As some of you know, Gidon and I have authored a couple of books. That along with our position in Root Source causes us to engage with authors and prospective authors from time-to-time. Here are a few perspectives that I have on that process, both old and….
…so very new that it spurred me on to write on this topic today.
What is the new insight? I finally saw something in a Torah portion that answered a big “why” question for me: Why do so many authors see so little success in their books?
Here’s the good news: You have not jumped into another one of those self-help, learn-from-the-leaders, anecdotal-love-fest, jump-on-the-success-train articles of how Gidon’s and my dreams have all come true, and so will yours if only you work hard and never stop believing!
Instead, I would like to share the best pieces of advice I’ve heard along the way, and close with one new insight.
One: The Biggest Trap of Authorship is….
Legitimacy. The big trap that all authors, myself included, fall into is the “legitimacy trap”. We have grown up with the idea that famous people write books, and we see them as a means for achieving that battle which we all must fight — the battle for self-legitimacy.
Because they can immortalize one’s words and name in print, books offer the power to legitimize one’s message and oneself.
But it is a false legitimacy. I remember when I was on a church committee searching for a new youth pastor. One of the candidates happened to mention in his cover letter that he had written a book. Then he mentioned it again at the midpoint. And in the closing. We knew without reading any further that this person carried serious legitimacy issues that could ruin a youth group. We prayed for him, and moved on to the next candidate.
Our legitimacy must derive from our relationship with God alone. We see many key figures in the Torah having to ‘walk that out’: Moses and Elijah for starters. Christians can also study how Yeshua navigated that issue in John Chapter 5.
This topic is so big that I may come back in the future and reveal more of my journey in that area, but let’s keep moving for now.
Two. A first book must be birthed.
One of the things that keeps many prospective writers out of authorship is the difficulty — the significant difficulty, and required perseverance of getting that first book out.
During the writing of our first book my close friend, author John Bibee, was the first to tell me that one’s first book is always a struggle and is like a birthing a baby. He said, “It must be born through labor.” He was so right.
Three. Selflessness for the sake of the reader.
It is surprising how easy it is to fall into the trap of writing for yourself, rather than writing for the reader. Many writers are quick to respond to me on this one, “I know! I know! No problem!” Their logic? Given that their dream is for the book to have an impact on the many readers, it stands to reason that everything they they write in the book, every decision they make, is for the reader.
Not so fast.
For instance, many writers spend so much time on the buildup to the main points they want to make, that they have already worn the reader out. Other writers add too many details, enticed by the desire for truthfulness, completeness, or sufficient context. Those that review the book are friends who allow the excesses, because they know and love them already. The book is too long.
Then there is the sequencing of ideas. Are they in the order that will help the reader gain the maximum benefit from the book in the minimum amount of time? Are they led down a path or are they being explained all the component parts one-by-one, and having to assemble them together on their own?
The art of writing a good book is the art of understanding how another reader thinks, where they are in their journey, what are their needs and hopes and wants and fears, and sequencing a series of ideas in a way that hits the sweet spot of the typical reader of that book.
Four. Why so little success?
And now it is time to deliver on the premise.
The easy answer to this question (not my answer) is to remind you about how many books are published every year (a lot), how few people actually read a book today (not many), and how little time they have to read yours (not much).
Yet, none of that answers the specific case — yours and mine — of who has published a book, with dreams of it “going viral” and then having to come to terms with the reality of…..well…..reality. But what about those dreams? What about those prophetic words from your past where you have been promised to have great impact? Were they false? Maybe, but not likely. I have no reason to doubt that your dreams and your prophetic words were real.
Then what of the question: Why so little success?
An answer is found in a recent Torah portion:
“The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you, little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you.” Deuteronomy 7:22 (NASB)
Let’s read that again in the Israel Bible:
“Hashem your God will dislodge those peoples before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them at once, else the wild beasts would multiply to your hurt.” Deut 7:22. (TIB)
The reason for our little success is because of God’s mercy towards us.
The writing of a book, at least one based on God’s word, is like a conquest of the culture. It is the taking of ground for God’s purposes. We may have been promised much success, but the gains almost invariably come “little by little”. Why? To protect us from the wild beasts.
What are the wild beasts? They are the wildness that still resides hidden in the forests of our hearts: beasts like pride and fear (the search for legitimacy), impatience (a book must be birthed), selfishness (rather than being selfless for the sake of the reader), and every other sin that is common to man. These things must be conquered little by little, or they will turn around and destroy us and damage our readers as well.
The answer to all that is: “little by little”. We can see this master-plan revealed generically in Proverbs:
“Wealth may dwindle to less than nothing, But he who gathers little by little increases it.” Proverbs 13:11 (TIB).
Our success is limited because we are. But we are on a journey. And that leads us to the one great weapon we have.
The Antidote is Time
If you do get that first book out, or whatever that next book will be, you do have Time going for you. Never has that ever been more true than today. The Internet will be a resource from which future generations gain knowledge for generations to come. Even more than books, that which is written today and published on the internet is recorded for posterity. I suspect it will all still be available for research even after the arrival of the Messiah in Jerusalem.
The benefit of time — enough of it having passed — is that the wild beasts are gone. The reader can be helped, and the author is beyond reach of even the most vicious beast, still snarling its ugly white teeth in the desolate places left behind.