This month marks the eighth anniversary of my writer’s blog: A Writer’s Way of Seeing. At this time last year, I offered writers advice for the coming year. I was going to offer a new list for 2016, but in reading what I wrote last year, I really think the same advice applies. Also, now that I’m an agent with WordServe Literary, I’ve picked up numerous new readers. So for new readers, and as a refresher for my regular readers, here’s a slightly edited version of last year’s blog called “Take Charge!” Maybe for this year the title should be “Take Heed!” because we’re all a year closer to our real deadline when we no longer will be writing.

As we’re in the opening weeks of 2016 I want to offer my yearly exhortation for the new year. We’re all getting older and time’s a’ wasting, folks. If we want to succeed as writers, we need to take charge of our writing career. In fact, that will be my rally cry for you in 2016: “Take charge of your writing career!”

Here are seven suggestions on how to do that.

1.Stay prayed up. Presumably by now you’ve confirmed in your own mind that God has called you to be a writer. Part of that calling is, of course, to write. But for a Christian, that’s only half the calling. The other half is knowing what to write. Mostly we find that out through prayer and discerning the needs of readers and our ability to write to those needs. As you pray, ask God to guide you in your writing pursuits. Make that a year-long (life-long, actually) commitment to yourself. If you stay prayed up about your writing, you’ll stay pumped up too.

2.Improve your craft. Each year I urge all of us who write to find a way to keep improving our craft. Take classes, read magazines such as The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and The Christian Communicator. Join a critique group. Read the blogs of other successful writers, agents, and editors. Write, write, write. Commit to writing at least three (and probably more) drafts of each project, with each draft an improvement from the preceding draft. Always have a good writing book on hand. I recommend any of James Scott Bell’s books on the writing craft, particularly How to Make a Living As a Writer.

3.Write out specific goals for each month. Make each goal realistic, but then stick to them. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals are good, but also write out in some detail what you hope to have accomplished by December 31. To stay on track, consider finding a writing accountability partner. Share your writing goals with each other and meet in person or by internet every week or two to encourage one another.

4.If possible, have two or three projects/proposals/manuscripts in some stage of progress. Perhaps you’re working on just a one-sheet for Project A, while on Project B, you’re at the full proposal stage. Project C might be your work-in-progress—the actual manuscript you’re working on. For a successful writing career, you must always be thinking ahead.

5.Pick one or two writer’s conferences and plan to attend. If money is a problem start saving now. Come up with creative fund-raising ideas. Perhaps ask your church to chip in with the fees. Most conferences have some scholarship money. See if you qualify or if you can do some conference work in exchange for part of your tuition.

6.Stay up to date with the publishing world—including self-publishing. Know what the bestsellers are. Know which authors are writing successfully in the same genre in which you write. Read Publisher’s Weekly or Publisher’s Marketplace online. More and more writers are finding their entry into publishing through self-publishing. Sadly, many are making very serious mistakes. Although I encourage self-publishing as an option, I do not recommend it if you’re going to do a poor job of it. Last year at one writer’s conference I picked up a self-published book and found three major errors on the first page, including the misspelling of the name of a famous world leader. Who would buy such a book? Not me.

7.Work on your platform. I know very few authors who like platform-building. I don’t like it either. I’d much rather just write. But a platform is important. Starting small is fine. Just do what small thing you can do now and build from there. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

The crucial thing in all this is to keep your commitment red-hot. Rest assured, there will be discouragements, distractions, and even rejections in 2016. That’s life. It’s also another reason to plan ahead and to indeed “take charge of your writing career” in 2016. Start now!

The last time I posted here, I was a senior editor for a large Christian publishing company. Now, only a few months later, I’m making the transition to becoming a literary agent. The notion had been in my mind for a  long time and circumstances opened up for me to join Greg Johnson’s wonderful WordServe Literary.

This new adventure should give me fresh fodder for my posts in my “A Writer’s Way of Seeing” blog.  But to start with, can I share some of what I’d like to see happen in publishing (particularly Christian publishing) and then let you know what I’d like to see as an agent? (Yes, I’m looking for a few new clients).

First, I hope we see the marketplace welcome deeper books, more books that reflect original thinking, and more children’s and YA books. Memoir too. I’d love to see Christian publishing on the cutting edge of the publishing world. I’d love to see some recognition of worthy novels and non-fiction books that rival anything on the New York Times bestsellers list.

As to what I’d like to see–well, certainly some of the above. Plus, like any book-lover, I have certain favorites and a few hunches as to what I think might sell. Some of you who have attended my workshops have heard some of this before, so bear with me.

  1. Yes, it’s undeniable that “platform” is still important. If you are a serious writer and have a way of reaching readers, I’m interested (fiction or non-fiction).
  2. If you are successfully published, but agentless, I’m interested.
  3. For fiction, I’d like to see well-crafted mysteries, romances with an original voice and unique characters, historical fiction, and, yes Amish (well-written). I’m still looking for mysteries that are in the same genre (sometimes called modern Gothic) as Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Dorothy Eden. If you know those names, you know what I’m looking for.
  4. For non-fiction, I’d love to see some very well-crafted memoirs, how-to books (if you have a platform), unique cookbooks, health books, and books that are impulse items (not requiring a platform).
  5. Children’s books that are superlative. No mediocrity.

I think that will do as a start. If you write what I’ve described above, you can e-mail a query to me at nick@wordserveliterary.com and then give me a week or two to reply. Watch my blog for updates on what I see selling. Also, I hope to continue my occasional posts on the how-tos of great writing.

Now, get off the internet and go back to your work-in-progress.

Most writers I meet at conferences or who send me proposals or queries are unagented. Right now, so am I. I’ve had two very good ones in the past and I’m sure I’ll find another one in the future (hopefully soon).

I’m sure some writers wonder why I need an agent. After all, doesn’t an agent just find the right publisher for your project and then simply help negotiate the contract? Why would an editor who already knows the publishing houses and their editors, and understands the basics of a contract need an agent?

That question reveals a lack of understanding about what a good agent does. Yes, he or she helps find the right publisher for your proposal and also negotiates a favorable contract. But there’s more involved than just those two basic tasks. I’d like to dwell on three of the often overlooked talents of a good agent.

1. The first talent is that an agent–a good agent–is interested in more than just the present proposal you’ve submitted. A good agent has taken the time to understand who you are as a writer, what are your strengths and weaknesses—and perhaps most importantly: Is that good agent in sympathy with what you want to accomplish as a writer? Has he or she taken a personal interest in your projects? If so, they’ll be eager to place your projects, not just for their commission check, but also because they share your excitement and passion for your projects. In short, they’re not just an agent, but also an advocate.

2. The second talent a good agent has is the ability to judge between what you want to accomplish as a writer and where you are presently as a writer. This agent can look objectively at your proposal or manuscript and tell you that the protagonist has a great personality, but the plot isn’t holding up. Or that your proposal about God’s love is fine doctrinally, but it doesn’t connect emotionally with readers.

3. At some time or other, every writer needs a cheerleader. That cheerleader (apart from your spouse, mother, or critique partner) should be your agent. The good agent can encourage you when you receive another rejection. He or she can convince you that you CAN make that weak plot stronger. Or that perhaps it’s time to give up on the speculative fiction genre and try something else. (And when that good agent has a recommendation, listen hard. The boneyard of unpublished writers is populated by potentially successful authors who simply wouldn’t listen to the wise words of a good agent).

To be able to handle the business end of agenting, plus carry out the above roles, takes a special kind of person. If you have such an agent, send that person an email immediately, thanking him or her for being such a crucial partner in your writing career. Then send me that email address. 🙂

Recently one of my Facebook friends who is also a Christian and a writer lamented the “self-promotion” involved in becoming successful. He received a lot of sympathetic comments from other writers who feel the same way. Frankly, I feel that way too.

How then can we who hope to hit the bestseller list reconcile our distaste for “self-promotion” with the knowledge that we must indeed get the word out to accomplish our lofty goal?

I think the key is to remember that we really shouldn’t be “self-promoting.” I use quotation marks because I think that’s a misnomer when we think about it. “Self-promotion” assumes we personally are to be the object of our buyers’ desires.

But I assume those of us who are writing from our faith are doing so because we have something to deliver to readers that we believe is from God. If, for instance, your message is on the importance of relationships in the Body of Christ–and if that topic is burning in your heart, then that’s what you’re really promoting. The book is merely our delivery system for the message we feel passionate about. And it should be our passion that compels us to find as many readers of our book as we can. And that happens by getting the word out.

Even fiction writers must learn to think of their promotional efforts as not promoting them, but rather promoting the story God has given them. I think only a truly prideful writer would be interested in promoting him or herself. But writers who feel called of God to write will be eager to promote their book that proclaims the important message they have to share. In short: writers, it’s not about you. It’s about your message. Don’t be shy about sharing what God’s given you. That’s not self-promotion.

As we’re in the final weeks of 2014 I want to offer my yearly exhortation for 2015. We’re all getting older and time’s a’ wasting, folks. If we want to succeed as writers, we need to take charge of our writing career. In fact, that will be my rally cry for you in 2015: “Take charge of your writing career!”

Here are seven suggestions on how to do that.

  1. Stay prayed up. Presumably by now you’ve confirmed in your own mind that God has called you to be a writer. Part of that calling is, of course, to write. But for a Christian, that’s only half the calling. The other half is to be writing the things that are within God’s calling of you as a writer. Mostly, we find out those thing through prayer. Expectant prayer. Ask God specifically to guide you in your writing pursuits. Make that a year-long (life-long, actually) commitment to yourself.

 

  1. Improve your craft. Each year I urge all of us who write to find a way to keep working on our craft. Take classes, read The Writer, Writer’s Digest, join a critique group. Read the blogs of other successful writers, agents, and editors. Write, write, write. Commit to writing at least three (and probably more) drafts of each project.

 

  1. Write out specific goals for each month. Make each goal realistic, but then stick to them. James Scott Bell recently wrote about his experience with this year’s NaNoWriMo:

Deadlines work. Remember what Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, once said? “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Every writer who has written under contract knows what he means. The “pressure” of NaNo is good for a writer. If you fall too far behind you’re cooked. So you do whatever it takes to keep to a daily word count. You adjust your goals to make up for lost time. Out of NaNo, I’m sticking to a SID — self-imposed deadline. Writing down the date you want to finish and putting it where you can see it daily helps.

Monthly goals are good, but also write out in some detail what you hope to have accomplished by December 31, 2015.

To stay on track, consider finding a writing accountability partner. Share your writing goals with each other and meet in person or by internet every week or two to encourage one another.

 

  1. If possible, have two or three projects/proposals/manuscripts in some stage of progress. Perhaps you’re working on just a one-sheet for Project A, while on Project B, you’re at the full proposal stage. Project C might be your work-in-progress—the actual manuscript you’re working on.

 

  1. Pick one or two writer’s conferences and plan to attend. If money is a problem start saving now. Come up with creative fund-raising ideas. Perhaps ask your church to chip in with the fees. Most conferences have some scholarship money. See if you qualify or if you can do some conference work in exchange for part of your tuition.

 

  1. Stay up to date with the publishing world—including self-publishing. Know what the bestsellers are. Know which authors are writing successfully in the same genre in which you write. Read Publisher’s Weekly or Publisher’s Marketplace online. More and more writers are finding their entry into publishing through self-publishing. Sadly, many are making very serious mistakes. Although I encourage self-publishing as an option, I do not recommend it if you’re going to do a poor job of it. Last year at one writer’s conference I picked up a self-published book and found three major errors on the first page, including the misspelling of the name of famous world leader. Who would buy such a book? Not me.

 

  1. Work on your platform. I know very few authors who like platform-building. I don’t like it either. I’d much rather just write. But a platform is important. Starting small is fine. Just do what small thing you can do now and build from there. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

 

The crucial thing in all this is to keep your commitment red-hot. Rest assured, there will discouragements and distractions in 2015. That’s life. It’s also another reason to plan ahead and to indeed “take charge of your writing career” in 2015. Start planning now!

Today I continue answering some questions you’ve asked. Roxanne Henke, a wonderful author I’ve had the pleasure of editing, asked three good questions.

1. How can a writer stay motivated when discouraged?  

Rejection is always hard. You pour your best efforts into your manuscript and hope for a positive response and instead you get a dull rejection letter or e-mail, often MONTHS after you submitted it.

Here’s what I suggest.  First, just know that virtually all writers have faced rejection. You can’t take it personally. Second, if you know that God has called you to write, you must take your confidence from that calling and not allow rejection to rob you of your destiny as a writer. Third, always have more than one project out to an editor.  If one comes back rejected, you can still have hope for the others that are still under consideration.  Finally, remember that you’re in this for the long haul. Instant success isn’t going to happen. Pay your dues, be patient, keep writing, and look for God’s opportunities.

2. How do you decide which (of many) ideas to work on first?

This is a hard one for me. I have so many ideas and proposals in the preparation stage I sometimes don’t really know which ones to work on.  Usually, it’s a combination of several factors.  One factor is which project generates the most creative excitement in me?  Is that also the one that’s most marketable?  If so, I’ll work on that one.  If you have several good ideas and are still unsure, I’d write a one-sheet (or longer if necessary) for each one and see if simply writing about the projects brings clarity. You might even discover that one or more of your ideas can be rejected.   Finally, if you have a good agent, ask him or her for advice.  Agents often list career planning as one of their advantages.  Tell your agent you want to have a brainstorming session and discuss several ideas with him or her.  An agent that used to represent me once gave me some good advice that I discounted…and I later realized I was wrong. I should have followed her advice.

3. How important is a title to catch an editor’s eye?

For me as an editor, a title isn’t as important as the concept and the writing. If I like the proposal, I know we can always come up with a better title. That said, I do know that when I see a dazzler of a title, it makes me sit up and take notice. For instance, who could resist a title like Kevin Lehman’s Have a New Kid By Friday. Or perhaps his follow-up book, How to Have a New Husband By Friday?

4. When can you ‘legitimately’ call yourself a writer? (I once had someone tell me–rather snootily–that I had to have something published that was more than 100 words long.)

I think the answer is purely subjective and depends on how YOU define being a writer. I know I would have legitimately called myself a writer before I was published.  It’s like asking when can you call yourself a Christian? Is it after you’ve become mature or entered into a ministry or joined a church? No, of course not. The minute a person believes in Christ to be saved, they are from then on a Christian. The decision to follow Christ is the moment the Christian identity begins. Likewise the minute a person knows deep within that they’re a writer, they ARE a writer, in my opinion. The rest of it is just an unfolding of that decision.

Now, everyone please go read After Anne, Roxanne Henke’s first delightful book. You will thank me.

When I recently asked for some topics to blog about, Shan Dittemore asked: “Have you ever blogged about why you got into publishing? I’m curious.”

No, I haven’t. Let me give you a recounting of how I became a writer and editor. Some of you who have attended my workshops know the story, so bear with me if you’ve heard this. I’m probably going into more detail than necessary, but so be it.

Although I can’t pinpoint the origin of my love of books, I suspect it started with a gift I received on my eighth birthday.  Yes, it was a Hardy Boy book; The Melted Coins to be exact.  For the next several years I wasn’t a voracious reader, but I probably read more often than many of my peers. I continued with the Hardy Boys and, of course, what Baby Boomer boy didn’t eagerly devour the latest Mad Magazine?

After high school, I entered San Jose State utterly clueless about my future. I majored in English by default. My minor was journalism. In retrospect, I should have majored in journalism.  During these years I developed a wider taste for books than the Hardy Boys and Mad Magazine. I began to thrive on the typical 1960s fare of J.D. Salinger (though The Catcher in the Rye was not my favorite) and some other offbeat authors. Never got into Dickens, Faulkner, or Hemingway though.  Halfway through college I began my first real job. That job was with the Santa Clara County public library system.  I worked at virtually every branch from the small Stanford branch, all the way down to Gilroy.

At about this time I became a Christian as did my future wife, Beverly.  I thought God’s will for me was to go on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, but that didn’t happen.  So, plan B turned out to be a move into a Christian commune in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury.  When that broke up, Bev moved to Oregon and I returned to San Jose and my job at the library, only this time as a bookmobile driver. I loved that job. Matching people with books was such fun.

Eventually, though, I tired of that and took a job as a manager of a Zondervan Family Bookstore in Aurora, Colorado. By this time Bev and I were married and parents. Our third and final daughter was born in Aurora.  As much as I enjoyed my job, both Bev and I missed the west coast and our families. So what in retrospect seems like a miraculous turn of events, I accepted a job with Bethany House author Michael Phillips managing one of his Christian bookstores.  At this time, I also began freelance writing. After many rejections, I received my first two acceptances the same week.  I continued to write and work in Christian retail and eventually bought one of the stores I had been managing.  I was so happy and had a vision for several more stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, my old stomping ground.  But it was not to be. I grew too quickly and was vastly undercapitalized and eventually lost all of my four stores. That was a very hard time for us.

While working for Mike Phillips, he had started a small publishing company called Sunrise Books.  For one of our first books, I suggested we republish a delightful prairie novel I had first discovered while working on the bookmobile. The original book was Remember the Days by Kenneth Sollitt. We cut the book in two and began the Ann of the Prairie series with This Rough New Land and Our Changing Lives. We had a nice endorsement from Janette Oke (“heartwarming and heart-rending…a reminder of what life was really like”). The books sold very well so I decided to write two sequels since Kenneth Sollitt was no longer interested.  Those books were These Years of Promise and While Yet We Live. Those books also sold well (I MUST get back to writing fiction!!!).

After the loss of my stores, I was pretty depressed for a while.  But at one point, God showed me myself as a man struggling to swim upstream. He told me that if I would let go, the river’s current would wash me up on the shore of His will—exactly where He wanted me.  So I let go. It took a while, but my circumstances began to change. Since I knew I wanted to write but had no idea where I’d be welcome, I did something writers are advised not to do. I picked my six favorite publishers and wrote them a letter basically saying, “Here I am! Need anything written? I’m your man!”).  Unbeknownst to me, a woman I had interviewed a couple of years earlier for a Publisher’s Weekly article was now an editor at HarperSanFrancisco, my number one choice. She called me and said, “There’s this new movement going around called Promise Keepers. Would you like to submit a proposal for a devotional book for this market?”  WOULD I?????

I turned in the proposal in mid-November. The Monday after Thanksgiving I was given the green light for the book. The deadline was to be February 1.  I scrambled to get the book finished and was only a few days late.  To make a long story short, the book Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men Seeking Integrity is still in print nearly twenty years later. Check out the nice Amazon reviews.   A few weeks after the book came out, my same editor at Harper said, “There’s this new thing going around with all the kids wearing these WWJD? bracelets. Would you like to submit a proposal for a devotional for that market?  WOULD I???

That book, 365 WWJD? Daily Answers to “What Would Jesus Do?” has been my best selling book, with more than 75,000 copies sold—and more great reviews on Amazon.

I then did two books for Zondervan—also daily devotionals—His Victorious Indwelling and Magnificent Prayer. (More great reviews on Amazon!). I also helped a friend, Tom Whitney, tell his wonderful story about his walk the length of California. That book is Honk if You Love Jesus.

When I owned my Christian bookstores, one of the sales reps who called on me was Terry Glaspey.  Since those days, he had gone on to become an editor at Harvest House. Remembering my desire to write, he asked if I would help a Harvest House author with a book he was working on.  WOULD I????  🙂

I finished that book and shortly thereafter was offered a job as senior editor at Harvest House. Next month marks my 14-year anniversary at Harvest House. I’ve gone on to write several more books, but I’ve found it just as enjoyable to have the opportunity to edit some truly wonderful authors. I won’t name them, lest I accidentally leave someone out.  I do love my jobs—both editing here at Harvest House and writing on my own. I remember when I worked on bookmobile I thought I love this so much, I would do this for free! I’ve continued to feel that that way for most of my working life.

The best thing is that I’m not finished yet. Hopefully there will be more authors to work with and more books for me to write. My latest book is Power in the Promises, which came out earlier this year.  Later this year one of my previous books, Walking with Wesley, is being re-released by Wesleyan Publishing House.

God has blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. When I started college without a clue as to what my professional life would be, I would have been astonished to know what my future held. Truly magnificent.

A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends for blogging suggestions. This interview with Marci Seither is one of the results of that post.  Some of the other excellent suggestions may be covered in upcoming blogs.

I met Marci several years ago at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference when she performed her marvelous Ethel Merman impression for me. Since then, I’ve watched Marci return year after year, always learning her craft and now, experiencing great success. She has written countless articles for local newspapers and since becoming Guideposts Story winner in 2010 has sold over a dozen articles to GP. In April Beacon Hill Press released Marci’s book Empty Nest: Strategies to Help Your Kids Take Flight.  Beacon Hill is a fine traditional publisher based in Kansas City, MO.  In April, she released her historical novel for children The Adventures of Pearley Monroe as a self-published book.  Marci is a great one to comment on the advantages of going with a traditional publisher or simply publishing your book yourself.

Q. Marci, you found a traditional publisher for your empty nest book. What prompted you to self-publish Pearley Monroe? Had you submitted Pearley to traditional publishers before self-publishing?

A. I came across this story over 8 years ago while I was on a field trip with my kids and was challenged to write it by a local historian. I had been writing articles for several years, and would have never considered tackling a fiction project, but I was so moved by the story. I began to take as many classes as I could on plot, character development, and story arc. I knew that traditional publishers would want a series of at least three books, but I really only had the one story I wanted to write in that genre.

I knew schools would be interested in this book because 4th graders in CA take California history. It was my goal to help kids connect with history and the fact that this was based on a real African-American family during the gold rush with a boy as the main character was a huge plus. I wanted to write something our boys would have loved reading. I also created crossword and word search puzzles based on the true facts for each chapter so site- based, charter, or homeschoolers would be able to use this book as part of their curriculum.

Having a traditionally published book often means that the book has a limited shelf life. I knew that it might take a few years for classes to really start using this book and I didn’t want it to be remaindered before it really started to be recognized as a valuable resource. Self-publishing will allow it to grow over the next few years.

Q.  What is Sawmill Press, the publisher of PM?

A. If you look on a bookshelf, whether in a library or your own shelf, one of the things that you notice on the spine is the book’s title, the author’s name and a logo with a publishing house. My husband, John, and I decided that we wanted to be as professional as possible and have our book stand up to industry standards. Plus, when working with schools we knew they would be more comfortable placing an order for books with Sawmill Press vs. the author’s name. I purchased a graphic and offset it in a frame. Since John used to operate his own sawmill we figured that was a good, traditional, and solid name for our publishing company.

Q.  Self-publishing can be intimidating for some writers. How hard was it to self-publish?

A. Through a fluke in timing I was able to have both books finished and in the publishing shoot at the same time. The traditionally published manuscript was like sending a kid off to boarding school, you help when you can from a distance and expect it to come back all polished. But, the self-published manuscript was like homeschooling. Every detail needs to be thought out and considered to the best of your ability throughout the whole process. Every little step forward feels monumental. It was hard, but it was worth it. Being convinced that it was the best fit for the project helped me persevere to the end.

Q.  How long did it take you to see Pearley in print after you made the decision to self-publish?

A. I interviewed someone who had used Createspace and asked a lot of questions in September. I knew traditionally publishing would limit my options, but I didn’t really want to have a garage full of books either. Createspace is tied to Amazon and is a print on demand publisher that lets you set the price of the book. That was a huge issue, since I know that a children’s book is not going to sell for what adult novels sell for, unless your mom buys it. I talked to the editing team at Createspace and went with a formatting package, which added some time to the project.

There were several little things that we were able to hammer out before the final book was printed. I submitted the finished and edited manuscript as well as the 20 photos and the professional cover design to them the first of December. I received my final copy the first week of March.

Seriously, it felt like having a baby and being past your due date.

 Q. Describe your “Kickstarter campaign” and how that helped you.

A.I knew that publishing would cost some money. I wanted to make sure the book was professionally formatted, edited, photos were included, marketing expenses and the other things like ISBN codes had to also be taking into consideration. I had heard about Kickstarter from Thomas Umstattd so I decided to look into it.

Basically, you have to pretty much have a solid marketing plan, a great video and some incentives. Since I had worked on this project for so long and grew up in Gold Country there were a lot of people who knew about this book and were excited to see it get written as well.

I thought about my three main audiences- kids, parents and teachers-when I set up my backer levels I targeted their felt needs and wants.

Q.  What are the pluses and minuses of traditional publishing?

A. It comes down to understanding your target audience and thinking creatively on how to market to that audience or audiences.

I knew that Empty Nest: Strategies To Help Your Kids Take Flight was a felt need for parents. I also knew that Beacon Hill was a smaller publisher that usually allowed for books to have a longer shelf life. They also were tied to the Nazarene Church…which has 11 universities across the country and one in Canada, including Point Loma Nazerene University.

Parents are anxious about where their soon-to-be leaving child will go. What a great opportunity for the university recruiters to say, “We understand that this is a big decision. We want you to know that we are here for you whether you enroll here or elsewhere.”

That parent is going to feel cared for and understood.

When I sell a book through Amazon or a bookstore, I am usually selling to the end user. Colleges have parents touring the campus all year. Why sell one book when you can sell a box of books? Authors can’t just go where books are…but where readers are. It is important for authors to not only know who their target audience is but also to know which publisher best reaches those audiences.

The plus side is also working with a team who is great at what they do. I have learned a lot of really valuable things working with the marketing team at Beacon Hill.

Q. What are the pluses and minuses of self-publishing?

A. The plus is that if you have something in mind as far as look and feel of your project, you can make it happen. I knew what I wanted my Pearley book to look like and it really fits what I had in mind. Plus, having to work hard makes you more appreciative of the whole publishing process.

The minuses…I am thankful my family was OK eating grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner when we were on the final crunch. I could have never done the project without the help and encouragement of my husband, all of our kids, and other friends and family. Everything is so personal because ultimately your name is tied to every little detail.

Q. When would you advise aspiring writers to consider self-publishing?

A. First off- start a prayer team for the project, not necessarily writers, but people you can be honest with about what is going on with the project.

Like I have mentioned before, you have to understand your audience and have a marketing plan. You have to really ask yourself if self-publishing is the BEST fit for the project and WHY. One size does NOT fit all. There are options and what works for one book, might not work for another.

Q. Who should NOT consider self-publishing?

A. Anyone who thinks it will be easier than going with traditionally publishing or has been turned down by a traditional publisher and would rather see their project in print than have to do rewrites or re-evaluate the manuscript.

If you don’t like to promote your book DO NOT self-publish. But, I would venture to ask this question. If you don’t feel that your project is worth promoting then why did you write it?

Q.  What about the importance of having a professional edit of your manuscript before self-publishing? Many people are concerned that self-publishing will have the stigma of being less professional than a traditionally published book.

A. I budgeted for content and line editors. I also paid for professional graphic designer for the cover and for the formatting. It is your name on the cover. Taking short cuts is not going to serve the writing community well and ultimately will hurt your reputation. Think cassette recordings of someone who enjoys singing to Karaoke tracks. Probably not going to get any real air time.

Authors who have a “Field of Dreams” expectation of “If I write it they will buy” should not be surprised when they strike out. You have to be at a professional level, and have others on your team. (I applaud the work of agents who keep the bar high for industry standards. For those who are thinking to self publish they need to ask themselves if an agent would send it on to a pub board or send it back for re-writes).

Q. Two years ago you also self-published FORECLOSURE Is The New “F” Word. That appears to be only an e-book, but your newer self-published book, PM, has a print edition as well.  How did you arrive at the decision to make one an e-book only and the other both a print and e-book?

A. At the time Creatspace was not an option. Because it was something our family had gone through and we had been approached by so many in the same situation, especially those who were in the construction industry. It was a booklet I wrote because it was a booklet I wished I had when we were going through it ourselves. I had a whole bunch printed, after I had it professionally formatted and edited to give to people. I love what Lee Roddy said once.. “You never know how Heaven will be different because you wrote.” Sometimes the audience isn’t large and it is a matter of obedience.

Because I can only hand out so many books, I wanted a resource that others could download. Adults will read a book on a tablet, but children’s books are still most popular in print form. Who knows, I might do something different down the road.

I also wrote a children’s book, Pumper John, as a gift for my husband about 14 years ago. A concrete masonary textbook publisher, Hanley Wood, published it in 2005. I am in the process of getting my rights back. The illustrator will be creating some fresh illustrations and I have someone translating it into Spanish. Being able to meet the markets needs is something that can change.

Sometimes we write what is on our heart, or what we wish we had.

I encourage writers to write to the best of their ability. If the result of doing your best ends up in a Christmas letter, an article and booklet or a book, that is great! If not, then maybe the Lord had you write it for a small audience of one, which is you. And that is OK too.

Q. Marci, what parting words of advice do you have for authors dying to see their books published? 

A. God is not your “Fast Pass” to publication.

Long gone are the days of fruit baskets and book signings for authors who sign a contract. Whether you have a traditionally published or self-published book you are going to have to roll up your sleeves and work hard. There are a lot of great options out there but the author has to understand the industry enough to be able to navigate the changing course of publishing and be able to define their market.

“And in whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

 

 

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”  Agatha Christie

 

A few years ago I blogged on the importance of brooding.  Today I want to revisit that topic.

Most well-written books—fiction or non-fiction—don’t happen on the spur of the moment. Instant inspiration is rare and if the result is worth saving, it’s even rarer.  Even Dame Agatha had to brood her new novels over a sink of dirty dishes.

Most serious writers not only brood over their work before beginning, but brood about a great many other things only understandable to other writers.  As Malcolm Cowley rightly said, “The writer is a person who talks to himself, or better, talks in himself.” To me, this talking in one’s self is a form of brooding.  Brooding is necessary to good writing.

During the course of a day, a writer may interpret virtually every event as fodder for the present book, a future book or short story, an essay, a letter to the editor, or even just a Facebook post.

Though we may not take Agatha’s advice and plan our books—or brood over them—while doing the dishes (curse those automatic dishwashers!), we certainly do so as we sit in traffic, wait for our name to be called at the doctor’s office, or sit in the park watching people go by.  By nature, we are nosey. We are unabashed people watchers. Sit us down in an airport and send some interesting looking people our way and we’re in danger of missing our flight.  What on earth is that beautiful young woman doing  with that middle-aged paunchy man? Within minutes, we have determined whether he is a dear relative, a sugar daddy, or a beloved professor.  A few minutes later and we have imagined their destination, their entire past history and the course of the rest of their lives—both individually and as a couple. If, by chance, they sit next to us, we’re all ears as we eavesdrop to find the answers to our questions. And if the answers turn out to be as boring as they usually are—we will invent better lives for them.  If their dialogue satisfies us, out comes our notebook and we scratch down bits of dialogue we may or may not use in a novel six or seven years down the road, having long ago forgotten the incident that brought it our way.  Our imaginations are like chickens constantly scratching the ground for this or that morsel.  Most of it we will spit out…but oh how fun it is to find a nugget we can tuck away for future use.

Woe to the writer who does not keep a notebook to jot down his or her encounters, observations, ideas, and scraps of dialogue.  In the mind’s quest for the next morsel, it may well forget yesterday’s morsel if it’s not written it down.  Your notebook is your lifeline from past brainstorms and divinely appointed encounters to one of your future great works.  Guard it carefully! Last night on my way to a meeting, I had to stop at the grocery. As I got out of the car, I wondered if I needed to lock the doors. I was only going to be in the store for less than five minutes and there was nothing in the car worth stealing….except….wait a minute! There on the seat next to me was my several-years-old notebook. Good grief!  What if someone stole that gold mine? It’s literally irreplaceable to me, though absolutely worthless to anyone else.  Needless to say, I locked the door.

The fruit we reap from our hungry imaginations is vital. And the simple truth is that the writer’s instinct for searching out a story, either real or imagined, is embedded deeply within us. When we’re not writing, we’re constantly on the hunt for more food for our ever-hungry imaginations.  May it ever be so!

 

 

Attention fiction writers: I just read a terrific new book by my friend James Scott Bell and I want you to know about it. The title is Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers, and Everyone in Between.

Briefly, Jim’s observation is that in the middle of every good novel there is a pivotal “look in the mirror” moment that the main character must have. Jim documents this through books we’ve read and films we’ve seen. This midpoint in the story, Jim claims, isn’t a scene; it’s a “magic moment”—a moment within a scene.  “Find [this magic moment] in your novel,” Jim says, “and everything will radiate from it.”

This magic moment is pivotal because it’s when the character really begins his or her transformation. And, yes, great novels do necessarily involve the transformation of the protagonist.  Once you know how your character will transform (by seeing his or her magic moment), you can easily build toward that moment in the early part of the book and toward the actual transformation that will occur toward the end of the book.

If you’re having trouble with your present work-in-progress, perhaps a good place to troubleshoot is in the middle. Does your character have a “magic moment”?  If so, does everything prior to that moment build effectively towards it or do you wander away from that direct line to what should be your pivotal point in the book (not the climax, however)?  If your novel has no such magic moment, or if you envision no transformation of your character, perhaps that’s why it remains unsold.

Even if you’re publishing successfully now, I want you to order Jim’s book for your library. The book is short (86 pages) and the price is a bargain ($2.99 for the Kindle edition). I bought the print edition at a conference for $7. Such a deal.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m going to read it again. It’s that good!