Contest Time

Caption_for_Burma_Shave A week ago on my editing blog I introduced a contest I’m running. It dawned on me today that I should post about it here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction as well. I’ve received over twenty-five entries already and plan to run the contest until next Monday. I’ll then choose a winner and four or so runners-up. Those participating may submit more than one entry.

But what are these entries?

Glad you asked. 😉

As part of my promotion for the new Power Elements Of Fiction volume, Power Elements Of Character Development, I’ve decided to use the old ad idea put out by the shaving cream company called Burma-Shave. Their ads are actually a bit of Americana, some preserved in the Smithsonian Institute, sort of like Norman Rockwell paintings, only in poetry.

The ads first appeared on small signs along the highway in Minnesota back in 1925 and continued until 1963. The son of the owner of a mom-pop kind of company producing, among other things, shaving cream that could be applied without a brush, came up with the idea. He spent $200 to put up signs that first year. Sales shot up, so the next year, his dad authorized more signs, and the ad campaign expanded. Eventually Burma-Shave signs cropped up in 44 of the lower 48 states, all positioned along the highway, so that roadtrippers could read them.

Instead of traditional marketing content, the ads were actually jingles—short lines of poetry, often with a twist at the end, and often with a bit of humor, though not always—toward the later years, they often gave driving safety tips.

They consisted of four or five lines, usually no more than four syllables in length, with either the second or the third line rhyming with the fifth, and were followed by their famous Burma-Shave signature. Here are some samples:


She eyed
His beard
And said no dice
The wedding’s off–
I’ll cook the rice

A beard
That’s rough
And overgrown
is better than
A chaperone

For faces
Chapped and sore
Keeps ’em comin’
Back for more

We’re widely read
And often quoted
But it’s shaves
Not signs
For which we’re noted

The bearded lady
Tried a jar
She’s now
A famous movie star

Shaving brushes
You’ll soon see ’em
On a shelf
In some museum

(Ironically, the last one is among those preserved in the Smithsonian. To read more jingles go the Burma Shave site)

My idea is to use the Burma-Shave ad concept to help promote Power Elements Of Character Development. So I sat down to write some jingles. Except, what I have to admit is, I’m not very good at it.

Consequently I thought, there have to be writers out there better than I am. What if I hold a contest, offering a copy of the book as a prize for the winner? So that’s what this post is all about.

For any and all who would like to try their hand at writing Burma-Shave type jingles about Power Elements Of Character Development, put your efforts in the comments section below, or if you’d rather keep your entry private, post it at Rewrite, Reword, Rework where moderation is on, and I alone will receive your entries.

Let me show you my efforts, so you can see you don’t have to do much to make yours better than mine. *Sad truth!


If heroes
Struggle toward
Their goal
Readers won’t
Get bored.
Power Elements Of Character Development

If heroes
Make a plan
Readers won’t
Put their book
Under a ban.
Power Elements Of Character Development

Now envision your jingle in the little roadside signs.

I know this may seem hard to do if you haven’t read the book, but you can see the table of contents by using Amazon’s look inside feature to get some ideas that will reflect the content.

I’m looking forward to whatever you submit. This is fun. I’ll just add that by submitting, you’re giving me permission to use your entry as part of the promotion for Power Elements Of Character Development.

Thanks in advance for your entries and for sharing this post with your social network and with anyone you think might be interested in entrying.

Success Without Overkill

I don’t know if all successful authors avoid overkill, but in her comment yesterday, Morgan named one who seems to have found a positive way of promoting her works without making her target audience feel spammed.

Debbie Macomber at Mount Hermon in 2008

The author Morgan mentioned is Debbie Macomber. I haven’t done any serious investigation to learn this, but Debbie’s blog gives a picture of how she interacts with the public.

A quick glance at her blog sidebar tells me Debbie posts two or three times a week. Here are some of the latest titles of her posts. “Footbal Sunday” (about expensive meals at her favorite football team’s stadium), “Going green–or would be that orange?” (telling how much work it is and how expensive to grow and use your own pumpkins instead of buying the canned variety), “Weekend Contentment” (re. enjoying everyday fall doings), “Young Writers” (about plans to teach a writing seminar in New York).

You get the picture—not a single mention of one of her book titles or how many words she wrote on any particular day. In fact, the only mention of her work came as a part of an announcement earlier this month that she will be changing publishers after twenty-eight years with the same house.

Well, that seems like big news, certainly something significant enough that readers would want to know. But unless you click on the “Books” tab, or a much smaller “Buy Debbie’s Books” link at the very top of her home page, you aren’t going to find a lot about her work.

She seems to adhere to her tag line – “Wherever you are Debbie takes you home.” Her short paragraph posts are conversational, personal, void of the hard-sell of campaign ads. In fact, void of an form of sell.

Granted, her Facebook page is different–she is clearly intending to use that spot to discuss her books, but even in so doing, there is more of a soft-sell tone. For example, in her last post she says

A final reminder, my friends, to sign up at for my online event on Friday, October 22nd at 3pm EST. I promise to quit making pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie long enough to answer all your questions! (Who knew my pumpkins would grow SO big?!)

First, the tone is personal. Debbie has over 32,000 people following her on that page, yet she is talking to “my friends.”

Second, she makes it clear she is viewing this event as something she wants to do for others. She’s putting aside her activities and will focus on those who want to ask her questions.

Third, she uses humor and a blog tie-in (remember the post about the effort and expense of growing and using pumpkins?) to eliminate any commercial feel.

No doubt about it, promotion is something authors should consider as part of their job these days, but what a difference between the pounding some do and the service others offer.

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm  Comments Off on Success Without Overkill  
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Learning About Marketing From Politics

Last night a friend of mine from Colorado phoned. I was screening my calls, but picked up when I realized who was on the other end. She laughed and asked me if I was trying to avoid the blitz of political messages that invade our homes.

For the next few minutes we commiserated about the flood of political ads delivered through the airwaves, over the phone, and in the mailbox. So many are negative. Here’s what’s bad about the other guy—bad policy, bad performance, bad presentation.

In fact, my friend and I both said we could hardly wait for the election just to stop the flood of commercials.

Even while we were talking, though, I realized that these candidates for office are simply marketing themselves to the public. In fact, I told my friend about a recent Dilbert cartoon about marketing. Except, typically, I got the punchline wrong, so here’s the real thing:

I think I said “liquor and luck” instead of “guessing.” Guessing is the better term, though. Most professionals in the book business, when they discuss marketing, admit there is no way to know what will work to capture the public’s attention. How many ads, which print reviews, interviews with whom?

Yes, publicists make “educated guesses” and set up as many media contacts as possible, but the author is expected to pitch in, too. Book signings, online reviews, guest blogs, Facebook and Twitter presence, newsletters, email loops …

But here’s the question. Does there come a point when those with whom the author is communicating say, Enough already!

I’ll be honest. I’ve reacted that way from time to time.

As I think about my irritation with the political ads and my reaction to writers marketing their work, a few commonalities surface.

1. Ads that seem invasive are a turn off. How can an author seem “invasive”? For one, I’ve started receiving unsolicited e-newsletters from authors I “know” through email loops. That feels invasive.

Also, when Facebook or Twitter messages are always and only about the new book, that feels spam-ish.

2. Ads are clearly one-sided. Well, they should be, shouldn’t they? We expect that from a commercial.

But what about blog posts or e-newsletters (ones I have subscribed to)? If those only carry content about the author and/or the author’s work, I feel they are nothing more than a sales pitch rather than beneficial communication that offers me, the reader, some take-away (other than an opportunity to be sold to).

3. Ads may be untruthful—and often that fact is apparent without any need to do any checking.

Case in point—here in California Senator Barbara Boxer has an ad running on TV that vilifies her opponent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, because she laid people off in California while shipping their jobs overseas. In this particular commercial, three or four supposed former employees tell their sad tale of being laid off. And right after one decries the jobs going to places like China, another laments that they even had to train their replacements. What? I thought, HP sent them to China to train Chinese workers?

And of course there’s a little editorializing. The commercial narrator says that Carly Fiorina “proudly stamps” her products “Made in China.” As if somehow this omniscient narrator knows what’s in Ms. Fiorina’s heart and can see just how proud she is.

I could go on and on about the nuanced misrepresentations. But here’s the point—authors can do that too. Only instead of giving a slanted view of a competitor, the view is slanted to give the impression that all readers only love the new release.

I don’t quite know how to handle this one because fans do write in gushing terms at times. But perhaps when reactions are solicited, they don’t hold as much credibility.

I’m not talking about authors asking reviewers to post their reviews at places like Amazon. I’m talking about things like saying, I’ll publish your comments (on a blog, newsletter, or in the next book) if you say nice things. Well, somehow, those nice things don’t seem so genuine any more.

And how about this. When a friend bravely and kindly tells a writer maybe they don’t need to market so hard, the author should listen instead of blogging about why they disagree.

Sometimes more is actually less. Much less!

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Thoughts on Marketing

I read an interesting article about the old and new marketing—old being corporation-controlled advertisement and new being the “conversations” held through social media (blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, et al.)

Here’s part of the discussion pertinent to what I want to talk about:

Most corporations, says The Cluetrain Manifesto [a 1999 thesis endorsed by a host of marketers], “ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it.”

Moreover, it says, these companies “only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.”

Honestly, when I read those lines, I first thought of some book reviews, particularly those discussing Christian fiction. I also thought of Mike Duran‘s occasional objections to Christian fiction reviews, much of which I think has merit.

In Mike’s article, he postulated that some reviewers may write puff pieces because they are happy to see works centered on the gospel. In other words, because they love the gospel and because a particular work of fiction promotes the gospel, the reviewer feels compelled to love that work of fiction. Therefore, they write reviews filled with “happy talk” and lines straight from marketing brochures.

The result is a loss of credibility. Why should those seeking information about products they might like to buy pay attention to reviews that always and only speak in glowing terms?

Mind you, I’m not pretending I have review writing figured out. Just recently a friend who frequents this blog emailed me about a particular book this person bought as a result of my review. Problem was, at least in the beginning, the book, in this person’s estimation, wasn’t measuring up to my recommendation.

But here are a few things I’ve come to believe about reviews:

1) They don’t have to trash books, even the ones that are less than great or maybe even terrible. Writing, after all, isn’t easy, and the author of the book should be respected for his efforts.

2) Reviews should be honest. A reviewer who always says the current work he’s discussing is the best thing since C. S. Lewis, simply loses credibility.

3) Most books have strengths and weaknesses. In mentioning both, reviewers actually gain credibility. Plus, many readers will decide that the things that bothered the reviewer aren’t significant enough to dissuade them from buying the book.

4) Reviews should not serve in place of discernment. Again, in discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a work, the reviewer is actually putting the ball back in the hands of the reader, forcing him make his own decision.

5) Recommendations can be tailored. Because I as a reviewer may not like a book, does that mean no one else will, or should? Absolutely not. However, if I make judgments as to who I think might like the book and to what extent they may like it, my recommendation can then guide others to consider whether or not they are part of that audience.

If book reviews are to be part of the “new marketing” dependent upon conversations, those need to be genuine, and Christians reviewing fiction should be in the forefront. Our integrity should matter.

The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 8

I’m not sure how much more I’m going to do with this topic. As I may have mentioned once or twice, CSFF will hold the blog tour for Donita Paul’s DragonLight next week. After that, who knows which way the cyber-wind will blow. 🙂 But for one more day, at least, I want to discuss Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) by Andy Sernovitz.

By the way, I might mention that I am just twenty pages in and still in the first chapter. Hopefully that gives you an idea that this book has much to say. I certainly have much to think about especially as I consider how to implement the principles in the writing world.

As Brandilyn Collins reported on her blog Forensic and Faith when she was discussing WOMM, Sernovitz has identified five T’s of word of mouth marketing. The first of those is Talkers.

The question is, who will talk about you?

When I first got on the Internet, I didn’t know if I was supposed to come up with some kind of a cutesy fake name or what. I went on one sports forum (remember what a sports nut I am) and registered as B. Fan (for Broncos fan—ah, for the days of John Elway … 😉 ) Eventually I discovered the writer community, mostly through Faith in Fiction. Somewhere soon after, it dawned on me. Rather than protecting my anonymity, if I really wanted to be a writer, I needed to get my name out there into the public arena.

It was a departure from what I expected.

In real life, I was used to going places and running into people I knew—usually former students or parents of former students. At 60 new kiddos a year for 25 years, with the adults added in, that ups the chances of those chance encounters. Not so long ago I was pumping gas and a guy one island over looked at me, looked at me, then headed on over. And sure enough, this was the dad of one of my former students, from eight years ago.

But on the Internet? Put my real name on the web? My picture out there for the world to see? Well, why not, if some day I hope my name is on the front of a book and my picture on the inside flap. I mean, those books might go to who knows where. And isn’t that the point? If people are to talk, the conversation has to begin somewhere.

For the writer, it begins with the people we know who will be willing to talk about us. Family, friends, neighbors, business associates, … and cyber-friends. So who are the talkers in your world?

Published in: on July 18, 2008 at 3:22 pm  Comments Off on The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 8  
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The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 7

I just sent out the notice about Donita Paul’s DragonLight tour for next week. I’m really, really looking forward to it, as you might have suspected. I started the book this week (had it much earlier but was committed to Other Reading), and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Except, last night I couldn’t find it and … oh, right. No journal type stuff here. Interesting copy. That’s what we’re going for.

Interesting and trustworth. That’s the best way I can explain another of the “musts” Andy Sernovitz identifies as buzz worthy in Word of Mouth Marketing. The idea is, consumers, and for us writers that means readers, are looking for a company (author) they can respect and trust.

For fiction writers, trust is earned through the craft and story. Tell a good story, and the readers will trust you to deliver a good story next time. Hook them with your opening, and readers will trust you to keep them interested the whole way through.

Writing instructors often refer to the promise an author makes to the reader, especially in the first few pages. Readers probably don’t realize it, but expectations are set in those first few pages. Will the story be funny, fast paced, thoughtful, full of description, peopled with interesting characters, and so on. The author becomes trustworthy as he delivers what the readers are led to expect in those first few pages.

Bloggers have another way of earning respect and trust. One is simply by telling the truth. That point brings up the canned content issue again. There is no respect or trust a blogger can earn if all they do is copy and paste. There’s also not a lot of trust and respect to be had by praising a book without some interaction with it.

That can be through reading reviews, studying the opening, comparing the book cover, commenting on the premise, or any number of other possibilities. Obviously I have blog tours in mind here because the biggest temptation to say what everyone else is saying comes during tours. Or does it?

How many times have I read an opinion one “important person in the business” expresses, then see that idea parroted hither and yon.

Respect, in my opinion, comes when a blogger thinks for himself, writes what he believes, and does so kindly.

The kind factor is another major marketing point, one that would undermine brevity if I said any more about it just now. 😀

Published in: on July 17, 2008 at 2:30 pm  Comments Off on The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 7  
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The Chief Means of Marketing, Part 6

Just to remind you, the real subject of these posts is word-of-mouth marketing. My thoughts have been spurred by Andy Sernovitz‘s book by that same title. Sernoviz made the statement to the effect that the boring is the killer of all buzz. Or stated in the positive, interesting is a must if something is to be buzz worthy.

In that light, I’ve been thinking about first the produce—the novel—and what makes it interesting and then the promotion, particularly blog posts and what makes them interesting.

Before I give my ideas about what makes a blog post interesting, I’ll tell you the things that aren’t compelling to me, and I’ll even give them in exciting, countdown fashion. 😀

5. Pictures – unless I know the people. Then, yes, they work. But just putting a generic picture up … not so much.
4. Personal journal stuff – unless I know the person in the real world. I don’t have a point of reference to know how great it was that you got to go to Australia for the weekend.
3. Cute personality trait quizzes. Yes, I’ve participated in a couple of those, but I’m so over it! 😉
2. Posts that are self-serving.
1. And the number one thing that does not compel me to read a blog post? Canned copy. When I recognize the material is the kind of information found in a press release, I pass.

Which brings us to the five most compelling features that encourage me to read a blog. (I was tempted to list Emoticons, but the only site I’d go to or the posts I’d read just for the emoticons is All About Children’s Books—see the complete list when you click on “Post a Comment.” )

So here we go. What makes a blog post interesting? Again, in countdown order, here are my top five:

5. Contests
4. Humor
3. Brevity
2. Hooks
1. Topic of interest

By “hooks” I mean either a great opening that catches my attention, or a nail-biting ending that has me coming back just to find out the rest.

But the number one, by far, is an interesting topic. I have subscribed to one blog (you can relax—this one is not about any who might come here and read) that I actually kind of groan at when I see there’s a post. By and large, this individual writes boring, boring posts. But once in a while, there’s a piece of information I would not have learned except for that blog. So I continue to scan it whenever a post comes up, but my scans only turn into in depth reading when I see a topic of particular interest.

Well, duh, you might be thinking. If I knew what was interesting, then I’d write interesting copy. The key is, interesting to your readers. Who comes to your site? Or who do you want to come to your site? Me, I love sports. I coached for years. I follow most major sports (and I consider soccer as a major sport) in the pros and some in the colleges. But you rarely read anything about sports here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. I figure the people who come to a site with Christian and Fiction in the title probably are here because that’s what they’re interested in. Consequently, I limit my content to those subjects, with the rare exception.

My guess is, the people who visit here regularly do so because they want to read content about one subject or the other or even better the intersection of the two.

Does that guarantee I’m writing something interesting? I wish! But at least I have a fighting chance because the visitors stopping by aren’t expecting my views on the political race or what I think about a 41-year-old mother swimming in her fifth Olympics or … you name it.

Now, if I could just master that brevity thing.

What about you? Did I list the thing you think makes a blog post interesting?

The Chief Means of Marketing – Part 5

What makes a novel interesting? What makes a blog post interesting? (And don’t forget, interesting is one of the necessary ingredients if what we produce is going to be buzz worthy).

I don’t think the answers to those two questions are necessarily the same. Fiction, I’m convinced, is interesting primarily if the story is interesting. Perhaps you’ve read here more than once Story trumps all.

But even saying that, there may not be agreement about what makes a story interesting. Some will say it’s the characters. Others will say it’s the plot. Still others will say it’s the way the story is told—the language the author uses. A smaller minority might say stories are interesting if they take the reader to a new place or show them something new about the world, life, history.

The main thing that each of these seem to have in common is the new factor. Yet writing instructors will say time and again, there are no new stories. I’ve read on blogs and in instruction books that there are ten basic plots. When I was in school, we learned there were five basic themes.

Off hand, one might think science fiction or fantasy has the easiest road, for surely those of us writing in the speculative genres have the newest, oddest, strangest stuff with which to construct stories.

But therein lies a danger. New for the sake of new isn’t interesting either. And new that is so odd it doesn’t seem to connect to reality isn’t interesting. In other words, readers want something new but familiar, and something different because the story requires the difference.

In addition, I’m more and more convinced that readers will become attached to a story primarily if they become attached to a character. What, then, makes a character interesting?

Again, if you brought in a hundred fiction writers, you might have a hundred different answers, but here are some broad brush strokes that I believe are needed to make a character interesting.

1) He or she must want something. And the story must be about them going after what they want. Without that central something that the character is trying to achieve, find, win, readers have no reason to be in the protagonist’s corner, hoping and fearing with him or her.

2) He or she must have some admirable qualities. It seems so much emphasis is being put on making characters seem real, some authors are forgetting to make the character likable or admirable. One of the complaints of the movie Prince Caspian was that the screenplay writers changed Peter from a noble character to one with angst. Fortunately other characters were still depicted with strengths, so movie goers didn’t seem to have a problem backing the side of good.

3) He or she must have some weakness. This is the point that has become blown out of proportion, in my opinion, but the answer isn’t to swing the pendulum clear to the other side and depict characters that are unnatural in their goodness. Plots aren’t interesting if they have no conflict, and characters aren’t interesting if they have no internal struggle.

OK, there are other factors, but I’ve gone on too long as it is. Your turn. What makes a character interesting?

Published in: on July 15, 2008 at 2:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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