The Kindness Of God Extended Through The Kindness Of People


US_Navy_100211-N-3879H-006_U.S._Naval_Academy_midshipmen_lend_a_hand_by_shoveling_sidewalks_and_helping_stranded_motorists_in_the_streetsSometimes God’s qualities, such as His kindness, seem nebulous because . . . well, He isn’t digging us out of the snow when our car slips off the road, He isn’t bringing meals when our son is in the hospital and we’re stretched for time, He isn’t watering our plants when we go on vacation.

The thing is, God shows His kindness in a variety of ways, and one of those is through the kindness of people He sends to us at just the right time.

I’ve experienced this in any number of ways during my adventure in “self-publishing.” It’s really a joke to call it “self.”

I learned fairly soon during my first Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference that traditional publishing was a team effort. When I first heard it, I didn’t particularly like that idea, to be honest. I thought the real work was done by the author. I was schooled, however, to amend that opinion. There were editors and cover designers and layout people and printers, sales people, distribution teams, promotion and PR representatives. It was a team effort to get out a book.

“Self-publishing” at that time simply meant the author paid for all those things to be done.

Then along came the ebook revolution and Amazon’s Kindle Direct, and suddenly self-publishing really was self-publishing, wasn’t it?

PowerElements_of Story Structure finalIn my experience of publishing Power Elements Of Story Structure, I learned it’s still a team effort. I brain-stormed titles with my critique group and one, the talented Rachel Marks, volunteered to design the cover. Another member, the brilliant Merrie Destefano, conceived of a series, not just a stand alone, and made suggestions about a forward and endorsements.

So that entailed another group of people–those willing to read the book and write something to let others know what they thought. Those same people, writers themselves, also voluntarily worked as my proof readers, catching a number of errors that had gotten by me.

I still needed Amazon, of course, but to get to that point, I needed someone with technical know-how who could walk me through the publishing process. A friend from the Mount Hermon conference helped with that.

Once the book was about ready to go, people needed to know about it, so another group of friends rose to the occasion, posting the cover reveal and/or follow-up posts with the Amazon link once the book was available.

And still I need help. Reviewers. I hadn’t even thought about that until one writer friend volunteered to do a review as soon as he was free to read the book (in February, I think he said).

Happily, reviews have started coming in. How else will people know if other writers are finding the book helpful or not?

Here’s an excerpt from the first one (posted by someone I’ve not met, no less):

Power Elements of Story Structure is one of the most accessible books on writing that I’ve read . . . (I wish I had read this before I ever began writing, but I’m deeply appreciating how it’s helping me to see my current work.) If you’re interested in writing a novel, this is an EXCELLENT resource.

Well, honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better first review, I don’t think.

I’m really amazed at all this. Each of these people is so kind. They’re giving of their time selflessly. I mean, what does a reviewer gain by taking time to write something on Amazon? But as I understand it, reviews are gold for books. The kindness of each reviewer translates to a boost for my book.

But more than that, the kindness of each person who has helped in any capacity is a demonstration of God’s kindness. He is extending His kindness through each of them. How cool that God has used this team of people to show me His kindness through a “self-published” project! 😉

The State Of Publishing


When I was in school, I read about the Industrial Revolution, and all the changes it brought, some good but some pretty harsh. I realized the other day that we’re in another one of those revolutions. I don’t know what they’ll end up naming it — the Communications Revolution, maybe, or the Technology Revolution, perhaps. Whatever, books are right there in the middle of the fray, it would seem.

Interestingly, five years ago, on this blog, an acquisitions editor for a reputable Christian publisher said, “As for Amazon sales, those are NOT indicative of true sales.” I doubt if anyone is saying that today. There’s been a revolution. In fact, I just read in The Writer magazine that projections say Amazon will have 50% of book sales by the end of this year. Fifty percent!

Of course this revolution isn’t happening without those who want to fight back. Amazon’s being accused of turning into a monopoly with plans, not just to become THE book seller but THE publisher, what with their print-publishing venture.

How you feel about this revolution probably depends on how you’re connected to the book industry. One thing most people in the know seem to agree upon: Amazon is ignoring the way things have been and has created a new model based on what’s best for the consumer ( i. e, the reader).

In an industry where publishers, distributors, agents, and occasionally authors bicker with one another about issues great and small, Amazon has simply turned its back and addressed the issues from the perspective of the customer. (“Consider The Elephant” by David Malki, The Writer, Nov/Dec 2011.)

Hence, readers can buy books at a lower price, with greater ease, and perhaps with more knowledge about the product, than ever before.

Authors have mixed feelings about the encroachment of Amazon on the publishing scene. They are changing the landscape, without a doubt. As traditional publishers hunker down, they have fewer and fewer slots available, so only The Big Name authors seem likely to be happy with traditional publishing. Those being squeezed out, not so much. Are they happy with Amazon? Not necessarily because they are competing with an ever-growing field of writers who have discovered the ease with which they can get their work in print or on e-reader screens. Make that, Kindle screens.

Publishers, acquisition editors, even possibly agents are in the opposition to this revolutionary take-over threat. After all, they’re losing their gate-keeper role. If they don’t come down on the side of opposing the greater Communication Revolution — that is, if they approach the changes in the business with vision, embracing the technology and the opportunities afforded by social media — they have a chance to maintain a small piece of the pie they so recently hoarded.

For an unpublished writer like me, this is an interesting time for certain. There are many more options available than ever before, but will they be paying ones? In other words, can a writer ever again make a living as a writer? Not that many did before the start of the revolution. But an accompanying question is this: will writing suffer if it becomes littered with hobbyists rather than professionals?

I suppose newspaper people thought the same thing when blogs first came out with all kinds of divergent opinion, but in the case of news and politics, I think consumers care more about facts and opinions than they do the prose with which those are expressed. Blogging suddenly made it possible for the guy who used to chaffed because his letter to the editor had once again been ignored, to suddenly have his own column and his own loyal readers and the chance to write those letters to the editor in the form of comments on other blogs. Suddenly his opinion was getting out there and getting read.

Fiction is a different animal. There’s a bit of art to entertainment, and passionate people who haven’t learned the craft may be disappointed that their books won’t find a way out of the growing morass of similar stories.

The new question — but really, it’s old — is, how does a writer separate from the pack and become noticed? Writers who find an answer will most likely be the ones who navigate the newest crossover — from digital/self-publishing, to traditional. Or will that be, from traditional publishing to digital/self-pubbed?

One closing thought. Thank God He knows what’s going on! 😀

Published in: on February 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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Publishing Success


Recently Harvest House acquisitions editor Nick Harrison concluded a blog post with the following:

In my workshops I often mention that success for a writer is only about 60% writing ability. The other 40% is knowing the market, meeting editors and agents at conferences, and generally keeping up with what’s going on in the publishing world. Writers who do that will have an advantage over more talented writers who don’t or won’t do that.

In this article, Nick also says that a writer needs to tailor his writing to the particular needs of the publisher with whom he is seeking publication. Zondervan, for instance, he says, does well with suspense while Bethany and Harvest House do well with romance and Marcher Lord Press specializes in speculative.

Interesting observation. I know editors often say what they are looking for, but I don’t know that I had zeroed in on the idea of exclusivity before.

So I wonder, is it a wise decision to put all the eggs in one basket? Is it ideal to be In-and-Out specializing in burgers, fries, and milk shakes, or is it better to be KFC and start branching out past your niche?

For writers, is it better to seek publication with a house that specializes or one that diversifies? For some do. I thought of Thomas Nelson, a house that includes a wide variety of fiction. And WaterBrook, one of the publishers not afraid of speculative fiction (and doing quite well with at least some of their authors).

Earlier today I read author friend Mike Duran’s post about his path to publication. I found these lines refreshingly honest [note to Mike: you see? More than one person finds what you write refreshing 😉 ]:

Even after I’ve signed a two-book contract, I am still in the dark as to how I actually got here.

Part hard work. Part luck. Part divine guidance. I dunno.

I tend to think Mike falls into the paradigm that Nick Harrison described. He is a good writer, so he’s 60 percent there. He’s begun attending writers’ conferences and has been involved in the writing business for a number of years as an editor at Midnight Diner, as a guest blogger at Novel Journey, and any number of other activities. Plus he writes the kind of speculative fiction that Strang (his publisher) seems to prefer and the market currently favors (a darker, urban kind of supernatural fantasy—though I may be wrong about characterizing Mike’s work in those terms since I haven’t actually read his book yet).

But here’s the thing. As the Dilbert cartoon I posted a couple days ago says, marketing is part guess work.

Nick Harrison suggests that a writer might be talented enough to study trends and figure out what readers will want in three years. But that’s a guess. No writer will know if another 9/11 will hit before their book goes to press or if another economic event will change the climate of the publishing industry or another technological advance or … or … or …

So I’m not buying it. We writers don’t know enough, I don’t think. We can’t know enough.

I’ve seen some writers publish (with great elation since they’ve been working for years to perfect their writing) only to have disappointing sales and no additional contract. Initially when they got The Call, it looked as if they’d crossed the magic line and had “made it.”

But I think the line keeps moving. At least if “the line” refers to the same way the rest of our culture measures success.

I think God measures success differently. Sometimes He brings the kind of success the world hankers after as a residual of the real kind of success. Sometimes not.

Gideon experienced both. In spite of—or maybe because of—insurmountable odds, he lead a handful of fighters to a stunning victory against Israel’s oppressors. But the real victory came when he believed God and obeyed His call to go, to par down his army, and to employ tactics that can only be called strange.

The point was, no one, least of all Gideon, could miss the fact that God gave him the victory. It really wasn’t possible any other way.

Maybe, just maybe, God wants to do more impossible things today if we’re willing to give Him that first victory—our trust, our obedience.

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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It Really Is Up to Readers


As near as I can tell, editors and agents are just too busy to know what readers actually want. As Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt admitted in a blog post last May, publishers do not do market studies. They rely on “the Book Industry Study Group and various trade associations … but very little is done at the individual publisher level.” Instead, marketing trends become apparent after the fact, based on the sales record of particular books.

In my mind, this explains some of the tendencies I see in the CBA, one being the slow response to the fantasy craze in the culture. This, from agent Steve Laube via Chip MacGreagor’s blog,

We get the same problem with science-fiction and fantasy (which are two distinct genres, contrary to common verbiage). I championed that category when I was at Bethany House and we launched Karen Hancock, Randy Ingermanson, John Olson, and Kathy Tyres. Unfortunately the market was soft and the category sort of frittered away to where the 2007 Christy Awards didn’t even have the category designated for an award. However at the same time we have observed the wild success of CBA YA fantasy novels from both Donita K. Paul and Bryan Davis. That success has opened a small window of opportunity in this category for adults too. Only a couple publishers are looking, and I can state that they will probably only release one or two authors, and wait for the market to vote. If the numbers are not strong? The cycle will begin all over again.

Steve is right about the publishers waiting “for the market to vote.” I’ve had two acquisitions editors tell me personally or publicly that they are waiting to see how current projects do before making a decision about acquiring additional fantasy projects.

As a writer on the out, looking in, I feel frustrated at times. Granted, Donita Paul and Bryan Davis are selling well. To have Steve characterize their works as wildly successful is incredibly encouraging. But isn’t Wayne Batson also wildly successful? Doesn’t the media attention from this summer (remember the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly articles), not to mention the soon-to-be released Reuters interview with Batson and Christopher Hopper, count for something when publishers consider what projects to pursue? From where I sit (outside looking in, remember) it appears that sales trump all.

How unfortunate. Of the authors that Steve Laube contracted for Bethany, only one is a fantasy writer, so as a reader I admit I was not out there buying science fiction. But the combined genre got a black eye because the sales of all the books weren’t … what? Making money hand over fist? 🙂 I admit, I don’t even know what publishers consider “successful.” And in any case, I don’t have any real sales numbers to go by, anyway.

So guess what? It keeps coming back to the same thing—if we want Christian fantasy, we have to buy Christian fantasy.

So, who’s on your Christmas list that could surely benefit from reading a good fantasy? 😀

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