Tuesday, May 10, 2022

How to Choose Publishing Excellence

by Cindy K. Sproles @CindyDevoted

Since self-publishing came on the scene, the attitude of writers changed. Where we once received a rejection letter, read it, and strived to improve our work—a sense of entitlement seeped into our attitudes. First, when used appropriately, self-publishing is an excellent tool, and I hate to see so many insinuate that it’s not. It isn’t. It’s a tool. And like any tool, the user must learn to use it.

Anyone who knows me hears me continually harping, “Learn the craft. Learn the craft.” Back in the days before self-publishing, that was our only option if we wanted to be published—persistence and learning the craft. We sat through classes where we learned the differences in the types of rejection letters and how to interpret those. If rejection came, it wasn’t because it was rotten work (well…mostly not—there’s an exception to every rule), but our work wasn’t publication-ready. 

There were no Word Weavers where writers could gather and get solid useful critiques. Small critique groups formed, and though many were adequate, equally as many were not. Writers attended conferences, practiced, bought writing books, and worked hard to learn the craft. That was the option.

The issue with self-publication came when writers realized they were no longer required to push ahead and make their work the best it could be. They had full control, which meant that their high school English teacher could proof their grammar but still not fix plot, characters, and flow issues. This was not a self-publishing problem. It was and still is an author issue. Good self-publishing companies pushed editorial service, but there was a price, and honestly, writers saw it as a step they could skip. After all, those first-time authors were convinced their first-time work was great as it was. Bottom line, despite the efforts of solid self-pubs to get writers to accept editorial services, the fact was, authors were paying the bill and ultimately had full control. In essence, it was their choice.

As the publishing industry tightened its fists after our country’s 2008 financial crisis, writers could no longer mail a proposal and manuscript to a publisher. Agents became the gatekeepers to help filter viable work from work that needed more help. The author’s attitudes changed from working to earn a traditionally published book contract to “I’ll just do it myself.” The bandwagon was loaded with self-publishing sharks, out to land naive author’s money. Many of those less reputable companies have since bit the dust. Authors began to become a bit savvier with how self-publishing worked, and many learned enough to do it themselves. Either way, the risks still lay solely on the author.

Writers still vie for the few traditional slots available, but many are not willing to persevere much less consider there may be a solid reason why they cannot land a traditional contract. Let’s look at some of these attitudes and attempt to resolve them.

4 Ways to Choose Excellence in Publishing

1. Have you learned to accept help? When a rejection letter arrives, it means the work just begins. It’s time to seek the help of professional editors to help you work through outstanding issues that block a contract. Just because a writer types THE END on a manuscript does not mean the book is ready for publication. Everyone has a different work ethic. I never send a completed manuscript to my agent until I’ve run it through a good content editor. Do you pay for this service? Absolutely. Is it cheap—not always. Content edits can run an author from .02 per word to $2000 (or more, depending on the in-depth work needed). 

How do I justify the costs when I am not guaranteed a contract? Well, the easiest answer is this. I’m making a business decision. My writing is my career, and in any profession, you must spend money to earn money. This is part of running a business. We are commanded by the Father to present our best work, but when our work is well polished, the opportunity for a contract improves significantly. Some writers are gifted to dig deep into the editing of their manuscript with the same eyes they write with, but I am not one of those authors. In fact, few are.

2. Why spend this money when you may not get a contract? Again, in part, it’s a business decision, but it also means you are learning the craft. Let’s face it. There are no guarantees in life—especially in the publishing industry, but you will never go wrong by improving yourself. Here’s an example: A couple of years ago, I hired a content editor who worked through a novel with me. It did not land a contract. Did my content editor fail me? Nope—he didn’t. Was the story bad? Nope, beta readers loved it. 

The editor helped me make the novel amazing. In this case, it wasn’t the right time for this particular book. Trends worked against me. Recently, this book came back to light, and guess what? Contract offer. Only you can gauge the worth of the value you invest in yourself. We are never guaranteed a contract, but we can always do our best, and good things come. I have yet to regret spending money to have work content edited upon completion. For me, it’s just smart. Do I recommend this for serious first-time authors? Absolutely.

3. Why not self-publish? Here I say, to each his own. BUT, before you self-publish, check these reasons that do NOT lead to excellence:
  • Why are you in a hurry? (And don’t believe the lie that God wants it published now. Trust me, if God wanted it published NOW, you’d have a contract from every 
  • publisher under the sun.) Self-publishing wouldn’t be a contender.
  • Have you examined why the book may not have contracted? i.e., trend, loaded market writing level, correct agent to represent what you write? 
  • Do you have the funds to absorb the cost and the platform to sell the books?
  • Is your attitude right?

These days authors have to have a large platform, even for traditional publishers (and publishers have more funds to dump into marketing and prime real estate for what brick and mortars are left). If you do not have this foundation in place, you will shoulder the full cost of publishing and carry the entire burden of selling the book alone. Well over the 90% mark of self-published books sell less than 200 copies (this does not include those self-published books done by large, reputable publishers who do set aside a little money for marketing). Even at that, many authors must pay for a higher-end marketing package. 

4. Why is it so hard? That’s a question we’ve all been asking for years. Anything worth having is worth working for is true, but the fact is that publishers can only publish so many books per year. Hopefully, the books they choose to invest in bring financial gain for the publisher and the author. It still boils down to business decisions, whether you are the author or the publisher.

Sometimes our work is good, really good, yet it still misses the mark. Timing, trends, financial obligations, turnovers—all play into the factor. All we can do is faithfully pray over our work and then offer it back to God. Often, we spend more time trying to do God’s job instead of doing what He asks. He may only ask that you write it, and you may never know why. Be it for now or later, for a group or the person next to you. Your job is to choose to write the best words you can write, then stand behind God and let Him do His part. Sometimes it happens quickly. Other times…not so much. But your gift is instilled for a reason. 

Choose to do your best work, and the rewards will come in due time.


Cindy K. Sproles is an author, speaker, and conference teacher. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries and the executive editor for www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. Cindy is the lead managing editor for SonRise Devotionals and also Straight Street Books, both imprints of LPC/Iron Stream Media Publications. She is a mentor with Write Right and the director of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference held each February at the Billy Graham Training Center, the Cove, Asheville, NC. Cindy is a best selling, award winning novelist. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com.


  1. Appreciate the truth and honest assessment of where many authors are today. If we are pursuing a Christian writing career, then we should not be seeking the "easy button" to publishing. It seems many do this because we don't want to bother with the difficult and sometimes steep learning curve to become a better writer. There's no "easy button" in the Christian life, so why would we be looking for one in our Christian writing life. Well said Ms. Cindy. Thank you ma'am.

  2. Excellent words and advice, Cindy. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Wonderful advice, Cindy. Thank you!

  4. I appreciate your wisdom and giving us the checklist to consider before stepping into the self-publishing aspect.