It’s a Heart Wide Open Christmas, and You’re Invited!

Raise your hand if you’re ready to experience Christmas instead of trying to survive it.

Awesome! Me, too.

And yet, I’m acutely aware of how the over-hyped commercialism of the season will threaten to obscure the sacred story, once again.

Immanuel, God with us.

Christmas, God help us.

I want to do it differently this year, don’t you? I want to ignore the madness and listen for the holy. Have you said that as often as I have in years past?

We can, you know. We can dismiss the marketing, the magazines, and the endless social media pins urging us to do it bigger and better. For the love of Jesus, we really can quit doing Christmas long enough to live it– just not on the steam of our own good intentions. We’re tried that, haven’t we?

If we’re going to worship Jesus well this Advent season, we’ll need His strength and His grace. We’ll need His abiding Presence.

This is not a challenge. That would defeat us before we begin. This is an invitation to walk through the twenty-five days of Advent together. Our goal will be to keep our eyes on Jesus—and if we start getting steamrolled by our gift list and party schedule, we won’t berate ourselves. We’ll simply train our grateful gaze back on Jesus and begin again for the joy set before us. Immanuel, God with us.

HWO_ChristmasHeader_postcardI’ve prepared twenty-five prompts, one for each day of Advent, beginning on Sunday, November 30 and taking us through Wednesday, December 24. Each day has a Scripture passage, a brief thought, and a suggested action.

It gets better! I’m super excited to have four awesome author friends joining us for this sweet journey, Tricia Goyer, Dr. Joneal Kirby (The Heart Mom), Mary Snyder, and Marybeth Whalen. I’ll be kicking off Day One on my own blog and then my buddies will each take a turn hosting five days of A Heart Wide Open Christmas in a lovely blog hop that will culminate back at my blog!

For consistency, the day’s image will always be found on my blog, and I’ll be shooting it out first thing each morning via my social media platforms to remind those who are participating. That image will be conveniently linked to the week’s hostess where you can engage with the full content however best suits your schedule.

Whether you choose to read your brief devotion, print out your ornament, enjoy community conversation, or all of the above, you are cordially invited to join us for A Heart Wide Open Christmas!

Hugs, Shellie

It’s totally not necessary for you to let us know that you’re participating but, for the sake of community, we would sure love it if you did!

Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers

“Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” — Seth Godin

In June, at the Advanced Speakers and Writers Association National Conference, I shared the stage with a panel of writing greats. We spoke to this Christian group of women on increasing speaking opportunities in order to sell more books — or as I like to call it, Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers.

The room was filled, and the audience leaned forward in rapt attention from the opening sentence. Heads were down as they scribbled to keep up with the flow of information. Hands popped in the air like jack-in-the-boxes to ask questions. Three things in particular spurred their interest.

Marketing Magic for Authors and Speakers Top Three:

  • Creating a marketing calendar — Strategizing timelines for posting on social media
  • Thinking outside the marketing box — Re-slanting your message(s) to reach groups you’ve never thought to target
  • Telling your marketing story — Compelling your audience to buy through a heart-felt message

Marketing is Not Selling“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” With this statement, John W. Gardner simplifies the problem many of us have with marketing.  We make more out of it than what it is. In reality, if we don’t overcomplicate it, marketing is simply doing something ordinary, sharing something we’re passionate about, with like-minded people. We just need to find the most effective way to reach them. And that won’t look the same for everyone — we aren’t cookie cutters of each other.

If you need to create some marketing magic for your books, or need to increase speaking opportunities to help you reach a wider audience, I invite you to contact me. Email anita@anitabrooks.com for the handout from the AWSA seminar, and I’ll be happy to share. Not only will you find bullet-point tips, timeline suggestions, and examples of Press Releases and Marketing Maps, but links to the following:tell them your story

  • American Library Association
  • A listing for every national association in the U.S.
  • Christian radio stations
  • Christian television stations
  • Mega-churches

If you’d like to learn more information on another exciting way to improve your marketing strategies, follow me at anitabrooks.comMy heart is to help fellow authors and speakers reach more people — but not in the traditional way. Together, we can create marketing magic, when we offer each other a helping hand.

What unique ways do you use to sell more books? Want to see an example of a brilliant marketing piece? Watch this YouTube video for one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I Am A Writer

My brother got married a couple of months ago, and our family forever changed. I gained a new sister, a new twist on life, AND a bigger family. My dad performed the ceremony and I sat with him and my brother two nights before the wedding around our kitchen table listening to them go over the vows – vows to honor and cherish and grow old.

Vows carry a certain kind of weight. In the past few weeks, I’ve found it necessary to make a different kind of vow. Not a vow to another person, a job, task, or event. I am making a vow to myself.

Kariss - Shaken in storesI am a writer. Period. End of any wondering or questions. I have all the dreams and insecurities that come with the itch of fingers to grab a pen and hit the paper.

I am a writer, and within a week of beginning work with my editor on Shaken, I emailed my mentor and told her I thought I needed to start the whole book over. I felt like I need to somehow make it better. I did that with my second book, Shadowed, too. Now my goal is to make each book better than the last.

I am a writer. We can be our own worst enemies. We can also be our own greatest advocates because NO ONE can make me finish the job but myself.

I am a writer, and I type THE END for my own benefit. It will never be perfect. But it can be something I am proud of once I push past the insecurities and just finish.

I am a writer, and I notice people in a different way. This gives me the unique desire to figure out how God wired them, to value their quirks and struggles, and to cheer them on in their successes. I know the best kind of character is one who reflects what God has already created – people. So I’ve learned to value each person individually and love his or her uniqueness.

I am a writer. I can be introverted or extroverted, depending on the situation. I can be equally emotional and analytical, which can sometimes be confusing.

I am a writer. I know the power of words, the pain they can wield or the healing they can bring.

I am a writer. I can stand back and observe a scene, using words to paint a whimsical picture or one cloaked in shadows.

I am a writer, and from what I’ve heard, we subsist on coffee and chocolate. Of course, I can’t personally verify this.

Kariss - Courage quoteI am a writer, and with that comes the necessity to be uniquely myself while God continues to mold me in the process. But when I fail to be who God made me to be, I miss out on being part of the story He is weaving in and through me. When the insecurities or the pride creep in, I vow to fight and write, because no one can write a story exactly like I can.

No one can reach my audience quite like I can.

No one can speak or create or brainstorm or think quite like I can.

I am a writer, but I am only one part of a whole community. Together, we reach a wide audience. Individually, we touch specific hearts, those that are, for one reason or another, particularly attracted to the stories placed on our hearts. When I fail to be unapologetically myself, my readers and those in my life miss out. I miss out.

So this is my writer’s vow. I vow to be unapologetically myself, to be the person, the writer, that God made me to be. I vow to grow in this craft, knowing I will fail and knowing I will succeed. I am a writer, and I want to be part of this beautiful story God is writing with my life, not just an unwilling participant.

What lessons have you learned as you grow to be the best writer YOU can be?

The Best Resolutions

Are you planning to make resolutions this New Year’s?

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Why not base them on some of the declarations that are recorded in Scripture?

Check out these biblical resolutions.

Resolve to inquire of the Lord. King Jehoshaphat was told that a vast army was coming to make war against him and his country of Judah. But before he ever rallied his troops or formulated a battle plan, “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3). The people gathered together and Jehoshaphat prayed earnestly before the entire group. He ended his prayer by declaring to the Lord, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

Undoubtedly the year ahead will, for many of us, bring about situations for which we have no answers. Regardless of what struggles lay ahead, we can take comfort in the fact that our God sees our need (Genesis 16:13), hears our cries (1 John 5:14), and knows us intimately (Psalm 139:1). He is never caught by surprise or left without a plan. When we don’t know what to do or where to step, we can resolve to inquire of the Lord and fix our eyes upon him as Jehoshaphat did.

Resolve to guard my mouth from sin. This second resolution is a challenging one. In Psalm 17:3, King David resolved that his mouth would not sin. Can you think of any words that you said this past year that you wish you could take back? Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It’s a lofty goal, but even if we fail from time to time, just imagine the impact we can have on the people around us if we’ll choose to say only those words that build or benefit others.

Resolve to guard my purity. The Old Testament prophet Daniel resolved to keep himself pure. When Daniel made that resolution, he was surrounded by a culture that was replete with idol worship and completely opposed to the standards of the God of Israel. “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).

Sadly, our society is growing more and more opposed to the standards outlined in God’s Word. We’re bombarded by images on our televisions or movie screens that threaten to desensitize us to evil, immorality, and violence. But Paul warned us in Romans 12:2 not to “conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We’re to be distinctive and committed to purity. We can’t always control our culture, but like Daniel, we don’t have to allow our culture to control us.

Resolve to keep Jesus as my primary focus. The final resolution is my favorite. The Apostle Paul resolved to keep his focus on Jesus. As Paul reflected upon his ministry in the city of Corinth, he said, “For I resolve to know nothing (to be acquainted with nothing, to make a display of the knowledge of nothing, and to be conscious of nothing) among you except Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 AMP). It was Paul’s passion to wholeheartedly keep his focus on being acquainted with, displaying the knowledge of, and being conscious of our glorious Savior. What greater resolution could there be?

So I challenge you to join me in making these four New Year’s resolutions. Display them where you will see them often. Pray daily and confess when you fail. It is my prayer that you have a blessed and resolute new year.

First Appeared in Today’s Christian Woman: http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2010/january/thebestnewyearsresolutions.html

And Proverbs 31 Ministries Every Day Life: http://p31everydaylife.blogspot.com/2010/01/biblical-resolutions.html

Taking a Tip From Big Business

blue ribbonMy husband’s company is in the midst of preparing for an industry competition that recognizes on-going improvement efforts in corporations. After hearing him talk about processes of quality control, increased productivity, and excellent resource management, all I could think was “I gotta get me some of that!”.

Unfortunately, authors can’t take advantage of this particular efficiency-enhancing program. You have to be a great big corporation or public institution. (Heavy sigh on being left out, but huge sigh of relief on the not being a big institution part! I like being my own boss.)

So here’s my plan: create my own author business improvement program. To that end, I’m currently evaluating my current strengths and weaknesses in those three areas my husband talked about, and I’m working to set goals for improvement. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

Increase productivity. I’m going to rediscover the surface of my desk. This will involve a full frontal assault on my office space, as I have multiple layers of sticky notes attached to files and walls. I claim I know where everything is this way, but that’s only true in a limited sense: yes, I do know where everything is – it’s in my office – but I don’t know in which pile of notes anything specific is. I’m through with wasting time searching. Everything that has not progressed past the sticky note stage gets tossed. That should reveal to me what my current priorities are and allow me more focus on finishing what I’ve started. And if it’s a really good idea I need to save, it goes in a folder labeled “Future,” which I will not open until I finish what I’ve already started.

Quality control. For me, this is about process. I lose too much time ‘exploring’ on social media – tracking down people, ideas, potential marketing contacts. Even simple tasks can steer me off-road if I’m not mindful of my objective; just updating my calendar on my website can lead me to perusing my pictures file, which in turn reminds me to prepare some new photo posts, which leads me to searching for free photos online, which…you get the idea. I’ve found I need to schedule the different tasks of my writing career by the hour to make sure I keep focused on my immediate objective. Work smarter, not harder, is my new motto.

Resource management. My greatest resources are time and energy. My task schedule will help with managing my time, but it’s important for me to keep my energy resource balanced between my personal and professional lives. When I spend everything I have on writing, I burn out; if I let my personal life constantly squeeze out my writing, I feel frustrated with myself and those around me because I’m not using all the gifts I know I’ve been given. Scheduling regular ‘play’ time is just as important for me as reserving time to work, and the revitalization that play offers pays off in increased productivity when I’m back in my office.

Do you evaluate the business side of your writing career?

Authentic Marketing

dart-103020_640Ugh. The big, bad “M” word. It’s not one of my favorites and truly, if there were fewer letters in it, I’d be labeling it a four letter word.

In fact, just so I feel better, let’s go ahead and label that “M” word something not-quite-so-delightful. Imagine it as a dart board and we’ll send flaming arrows into it…

As a writer, you can never get away from marketing. You will always have to market yourself, because only if you become Richard Castle, Dan Brown, or Janet Evanovich will you never have to market yourself again. And I’m pretty sure those writers all got to be who they are because of good marketing.

Publishers don’t have as many dollars and the ones they do have are being stretched thinner and thinner.

So how do you authentically market yourself without burning out and turning everyone away from your product? Here are a few things I’ve learned and have proven helpful in my journey to market myself.

  • Let Twitter/Facebook fan pages be your mouth piece for promotional work. Personal facebook pages (different than public fan pages) are viewed more as a way to connect with friends and family—not to market your product. Once in a while is fine. More than that and people start to ignore you.
  • Get on social media now. Not later. Not when you have a book contract. Not when you finally have an agent or finish that book. Get on it now. You’ll have less pressure to get out there and learn it all at once and instead can take in small bites.
  • Mix personal with professional. Everyone likes to know a bit about a person, beyond just the fact that you want them to buy your book. Be relatable, but learn the balance between oversharing/posting and posting what people are going to be interested in.
  • When in doubt, don’t post it. If you’re unsure if you’re oversharing, posting too many times in a day, don’t post. It’s better to post once in a while with something witty and fun to read than every hour with a long, drawn out diatribe.
  • People are visual, so find images that market your brand and share them in your status updates, tweets, etc.
  • Realize you are becoming a public figure. People will start to recognize you at conferences. They will read your content and have a connection with what you are saying. No matter if you are doing this because you like to blog—and people really like what you have to say—or you are doing this because you are trying to build an impressive audience, you are becoming someone people will notice. Don’t be noticed because you’re annoying; be noticed because you’re authentic. Think about a door-to-door salesman or the salesman at the local car dealership, the cashier at your favorite grocery store—do they make you want to have repeat encounters with them? Why or why not?
  • Be personable. Be unique. Be authentic. I can’t stress that last word enough. It’s the only way to stand out in social media and on the marketing platform.

Nothing in marketing is a fast process. It’s a slow growing yeast, mixed in a little bit at a time until you look back and see that an audience has been built with you just being…you. Take time to get to know and invest in other people’s interests and promote them. Show unabashed support for your fellow writers. You’re in this together and together you’re a mighty force to reach readers.

What are your best marketing tips?

The Perfect-World Writing Room

StressedOutWomanDistractions.

They’re a writer’s worst enemy — they’re this writer’s worst enemy, at any rate. In a perfect word, my writing room would be absolutely quiet with little internet connection.That way, I’m not checking e-mails every five minutes, and Facebook in between.

That’s just not the way it works most of the time, though, is it? I spent a good ten years of my career covering the traveling circus known as NASCAR. Believe me, you’ve never lived until you’ve tried to file on deadline, two hours after a race, in room full of tired and grumpy fellow reporters. Or better yet … during practice, with twenty or thirty high-powered race cars roaring around the track and another twenty more in a nearby garage tuning up their engines.

Headaches? There are headaches, and then there are filing-on-deadline-in-a-NASCAR-media-center headaches. Working in that kind of environment seems as far from the perfect-world writing room as it is possible to be.

Come to think of it, the room would be sound proof. My wife and I have twin sons, Adam and Jesse, who are 13 and in the eighth grade. When they’re out of school in the summer and home all day, it’s almost as if I’m back in some NASCAR media center somewhere and trying to write.

Stop that, Jesse!!!

Stop what?!? YOU stop!

A few minutes of relative peace and tranquility are again interrupted by a blaring video game, enhanced by our sound system. Is there anything more aggravating than trying to write with a Minecraft soundtrack playing full blast in the background?

Actually, there is.

A couple of years ago while working on my book Wheels Stop: The Tragedies and Triumphs of the Space Shuttle Program, I had the opportunity to do a telephone interview with former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. The man has like seven different academic degrees, was the top guy in the uppermost echelons of the agency, and had been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most important people in the world at one point.

There I was, trying to ask questions that sounded a little more in-depth and intelligent than, “Boy, that Space Shuttle sure is neat, huh?”

I had the speakerphone turned up in order to get a good recording when Jesse chose to walk through the kitchen, just a few feet from the open door of my home office. It could have been his Asperger’s — or just being a teenaged boy — but he announced at the top of his lungs …

I just FARTED!

Dr. Griffin surely heard Jesse, because he paused in mid-sentence, evidently waiting for me to go strangle my son. Mercifully, after just an awkward moment or two, he continued on and never mentioned my son’s digestive issues. The interview turned out to be a productive one, and an important addition to the research for my project.

And I didn’t even have a perfect writing room. Go figure.