I’ve been thinking a lot lately about 2014. Maybe it’s because my new book, Power in the Promises, is coming out January 4 and I want to be ready to promote it. I’ll be starting a new blog and will do whatever else God has for me (I would love to some radio). I’m quite excited about the new blog. It will begin in a few weeks, along with new website. Not to worry, I’ll let you know.

My thoughts about 2014 prompt me to ask you: what are your plans for next year? It’s not too soon to plan. You simply can’t wait until the holidays and expect to be ready to hit the ground running the first week of January. Here then are some questions I’m asking myself and I want you to ask them of yourself too.

1. How has my mission as a writer changed in the past year and how does that affect what I do in 2014?

2. What will be my top three projects that I will focus on?

3. How many book proposals shall I do in 2014? (Please say more than one, but no more than five or six).

4. Which writer’s conferences will I go to?

5. If I have published books, what will be my strategy for increasing backlist sales?

6. What specific steps will I do to increase my platform?

7. Am I ready to begin speaking to groups? Will I travel to do so? (If yes, then start preparing your talks now).

8. Are there changes I need to make to my work space? When will I make these changes?

9. Do I need to make changes in the management of my writing time? How can I carve out additional time?

10. Should I be looking for an agent….or perhaps a new one?

11. What local or online classes can I take to improve my writing next year? What books have I heard about that I need to read to improve my writing?

12. Last by not least, what do I believe God wants to accomplish in 2014 through my writing?

You may have more questions than these. Or you may have different questions. The point is to be prayerfully proactive now in getting a vision for your writing in 2014. Don’t wait and just let it happen. Go after it.

From time to time I’ve mentioned my desire to write someone’s true story. Authors Cec Murphey (90 Minutes in Heaven) and Lynn Vincent (Same Kind of Different as Me) are examples who have done well working with someone who has a great story, but who is not a writer.

I’ve actually had the privilege of doing this once so far and it was one of the best writing experiences I’ve had. I’m reminded of this because the subject of the book, Tom Whitney, is a Facebook friend and we’ve been more in touch with each other in the past year than in the dozen or so years since his book Honk If You Love Jesus: A Walking Odyssey Through California in the Name of Christ was published.

Tom spent many years as an alcoholic. He was abusive, destructive, and out of control. Then he dramatically came to Christ at age 53 and prayed “God, how can I be of service to you?” The answer wasn’t what Tom expected. He felt God told him to walk the length of the state of California to be a witness to what He had done in Tom’s life. Tom obeyed that directive and began at the Oregon-California border and for the next eight months embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. Honk If You Love Jesus is the story of Tom’s conversion and that walk.

It helps when a writer is himself interested in the person and the story he’s trying to write. For me, listening to Tom relate his adventure was motivating. I could envision many of the places he was telling me about and his way of describing the people he met made me feel like I knew them as well. To me, Tom’s time with the Homeless Church in San Francisco was the most moving part of his story. That’s where his encounter with a young 19-year-old boy named Wade took place. It was a divine appointment for Tom—one of many on this trip—and the memory of that encounter has stuck with me all these years.

The truth is I loved helping Tom write his story. It was like an invitation from God to be part of something very special. Tom’s book has gone into the hands of many people. I look now at used copies on Amazon and see that it’s in Georgia, Florida, and other places far from California. I believe Tom’s story has reached more people than even he realizes. He won’t know the full effect of his obedience to God until he reaches heaven.

All that to say, I hope someday I have another opportunity to tell someone’s story. It was a true writing adventure.

If any of you want to read Tom’s story, he’ll send you a copy of Honk If you Love Jesus for free. Just message him via Facebook.

Or you can contact me and I will see that you get a copy. Email me through my contact info on my webpage.

One of the several fiction authors I edit is Murray Pura. He’s one of the authors who makes my job easy. (Actually, I’m blessed as an editor because ALL my authors are very talented!). Murray’s writing is excellent and his manuscripts arrive pretty clean. You’ll find some of his Harvest House books here.

Because he’s so talented, so prolific, and so verstatile, I thought we’d all benefit from an interview with him. I know I gleaned some insight from his words of wisdom.

NH: Murray, how long have you been writing?

MP: I actually wrote my first real stories for my mom when I was about nine – they were Perry Mason stories because that was one of her favorite TV shows.

NH: Do you remember your first published work?

MP: Sure. It was a short story called “The Only Way” and it was published in Teen Power magazine when I was sixteen.

NH: You pastored for a long time. Were you writing then? How did you find the time to write?

MP: Yes, I’ve always been writing whether I was in high school, university, seminary or pastoring. I used my days off and quiet evenings to write when I served churches. I guess the other pastors played golf to relax and I wrote books.

NH: You’re a very versatile writer. You do both fiction and non-fiction, and even your fiction spans more than one genre. Do you have a preference for fiction or non-fiction?

MP: No, I like both, but I probably do four works of fiction for every work of non-fiction. That’s why I’m very grateful when an opportunity to do non-fiction comes my way.

NH: As I mentioned, you write fiction in more than one genre. Do you have a favorite genre?

MP: Probably historical fiction, I like writing about dramatic events in world history and putting ordinary people into the middle of extraordinary circumstances. However I would like to try my hand at more works of contemporary fiction in the future.

NH: In addition to your versatility, you’re also a thorough researcher and a fast writer. As to research, can you give us a rough idea of what percentage of your time working on a novel is research? And do you enjoy the research or is a necessary evil?

MP: I’ve always liked history and biography, and I do have an academic side, so doing research is painless, really. I thrive on the opportunity to learn more. I would say research takes up 25-30% of the time I spend writing a novel. Not all of it is done ahead of time. A good deal takes place during the writing stage.

NH: As to being a fast writer, what are your secrets? What does your writing day look like?

MP: Up at about 7 AM, exercise in my home gym, have a light breakfast, check emails and FB, then get into the author mode. I start writing about the images and visions in my head and away I go. A 2000-3000 word day is a normal day. A couple of hours into the writing I hit my sweet spot where material is pouring out of my mind faster than I can get it down. Sometimes I take a break around 5 or 6 and then come back a few hours later and write some more. If I’m making supper I knock off at 4. I no longer care when or where I write, I don’t need a certain setting and I don’t need to be in a certain mood, and if my muse isn’t around I write anyways. Actually, all of my life and faith is my muse, there is always a story or a scene in my head, I am always ready to type something out or jot something down. There’s never an absence of something brewing, it seems, whether it’s planned or unplanned. I hit the sack between 11 and midnight.

NH: As your editor, I’ve noticed you reply quickly to my e-mails. So I assume while you’re writing you also often access your e-mail and possibly social media. Do you consider these as welcome mini-breaks from your writing, and not a distraction? Do they not break your concentration while writing?

MP: If I’m in a light writing part I don’t mind answering emails, etc. And many times I’m letting an idea or scene brew a bit more so I don’t mind the distraction, that’s correct, because I want other images and ideas to gel a bit more. If I was in a really intense scene or scenes and the flow was going I would shut down mail and FB until I was done.

NH: How do you approach a new novel you’re writing? Do you outline or do you just start with a basic idea and let the story take you for a ride?

MP: I do both. There is a general outline, things that need to happen, places I need to go, people that need to be around. But I’m well aware that everything can change after you write that first page. Characters do different things than you imagined they would, new characters pop up, some plot ideas don’t work after a while so you jettison them. There’s a kind of ultimate destiny over everything that you plan for, and that’s supposed to rule, but the free will of the characters always brings in new scenes and new plot developments you didn’t count on. That’s when you feel like the story is writing itself and you’re simply the first writer that’s handy to pour itself through onto a WORD doc.

NH: In addition to the several excellent novels you’ve written for Harvest House, you’ve also been writing for some online publishers. Tell us about that and give us a link.

MP: Well, you know there’s an ebook revolution going on. One aspect of this is episodic fiction or fiction written and released in installments. This is like a TV series or similar to the way Dickens published his novels 150 years ago or Conan Doyle published his Sherlock Holmes’ stories in papers or magazines. People buy an ebook volume for 99¢ and wait 3 weeks for the next one. I’ve written two books that way so far: The Rose of Lancaster County (the Amish in Colonial America) that came out in ten ebook volumes of around 7000-8000 words each, and A Road Called Love (the Amish in a contemporary setting) which came out in four larger volumes of 25,000 words each. Currently I’m working on two more: The Painted Sky, a western set in New Mexico in 1866, and Seven Oaks, a Civil war romance set in Virginia. I’m also editing a Civil War series called Cry of Freedom and a romance series called Blue Heaven – I recruit the writers and then get the stories out every two weeks. I work with Helping Hands Press and all the ebooks are posted and reviewed on Amazon Kindle and released via Kobo and Nook too. Eventually they are published as paperbacks as well.

NH: Are you at liberty to say what you’re working on next?

MP: I just finished a big project with Harvest House, a novel entitled London Dawn, the third and final book in the Danforths of Lancashire series. For Helping Hands Press I have my first foray into Arthurian and Christian fantasy coming up in another series of ebook installments – The Name of the Hawk. As well as another Amish romance in the fall or winter.

NH: Do you have any authors you consider mentors?

MP: Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce, Tolstoy, Chaim Potok, Jack Kerouac, Rudy Wiebe, Annie Dillard are some of the novelists. But poets have also had an enormous influence on me: Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Tennyson, Dante, and Milton are some of those. I think Franklin W. Dixon must have affected me because I read the Hardy Boys with a passion and Lloyd C. Douglas too (The Robe, The Big Fisherman). Douglas made a huge difference because he taught me that I could write about my faith by means of dramatic and interesting stories.

NH: What are you reading now?

MP: Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody. That’s one. I like books on Celtic Christian spirituality, the Irish and Scottish churches of the Middle Ages, so I’m reading those too. The Celtic churches were absolutely centered in Christ and spoke about that commitment with so much poetry and power, it never fails to inspire me.

NH: Is there a greatest story?

MP: Everybody has different opinions and favorite authors. The gospel story remains for me, as Fulton Oursler called it, The Greatest Story Ever Told – it’s appeal is perennial and immortal, it will never die. Similarly, to borrow from Fulton Oursler again, the Bible – with its scores of books, its multitude of authors and characters and stories set in the midst of prophecies, bloody battles, rambling birth records, great good and great evil – is for me, in all its raw and rugged beauty and complexity, The Greatest Book Ever Written. The Gospels and the entire Bible itself have had more impact on me as a man and as a writer than any other works on earth. Together they constitute a masterpiece in which no final chapter is ever reached, no final page ever turned.

NH: Thanks, Murray!

A good book is ultimately the result of a happy marriage between story and language. This is true both of fiction and non-fiction. In non-fiction, we might sometimes need to substitute the word “information” for “story.” (But not always. Many non-fiction books are also stories).

When a manuscript is rejected, it’s often because the writer has failed on either the story level or the language level…or both.

The story level is simply a matter of: is this really a story? Does it have interesting characters, a good plot, a sympathetic theme, and an appropriate setting?

If we can think of the human body as a metaphor, the story is the skeleton on which the author must hang the flesh of language. Without a firm and reliable skeleton, even the best writing will amount to no more than page after page of words nicely strung together.

At the language level, we’re talking about the author’s ability to use exactly the right words to make the story come alive. Two writers might begin with the same great story idea and if one knows how to bring about a romance between the story and language and the other doesn’t, it will be the former who succeeds.

Two quotes come to mind here. First, it was Mark Twain who said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Really fine writers are always trying to replace the “almost right word” with the exact “right word.” That’s why multiple drafts of any manuscript are so important. On your sixth and seventh drafts, you should still be finding words that need replacing. One way to find those words is to read your manuscript out loud. This step is a must for all good writers. They know the power of the ear to catch glitches that the eye misses in silent reading.

The other quote is one of my favorite writing quotes of all time—and that’s saying a lot, if you could see the massive collection of writing quotes I have. This quote is from the highly prolific writer, the late Isaac Asimov, who said, “It either sounds right or it doesn’t sound right.”

Profound, eh? And yet, that’s what good writing is all about. It simply must sound right (to the inner ear of the reader) in order to succeed. And the skilled writer will persist with a manuscript until he or she is convinced every word is the right word for this story.

If you sense the “language” part of writing is hard for you, you may need to read more. Avid readers develop a keen inner ear for when the author’s use of language is working (or not working) in a given story. As a writer, you need to develop this skill too.

Most of the time I spend editing a manuscript for publication is simply exchanging good words for better words. Near-miss words to direct-hit words. You can do that too. You might have a rejected manuscript you’ve given up on, but still believe in. Bring the thing out into the light again and read it aloud. Does it sound stilted now after being in storage for a while? If the answer is yes, then you need to know that the manuscript was just as stilted when it came fresh out of the printer. You just didn’t see it then. Perhaps because you were less attentive to language and more attentive to story. After all, coming up with your story is the relatively easy part. It’s the constant reworking of the language that marks the professional writer—the published writer.

As a follow-up to my recent I Hate It When That Happens blog, I now offer the promised balance to that rant.

1. I love it when I begin reading (with skepticism) a manuscript by an unknown author, only to discover a gem of a book and a very promising writer. Please make my day by being the next author to delight me in such a way.

2. I love it when one of the books I’ve written (or edited) results in a changed life and I find out about it. I was reminded of this two weeks ago when I was at a conference attended by a man who, without knowing who I was or where I worked, told me about a book that had truly changed his life. It was a book I had championed at Harvest House and edited. So very gratifying! I have a few cherished notes from readers of my own books that I feel like should be framed for their positive effect on me as a writer. I can’t think of anything more motivating for a writer than to hear that his or her book has changed a life.

3. I love it when an aspiring author understands that succeeding as a writer isn’t just about writing. It’s about fulfilling one’s destiny; it’s about being part of the family that is Christian publishing. It’s about knowing you’re on a team with fellow writers, editors, and agents; all working for the same thing and all suffering our share of setbacks and advances.

4. I love it when a truly good book gets the notice it deserves. That doesn’t happen often enough.

5. I love it when an out-of-the-box book (often one that few people believed in) becomes a game-changer in our industry. Such books in the past few decades include Love Comes Softly, This Present Darkness, At Home in Mitford, The Shack, and The Harbinger. (I’ll love it even more when a future game-changer is written by Nick Harrison). :-)

6. I love it when someone comes up with a book idea that’s so original and yet so obvious I slap my forehead and shout, “Now why didn’t I think of that?!”

7. I love it when I must heavily edit a manuscript and the author actually likes my changes.

8. I love it when I get a yes from the publishing committee. Sometimes authors don’t understand that a successful book must pass muster with not just an editor, but also with the folks in the sales and marketing departments. They bring an important consideration to the table when they weigh in on the pros and cons of the proposal I’m pitching from their point of view.

9. I love it when an author I’ve had to reject lets me know he or she has just landed a contract with another publisher—one that is obviously a better fit for their book than Harvest House was. I well remember the two times I was present when an author I rejected won an award. I was as excited as they were. Their award, after all, validated my judgment.

10. I love it when, after several rejections, a good author will self-publish his or her book and then get out and promote it. I love it that self-publishing has come as far as it has and that it’s now an open door for anyone brave enough to step through. Quite frankly, there are many advantages to self-publishing. One advantage is the timing. An author can have a self-published book out in a very short time. But the books I take to the publishing committee now won’t be published until 2015. That’s a long time to wait. (Caveat: it’s one thing to believe in your work, but get some feedback from folks who will tell you the truth about your book before you make the self-publishing decision. If your self-published book is poorly written or if you won’t promote it, you will be stacking those boxes of books in your garage or extra bedroom for years to come).

Well, that felt good! No grousing this time. Instead of a rant, this was meant to be a hymn of praise to all that is good and lovely in our industry. And that is much indeed.

Simply because I can’t think of a better topic, I’m going to vent about the top ten [current] things that make me crazy. Editorially and authorially (is that a word?) speaking, that is. The top ten things that drive me crazy personally are better left to a good therapist.

1. I hate it when good books—I mean really good books don’t sell. I won’t name names, but some of the best authors I know have lesser sales (in some cases far lesser) than mediocre writers. At times like this, I want to throttle the entire book-buying public.

2. I hate it when writers with potential won’t listen to good advice. When I say “with potential,” that means they’re not yet good writers, but might be if they would work on their craft. But no, these writers I’m talking about think their writing is just fine and that it’s my poor editorial judgment that’s a stumbling block to their career. Don’t let this person be you. No matter what your present status as a writer, GET BETTER with every book and every proposal.

3. I hate it when I start to read a fiction manuscript and in the opening lines I’m subjected to a weather report (“The gray skies hung over the city like a dull blanket”) or a geography lesson (“The land was rocky and barren, punctuated here and there with small hills of red earth”). Okay, I realize sometimes it can work—but not often. Start with a person. Hopefully the main character.

4. I hate it when someone mentions “branding.” Even though I understand why it’s important for a writer to develop a “brand” and cultivate a “tribe” of followers, I think it can be very limiting to creativity.

5. I hate that it takes so long to get an answer from a publisher or agent. Yes, I know. I’m an offender here. Manuscripts and proposals sit begging for attention while I’m busy editing manuscripts on their way to production. As an editor, I understand, but as a writer, I wish my writing would always flow to the top of the pile.

6. I hate it when life crowds in so much that I can’t find time to write. I really do love to write (when I have something to say), but 24 hours in a day isn’t enough!

7. I hate it when I have a full blown idea for a book in my head and it doesn’t come out right on paper. The manuscript in my head is worthy of a Christy, but the finished product is worthy only of the recycle bin.

8. I hate it when a fiction manuscript is peopled with stereotypes. I meet the same characters over and over. In one manuscript her name is Megan and she’s a flight attendant and in the next manuscript (by a different author) her name is Heather and she’s a PI. Both women, alas, need personality transplants. They’re way too generic. So are the men. Garrett may be a lawyer or he may be a fireman named Lance, but it’s basically the same guy. Give me someone with a distinct personality please.

9. I hate it that memoir and autobiographies don’t sell well in our market. A few decades ago we had the likes of The Hiding Place, God’s Smuggler, The Cross and the Switchblade, Joni, and Run Baby Run. This genre does well in the ABA market. I wish it would transfer to our CBA market. Occasionally one sneaks through. I’ve been astonished and delighted at the huge success of Eric Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

10. Finally, I hate it that more of the good books by CBA publishers don’t “crossover” into the ABA market. Sure, some do. But not many. Right now on Amazon’s top 100 there are only two books by CBA publishers. Two! I check almost weekly and usually there are about five, so two is a new low. Such a shame. We have fiction that certainly rivals ABA fiction. And goodness knows we have life-changing non-fiction that belongs high on the list. I’m glad to report that not too many weeks ago the Bonhoeffer book was well within the top 100.

Well, okay. Rant over…for now.

I’m sure I’ll find something more to grouse about in the future. Or I might even blog “I LOVE it when that happens.”

A few people have asked what genre I was referring to in my most recent blog (“Which Is It: A or B?”) when I was told by a well-respected agent in NYC that a genre I wanted to publish in was dead.

I love old movies. TCM is one TV channel I cannot do without. I don’t, however, care much for contemporary movies. I’m not sure I can remember the last movie I saw in a theater. I suppose we go maybe once or twice a year.

Part of my fascination with old movies extends to the history of movie-making in what many call Hollywood’s Golden Age: mostly the 1930s, 40s and 50s. So, on my bucket list for some time now has been the hope of helping a movie star from that era tell his or her story. Preferably a person whose story has a strong faith element.

Some of you know that I had a great shot at this a few years ago. I worked for a year with a well-known actress from that era on her autobiography. It was one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on. She not only had a fantastic story, but an inspirational angle that the market I write for would find rewarding. But alas, we couldn’t find a publisher and eventually the actress called off the project and paid me a “kill fee.”

I’ve not given up on the idea though. I have several other people in mind who have stories I think are worth telling. But this time, before I invest in all that work, I want to find an agent who is confident we’ll find a publisher for the book.

The agent I mentioned in my previous blog told me in his response to my query that I was wasting my time. He said, “My advice is to drop the golden age star book project ideas. The whole category has been killed off by the internet, and the proliferation of fan sites on any and every personality and phenomenon. One of my clients is one of the leading music and film star biographers in the business, and I’ve watched his sales decline from millions of copies (literally) to tens of thousands.”

But despite this agent’s advice, I remain hopeful. I still have my short-list of possibilities and will see what happens as I move forward, well aware of the risks of continued failure—and as I said previously, not putting all my eggs in this one basket. I have many projects in several genres that I’d like to write. I’m not dependent on any one genre.

Some of you are probably asking, “But Nick, don’t agents and publishers want to ‘brand’ you as a writer? How does writing in several genres help brand you?”

That’s a great question. Here’s my answer. Because I have varied interests, I’m pursuing the doors that open for me and if that results in branding, it will be because God has opened the right doors for that branding to happen. In fact, I think I may be finally finding out the “branding” that God may want to occur in my writing. My new book (coming out in January), Power in the Promises is very much in keeping with my previous well-acclaimed books Magnificent Prayer and His Victorious Indwelling. And I just turned in a draft of a proposal to my agent that’s also in keeping with this “brand” and she loves it. Maybe this, then, is my brand. If pressed, I would describe it as helping Christians return to some of the deep truths of the faith by writing in a way that makes those truths more accessible to the modern reader.

Maybe nothing will ever happen with my desire to help someone write their story. And, by the way, although I’ve mentioned the Hollywood thing, please note that my desire to work in this genre extends beyond Hollywood. There are any number of people I’d enjoy helping write their story. Or even work on a bio of a past person—hopefully a hero of the faith. I would love to have written Bonhoeffer, but that nice assignment from God went to Eric Metaxas.

God knows my writing desires. And I have no reason to complain with the doors He’s both opened and closed. But until I know for sure that helping a person whose story I resonate with is never going to happen, I’m going to keep knocking on those doors.

A few days ago I consulted by e-mail with a high-level person in the ABA (secular) publishing world. He had agreed to let me bounce an idea off of him to see if it might fit in the ABA world. This idea was about a genre I’d like very much to write in.

That night I composed my impressive e-mail to him, just sure he would jump out of his skin with excitement over my sure-to-be-a-bestseller idea for this genre. I sent the e-mail late at night and since he’s in New York City, I knew he would get the email and hopefully respond (salivating with excitement) by the next morning.

When I woke up, I grabbed my iPad by the side of my bed and opened my e-mail. Ta-da! YES. He had answered. But his answer wasn’t what I had hoped for. In fact, he gave his perspective that this one particular genre that I long to write in was “dead” and that I should forget ever trying to write in that genre. He was pretty ruthless about it, too—not wishy-washy at all. I would be wasting my time, he said, to write in that genre.

Deep breath. Heavy sigh.

Now what do I do? What would YOU do?

Really, I see only two options. There are probably more, such as seek a second opinion, but to be honest, I think this guy was probably speaking the truth. A second opinion would likely only confirm what he told me. So basically, the two major options are:

A. Take the advice of this pro and drop the desire to write in my preferred genre. After all, by dropping what will likely be an exercise in futility, I will have more time to write in a genre that may succeed.

B. Ignore his advice and keep pushing to write in the genre I want to succeed in, even if the odds of success are small.

So which is it for you? Let’s say you want to write Amish time-travel novels. Or historical romances set in the ninth century. Or the true story of how your dear aunt prevailed over the end of her marriage and a cancer diagnosis. None of those are likely to succeed. So what’s your choice? A or B?

I know I’ll get some disagreement on this, but my choice is B. Let me explain why.

First, if you’ll check my archive, you’ll find the blog I wrote about having a project list with many viable ideas on it. I think there are more than 50 on my list right now. I’ll be happy to write and publish five of them in my lifetime. But I don’t know which five they will be. (Although I’ll admit it probably won’t be “Amish Kittens Run Wild” 🙂 ).

The genre that I queried the seasoned pro about accounts for only a few titles on my project list. Though I’m passionate about this genre, it’s not the only genre I’m passionate about or that I feel I can write confidently. That’s why I encourage writers to have long-range plans for their writing and not become dependent on one genre for their success.

Another reason to keep writing in a genre that may not succeed is that many breakthrough books are in fact in genres that no one predicted would succeed. Whether it’s Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, William Young’s The Shack, Jan Karon’s At Home in Mitford or Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, there’s just no way to know if YOURS might be the next breakthrough book. Sure, odds are against it. And you do have to realize that going into it. 

It took me a few hours of digesting what the pro told me (with a writer’s usual disappointment at such news), but within those few hours I went from A to B. My initial reaction was to just forget the whole thing. Pull out my projects list and scratch off every project in this dead-end genre. But by that evening, I had solidified my answer as B. And strongly so. I’ll even admit to a bit of “I’ll show him!” attitude. Generally I don’t recommend that response. I occasionally see it in new writers who don’t understand why I won’t consider their book about the secret Bible code that reveals who the anti-Christ really is. But sometimes news about why your proposed book will never succeed is just the right motivation to engender passionate writing about the subject. The obvious caveat here is that even as you write, you do know you’re engaging in an uphill battle AND that this project is not your only hope for success as a writer—you DO have other potential projects you’re working on. Also, realize that “B” was MY answer to the question. If your answer is “A,” that’s just as valid—as long as you’ve thought through your reasons. Sometimes abandoning a dead-end project or genre IS the best option.

So, there you have it. My choice was to:

1. Thank the pro for his advice. Mull it over. Take some time (a few hours) to process my disappointment.
2. Decide what to do with said advice. (In my case, I’m going to let it strengthen my resolve that this genre is one that I’m committed to, even if I fail).
3. Not put all my eggs in this one basket. Keep several writing interests alive, not just this one pet genre that may never see the light of day.

And when I find a publisher who LOVES my writing in that preferred genre, you will be the second to know. That industry pro will be the first!

Last night on Facebook I posted this follow-up to a previous post I had made about my disdain for long introductions to non-fiction books:

A few of you will have seen my post a few days ago about the dreaded 15-page introduction in the book I’m reading. Well, I made it through fine. The book is called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I took the 20-question test and answered 18 of the questions as an introvert would. My fellow writers will get a kick out of this quote from the book: “To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly….The authors whose books get published–once accepted as a reclusive breed–are now vetted by publicists to make sure they’re talk-show ready. (You wouldn’t be reading this book if I hadn’t convinced my publisher that I was enough of a pseudo-extrovert to promote it”).

I concluded with: Tomorrow I may blog on “what’s an introverted writer to do?!” This is that blog.

What indeed can we introverted writers do? After all, every publisher wants to “brand” us (like cattle) and test the strength of our platform before committing to our current project. And, as an acquisitions editor myself, I do understand the reasoning. It costs a lot of money to publish a book. A lot of money that comes up front, before the book has a chance to prove that it will return the money invested in it, plus a profit.

So let’s say right at the beginning that we all agree that if we want to publish with a well-known publishing house, we recognize that one (not all, but ONE) of the considerations publishers must make is whether the book will sell enough copies to pay for itself.

For many writers (especially introverts) the next question is: So beloved publisher, what are YOU going to do to see that my book succeeds? That’s a fair question. Publishers shouldn’t publish books they don’t believe in enough to invest some marketing dollars. Of course, you can help them identify where those marketing dollars are best spent. In your proposal, hopefully you shared exactly WHO your target readers are and how they can be reached, both by you and by the publisher.

But keep in mind that publishing houses have other books to publicize besides yours. And mostly the books they choose to publicize are the new and upcoming titles. These are the front list books. And your new book will remain front list until the next wave of front list titles are ready to walk out on stage. That’s a very short time. Usually just a few months, if that. And when your book is no longer front list, it is back list. Back list titles generally only receive more marketing dollars when they’ve shown initial strength during their front list days. If they’ve performed poorly or only fair, then likely the remainder of the promotion for the life of the book is up to you Mr. or Ms. Introvert.

Like most introverts, this bothers you. It certainly bothers me. I want to write my next book, not get out there and embarrass my introverted self doing stuff that I’m not very good at and certainly not very comfortable doing.

Well, here are a few tips for us introverts to get us past that defeatist attitude:

1. Really, the advent of social media is a godsend to introverted authors. Websites, blogs, tweets, and other sorts of fun stuff can originate without you ever leaving the house. You can even promote your book in your pajamas if you want to. All this without actually having to meet another person face to face. Even radio interviews can be done from home. My bestselling book 365 WWJD is a case in point. For that book, I did more than fifty radio interviews—and every one of them was from my home. I may even have been in my pajamas for more than one of those interviews.

2. Fear keeps some introverts from trying to step out of their comfort zone. “What if I make an idiot of myself?” they ask. Well, truth be told, in one of my many radio interviews for 365 WWJD, I did make somewhat of an idiot of myself. But so what? The book has changed lives and still changes lives 75,000 copies later. Earlier this year, the book received its ninth Amazon review (eight of which are five star). The review said, “Found this book at a book store and loved it so much I ordered one for a friend. I actually do read it religiously.”

3. Having great reviews on Amazon and elsewhere is another good option. Personally, I do not ask my friends to review my books on Amazon. I love it when they do, but I think it’s somewhat misleading to ask friends to tell others what a great writer I am. It sure makes getting five-star reviews all the more rewarding, knowing that every one of them was unsolicited. But the point is to have your book reviewed widely and make yourself available for online (or radio) interviews whenever you can. Even an introvert can submit to an online interview where you can use the backspace and delete keys all you want before you send your response.

4. Let’s go back to “fear” for a moment. When I was in high school on rainy days our PE class (anyone remember PE?) played a game called Dart Ball or Slaughter Ball. It was really just Dodgeball though. We did this in the gym. The class was spit in two and each side gathered opposite each other and spent the next 45 minutes throwing those basketball-sized red rubber balls that you all remember at each other. Well, for the first three and a half years of high school, I admit I was one of the wimps (I am an introvert after all) who stayed to the rear of the pack. Shoot, I didn’t want to get hit by one of those balls. It stung! But then deep into my senior year (of course!), I discovered something: The game is a lot more fun when you play at the front of the pack! And honestly I think I got hit by the ball LESS often when I played in front. The lesson I took away from that experience was that I shouldn’t be so afraid to do something that I hang back until my “senior year.” I should get out there and find out for myself if this activity I think I’ll hate is really as awful as it seems. I believe I’ve come a long way since then in many ways. Early on in my writing career a radio interview would make me nervous. Now, I’d be willing to sign on the dotted line for my own TV show (should any producers want to offer me a contract!). Don’t let your introvertish ways rob you of something that might be right up your alley. Try it a few times first.

5. Another suggestion is to write books that have hooks that don’t require a large platform. My first two books Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men Seeking Integrity and 365 WWJD were like that. I depended on the market (Promise Keepers and people interested in the WWJD phenomenon) to gravitate toward the book….and they did.

6. My new book Power in the Promises comes out next January 1. I think it’s my best book yet and hopefully will be my bestselling. I believe in the message of the book and that helps me overcome my tendency to stay at the rear of the pack. I want people to get excited about the promises of God. And that excitement seems to trump my introvertedness. Ask yourself just how excited you are about the message of your book—whether fiction or non-fiction. If you’re not excited, how will your reader be excited? And if you ARE excited, allow your excitement to trump your introversion. Excitement is contagious. Get out there and spread yours around.

7. Also, consider that if you need help, it’s out there. There are professional publicists and businesses that will help you do what doesn’t come naturally for you. My friends at Author Media promise to “hold your hand” as you develop your platform. Look around. Ask other authors who in the profession has helped them with publicity.

8. Last and certainly not least is be a prayer warrior for your book and your writing career. Strategize through prayer. My book Magnificent Prayer has several important endorsements from people most of you know by reputation. The wonderful thing is that of those 7 or 8 key endorsements, I only sought one of them. The others all came to me unexpectedly because the person had read and love Magnificent Prayer. Wow. I’m still amazed at how God has used and is still using that book!

I hope those few suggestions will help my fellow introverts jumpstart your thinking about what you can do to have your book noticed. As some of my Facebook commenters have said, they have worked hard to overcome their introversion and have their books noticed. You can too!

As some of you may have heard, the sad truth is that in our industry, fiction sales are presently in a bit of decline. At least if what agents and authors are telling me is true. I say “presently” in decline with some optimism that we will have another upturn in the future.

But in the meantime, what’s a fiction author to do? Stop writing?

Certainly not.

Here are some suggestions on what to do while waiting for the hoped-for turnaround in Christian fiction.

1. Although I’ve long said that following trends is not the way to write fiction, still it’s going to be important to notice what types of fiction are still doing well. If you’re a versatile writer of fiction, you might turn your talents to an up and coming genre. A quick look at the present bestselling fiction shows that although Amish fiction is strong, the books on the list are by the better-known Amish fiction authors: Beverly Lewis, Wanda Brunstetter, and Cindy Woodsmall. How many of the authors on that list have you read? Can you determine why those authors are successful and what you can do to emulate their success? Can you hazard a guess as to what kinds of books will be on that list a year from now?

2. Prepare a “one-sheet” for about 5-8 different novels. Describe each one in a paragraph. Create a good lead character for each. Let your imagination go. Maybe try an Amish novel, a contemporary romance, and something out of the box, like, perhaps The Shack. Pretend that someone has said to you, “I will give you one million dollars to write a book like ___________.” Could you do it? I bet you’d at least try. So do try. What have you got to lose?

3. Read more. The best writers, by far, are also readers. What fiction are you reading now? If you’ve been too busy to read, then be assured it will show in your writing. If necessary, devote part of your writing time to reading.

4. Make yourself stay excited about your writing. When you’re down in the mouth about your writing future, head over to Barnes and Noble, buy a chocolate chip Frappuccino and spend an hour browsing the fiction shelves. Open several intriguing novels and read the first couple of pages. See if the author succeeds in capturing your interest. Tell yourself I can do better than that.

5. Many fiction authors fail because they assume that good writing is all that’s necessary to succeed. They think that “platforms” are for non-fiction authors only. Not true. You need to do the things that will put you on the radar screens of potential readers. Make a list of ten things you can do in the next year to build a platform for your fiction.

6. Don’t overlook the option of self-publishing your first novel. At Harvest House Publishers we have occasionally picked up a novel or an author that started through self-publishing. Yes, distribution is harder for self-published books, but it may be the only way you can break through. Count the cost before you take this step, but don’t discount it as a viable option.

7. Last and certainly not least, make sure you’re writing dreams are in line with God’s will for you. Are you writing what He wants you to write? Are you daily praying over your writing career? Has God given you a word of encouragement about your writing? LISTEN to Him. He may even tell you that writing isn’t your calling after all and it’s time for you to move on to something else. Something that IS your calling.

Okay, your turn. What are YOU doing right now to advance your fiction writing career while waiting for an upturn in the fiction market? How are you avoiding discouragement? We’re all ears!