Following the Story to a Different Market

All readers of this blog may not be writing for the CBA market and others may be contemplating writing for the general market when they’ve been in the CBA market for a while.

booksI thought it would be interesting to get the opinion of an author who changed from the Christian market to the general market and what her reasons were for doing so. She brought along two other friends to share their insight as well.

Welcome back, Charise!

Last year, I began to write my first non-Christian marketplace fiction project. It was a kind of one-off idea that I just wanted to try. It was a serial. It was historical fiction; I normally write contemporary. And it was for the general market. It started as a sort of experiment while I plotted my next contemporary novel for the CBA market (as were my first two).

But then something happened. I loved the freedom. The internal editor that kept me from writing what my characters really felt, thought, did and said was silent. And it all felt better. It read better. Frankly, it was better. And I decided I would no longer write with a CBA editor— or CBA reader— in mind.

Instead of being a Christian writer of fiction primarily for Christian readers, I am a writer who is a Christian. It now feels as I am writing with more truth than less; and the struggle with being “Christian enough” is over.

I know two other writers who have made this same switch: Katherine Bolger Hyde and Wendy Paine Miller.

Charise: What made you decide to move toward the general market from the Christian reader market?

Katherine: Even with an agent who believed in my work, I was not able to sell a novel to a CBA publisher. I had the choice of adapting my writing to that market or moving to a different market. Because I felt the adaptations being asked of me would have compromised the artistic integrity of my work, I chose to move.

Wendy: I’ve been honored to be invited to dozens of book clubs, and as I joined in the discussions, it became abundantly clear to me that Christians weren’t the only ones reading and enjoying my books. That was the strongest reason for me. But there’s more. My stories touch upon emotions and depth that reach beyond the Christian market—that are not exclusive to the CBA. When I write I don’t set out to work the gospel into my story arc or I don’t purposefully include a hopeful message. I just follow the story. I trust my faith enough to let it lead where it will.

Charise: I love that, Wendy, “I just follow the story. I trust my faith enough to lead where it will.” I felt the general market would let me be as dark as I needed to be in order to then show how much more blinding the light was when it broke through. And like Katherine, I was not selling in CBA nor entirely comfortable with the editorial limits.

What was the response from your writing network to that decision?

Katherine: My network was mostly supportive—probably because it was pretty obvious to anyone who read my work that it didn’t belong in CBA!

Wendy: So far, so good. As with any change, some have embraced it…

Charise: I think some were surprised and probably a few were relieved. Though I have had longer conversations than I expected about the new content and my choices.

What have been the greatest challenges?

Katherine: Honestly? Almost the minute I made the move, most of my challenges disappeared! The first novel I wrote deliberately for the general market sold to the first agent and the first editor who looked at it. I also got a better advance than I could have hoped for in CBA.

Wendy: Sometimes I feel like I’m straddling an invisible fence. Or quite frankly, I feel too Christian for the ABA market and not Christian enough for the CBA. It’s a strange place to be but more and more I’m feeling I’m on this exact road for a reason.

Charise: Katherine, that is a powerful affirmation! For me, the challenge has been to “sit out” on certain events and conversations because my stories will not fit in with CBA-oriented material. I’m still friends, of course, but there have been challenges.

What have been the rewards?

Katherine: I feel much more free to write what and how I am naturally inclined to do. I found CBA limiting not only in its evangelical worldview (which does not match my Orthodox Christian worldview) but also in its mission-driven approach to fiction. I see fiction as an art form; CBA seems to view it as a tool for evangelism, which can be crippling artistically. As a bonus, I’ve been fortunate enough to land with a publisher who doesn’t object to a little subtle spiritual content in their books.

Wendy: Understanding who I am as an author and establishing a grounded sense of what I want to write. Also, a wider reach. I’m a huge fan of engaging in enriching conversations and this happens at book clubs. When the topic of faith comes up doors open. It’s natural. There’s no budging involved. I learned to trust my voice, to filter through all the ideas of where I thought I’d be and who I thought I was becoming. I took risks. I paid attention, then did things that didn’t feel as safe but ultimately helped me to become a more authentic author.

Charise: I really just want to say “ditto” to Katherine and Wendy’s comments. Having readers who never would have found me in CBA contact me to say “that’s just how I felt!”  The rewards have been to be able tell the story the way I believed it was meant to be told.

Anything else to add on the subject?

Katherine: I have to thank all the people I met in the Christian fiction world for their kindness, generosity, and support. I made many friends there who still put up with me now that I’ve left. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to leap out into the general market if I hadn’t built up my confidence through several years in CBA.

Wendy: I’ll always come alongside other authors no matter who their audience is. This is a crazy calling. And we’d all benefit from doling out more support.

Charise: It can be a hard change, but if it’s the right change for your story and your career and your readers— then it’s the right change to make.

How did you choose your reading market?

Have you changed markets? How did it go?

Have you considered doing so? What’s holding you back?

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Katherine Hyde is an editor by day and a mystery writer by  night. Arsenic with Austen, the first in her mystery series, Crime With the Classics, will launch in 2016. Find out more about Katherine at http://kbhyde.com

Wendy Paine Miller writes women’s fiction and suspense. Her latest release is The Delicate Nature of Love. Meet Wendy and her books at http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com

Charise Olson writes historical fiction under the pen name Leo Colson. The first episode in her serial The Roaring Redwoods is free! For more details and her blog visithttp://chariseolson.com

Have You Heard a Good Book Lately?

The WordServe Water Cooler is please to host Becky Doughty again as she shares her experience in creating audio books.

Welcome back, Becky!

AudioBookFrom as far back as I can remember, I have had a TBR (to be read) pile stacked beside my bed, books waiting for me to lose myself in them. As a child, my favorite time of year was summer, because it meant endless hours of uninterrupted reading time. As an adult, my days are now consumed with working for a living. My non-work hours are filled to overflowing with the joys and responsibilities of my family. Family meals, homework, laundry. Bathrooms to clean, dogs to walk, gardens to plant…. I have replaced my TBR pile with a TBD (to be done) pile. Well, actually, I haven’t replaced it. My TBR pile collects dust by my bedside and I stare at it longingly as I lay my head on my pillow, unable to keep my eyes open a moment longer.

Then I discovered audiobooks. No, they don’t replace hands-on reading, but they DO offer an alternative method of consumption, one that allows me to “read” while I cook, fold laundry, clean bathrooms, walk dogs, plant gardens, commute. They make standing in line at the DMV and waiting for an oil change a pleasure. And when a good narrator brings a book to life, it can be a really wonderful literary experience!

Three Tips for Audiobook Enjoyment:

  1. becky-doughy-braveheart-audiobooks-1Narrators can make or break a story. Thankfully, most audiobook resources, such as Amazon, Audible, iTunes, etc., give up to a 5-minute sample to listen to before purchasing. Take advantage of those samples, considering you’ll be listening to him or her for 8-10 hours.
  2. That being said, don’t pass over a wonderful book just because the narrator doesn’t read in a style you’re accustomed to. We humans have the innate capacity to adapt, so give your ears the chance to hear past the extraneous stuff. More often than not, by the end of the audiobook, all those little things that bugged you at the beginning no longer will.
  3. Audiobooks can be expensive. However, there are lots of ways to enjoy audiobooks on a budget. Look for subscriptions that include special offers and discounts like Audible. iBooks (iTunes) always has package deals and special sales on audiobooks . Amazon has their WhisperSync program that gives you a DEEP discount on the audiobooks of many ebooks you purchase. Audiobooks on this program can run as low as $1.99 when you purchase the ebook!

For authors, turning your book into an audiobook can also be a rewarding experience on many levels. Not only is it another format in which to get your story into the hands—or ears!—of readers, but it’s a little like giving your words a third dimension. And it’s a bit of a thrill to hear your book professionally narrated!

Five tips for a turning your book into an audiobook:

  1. Narrators can make or break a story. There are many, many wonderful voice actors in this industry who can breathe new scope into your words. Don’t settle. Be selective.
  2. Make a list of anything important your narrator needs to know up front –pronunciations, dialect, personality traits, etc.—before production begins.
  3. 99% of your listeners will not follow along with the text. Minor narration errors, such as making two words into a contraction, as long as they do not change the meaning or tone of the book, should not be reason to send an audio file back to production.
  4. Although there are many narrators who work on royalty contracts that require little or no money up front, these contracts usually have a term of 7-10 years. Consider paying for the service up front. It can seem costly, however, paying up front gives you a much broader pool of narrators to choose from, and it immediately frees you from any ties to a third party.
  5. Be knowledgeable about the service you’re requesting. If a narrator charges $200 per finished hour, along with their narration expertise and voice acting talent, this is what you’re paying for:
    • Approximately 9000 words = 1 finished hour of audio.
    • 1 finished hour of audio = approximately 6-8 hours of prep and studio time.
    • A 90,000 word novel = approximately 10 finished hours of audio.

6. A 10-hour audiobook = approximately 60-80 hours to produce.

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becky-doughty-author1Becky Doughty is the author of the best-selling Elderberry Croft series, the controversial Waters Fall, and the voice behind BraveHeart Audiobooks. Raised on the mission field among the indigenous tribes of West Papua, Indonesia, Becky’s ministry is through the written word. Her heart is for people living on the edge–that fine line where grace becomes truly amazing. Married to her champion of more than 25 years, they have three children, two of whom are starting families of their own, and they all live within a few miles of each other in Southern California. You can connect with Becky via her website, Facebook,Twitter and Pinterest.

 

Rock Bottom

Who we are as writers is a direct result of who we are deep, deep down inside as people.

CliffWSOf course, a lot goes into making us who we are. For me, it’s the entirety of those life experiences that cause me to strive to be a better person tomorrow and vow never to return to the circumstances in which I found myself during those long ago yesterdays.

One night in particular changed everything for me. It was the night I hit rock bottom, the end of my rope, the worst night out of many, many bad ones. It was late Friday, October 2 and the earliest-morning hours of the following day in 1992, and I was in the media parking lot of North Wilkesboro Speedway.

I’d gone through the agony of a divorce back home in Nashville, and after my ex-wife remarried, my son Richard was calling another man Daddy. That was a pain unlike anything I’d ever experienced, even more than the breakup of my marriage.

I’d moved to North Carolina a few weeks before, trying to find my way into the wondrous world of NASCAR. I had no real job, no money and very nearly no home. I was being paid nothing for the stringer work I was doing — nothing for the stories I filed, no expenses, no nothing. The only thing I received was a press pass.

Having covered a race in Martinsville, Virginia the week before, I wound up sneaking food out of the press box for dinner and sleeping in my car. The plan was to do the same the next weekend in North Wilkesboro, but when I arrived, it didn’t take long to figure out that meals wouldn’t be provided to the media until race day on Sunday.

It was Friday morning, and I had not a cent to my name. Panic set in. I was devastated. Scared. Hungry. And worst of all, completely alone. There was nowhere to turn. More than two decades have passed since that day, and even now, I can smell the personal-sized pizzas other reporters were able to buy from the concession stands.

After practice and qualifying that day, I waited until every other media member left the grassy parking lot behind the frontstretch grandstands. No way did I want them to see me setting up shop for the night in my car, and in that car in particular.

The next twelve hours or so were the longest — and emptiest — of my life. I cried that night, not knowing how things were going to turn out. I was more than 400 miles away from anybody I knew well enough to ask for help. I tried to pray, but had no eloquent words. There weren’t even any complete thoughts … all I could manage was the same basic phrase, over and over again.

Oh, God … 

I was scared and saw no way out of the fix I was in.

Oh, God …

Oh, God, please … 

Oh, God …

Sleep was next to impossible. As soon as day broke, I washed off, changed shirts and walked to the garage. Not long afterward, I ran into Deb Williams, the editor of Winston Cup Scene. 

In the NASCAR world, Winston Cup Scene reigned supreme. It was The New York Times, Washington Post and Sports Illustrated of NASCAR, and its writers were the best of the best. Deb let me know a story I’d written was going to run in the next week’s issue. It wasn’t a full time job, but it was at the very least an opening. Maybe I did belong. Maybe.

I headed to the press box overlooking the track, and it was there that I encountered Jerry Lankford, a reporter for the local newspaper in Wilkes County.

“Rick, I don’t know why I didn’t tell you about this yesterday,” he began. “The family that owns the paper I work for owns another one not far from here, and they need a sports editor. Would you be interested?”

Before I could stop myself, I bellowed, “YES!!!” I didn’t ask about the details, because they didn’t matter in the  least. I didn’t ask where the paper was located — it turned out to be in a little town in the mountains of North Carolina called Sparta — or how much it paid. All I cared about was that it was a job, and even better, it was a job with an established newspaper.

Just a few days later, I had my interview. By the time I made it back “home” to the motel where I was staying, I had a call that I’d gotten the job. I was officially the sports editor for The Alleghany News. I started on October 15, 1992 and almost exactly two years later, I landed my dream gig when I was hired as a full-time staff writer for Winston Cup Scene.

Amen … amen … and amen!

Some would call it a simple coincidence that I’d learned of my story running in Winston Cup Scene and the job possibility on the morning after such a terrible, dark, lonely night. No. No way. God heard the simple prayers I prayed that night, and He honored them.

I’ve never forgotten that night. I certainly never want to go back to those kinds of circumstances again, but I don’t want them to slip entirely from my mind, either. I want to remember the bad times so I can rejoice all the more in the good. I want that kind of raw emotion to be present when I write.

Always.

How I Discover New Books– Hint, Not in a Bookstore

It’s been said that the reason an author should stick to traditional publishing is book discoverability and distribution by way of a publisher’s marketing budget and sales staff.

bookstore-482970_1280I was fortunate to get a three-book deal with a mid-size Christian publisher who did get behind my book generously with marketing dollars. They even landed me in Sam’s Club with my first two books in hundreds of stores nationwide.

Just, why, didn’t I hit the bestseller lists? I think the books are good. Proof and Poison got starred reviews from Library Journal. Both were nominated (though never won) for awards. Lots of favorable reviews.

In fact, I might even say that landing in Sam’s Club hurt me a little. Why? The issue with Sam’s club is it’s a BIG order. It’s a risk for the publisher. If you’re not a well-known name who can move those novels many are going to get returned and your royalty report is going to look like a defaulted home loan and the bank is knocking on your door.

I began to analyze how I discover books, and does it match with the way a traditional publisher markets novels?

Sure, your best chance of getting into a bookstore is partnering with a traditional publisher but how often are you going to bookstores anymore? I used to go weekly, when they were close. There aren’t any close ones anymore. The one at the mall I would stop in while shopping for other things . . . gone . . . both of them. The closest bookstore is a 15-20 minute drive. And as NYT’s bestselling author Jamie McGuire blogs here— even she wasn’t seeing her novels in bookstores during release week.

Here is a list of how I now discover books.

1. Goodreads Reviews. Goodreads is the place for people who LOVE books and where book lovers leave reviews. I find I have more Goodreads reviews than Amazon reviews. I have close to 2,500 friends on Goodreads. Every day, I get an e-mail of their reviews. I’ve come to know whose reading tastes are similar to mine. A good review of a book will cause me to look further on Amazon. Plus, since I’m friends with so many, I get exposed to a wide variety of books outside my general reading genre (suspense) that I probably wouldn’t have heard about– even browsing bookstore aisles.

2. Amazon Lists. Amazon lists are fun to browse. Of course, there is always the 100 top paid and free Kindle lists but I also look at genre specific top 100 lists. I also pay attention to novels getting a crazy number of reviews and try and read those to see what is catching the reader’s eye. So, from my first two examples, I don’t think any author can say that reviews don’t matter . . . they do.

3. Advertising Lists. There are a couple of advertising lists that I belong to– BookBub and Inspired Reads. On these sites, you can narrow down the types of e-mails you receive to genres you like. Every day you’ll get an e-mail about books that are on sale. Bookbub lists are the primary way I’m buying books. If I see an interesting book cover then I click the buy link for Amazon and check out reviews. Based on the number of reviews, I make a decision about whether or not to buy the novel. BookBub has a very good reputation among authors that though pricey– is generally a good investment of your marketing dollars. I think the same is true with Inspired Reads for their reach/price ratio.

4. Word of Mouth. I’m like every other human being. If a good friend says, “You must read this book.” it will climb up to the top of my TBR list. The more people that say it– the more likely I am to read it. One author I’d almost given up on until a good friend said, “Just read this one. If you don’t like it, I give you permission to never read this author again.” Reading that novel changed my opinion of the author and their work.

What I find is that I’m rarely in a bookstore anymore but I’m discovering a lot more books because these things are available to me every day.

For my fall release, this is how I’m spending my marketing money. I’ll likely not be arranging bookstore book signings, but that’s a topic for another time.

How are you discovering books? Does that determine your marketing plan?

Why the Ninja? And Other Great Questions Your Writers’ Group Will Ask

NinjaWriters are a strange breed. We pretty much live inside our own heads, which isn’t a problem as far as we’re concerned. In fact, inside our heads is a pretty great place to be. Kind of like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, where anything is possible, including eating a three course dinner in the form of chewing gum, or turning into a blueberry as punishment for being greedy (a little something we writers like to call poetic justice).

There is a downside, of course, which is that non-writers don’t always get our compulsive need to take ten minutes to compose a grammatically correct text while they’re standing in front of a wall of cereal boxes waiting to hear which one we’d like them to buy, or our propensity for bolting upright in bed at 3 a.m. and shouting “Yes! That’s how she did it!”
Which is why we writers need to seek out other writers–to convince ourselves that we’re not really crazy. Or, if we are, that there just may be a way to convert all that crazy into an actual career (yes, Dad, you can still call it a career if you don’t have regular hours, a place of work, or any viable income, per se).

A writers’ group is a fabulous place to find that support and encouragement. Connecting with people who have a mutual passion for wordsmithing and a mutual penchant for consuming copious cups of coffee daily–which is critical to maintaining both sanity and an ever-increasing word count.

One of the keys to an effective group is trust. Putting yourself out there as you share your work requires tremendous vulnerability, something we self-preserving writers aren’t that keen on. Remembering that other members only want to encourage you to make your work as good as it possibly can be is the secret to surviving (even embracing) the process.

Another key is honesty. Feedback such as “that’s the most amazing writing I have ever read; don’t change a single thing” is all well and good. Very well and very good, in fact. Only it’s not all that helpful. Something like, “I really enjoyed the dialogue between the butcher and the housewife over the meat counter at the grocery store, but I didn’t get why the Ninja darted out of the back room and grabbed a rump roast before back-flipping his way down the International Foods aisle” is much more useful. Now you can go back and read that scene over, realize that the Ninja, while really, really cool, is in fact unnecessary to the plot, and take him out.

Painful as it may be at times, a willingness to receive constructive criticism and honest feedback from people you trust (and who are always willing to make allowances for the fact that you live life on the outer fringes of reality, especially since they usually share the same postal code) inevitably leads to stronger, tighter, more excellent writing.

And there’s nothing crazy about that.

Are you part of a writer’s group? Have you found it helpful?

I’m a Glutton for Information!

French bulldogSelling books and signing them is a happy experience for any author, but if I had to name my favorite part of the writing process that leads to publication, it would be doing the research that goes into my books.

I love doing research. In high school and college, I was the student who jumped for joy when the instructor assigned a research paper. I couldn’t wait to dig through the library for books, or hunt down obscure magazine articles. These days, research is even more expansive (unending, even!) thanks to the internet, but I love it, along with the hands-on research I encounter in the course of writing manuscripts. I’m just a glutton for information, I guess.

In celebration of that nerdy writerly trait, here are a few of my favorite research moments.

  1. I got a personal, private tour of a donut shop. Need I say more?
  2. I spent hours in the dark one night with some good friends checking nets for owls to band. We never got one, but I did get to wear a really cool headlamp while we strung up nets in the woods and told funny stories to pass the time.
  3. I took a firearms safety course and learned how to shoot a gun. I put 19 of 20 shots into the center of the target, so you can call me Eagle Eye from now on!
  4. I puckered up for a kiss from a French bulldog at a Pet Expo and posed with rabbits running an obstacle course. (Yup, that’s me and the bulldog above.)
  5. I spent a week in January at one of the world’s premier birdwatching areas in southern Texas. It was sub-zero and snowing back home in Minnesota at the time, which taught me the critical importance of timing when it comes to planning research trips.
  6. I took my husband on a very special summer date night to watch 300+ Chimney Swifts go to roost in an old chimney stack at dusk. It was a breathtaking aerial display and possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event as the populations of these birds dramatically decline.
  7. I met a World War II veteran who worked as an ordnance officer, which led to learning about camouflaging British air bases to hide them from Nazi bombing raids.
  8. I got to sit in the mixing booth of Prince’s Paisley Park Studio while interviewing a pre-eminent Christian composer as he completed mixing his musical tracks for a new CD.

Do you count your research as one of the best parts of your writing pursuit? What is your favorite research moment?

Creative Marketing Ideas

The WordServe Water Cooler would like to welcome guest blogger Charise Olson sharing some of her unique marketing ideas for her novel.

Welcome, Charise!

LC_TheRoaringRedwoods_compressedOne Saturday over two decades ago, I straggled into a church clutching my Diet Coke because it was way too early to do such a thing on a Saturday and I didn’t drink coffee yet. I was there for a marketing workshop. The audience members were all folks like me— working in social services and non profits, needing to promote our services.

Marketing isn’t what I went to school for and I saw it as something that had to be done, rather than a true essential part of my real work.

Sound familiar?

But that workshop all those years ago, gave me a great foundation to further serve my clients and now, as a writer, my readers.

The presenters talked about creativity and making natural connections—more than worrying about strategy or manipulation. They talked about using your passion for your cause as a launching point for your campaign. Here are two key points and some specific applications to our books:

Focus on Adding Value: Try to think about what you can offer, as opposed to what you hope to receive.

Application:

1.  I approached a local historical museum and suggested we cosponsor a book event for The Roaring Redwoods (my historical fiction set in the area). This appealed to them because it was no cost/work for them and offered something different on their calendar. This appealed to me because my event would get out to their extensive mailing list.

2. I belong to a Facebook group celebrating the time period of my project (1920s). These are all people who love my time period. Instead of posting links (“buy my book!”), I have posted pictures from my research to share. For Christmas, at my fictional Riverwood Lodge, I invited group members to suggest menu items. My project got “out there,” but in a way that was engaging and fun for the whole group. Bonus: one of the group members provided invaluable help with a plot line involving race cars.

3. Newspapers now have fewer reporters, shorter deadlines, and a need for more content. However, many are cutting their book columns. When I contact a paper, I have an article ready for print. I write the article as a feature, not an ad. Find the unique angle (local author, clever research, entrepreneur spirit) and help make their job easier.

Go to Where Your Target Audience Goes: The example from the workshop was for a group finding it impossible to reach people about good nutrition. The suggestion was to go to Farmer’s Markets and Food Banks to find people already seeking food and then share the nutritional project info.

Application:

1. Any time I see readers, I spend time trying to find a way I could market my writing in that venue. I noticed that a local coffee shop chain displays art work by local artists on a rotating basis. I asked how artists are selected, and the process was easy. I suggested that I and other local authors use our covers as an exhibit. It was then suggested we could have a reception or related event at the shop, too. Um, okay, if you insist . . .

2. My book’s setting is near a high tourist area, and what do we do on vacation? Read. So, in seeking those reading vacationers, I am placing business cards and, where possible, copies for sale at gift shops and hotel lobbies.

While these ideas may not work precisely for you and your books, I hope they illustrate how we can use our creativity and powers of observation to find new and interesting opportunities to share our work with readers. All in a way that might not feel like quite so much work for us.

What have you learned about marketing that made it easier? What unique/creative efforts have you tried? Anything you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t yet?

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Olsen-Image-56Charise Olson writes California fiction. It’s a lot like Southern Fiction, but without all the humidity. Her historical fiction is published under the pen name Leo Colson. The Roaring Redwoods* is now available in episodes. A collection of the first five episodes will be released March 2015. It is set in 1920s California with an ensemble of characters. Love, Honor, Money…and the laws we break to keep all three.

Olson’s contemporary fiction (under her own name) will release in Spring 2015. More info and her blog Prayers and Cocktails can be found at chariseolson.com

*The Roaring Redwoods is written for the general market and does contain strong language and adult situations.