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A while back a FB friend suggested a story idea. I loved it! But decided to put it off–relegate it to third place on my “must-write” list. God had other plans and sparked a passion and a swirl of plot ideas. Knowing this would be a tough story to write, one that would take intensive research to do well, I prayed for confirmation. I received it, along with help. Extensive help, and on Wednesday I spent almost four hours picking the brain of a medical professional with the same job as my heroine.
While she began to share her story and experiences, I began to see why God wanted me to write this novel. If done well, it will be a powerful tale of grace during extreme suffering, of hope amidst despair, and of good brought out of evil.
If done poorly ….
Last night, after watching a sitcom on a topic relevant to my story, pen in hand, spiral notebook quickly filling, I got frustrated. The phrase, “Write what you know,” wouldn’t leave me alone. What do I know about medicine and hospital rooms? Why dive into a story that could very well take over a year to research? One that could easily lead to failure if God doesn’t provide continual understanding and aid?
Because I believe God’s in it, and although He promises to lead us, I don’t believe the journey’s always easy.
But He ALWAYS provides people to help us along the way. That’s the part that continues to amaze me. In June I wrote a duel-setting story about a news anchor, an El Salvador orphan, and an El Salvador English teacher/translator. Three subjects I know very little about. Two chapters in, I considered dropping it. Too much research, and what if I got it wrong? But God was faithful. He connected me with a news anchor, with people living in El Salvador who could answer questions, with a critique partner knowledgable on foreign settings, with another critique partner knowledgable on medicine. (My hero’s father had a medical issue.) And He carried me through.
So now I’m embarking on another, and this one’s my hardest yet, but I’ve got the memory of God’s help with my past novel to spur me on. I’m also beginning to see sprinklings of help, of the body of Christ coming beside me to offer information, to do beta-reads, all those necessary things we writers hate to ask for but need to find. Which reminds me, even in a solitary career like writing, God still wants us connected, as a body. Interdependent, working together to make Him known.
I’m starting to see Proverbs 11:25 in action. “… he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” It’s a beautiful cycle only God could work out. One author helps another, who helps another, who helps another.
Where are you in the cycle? At any given moment, you should occupy two positions—that of helper and helpee. Are you letting God surround you with helpers? Who are you leaning on? Are you letting Him use you to bless someone else? Who are you helping? Writing must be a give-and-take, a community effort. Because the body extends beyond the walls of our church.
Join God’s circle, friend!
As a publicist, I get a “bird’s-eye view” so to speak of marketing and sales. Or more like the “fly on the wall” perspective. I spend a great deal of time watching my clients’ sales, listening to bloggers and readers, and gauging marketability. Some clients soar while others trudge up hill, and often, after putting in the same amount of work.
Authors with a larger following earn more sales.
It’s so much easier to work with a client who’s already been making the cyber-rounds. Especially if they’re writing for the CBA market. There’s numerous reasons for this:
1) They’ve earned name recognition. This is HUGE. If you’re an unknown, you haven’t earned reader trust. For nonfiction, this can easily break a marketing campaign. Evangelical readers are cautious about what material they allow to fill their minds, and rightly so. With so many contradictory messages out there and so many books to choose from, they’d prefer to read works from authors they know and trust.
2) They know how to blog and utilize social media. This isn’t hard, but it’s a learning curve. An important one! Successful authors live on Facebook and Twitter (still the two most effective social media sites, in my opinion) and know how to blog. They know how to make these important tools work for them. As a result, they consistently draw new readers from Google and social media sites.
For example, on my personal website, each day I receive perhaps 20% of my page views from people looking for information via search engines. Stop and think about this for a minute. That’s a 20% increase for the same amount of work. It also guarantees views on the days I don’t post new content. So, in essence, my site continues to work for me even when I don’t.
Facebook brings me an additional 20-30% of my views, and often from posts that have been “reshared”. Again, this is a large increase for the same amount of work. And I don’t just post to my own wall. If I write something applicable to moms, I post to women’s groups. If I write something I believe would benefit writers, I post to writing and reviewing groups. I interact with other readers and writers on FB, and as a result, receive friend invites daily. This is a free and easy way to increase my networking contacts.
**But please, don’t spam! Posting your author page and links to your books on other people’s wall makes you look bad and irritates readers. Not a great way to get sales. When posting a link, make sure it’s of value to the people of the group or site you’re posting to. Keep it *others centered*.
3) They’ve stored a reservoir of blessings.
Again, this is HUGE! Right now I have a client, Fay Lamb, that has spent perhaps a decade pouring into the lives of other authors. She leads a large critique group where she consistently gives more than she receives. She’s mentored numerous writers, encourages others, prays for people. She’s the ACFW secretary. I could go on, but in a nutshell, her life is summed up in one word: servant. As a result, when her debut novel launched, bloggers were anxious to help her succeed. Even those who don’t normally host guest bloggers made exceptions. Why? Because she’d blessed them.
For example, there are a few authors and editors who’ve blessed me in my journey. As a result, I write myself reminders to pop in on their FB wall to see if they’ve written a blog post I can reshare or have a release I can highlight.
4) They are creative thinkers.
Effective marketers keep their readers and blog hosts in mind. They know how to spin a press release, post, interview, to fit the situation. This takes some creative thinking and forethought. Even a highly Christian work can get secular press space, if you know how to write it. When crafting a title, think in terms of sound bites. And remember, newspapers, bloggers, and magazines don’t care about you or your novel. They care about one thing: their readers. What does your article, press release, interview, or blog post offer their readers?
5) They plan ahead.
There’s nothing more frustrating than having a client contact you days before a release. Reviewers often need six months or more to review a book, and quite frankly, reviews can make or break a sale. If a reader happens upon a post, follows the link to Amazon, and sees minimal reviews, they may be hesitant to buy the book. Especially if they don’t know the author. If, however, their are a large number of good reviews, they’ll be more apt to fork over cash.
Many bloggers book months out. In addition, writing guest posts and answering interview questions take time. An author who wants a successful launch will begin working on launch details months in advance. They’ll schedule book launches prior to release date, will invite readers, will ask the press to cover it, and will have press releases ready. A press release really isn’t newsworthy if it’s offered months after a book or novel’s been released.
6) They spend the time necessary
According to a recent post written by best-selling author, Gina Holmes, when she launched Crossing Oceans, she spent up to four hours a DAY on marketing. And it paid off, with long-term benefits.
Some authors spend a certain amount of time each day working on marketing. Others set aside one day per week. They participate in reading groups on Facebook and Goodreads. They post links to Facebook pages like Reviewers Roundup. They visit related blogs and leave fun or insightful comments. They continually build their contact list. They write articles for print media and send press releases and newsletter blurbs out. They pay attention to the interviews and reviews posted on or about other authors, follow the links, and make new connections. Basically, they continually find ways to expand their reach, beginning well before their book releases.
What about you? What are you doing each day to actively increase your reach? Think you don’t have time? In my opinion, creating a marketing base is just as important as writing a great book. Be accessible, be visible, be intentional.
How about if you choose one thing you can do this weekend? And share your thoughts and ideas with us! We’re all learning. Like iron sharpens iron, right?
Writing Christian material, whether fiction or non, can be difficult. You want your writing to contain enough grit to keep it authentic without compromising on truth. You want non-Christians to relate, without presenting a watered down message. Each week, it seems, writers debate this very thing on countless email loops and FB walls. How much grit is too much? How much truth is too much? How can you speak truth and entice or are the two mutually exclusive?
Join me at the Christian Fiction Online Magazine as I discuss this very thing, using insight gleaned from successful cross-over authors.
Come find out how authors like Lisa T. Bergren and C.S. Lewis do it, learn how Christ to the World gently speaks truth into the lives of Muslims, Hindus, and others in 32 countries across the world, and find out what Randy Ingermanson means when he says crafting novels is like making soup. Then stop back here so we can chat about it. I’d love to read your thoughts! Thanks, Bonnie S. Calhoun, for allowing me to share something very near and dear to my heart! http://www.christianfictiononlinemagazine.com/home_publisher.html
Today wasn’t one of my best writing days. Although I hit my word count goal, I didn’t stagger away from my computer until near three. Since I normally start novel work by 7:30, that made for a long day. One with editing and publicity work still waiting to be conquered. In light of my rather murky muse, it’s no wonder I considered a major gear shift. In fact, as I puttered around the house, sweeping away the mountainous cobwebs that had gathered on more creative days, I plotted and planned another book entirely. And even convinced myself I needed to set my novel aside–the one I’m 45,000 words into and planned to have completed by the end of January–to start on a fresh book. Ah, a blank notebook, a blank screen, with ideas popcorn kernelling through my head.
Good thing I’m a praying woman. Hesitant to veer too far off my schedule without clear confirmation, I spent the afternoon in prayer. And nope, I never did get the novel-chucking, muse-chasing confirmation. So tomorrow, I’ll plunk back in my office chair, poise my fingers over my keyboard, squeezing out another 2,500 words (I upped my daily word count goal this year), whether they fly or crawl. Because sometimes we need to persevere and not everything comes easy, even when God’s behind us. (Like my old track coach, I believe occasionally He makes us sweat, not because he’s mean, but because He loves us and wants to help us be our best.)
Tonight as I sat and evaluated my behaviors, I realized how easy it is to chase one idea after another. After all, a novel sounds so exciting when its first birthed. Not so much when you’re halfway through, staring at a stack of notecards wondering if you’ll ever make it to *the end*. But if we keep sifting through ideas, we’ll end up with a lot of starts that sort of fizzle out. With anything, but especially with writing, there are times you’ve got to muddle through. Those great ideas can wait. Jot them down. Chew on them. Pray about them, then when you finish the project you’re on, go back to them. They’ll still be there, only now you’ll have a finished book behind you, giving you the confidence to push through when your muse decides to take another nap.
I challenge you to make that a goal this year—to finish what you start. It doesn’t matter if it stinks. You can always rewrite it, or delete it. Shred it? Feed it to your puppy? Douse it in lighter fluid and have a winter bonfire? And your time won’t be wasted. No time spent writing ever is. You’ll have learned a little more while developing perseverance—grit, and you’ll have gained confidence.
If moderation is the key to successful living, then I need an intervention! Last month during a podcast interview Cynthia Simmons, Vice President of the Christian Authors Guild, asked me if I had a critique partner. (listen here) I laughed, then tried to explain my addiction in terms that would seem less neurotic. I have four one-on-one critique partners, actively participate in…. (Read the rest here.)