ACFW 2014 Wrap-Up

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.Fall brings not only great weather (autumn is my favorite season!) but also several big-name writers conferences. The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) gather every September to celebrate great inspirational fiction (in the culmination of the Carol Awards) but also to inspire and teach the craft of fiction writing.

Here are a few of the things I took away . . .

1. Indie is IN! It used to be the scourge of writing to even breathe that you might publish your own book either through a vanity press (paying a company to process your book) or indie publishing (or self-publishing) where you become your own publisher and own all aspects of book production while fronting the costs yourself. This can take several forms. Established authors indie publishing their backlist once rights revert back to them. Traditional authors using indie publishing to supplement their income. I even heard one indie author say her traditional publishing contracts offer her a “bonus” but she mostly depends on her indie books to meet living expenses. Then there are those going solely indie because they enjoy the process, the control, and/or may be using it to catch the eye of a traditional publisher if they can hit a certain number of sales. The only cautionary note was, if you have a traditional contract, to ensure that your publisher is okay with the content of the indie book and that release dates don’t compete.

2. Effective marketing campaigns may not be realized until later. Last year, my third novel Peril was a newborn. To ACFW, I brought full-size Hershey bars with a sticker attached to each one that had photos of all my books together and a link to my newsletter. I definitely got some additional newsletter subscribers but this year, several people commented to me about those chocolate bars. I think a good marketing campaign is something memorable that lasts long after the item is gone. Trust me, bookmarks get lost in a sea of other bookmarks and postcards. Take the time and maybe spend a little extra money for something unique. Honestly, this year, there weren’t a lot of interesting giveaways.

3. Networking is important. Even if you’re not pitching, you need a network of other writing peeps to help keep you sane. They understand that it’s normal to talk out loud while arguing with a character. They’ll help you in the writing valleys and celebrate those writing highs. Always go into a conversation open to the possibilities of new friendships. Sit with people you’ve never met before. Introduce yourself to those of the other gender (men might feel a little lost in a sea of mostly women they don’t know!). Make face-to-face contact with an editor who rejected you and say a sincere thanks for any feedback they offered.

4. Professionalism is key. Everything you put out there speaks about you as a writing professional. It’s probably not too far-fetched to say that you’re in one long job interview. The way you dress. The way you treat others waiting for appointments. Are you on time for your appointment? If you yell at an appointment coordinator over some perceived slight, it’s not going to come back to you in a positive way. When you submit your work for a paid critique, format it correctly with no typos. Always be helpful to someone else first; this reaps large rewards in the end.

What have you learned recently from a writers conference?

Six Things Writers Need to Know About Email Marketing

Email Mouse ConceptNot long ago I was procrastinating my writing duties perusing Facebook and a fellow author (whom I know and love and who therefore will remain anonymous) was spouting off about how much she hates to get emails without her permission. “This is illegal!” she cried (as much as you can cry out on Facebook, the land of the overused exclamation point.) Many people commented their mutual disgust.

I, however, did not. You see, I’ve had a lot of personal experience with this lately and I thought I’d share what I learned with you.

Recently, I started working for a faith-based website. We wanted a large email campaign to build awareness. We hired a company to help us achieve this goal. For our target list, we researched public information. We didn’t use a computer software program or other nefarious means to gather info, but when we started to send e-mails through this company, we got the red light. The question became: How did you collect email addresses? We disclosed that it was through public information on the web.

This company wanted a permission-based email list in order to allow us to use their services. This could be achieved either through a personal phone call or the interested party filling out a web-based contact form. This is how subscription-based email systems like Mail Chimp work. You fill out a contact form and the author then has permission to e-mail you.

Everyone stays out of trouble.

The company I work for soon became familiar with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

In short, you can email someone without their permission but that email needs to meet VERY specific requirements. Using an e-mail service like Mail Chimp accomplishes this and is likely why authors prefer it. However, you might need to email someone without “express consent” in order to see if they want to further know about your product.

E-mail services look at bounce rates. A bounce rate greater than the industry standard of 5% indicates the sender may be using substandard means to gather email addresses. Some of these means include using a computer program, guessing what the email address might be, and (according to this company) researching public sources.

But say you’ve had a reader contact you and you want to see if they’ll sign up for your newsletter. They haven’t given you “express consent” to email them (or advertise to them) but you think they might be interested in some of your product because they sent you a nice letter. You could send them an email asking them to sign up for your newsletter. In order to be in compliance with the law, that email would need to meet these requirements. I’ll be paraphrasing somewhat.

1. You must clearly identify who is sending the e-mail.
2. Use forthright subject lines. “Request to sign up for my newsletter!”
3. If the message is an ad, it must be clearly stated.
4. There must be a physical address in the body of the e-mail for you or the business. As an author, I wouldn’t suggest using your personal address. Get a PO box.
5. Tell recipients how they can opt out and then honor their requests within 10 business days. “If you’d like to stop getting these e-mails– please reply with STOP.”
6. If you’re using a company, they need to be following these rules as well.

So, technically, you can “cold email” someone, but you’ll need to hit these points. If you don’t, it can result in hefty fines. If you choose to not use a subscription based email service to build your newsletter list (which I do recommend), then read up on this law and (because I’m not a lawyer) consult a lawyer if you have additional questions.

What service do you use to email people? Have you ever heard of the CAN-SPAM Act?

Is God Talking to Me?

DogAs Christian authors, we often view our books as a way to get God’s Word out in a non-threatening manner. Novels are easier to hand to someone than a Bible and generally an easier way to start a conversation.

However, two recent events are causing me to change my view on that a little. Recently, my minister said that when he’s working on a sermon series, the subject matter is usually something he’s struggling with—something God is trying to teach him.

I had the good fortune to hear Ted Dekker speak during his Outlaw Tour down in Colorado Springs. A big theme of his talk was that his struggles as a Christian come out in his books. His questions about faith. Those uneasy issues that we all contemplate. Is God real? Is He who He says He is? Is there really a Heaven? Is my belief in Christ truly enough?

Perhaps we as authors are actually working through our own issues and the collateral benefit is that we’re frequently able to help other people.

But surely my writing isn’t just about me. It can’t be because my spiritual life is all figured out . . .

I began to think through the books I’d written and the ones I was planning on writing. There were some consistent themes. Truly believing in God’s sacrificial love. Letting God take control. Being submissive to His will for our lives.

If I look honestly at these themes, they are what I struggle with the most. A God . . . people . . . the Lord of the Universe dying one of the most painful deaths ever . . . for me. My heart usually reconciles this easily but my intellectual side waivers occasionally. This is what I believe?

And sometimes with a big gulp . . . I whisper yes.

I’m a control freak by nature. It lends to the job I do every day. As an ER nurse it is expected of me to bring control to chaos. I am stubborn and independent—which is the nature of two out of three of my heroines. They’d rather fix it themselves than reach out for help and yet, when circumstances become insurmountable, they must reach out to survive.

Isn’t this how it is with us? Maybe it is just me and all of you are very good at relinquishing control. If so, please let me in on your tips.

As we write these stories, maybe what we need to do first is read our stories with ourselves in mind and hear what God is trying to say to that person we see in the mirror.

This post first appeared at the ACFW blog. Hope you’ll check it out.

WordServe News: May 2014

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

Rebecca DeMarino released her debut novel A Place in His Heart with Revell publishers.9780800722180_p0_v2_s260x420

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Doug Fields released 7 Ways to Be Her Hero with Thomas Nelson publishers. 920563

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Kathi Lipp released I Need Some Help Here! with Revell publishers.9780800720780_p0_v3_s260x420

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Jonathan McKee released Get Your Teenager Talking with Bethany Hou9780764211850_p0_v3_s260x420se Publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spencer Moses released his suspense thriller with Revell publishers, Network of Deception.9780800722562_p0_v3_s260x420

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Gilbert Morris released the third book in his Western Justice series with Barbour 9781616267605_p0_v2_s260x420books, Raina’s Choice

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Dr. Arnie Cole and Michael Ross released Worry Free Living with Authentic.9781780782263_p0_v1_s260x420

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Karen Witemeyer released Full Steam Ahead with Bethany House Publishers. 9780764209673_p0_v2_s260x420

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New WordServe Clients

Mark Atteberry, pastor and multi-published author, signed with agent Alice Crider.

Larry Dugger, pastor and Christian counselor, signed with agent Alice Crider

John Merritt, founding pastor of CrossWinds Church in Dublin, California, signed with Alice Crider

Bill Sanders, award-winning journalist, signed an agency agreement to be represented by Alice Crider.

New Contracts

Jan Drexler signed with Love Inspired to release A Home in Deadwood. Sarah Freese, agent of record.

Anita Agers-Brooks signed with Barbour for her non-fiction book, Getting Over What You Can’t Get Through. Alice Crider, agent of record.

Angela Strong signed with Ashberry Lane for her YA novel, The Water Fight Professional. Alice Crider, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Jennie Atkins is a semi-finalist in the Romance category of the ACFW Genesis contest for unpublished authors!

Carol Barnier made the awards list in both humor and evangelism for two of her articles for the 2014 EPA Higher Goal Awards!

Debora Coty (Fear, Faith and a Fistful of Chocolate), Jo Ann Fore (When a Woman Finds Her Voice) and Jordyn Redwood (Poison) all made the shortlist for the 2014 Selah Awards!

Wounded Women of the Bible by Dena Dyer and Tina Samples is a finalist in the AWSA Golden Scroll Awards!

Leslie Leyland Fields was featured on Christianity Today as the cover story. You can read it here!

Adam Makos’ A Higher Call hit the New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and Washington Post bestseller lists!

Jordyn Redwood’s Poison and Julie Cantrell’s When Mountains Move are on the short list of Inspy finalists!!

Kimberly Smith wrote an article for Time magazine. Read the full story here!

What can we help you celebrate?

When to Consult a Medical Expert

female doctor in ICUAlthough I’ve always helped authors along the way with medical questions, it’s been one of my primary focuses for the last three years since the invention of Redwood’s Medical Edge—my medical blog for authors.

The reason for creating my blog was the multitude of published works I read that were loaded with medical inaccuracies. Not just a few here and there. Time after time, errors caught my eye.

In a pod-cast interview, the interviewer asked if these medical mistakes would be enough for the average reader to pick up. To be honest, I’m probably more sensitive to these errors after spending 20 years in nursing but some are mind-numbingly obvious. Such as saying the spleen is on the right side. Such as calling a collar bone a shoulder blade. You don’t have to have a medical degree in anything to pick up on these missed anatomy issues.

Writers, I think, are confused as to when it’s beneficial to consider consulting a medical expert. And I actually mean more than asking Uncle Joe who has worked as a dentist when you need information about delivering an infant.

Not the best option.

An author who is also a medical expert is your best bet. They know what will overload the reader, they know what is too medically complex for a non-medical author to pull off, and can help you with the nuances (the language and the interactions) since they’ve worked in the field.

But when is it best to consider plucking down a few hard earned dollars to work with a medical consultant?

Here are my thoughts.

  1. You need a medical condition that fits a certain set of symptoms. I often get queries from authors along these lines and perhaps they’ve tried to find something on their own but just cannot decipher the medical language to know, for certain, if it fits: “I need a fatal condition for a child that won’t be immediately obvious but could put the child in peril around three months of age.” Believe it or not, a metabolic disorder fits this criteria.
  2. You have a medical scenario in mind but aren’t sure if it’s reasonable. This happens frequently and is probably the most dangerous position to work from. Let’s take a look at the following example: “My character has been in a car accident. The car has rolled three times. The injured character was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown 100 yards into a swift moving river, where he almost drowned. He was rescued and required only a minute of CPR to revive him. I need him home from the hospital that night.” Or the opposite is true. “I have a character that fell down the stairs and I need him to be in the ICU for three days.”

Both of these situations set up implausible medical scenarios. The car accident victim is going to be too injured to go home that day. Someone who requires CPR after nearly drowning is going to be watched, at a minimum, overnight. In order to get admitted into the ICU a patient has to be pretty sick so the simple fall down the stairs is likely not going to injure the character sufficiently.

  1. Come with an open mind but with a needed result for your character. What I prefer to know is your end game with an open mind to the medical scenario. “I need a character to suffer an injury from a fall that would land them in the hospital for a few days in the ICU and I’m fine with a few extra days in the hospital but I don’t want them to have any residual injuries.” For you, I would pick an epidural hematoma.
  2. You have a pivotal medical scene. I consulted once for an author who had a child in the Pediatric ICU, dying from leukemia. This is something you want to flow nicely for the reader. If at any moment they pause, look away from the page, and think about the accuracy of what you’ve written, you’ve taken them out of the story bubble and perhaps their trust in you has fallen. Perhaps you’ve even lost a reader.

I once read a review from a fan of historical fiction that skewered an author for writing a completely inaccurate historical scenario in the third book of the series. This reader then doubted the previous two books and swore off reading anything else from the author.

Don’t let this happen to you. Consult a medical expert if you find yourself writing these scenarios. It’s likely not as expensive as you think.

What about you? Any medical inaccuracies you’ve found in a novel?

How to Maximize Your Social Media Time

Early in my wanting-to-pursue-publication journey, I heard a woman give a talk about maximizing your time. She said, “Nothing you do should go to waste. If I see a movie, I’ll figure out a way to use it in my writing. I’ll write something about it.”

Social media conceptHonestly, at first, I did kind of give a big eye roll. Really? Nothing could be sacred, private, and free? Couldn’t my mind ever just have a void where I didn’t have to think about marketing?

Now, I might have changed my opinion on that somewhat.

Marketing is hard work. Author Richard Mabry once said to me, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” And this is the truth. When your book releases, there is usually a flurry of activity to launch your baby. But, there comes a time when you need to begin to focus on the next book while still keeping your other marketing activities going. This may be less about your book and more about growing your platform and social media presence.

Consider all your activities: can they aid in growing your social media? Can they give you a blog topic? Can something you do for fun give you a possible return on your time investment?

I recently read the book Fear Nothing, by Lisa Gardner. I wanted to read this book. Lisa is a favorite author of mine so I put most other books aside to enjoy her new releases.

On the marketing side, this is how I used my leisure time to help my social media.

1. I wrote a Goodreads review on the novel. This is good for authors. It gives people an example of your writing style and can help readers find you. After all, you likely write what you like to read.

2. I pinned it to Pinterest. Some readers/followers are more visual and I do find people repinning books from my boards.

3. I blogged about it– in two different places. My main blog is Redwood’s Medical Edge and it deals with medical accuracy in fiction. Fear Nothing had a character with congenital insensitivity to pain so not only did I blog about this particular medical disorder but I also did a post that was a review of the novel and some of its medical aspects. And now, I’m here blogging about how to use one activity to foster multiple marketing efforts. So, I guess that’s three blog posts.

Your activities should become the ultimate wardrobe, where all pieces can be mixed with one another. Ultimately, a book I read for fun ended up being used to build my platform (a medical nerd who writes suspense novels) and, hopefully, keep up interest in my social media.

What about you? In what ways have you used fun activities to maximize marketing efforts?

Are Your Margins Too Thin?

sad businesswomanA curious thing happened as I was trolling Facebook one day–a fellow author had posted about what she wasn’t doing for Christmas. “I’m not baking the seven different types of cookies that I normally do and I’m giving you permission to do the same. What is it you would like to give up this Christmas so you can spend more time with family?”

Whenever the first of the year rolls around it’s always time for the dreaded excitement of planning your (cue the music) New Year’s Resolutions. Often, these resolutions and goal setting add more to our plate rather than simplify our lives.

We should absolutely make goals–I’m a big believer in them. But how can we make them reasonable, doable, and achievable?

You might have heard about margins. Leave one inch margins around your written page. This used to be so there would be room for others to make comments. It’s morphed into leaving room in your life for the important things. You might have also heard people call this work/life balance.

But how do you know if your margins are too thin? What might some of the symptoms be?

1. You can’t say no. This means you don’t have boundaries. It’s really not healthy to be the go-to person for everything. You can’t always be at another person’s beck and call. I think volunteer work is important but pick ONE thing you’re passionate about and make sure the hours are reasonable.

2. You’re always running late. This can be symptomatic of two conditions. One, it’s just the kind of person you are. You’ve always been late and continue to be late. But if you used to be on time for everything and now you’re always just a few minutes (or more) late, then you’re probably over-scheduled. Why is it you can’t make it on time? Too many appointments or it’s something you don’t want to do? You’ve lost passion for your job, perhaps? Maybe never had any? Can you change that?

3. Your children/family/significant other don’t recognize you anymore. I remember when my girls were infants that I’d bring them into the bathroom while I was taking a bath and set them on the floor with some toys so I could keep an eye on them. The first time their eyes witnessed me dunk my head and come up with my hair slicked back, their quivering lips indicated that they thought I was not their mom anymore. I spoke to them and reassured them it was okay. If your family is coming in dead last then definitely some re-prioritizing needs to happen. What can you change about your current schedule that would make more room?

NewYearDaySince it is the first of the year, I do still think that it’s a good time to analyze and focus, but maybe with these tenets in mind. The goal has to be reasonable to make it fun and achievable; otherwise it’s doomed to fail from the start.

So, instead of the goal being I’m going to write THREE great American novels when you’ve never attempted one, attend a local writers conference to see if writing is suited for you.

Instead of losing ALL the weight you need to lose in the first three weeks of the year, shoot for a small piece of the whole. I want to lose 2 pounds in January. Once you’ve done that, set the next goal.

Goals are about focus, but they need to be achievable. You’ll still need to live your life. Keep those personal relationships strong. That’s what ultimately sustains you.

What are your reasonable and achievable goals for 2014? Will they maintain your life/work balance?