposal critiques over the years to barter for marketing or design services, as well as to simply help out friends. This winter I have a chance to buy back some study guides for Coffeehouse Theology from my publisher before they go out of print. I put a lot of work into these study guides, and I believe they can still help readers think about what they believe and where their beliefs come from.

This book proposal experiment will help me buy and ship the study guides, saving them from getting pulped. So if you love books, your money is going toward a worthy cause!

What to Do When You Don’t Have Time to Write

stop-watch-timeDo you frequently lament how busy you are?

Do you fret over how little you can accomplish each day?

I’ve been there, and I’m going to walk you through the way I’ve been processing these questions.

If you don’t have enough time to accomplish all of the writing projects on your list, there are really only two options available. However, before I spell them out, I’d like to suggest what ISN’T an option:

Feeling Guilty

A few months ago I reviewed where I was emotionally, and I realized that I felt guilty and miserable at the end of every single work day. This led to some hard questions: “If I love to write, why do I always feel terrible at the end of the day?”

The answer had a lot to do with my expectations and how I spent my time. Writing wasn’t the problem. The act of writing felt like my ideal calling. My problems came when I looked back at my day.

If I was going to write for the long term, I needed to find a way around this guilt that had been tainting my career.

Improving Your Efficiency

While you can probably quit social media and improve your efficiency or use a tool like Freedom to stay offline in order to make your writing time more productive, there’s a chance that you’ll burn yourself out trying to work faster.

While improving your productivity can give you a boost to finish a project, much like finishing a race with a sprint, you can’t sprint every day for every week. That’s how you burn out. Quite simply, if you can’t find time to work on a book project in the first place, you won’t make things better by becoming “more efficient.”

Sacrificing Family and Personal Time

I’ve read books by successful writers and business leaders, and they often talk about putting in the extra hours to make a project happen. Once again, that works for a short burst of time, but you and your family will suffer over time. This is not sustainable for the long term.

What You Can Do When You Don’t Have Time to Write

Still feeling stuck? Maybe a little desperate? OK, here are your two options if you don’t have enough time to write:

Turn Unnecessary Leisure Time Into Writing Time

While we all need some time to exercise, relax, and hang out with friends and family, I’ll bet that we all have unnecessary leisure time that we don’t need. In order to turn that leisure time into writing time, we may have to make some radical sacrifices—or at least, these sacrifices will seem radical at first but I honestly believe they won’t feel like sacrifices in retrospect.

In my own case, I generally only watch hockey when doing the dishes or folding laundry. I rarely sit down and watch a hockey game. If I’ve spent time with my wife, set up my work schedule for the following day, and caught up on my house work, I go to bed as early as possible so that I can wake up at 5 am to write. That means I watch a lot less TV than in the past, I never play games on my computer or tablet, and I never listen to the news.

Where you make cuts will depend on your own priorities, however, if writing really is important and you feel like there’s an unfulfilled longing in your life, look over all of the different television shows you watch or the games you play and ask what function they provide in your life. While you can hang on to some of them, I’ll bet that writing for an hour or two each day instead will make you feel a lot better.

Cut Your List of Writing Projects

There are no easy solutions here if you don’t have enough time to write. While we live on a tight budget and I’m stingy with my time, I’m aware that sometimes I simply can’t find enough time to accomplish everything that I want to do.

There are seasons in life when it’s completely appropriate to make some cuts. If the alternative is feeling guilty and unfulfilled every day, I think you’ll agree that resetting our personal expectations will feel much better as an alternative!

Before we had a baby, I used to spend about half of my time working on book projects and the other half on paying client work, but I also had some fiction side projects that I really enjoyed. I even attended writing groups where they knew very little about my nonfiction work. To them I was more of an aspiring novelist!

When the baby arrived, the fiction had to go onto the back burner, and I had to cut back my work for books and clients. I can usually accomplish 5 things in a given day when I’m juggling a baby, provided I can wake up early, my wife gives me a two hour break, and my son takes a decent nap. Without any of those conditions, my to-do list goes down in flames.

I’ve been learning the hard way that it’s OK to fall short each day. I can’t always knock everything off my to do list. If I can accomplish 70-90% of my projects, that’s still a passing average, and it’s something I can celebrate.

In Conclusion: Be Kind to Yourself

I’ll bet that most writers need to mix some cuts in their leisure time with more realistic to do lists. Each day is a little different than the one before it, so standards can be tough to set, especially when you’re freelancing from home.

Wherever you find yourself, the best advice I can give you as a full or part time writer is to be kind to yourself. Celebrate each small victory, and don’t be afraid to end your day with a cup of tea on the couch or a beer on the porch.

No matter how much you accomplish, there will always be more to do. That’s both what keeps us going each day and what can burn us out. Work hard today and celebrate. No one else will celebrate for you.

Want to Dig Into This Topic Further?

If this post speaks to where you’re at, this topic and many others will be part of what myself and long time freelancer Kristin Tennant will cover at the Renew and Refine Retreat for Writers on May 24-26 in Watervliet, MI.

Learn more or register today at

Book Deal Fail: Lessons in Publishing Every Writer Needs to Know

I think would-be authors spend so much time working on their masterpieces that they may well be blind-sided when their book deals fall apart. It can happen to every author and aspiring author.

This past summer a book deal of mine fell to pieces in grand fashion over the course of a week. It was quite difficult, but at the same time I think matters ended on pretty good terms for all parties involved.

The planets had aligned perfectly for the deal to fail. So it goes.

Here are a few lessons to save in your bookmark folder so that you’re prepared should this ever happen to you:

Book Deals Can Fail, and It’s OK

Your career can survive and you can end the deal on good terms with your publisher. Really, I mean it. It can be a bit embarrassing to admit that your deal fell apart, but you can survive it. If you’re approaching your career wisely, you’ll already have another project or two in mind that you can jump into.

Give Yourself Time to Process

I needed about three days to process my situation before I felt able to have a constructive conversation and make a good decision. Expect to be angry and a bit low. It will pass, and in fact, it has to pass. You have books to write!

Seek Advice

In my own case I consulted my agent and several other agents at her firm. They helped me sort through my options and the appropriate responses. Every e-mail I sent to the publisher was filtered through them first. In addition, there were other authors and publishing professionals who offered me some good advice and even did some helpful research on my behalf.

Know Your Publisher’s Interests and Trends

If a publisher wants to terminate your book deal, take some time to look at it from the publisher’s perspective and examine the publisher’s concerns and goals. Perhaps you and your book aren’t a good fit with this publisher for the coming years anyway.

Prepare a Plan B, C, and D

Your book project does not have to die with this contract. Spring into action and seek out other publishers and if not another major publishing house, look into smaller press, ebook, and self-publishing options. The technology and marketing tools are out there for many authors to sell quite a few books on their own.

Even if your book never sees the light of day, you can always cannibalize chapters for submission to magazines that may provide a larger audience of readers and a comparable amount of money in the long run. Perhaps you can also steal a few chapters and stories to write your next book, which you should have already been working on anyway.

End On Good Terms

Life is too short to play the blame game. Publishing is a really tough business and sometimes book deals fall apart. Maybe it was your fault and maybe it wasn’t.

You gain nothing by burning your bridges with your former publisher, and you also never know how well connected they may be in the larger publishing world. Even if you lost the deal, you can still hold your head up high by moving on and resolving to make the next deal work.

Selecting Influencers for a Book Release: The Solution

Wrapping up my 3-part series on selecting influencers for a book release…

The goal of an influencer mailing for a newly published book is to put your book into the hands of folks with trusted names, contact with a large audience, and a willingness or ability to endorse your book. Missing any of these three things will mean your book either ends up on someone’s shelf or at least doesn’t reach a wide group of potential readers.

The solution is to carefully balance the kinds of influencers you contact. It is rare to find an influencer who meets all three criteria perfectly. Nevertheless, it’s worth sending copies to well-known influencers in the media or in your field, especially if you’ve had contact with them in the past.

Let’s say you send out 5-15 of your 50 influencer copies to folks in this camp. Maybe they won’t have the time to take a look at your book, but should they endorse it, you’ll have a chance to reach a broader audience. It may be worth taking a chance on some radio personalities, especially if their shows connect with your potential readers.

The next 20-30 copies should go to those who have a solid following or niche that trusts them and will be willing to interact with your work. There are a lot of very good blogs and podcasts out there with readers and listeners who may very well give your book a shot. In fact, because these are highly interactive networks with a higher trust factor than perhaps those with a bigger name, the potential readers in these networks may be more willing to buy your book.

I think this segment is easy to overlook because their reach may be in the hundreds or low thousands. However, keep in mind that these influencers will be easier to contact, more likely to interact with you, and have a lot more to gain if you can provide content for their blogs/podcasts as opposed to a major media player with lots of options for their shows. In addition, providing these bloggers and podcasters with a free book or two to give away always helps.

Lastly, never underestimate those the power of those with small audiences who are still very trusted and willing to endorse your book. Be sure to set aside about 10-15 copies for this group. With Twitter and Facebook even the smallest blogs can easily plug a book among hundreds of people. If you can provide an influencer who is passionate about your book with some great interviews, excerpts, and a free copy to review, your book may receive a lot more attention than a brief endorsement from a well-known influencer.

At the end of the day, it’s most important that authors connect with influencers who are passionate about their work and willing to talk about it. If you can put a free copy of your book into the hands of someone willing to talk about it, you’ve done the most important part of an influencer mailing.

Nevertheless, your work is not done. Authors need to make themselves available to help each influencer talk about their work, supporting them, and driving traffic to their web sites. Book publicity is always a two-way street. There is no room for the entitled author.


How to Write a First Draft of a Book

Writing a book is a long, drawn-out process. It’s hard to say when you’re “done” other than that moment when the book arrives in your mail box and sits on your coffee table like a long lost friend. Nevertheless, along the way there are certain mile stones to aim for and to celebrate.

Yesterday I wrapped up the first draft of my next book Saving Evangelicals from Themselves. The first draft often entails the lion’s share of the book writing process. There is research, brainstorming, organizing, stream of consciousness writing, editing, reorganizing, more writing, and more editing and polishing.

By 5 PM yesterday I had my draft completely finished and ready for the publisher. It even came close to the 60,000 word count with a total of 61,610 words. I’d like to share a little bit about the process of writing a first draft of a book. I hope this helps as you plunge into your own projects.

Read… A Lot

You don’t need to quote directly from every book or cite everything, but read, skim, or browse as many books as you can in your topic area. You want to communicate your own ideas in fresh ways, while giving credit where it is due.


Set up Google Alerts for your subject areas, read and tag articles using, dig through surveys, and look up articles in key papers and magazines such as Time, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and any other magazine closely related to your topic. For myself I keep a close eye on Christianity Today.

Organize and Outline

You need to know where your book is going, and so a rough outline is necessary. Don’t be afraid to delete, add, or reorder chapters as you set out. Better now than later. Set up a rough idea of each chapter’s trajectory.

Write, Write, Write

I like to just cut loose and write a ton once I have some research and outlines to provide general guidance. I end up scrapping at least 25-35% of what I write, but the core that remains is generally pretty solid. Let your mind wander, write about things you care about, and think deeply about your topic. Always keep in mind your one-two sentence summary of your book from your proposal (you did put together a proposal first, right? If not, do that NOW!)

Fill In Gaps

After you have a good chunk of material together, you need to fill in the gaps with more research, quotes, and stories. Try to get a sense of the flow of your chapter. Are you on target? Can readers follow with you? Are they still interested? Have you backed up your claims? This is the time to ask hard questions and to be critical of your work. I have a scrap folder for each book with a document that matches each chapter. Many scrap documents have at least 7 pages of material in them. That means you need to keep adding content to your chapters, making sure you’ve sharpened your points.

Seek Opinions

When you’re relatively confident you have a solid chunk of chapter, seek out a friend or two to read it. Ask them to point out places where stories don’t work, ideas need to be developed, or the whole thing falls off course. I recommend at least two different readers since people can be very different in how they read something.

Never Stop Researching

Hopefully you’ve been keeping up on your field while you’re doing the heavy part of the writing. By saving key stories and articles on I have saved myself on several occasions. You never know when a crucial piece of information will surface.

The Critical Read-Through

Keeping in mind your book’s focus, reader-benefits, and goals, read through each chapter with a critical eye to anything that doesn’t fit, discredits you as a writer, loses your readers, or doesn’t sound quite right. Kill adverbs without mercy, tighten up sentence structure, delete a lot, insert strong verbs, and make sure you begin and end with bang.

Hit Send, Tell a Friend, and Buy Yourself a Treat

It’s a wonderful feeling to hit the send button when you’re done with a key phase of a book project. Celebrate the moment, treat yourself to something you enjoy, and share the joy of the moment with your friends. Chances are you won’t be celebrating when your editor writes back in two months with the revisions you need to make… 😉

Lessons from the Past Six Months on Writing

By the time Coffeehouse Theology was released in September 2008, I was well on my way with my next book project—writing stories, searching for articles, and testing out ideas. I had one foot in marketing and the other in a new project on evangelicals: Saving Evangelicals from Themselves: Where We’ve Gone Wrong and Why We Have Hope. Without the head start seminary afforded on Coffeehouse Theology, I learned a few lessons in the course of writing a first draft for a book completely from scratch.

Using to not only tag and organize links, but to also set aside material worthy of a quotation made the research process much easier. At first I just tagged everything that looked relevant, but soon I realized that it helps to read the articles first rather than assuming I’d read them later. I rarely did that! So I read through, highlighted the section I wanted to quote, and then tagged them. By highlighting a section, I could then find it on my bookmarks without have to reread the whole article.

Small sticky notes make it much easier to find quotations from books. I had a system of using small sticky notes as tabs sticking out of books. I’d typically stick the note to the page, make a bracket around the relevant text, and then jot a few words connecting the quote with a particular chapter. I later found that many of my quotes didn’t fit, but without taking the time to mark everything that seemed important, I doubt I would have been able to find enough helpful quotations to pull from the many books I read.

Lining up readers for your drafts is absolutely essential. I received invaluable advice from my readers who soldiered through my early drafts. One chapter needed to be deleted, while another began with too much intensity. In both cases my readers helped prompt significant changes to my book that I believe will make it more successful.

Writing down many of my stories and anecdotes months before I began seriously working on the chapters helped me sort through the most important topics to be covered in the book. This book could have taken a couple of different directions, but I wanted it to unfold as organically as possible, letting my stories direct and shape the overall direction and point of the book. By starting with a solid core of stories totaling 30,000 words, I quickly ruled out certain chapters that would not have enough substance to work within the parameters I had established for the book.

Anything written can be deleted. I have found that I am continually amazed at what ends up working and what ends up being tossing into the “scraps” folder. Never tire of using the delete button.