Two Writers Walk Into This Bar . . .

Celebratory drinkWhat happens when two writers unexpectedly find themselves with a free evening together?

A nice dinner and a glass of wine? Laughter and bonding? Sharing experiences from both on and off the author trail?

Yes. All that, and new marketing ideas, too.

At least that was my experience two weeks ago when my agency colleague Anita Agers-Brooks made a short-notice trip my way and we were able to spend a few hours together – hours that had no agenda other than getting to know each other. And even though we write in different genres (Anita is a leadership guru, while I write humorous mysteries and memoir), we had much to offer each other in the way of marketing and business ideas. Here are a few nuggets from our impromptu party to spark your own ideas:

  1. Writing is a business. Do you treat it that way? Anita reminded me that I needed to file paperwork to become an LLC (limited liability company) as legal protection of my assets. We live in a litigious world, and a writer must be a good steward of her assets both spiritually and financially. As Anita pointed out, if you wait to protect your business till someone sues you (yes, it can happen!), you’re already too late. (And be sure to include Errors & Omissions insurance while you’re at it.)
  2. Goodreads.com is a publicity goldmine. Are you on it? For my new book release, 658 people entered my giveaway drawing for 3 free copies. That’s a lot of eyes on my book the day it released. And giveaways are just the tip of what you can accomplish on Goodreads. (Read this marketing tutorial on using Goodreads.)
  3. Pay attention to casual comments. After a pastor told Anita her book would be a good topic for a sermon, she found a template online for sermons. She plans to fill it out using her book and then share the template with pastors. She’ll get her message presented by pastors, and she won’t even have to be present! (Does that qualify as bilocation – being in two places at the same time?) I’m going to take her idea and see if I can make it work for me.
  4. Take ownership for your promotional campaign, because ultimately, the book is your baby. Both Anita and I have been surprised by the limitations even large publishers can have when it comes to marketing; our publishers can pull some big coups for us (Anita spoke to a filled college auditorium thanks to her publisher, and I’m getting phone-in radio interviews thanks to mine), but the local press and on-going events calendar that make up the bulk of your PR efforts remain in your own lap, not to mention getting your launch team recruited and equipped to spread the word.
  5. Learn from each other’s experiences. After spending an evening with a writer in the same phase of our careers, I feel like I may still be in the same boat. But now I know there are other boats traveling along beside me, happy to share their own tips and advice. In fact, maybe a small-group marketing retreat would be a good idea. Hmmm….

(FYI – I was kidding about the walking into a bar. Anita and I did walk around a golf course, however. The air was much fresher.)

Give ‘Em What They Want, Not What You THINK They Want

shop-vac-10-gallon-industrial-wet-dry-vacuum-925-40-100After fumbling around with social networking and reading every marketing article about it that I could get my hands on for the last year or so, I’ve distilled my promotional strategy down to a simple directive: give readers what they want.

I know that sounds obvious, but the tricky part is understanding the ‘what,’ especially once you realize that ‘what’ your readers want may not be the same ‘what’ that you THINK they want.  The key is taking ‘you’ out of the picture, so you can clearly see your reader without your own perspective distorting your vision.

It’s like reflective listening – you want to reflect back what the other person is saying without putting your own spin on his words, so you hear clearly what he said, and not what you think he said. Quick example of doing it wrong: my husband said he wished he’d taken music lessons when he was a kid, so I got him music lessons for Christmas. Two weeks into the lessons, he told me he didn’t want to continue.

“But you said you wished you’d taken lessons as a kid,” I reminded him.

“As a kid, yes,” he said. “But now I have other interests that I’d rather spend my time on. You interpreted my comment as a current wish, which it isn’t.”

Ouch. I should have gotten him the shop-vac he said he needed, which I thought was boring.

Same idea applies to your readers.

Pay careful attention to what they say, or in the case of social media, what they really like to see and with what they engage.

For instance, I thought that as an author, I should be posting on Facebook about my WIP or upcoming events. Those posts, I’ve found, get little notice.

But if I post a photo of me getting kissed by a French bulldog, or a goofy homemade video of me singing (badly) about the cold weather, I get comments galore. Clearly, on Facebook, at least, my writing news is not very interesting to my readers.

Writing news is appreciated very much, however, by my newsletter subscribers, so that’s where it now goes, along with on my website. As for LinkedIn, I post both events and business-related material, such as when my books get a rave review or included in an industry-recognized blogger’s post.

For Twitter, I post quick links to interesting material in my subject areas (birds, nature, dogs, humor) or retweet entertaining posts, because I’ve found that those kinds of communications are most appreciated by my followers. Because it’s a fast and short exposure, I tend to use Twitter more than any other social media platform as more of a shotgun approach – post and hope it spreads wide and far to get my name in front of a greater number of people, because that’s the first step to finding new readers.

My experience has convinced me that connecting with readers, followers, and networks is a necessary piece of expanding my readership, but once I’ve reached new folks, it’s time to shift gears and use social media to build relationships, not solicit sales.

That’s why it’s called social media, and not the shopping channel. Remembering to give the reader what they want is easy when it’s the same thing you want to give your friends.

How do you use the various social network platforms?

The Curse And Gift of Being Called to Write

giftThere are days you totally get Jeremiah. He decides not to speak anymore, but the words burn like a fire shut up in his bones (Jeremiah 20:9). Even when you can’t write, the words burn inside, don’t they?

How often have you wished you were just normal? On those days where you’re trying to fit it all in: a full day of work, a kid’s basketball game, dinner and laundry, and somehow you’re supposed to find writing time too? There’s the agony of staring at a blank page and watching your book drop in Amazon rankings.

You’ve even decided to quit. Often. Finally, a friend or spouse tells you to stop tormenting yourself. “You’re a writer,” they say. “You know you’re not really going to quit writing. You always come back to it.”

So, if you can’t walk away from writing, isn’t it time to look at it from another perspective? “I suggest you learn to write not with blood and fear,” Jane Yolen writes, “but with joy. It’s a personal choice.”

And there is joy, lots of it.

First, you were chosen. Like Jeremiah, before you were in the womb, God chose you. Whether you started writing as soon as you could hold a pencil or didn’t begin writing until some life event pulled you to it later on, whether writing holds financial success for you or not, being a writer is a role you were personally designed for by your Creator. If that isn’t joy, I don’t know what is.

And then there’s what drew you to writing in the first place: the thrill of a coherent story coming together at last with characters who walk off the page; that zone, where reality falls away and you’re virtually swimming in your story world; and words become so sharp and real, you’d swear you could taste them.

You were the one blessed with heightened senses and the words to go with them. So while your walking partner says, “Oh, isn’t that pretty?” you see how the thick tree cover on the forest trail washes the sunlight green, and how the Spanish moss drapes from the tree limbs like ornaments. You have words to describe the warm breeze rippling across your face and how the coos of a mourning dove bring the summer evening alive.

You have the privilege of exploring and enfleshing ideas (ideas, by the way, you almost certainly would never have come to unless you’d spent day in and day out with your fingers on the keyboard). Writing brings the joy of discovering new worlds.

And when you’re done, and the book is published, you receive emails saying things like, “I read your book and was so moved by it, I turned back to page one and read it again.” Wow, you think, did I actually create something that could do that?

You did, because you were blessed. In spite of the tortuous days of staring at a blank page, and wondering how a person can be pulled in so many directions without being ripped apart, you were given a beautiful and multilayered gift by God when He called you to write. It’s a gift you love to give back to Him, and when you’re having a thorny writing day or month, you need to remind yourself of that.

Embracing Your True Identity as a Writer

Photo/KarenJordanAs I watch my grandsons, Ethan and Zach, make silly faces dressed in their costumes, I realize how much I act like them.

At times, I pretend to be someone else, wearing a mask to disguise my true identity.

Masked crusaders. Zach and Ethan often pretend to be superheroes with superhuman powers, fighting against crime or evil. But even though they enjoy their make-believe world for a while, they soon shed their costumes. Bored with one adventure, they put on other outfits–such as pirate costumes–and search for a hidden treasure or sail off to conquer another ship. Later, they may be fully decked out in their new football or soccer uniforms.

True identity. As a writer, when I masquerade as somebody or something else, I tend to lose my focus on reality. And with this cover-up, I sometimes unintentionally deny my true identity.

I may be tempted to hide behind a cloak of self-confidence, trying to compensate for my weaknesses and failures. Or I try to put on another mask to temporarily gain acceptance and approval.

Self-deception. My self-deception always directs me down the wrong path, leading me down a new road. And I find myself in places that I never intended to go. When I choose an identity that God never expects me to wear, I make regrettable mistakes and commitments. And I focus on my faults, instead of my blessings.

I’ve tried on the masks of SuperMom, SuperNonnie, SuperWife, SuperTeacher, and even SuperWriter. And I’ve suffered from stress and burnout. Then, I feel like a SuperNobody. When I try to become any of those super-characters in my own strength–instead of depending upon God for direction and strength–I fail miserably.

As I continue my journey as a writer, I pray that I will embrace my true identity and remember who I really am “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3-14). As a Christ-follower, I am unconditionally accepted and loved by God because of what Christ did, not because of what I can do for Him or for others.

101031.gkids copyI also plan to model my faith and beliefs for my grandchildren, so they will also know when to put their masks and costumes away and discover their own identities “in Christ.”

What has helped you find your true identify as a writer?

Photos/KarenJordan

5 Ways to Drive an Editor Crazy

13761150586648bAs an aspiring writer, I thought editors had horns on their head and pitchforks perched beside their desks. After all, they sent me form “no thanks” letters after I’d slaved over an obviously brilliant manuscript. They ignored my letters and phone calls, and seemed to take joy in waiting months before replying to my oh-so-urgent emails.

Now, as both a seasoned writer and an editor for a large faith-based website, I’ve learned that editors are people, too. We love finding new voices to publish, and we try to be gentle when doling out rejections. Sure, we have our quirks, and we make mistakes. But mostly, we’re word-loving, gentle souls who find joy in a well-placed modifier.

When provoked, however, we can lose our literary minds. Several habits don’t just rub us the wrong way—they make us want to run down the street while still in our bathrobes, shouting Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” until we puke.

Here’s how you can speed that process along:

1) Treat Guidelines as Optional.

      Don’t bother reading writing guidelines; don’t even visit websites or read back issues of magazines. Send a totally inappropriate submission. In your cover letter, tell the editor that while you’ve never taken the time to familiarize yourself with their publication, you’re sure that your work is perfect for them. file3781288474089

       2) Respond viciously to rejection letters.

      When you receive a letter stating that “your submission doesn’t meet our current needs,” fire off a hateful email, chastising the editor for his lack of taste. Even better: use bad language and post your vitriolic thoughts all over social media. (This habit works well if you never want to see your work in print. Those bridges are so pretty when they burn!)

      3) Never turn in an assignment by the deadline.

Deadlines aren’t set in stone; therefore, ask for repeated extensions, paying no attention to the panicked tone of your editor’s responses. Don’t worry that you are one of several dozen moving parts in the publishing of a website, magazine or compilation book. Take all the time you want—the world does, in fact, revolve around you.

       4) Take up all your editor’s time.

Ask repeated questions about the contract or terms of your publishing agreement. Don’t get an agent or other professionals to weigh in on your questions. Don’t network with other writers so that you can learn from their experiences. Pester the editor with texts (preferably to her personal cell phone, if you can dig up the number) about when your piece will be printed, how many readers you’ll get, etc.

And finally:

5) Refuse to accept changes in your manuscript.

Since you have received your talent from God, treat every word as His direct quote. Don’t let an editor make changes to your beautiful masterpiece. Fight over each letter and punctuation mark. Don’t choose your battles. Take offense at questions. Die on every single hill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nasty email to delete…and I need to look up the lyrics to a certain parody song.

Travel to Write, Write to Travel

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” St. Augustine

I’m an Irish girl, both by heart and by blood. As a teenager, I remember dreaming of visiting Ireland and Scotland and seeing the hallowed halls of my ancestors’ castles. The idea is more romanticized than real – the Lynch castle in Ireland is now a bank and the Chisholm castle in Scotland is a renovated weekend getaway.

Kariss - IrelandAs a kid, I loved studying the old folk tales, imaginative stories of the tricks and heroism of the wee folk. I grew up on a steady dose of faith and fairy tales. One nursed my convictions, the other my creativity. Three years ago, my dream came true. I spent three weeks on the British Isles. I didn’t see any of the wee folk, though I walked through the fairy gardens at Blarney Castle.

But this rainy tour wasn’t the beginning of my adventures. The travel bug bit me in middle school, and since then I’ve tried to visit new states and new countries, fascinated by the culture. Nothing stimulates my creative side more than exploring new sights, scents, and scenery.

Over the years, I’ve learned this serves me in my writing. All the sensory details, the tiny quirks, the cultural differences influence my settings and characters. I’m learning to identify different textures, not just what they look like but how they feel. I identify different scents with different people and memories. Color takes on vibrancy all its own, enhancing character features, scenery, and what the character experiences.

My travel stimulation reached new heights when I visited Haiti a couple of years ago. I had written and finished my first book, Shaken, which is partially set in Haiti around the time of the earthquake. I researched, talked to those who experienced the earthquake and those who visited before and after, and watched documentaries and the news. But when I finally had the chance to experience this tiny island for myself, I walked away changed with a perspective that enhanced the editing of Shaken.

Kariss - HaitiI remember the stifling humidity and heat as I stepped off the plane. Haitian men stood waiting in the small hangar where they tried to take our luggage off the conveyor belt and then quickly exit to the street as we chased them, hoping we would pay them to get our luggage back. While corralling our luggage was a challenge, I silently cheered their ingenuity and resourcefulness in a poverty-ridden city.

I caught my first glimpse of Port-au-Prince as I hopped in the back of a pick-up and gripped the seat as we played chicken on a two-lane highway, winding past people walking less than two feet from the side of the road. An old man bathed in plain view. Women balanced enormous baskets or jugs on their heads as their daughters trailed behind them with smaller cargo. The air reeked of garbage and burning plastic. Plastic bags that used to hold water littered the street.

Kids ran past in oversized American hand-me-down clothes or no clothes at all. Buses called tap-taps, that looked like a skittle pack blew up, wove in and out of traffic, people hanging onto the back of the cab. The people are down-to-earth and friendly. Those that work, work hard, and the kids are curious and intelligent.

ShakenWhile travel shows me the differences in this wide world, it also shows me the similarities. I noticed that the cement block homes on this tiny island resembled the colored homes in Ireland. I learned that cultures are not as different as we think, that people are people, no matter where you go. I learned to look at the human condition, the driving motivations behind actions, the heart, the hurt, the dreams.

Travel shapes my writing. Haiti certainly shaped Shaken, and adventures I had years ago in Ukraine shaped a few scenes in Shadowed, book two in the Heart of a Warrior series.

So, let the travel bug bite hard, and choose one new city, state, or country to visit each year. What places, people groups, or cultures have influenced your stories?

A Valentine For Our Readers

rosesRoses are red, violets are blue,

I love you, my readers, for all that you do:

To your families and friends, you talk up my books;

You buy the hard copies, Kindles and Nooks;

You come to book signings in out-of-way places.

I’m always so happy to see my fans’ faces!

You sign up for my newsletter and say lots of nice things

On Goodreads, in book clubs – you make my heart sing!

You share kind reviews, both oral and text,

You give me ideas for what to write next.

You twitter my Tweets, like my Facebook page, too.

I’m so very grateful for readers like you who

Help me find new folks that I want to reach

And invite to the fun of being my peeps!

For YOU, my dear fans, are the reason I write

All through the day and into the night,

Wrestle with words and struggle with plots

(which sometimes are great, but sometimes are not!).

When all’s said and done, I have to confess

There’s only one way I measure success:

If I’ve made you laugh, touched your heart in some way,

My work is done, and YOU’VE made my day!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all our readers

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo……..the WordServe Literary Agency authors

Confessions of an Introvert Writer

crowded HallI have a writing conference coming up, and I’ve been trying not to think about it. Although I spend a good part of my work week happily among colleagues and teach big classrooms full of students with enthusiasm, I’m an introvert at heart, most content in front of my computer at home or out in my garden, alone. The thought of being among clots of strangers in some vast hotel lobby fills me with dread.

Anyway, I was thinking about how much I hate conferences and reminding myself of Crowded Wikimania 2009 welcome dinnerhow wonderful it’s been, on occasion, to stumble across a fellow God-lover among the strangers assembled there. The topic of faith comes up slantwise through some serendipitous comment about someone’s having read something in a church book club. Or maybe I notice a woman ducking her head briefly before lifting her fork to eat.

Such chance believers typically turn out to be quite different sorts of God-lovers than I am, which makes the encounters all the more thrilling. They refer to their pastor as “Father.” Or they go on about some pet business of politics important to their faith that I don’t give a rip about. Sometimes their God is barely recognizable as the God I know. Still, I want to sit next to them when I see them enter my next session and to eat my overdressed salad from a Styrofoam box at their table and to suck their occasional thoughts about God into my own.

FOUNTAIN_SQUARE'S__SITTING_WALLSYes, I’m that piteous stranger you meet sometimes at conferences whom you can’t seem to shake. Know this about me: I am in some sort of heaven, sitting there beside you, accepting the M&Ms you offer from the little bag you got out of a machine. We are siblings, you and I. We come from the same home.

I figure that’s how Abram the Hebrew—literally, Abram the Foreigner, the first instance of the word Hebrew in the Bible—must have felt that day after rescuing his cousin Lot and a bunch of other Sodom and Gomorrah inhabitants who’d been taken captive. When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah come out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, they bring along their friend Melchizedek, another king like them but also, we’re told, “priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18 ESV). Later, the writer of Hebrews will describe Jesus himself, repeatedly and at length, as a high priest “in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5.6, 5.10, 7.11, 7.17 NIV).

Melchizedek brings out bread and wine for them all to share—Catholics memorialize the event by mentioning Melchizedek during the Mass—and then he prays this prayer:

Abram, may you be blessed by God Most High,
the God who made heaven and earth.
And we praise God Most High,
who has helped you to defeat your enemies
(Genesis 14.19-20 NCV).

Wow. Imagine hearing that from a stranger! Imagine being a stranger among strangers yourself in the Valley of Shaveh, a place Abram’s never been before, a place where he’s so unlike everyone else, so alien to their values and practices, that people refer to him as “the Foreigner.”

Hearing Melchizedek’s words, sharing bread and wine with him, Abram must have felt himself, for a moment at least, at home. As a person of faith—which the author of Hebrews defines as one who welcomes God’s promises and acknowledges being a foreigner and stranger on this messed up earth—Abram suddenly finds himself, for a moment, where all the faithful want to be, in “a country of their own” (Hebrews 11.13-14 ISV). Not, that is, in “the land they had left behind” or even in the one in which they find themselves, but in “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11.15-16 NRSV).

Priests of God Most High. That’s who we are when we acknowledge God among strangers, whether at a conference or among our readers. And however strange and foreign we might feel ourselves to be, we are where we belong.

Reflections from a Songbird

Photo/KarenJordan

When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all. (E. O. Wilson) 

“Silly bird! Why are you pecking on the window?”

“She’s defending her territory,” my husband Dan surmised.

We watched in amazement as the female cardinal, fooled by her own image, continued to swoop down—over and over again—attacking her reflection in the window.

Dan snickered. “I know you’ll find a story here.” Then, he closed his eyes and dozed off in front of the TV.

I turned my attention back to my laptop and whined, “I’ve got to get this blog post written.”

Dan mumbled from his recliner, “Why don’t you give yourself a break?”

I agreed under my breath. “I AM taking a break! I’m sitting here with you, watching a movie.”

I needed rest. But I stared at my never-ending “to do” list. I felt the pressure of some impending writing deadlines and speaking commitments, along with our holiday plans. The weight of my schedule and expectations pushed me beyond my comfort zone.

Dan interrupted my thoughts. “I’m just saying, you’ve had a lot on your plate lately.”

“Thanks for the reminder,” I grumbled. I took a deep breath, trying to focus on my project and forget about my failures and limitations.

My head ached. My heart fluttered. I felt short of breath. Oh, no—not another panic attack! Red flag!

I closed my eyes. Focus on breathing. Inhale. Exhale. REST. Remember, “ … The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything …” (Phil. 4:5-6 NIV).

How do I NOT be anxious? “ … in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (6-7).

Like the songbird, I continued to attack my own image, focusing on my worries instead of the truth revealed in the mirror of God’s Word.

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like (Jms 1:23 NIV).

I took another deep breath and exhaled. “That’s enough!”

“What … what did I do?” Dan muttered in his sleep.

Realizing that Dan thought I was fussing at him, I sighed. “I’m just talking to that crazy bird.”

I turned again to face the songbird, still flapping and responding to her reflection. “Silly bird!”

What experiences have you had in beating yourself up lately?

Photo/KarenJordan
YouTube/KarenJordan

Writing Down Our Faith Stories

Photo/TaraRossIn the Psalms, David expresses this divine purpose for writing our faith stories.

Write down for the coming generation what the LORD has done. So that people not yet born will praise him. (Ps. 102:18 GNT)

What has the Lord done for you? Do you have stories about God’s intervention?

God expressed His love to humanity with the gift of His Son, Jesus.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. (John 3:16 MSG)

Have you ever considered how much God loves you? I never really did, until the birth of my only son, Adam. I cannot fathom the love that it takes to sacrifice your only son, so that others might live. I’m sure many parents of soldiers come close to knowing how that feels, and I love to read their inspiring stories.

Someone once challenged me to ask God to show me how much He loved me. I believe God can speak to us. He speaks to me every day—through His Word, prayer, worship, people, and His beautiful creation. But I had never asked God how much He loved me.

So, I shut my eyes in prayer and asked, Lord, how much do you love me?

The answer I received still seems too intimate to share, for fear of being misunderstood and judged. I did not hear an audible voice. I just caught a little glimpse of Heaven, where God promises,

He will wipe every tear from (my) eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things (would be) gone forever. (Rev. 21:4 NLT)

When I faced the death of both of my parents, this vision of heaven brought comfort to my grieving heart.

I challenge you to ask the Lord that same question, Lord, how much do you love me?

Then, listen quietly. And be sure to write down your story.

God told His Story to the world when He sent His Son—the Word of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14 NIV)

Jesus told His stories (or parables) to teach us “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 13:6).

Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. (Luke 18:1 MSG)

Is there a biblical mandate for sharing our stories, especially our faith events?

In Acts 1:8, we read this charge from Christ to His followers,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (NLT)

What stories are you telling about your life? Or rather … what stories are you not telling? What about your faith stories? Who can write them, but you?

I hope you will consider writing down some of your faith stories as you celebrate Christmas this year.

What faith stories have you written down? I hope you’ll share one of your stories in the comment space below.


YouTube/twofiress (“I Love to Tell the Story” – Alan Jackson)

Photo/TaraRoss