Friday, March 4, 2011

Not Our Own Success

Absalom, David’s son became upset with his father and tried to take the kingdom from him. One of the things he did to gain favor with the people was to sit where the people going in to see King David could see him and he would say, “Oh, that I were made judge in the land, that every man who hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!”

It is kind of an interesting statement because it is the same kind of statement we hear from people who are complaining about the government today. “Those politicians don’t know what they’re doing. If I were up in Washington, this is what I would do.”

But Absalom ultimately failed. In explanation of that, Woodrow Kroll of Back to the Bible says, “No one is ever successful in any kind of ministry if their goal is to make themselves successful. Our goal always ought to be to make the next person up in line successful. Because when they’re successful we’re successful.” [David: Deposed Ruler]

Many people see writing as a ministry and yet so much of the time writers are concerned with their own success. Our success will not come when we are concerned with our own success, only when we set as our goal the success of those above us. That sounds simple enough, but who is the next in line above us? It is both true and easy to say that God is above us, but is he the next in line? Probably not. Is our publisher the next in line? Maybe, but I think it is more realistic to see them as on equal footing in a partnership. Who then is above us but below God?

For the author, I believe the “next person up in line” is the reader. If you are writing a how-to book, it has no value if it doesn’t tell the reader how he can do something that he needs to do. With other books it may not be so clear cut, but our success is dependent upon the success of our reader. Jessica Bell alluded to this in her post There are Certain Ways of Marketing. She pointed out that people aren’t likely to want to purchase a book if we use social networking to talk only about our book, but if we talk about other things and at the end say something like “by the way, I’m selling this book” people will be more likely to be interested.

As true as that is, it doesn’t keep it from being frustrating when you work until your fingers bleed at producing books that you believe are helpful and/or entertaining, you provide more stuff online than is included in your books and people still feel little motivation to purchase books.

That probably means I'm a hypocrite. If I’m truly not seeking my own success but the success of the next person, should I care if they purchase my books or not? I want to say no and yet I think we are compelled to say yes. Case in point, consider the Holy Bible. It is the ultimate example of a book written for the success of the reader. God doesn’t need book sales to be successful, but there isn’t a person on this planet who can’t benefit from reading it. People should therefore purchase copies of the Holy Bible and read it.

My books have a smaller number of people who will benefit from them, but they still promote the success of the reader. Book Cover Design Wizardry helps those people who want to design a book cover succeed. If you don’t need to design a book cover, there’s no point in you buying it, but the rest of you really should. Church Website Design: A Step by Step Approach is obviously for the benefit of people who want to develop a church website or who want to know more about websites in general. For the rest of you, there’s hardly any reason for you to buy it.

Okay, but what about the novels? How do they promote the success of the reader? Let’s consider the easy one first. Aside from being an entertaining book to read, For the Love of a Devil makes a great companion to a study of the prophet Hosea. Image teaching a study on Hosea and sending the students home with a book that will allow them to walk a mile in Hosea’s shoes. Because For the Love of a Devil puts the story in modern surroundings and follows the events of Hosea’s life so closely, readers can imagine what it would be like if they faced a similar situation.

What about the new book, Mother Not Wanted? That one is pure entertainment, but what’s wrong with that? Readers need books that provide a diversion without requiring much thought. It isn’t a retelling, so readers don’t have to give much thought about how it does or doesn’t follow the original story. It doesn’t have a point to prove, so you don’t have to debate the merits of the argument. Who should read this book? Well, you should.

Why do you think it is easy for authors to lose sight of the benefits they are providing readers?