Monday, June 11, 2012

Writing: A Ministry or a Business?

by Narelle Atkins

In recent weeks I’ve been thinking and praying about the direction of my writing journey and how I perceive my writing. I write in three different genres: nonfiction Bible studies, inspirational romance and sweet romance.

I definitely view my sweet romance writing as more of a business than a ministry. I’m seeking traditional publishing opportunities and I’m striving to write high quality stories that will appeal to a specific market. These stories have underlying Christian values and potentially a subtle spiritual theme because I’m writing from a Christian world view.

My inspirational romances have a stronger ministry focus. These stories are the ones that I feel have put on my heart for a reason and, like my sweet romance stories, I’ve sought out traditional publishing opportunities.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we’re considering traditional publishing opportunities then we have no choice but to think about our writing as a business. Traditional publishers are bearing all the financial risk when they contract a book. The staff and owners of publishing companies need to sell books to pay for their salaries and feed their families. An author may not receive a new contract or the next book in their publishing deal may be cancelled if they have poor book sales. And the publisher will go out of business if they aren’t selling enough books to ensure their business is financially viable.

I know authors do struggle with all the marketing and promotion that is expected of them compared to the ‘old days’. The eBook revolution and the flood of cheap self-published books hitting the marketplace have changed the publishing landscape. Traditional publishers have lost some of their ability to dominate the market because the main book buying channel is no longer limited to print books sold either in a book store or online. Traditional publishers, large and small, have to work hard to get their books noticed by readers, and authors are expected to be partners in this endeavour.

In contrast, I perceive my Bible studies to be a ministry rather than a business. We set up the 30 Minute Bible Studies website six years ago and we provide free Bible study questions that we had previously written for our small group. This year the ‘ducks lined up’, so to speak, and we have added a blog to the website and started publishing eBook leader’s guides on Smashwords. Six years ago I had a vision to sell affordable leader’s guides in eBook format but the timing wasn’t right and the necessary resources didn’t exist.

We’re releasing an eBook per month and writing articles on the blog that relate to the Bible studies. I chose to self publish the leader’s guide precisely because our primary goal isn’t to sell bucket loads of eBooks. We hope to encourage people to join a group that studies the Bible and we provide free or affordable Bible study resources that they may find helpful. The leader’s guides are an optional extra that we are charging a small amount for to potentially compensate for the time and effort it takes to put together the information.

How do you perceive your writing? Is it a ministry or a business or both? I’d love to hear your thoughts.




NARELLE ATKINS writes contemporary inspirational romance. She resides in Canberra, Australia with her husband and children. She can also be found at the International Christian Fiction Writers blog.

Narelle is a co-founder of the 30 Minute Bible Studies website. She recently launched the new 30 Minute Bible Studies blog. To learn more about Narelle, please visit her website.

21 comments:

  1. For me, it's both. I don't actually see any conflict: even ministers get paid (admittedly not much, but more than most writers!). There are Bible verses that support this view, but I'm too lazy to look them up at the moment. :)

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    1. Hi Peter, I agree that there isn't necessarily a conflict and I suspect ministers would earn more on a 'per hour' basis than most writers.

      I do think there are writers who could identify with the polar ends - my Bible studies started out as a ministry with no thought of business goals or making money from them. And I've heard of writers who talk about being called to write a book for 'an audience of one', as an offering to the Lord with no thought to whether or not it's a commercially viable venture.

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  2. I'm with Peter. Everything we do is ministry. My husband is in real estate. Yes it is a business - but it's a Kingdom business. That is his ministry. I am an author. Is everything I write Christian - no - but through my writing comes ministry. If we keep Jesus at the centre there is a flow of ministry through everything we do.
    But in saying that - we can't be slack and expect God to do everything for us - we need to treat writing like a business and get good at marketing and improving our skill.
    Great post - thought provoking.
    xx

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    1. Hi Michelle, it's good to remember that ministry opportunities can arise during our ordinary everyday lives. And I totally agree that we can't just sit back and expect everything to happen for us.

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  3. Interesting question. I have historically seen my writing as a hobby, but now that I am actively working toward publication I know that it needs to be much more than that.

    I agree with Peter and Michelle in that whenever we are using the gifts that God has given us, it is a form of ministry.

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    1. Hi Adam, I also started out thinking of my writing as a hobby and I didn't really consider my writing in 'business' terms until I joined professional writing organisations like RWA and ACFW.

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  4. I agree with you, Michelle, about the concept of 'Kingdom business' and also the concept that with Jesus at the centre, there is a flow of ministry in everything we write and do. I still feel I am very much 'ministering' when I speak in secular venues in connection with my writing. God is there and hopefully working through me as I engage with people. And I agree with Peter, too, in that we need not see it so much in terms of ministry v business. I guess I had to overcome that though when I was paid as a pastor on a ministry team. Having said all that though, I find I happily give my books away at times in order to minister to someone who would not buy one otherwise!

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    1. Hi Jo-Anne, thanks for sharing your insightful perceptions on how you view your writing and speaking ministries. It sounds like you've found the perfect balance :)

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  5. I feel this way too, Jo-Anne. The worker should get their pay, but there are times when you do give with no pay. My writing does not earn me a living, so I still have a day job. But I work towards the goal that one day it will earn me a living, because it is what I love to do.

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    1. Hi Rose, I agree and I'm sure we'd all like to be the writer who does get paid well for our work. Some of us will receive monetary payments for our writing endeavours and for others the blessings we receive from writing for His glory may come to us in non-monetary forms. In our own unique ways we can all further the work of the Kingdom through our writing.

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  6. Great post, Narelle. My writing is a business and the Lord will use my work to minister to others in ways I may never realise.

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    1. Hi Laura, I agree it's good to remember that the Lord will use our writing to bless others in more ways than we can imagine :)

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  7. Thanks Narelle. It's wise to think about our writing in these terms. I agree with the previous comments and I'd add this: "Whatever we do, do it heartily as unto the Lord."
    Our Christian values are always going to come through, as I'm sure we'd feel uncomfortable writing anything but moral stories. By that I'm not referring to being "preachy" either.

    The Lord's blessings on those 30 minute Bible Studies.

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    1. Hi Rita, I agree that our Christian worldview will show through in our writing, as long as we don't compromise our values. And preachiness can definitely be a problem at the other end of the spectrum!

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  8. Thanks Narelle for those interesting thoughts. I've been studying Ecclesiastes these days for my QT and found it interesting that part of today's study was about how God gives us the power to enjoy the work that we do.

    I agree with everyone else that ALL we do is ministry - be it mopping the floors or preaching a sermon or writing a book. All our lives are worship and ministry I think - and even writing a secular book (if led by God) would be part of the 'Kingdom work'.


    Thanks for sharing Narelle and may God's kingdom continue to be built through all your writing.
    Anusha

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  9. Hi Anusha, I'm glad to hear your Ecclesiastes studies have tied in with my post. We writers are blessed because, for the most part, we enjoy our work :)

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  10. Thanks Narelle for this post, and I appreciated the comments above too that point to the fact that everything we do can be ministry if done for God's glory.
    I used to see my writing as just a hobby - but as it's grown I've had to build up a working framework from which to promote, maintain and generally be a good steward of my writing (time, income, promotion etc). So my writing has a more 'business' feel to them.
    It doesn't matter to me which label I put on my writing work; I need to be doing it to the best of my abilities, not wasting what I've been given (this includes time and opportunities). And if my writing ever takes me out of the bounds of Micah 6:8, for whatever authorly excuse I may give it, then I believe I've missed the mark completely.

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    1. Hi Penny, I agree and stewardship is important as we try to discern how best to use our time, money and resources for His glory.

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  11. Hi Narelle,
    This post made me think. I started off years ago trying to think of my writing as a business, then decided it fitted more into the category of hobby/ministry but what you said about publishers taking us on is true so I've tried to begin thinking business-type thoughts over the last few years so she doesn't have to carry it all :)

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  12. Hi Paula, yes, I know what you mean and this was a large part of my decision to self publish rather than seek traditional publishing opportunities because my focus wasn't primarily on selling the Bible study eBooks.

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  13. Thank you to everyone who has commented on my post. Your thoughts have been very helpful and I've been blessed by our discussions :)

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