Write that Book!
When I think about managing change, any kind of change, there’s a graphic concept that always comes to mind.
The first frame of that graphic, “What we think change looks like,” is a straight ascending arrow pointing confidently from the present into the preferred future. The second frame, “What change actually looks like,” features a line that starts out straight, but then winds uncertainly through a tangled, circuitous path, before eventually pointing forward into a new future.
This concept is exactly like the process of writing a book.
We thought, “How hard could it be?”
In 2017, leaders at Living Water International suggested I write a book about our work. No one in our organization had any significant experience with writing a book or securing a publisher. We thought, “How hard could it be?”
The answer? Pretty hard. In the end, we were successful. Thirsting for Living Water: Finding Adventure and Purpose in God’s Redemption Story was published by InterVarsity Press in 2021. It is now in its second printing, an audio book, and a self-published version in Spanish. But the journey to get there was not easy.
Here, I share a few of the insights my colleagues and I discovered along the way to make your path to publishing more predictable than my own. My path had three distinct phases, explained below.
Phase 1: Concept Development
Like many organizations, we wanted to raise our profile and to encourage people to engage with their churches by sharing exciting stories of how God was at work around the world. A colleague and I outlined a book writing process designed to take nine months.
Our timelines were wildly unrealistic.
Our timelines were wildly unrealistic. Because of both personal and professional obligations, it took over a year to develop an initial proposal. Because I was writing as the CEO of our organization, rather than as an individual, there were dozens of questions to answer in collaboration with others: How much of my personal story would I share? Of the organization’s history? How would proceeds from the book be used?
I had two primary partners in this process, my brilliant wife, Natalie who is also Living Water’s attorney, and Paul Darilek, a poet and project manager who helped us find themes and artistry in the story. We each brought our own experiences and insights to the process, and it improved our results. I could not have written this book without them.
Just as we began to get our thoughts organized, a trifecta of challenges occurred: my father died, Natalie was diagnosed with cancer, and Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, our homebase. Harvey impacted nearly everyone in our organization; colleagues lost homes and many of our donors faced financial struggles due to the storm and the global markets. In this context, it wasn’t just tough to write a book; it was tough to lead. These challenges brought delays, of course, but they also shaped the themes of the book. “Those interruptions created the story,” Natalie likes to remind me.
Phase 2: Publishing
While we were writing, we also started learning how to publish. Two years in, it was time to reach out to agents. We sent a proposal to several with little response; thankfully, a friend introduced us to InterVarsity Press and within weeks, Natalie was reviewing an offer letter from them.
We turned our garage into the book’s situation room, using flip charts to revise the structure and content. This work produced a draft we felt good about. We shared it with 30 trusted friends and asked for feedback. Once their revisions were made, we turned in our first draft to the publisher.
The vision of working closely with an editor to develop the book’s themes and refine its voice was quickly replaced by reality: as an author, I needed to drive that process. The publisher provided editorial input, legal requirements (such as permissions and copyrights), overall guidance, and marketing direction. As we moved closer to a published book, we knew we needed to get more help to make sure the book reached a broad audience.
Phase 3: Marketing
In the final phase of the process, we assembled a marketing team that included Living Water’s in-house staff, our external public relations firm, and a high-capacity colleague, Amber Johnson, to serve as project manager.
This taskforce brought others into the process. Specifically, we identified and asked for help from:
- Endorsers – well-known Christian leaders who would read the book and share a written endorsement for the book’s cover and elsewhere.
- Influencers – well-known Christian leaders who would share the book with their audiences through newsletters, social media, congregations, etc.
- Insiders – good friends who would pre-order copies, write reviews on Amazon, and share about the book with their friends or churches.
- Media – journalists and podcast hosts who might want to talk about the book or have me as a guest.
We also developed tools to make sharing about the book easier. Living Water’s website promoted the book with a page and interactive content on the book’s theme. We created an author website and a Facebook author page for sharing more information and posting links to media appearances. We created a discussion guide for the book, offered as a free download.
A year into publication, the book has brought our organization over 20 new speaking engagements...
A year into publication, the book has brought our organization over 20 new speaking engagements, a similar number of features in media outlets, strengthened relationships, and a significant amount of new or increased donations. The process did have clear financial costs.
We paid for extra support and for some marketing opportunities, but we’ve covered all our hard costs, and more, in the new relationships and dollars to which the book opened the door.
If I ever do it again, I’ll start with two pieces of knowledge. First, life has interruptions, and those interruptions often are the story. And second, I’ll know to expect a collaborative, iterative process. We thought the interruptions were keeping us from doing our work but instead they were shaping our awareness of where God was working and giving us greater clarity on the message we were called to share.
Michael J. Mantel, Ph.D., is the president and CEO of Living Water International, a faith-based global humanitarian organization. He is the author of Thirsting for Living Water (IVP, 2021). Mike and his wife Natalie live in Houston and have four adult daughters.