You may think the starting point of becoming a spiritual author is with the writing of your spiritual book, however, in a truer sense, what runs parallel to or following the writing process is what makes you an author. A writer writes and an author is a business. The writer is private and the author is public. Therefore, aside from writing your spiritual book, there are lots of other things to think about when you’re getting started as a spiritual author. This post covers the topics of traditional and non-traditional publishing, branding, and audience. If you’re a first-time spiritual author, it will be especially beneficial.
Your publishing options as a spiritual author
Spiritual authors are created when they choose to put their words and themselves out into the public domain with the intention of selling their creative work. This may begin at any time during the manuscript writing process or upon its completion. When you’re ready to become a spiritual author, you will have two main options for publishing your spiritual book: the traditional and non-traditional routes.
Starting out, lots of spiritual authors would love for their manuscript to be selected for publication by a reputable publishing house for two main reasons: firstly, the acknowledgement feels fabulous as it gives you validation that your writing is good enough and secondly, the thought of someone else taking over the intricacies of publishing and distributing your book is a huge relief. It means you don’t have to work it all out for yourself.
But it does come at a loss of your creativity and ownership. If you sign a book deal you lose your book’s copyright – forever. Ask yourself, In the long run, is this really in my creative best interest? Unfortunately, the reality of traditional publishing for many authors and this includes bestsellers, is very uninspiring. Publishers may not meet their expectations and there may be a lingering sense of frustration and disappointment.
There are always exceptions to the hard slog story of trying to get your manuscript noticed by a literary agent or a half-decent publisher, but it’s rare, and usually means you know someone who knows someone, are a celebrity, have a Ph.D., achieved a notable literary award or a substantial audience to start with. Only 1% of the manuscripts received by publishing houses globally end up being published by them and the books usually only have a minimal shelf life.
Many publishers will not deal with you, the spiritual author, directly, ever. They will only communicate with you through a literary agent who works to negotiate a contract on your behalf. It is difficult to access a literary agent to represent your spiritual book to a publisher, and even when you do, to find one that will give it the attention you think it deserves. Some agents don’t even have the courtesy to reply to your queries, yes, even the spiritual ones.
Finding an agent and a publisher, and then awaiting your book’s publication can take many months and years. When the book finally goes to market, and the publisher, distributor, and agent each take a slice of the book pie. Therefore, you, as a first-time spiritual author will receive something like a measly 80 cents for each book sold. It’s not enough to make a living from. The spiritual author often doesn’t even have a say in the book’s title or cover design.
Furthermore, you and only you are expected to put in the effort of promoting your book. This is the hardest part of all, marketing, that is, thinking and acting like a business. Getting your spiritual book spoken about and into the hands of your reader. The publisher will not do this for you, apart from featuring your book in an industry catalogue from which bookshops select their merchandise. You will be required to organise and pay for your book launch and your own publicity opportunities.
To be fair, there are authors who do have wonderfully supportive agents and publishers, and there can be benefits to going the traditional route. If your independent spiritual book does well in its niche market and has the potential to go mainstream and pull in a profit, you may want to take it to another level. Literary agents and publishers are very good at dealing with the complexities of publishing and distributing books in foreign markets, where English is not the common language, along with handling the legalities that may arise from having a very popular book, like a Hollywood film deal!
The traditional publishing industry has been in major flux since the onset of print-on-demand services and the burgeoning of online technologies which have liberated the author from industry shackles. Big time publishers are under a lot of pressure because an individual can now be in complete control of their publishing destiny which traditionally was not the case. Therefore, today, publishing houses are only interested in a ‘sure thing’ – books that will certainly bring in a profit and so they are less likely to take a chance on a first-time author.
And because of this financial stress, so many notable publishers including the mind-body-spirit variety, are either directly or indirectly associated with vanity presses. Vanity publishers offer authors book publishing, distribution, and marketing services at the author’s expense. They offer authors an embellished sense of association with their parent publisher company. That means, you take all the risk and not them, and you pay for the ‘privilege’ of ‘not really’ being associated with a reputable publisher.
Vanity publishers will also contractually claim the copyright of your book for a few years, own your book’s ISBN and take something like 50% of any sale you make, even though they’re actually doing nothing for you. Then, if your book does really well, you are obliged to offer up your copyright to its parent publisher company – the big publisher who wasn’t really interested in you in the first place. Beware of vanity publishers!
The best way forward for many first-time spiritual authors is self-publishing (also known as independent or ‘indie’ publishing). It does require you educating yourself about publishing, distributing, and marketing your book but there is an abundance of free information available on the internet and the process is empowering! In two years, I went from knowing ‘zero’ about publishing to knowing enough to feel confident about self-publishing my spiritual book, setting myself up as a business, and developing an online presence.
I cannot emphasise enough how anti-computers and technology I was, and truly, if I overcame my anxiety about it, anyone can. You too can become the master of your book’s destiny. Rather than have it sit on a store shelf for a few weeks or months, your spiritual book can have a long life online. If your self-published book then performs particularly well, the publishing houses will come to you and you will get a far better deal from them, monetarily, than if you’d sought them out in the first instance.
In the meantime, you can use similar distribution channels for your print book as the big publishers do by utilising Ingram Spark or Amazon’s CreateSpace and ebook by dealing directly with Kindle, iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo. And you can pinpoint your target audience effectively by advertising your book on Facebook which has over a billion users! Still, if you don’t want to do it all yourself, there are reliable author and self-publishing services like Wilara Press that can assist you in getting your spiritual book published and distributed worldwide without you losing your book’s copyright.
Your author brand
A well thought out brand attracts an audience by helping readers to identify you and to you. It is important that you work your brand out before the publication of your book. However, it’s never too late to develop or refine your brand. Your audience is paramount. Without an audience, you won’t have anyone to sell your book to. Your audience wants to know very clearly what you’re about. Here are 7 questions to ask yourself when determining your brand:
- Who am I?
- What do I stand for?
- What makes me emotional?
- What are my likes?
- What is my style?
- What’s different about me?
- What is my spirituality?
Your brand distinguishes you from other spiritual authors. Therefore, make it clear, strong and consistent. It will follow you wherever you go. The easiest way to do this is by having a headshot taken of you and using it often. Make it attractive. Wear something nice. Get your hair (and makeup) done. Ensure good lighting. Smile. Make yourself instantly approachable and recognisable.
Other ways to demonstrate your brand are by choosing fonts, colours, and images for your website and social media sites that reflect your likes and your unique spirituality. For instance, you, as a spiritual author, may be something of a romantic and love art and Mozart. You love flowers too, in particular, daisies and gerberas. Red is your favourite colour. You love to write children’s books. Angels and magical lights fill your inspirations. See, we are already getting a sense for this author. She’s someone who adores children; arty, spiritual, feminine and fabulous! The design of her sites will reflect this, and let her audience know about the best of who she is.
Your love may be angels, dogs, cats, chocolate, flowers, the ocean, fancy tea cups, art deco, geometric shapes, bright colours, etc. Know what you like and then use it symbolically to communicate to your audience the feeling of who you are. Do not make your book your brand. This would be a mistake, and if this is something you have done already, it can be rectified. You don’t want your online image restricted by the appearance of your first book. You may branch out into alternative genres, book cover designs, products, and services. And you wouldn’t want to have to change your branding every time you publish a new book.
Your audience is what really matters
It is very important to determine who your audience is and to reach out to them. Your audience of readers and spiritual seekers want to be informed and inspired. They want to know you. They want to be able to relate to you. You can start the process of community building before completing your manuscript and even before writing its first word with social media. Whenever you begin to engage with your potential readers, know that it requires a long-term commitment. It’s something you’ll continually have to work at and maintain. Without an audience, you are a writer with a spiritual book. With an audience, you are a spiritual author, an influencer, and an inspiration.
Your audience can best be reached via the worldwide web. However, you’re not the only spiritual author who wants the attention of spiritual readers. In fact, people are being bombarded with new information every day, especially online which is where you and your book most need to be. So, how are you going to be the one to get through to them? Time helps, persistence, authenticity, and value. The more they see you and read you, and the more benefit you can provide them with, the more connected they will feel to your message, and the more likely they’ll want to be a part of your community and to buy what you’re selling.
In reaching out to your audience, get yourself set up on social media asap! To start with, choose two social media sites to have a regular presence on, like Facebook and Instagram. You don’t want to be everywhere at once and feel totally scattered. It’s better to focus on learning how to use two social media sites well and then you can always expand later. Facebook and Instagram are very popular. Twitter is not as popular as it was. Google+ is only good for your website’s SEO (if that). Pinterest can deliver a lot of people to your website. LinkedIn is good for professional networking. And YouTube is wildly popular – if videos are your preferred thing. These are the social media sites most used amongst my audience.
It’s worth noting that social media should be thought of as a stepping stone to your website. Social media is a place for friendly rapport, information sharing, inspiration, fun, and just a little bit of self and product/service promotion. It’s not a place for hard selling, otherwise, people will just get annoyed and unfriend you. Also, you don’t own a social media site’s page. If a social media site ceases to exist one day, you will lose everything you ever posted there and all the audience you accumulated on it unless you’ve been able to direct them to your website (and acquire their emails). If you own your website, you control its destiny.
Your website is your primary platform and storefront, and where your book and brand lives. People will come to visit you there, readers and buyers, and first impressions matter, very much. You may make your spiritual book available on other sites too, but your website works best when you own it and it provides your audience with all the information and inspiration they need to buy, share and return for more. The best way to get readers to return to your website is to engage them with interesting and relevant topics by making your homepage or one of your main pages a blog and by providing a regular newsletter. By offering your readers articles and other freebies, you will build lasting community and trust.
A vital function of your website is its ability to gather reader emails. With regards to potential customers, your newsletter subscribers are particularly valuable to you in so far as they are saying that they would like to receive more from you – more contact, more content, more inspiration, and more business. They want more of you because they like what you’re about. Therefore, your website should be thoroughly planned out before it goes live to attract both readers and subscribers.
The best way to get a sense for what works and doesn’t when it comes to websites is to visit a number of competitor sites. Do a google search: Top Websites or Best Spirituality Websites. Check out a Time Magazine’s ’50 Best Websites List’. When you find three to five websites that you really like, make note of what distinguishes them from the others. Then chose a successful one to emulate – do not copy from the website, simply use it as a reference. And, follow it’s developments closely over time as a way of keeping up with trends.
Websites can be expensive. However, fortunately, there are some excellent website builders like Weebly and Wix which make it affordable and easy for you to create your own website without needing any programming skills! If you would prefer complete flexibility and functionality in a content management system and hosting then look no further than WordPress. You can purchase a website template (like a StudioPress theme using the Genesis framework) or have an original website built for you by a programmer. This option, however, will cost you a lot more, especially if you rely heavily on a programmer (as WordPress requires coding skills) to design, install and maintain your website, now and into the future.
Most importantly, own your domain name. It’s not expensive and ensures your online identity and independence. Namecheap, GoDaddy, and Bluehost are web hosting companies that offer domain name services. Your domain name (or URL) is the address people use to find where you ‘live’ on the internet. As a spiritual author, it should be your first name (or if you go by a second name) and surname because your name is at the centre of your brand. Don’t name your domain after your spiritual book because there may be other books, products, and services to come. Your name will be the common factor flowing through each of your books.
Also, if you own your domain name then you can have advertising on your website. You may or may not like the idea of advertising on your website. The reality is, websites cost money to run. An author is a business. And it makes no difference if you’re a spiritual author. Just because you work in the spiritual industry doesn’t mean you shouldn’t earn an income. With money, you can pay your bills and expand your reach. It also allows you the opportunity to bring to your audience’s attention some really beneficial products and services. Think of monetising your site from the onset!