Welcome back to “Consider While Writing”: the blog post series that helps you plan ahead, to make the publishing process as smooth as possible once that manuscript is finished! Today, we’re focusing on planning your devotional.
For our previous installments, check out our blogs on Manuscript Setup, Interior Layout, Research Prep, and Novel Planning.
Most often, devotionals are planned around a central theme. In addition to grounding your writing and deepening your focus, a central theme helps give your readers some guidance: people are often drawn to devotionals because they’re looking for some “spiritual coaching”: a map to how to approach the Bible, their faith, and relationship with God from a new angle. Themes are numerous and can range from simply focusing on a book of the Bible, to tackling tough topics or specific aspects of spiritual life. For instance, Reflections for Our Highs and Lows by Marja Bergen is intended to help bring comfort to readers struggling with mental health issues. Water in the Desert by Sherry Stahl focuses on Scriptures that deal with renewal and hydration (both spiritual and physical) in desert places.
Devotional themes also help during the design and marketing phase of publishing: the theme of your writing can give your cover designer and typesetter direction and allow fancy, topical embellishments to your book. Marketing materials can target an audience when you know exactly what you’re presenting to your audience, and you may even find yourself teaming up with other initiatives that have corresponding interests—for example, Sherry Stahl took her them of hydration further and teamed up with Crossroads Relief and Development, helping to dig wells and bring water to people who need it.
You’ve established what you’re writing about, now, who are you writing for? Adults? Children? Pastors? Doctors? Reaching out to a certain group—whether defined by gender, age range, or occupation—can again help to focus your writing and your marketing plan. Some authors shy away from specialization because it sounds limiting: after all, if you define your book as a devotional for women, you’re cutting out have the population of possible readers. However, devotionals with target audiences can also be wildly popular. A lot of readers are looking for a devotional to fill a need: support during a stressful period in their career, guidance when entering a new stage in life, to combat negativity surrounding an aspect of their identities…the list goes on and on. Wise for Salvation, a new children’s devotional by Christie Thomas, is intended to help young children form relationships with God: something a lot of parents are hoping to achieve. A Cord of Three by Sheryl Sanderson is aimed at couples. 40 Days in the Man Cave by Todd Stahl focuses on helping men grow in faith while reinforcing a key element of their identities: masculinity.
A target audience can also help draw in people searching for books for their loved ones. Finding a present can be difficult, so finding a devotional that makes it clear this book is intended just for them can be reassuring.
When people are committing to a new devotion series, they want to know how long they’ll be spending with your writing. After you’ve written a few devotions, go through them yourself and time how long it takes you to read, reflect, and perform any activities the devotion prescribes. It’s not a race—some people may spend hours with a devotion that you spend 10 minutes with—but it’s good to have an idea of a reasonable time frame in which your devotions can be completed in. Then, be consistent. Devotions are often worked into routines. If one devotion takes your readers 10 minutes, and the next one takes them 45, it makes it difficult to make it part of their daily, weekly, or monthly practices, which they’re unlikely to appreciate.
Next, establish how long your devotional is intended to last your readership. Is this a yearly devotional? Is it meant for a time period or month? Think about how you’ll explain this to readers, and be as clear as possible—if someone is looking for a devotional that will last them all year, they’ll be disappointed if your book runs out of devotions 1 month in. Similarly, if someone’s looking for a one-month devotion, they’re not going to pick up a book that looks like a year-long slog.
Heather Booersma’s Dream Big has the subtitle “30 Days to a Life Beyond All You Could Ask or Imagine"—right away, you can see exactly what it’s intended for: a 30 day period of inspiration and preparation. Someone looking for a one-month spiritual sojourn would be looking for a book just like this.
We hope these tips will help you plan ahead. Are you working on a devotional right now? We’d love to hear about it! Share in the comments section.
Amy Groening is a project manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cat committing random acts of feline crime.