The Unintended Consequence of Posting that I Won’t Review Books on My Blog

stop-sign

People are still sending me books to review.

I tried to warn authors and publicists that I wouldn’t be able to review their books on my blog and wrote a 3,000-word post with all kinds of ideas for getting book reviews. The overall number of requests has dropped, but they continue all the same.

As I tried to sort this out, I realized that there are some really interesting aspects of book publicity worth considering here. I’ll begin with the most obvious, at least to me, and move to the some deeper issues that may be difficult to see with clarity.

 

Publicists and Authors Didn’t See the Post

OK, I wrote a post about not reviewing books on my blog, but that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. I don’t assume every person requesting a review disregarded my post.

I need to do a better job of making that post visible on my site. It’s not serving the purpose I intended if I’m not helping more visitors find it. It’s really easy to neglect the internal functionality of my website. Heck, I don’t think my latest release was even listed on the “My Books” page a month after it released! I guess I should get on that in May.

Lesson learned!

 

Hope Springs Eternal for Some Authors

While some haven’t seen the post, I have also received requests from authors who begin their emails with something like this:

“I saw your post about not being able to read books or review them on your blog, and I don’t expect you to read my book, but I still want to send it to you…”

I applaud this optimism and determination, misguided though it may be. Hey, if you love your book, you should want everyone to read it. It’s just troubling to me that some authors believe in their books SO MUCH that they’re willing to waste a copy of it, let alone wasting their time sending emails to people who have publicly stated that they won’t do what’s being asked of them.

I’ve been there. I’ve taken long shots before. I don’t sit here in judgment, even if I was a bit miffed at first.

Too many authors are so focused on getting bloggers to do what they, the authors, want that they miss out on what a blogger could do for them. For instance, a regular reader of my newsletter dropped me a note asking for my feedback on a project. I was more than happy to spend five minutes offering my opinion. In fact, a simple ask like that means I could suggest other people who may read the book or places where he could find publicity. The sky’s the limit for potential networking at that point.

There is a world of difference between a five-minute favor and a potential three-hour slog through a PDF file.

I want every author to be filled with optimism and enthusiasm for their projects, but I also don’t want them to waste their contacts with fellow authors and bloggers. Sometimes shooting a bit low, especially if the person being asked doesn’t know you, can bring in the best return for your time.

 

Stop Relying on Other People to Make Your Book Successful

Besides the dogged optimism of authors, I think this trend of asking bloggers for reviews sometimes speaks to a deeper struggle that I personally spent years sorting out. Too many up and coming authors rely on other people for their success.

Mind you, the right person really can make or break your career. I’ve seen it happen to people with little to no credentials trump those with credentials simply because the right person opens some doors. However, this is rare, and the vast majority of us can’t reach more readers by tagging along with someone else’s success. We have to build our readers gradually, one person at a time each day rather than praying for a windfall from the right blogger or celebrity.

I spent far too much time coveting the support of celebrity authors or social media bumps from people with bigger platforms, hoping and praying that they would respond to my pleas via email for help. Even when I did land a great endorsement from a leading and trusted voice or a windfall of social media shares, that didn’t necessarily compensate for the limited connections I had with readers at the start of my publishing career.

This is one of those cases where a lot of misinformation about social media and endorsements converge with a few case studies of the extreme exceptions that become the norm for far too many. I completely overestimated the impact of endorsements, blog posts, and social media shares from influential people when it came to selling my books, especially when my books were only on sale for 30% off.

I won’t say that social media, blog posts, or endorsements can’t help your book. They can, especially if you’re offering a $.99 promotion. However, the context and specific situation matters a lot. One of my friends wrote a children’s book that helps kids not be afraid of the dark and he got a share from an extremely popular Twitter user who is a household name for many. That gave his book a huge lift (although I’m quick to say he had a massive network of his own to begin with!), but how many of us have a book with such a wide, instantly recognizable appeal or a reliable contact with a celebrity who is deeply invested in our work? Not many!

For the majority of us, we can certainly promote books through our blogs, social media, or endorsements from trusted authorities in our fields, but the real movement I’ve seen with my books has come by making longer lasting connections with readers who subscribe to my blog or my email newsletter. These are the people who are interacting with me on a regular basis and who will be most invested in my books when they release.

While there’s nothing wrong with using guest posts on other blogs to promote a book when it releases—hey, I’ve done it and will continue to do it—you may see a better long term investment in your time if you use blog posts to grow your blog or newsletter subscribers, keeping in touch with them, and then tell them about your next book when it releases.

Do you see the difference there? Too many authors have the promotion work backwards. We think of promotion as this thing we do to reach readers after the book is done, but it actually works a lot better if you build those connections before you even write the book. Then, when the book releases, you can ask your network of readers to buy your book and to share it on social media.

This could only be me and it may not last forever, but I have noticed a significant difference in the response to my newsletter vs. my social media posts: the former receives way more attention. Publicist Tim Grahl notes that it’s hard to dodge an email, but there are any number of reasons why a follower on social media with miss a post or a tweet.

I couldn’t have taken my first steps in publishing without other authors offering advice, support, and connections. I’m committed to doing the same for others. To that end, the most important piece of advice I can offer is to build your own network of readers. I assure you, it’s far more rewarding to interact with your own group of readers and celebrate a new book with them. The alternative is an author who spends release week begging bloggers and other authors to help promote a book. Yes, sometimes authors and bloggers will help out, but this is a small part of book publicity, not the center piece of it.

When one of my friends releases a new book, I’m one of the first people to offer a guest post slot or interview on my blog, but I also know that these posts usually receive the lowest amount of traffic on my blog.

I’ve worked on both sides of this as a blogger and an author, and it really does work to slowly but surely build your own audience and share your publishing journey with them. Best yet, once you have a better idea of who will be reading your books, you’re going to write better books that address the interests and concerns of your readers.

Perhaps the best thing that can happen to most authors is a firm “no” from a few bloggers. Blog publicity is an extremely hit or miss way to go about promoting a book. The sooner you try something else, the better.

Check out Tim Grahl’s Your First 1,000 Copies for a bit more insight into how a change in book publicity could look for you. Really, this book will help you make the most of your book promotion, far beyond what most publicists can offer. Then again, Grahl’s book also means you now have a ton of work to do.

 

 

Book Lovers

Author Cindy Brandt Shares about Her New Book Outside In

OutsideInSmall

cindy-brandt-profileEvery month or two, I take on a new book editing or author coaching project. It’s one of the most satisfying aspects of my freelancing work. Without fail, every author working on a first book is taken aback by the amount of work a book project calls for, but my latest client, Cindy Brandt, really impressed me with her determination and energy throughout the book writing and revising process.

While I don’t usually highlight the projects I’ve worked on, Cindy’s book will appeal to many of my readers, and I thought an interview with her about the process and the final product would be a fun way to highlight this service I offer while introducing new readers to her work. I sent Cindy a few brief questions to answer:

You reference that you’re a third culture kid. Explain what that means and how that shapes the way you think about following Jesus and the ways American culture may influence that.

Third Culture Kid is an umbrella term to describe kids who grow up with the influence of more than one culture. Some classic examples of TCKs are missionary kids or military kids, whose parents may be from one country but they grow up in other countries. Often, they spend time in more than one culture within the span of their childhood.

Although I was not an MK or a military kid, I fit into this category because of the significant influence of two distinct cultures in my life. I am Taiwanese, but I was educated in an American Christian school for missionary children. I became a Christian as a child because of this school so my conversion and discipleship formation took place primarily through the lens of American Christianity.

I think often Americans don’t realize how much their American culture shapes the way they practice their faith. When they transport their faith to other cultures, they often bring a lot of their American-ness to their converts. In my case, I internalized that being Christian meant acting like an American, and because I am in fact, not American, I often felt like I don’t belong to the Christian culture.

However, more and more I am discovering that following Jesus has very little to do with belonging to Christian culture. On the contrary, I believe following Jesus means dismantling the walls that are erected to determine who is in and who is outside of Christian culture.

My hope is that the book, Outside In, serves as a call to tear down some of these walls so more people can be included in the community of Christ followers.

How did your experiences as a third culture kid influence your desire to blog and work on this book project? 

In the beginning of my blogging days, I actually wrote more frequently on the experiences of being a TCK and found many TCK readers who resonated with those posts. However, most TCK blog readers would generally not identify as Christians so the blog would have fit in a totally different niche than mine is right now.

Because my faith is so important to me, I decided I want to be a voice to my people within the church, so I’ve been focused on blogging about faith. I hope my experiences as a TCK and my geographical location outside of America, can bring a unique angle to the conversation.

My book is not specifically for TCKs but speaks to the broader ideas of how to include people in the church. But I think the reason I pay attention to these perspectives is because as a TCK, I do not fit neatly into any category. As an outlier myself, my ears perk up to the stories of other outliers.

You talk about 10 different types of people the church may have overlooked in your book, but are there one or two groups in particular who really stood out and prompted you to begin writing this book? 

You know, I am very drawn to stories of suffering. I was one of those kids where if my friends got hurt with an injury I would be the one crying! The chapters on grieving and depression both come from empathizing with painfully personal stories of loved ones in my life, and I felt most compelled to use my writing voice to amplify their stories.

Of the ten overlooked outsiders, which do you personally identify with the most and why? 

I am the doubter. I speak quite openly about my story and struggle with doubt in the book. I speak on behalf of others in most of the chapters but the doubting chapter was my own story.

A second top contender would be the person who is too busy. I have a type-A personality and over commitment is my middle name. That chapter was difficult to write because I talk about slowing down and being more present, knowing how hard it would be for me to follow my own advice.

Any plans for a next book? (Looking for a good editor???) 

At the end of my book I say there are endless chapters to be written for it. There is always room in the world for one more unique story and one more perspective. I think it would be a fun project to add bonus chapters to Outside In and highlight more Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore.

I also have some ideas swirling in my head on the subject of how to be in relationship with people who are very different from us. In a way it would be a follow up to Outside In. After we have embraced outsiders, how then do we exist in community with a diversity of people?

How can readers find out more about this book and your writing? 

You can click here to find more information about Outside In. I would encourage people to sign up for my newsletter for future writing updates. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cindybrandtwriter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cindy_w_brandt

Instagram: https://instagram.com/cindybrandt/

Learn more about my book editing, author coaching, and website content services.

When Commercial Christian Publishing Was Bad for My Soul

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Christian publishing was bad for my soul, but I need to begin with a few caveats.

Christian publishing isn’t “bad” in every way in and of itself.

Christian publishing isn’t necessarily bad for everyone’s soul.

Commercial publishing in general could be bad for anyone’s soul.

Christian publishing isn’t even necessarily bad for my soul right now. It could be bad for my soul, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two after a decade working my way into this subset of the publishing world. I should probably leave it at this:

Commercial Christian publishing was quite bad for my soul for a period of time. I also suspect that there are many Christian authors who would agree with this assessment at certain points in their careers.

Idealistic souls like myself enter into Christian publishing with two major problems:

  1. We don’t know how to recognize when our souls are in bad shape.
  2. We can’t imagine how Christian publishing could be bad for our souls.

The two points are related of course. If you aren’t expecting a dark side in the Christian publishing world and you can’t even determine how the dark side is impacting you in the first place, you’re most likely in for a major, major crash.

I want Christian publishers to thrive, and I want Christian authors to thrive. This isn’t about pointing fingers or telling people to avoid working with Christian publishers. On the contrary, I want healthy Christian authors to work with publishers in order to produce excellent books that will help their readers. Having commercially published a few books myself, people often ask me for advice about how to get involved in Christian publishing. I usually write something like this “off the record,” but I think it would really help if we could speak about these things openly. So here we go…

 

How Is It with Your Soul?

When I started working on my first book proposal in 2005, I didn’t know how to evaluate whether I was in a healthy or unhealthy place in relation to publishing. I felt a strong calling to write, and I had a book idea that, in my view, met an important need in the church. I graduated from seminary knowing that I shouldn’t pastor in a church, but I could pastor through my writing.

At the outset I didn’t see how I tied my personal identity with my work and, most importantly, the reception of readers and influencers to my work. I cared way, way, way too much about what people thought of my books because I linked my work with their acceptance or rejection of me.

It wasn’t the sales numbers necessarily that wore me down, although we’ll get to that. It was rather an expectation that my books were only good, and by connection myself, if certain influential people noticed them, shared them, endorsed them, etc.

In addition, I waited for the feedback of editors for book projects and unwittingly began to associate my value as a writer with my status at publishing houses. I began to only think of myself as a serious author if I had a contract at a major publishing house. My “calling” to write was handed over to a few busy people who rightly wanted no part in determining my self worth or the direction of my life.

When I didn’t reach the sales goals I needed to meet, my future as an “author” hung in the balance. I didn’t know how to survive without the approval of others for my work. Adding in the pressure to make at least some money from book publishing, I had created a toxic mixture of personal approval and financial pressure that poisoned my writing work.

There are some trends or tendencies in commercial Christian publishing that feed these toxic trends, but there’s no doubt that I brought the majority of the crazy to my personal situation. I could choose to either ground myself in God’s calling for myself and my faithfulness to that calling, or I could look to my inbox and social media for approval.

 

Christian Publishing Is a Business

It’s easy to sit back and take shots at publishers for their publishing decisions. Just the other day I was thinking: if I see another Christian dieting gimmick book, I’m going pitch a proposal called My Year of Eating Under the New Covenant where I eat nothing but pork and seafood for a year.

Nevertheless, for every “Patriot’s Bible” and faux self-help author that causes me to roll my eyes, there are excellent, grounded authors like Jennifer Dukes Lee, Ann Voskamp (no “prosetry” haters allowed, Ann’s the real deal), Nate Pyle, Preston Yancey, Emily Freeman, Michelle Derusha, Christie Purifoy, and D. L. Mayfield (just to name a few off the top of my head) breaking into Christian publishing, writing excellent books, and even dominating the bestseller lists as they offer the rest of us hope.

However, commercial publishing remains a business that demands immediate results, and diet books and Amish romances do provide guaranteed sales. Every author feels the pressure to meet sales targets knowing that their next books hinge on those sales numbers. It doesn’t matter if outside circumstances contributed to low sales numbers, a marketing person dropped the ball, or, in my case, the publicist got fired before the book’s release. If you can’t produce the numbers a publisher needs, you’re getting axed and publishing another book will be tough in the future.

Suddenly sticking a woman with a bonnet on your book’s cover to jumpstart sales starts looking attractive… Amish Coffeehouse Theology Romance anyone?

Most writers either in Christian publishing or hoping to enter Christian publishing need to know why certain books are chosen over others and how publishers hope to make money from the books they acquire.

For instance, the pastor with a congregation of 5,000 people and a huge social media following can pitch a book that says something like, “Following Jesus is a relationship and church is about the people, not the building,” or “Don’t gossip!” and it may get published because his platform is huge and can guarantee the sales a publisher needs. Just create a sermon series around the book’s release and presto! Book deal!

I can only imagine what some of the authors of our spiritual classics would hear if they were pitching their books today…

“Dear Mr. Bonhoeffer,

I’m afraid we’re going to have to pass on your book proposal about creating a healthy church community. It is clearly well-written and based on your experience leading an underground church movement, but your Twitter following just isn’t up to snuff and your congregation is unfortunately too small and, most concerning of all, UNDERGROUND…”

The relatively unknown authors who aren’t household names will need to blog like crazy, make connections on social media, gather endorsements from influential people, and develop amazing book concepts that are unique and original while somehow landing within the interests and guidelines of a publisher.

That may not be true across the board for every book proposal, but so far as I can see, that is simply the reality for many. And mind you, if you create a really compelling book that a publisher takes a chance on, you really, really need to at least earn back your advance if you want to publish more books commercially. My struggle to land a second or third book deal because a first book was perceived as underperforming based on sales in the first year is not uncommon.

This puts a ton of pressure on authors to play the publicity game, and authors can really hit a wall here. We need to gather reviews, write guest posts, book speaking events when possible, and figure out ways to gain exposure for our books even though most of us have no experience in publicity, retail, or online merchandising. Publishers have essentially told authors, “This is the new normal, get used to it.”

I spent about ten years in this grind of writing proposals, blogging, working on publicity, and fighting to boost my sales. I’ve had some nice triumphs and some dismal failures.

When I started on a “Woe is me” lament with a pastor friend, he said, “But look at all of the experience you gained!”

I replied with something like, “Yeah, and that experience really hurt.”

Like I said, commercial Christian publishing was bad for my soul.

At the start of 2015, I decided that I needed to make a major change.

 

Taking a Break from Commercial Publishing

For this season of my life, I’m shelving my proposals. I told my agent that I’m taking a break. I’m not saying I’m done forever. I’m just done for now because I’ve had enough of the commercial publishing game. If I ever pursue it again, I want to develop a healthier way of publishing and marketing books.

I can tell you that this decision has resulted in both grief and relief. I never knew how tightly I was holding onto commercial publishing as the source of my identity until I let go of it. I also never knew that letting go of those dreams and goals could be so wonderfully freeing.

For now I’m mapping out plans to work on a few projects I’ve had sitting around and publishing them “Independently,” which is the term of choice over self-publishing for many. I first experimented with self-publishing in 2010 with my book A Path to Publishing (I updated the current version in 2014). Back then the majority of the people with self-publishing experience were still trying to get their books noticed through bookstores, advertising, and article placement—at least the people I read about. It was a ton of work, and sales weren’t amazing. I’ve continued little side experiments with independent publishing, and now I’m finally at a place where I think it’s worth trying.

With Scrivener, it’s ridiculously easy to put an eBook together, and tools like NoiseTrade, BookBub, MailChimp, Kindle Direct, and Draft2Digital make it easy to market your work in a variety of ways. I still have to work with a cover designer and sort out the editorial process, but it’s not that much more work than commercial publishing at this point, even if I do miss the support of some of the excellent editors and publicists I’ve worked with over the years.

Still, by going off on my own I don’t have any pressure to meet sales goals, to play the endorsement game (don’t get me started on that one), or to market my work in any particular ways. I can run promotions whenever I want and jump on opportunities for publicity as they arise. If a book flops, then it’s mainly my own time that I’ve wasted, and if a book struggles in its first month, there’s still plenty of time to figure out ways to promote it.

I can certainly still fall into the trap of judging my self-worth based on the reviews of readers or the response by my friends and colleagues. My soul isn’t in the clear. In fact, before the release of my latest book Pray, Write, Grow, I still had trouble falling asleep for a week as I worried whether enough people would like it. However, once the book released, my anxiety completely disappeared and I was able to simply enjoy the fact that readers were enjoying my book, and that the fate of my next book had nothing to do with its sales for the next month or two.

I like to think that I’m building a healthier way for me, Ed Cyzewski, to write, publish, and publicize my work. Perhaps a day will come that I can sort out a way to work with a publisher again. I’m certainly open to that possibility. But for now, I know that I needed a season to let go of my commercial publishing dreams and simply figure out a healthy way forward as an author.

 

Should You Pursue Commercial Christian Publishing?

One of my main motivations in writing this post is that I’m often asked about how to break into Christian publishing. I even coach some new authors who started out hoping for book deals and actually shifted toward independent publishing for the time being—decisions they made with zero prompting on my part.

I feel like I owe the people who know me some kind of response on the public record to this often-asked question: “Should I pursue commercial Christian publishing?”

I can’t answer that question definitely, but here’s what I know based on my experiences, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, even if my take certainly isn’t the norm for everyone:

  1. There is a ton of pressure to sell enough books if you want to make a career of commercial publishing in general.
  2. The process of publishing a book on deadline and marketing it within a publisher’s timeline can be draining and even make it hard to write the next book.
  3. Marketing support varies from publisher to publisher, and it’s hard to know if you’ve ever been given enough help or the right kind of help. (Publishers are all over the place on how to market books and even when publishers do a lot to market a book, there’s no guarantee it will work as hoped).

I still think there are some really talented writers who should shoot for the big publishers. I’m honestly looking forward to the release of many books from my colleagues this year, and I’m glad they’ve endured the challenges of this industry in order to work with talented editors who will make their books all that much better.

However, the majority of writers hoping to break into publishing simply aren’t ready for all of the demands of publishing, especially the marketing side of things. I’ve been hired to critique lots of proposals, and the vast majority are too thin in the marketing department. While I admire their willingness to take their chances with a publisher, if they do manage to publish that book, release week and the ensuing weeks could be extremely stressful and even soul crushing.

With the ease of independently publishing eBooks these days, most new authors should begin by publishing at least a book or two on their own and figuring out how they can best market it without the pressure of a publisher’s sales goals looming over them. If publishers are going to demand that authors bring their own marketing platforms along with their books, you may as well figure out a way forward that is enjoyable and, most importantly, tested in real life.

I spent years building up social media and blog contacts without understanding how to actually use them to promote books. I wrote newsletters each month without a clue about the value of those email addresses. I was just moving from one half measure to another based on what other authors were doing without fully understanding what would be most effective for connecting readers with my writing.

Commercial Christian publishing was bad for my soul, but I’m trying to learn from my mistakes. I’m hopeful that we can make things better, and we can at least improve upon the status quo.

I still believe that books are a powerful way to share carefully crafted ideas and stories that can change lives and bring joy.

I still believe that the majority of readers are looking for another great book.

I still believe that the majority of authors, editors, and publicists want to produce the absolute best works possible, even if they’re often placed in difficult situations.

The truth is that book publishing can be messy and painful. No one is going to look out for your spiritual health. Once you hop on the publishing roller coaster, it’s going to be difficult to bring it to a stop when you grow weary.

Before I experienced the publishing business from the inside, I thought that publishing books for my fellow Christians was pretty much the greatest gig ever. These days I applaud anyone who wants to get published commercially, but before you take the plunge, you need to realize that writing books for your fellow Christians could be very, very bad for your soul.

 

Rohr for Writers: Sacrifice and the Trap of Unmet Expectations

Rohr forWriters

I didn’t know there was a wrong to way to make a sacrifice. Shouldn’t the act be enough by itself?

Back in college I went out of my way to help a friend. I mean, I took the better part of my day to help him out. Huge, huge sacrifice! Epic! Look at how much I care for you!

He didn’t respond with much gratitude if any, and I just about lost it. The nerve! How dare he! I spent my day helping you, and you can’t even say thank you?

Richard Rohr has something to say about all of this, and it’s especially timely for my writing work:

“’Sacrifice’ usually leads to a well-hidden sense of entitlement and perpetuates the vicious cycle of merit, a mind-set that leads most of us to assume that we are more deserving than others because of what we have given or done. As the old saying goes, all expectations and self-sacrifice are just resentments waiting to happen.”

Immortal Diamond pg. 47

While most writers struggle with comparing ourselves to others, there’s another subtle trap that we can all fall into: the trap of resentment.

Writing requires sacrifices and commitments that can prove costly, and we can begin to expect a return that is in keeping with what we have given up. As we place a premium on our time, effort, and expertise, we can begin to resent the signs that our “investments” in writing aren’t bringing the proper “returns.”

If only “those people” would notice our sacrifices!

I write in Pray, Write, Grow that I had to learn that my writing is a gift to others. A gift isn’t a transaction. While some of us in a more affluent culture have certainly turned gift-giving into quid pro quo transaction where a gift given must equal the gift received, the nature of a true gift removes any hint of expecting anything in return.

That’s what makes writing so taxing sometimes. We could spend hours, days, and months honing a piece of writing only to see it sink into obscurity. Our audience owes of nothing. Sometimes the gift is well-received and sometimes it remains largely “unopened.”

I’ve been there. Heck, I’ve LIVED there for months at a time. There’s been no greater challenge than watching a book I’ve labored over fizzle as readers see it, shrug, and walk away.

Anything we do for others can become a resentment trap if it has called for sacrifices. We can begin thinking, “I had to give up so much for you! The least you could do is appreciate it on my terms!”

The moment we fall into the resentment trap, we turn a “gift” into a transaction, even if we’re not expecting something tangible in return. We’ve made a particular response or affirmation part of the exchange.

At the root of all this, we return to the core issue of identity. Where do you find your identity? Do you let God define who you are and what you’re worth? Do you let your work or other people determine your value?

Most writers I know hate editing, but what really breaks us is the publicity and marketing process—the moment when we put our finished work in front of readers and pray that some read it, enjoy it, and, hopefully, share it with others.

Letting go of my hopes and expectations for my writing has been excruciating. It feels like I’m giving up or at least setting my sites ridiculously low.

Letting go of my hopes and expectations for my writing has also been liberating. I just have to be faithful. I have to write where I feel led. And if I’m only going to base my success on faithfulness, then I’m only more motivated to make sure my work lines up with God’s direction for my life.

Can you see how that works?

If I’m only writing out of a sense of faithfulness to God, then I better sort out God’s direction first.

Without that direction, my work is a complete waste of time. If I’m not looking for anyone else’s approval or applause, I need to at least make sure the starting point is solid. If praise and applause follow, that’s nice, but it’s not the foundation or the driving force behind what I write.

May we learn how to make sacrifices without falling into the trap of resentment.

May we find the freedom and joy of giving our creative work to others as a true gift.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

You can grow in both your prayer and writing by developing the same practices. Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple exercises you can incorporate into your day right now.

Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks

How to Market a Book with Integrity: A Christian Author’s Struggle

On-being-writer-writing-life

My friend Charity Singleton Craig is guest posting today about the lessons she and co-author Ann Kroeker learned as they released their latest book On Being a Writer. In particular, she shares how they tried to make the marketing process less miserable—even fun at times. If Ann and Charity can’t make book marketing fun, I don’t know who can!

 

I’ve never been part of a publishing industry that comes knocking on writers’ doors with large advance checks and the opportunity to just be our introverted selves and write. Never once has someone told me, “You just focus on the words; someone else will worry about the sales.” In fact, conventional wisdom tells us just the opposite. Make sure the writing is decent, but your marketing strategy and platform need to be excellent.

And you’d think that would be fine by me since in addition to being a writer, I also provide marketing services to clients. I have no problem giving them the tools they need to explain their services and connect with potential customers.

When it comes to selling myself, though—which is really what an author needs to do if she plans to write more than one book—the whole business seems a little slimy. I don’t know any writers who think or feel any differently, but if participating in a sales strategy is a necessary part of the writing life, then I needed to get okay with it. And fast.

As my co-author, Ann Kroeker, and I wrote and released our recent book, On Being a Writer, five key elements emerged that have allowed me to sell books without losing my soul.

1. Permission to be myself.

From very early on as we brainstormed ways to spread the word about our book, our publisher, L.L. Barkat, encouraged both Ann and me to choose marketing activities that would allow us to be ourselves. Organizing a big launch team? That didn’t feel like “us.” So instead, we contacted a few individuals privately to help with specific tasks. We also hosted small in-person, launch parties so our friends could come and buy books and celebrate with us. We don’t all have the same gifts and skills—the Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians of that extensively in his letters to them. In the same way, we can’t all approach book selling the same. That’s not to say that I should never operate outside of my comfort zone. But finding marketing methods that fit best with my personality and desires will ultimately serve the book, the readers, and myself best.

 

2. Focus on relationships.

When readers become a platform and friends become a strategy, it’s easy to forget that these are people I am building relationships with. Focusing only on what others can do for me is not only a self-centered sales technique, it misses completely the way the Bible says we should love people. Though Scripture is certainly more than a relationship manual, it provides many guidelines for how we as writers should be interacting with readers, publishers, fellow writers, and more. Here are just a few: James warns against favoritism or giving preference to those who are influential or wealthy. Paul exhorts us away from selfish ambition, thinking only of our interests, toward looking out for the interest of others. Peter reminds us that love should be sincere. And Jesus tells us to give straight answers, to let our yes be yes and our no be no.

 

3. Let each project motivate me.

In On Being a Writer, Ann makes a strong point about what should motivate us to promote our books or other writing projects. It’s advice she actually got from the publisher of one of her earlier books. “Something compelled you to write this message and share it with a broader audience. Right?” her publisher asked. “Could you see speaking [or other promotional efforts] as another avenue to share that same message?” Later in the chapter Ann talks about going on the road to promote that earlier project: “Each time, I kept that idea in mind: the message matters, and I want to get it to the people who need to hear it.” If you just want to write for your own self-discovery or private reflection, keep a journal. But if you have a message or a story or a strategy you want to share with others, publish a book, and then let that message guide you toward telling people about it.

 

4. Remembering that I am creative.

Not only do we each have unique, God-given gifts, we also are made in His image as creators. Just as we bring all of that creativity to the work of writing books, we can employ it in selling books, too. Don’t use just the strategies everyone else is using because “that’s the way we do things around here.” Try new things. Take creative risks. Let your personality, your relationships, your book itself guide you in new and interesting ways to spread the word. For Ann and me, that came in the form of an early release of our book, a surprise even to us as authors! Without telling us, our publisher released our book several weeks early. Sales were happening, friends were gathering, and Ann and I were nearly the last ones to know! That creative launch gave our early sales a boost, and we had nothing to do with it!

 

5. Finally, have fun.

After the hilarity of that early release, suddenly Ann and I had a lot of work to do to get the word out beyond our immediate circles. We ratcheted up the intensity, and rather than enjoying the conversations and being thankful for our bit of success, our strategy turned serious. For several weeks, I didn’t have much fun. People would ask how the launch was going, and I’d smile and say, “Great!” But secretly I was wondering whether I really was cut out for the writing life. After a break from the book over the holidays, I came back to our efforts realizing that it was just the intense, serious version of the writing life that isn’t for me. But by injecting a little fun into our marketing campaigns, I can still be focused without nearly as much stress.

Author Neil Gaiman tells the story of some advice he received from best-selling horror writer Stephen King fairly early in his career. When King observed Gaiman’s early success, he told him simply: “This is really great. You should enjoy it.” The thing is, Gaiman wasn’t enjoying it. And he didn’t for a while.

“Best advice I got that I ignored,” Gaiman said. “Instead I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn’t writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I’d enjoyed it more.”

Being part of a sales strategy is now a reality for writers. But it doesn’t have to suck the life out of you in the process. How do you keep your soul while selling books?

Learn more about On Being a Writer: Ten Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Charity-Craig-authorCharity Singleton Craig is a writer, bringing words to life through essays, stories, blog posts, and books. She is the coauthor of On Being a Writer (T.S. Poetry Press, October 2014), and she has contributed essays to three books, including Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self. She is regularly published at various venues, including The Curator, where she is a staff writer; The High Callingwhere she is a content and copy editor; and TweetSpeak Poetrywhere she is a contributing writer. She lives with her husband and three step-sons in central Indiana. You can find her online at charitysingletoncraig.com, on Twitter @charityscraig, and on Facebook

 

One last note from Ed:

By the way, my latest eBook, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together (due out March 11th), is available for pre-order at the steep discount of $.99 on Kindle.

Click the cover image below to place your order before the price goes up!

15_02_13_PrayWriteGrow copy

 

3 Challenges for Christian Publishing

challenges-christian-publishing

 

If you searched for “crisis in publishing,” you could spend the rest of your life, quite unhappily I might add, reading predictions of publishing’s impending demise. I don’t have anything at stake with the big New York City publishing scene, but I do know a thing or two about Christian publishing.

Perhaps the word “crisis” goes too far. The more measured, less “link-bait-inclined” headline I’ve chosen is “challenges” (My thanks to the three of you who persevered to click through.) Mind you, these are some big challenges. The challenges are especially pressing for authors who aren’t pastors of mega-churches or who can’t afford a $250,000 marketing campaign to make a series of purchases that land their books on the New York Times bestseller list.

Yes, there are more Christian authors than that one former pastor who have done the latter.

Adding to the urgency of these challenges, I’ve seen quite a few of my talented friends involved in Christian publishing take big steps back either to rest or to reevaluate what they’re doing. Some have bowed out, some have made big changes to their goals and daily practices. Some are soldiering on in Christian publishing while harboring some big misgivings—hardly believing that others aren’t putting up more red flags.

From what I know about editors and publicists in the Christian publishing business, most are aware that the challenges and vices of their world are more or less open secrets—especially when the word “business” comes into play with anything that’s supposed to be “Christian.” By and large they all want to fix problems rather than perpetuate them. However, it’s nearly impossible to create any kind of meaningful momentum in a climate where many editors and publicists could be laid off at any moment and publishing companies are always reorganizing and shifting. The last thing I want to do is point fingers or create an us vs. them climate.

From my limited vantage point, there are three major challenges that everyone involved in Christian publishing has to deal with. If you’re new to Christian publishing, you’ll most likely be shocked and overwhelmed by these three challenges at one point or another—so let’s just get the shock over with now. If you’re trying to write Christian books for the long term, I think you’ll have to deal with these challenges sooner than later—that is, if these challenges don’t prevent you from landing a book deal.

Most importantly, I’d like to talk about them and hopefully arrive at some solutions. I have no personal vendettas here… OK, maybe I have a few teeny, tiny grudges… but I’m not out to attack anyone or any company. This is all stuff that tons of people talk about over coffee at Christian conferences and publishing events. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually sort some of them out a bit?

 

What is a Christian book?

The biggest hurdle Christian authors face today is the “Christian book” category itself. What exactly should Christian authors write about if we’re trying to write books about our faith for a “Christian” publisher?

Seriously, just take a look at this little overview of the 2014 Christian bestsellers. We have diet books, relationship books, money-management books, and several crazy town end times prophecy books. I have no bone to pick with anyone who wants to read these books—OK, maybe I’ve shown my cards on the whole end times prophecy thing. But really… I’m just asking, what exactly makes a book “Christian”?

“Christian living” has long been the catchall category for books about prayer, faith, spirituality, and Bible study. There are subsets for church books, theology books, prayer, and fiction. However, the distribution of books into these categories just flat out sucks sometimes. I mean, for the love, people… Heaven Is for Real and Four Blood Moons are listed on Amazon as “theology” books. We may as well list Hippos Go Berserk under Wisdom Literature—you can’t deny the parallels with Ecclesiastes.

Most importantly, quite a few of the best-selling Christian authors getting the biggest advances at the largest publishers aren’t necessarily even writing books with any discernable Christian or faith-based element beyond the fact that they are Christians themselves.

I’m not here to judge anyone. We may need self help/healthy living books at times, and it doesn’t hurt to read a book about living a better life, organizing your junk, or whatever. I understand that these books have a broad appeal, sell well, and keep the lights on at publishers. The same goes for the ubiquitous Amish fiction genre.

However, based on some of the books that are acquired and that become bestsellers, Christian publishing is having a bit of an identity crisis. I don’t know about you, but I spend my time trying to figure out the challenges and needs of Christians and then developing book ideas that address them from the perspective of the Christian faith. That at least strikes me as the point of Christian publishing—you know, as opposed to using the Bible to speculate about the end times, sowing fear and confusion, and then cashing in by playing to the fears American culture attempts to medicate through entertainment and sleeping pills.

Publishers may not like me, my writing, or my ideas, but so long as I’m presenting solutions to problems from a Christian perspective, I think I’m at least faithful to the mission of what Christian publishing is all about.

Christian books should resemble the actions and teachings of Christ.

When we see books that are essentially self-help manuals sitting atop the bestseller list alongside Christian bestsellers like 1,000 Gifts or the latest N.T. Wright book (i.e. books that are actually “Christian” in content, mission, etc.), you can’t blame Christian authors for getting a bit confused.

What exactly should we pitch to editors?

What do editors want?

One caveat: if your publisher is super-duper reformed, you just need to find a cool metaphor or analogy for explaining what the Gospel REALLY is. For the rest of us, it’s not just a crapshoot. It’s a huge mess where some big publishing deals are going to authors, who are very nice and good Christian people, who aren’t necessarily writing faith-based books.

I don’t know what the best solution is. I don’t hold any grudges against publishers or authors for this confusing state of affairs. I trust that these are complex, difficult situations. Put most charitably, it’s all quite confusing. Perhaps it would help if some publishers just created an imprint or line of books that are specifically dedicated to “better living” or take more of a self-help angle. We could at least have honest conversations about what a publisher is looking for. Then Christian authors who are writing about specifically Christian topics will have a better idea of their odds of being acquired.

While publishers put together little lists of “topics” they’re currently interested in, I can’t help thinking there’s a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” element going on even if their list focuses on stuff like prayer or discipleship. I mean, sure they’ll publish a book about prayer if the author has the credentials, platform, and, preferably, thousands of church members to help catapult sales, but if a simple living recipe book about losing weight and saving your marriage while decluttering your home and raising happy kids came along by a Christian author with a huge cooking blog platform, they won’t say no.

 

Fragmented Authors and Publishers Aren’t Working Together

The majority of authors I know are struggling to find readers for their books, and the majority of their books are really good or at least ideal for a particular niche of readers. We’re all on our own little islands with our various publishers trying to find new readers, asking each other for favors, and dreading a few authors who always ask for a bazillion favors.

I have personally not seen evidence that Christian publishers recognize how authors at different publishers could work together to serve the same market and reach more readers. Publicists are already shoving authors out the door to network and beg for favors. Why can’t publishers join their authors in becoming partners in building these networks among authors in order to strengthen promotions? This could be as simple as sending a few emails back and forth to coordinate a price promotion, book release, or special event.

I don’t mean one of two publicists here and there. Some publicists already get this. You can always find some people who are willing to think outside the box. The problem is that this has yet to become an assumed industry standard. I mean, gosh, some publicists can’t be talked into running eBook promotions yet, let alone partnering with other publishers to help an eBook promotion reach a wider audience!

When I’ve attempted to set up book promotions with the authors I know, the promotions didn’t happen because we couldn’t get certain publicists to respond to our emails in a timely fashion. I think we had a few really great opportunities to network together, and some publicists I spoke to really loved this idea. However, we didn’t get the critical mass to pull it off because some emails weren’t returned.

This kind of thing is maddening to authors. We’ve gone to publishing conferences where publishing experts lecture us on authors taking the initiative, doing their own marketing, and moving away from the days of “just writing books.” Seriously, if you work at a publisher, you need to know this: authors are lectured over and over again about not being lazy and being proactive and doing our marketing. OK? We hear this all of the time. So we try working together to promote our work, and it doesn’t happen because someone at a publisher can’t answer an email.

Every author I know sees the need to work with fellow authors, and some have a long history of doing so. It’s time for publishers to start doing the same or to at least take a more active role in helping us do what they’re telling us to do. If you have a group of authors with intersecting books who write for different publishers, there’s no reason why they can’t work together to organize a group promotion for the same week. A few emails and two months of lead time is all you need to set this up. This is low hanging fruit, folks.

Authors are always being challenged to stop viewing each other as the competition. Most of us are willing to work together to help each other succeed. If our publishers joined us in this as partners with the same vision of cooperation, we would all have a lot to gain.

 

No One Can Agree on Book Marketing

Based on the conversations I’ve had with authors and publicists at a variety of publishers, there really isn’t a strong consensus on how to market a book. There are, however, a lot of strong opinions. These opinions are so strong, in fact, that some hopeful authors have opted to not pursue book publishing because they don’t want to blog or be a public speaker or deal with the insanity that is Twitter.

#NotAllAuthorsLikeTwitter

However, in each case these authors have merely run into people who have strong opinions about Twitter or public speaking or blogging. There are other professionals with equally strong credentials and comparable experience who think Twitter is ineffective for selling books and public speaking does jack squat for selling books. Some publishers rely on ads and radio interviews, others rely on eBook promotions and reviews, and still others look to blogs, email lists, and social media strategies.

How crazy is this? One publisher rejected a proposal because I didn’t have 10,000 Twitter followers, while another said my platform was strong based on my email list since Twitter didn’t matter. Another friend was told she had to make a YouTube video advertising her book, while another was told his deal hinged on public speaking engagements.

I don’t hold anything against publishers and publicists for this range of opinion. I suspect that particular marketing tactics work based on the author, the book, and the audience. There isn’t a single “correct” way to release a book. In fact, we run into problems when publicists get hooked to particular promotion strategies that simply don’t work for a specific author or a particular book.

The best conversation I’ve ever had with a publicist involved her telling me all of the strategies that wouldn’t work for my book. It was extremely helpful and refreshing.

If you’re getting into Christian publishing, here’s the best thing I can tell you about marketing: you need a plan, but you don’t have to copy every bestselling author. If you hate blogging, try podcasting. I have a friend who told me that her podcast did a lot more to sell her books, even if conventional wisdom says that podcasts don’t sell books.

If you like writing letters, I have good news for you. It’s fun to send regular email newsletters! You just need to figure out how to get people to subscribe so that you have a strong list for your book’s release.

If you have deep, pithy thoughts you enjoy sharing throughout the day, then you’ll probably crush it on Twitter.

If you like starting engaging conversations, then Facebook is certainly for you.

My biggest mistake as an author was trying to imitate authors who are very different people and who write very different books from my own. I would have been far better served to be honest about what I like to do and what I hate to do and then imitating authors based on that.

There’s always a place in book marketing for holding your nose and diving into promotion tactics that you find draining or annoying. There are certain activities that will pay off, even if you don’t like them.

However, there are too many authors who go into marketing conference calls without a clear sense of the most effective ways they as authors can help promote their specific books. Either out of ignorance or an aversion to marketing, they just defer to publicists, some of whom may have strong opinions about marketing that don’t necessarily line up with an author’s talents or the book’s message.

While authors shouldn’t resist every suggestion from a publicist, I’ve talked to enough publicists to appreciate the range of opinions out there. If you want people to read your book and you don’t want to be curled up in the fetal position during release week, take some time to review your options for book publicity and then sort out which ones appeal to you. By the time you sit down to discuss marketing plans, come prepared to listen, but also make a list of ideas and suggestions that best reflect ways you want to promote your book.

 

Is Christian Publishing in Crisis?

Answering that question definitively is way above my head. However, there’s no denying that Christian writers hoping to publish with one of the top 15-20 Christian publishers will face these challenges related to the identity of a Christian book, working with authors at different publishers, and marketing their books.

In the midst of this turmoil, we’ll most likely see more small publishers and vanity publishers reaching out to ambitious authors who may not quite know what they’re getting into. Middlemen are also rising up, some with more credentials than others, promising classes and coaching on how to get published. As more bloggers and authors see the ease of publishing with Scrivener and Kindle Direct, they’ll begin migrating toward Indie publishing since their profit margins will be higher per sale and there are many top notch tools that make it easy to publish on your own these days.

It’s wonderful and terrible. The opportunities are breathtaking, but for every chance to leap forward, there are twice as many ways things can fall apart.

Every author I know has shared his/her shock at the pain of the publishing experience. There certainly are positive experiences too—or else no one would even bother trying!

I could be completely wrong about all three points here. It would be nice if I was, in fact. However, it’s much easier to take a punch if you’re ready for it. It can be significantly harder to stand up and prepare for the next punch if you aren’t expecting the first. If you want to get into Christian publishing, I guarantee that the punches are coming. Brace yourselves… Christian publishing is changing.

What did I miss? Are there challenges I’ve overlooked? 

 

If you still want to give book publishing a shot after my rants,

I’m still giving away my book A Path to Publishing for Free:

Download it today at NoiseTrade Books

You can also download it straight to your Kindle for a few bucks.

5 Thoughts on Reading Books and Online Articles

apple-ipad-mini

 

Most writers I know spend a lot of time reading books, articles, and blog posts. Part of my process of reading books and online writing involves using a couple of different e-Reading devices, namely a Nook Simple Touch and an iPad Mini.

Becoming a user of both has helped me understand the mentality of book readers today, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of reading on these devices. It’s not that I only understand the experience of this kind of reading—I also have a better grasp of what consumers are thinking when they purchase eBooks or read websites on mobile devices.

As a writer, I value being a part of the culture that’s actively reading books and articles. Here are a few thoughts on how I keep track of current trends in my field while also picking up books for devotional and pleasure reading:

(A quick note, I have linked to the Kindle editions of a few books with my affiliate account since Amazon had them listed with pretty decent sales when I first wrote this post.)

 

1. Print Books Are Still Important

Can we just stop the whole, “They’ll never replace print books. There’s something about holding a book in my hands, smelling it, and feeling the pages turn…”

I get it. I get it. We are attached to the tactile experience of reading a physical. I love physical books too.

There are books I use for research or devotional reading that I really appreciate having in print. I love underlining and making notes that I can easily access later. I know that e-readers offer functionality for both, but when it comes to research or leaving important notes to myself, I never ever return to my notes and highlights in an eBook. Print, for me personally is better in those cases. I know that others have a totally different workflow that makes better use of note taking in eBooks.

However, it doesn’t make sense to write off e-readers simply based on how they feel or based on one of the many ways they can be used. E-readers are fantastic for reading novels and tablets like an iPad Mini make it easy to read blog posts and magazine articles without interrupting my workflow on my computer.

In addition, the first thing I noticed about my Nook Simple Touch was that it actually made focusing on the content of the book really, really simple. Yes, it was not the same experience as a physical book, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate the content with an e-reader in my hand.

In fact, I felt more focused on the content than ever. Having a print book with two pages open at once started to feel distracting!

 

2. Simple e-Readers and Tablets Are VERY Different

The experience of reading on a device devoted primarily to simply reading is far more focused and relaxing since there’s no temptation to check your email or social media. Your options are limited to the books on your device, much like reading next to a shelf full of books.

I personally prefer the focused experience of reading a book on an e-ink screen on a light weight e-reading device. I read books and articles on my iPad Mini quite a bit, but it’s still bulky (compared to my Nook) and backlit. The latest version of the simple Nook e-reader has a glow light option that you can turn on in the evening if needed.

Tablets are much better for reading online articles, blog posts, and social media updates. You can modify the e-reading apps to have black backgrounds and white text, but you still have to contend with glare during the day and eye strain if you’re already on a computer all day.

 

3 E-Readers Make It Easy to Read a Ton of Books

It’s not just the advantage of storing tons of books in one place or having a huge, portable library that makes e-readers ideal. Those advantages are great too. However, there’s no escaping the convenience of quickly downloading tons of books on the cheap, whether you find them discounted or free from your library.

Besides picking up bundles of classic novels for a few bucks, many new books are discounted within a year of their release. I’ve picked up some great memoirs and nonfiction books because I was able to jump on a Kindle or Nook promotion. My latest score was a discounted version of Quiet by Susan Cain.

By the way, don’t feel bad about picking up eBooks on the cheap. Publishers do these price pulses in order to raise the visibility of a book before jacking up the price again. It’s a simple way to raise the visibility of a book after its initial launch.

Between discounted eBooks and copies I can download from my local library, I have access to tons of books. Some days it almost feels like I have too much power… And if I need to pick up a book immediately at its full eBook price, usually around $9.99, the purchasing process is dangerously simple.

When I saw that several publishing experts recommended the books Your First 1,000 Copies and Let’s Get Visible, I downloaded both before my book launch and dove into them immediately, picking up critical information that I immediately put into action.

 

4 The Joy of Customized Reading on E-Readers

One of the first eBooks I downloaded for my new Nook Simple Touch was the New Living Translation Bible. I just wanted to sit down and read scripture for long stretches of time, and I’ve found that translation useful for that, even if I’ll use other translations for study.

I have an NLT on my shelf next to my desk. It’s huge. It’s heavy. The spine is slowly falling apart. I’m sure I could have great fun rubbing the pages in my fingers and sniffing them, but isn’t the point of reading the words on the page?

The first thing I noticed when I sat down to read on my Nook Simple Touch was how simple and stripped down the experience is. It was just me and a single column of words on the page. I enlarged the font a bit to 16 points, which, by the way, was supposed to be the standard size for all on-screen fonts before some pretentious designer thought 12 point Helvetica on a screen was more aesthetically pleasing or whatever.

 

5 How I Use E-Readers and Tablets

The thing that used to kill me was finding time to read books, blogs and relevant articles for either my work or personal interest, especially when I have a newborn strapped to me in an Ergo Carrier. It’s just not practical to read books when you really need a one-handed reading experience and would rather the book be as light as possible. In addition, since we co-sleep with our newborn, I need a way to read in the dark.

Enter e-readers and tablets.

Most of my books are either purchased through Nook or Kindle. I still have plenty of print books, but when I need to just read, e-readers and tablets are the way to go.

I can now use a tool like Pocket to collect articles or blog posts all day and then follow up on them later on my iPad Mini. Feedly also helps me keep track of my favorite blogs and online magazines so that I know I can follow up on an interesting post later in the day.

I use the Kindle and Nook apps on my tablet when I need to read in the dark, and I store epic book collections on my Nook Simple Touch such as the complete works of PG Wodehouse, the complete works of Mark Twain, and several Bible translations.

I can basically access everything on my iPad, but when I just want to do some dedicated book reading, I tend to prefer the simple e-ink of my Nook. It’s really easy on the eyes, and there’s no temptation to visit Facebook or Twitter if I hit a slow part of a story or get distracted from my Bible reading.

Print books are still important, but e-readers and tablets are now essential parts of my work flow and leisure reading. I suspect that will be different for folks who aren’t avid readers or authors, but there are enough advantages to both kinds of e-readers that I think they’re worth checking out.

 

Do you read eBooks? Which devices do you use?

Not a fan of tablets and e-readers? What are your reasons?
(Note: You’re not allowed to say, “I just like hold a physical book.”)

5 Changes in My Approach to Book Publishing

book-publishing-changes

 

Authors all around me are giving up on book publishing, shifting to new careers, or radically rethinking how they approach publishing. Some authors, such as Phillip Yancey, are lamenting the changes to publishing and counting themselves lucky that they got in while the getting is good.

Many active authors make the bulk of their money through speaking, online courses, coaching, and more need-based, how-to projects.

The reality is that very few writers can actually survive as authors alone—especially Christian authors. I’ve seen many bestselling Christian authors who have greater success than I could ever hope for switch to corporate clients, business writing, self-help books, event planning, and the list goes on. There’s a trend where many of the people I’ve looked up to have peered ahead to the future and decided that they at least needed a better side source of financial support, if not an altogether different career.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the path of my career. At one point I tried to supplement book publishing with magazine writing. I’ve also tried to play the traditional author game by landing speaking gigs. Both have their advantages for other people, but I can see that neither are a particularly good fit for me, especially at this season in my life.

Having commercially published five books and self-published several short projects and one full-length book, I’m also rethinking my path as an author, but not quite like them. I’d like to share five shifts I’m making in order to help other authors consider their own futures and, let’s be honest here, to hold myself accountable.

 

1. I’m Writing Books. Period.

I’ve spent too much time dividing myself over too many different kinds of projects. I’d been trying to write for magazines and very particular websites that called for a specific kind of short-form writing and I’m simply terrible at it.

I’m sticking with this blog, my newsletter, my book projects, and some select freelancing projects. I used to really fret about getting magazine credits and invested so much time in pitching article ideas that were either shot down on the spot or written on spec before being shot down. The few articles that did make it into publication brought very little by way of return for my publishing career.

I’m not saying that other people can’t or shouldn’t do that. I just know I’ve tried really hard to make it work, and I’m not seeing any kind of meaningful return. I’d much rather write eBooks, something I know how to do, and give them away in exchange for email addresses or sell them for a discounted price—which adds up if you can sell enough eBooks.

 

2. It’s All about Email

Writers write for an audience, right?

Right.

I used to divide my attention between writing for an audience and writing to get noticed by publishers—hence my wasted time trying to write for magazines when I really had no business doing that.

There’s a simple, tried and true way to build relationships with readers on your own terms that every book marketing expert praises: email. And here’s the thing, I love jotting down little notes to my e-newsletter readers, keeping them in the loop on projects, and sending them free books whenever I can.

It’s like having a secret club.

So my publishing plan is something like this:

  • Write for my blog regularly, testing out book ideas and collecting new email subscribers.
  • Send updates, recommendations, and new books to email subscribers.
  • Publish and self-publish books, asking my newsletter readers to help spread the word.
  • Then I’ll start posting new ideas on my blog and begin the process again.

 

3. I’m Crossing Genres, Not Topics.

It made sense to write my Path to Publishing book in 2010. It helped me land publishing workshop gigs. It also saved me a ton of time writing emails to people asking first-time publishing questions. I wouldn’t say it’s made a ton of money, but it at least paid for itself.

However, I’m not interested in becoming a publishing guru as so many authors have done. I’m more interested in publishing books related to religion and then sharing what I’ve learned about publishing along the way. I see A Path to Publishing as a departure from my central writing topic: religion.

Having said that, I am finally taking fiction seriously. I’ve dabbled in fiction on and off over the years, always scrapping novels at the halfway point because I just wanted to run the main character over with a bus. I finally have an idea for a series that is exciting and strikes me as sustainable for the long term.

The novel I’m working on has a main character who is a Christian and he’ll be interacting with Christian stuff, but there’s no single moralistic lesson or point to the book beyond telling a good story. So I’m sticking to religion as my topic, but I’ll keep writing nonfiction while adding some fiction to the mix.

 

4. I’m Committing to a Hybrid Approach… for Now

There was a time when I saw the amount of work required to go indie as an author, and I rightly decided that it was simply too time-consuming.

Now there are better tools and better methods available. It’s far more viable for authors to self-publish today. I also have way more experience with publishing, so I should, in theory, be able to write books that require less editing than if I’d started self-publishing full time in 2010. I’ve already dabbled in self-publishing for a few book projects as a kind of experiment. I was hesitant to jump in with both feet until I had a better grasp of what it took to be successful—not I have a “great” grasp, just a better grasp.

I’m not giving up on commercial publishing. I’m simply becoming more intentional about both.

I have a list of publishers in mind for my projects, and if I can’t work with the right publisher(s) for the right project, I’ll either drop it or self-publish it.

I’m also intentionally developing a series of eBooks that I can self-publish.

 

5. I’m Selectively Publishing

I admit that I saw a publisher as a way to legitimize myself. Perhaps I still do. I’m not sure I would strike out into self-publishing without a few commercial books that at least turned a few heads.

I used to think that publishers validate you. I was wrong. Readers validate you. If readers want your books, then you’re valid.

I heard an agent talking about that bestselling book Heaven Is for Real. Someone insightfully asked him if he would have represented the author. He laughed and said, “Well, I’d represent him now!” Exactly, as long as Burpo is selling books to people, he’s a valid author.

Validating yourself as an author is really just a matter of connecting with readers. That’s it.

Today I see publishers as partners who should help you do two things:

  • Improve your book.
  • Reach more readers.

While authors understand that the best editors should improve the content of a book, most fail to fully grasp just how much rests with the author for book promotion. A publisher can do a lot. They can buy some ads, print marketing materials, organize price promotions, create graphics, send copies to reviewers, advocate for authors with book buyers, and promote books to their mailing lists, but none of those tactics are necessarily guarantee sales.

Few authors are prepared to successfully convince people to buy their books. I’ve also learned that publicists at a variety of publishers are divided in their opinions on how to release a new book, which is a whole other post.

In some cases a savvy publicist makes all of the difference in the sale of a book, in some cases the publicist holds back an author who has innovative ideas, and in other cases the book is DOA regardless of what a publicist or author does. I’ve talked to authors who have been all across the spectrum on this.

 

So that’s it. I’m going to keep publishing books. I’m not here to get cover stories on magazines, to be the headliner at a conference, or to change the course of evangelical Christianity for the next 50 years or whatever. I have some stories to tell, some ideas to share, and an itch in my fingers to write.

I have books to write, blog posts to draft, and emails to send. If you want to keep in touch throughout this journey, pick up my new books, learn from my mistakes, and get some off the record thoughts on it all, sign up for my e-newsletter. You’ll also receive two free eBooks!

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Is NoiseTrade Books a Viable Book Marketing Tool? A Guest Post

noisetradebooks-book-marketing

 

I’m guest posting today for one of my favorite publishing experts: Jane Friedman, a former Writer’s Digest editor and current social media professor and founder of Scratch Magazine, a new publication for artists and writers. This post is a bit of a departure from my usual stuff, but if you’re one of the many people who ask me about how to market a book, you may want to check out how I’m connecting my books with new readers: 

 

In 2012 I was in-between book projects, and I had an idea for a short eBook on creativity, so I decided on a whim to write it, put a cover together with a high quality image, and release it for free during a 3-day KDP select offer. I even guest posted on this blog about it.

Thanks to several generous shares of the eBook by folks like Joanna Penn and the momentum of the Kindle bestseller lists, Creating Space landed on the “Creativity” and “Writing” bestseller lists (which, by the way, used to be listed next to the paid bestseller list) and spent a two days in the Kindle top 100 free eBooks. About 4,800 readers downloaded the eBook in three days (I didn’t know then that I should have probably used all five days at once).

After the promotion, I kept the price at $.99 since it’s short, and readers kept downloading it, typically noting its brevity as a virtue in reviews. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about those 4,800 downloads. Despite my ads and author information in the back of the book, I still didn’t have any way to contact any of those readers again.

While authors have successfully used free promotions to sell other books or to gain temporary exposure on bestseller lists (see Let’s Get Visible for more on that), I really wanted to find a way to offer at least a few of my books in a “pay what you want” model that relies on collecting email addresses as the primary form of payment.

That model existed—it just didn’t offer eBooks.

Read the Rest at www.janefriedman.com. 

Publishing a Book Is Not NEAT

book publishing is hard

 

In case you were wondering, publishing a book is not “neat” in any sense of the word.

Writing a book is messy.

Writing a book is demanding.

Writing a book is heartbreaking.

Writing a book demands sacrifices of yourself and everyone close to you.

Writing a book will drain you, punch you in the gut, and then kick you while you’re down.

When you finally hold that book in your hands after years of fighting, chopping, and spilling your heart onto the page, it will be surreal. It will be amazing. You’ll also think something like, “Well, it’s about damn time.” And then you’ll go take a nap or collapse onto the couch to sob a little… and then take a nap.

I outlined my publishing journey in my book A Path to Publishing (download the whole book for free), and the most common response I hear from readers is despair. When I walk new authors through the book marketing process, many of them just want to crawl into the fetal position.

And I haven’t even mentioned the absolute worst part of book publishing. And no, it’s not a bad review.

The worst part about publishing is the staggering indifference of most readers to your work.

Marketing a carefully crafted book is draining and demanding, but few may read it no matter how hard you try to spread the word. Remember, J.K. Rowling published a book under a pen name, and it hardly sold any copies. This is someone who has penned enduring bestsellers that have defined an entire generation of young readers, and she couldn’t even rack up a few thousand readers when using a different name.

Do you have any idea how daunting that is?

All of this is profoundly NOT NEAT.

* * *

I do a lot of author coaching both formally and informally, and I often refer new authors to my Path to Publishing book and encourage them to write with questions about the next step. If they can’t even finish the book, then they’re clearly not determined enough to publish a book—they probably just think publishing is “neat” until you read about the demands of the step-by-step process.

The people who will succeed in book publishing cannot go into it because they think it’s neat. They need a stronger driving force to carry them through all of the politics, discouragement, and exhaustion.

Writing a book has to be an unstoppable mission or a haunting presence that you can’t shake. You have to find yourself scribbling down ideas, dreaming of book covers, and imagining what your readers want.

I would go so far as saying that it’s like the words bottled up in the prophet Jeremiah that were a fire in his bones. If he didn’t let them out, they would have consumed him.

Authors must be driven write. There’s something inside of us that we simply can’t switch off. And perhaps we’ll still say that publishing a book would be neat, but deep down it must be more than. It must be a driving passion.

* * *

When I talk to friends about book publishing and I learn that one of them is considering it, I often say something like this, “I’ll help you, but I also want to spare you from pain. This is going to hurt.”

The pain of publishing is one of the most common reflections I’ve heard from fellow writers. It… just… hurts. That isn’t to say that it’s bad to have that pain. You just need to really want that finished book project if you’re going to endure that kind of pain.

The most worthy goals in life often call us to the greatest pain.

In the Christian faith we talk about the cost of discipleship, laying our lives down for the cause of Christ. If you feel a calling or desire to write, there will be a sacrifice and it will hurt, but there are certainly rewards if you can fight past the pain.

In fact, I would even say that we can even resist some of the pain in publishing. We can choose to ignore which influencers or friends have ignored our book. We can stop comparing our success to other authors.

Instead, we can look at the people whose lives have been changed by our work.

We can be grateful that we finally breathed these words of fire onto the page and they didn’t consume us.

We can be grateful that we’ve created something that could outlive us.

We can be grateful that we’ve persevered and accomplished something that only a small group of people are willing to endure.

Book publishing is not for everyone. In fact, even with the ease of self-publishing, there are lots of people who should focus on other creative outlets, such as podcasting, creating short videos, or blogging. A book can effectively communicate ideas to a lot of people, but it’s not the only way to reach a large group of people with ideas or stories.

Writing and publishing several books has been the most meaningful work I’ve done. If I had a few days, weeks, or months left to live, I’d keep publishing. It’s the best kind of challenge I can imagine. It results in something I’m proud of.

As much as I love it, I can assure you that publishing a book is not “neat.”