Tag: ebooks

5 Reasons to Write Books For Your Own Congregation

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Even though we are in the midst of a Christian publishing boom, writers often overlook their most obvious audience: their own congregations. I hate to break this news to all of us aspiring writers, but most of us are not going to write the next Purpose-Driven Life, or Love Wins, or any other bestseller.

But why not write a book for your own congregation? Here are five reasons I think writing for your own congregation is an opportunity waiting to be seized:

  1. You know your audience. I’m talking to pastors and church leaders primarily here, I suppose. I think the Number One reason to write for your own church is because you know your congregation. You know the struggles, opportunities, challenges, and spiritual needs your congregation is facing. You know your church’s theology, its practices, and its short-comings. Few writers get to target so specific an audience because most mass market books are geared for the widest readership possible. But when you write for your own congregation, you can tailor your subject, approach, illustrations, and suggestions to your unique ministry setting.
  2. Writing to congregations is as old as the New Testament. Could there be a better book to make the case for writing for your own congregation than the New Testament? Of course, Paul wasn’t the only New Testament writer to address specific communities. John, Peter, the Gospel writers, and whoever wrote Hebrews (if Paul didn’t) all were targeting specific Christian communities.
  3. You can publish your book for free. In this age of Amazon and Kindle, anyone can publish their book for free. I self-published my book, The Reconciling Community, for next to nothing compared to conventional book publishing costs. Actually, I could have published it for free, but I added some options like registering with the Library of Congress and getting some professional help with formatting.
  4. You can give your book away. I did not write my book to make money or become famous. That’s a good thing because I have achieved neither fame nor fortune. That’s fine with me. I published my book to make my ideas accessible to the widest audience possible. That’s why I’m on Amazon. I also published it to be able to give copies to my church. When my book was published, I offered a print copy free to any member of my congregation who wanted one. My author’s book cost is about $4 per copy, so I could afford to give it away to all who wanted it. I decided to give as many copies away to my congregation as I could because they supported me while I wrote it. The work is mine, but the time and encouragement to write came from them. In addition, a peer-learning group wanted to use it, so I donated 20 copies to our state denominational office for them. I have mailed out about two dozen copies to other individuals who expressed interest. Of course, I occasionally do sell a copy on Amazon. I’m averaging one print book and one e-book purchase per month! Not big bucks, but that small amount has almost paid for the few publishing costs I incurred.
  5. Your congregation will benefit from your writing. Whether you write a devotional guide, a Bible study book, a church history, or Christian fiction, your congregation will benefit from your writing. They will get to know you as an author, in addition to being their pastor. They’ll be able to share your work with their family and friends. And, finally, they will grow spiritually from your helpful writing. Just like Paul, you can offer guidance, correction, instruction, and encouragement, in the form of a book, to those closest to you — your congregation.

I enjoyed the experience of writing a book for my church so much, that in September I’m going to start another one. This time the congregation is going to help me gather information and insights from our church’s 157-year history. Together we’re going to write a new church history. But, this won’t be the typical “buildings, baptisms, and budgets” review. Instead, I have divided the church’s life into 7 eras from 1857 to 2014. We’ll look at each era, and examine the context of world events, local culture, and church life as a whole. The point is not just to record our history, however. The primary purpose is to examine our history in order to reflect on when and how we have been successful in our ministry, and when we have missed opportunities along the way.

The scheme for doing this involves taking each Wednesday night from September, 2014 through May, 2015 for study, presentation, and research. Congregational members will help by providing stories, photographs, and artifacts from each era. In addition, we’re utilizing the research available to us through the Virginia Baptist Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia. The goal is to have a published book containing our annotated church history, plus our dreams for the future.

The working title for this project is Cast a Wishful Eye: The Memories, Hopes, and Dreams of Chatham Baptist Church. I took the phrase, “cast a wishful eye” from the grand old hymn, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand. I thought it was an appropriate image for our reflection on the past and gazing forward into the future. Here’s a link to the entire outline, if you’re interested in doing something like this in your church.

I would encourage you to consider writing for your own congregation. Both you and your members will benefit. And, you won’t have to ask all your pastor friends to write a review on Facebook. That’s reason enough for me!

What I like about ebooks and these ebook readers

From l-r: iPod Touch, Android HTC, Kindle 3, MacBook as readers.

I’m hooked on books, and now I’m really hooked on ebooks.  Here’s what I like about ebooks over print:

  • Instant delivery. I see a book, and in seconds I’m reading it.  I find this amazing.  I recently found the only book on reverence on Amazon in ebook format on a Saturday night, and had it instantly.  Yes, I should plan ahead, but ebooks do make it easier when you don’t!
  • Cheaper price. Ebooks are usually cheaper, although there is a vast old-guard publishing conspiracy to change this.
  • Greener than print. I know ebook servers use electricity and it is not a pollution-free format.  However, ebooks have to be greener than print because you eliminate cutting trees, making paper, running presses, buying and fueling delivery trucks, etc.
  • Portability. I can carry my entire digital library with me.  This I like because in any format, I like my books and I like to have them with me.  (I realize this is a little OCD, but it is a fairly harmless case.)
  • Searchability. This is really big for me.  I often remember a quote or illustration, but not where I read it.  Searching an ebook, or an entire library, is a preacher’s salvation (not literally, of course) during sermon prep.
  • Storage. My bookshelves are running over.  With ebooks, my library is limited by my device’s memory.  Kindle is up to 3500 titles on one device, which is about twice what I have in print books.
  • Access and preservation. You can’t lose an ebook.  I guess you can lose your reader.  However, if you do, you just download all your titles again.  No more damaged books, lost books, loaned books that don’t return, and no more books lost on the shelf (which has happened more than once to me).
  • Technology. Everything in print is going digital, and everything digital is going mobile.

Okay, at this point I have to disclose that I have accounts with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO (Borders), Sony, and the Adobe reader platform which can take Google books.  However, I now use mostly Amazon’s Kindle format.  I’ve found it the easiest, least cumbersome, and most consistent of all the formats.  I realize that Amazon has a proprietary platform, but so does Apple with iTunes, which I also use.  But Amazon did wireless ebook readers first, and I think they do them best, with some caveats.

I have four devices that function as e-readers:

  • A 13″ MacBook which has the Kindle for Mac on it.
  • An iPod Touch with Kindle for iPhone/iPod app.
  • An Android phone (HTC Hero, which I don’t like but it’s a long story) with the Android Kindle app.
  • A wifi Kindle 3, which I just got this week.

I do use all four devices as e-readers, depending upon where I am mostly.  So, let’s take a quick run-down of each one with its pros and cons:

  • Kindle 3. I bought the Kindle 3 even though I have other devices because the Kindle has capabilities Amazon has not made functional on other platforms.  The pros of the Kindle 3 are:  You can search a book or your entire Kindle library for a keyword or phrase; plus, you can print your notes and highlights.  These two functions are worth the price ($139/wifi) because I am using the device as a research tool.  Another plus is that it’s a decent reader, but frankly I prefer the backlit screens of my iPod, mac, and phone.  On the con side, the Kindle is frustrating slow and clumsy when navigating with the directional key, or accessing menus.  Once you’re used to a touch device (iPod, Android phone), the Kindle seems outdated.
  • MacBook. The MacBook Amazon app is limited, but useful for reading when your lappy is all you’ve got.  Pros:  Bigger screen (all the Amazon apps and devices allow you to adjust the print size), so I can sit back in my desk chair and read with the mac on my desk.  I probably use this the least, but I do use it.  Cons:  You cannot underline, make notes, or do anything other than bookmark a page.  However, the mac app will display previous bookmarks, notes, and highlights.
  • Android HTC Hero. I had to get this phone because AT&T is taking over Alltel (my current carrier) and my Blackberry died.  I will eventually replace with an iPhone, but for now I get to try out an Android phone, although it is not the best available.  Pros:  The Kindle app works, and as a reader I like the Android screen size, although I like the iPod size more because it is slightly larger.  Cons:  Same as with the mac app, you can’t highlight, make notes, or do any annotation other than bookmarking a page.
  • iPod Touch. I bought the iPod Touch in February because I wanted an e-reader I could carry in my pocket.  The iPod Touch fills that bill nicely, and is the best device of the 4 I have for reading.  Pros:  You can highlight (although the touch is dodgy sometimes), make notes, and bookmark.  The highlights and notes made on the iPod (this also applies to the iPhone) show up on the mac.  Initially I also loaded the B&N app, but it kept crashing while the Amazon app just worked.  (B&N has now fixed that issue, but their ebooks tend to be more expensive, and their selection less extensive than Amazon).  Cons:  the touch highlighting is sometimes jiggy, but I have almost mastered the technique, I think.

I do not have an iPad as a reader for two reasons:  1) we don’t have AT&T yet, so I could not get the broadband version; 2) price.  Actually, there is a 3rd reason:  I think the iPad is too heavy to use as an e-reader for very long.  But that’s just my opinion.

If I were limited to only one e-reading device, I would stay with my first choice, the iPod Touch.  (As soon as I can get an iPhone, I’ll retire my iPod Touch for backup or home use).

What are you doing in the digital book and reader world?  Do you find it useful in ministry, and if so, why and how.

The Perfect E-Reader according to me

The new Skiff Reader debuted at CES last week.

E-readers were all the rage at the Consumer Electronics Show last week. There were so many new e-readers introduced that one techno-wag actually whined about the number, scope, features, and size of so many devices. I looked at all the e-readers, glanced at most of their capabilities, but I’m not buying one yet.  Here’s my wish list for what I want an e-reader to do:

1. Do more than display digital books. Apple may (I hope) surprise everyone with an mega-iPhone device that will be a computer, video camera, media player, e-reader, gaming device, internet communicator, and perhaps even a phone, but at a hefty price. HP had some tablets on display when Steve Ballmer of Microsoft spoke, but no specs, delivery dates, or other info. Dell showed a 5″ tablet that has promise, and of course the Nexus One Google phone might fit the bill in most of the things I’m looking for. But I don’t want to buy a dedicated device.

2. Use an open reading platform. Apparently PDF and EPUB are the most ubiquitous, with Amazon’s Kindle using a completely proprietary system. Blio, a new digital publishing platform was also introduced at CES, but apparently it’s proprietary as well.  I want to be able to access my books over multiple devices, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.

3.  Books available in the cloud from multiple devices. I like Kobo, the former ShortCovers mobile phone ebook reader and service.  Kobo has a very good interface for my Blackberry, plus I can login on my macbook as well.  I can download books, and access them from the cloud, and Kobo remembers where I was when I quit reading.

4.  Wireless purchase and accessibility. Kindle created this feature and others are following close behind.  It’s really so 20th century to have to download books to your computer, then sync to your mobile device.  This will be an assumed feature in the very short future.

5.  Notation, bookmarking, and other ways to personalize text. Most of the higher end e-readers already have this, and a new Samsung device lets you write with a stylus (but do we want a stylus?), just like writing a regular book.  But, is that what we really want to do, or do we want to link our notations to specific paragraphs?  Anyway, at a minimum the ability to interface with the text of the book itself.

6.  Ability to search across my entire digital library. I have about 2,000 printed books.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to search through each volume because invariably I think a reference is in one book, when really it’s in another.  Google Books is getting close with this, and if they ever settle their lawsuit with publishers, authors, and others Google Books may really be a handy reference tool.  But, back to e-readers — search is another basic feature that will have to be included in all e-readers.

7.  Cut-and-paste text from the e-reader to my writing device. I don’t see an alternative to heavy duty writing other than an ergonomic keyboard device like a desktop or laptop anytime soon.  Of course, voice recognition could turn writing into dictating, but writers will still need the ability to do research, clip a quote, footnote the source, and paste all of that into their main writing device.

8.  Video, audio, and color graphics capability. Black-and-white readers will be gone by next Christmas.  Too many color devices will be introduced in 2010 for anyone to settle for e-ink only technology.  One device manufacturer (I forget which one) demo-ed a reader that can switch between b&w e-ink and full color display.  Why not all color, all the time?  Digital books will take on a new form eventually, and will incorporate text, video, photos, graphics, and user interactive features.

9.  Designed for digital books, not print books. Currently digital books run way behind print books in sales, so ebooks are the digital versions of their printed-on-paper big brothers.  But that is changing quickly.  Within five years (maybe less) the curves will cross and digital will pass print as the media of choice.  Students will see it with textbooks and bring their new reading habits into the real world when they graduate.  One tech guru predicts that students will be using tablet computers instead of laptops in the near future.

10.  Foster communities for producing, sharing, and consuming media. Imagine a small group able to share notes, insights, video, audio, and photos around the book or periodical they are using as a study guide.  Of course, everyone would need access to a device, but prices will come down quickly.

That’s what I’m looking for in my stocking next Christmas.  What would you add to this set of specs, or how to you see the whole e-reader and other devices developing, especially as it relates to church?

The E-book revolution

E-books are popping up everywhere suddenly.  As I write this, mediabistro.com’s e-book summit is livestreaming on my office PC.   The hot nearly-new gift for Christmas this year is an e-reader — a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony Reader, or one of the others coming soon.  The entire publishing industry is all abuzz about e-books.  Simon & Schuster announced last week that they would delay e-book editions for four months, giving breathing room to their print editions. Stephen Covey has just broken ranks with his print publisher, asserting his ownership of digital rights, and has struck a deal with Amazon to sell his books at the Kindle store.


What does all this mean?  Here’s my take, for what’s its worth:

  • E-readers are transition devices. Just like PDAs and netbooks, dedicated e-readers are going to bridge the gap between the non-technology generation (baby boomers and older) and the technology natives (those who grew up with all this digital stuff).  In less than 5-years (maybe sooner) e-readers will look as quaint as PDAs do now.
  • Print publishing and print publishers are going away. Just like newspapers, it’s not the content people don’t want, it’s the format (print) and the super slow delivery system.  Even daily newspaper delivery looks really slow compared to instant access to anything you want to read or see. Having to go to a store to buy a book, or even wait for the Amazon delivery 1-2 days later will quickly fade.  This is the always-on era, including all media — books and magazines are just late to this party.
  • Creators will own the entire process, if they want to. People can now create, format, and upload to Amazon and other epub bookstores.  Good stuff will still find its market.
  • Creators may not want to own the entire process, and may outsource the editing and epublishing technicalities to others.  Hence, epublishers are born to deliver as much or as little assistance as needed, both editorially and technically.
  • Distribution can work across multiple channels like Amazon, Sony’s ebookstore, B&N’s ebookstore, and lesser knowns such as Boooklocker, etc.  But, Amazon rules the day now.  They created the instant delivery, the first e-reader that did not need to hook up to a computer, and the “first instantly available with no hassles” delivery system.
  • Print publishers are still trying to protect a dying format — the hardcover first edition.  Note the ill-conceived plan of Simon & Schuster to delay ebooks for 4 months after the hardcover edition.
  • New epublishers who do not think “print” will offer new perspectives on the whole publishing industry.
  • It’s all going mobile soon. Back to my fascination with mobile phones.  Obviously the iPhone was the game-changer that set a new paradigm of multiple uses for a mobile phone.  Tomi Ahonen had a piece last week citing stats that Americans now use their phones more for texting than for voice calls.  The transition has already started of mobile devices as total communication tools — voice, text, data, reader, video, photos, music, internet, pda, etc, etc.  Depending on what Apple does with its iTablet, if it exists, this could be another game changer.  However, the new, rumored Google Phone (bigger screen than the iPhone), which is set to work seamlessly with Google Books is really the future.  One device, that fits in your pocket, that does everything you want to do.
  • What, you ask, does this have to do with small churches, or churches of any size?  For the first time ever in the history of humankind (drumroll) you will be able to communicate directly, personally, and at any time with anyone you choose to.  This has huge implications for how churches communicate, gather people, do ministry, and publish their message.  What do you think are some ways churches could benefit from the epublishing, ebook, and mobile phone revolution?