Conferences and Friends


writingWith the beginning of the ACFW conference barely a week away, you’ll see many posts outlining the reasons you should attend a writers conference, what to expect, how to approach editors and agents, and basic conference survival guides.

I’d like to tell you about my first conference (albeit not ACFW, but RWA) in San Francisco. The day prior to the start of the conference was the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter meeting, which was RWA’s chapter for inspirational writers. There I met three special, very gifted writers, Debra Clopton, Linda Goodnight, and Janet Tronstad.

We had hooked up briefly in a pre-conference chat room and decided to take in a few of the San Francisco sights together. It was an afternoon of laughter and fun, especially when we ended up on the wrong street car and found ourselves in the Painted Ladies section of town rather than at Fisherman’s Wharf. Long story short, we finally made it to our destination, but what impressed me most was not the sights of the beautiful Oceanside city, but how these women took me in. Me–a green newbie writer. The encouragement I received from them that day has fueled my writing efforts for years.

I have since met other wonderful woman, such as the dozen who formed the group called the My Book Therapy Ponderers. A God-ordained story that I’ll save for another post, but just as impactful in my writing career.

The key to a successful conference is making connections. Surround yourself with as many writer friends as you can to encourage you, pray you through the journey, and help you along the way. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. Get their business cards or write their names and emails down on a piece of paper. Then afterwards send them an email, or perhaps invite them to do a guest post on your blog. The key is to make new friends. It will be one of your best takeaways from a conference and an invaluable resource to the future of your writing career.

Your turn: What have you found to be the most valuable takeaway from a conference?

A New Resource for Your Platform

My right pointer finger was getting sore. Why? I had smashed the delete button on my computer to that “not for us” email from another editor on a book proposal they said they wanted, and one I really believed in.

And my thumb had a bruise. I had pressed “end call” on another kind phone rejection for a project everyone had said they were really excited about.

Yelling from my office to my at-the-time assistant Jason, “If I hear, ‘the author doesn’t have enough Facebook friends’ again I’m going to scream. Really?! Mark Zuckerburg is determining what Christian publishers publish now? Is that what this industry has come to?”

It’s not that I didn’t know social networking results weren’t the first questions out of editor’s mouths (yes, before passion, craft and story). I’d been hearing it for a few years. And my authors were working it! Dozens of authors trying to build their platform with Fan pages, Twitter, blogs, guest blogging, guest Tweeting, personal messages, Pinterest posting.

Noise, noise and more noise.

Yes, it was working for a few superstars who hit the blogging thing at the right moment with the right content. But now there was just the tsunami of words in everyone’s inbox. I kept thinking, Certainly we’re getting close to a tipping point where most people are just going to delete everything that comes in.

I felt bad for my authors; felt bad for the editors and marketing directors who couldn’t buy a book anymore just because they loved it. And I felt like something had to be done to help my authors out with their platforms. Perhaps there is something I could do…

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

FH Logo - approved 0714That was about 18 months ago. And my life has totally changed.

What once was a staid but exciting “work from home” literary agency has turned into a literary agency AND this huge potential of a marketing vehicle called www.faithhappenings.com. I now have 454 local websites with national content populated everywhere and local content being slowly added week-by week.

What I hoped would help my authors get the word out on their great books to people who aren’t walking into Christian bookstores anymore, has turned into something a bit larger.

YOUR COMPLETE, TAILORED, FAITH RESOURCE.

I felt a broadly-based Christian website that served people locally would not only help readers bump into books, bloggers, and speakers quite a bit more, but might also make a dent for the Kingdom in ways no website has before. I wanted the site to be able to hold anything and everything—locally and nationally–that was “soul-enriching,” “marriage-enriching,” “family-enriching,” and “church-enriching.”

So we launched June 6th, and now have this membership-free-to-everyone national website that has completely automated your ability to find out about:

  • Events in your area (concerts, speakers, conferences, fundraisers, author events)
  • Products that release from publishers, self-published authors, music, indie music, audiobooks, videos—in 80 different categories. Simply check a box on what you want to hear about when it releases, and you get an email once a week. Never miss a new release in your favorite genre again!
  • Daily Scripture, devotional content (including video), blogs, personality profiles, “resource specials of the day” and much, much more.

If you’re an author, speaker or blogger, the site is made for you. If you’re doing an author event for free, my space is free. You just fill out this quick-and-easy template.

If you want to get the word out on your blog, we can do that.

If you want to speak more in your local area and the areas surrounding you, our site can advertise you as a speaker, but also any and all local speaking events open to the public.

If you have a self-published book and wonder how people will find out about it beyond your social media universe, we can help.

And if you want to offer your product as a special of the day to create awareness about it, we have a daily “Resources of the Day” (25/day max) to help get the word out.

Throw in about two dozen other local and national features and you have a site with the potential to make it so you never have to Google anything local and faith-based again. It will all be there in one website. Your Complete, Tailored, Faith Resource.

So I invite you to go to www.faithhappenings.com, sign up in your local area, and then look around.

And if you like the site and feel like you could perhaps help us out, we’re looking for a few thousand people for paid and commission-based sales positions:

  1. Affiliate Partners: Are you an author/blogger/speaker who has worked hard at building a platform? Then instead of just asking you to do us a favor by spreading the word, we’ve created a way for you to make money by helping us find members and vendors.
  2. Lead Community Associates: We need about 400 people to take the lead in populating their local site with local content.
  3. Community Associate: Someone who has between 5-15 hours/week to spread the word about FaithHappenings to their networks (and who wants to make between $200 and $1000/month), and then also to meet in their neighborhoods with churches and potential vendors about being a free or paid lister on the site. A CA works independently, but also as a team member with a Lead CA or other CA’s to canvass a community with the benefits of this one-stop resource.
  4. Area Coordinators: This person has between 25-35 hours a week to recruit, train and supervise other CA’s within a larger area. Generously commissioned-based, but a huge income potential for those who can wait to build a strong local foundation.

To learn more about any of these jobs/needs, please email us at workforus@faithhappenings.com. Let us know which job description you’d like to see and which area you are interested in serving.

The Summer of Success: Michael Ehret

Facing a crossroads at the moment—what step to take next and all that. I’m not all angsty over it, but I have been thinking a lot about the late Donna Summer, as a result.

DonnaSummerDonna Summer? The Queen of Disco?

First of all, thinking about Donna Summer is not new for me. I’ve had a long time interest in her career and in the singer, herself. I’ve even been known to be a defender of Summer (she’s so much more than disco), because I think her talent was far overshadowed by her persona and by the Super Storm known as Disco that came in and tried, unsuccessfully, to obliterate the Rock and Roll shoreline.

Variety defined her career

Still, I’m more interested in Summer’s genre-hopping than in her music, per se. For instance, did you know she was nominated for 17 Grammy Awards in eight different categories (sort of like fiction genres)? Further, did you know she won five times in four different categories—twice in Inspirational? That’s right, Inspirational. The singer of 1975’s 17-minute+ disco moan-fest, “Love To Love You, Baby,” won two Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational song (1984 and 1985).

Conventional wisdom is to not genre hop in the publishing world. There’s greater freedom in music (Linda Ronstadt also played the field, musically). But in publishing, writers are often advised that if they start in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense) then they should stay in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense).

But, I must have a little Donna Summer in me because I don’t want to be constrained in that way. Before we get all crazy, let’s remember that no one is knocking down my door for my next book—or, for that matter, my first book.

But—again—we can look to the diva for guidance. Because “conventional wisdom” isn’t called “conventional-sort-of-good-advice,” you know?

Summer made her mark in one genre—disco. It was the red-hot genre of the time and she rode that horse for all it was worth.

But when the horse started to get hobbled, she made the smart move of wrapping up that era with a Greatest Hits collection, changing record labels, and then came roaring back in 1980 with a rock-pop disc without even a whiff of disco, The Wanderer. And a song from that project earned her one of her Grammy nominations.

DiscoBallWhat are the lessons for a writer?

  1. Do your homework. Summer worked in Germany and Europe in various touring companies of shows like “Hair” and “Godspell” before connecting with Giorgio Moroder for her first major album, Love To Love You Baby.
  2. Establish yourself as an excellent writer of (choose one: romance, historical, suspense, other) and then, like Summer, work your butt off to make your mark. She released seven disco albums from 1975 to 1979—that’s four years. Three of them in a row were blockbuster double albums.
  3. Keep your nose to the ground and your face forward. If you pay attention to the market and publishing trends, you’ll know when it’s time to change genres. If you’re a big enough success, you’ll get your opportunity. When you do, show the same quality, perseverance, and dedication to craft that got you where you are.

That’s the way to build a Hall of Fame career (Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) and do all the things you want to do.

Summer died May 17, 2012, at age 63. At her death (from cancer) she was working on two albums simultaneously—a collection of standards and a new dance music collection.

For the record, Summer’s Grammy wins were for:

  1. Best R&B Female Performance, 1979, for “Last Dance.”
  2. Best Rock Female Performance, 1980, for “Hot Stuff.”
  3. Best Inspirational Performance, 1984, for “He’s A Rebel.”
  4. Best Inspirational Performance, 1985, for “Forgive Me.”
  5. Best Dance Music Performance, 1998, for “Carry On.”

Additionally, she was nominated four times for Best Pop Vocal, twice for Best R&B Vocal, twice for best Rock Vocal, once for Album of the Year, once for Best Disco Vocal, once for Best Inspirational, and once for Best Dance Music.

Not a bad career.

Your turn: So, do you have a little Donna Summer in you?
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MichaelMichael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the former ACFW Journal Magazine and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star. You can connect with Michael via his website, Facebook and Twitter.

What the Apostle Paul Might Have Said About Marketing

wordserve

Looking for marketing help, dear writer? Why, you’re in luck! Step right up to the Internet and tell old Google what you need, but be prepared to stay a while. A plethora of reading material and marketing advice abounds online, addressing the subject from every imaginable angle–and then some.

Except, perhaps for this one: Don’t overlook the value of marketing your neighbor’s work.

Hear me out before you write me off (weak pun apology). I’m convinced that this would be the type of advice the Apostle Paul might have offered had he ever taught a class in Marketing #101. In God’s School, the way up is down. Or, as Paul said in Philippians 2:3,”Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Yes, it’s challenging to understand how to apply those holy words to our writing lives. Especially when we’re constantly reminded that our platforms are everything and publishers find us only as attractive as our last sales numbers. But if God’s word doesn’t apply to all of our lives, it applies to none of it.

Selfish ambition is building our platforms with tunnel vision to the work of everyone around us.

God’s way is to step away from my work long enough to value yours.

It’s a valuable principle of marketing. I once thought I stumbled across it accidentally, but I now believe it has been entirely by God’s design. He orchestrated it through my work as a radio talk show host when I began reserving a segment of time to interview other authors. In the early days of All Things Southern LIVE, these were authors I met during my travel– until publicists began discovering this new venue and pitching their clients’ work.

I need to say this: I don’t promote everything that comes across my desk. Sadly, this is often a matter of pure time constraints. I don’t have the air time to interview even half of the authors whose galleys find their way to my desk. At other times, it’s a matter of my personal reading preferences or my understanding of the reading habits of my listeners. However, for these very reasons, when I do read something that entertains me, challenges me, encourages me, or flat out stretches me, I’m able to bring it to my listeners with authentic excitement. My audience knows this, so they trust my recommendations.

So, how does this help my marketing efforts? Well, that’s the beautiful thing. God’s way is always a win-win. Over and over I’ve seen how celebrating the works of others rebounds to bless my own career.

We’ve all been told to build a reader base and encourage that connection by staying in touch. We also know how distasteful it is to promote our own work. Introducing other authors to our readers–when we’re genuine about their work–allows us opportunities to stay engaged and interact with our communities in a natural way. In turn, our relationship with those authors invariably leads to our introduction to their readers.

Now that is marketing we can all manage. Can I get a witness?

Hugs,
Shellie

Making Connections

Publishing is a funny beast. The author wears many hats – writer, editor, marketer, publicist, sometimes frazzled human being (all right, maybe it’s most of the time). There are moments when the load seems overwhelming and I feel incapable of wearing every hat with excellence.

Kariss' teamMarketing tends to be my weakest link. I’m passionate about my books, love to talk about them, enjoy sharing the story of God’s faithfulness. But when it comes to selling the idea of why others should read them, I prefer to let people determine the quality on their own.

I know. I know. I’m still learning how to do this well. But the key is that I’m learning. Guest posts, social media, contests, etc. are all great tools that I am adding to my belt, but the most powerful tool in my arsenal is my network. These people fall into multiple categories, and every group is important

  1. Close friends and family.
    You’ve got to love this group. They are your biggest fans and cheerleaders. Occasionally they may be more biased than constructive with their feedback, but enjoy the affirmation. They’ve watched the journey, battled the insecurities and joy with you, and want to celebrate the finished product.
  2. Fringe friends and acquaintances.
    These are the people familiar enough with you to ask about the book every time they see you. They are also the ones who bought the book out of curiosity and support and are excited to watch the journey from a distance. If they love the story, you better believe they will share with their friends and family.
  3. Unknown readers.
    These are the people whose constructive opinion you can count on most. If they love the book, then job well done. They hail from all over the country, sometimes out of the country, and their word of mouth is powerful. They don’t know you, but love the heart in your books and will shout it from the mountaintops and anxiously wait for the next book. I love networking with this group. Their excitement fuels my own.
  4. Critics and commentators.
    These are your influencers, bloggers, Amazon comment critics, etc. I don’t necessarily advocate taking their opinions as gospel. But often, they have a powerful voice in their particular online spheres. Learn what they love and what they don’t, filter it to see if there is truth, and build on these admonitions in your next book.
  5. The unreached.
    The good news is that with all these other groups on board, the unreached are now reachable. Diligently work to add this group to the fold. Build relationships with your readers. Write stories that people can’t ignore. And don’t grow discouraged. This is a journey, not a short-distance sprint. Growth happens over time, and it’s exciting to see.

Shadowed_AUG 1 (1)But there is one connection that is the most important. Talking to the Master Storyteller. He knows your story intimately, and He alone can weave your network into something beautiful.

Prayer is powerful. In moments of frustrated marketing, I’ve prayed that the Lord will get Shaken and Shadowed into the hands of people who need to read them, despite my best efforts.

And He has.

Some of my favorite interactions from readers come from those who never heard about the book but wandered into a bookstore, loved the story, laughed, cried, and found hope in Christ. Every time I read one of these messages, I praise the Master Marketer. In spite of my best efforts, He is still placing these books in strategic places.

More than spinning a great story and growing my craft, I want to make an impact. And that only comes through surrendering my ideas in marketing to the One who knows best. I figure with Him at the wheel, I’ll do what I can and let Him do the rest.

Is Multi-Genre Writing Right For You?

to do list (2)One of the ongoing debates in the writing world is about the wisdom of writing in more than one genre. The reality, I think, is that most writers want to write in several genres and, in fact, may be quite good at it. My first projects were poetry, and then I moved on to magazine articles. Think pieces followed, as did newspaper humor columns. My first published book was a small volume about practical Christian spirituality, but then I found my stride in humorous murder mysteries (#6 is out in September, with #7 currently taking shape on my laptop).

Last but not least, a few months ago, my first memoir was published.

So, for me, the big debate about writing in multiple genres is a no-brainer, because I already do.

My experience of doing so, however, has made me recast the debate from a writing perspective to a publishing perspective, and, as a writer who wants to build a career as a published author, I offer my own pluses and minuses of working in a multi-genre career.

  1. Minus: If you think it’s demanding to build one platform, try building several at once. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but in my experience, it can’t happen simultaneously (unless you have clones of yourself ready to go – and in that case, please drop me a note at my website, because I could use a couple of clones these days). To launch a book, you have to be single-minded to make the best of marketing opportunities: appearances, talks, media, book clubs, etc. Your new book/baby needs attention 24/7, and if you leave it for a day or two to nurse along another genre, you find yourself playing catch-up when you get back to the newborn. I’m guessing it’s like having twins-one person can’t really hold two babies equally well, so there’s always some juggling going on. Same thing with two genres: you end up feeling like you haven’t been as successful as you could have been with just one book. At the very least, you don’t sleep much, because you’re trying to do the work of two marketing departments in one body.
  2. Plus: Working in two genres is exhilarating! You get to double the people you meet and the interests you cultivate. Your horizons expand and life is so rich with new experiences, it takes your breath away. It’s wonderful to be a writer!
  3. Minus: Publishers are very hesitant to take a chance on you in a new genre. The more you’ve established yourself in one genre, the less a publisher wants to take the risk of launching you in a different direction. Publishing is a business, and publishers have to respect the bottom line.
  4. Plus: If your genres share something in common (mine share humor and a love of nature), your fans of one genre are more likely to follow you into new territory, giving you a base readership on which to build and a headstart on creating a new platform.

Have you had any experience in multi-genre writing? Any insights to share?

Marketing—It’s Not Rocket Science

Business slogans on a road and street signsWriting isn’t rocket science, except for when it comes to my stymied brain.

Yes, I program software systems that run multi-million businesses and some consider me a computer geek. But creating an online presence using Facebook or Twitter, or starting my own blog for marketing purposes, scared me to death! What if I did it wrong? What if I put all this work into it, and no one made a comment? Plus, how does having a blog on gardening bring in possible sales for an inspirational romance novel that had little or nothing to do with gardening? Except, perhaps, for the garden scenes I built into my story world.

I read books on marketing. I looked online and even talked to others who explained it in very simple terms, but I still didn’t get it. Or maybe I didn’t want to. I’ve seen the bad side of marketing where authors inundated Facebook and Twitter with post after post, vying for a reader’s attention. Although having an online presence is the way marketing works, and yes, you must be visible, I knew that type of strategy wasn’t for me.

I wanted a marketing plan that was as subtle as the Energizer bunny. Do you remember those ads? A commercial starts, there is a woman turning on the water preparing to take a bath, bubbles rise from the water’s surface. Then out of nowhere comes the Energizer bunny, marching across the screen, beating his drum. From that point on, every commercial aired made the viewer wonder (unconsciously at least) . . . was this going to be a legitimate commercial or an Energizer bunny moment? The marketing scheme was perfect. Other than their original series of commercials, not one dollar was paid to other companies, yet because of the subtle intrusion into the normal commercial venue, you were thinking about their batteries every time a new commercial aired! Even if the company sold soap, tires, or lawn furniture.

So, in my effort to understand the process, I pulled out the big guns…my son, who had to market himself to raise funds for his trip to Portugal when he represented the US in the International Six Days Enduro off-road motorcycle event.

I showed him my blog and my FB page. We talked about me joining gardening groups, letting people see my name and my posts. (I’ll interject here, my knowledge of FB was v-e-r-y limited.) He showed me how getting my name out there as a reliable source of gardening information would make my name “recognizable.”

Another concern I had was I didn’t want to be the “dumb” commercial. I refuse to insult the intelligence of my tribe—or would-be tribe in this case. Just doing a blog on miscellaneous information (how I started), or on useless information, may get you some readers, but the key is to pull them in. Give them a reason for wanting to come back. People don’t have time to read something that will be of no help to them. Especially when there is a plethora of more useful blogs out there to read.

So what is marketing? It’s that sweet spot of taking something you are interested in and sharing it with others. As more people find that you are a valuable resource, your name becomes commonplace to them. Then when you have a product to sell—voila! You make a sale on your name alone. Because of your diligence, you will start with a small group willing to take a chance on you because they’ve learned to depend on the information you provide. As your name earns recognition, your influence broadens.

For any of you who were baffled by the need for expanding into the world of marketing, as I was, I hope this helped!