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.

 

Easter: From Doubt to Joy

“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (Mt 28:8, NIV).

ResurrectionToday is Easter – a wonderful time to celebrate new beginnings, God’s grace and the hope of eternal life. While the colorful eggs and the chocolate bunnies may only last a day, the message of Easter can sustain us everyday.

Do Not Be Afraid

The women who came to visit Jesus on Easter morning came in sorrow and grief. They were prepared to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. Instead, they became the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

God is still in the resurrection business. Stalled dreams, broken relationships, frustrations and doubts – all the losses of life are no match for the hope found in the Easter message. The angel told the women, “Do not be afraid.” These words remain relevant for everyone ready to embrace the surprise of joy after a season of waiting in despair.

Come and See

The angel’s next instruction to the women was to “come and see”. God understands our desire for evidence even as we try to live by faith. The women had the chance to examine the empty tomb to bolster their belief in the resurrection. They took advantage of this opportunity and then left the tomb in a rush to share the good news with others. Of course, if their fears had overruled their faith, they might have ran for home without ever stopping to consider the possibility that the good news was true.

The promise of eternal life and forgiveness was waiting just a few steps away, but the women had to take those steps in faith. In any journey from discouragement to hope, from defeat to victory, from promise to fulfillment, we always have to take some steps in faith.

Go and Tell

When the women hurried away from the tomb to share the good news with the disciples, they were “afraid yet filled with joy”. Sometimes something is just so wonderful that it inspires awe bordering on fear. Finding life after death, wholeness after brokenness and direction after confusion can be so fabulous that we become overwhelmed. However, now we are overcome with joy instead of doubt. We have made a discovery worth sharing with the world.

In my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I explore how I found the Easter message relevant for everyday life. As a trained scientist, I appreciate the quest for evidence – the call to “come and see”. As a minister and an author, I have answered the call to “go and tell”.

I draw inspiration from the Easter message in the small challenges of life as well as the big decisions. While waiting for a response from an editor or news about the status of a project, Easter reminds me that good things can come after a season of waiting or an experience of loss and closed doors. Life prevails over death as surely as spring comes after a long, barren winter.

How does the Easter message encourage you?

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?

WordServe News: March 2015

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Anita Agers-Brooks released her second book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get 9781616264185_p0_v1_s260x420Over with Shiloh Run Press.

*************************************************************************************************Sandra Bricker released another title with Abingdon Press, On a Ring and a Prayer. 

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Jonathan McKee released his latest nonfiction book with Bethany House, More than Just 9780764212949_p0_v2_s260x420the Talk along with Sex Matters. 

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Sarah Parshall Perry released her book with Revell Publishers, Sand in My Sandwich.9780800724108_p0_v1_s260x420 

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New Contracts

Marcus Brotherton will be working with Robert Morris on a collaboration project in partnership with Thomas Nelson. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Rick Lawrence signed a new contract with Group Publishing for his 2016 release, The Jesus-Centered Life. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Mike Yorkey will be working with Ken Verheyen on a collaboration project for his book Crazy Success. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Steve Addison’s book Movements was released in German!

AFFIRM Films and Mass Hysteria Entertainment Inc. have announced their partnership to develop a motion picture based on the book, The Devil In Pew Number Seven written by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo with Bob DeMoss

Hugh Halter’s book Flesh was named Missional Living book of the year by Outreach Magazine!

Lauren Scruggs was interviewed on The Today Show on 3/6/15!

Tricia Williford’s And Life Comes Back is a finalist for the 2015 Christian Book Award in the category of New Authors!

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?

Assets Versus Liabilities

photo by Shelley Hendrix

photo by Shelley Hendrix

After months of working my way through the maze of confusion regarding a giant leap of faith into the world of writing and public speaking, I confided this unexpected journey to a trusted friend and mentor. In addition to wise counsel and prayer, as well as encouragement to pursue this dream, Jim said that I needed to write a bio.

*Gulp*

I don’t know about you, but this project was the hardest writing project I think I had ever been given up to that point in my life. (Truth be told, I still don’t like to write my own bio.) For one thing, I hadn’t really done much of anything at that point. I was a shy, behind-the-scenes, let others decide, kind of gal until I went through what I call “God’s Merciful Unveiling” in my life: a season of deep pain, but tremendous spiritual renewal and personal growth. It was through that experience that I began to sense a call on my life to share truth with others that would set their hearts free, too.

I decided to research the bios of other authors and speakers to see what kind of information they included – kind of a template to help me start my own.

Big Mistake.  Or maybe not. It sure felt like one in 2004! The bios I found online were so impressive. These authors and speakers had done so much with their educations, lives, ministries, writing, and families that I began to question whether or not I had actually sensed God’s call on my own life correctly. Who am I to jump into this field when there are so many more qualified and capable people already doing this?

Who would want to hire a mostly-stay-at-home mother of three just because she believed God had called her to step out in faith to share grace and truth with others? I began to feel sick to my stomach as I spent several days wrestling with the seemingly small task of writing my bio. If I have trouble writing my own bio, how in the world am I going to write something people want to read?

I put a rough draft together and apprehensively showed it to a close friend for her honest feedback. I left a copy with her at her house and left before she had a chance to read it in front of me. I imagined her being too kind to tell me what she really thought, which would be, “Who in the world does she think she is?”

It wasn’t too long before she called me. In fact, she called me on my cell phone before I had gotten back home. She told me that soon after I left, her mom called. Her sweet mother was struggling with an unwanted divorce and the painful ripple effects of her former husband’s decision to move into a new relationship after 30+ years of marriage.

My friend said she told her mom that God wasn’t done with her just because a man was. And then she shared my bio with her! My unimpressive, rough draft of a bio. I was perplexed; it seemed like an odd thing to do in such a situation. And she said she told her mother, “Mom, if God can give Shelley new dreams to pursue after what she’s been through, I know God has new dreams for you as well.”

Jaw. Drop. 

I was nearly in tears. She told me this and we chatted briefly and then we hung up. I sat in my car completely overwhelmed with the idea that God could use even my feeble attempt at writing a bio to encourage and strengthen someone else. I thought about Paul’s words in Philippians when he wrote:

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” Philippians 3:7-8

And, then, in ways only the Holy Spirit can do, I realized:

If I give God and others my absolute best qualities and go after it with all my gusto and all my energy, those very assets can turn into my greatest liabilities. But, if I entrust God with everything–and especially what I see as liabilities (like a lack of experience, for example) — and allow Him to live His life through me, He will use them in such a way as to turn them into my greatest assets for Kingdom work. 

I can say now, after over a decade of writing and speaking that I have seen Him do just that – so many, many times!

Like Donald Miller says, “We impress with strength, but we connect at weakness.” It’s almost always those things we view as weaknesses, or liabilities, that God’s light beautifully shines through to brighten another person’s life.

What about you?

What has been the greatest obstacle you’ve faced in your career/calling as a writer?

What helps you overcome insecurities in your calling to be a writer?

How can you help others overcome their fears by sharing your story?