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.



An Invitation to Spy on My Bookshelves

I have the honor of contributing to the guest series “Other People’s Bookshelves” over at Anne Bogel’s blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne is a talented writer who manages to read a ton of books, which she shares in her epic Summer Reading Guides each year, and who wrote one of the must-read books on time management, productivity and creativity.

In this post I share the books that are most important to me, what we read for fun, and why I used to hide my theology books.

Check out my bookshelves at Anne’s blog.


A Special Offer for E-Newsletter Subscribers

Path to Publishing Nonfiction Book

Update: E-Newsletter subscribers now receive my eBook Become a Better Faith Blogger as one of their two free eBook downloads. But don’t worry, A Path to Publishing is only $2.99!

I continue to hear from writers who have landed book deals that my book A Path to Publishing has been incredibly helpful for them as they sorted out the nonfiction book publishing process. One very talented writer even wrote, “This would not have happened without you!”

I don’t know about that, but I do know that publishing is a tough business where you need a lot of advice and a ton more planning if you’re going to succeed. If you’re thinking about publishing a nonfiction book, you’ll want to check out A Path to Publishing and learn more about how it can help you.

I also provide a monthly e-newsletter with updates, free E-books, writing tips, and my favorite writing and productivity links.

I’ve already been offering e-newsletter subscribers a free E-book download of my book Divided We Unite: Practical Christian Unity and the introduction of A Path to Publishing. However, I decided it’s time to help new writers a bit more.

I am now offering the first half of A Path to Publishing as an additional free E-book download to E-newsletter subscribers. Just sign up in the right column, and your “Thank You E-mail” will send you links to both E-books.

Around the middle of each month I’ll send out my e-newsletter with links, tips, book discounts, and exclusive updates about my latest projects. If you want to learn a bit more about my previous book projects, check out my page with everything you could ever want to know.

Thanks for stopping by!

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.

Writing a Nonfiction Chapter: Integrating Research

By now you should have some solid fragments of writing, a loosely organized outline, and some gaps that have been filled in. The next step is integrating quotes and sources into your writing.

Over the six-month to a year process of writing, you should be reading articles, listening to conferences, reading books, and gathering the information together under chapter categories. Sometimes you’re just expanding your knowledge, which is necessary for writing a book, but in other cases you’re accumulating quotes and key points of research that will back up your writing.

While reading books I tend to use small sticky notes to flag particular pages, writing on the notes where I imagine the quote fitting into the chapter. This can save a tremendous amount of time flipping through each book in search of quotes. In the case of online material, I heavily rely on, an online bookmarking service that allows you to tag web pages in particular categories, as well as saving chunks of text you’d like to quote. When you have an idea of where your chapter is going, these sticky note tabs and online bookmarks will help fill in your chapter.

Of course there will be time in the course of writing when you’ll simply need to look up a fact or do a bit of research, but when working my way through a pile of sources, I tend to either drop them all at the end of the chapter, or to sort them according to the outline. It all depends on how many I have. At this point you’ll also want to create a scrap file for each chapter, a place to dump stories and quotes that don’t quite fit, but may not warrant deletion.

At this point your chapter should be stronger, with quotes and citations adding an additional punch to your anecdotes and main points. You should take note of your weak points, continue to seek out helpful sources, and make sure your outline maintains a logical flow.

For some additional insight, see Don Miller’s post about writing a book.

Posts in this series:

  1. Start writing what you know.
  2. Brainstorm ideas for the rest of the chapter into a draft outline.
  3. Continue writing based on this outline
  4. Integrate quotes and research into the chapter
  5. Read through the chapter to sharpen the outline and fill in gaps.
  6. Revise your chapter draft.