What Every Pastor Must Know About Publishing a Book

Written by Raul Rivera on Jan 31, 2017 in Pastoral Helps

Have you ever thought about publishing a book? Perhaps you have thought about using some of your sermons to create a book, or you have felt led by the Lord to write and publish a book on a particular subject matter. Maybe you have considered creating educational material in order to teach and edify fellow believers. 

While these are admirable undertakings to pursue, there are some important factors that you need to consider first.

Publishing a book is not as simple as it may seem on the surface. It is easy to look at the successful ministries of T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen and think, “I would like to have a ministry like that.” We see all of the books these ministers write, publish, and sell, but what we do not see is the established legal structure that allows these ministries to function the way they do. 

We cannot speak to the direct nature of how the legal structure for such ministries are setup. However, we are able to examine the law as a whole to determine the legal options when authoring and publishing a book. 

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The first question you should ask yourself

Before the pen touches the paper, one of the first questions that you should ask is, “Who will own the intellectual property rights of this work?” 

Many pastors will think, “Well, I do, of course! I am the author!” But not so fast. 

In general, the creator or author of a work is initially considered the owner of the copyright. However, there is a caveat that affects many pastors who work for a church or personal ministry. 

Section 201(b) of the Copyright Act of 1976 states, “In the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of this title, and, unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them, owns all of the rights comprised in the copyright.”

The concept of “work made for hire” is important in determining the owner of intellectual property. In order to determine if the material was a work made for hire, consider the following:

  1. Was the work written or created during office hours?
  2. Was the work created on church or ministry owned property?
  3. Was the work created using church or ministry equipment? 
  4. Was the work created using church or ministry employees or personnel?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, it is likely that the work belongs to the organization and not to you (the author).

The concept of “work made for hire” is important in determining the owner of intellectual property.

The pitfall of private inurement

Determining the owner of the intellectual property rights is important because it also determines who is able to financially benefit from the work. One of the primary concerns for the IRS is that public funds are not being used to unduly benefit a single individual. This is known as private inurement. 

In fact, one of the conditions for receiving and maintaining tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code is that none of the nonprofit’s assets inure to the personal benefit of any individual, other than reasonable compensation for services rendered.

For example, if a pastor authors and publishes a book using the church’s resources and then sells the book as his own, receiving substantial royalties from the sale of the book, the IRS could consider this action as private inurement. In this situation, the pastor is personally benefiting from an investment of the church’s public funds.

Private inurement is considered a violation of section 501(c)(3) and, without remedy, may result in a loss of tax-exempt status retroactive to the date of the act. 

When contemplating the idea of writing a book, consider who will be the owner of the intellectual property. Also, consider who will be the primary beneficiary for the sales of the books (you or the church).

Let us look at three paths that you may pursue when authoring and publishing a book.

Private inurement is considered a violation of section 501(c)(3).

3 paths to publishing a book

Path 1: For-profit venture

Publishing and selling books can be a lucrative business. Not surprisingly, many pastors who write also want to make a profit on the sale of their works. 

If making money is a primary goal, you may want to consider setting up your own separate corporation or LLC through which you can publish and sell the material. To make this happen, you should write the book on your own time, using your own equipment, and with your own money. The book can then be published and sold at your discretion. In this case, all intellectual property rights remain with you (as the author). Additionally, any income generated through the sale of the book would be taxable to you. If you have questions about how to do this or need assistance with this process, we can help! Give us a call at 877-494-4655.

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Of course, pastors desire to sell their works through their ministry or at church events. Nonprofit organizations are able to sell books and other written literature so long as the sales of the items are furthering the organization’s tax-exempt purpose.

If the author is a board member of the nonprofit organization, the board of directors would need to establish an at-arms-length agreement in order to purchase the materials from the author. It is also important to note that the author’s intellectual property cannot be sold to the organization for more than the fair market value of the created work. In this type of agreement, the interested party (author) would have to be recused from the vote of the board of directors. 

(Recommended Reading: “Understanding Conflict of Interest and Your Church”)

All income from the books sold by the nonprofit would remain with the organization. Other than the initial sale price, the author would receive no financial benefit, such as royalties.

Path 2: Personal ministry 

A second path to consider is setting up a ministry through which you can write, publish, and promote books at public speaking engagements. Many personal ministries are created for this purpose: to give a platform through which you can engage in public speaking events and promote the written material the Lord called you to write. 

When writing and publishing books or other material through the ministry, the written works are considered works made for hire. The intellectual property rights remain with the organization, even if the pastor leaves the organization. 

This path is ideal for ministers who are not seeking personal gain from the written material. It is important that the topic of the book is religious in nature, and the sales of the book are incidental to the main purpose of the ministry.

Writing and publishing books through your ministry are considered works made for hire under copyright laws.

The ministry can publish the books with ministry money and sell them at its conferences, workshops, and speaking engagements. 

(Recommended Reading: “5 Simple Fundraising Ideas That Will Work For Churches”)

In this situation, you would not receive direct benefits, such as royalties, from the sale of the books. However, you could receive reasonable compensation from the ministry as an employee for work rendered. 

Path 3: Creative license agreement 

Through our StartRIGHT® Program, we have created a third path that honors the intellectual property rights of the author while also protecting the tax-exempt status of the church.

Learn More About the StartRIGHT Program

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If you want to write a book or other creative work as an employee of your church, but also want to be able to take the intellectual property rights with you upon leaving, then you and your church can enter into a creative license agreement. 

This creative license agreement allows your church full use of the material while you remain an employee of the church. 

In this instance, you are not able to sell or promote the material for personal profit, nor are you able to receive royalties on the sales of the work until after you have left the organization, at which point the intellectual property leaves with you (the author). 

The agreement must meet the following requirements of section 201(b) of the Copyright Act of 1976:

  1. Both parties have “expressly agreed” that the minister (employee), rather than the church (employer), is the author of a work made for hire and owns the copyright in the work;
  2. The agreement between both parties is documented in a “written instrument”; and
  3. The creative license agreement is “signed by them” (employee and employer).

The creative license agreement should be documented in the minister’s compensation agreement. Additionally, it should include that the creative license agreement, and benefits thereof, were approved and given in consideration for services rendered.

If you are interested in learning more about forming a creative license agreement, consider enrolling in our online church compliance course: StartCHURCH University.

You have questions, we have the answers

It is no secret that when ministers create Christian literature it is not just for themselves, but it is in response to the call that God has placed upon their lives to serve the Body of Christ. As we have seen, there are three paths that you are able to take when creating works of art, all of which can bring glory to God. 

We are able to guide you through the process of the method you select. Please consider joining us at one of our upcoming conferences, where you will learn more about creating your own personal ministry and the creative license agreement. 

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Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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