Writing about Thanksgiving and Food


If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes … (Matthew 6:25 MSG).

Food, food, food! Why does everyone make such a big fuss about food during the holidays? I’m always focused on food! Either I’m overeating, dieting, or trying to feed someone else. I can’t remember one day of my life that I didn’t focus on food at some point.

So, how can my worries about food help my spiritual focus? Over the years, I’ve discovered that my hyperfocus on food is often a warning sign for a much deeper problem than just trying to meet my physical needs.

Needs. While we were seminary students, I first learned how my own worry about food could actually motivate me to seek deeper spiritual insights.

At seminary, we lived on a much lower income than most of our family and friends. Often we didn’t have enough money for the food we needed for our family.

Miracles. God used that problem to capture my attention, and I saw Him provide in miraculous ways for some of my friends. Groceries would be left on their doorsteps. Money for food would arrive in the mail. Or they would discover some random source of free food, like day-old bread or vegetables discarded from the grocery’s produce department.

Tips. Intrigued by my friends’ stories, I began to ask to God to help me find ways to deal with our food needs. And I discovered many tips for stretching my food budget with recipe ideas and coupons. My friends and I found that we could all stretch our food budgets by sharing our resources. When we gathered together for a meal, each family would bring their menu contributions.

Manna and quail. In Exodus 16:4, “God said to Moses, ‘I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not’” (MSG).

I joked about identifying with the Israelites in the wilderness as God provided manna and quail for them to eat. But as I experienced God providing for my own family, like He did for His children in the Old Testament, I searched for more answers to my everyday problems in the Bible.

Traditions. Before my seminary days, I never thought about asking God to provide for my family’s needs, especially our food. Yes, we taught our children to express their thanks before our meals. But my prayer of thanks usually came after I had purchased groceries and prepared our meals.

So, I examined our mealtime prayers and Thanksgiving blessings. Could they simply be a family or religious tradition? Had I ever offered my mealtime prayers with a heartfelt gratitude for God’s blessings?

Diets. I still struggle with worry and my spiritual focus on food from time to time. Even now, as I try to eat a healthier diet, I realize that I must stop and ask God for direction every day–sometimes moment-by-moment–as I seek answers to my problems and needs.

As I prepare to enter into this season of Thanksgiving once again, I pray that I will remember this promise from God’s Word.

… The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:5-7 NIV)

What stories about food come to mind as you prepare for this Thanksgiving season? Have you recorded them?

When is it Good to Indie Publish?

When I first began going to writers conferences around 2003, vanity publishing (where you pay someone to produce your book) was considered only a dire writer’s avenue to get his poorly written manuscript to the public. These novels were not given any credit by publishing gatekeepers (such as editors, agents and book reviewers.)

PublishVanity publishing morphed into several forms to what is now the indie industry. There are still vanity publishers who will take your money and produce your book. However, indie publishing is where the author becomes publisher– hiring freelance people for all facets of book production but they remain in control of their product.

Over a decade later and the attitude surrounding indie publishing has changed a lot. Though some still hold the above attitude, it is diminishing, and self-publishing is no longer considered the last nail in a writer-wanting-to-be-an-author coffin.

A few years ago, I attended a talk given by well respected literary agent Rachelle Gardner, a self-published author herself whose book highlights traditional vs self-publishing. She gave a talk touting some of the benefits of pursuing self-publishing and in some instances considered it a bonus to an author’s career.

What?!? Yes, that screeching sound was both my feet hitting the brake pedal.

The dizzying pace of these changing attitudes in publishing can leave an author scratching his/her head.

Personally, I’ve seen several close friends pursue indie publishing and have moderate success. By this I mean they earned back the money they invested in preparing the manuscript (for editing, the book cover and interior design) and perhaps have earned a couple of thousand dollars. A smaller minority had great success and went on to further get traditional publishing contracts.

What I’ve determined is that there is a good time and place to consider indie publishing as an author, and here are some of those situations to consider.

1. You have a polished manuscript but it can’t find a home with a publisher. First, I want to qualify what I mean by a polished manuscript. This is much, much more than finishing a rough draft that your mother and friends slobber over. They’re not good book critics because they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. It means that it’s been professionally edited, at least twenty people outside of family (and are familiar with books, genre, and good writing) love it, and maybe your agent even shopped it around but it couldn’t find a home. An even better indicator of this caliber of manuscript is that it has finaled in a well-respected writing contest like the Genesis Contest sponsored by ACFW. It takes six to ten years to learn the writing craft and a couple of written books under your belt to fit this definition.

2. There will be a delay in books releasing between your traditional publishing contracts. What I’ve heard and read is that it also takes six to ten years to build a readership. During that time frame, it’s wise to have a book releasing no longer than once a year. Some authors do more—some do less but you want a predictable stream of novels to keep readers’ interest piqued.

3. You are a control freak. Creatives like control over their product. Publishing is not that way. It is a collaborative effort so some of what you love about your creation is going to change. Some people enjoy all aspects of the book publishing process and want to have final say over every aspect—going strictly with their vision. Self-publishing is the best venue for the author to maintain total control. You also have to front all the cost and carry the entire burden as well for marketing and distribution.

4. You want to maintain your rights. When you sign a traditional publishing contract, your book is no longer really yours—in a sense. The publisher owns it in certain formats (maybe even all formats) and most often times will have clauses in your contract on other avenues they have the option to pursue—like hard cover large print rights. Some authors don’t want to give this up but then, as in the above, you’ll also be the one to try and negotiate selling the rights in different formats if you choose.

5. You want to write in other genres. Most often, an agent and traditional publisher are going to encourage you to stick with one genre but few authors I know really want to do that for their entire writing career. These might be good novels to self-publish under a pen name. Even this attitude is changing as well. Many authors I know are writing in multiple genres using the same name and don’t seem to be suffering for it.

6. You want to build volume more quickly to increase income. The flip side of building a readership is how much material you have to offer. When my first novel released, if the reader loved it, there was nothing else for them to read. Now, if they love any one of my books—they have at least two others to choose from. The more books you have, the more options a reader will have to choose and buy another book of yours to read—thus increasing your potential earning income.

What do you think? Have you indie published? Did you consider a success? Would you do it again?

This blog post first appeared at Novel Rocket. Hope you’ll check their blog out!

Three Things I Wish I Would Have Known When I Started Writing

I still remember sitting in that very first session at my first writer’s conference. Nervous. Insecure. Excited. Then the instructor shared that dreaded statistic. It wasn’t good news.

“About one percent of writers succeed in getting published. Because most give up and drop out of the race.”

I felt liking running out of the room into the brisk autumn air. But instead of following my instincts, I stayed — and made a vow to become one of the one percent. I tell that story here.

Extra ExtraSeven years later, I can report good news. I have two published books, First Hired, Last Fired: How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market by Leafwood Publishing, and Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over by Barbour Publishing. A third, (one I was hired to write for someone else), will release in the spring of 2016, a new proposal is on the market, and I’ve contributed in two others. No one is more surprised than me.

Sometimes I still shake my head and give myself a pinch. Am I really a professional author and speaker now? Those dreams I journaled, those goals I put in black and white — are they truly my reality? Why, yes, they are.

It’s hard to believe only a few short years ago I seriously began to pursue my most secret desire. When I started this journey, I didn’t believe in my abilities. If I had, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get serious.

  1. What you have to contribute is just as valuable as what anyone else has to offer. Trust God’s call to write more than you trust your fears and comparisons. Dare to believe.
  2. Do something in regard to writing every day, (except your Sabbath). Research, blog, write articles, outline new proposals, brainstorm titles, interview someone, whatever it is, make sure that six days a week you are making forward motion in your writing career. But don’t discount any of it. Sometimes you will feel as if you didn’t accomplish anything because you didn’t type words into your computer, but if you conducted a new interview, or outlined a proposal, you were productive in your writing. So quit beating yourself up!
  3. Analyze all of the things you learned in past career fields, much of it will transfer to your writing career. I’m amazed at how my background in banking, accounting, marketing, and even manufacturing have given me insights and understanding about the business of professional writing. Nothing is wasted — including the time you spent doing those things. Don’t begrudge your past, express gratitude for its benefits.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverEach day that passes I become more comfortable in my own writing skin. I realize what I am compelled to put on a page can really help others. For instance, we’re now in the most depressing three months of the year, November through January. Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over will make an ideal gift for those who don’t know what to get someone suffering from anxiety, grief, PTSD, or depression. I can now make that statement with confidence, whereas three years ago, I wouldn’t have dared.

I guess what it all drills down to is something we hear many times as authors. It takes perseverance, tenacity, and determination to make it. If I could go back to the beginning of my career, I would encourage my newbie self to keep on keeping on every day. And there’s one particular thing I would add. I’d lean in close, cup my hand over her ear, and then I would whisper, “Never give up, buttercup. In the end, you’re going to make it. You become one of the one.”

Writing and Publishing for a Purpose

John Merritt: Writing and Publishing for a PurposeYEAH!!! There were times when I never thought my book would actually be on bookstore shelves or available online as it is today! It’s been a long and sometimes arduous journey to get Don’t Blink in print. Now that it is, I hope and pray that God will use this book for the purpose intended—to inspire Christians to live life to the fullest, and as a gift to our non-Christian friends who could use a different perspective on what the Christian life looks like.

It’s been said that there’s a book inside each one of us. And while this is no doubt true, the big question is: Will anybody read it? I wondered that of my own book. And how do you know if people are reading it and benefiting from it? Ah, this is where social media provides some answers.

I’ve been transparent about my lack of passion for social media—especially my own! And yet, I am finding that this is not only where you get honest feedback but also transparent testimony of the effectiveness (or not) of what you are putting out there. In fact, reading some comments about Don’t Blink on the internet has provided confirmation that God is using this in ways that I had hoped and prayed for.

Here’s an example: After reading the first five chapters of your book, I have to say thank you for rekindling my sense of adventure! I have been dreading writing my company mission statement and personal bio, etc, for my website. You reminded me of my passion for life and to just go for it, with Jesus by my side! What could be better? I think I was getting a little stagnant or complacent. What an invigorating breath of Christ-filled air! After reading “Don’t Blink” poolside this hot afternoon, I dove in for a swim and it was GOOD TO BE ALIVE! I plan on purchasing copies for my father and my friends. Thank you!

I’ve been asked why I wrote a book, and responses like this provide the answer. I knew going into this project that 80% of men don’t read books. While my book has both a female and male audience in mind, I wanted men to find the book readable. So each of the 23 chapter starts with a captivating short story followed by a down-to-earth, real-life application. Seems like the book is keeping the short male attention span engaged—and I love that!

To all of you who have read or plan to read Don’t Blink: The Life You Won’t Want to Miss I thank you. And remember, I wrote it with your non-Christian friend in mind—so please share it. Would make a nice gift for someone you care about this holiday season that is almost upon us.

God’s best to you!


How to find your best influencers

Jan and Ron vertThe longer I’m in the writing business, the more I appreciate the importance of influencers in helping me build my audience and increase sales. What’s tricky for many writers, however, is figuring out just who and where those influencers can be found.

Unfortunately, after eight years and eight books of being a published author, I still don’t have a magic formula for identifying and recruiting those valuable assets for my marketing efforts. All I can offer you is my own experience and insights, so here goes:

  1. It’s great to have known experts or writers give you an endorsement for your book, but unless they are truly excited about your book and independently give it exposure in their own networks, the endorsement is just nice copy for your back cover, and won’t produce momentum in sales. Those experts are busy with their own marketing and projects, and the truth is, they give endorsements widely as a courtesy, rather than out of commitment to your publicity goals.
  2. The best influencers have a stake in your sales. Although my books sell around the world, my strongest sales come from a local gift shop because the store owner enjoys my books so much, she talks them up to customers and regularly features them in store promotional materials. Because of her enthusiasm, I’ve had more press coverage in local media than I could procure by my own efforts and a consistently growing word-of-mouth readership. As an influencer, she’s one of my best!
  3. You need to continually cultivate relationships with potential influencers. This means reaching out via social networking and/or physically traveling to meet people in your field of interest who might find your books of value in their own professional goals. To market my girl-meets-dog memoir, I make a point of connecting with animal rescue groups/animal humane societies online, and when possible, I attend their conferences/events as a vendor. I often give free copies to keynote speakers or other passionate animal lovers I meet, in hopes they will read and enjoy the book so much, they will mention it to others. Yes, this is basically a hit-or-miss method, but so far, I’ve always made a few excellent contacts and found one or two awesome influencers at such events. It’s well worth my time and money to break into a new group of potential reader-buyers.
  4. Connect with bloggers with big audiences in your target market and ask to send them a copy of your book in return for a review. Offer them additional copies to use as giveaways when they publish a review of your book, or whenever they might have a contest going on. Doing this gives you a reach well beyond your own social networks and local geographic area. I’ve met several significant influencers in this way, and they continue to give me promotional value with each new book.

What tips do you have for identifying and recruiting influencers for your marketing efforts?

Writing: Dreamers, Please Apply

Writers are dreamers. The two activities – dreaming and writing – work together. Of course, writers can be incredibly practical, churning out how-to manuals or crafting detailed textbooks. Writers can plan, strategize and develop logical plots within their stories. At their best, dreamers are innovators and so are writers. They are grounded in reality, even as they reach for what could be. Consider the following three characteristics of writers, and you’ll understand why dreamers need to apply for this job.

1. Idealistic – Even the cynical writer spewing a critique of society on the page is an idealist at heart. If you desire to express your ideas to change the world in some way, if you hope to educate or inspire your readers, if you think you have an insight to share, then you possess at least a touch of idealism.

When you hope to capture the attention of people with the force of your ideas without the benefit of the sound of your voice or the expression on your face, you must be a little idealistic or else you would not bother to try.

2. Futuristic – Writers look to the future even when they write about the past. Of course, science fiction writers take us to the future we have yet to create, often inspiring inventions once technology catches up with their imagination.

However, all writers reach into the future, crafting words to entertain and exhort readers years after the ink is dry on the page. Words can live on as text on the screens of tomorrow and as quotes on social media platforms not yet developed.

If you dream of a better tomorrow and believe you have a positive contribution to make, you just might be a writer.

3. Optimistic – You need faith to be a writer. You must believe that your manuscript will find a publisher, and your book will find an audience. You need to believe you are making a difference when you are spending quality time typing words in solitude.

Writers stay motivated with little feedback, persevering against the odds for the privilege of spreading their thoughts, beliefs and knowledge with others. Writers concern themselves less with making a living than with sharing their life with others.

Writers find the ray of sunshine on the cloudiest of days. They keep a spring in their step even when they feel at a loss for words. They believe in their dreams and the best of writers help others believe in their own dreams, too.

Are you ready to become a writer?

Creating a Vision for Your Writing Career

No doubt you have a vision for your writing career, but have you ever put it down in black and white? Taking some time to sort through and pray over your writing objectives can provide focus and direction for a solid future. If you do create a vision, here are a few pointers to help you brainstorm.map

Why Do You Write?

Make a list of all of the reasons you write. Write about the joys that come with writing – the way your senses sing when you’re in writing mode, the enchantment of building a story world, and the satisfaction of carving away the dross as you edit.

What does writing do for you as a person? Has it strengthened your work ethic or made you a better communicator, for example?

What does writing do for your loved ones? For a long time, I struggled with whether I should write when I had a family to take care of. But I finally accepted that though I have more time when I don’t write, I’m a more satisfied and centered mother when I do. Likewise, how does your writing impact your spouse, your siblings and your parents?

What does writing do for your readers? Even if you’re not published, maybe you’ve touched others through a blog entry or devotional. If you are published, think of some of the reviews and reader emails you’ve received.

Writing about your motivation might not seem essential, but it gives you something to come back to when you’re feeling discouraged, especially if you tend to second guess yourself. And it’s a good way to count your blessings.

What Holds You Back?

List everything that gets in the way of writing – other priorities, fear of failure, dry creative well, etc. Evaluate the obstacles and work out ways to overcome them, whether with self-talk to overcome doubt or jump-starts for writer’s block. Also, think about how you can honor your other God-given priorities, such as family and health, while being true to your calling as a writer.

What Is Your Writing Style?

Set out some basics, such as genre and style. List authors you admire and would like to emulate. Do you want to write spare or with a literary bent? Are you writing to the masses or to a niche? What kind of topics do you want to engage?

But don’t simply stick to the descriptions that define your writing for the market. In your heart of hearts, what do you want your writing to be about? Think of the nerve you want to touch in your readers. Bringing beauty alive, illustrating aspects of God’s character, or simply entertaining people in their harried lives can all be things that could go on your list.

What Are Your Goals?

Think of goals that are measurable and within your power, goals you can clearly illustrate that you’ve met. For example, finish a novel in a year or submit a proposal to twenty agents by March.

This is also the place to plan over time. How much writing will you do in a given period?  If you’re not published, what are you going to do to move toward that end? If you are published, what actions are you going to take to develop your career in the next year, over the next five years, the next decade? This is where plans for your future get laid out, so the more specific you can be about writing, marketing and networking, the better.

What Are Your Hopes?

In the writing world there is so much beyond our control. As long as you realize that there are no guarantees for some things, it’s okay to set your hopes out too.

So write out the dream agency and publisher you want for your career. Talk about the kind of sales numbers you’d like to see and whether you’d like to write full time as your only career. Write about how you’d like your books to be remembered. Then plan out ways you can encourage those things to happen.