Put a dog on it: How to craft a bestseller

Every writer wants to believe that he or she can write a bestselling book.

I’m here to tell you there’s nothing wrong with believing that. I have no doubt that many times, my belief in that idea is the only thing that keeps me pounding out words on my laptop. To be completely transparent, I’ve never had a book reach the NYT bestseller list; the closest I came was learning that my memoir of dog adoption, Saved by Gracie: How a Rough-and-Tumble Rescue Dog Dragged Me Back to Health, Happiness and God, was a bestseller – at one point in time – for my publisher. Whether that one point in time was a week or a month, or even three hours, I honestly don’t know. And actually, it doesn’t matter, because the terrible truth of best-selling-ness is that it’s truly a transitory thing, as well as completely unpredictable.

As a reader, I also find that “bestseller” doesn’t necessarily predict my own evaluation or enjoyment of a book. I read plenty of books on the bestseller lists that leave me cold, to say the least. Other books I stumble across are amazing, but languish forever in No One’s Heard of It Land.

As a result, I’ve decided that I probably know as much as anyone about writing a bestseller, which is to say, no one really does know why some books win the lottery and others don’t. So the next time you’re struggling with your belief in your ability to write a bestseller, here are my tips(laughs?) to keep you moving forward:

  1. Sit down and write. Or you can stand up and write (I’ve been reading a lot lately about the health benefits of sit/stand desks). Either way, actually writing seems to be an uncontested avenue to producing a bestselling book. (Caveat: unless you’re famous, in which case you can pay someone else to do the writing and still put your name on it and get even more famous, although I think that’s kind of cheating, don’t you?)
  2. Write short sentences. Really. Bestsellers have short sentences. Like this one. If you want to write a literary novel, though, you can make the sentences as long as you like because the people who read literary novels generally read at a higher reading level and more assuredly appreciate the sheer beauty of the written language, even if they don’t have the market clout to send your book’s rating skyhigh.
  3. Use active verbs. (They even tell you this in graduate writing programs. I just saved you a ton of money and two years of your life. You’re welcome.)
  4. Put a dog on the cover of your book. Even if it’s not about a dog. Books with a dog on the cover sell better. Even the latest statistics show that dogs get more internet time than any other animal. Want attention? I’m telling you, put a dog on it.

In closing, I want to share with you the writing advice of a bestselling author named W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Happy writing!

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Judging a Book by its Cover

My latest romantic suspense series, The Seven Trilogy, came out in 2015 and 2016. The books received great feedback, including a 4 ½ star, Top Pick rating from RT Reviews. They were finalists for several awards, including two Daphne du Maurier awards for excellence in suspense, and a Carol Award. The second book in the series won the Word Award for best inspirational suspense novel in Canada in 2016 and book three won a Cascade Award for best published contemporary fiction.
I was equally thrilled and mystified by what was happening with the books.
Thrilled by the great critical response, and mystified that the starred reviews and awards did not translate into sales. I conducted a poll recently in an effort to discover why. More than a hundred people responded, and about ninety percent told me what I had long suspected, that the problem was the covers.
I love the publishing company that put out this series, and the designer on the team is fabulous, so the fault is mine as they used my ideas and suggestions in coming up with the covers. If I had consulted a marketing expert, he or she would have told me that while the covers were great, they missed my target market entirely. The novels looked more like fantasy or science fiction than romantic suspense, so any potential readers of my genre simply passed them by.
I am extremely grateful and excited to report that the books are about to come out with brand new covers. Time will tell if that makes a difference in sales, but at least at that point I will feel as though I have done everything I can to reach the right market.
We’re told repeatedly not to judge a book by its cover. Of course this directive doesn’t usually refer to actual books, but to situations or people who may not be what they appear to be on the surface. The trouble is, just as readers have been doing with my books, we very often do just that. We don’t open the “book” to see what is inside; we make snap decisions about whether or not we want to read something, or eat something, or buy something, or even get to know another person better based on our initial first impressions.
As a believer, this sobers me. Pondering the situation with The Seven Trilogy has led me to ask myself two questions: Do I make snap decisions, especially about others, that keep me from interacting with them the way God would have me do? And does the way I live my life and therefore present myself to others, draw people to the God I claim to love and follow, or cause them to pass Him by?
My prayer is that, when others look at me—at how I act, speak, and think—my “cover” will accurately represent the Holy Spirit within me. As C.S. Lewis once said, “We must show our Christian colors if we are to be true to Jesus Christ.”
I’m thrilled with the bold colors of my new covers (shown below); may my life, inside and out, reflect always the bold colors that mark me as a follower of Christ.

The Seven Series (1)

WordServe News May 2018

As usual, some great things have been happening this month at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

New Release from Barbara J. Scott and Mountain Brook Ink  Dreams of My Heart, The Reluctant Brides Book 1. Can a reluctant bride and her new husband fall in love despite their wounded hearts? Plucky Irish immigrant Kate O’Brien struggles to hang on to her brother’s homestead after his death in a suspicious cattle stampede. If she’s unable to pay off the loan that paid for her ticket to America, she will be forced to marry the banker’s rogue son, Rafe Hamilton. Texas cattleman and total stranger Buck McKean comes on the scene as her rescuer, his act of kindness poses a profound threat to her reputation, and the two marry to prevent the impending consequences but both come to marriage with broken hearts. Can God mend their hearts and save their love?

Congratulations to Amy Sorrells on her new release from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Before I Saw You.

Folks are dying fast as the ash trees in the southern Indiana town ravaged by the heroin epidemic, where Jaycee Givens lives with nothing more than a thread of hope and a quirky neighbor, Sudie, who rescues injured wildlife. After a tragedy leaves her mother in prison, Jaycee is carrying grief and an unplanned pregnancy she conceals because she trusts no one, including the kind and handsome Gabe, who is new to town and to the local diner where she works.

Dividing her time between the diner and Sudie’s place, Jaycee nurses her broken heart among a collection of unlikely friends who are the closest thing to family that she has. Eventually, she realizes she can’t hide her pregnancy any longer―not even from the baby’s abusive father, who is furious when he finds out. The choices she must make for the safety of her unborn child threaten to derail any chance she ever had for hope and redemption. Ultimately, Jaycee must decide whether the truest form of love means hanging on or letting go.

Congratulations to Angela Hunt, Bill Myers and Salem Books for the release of When God Happens: True Stories of Modern Day Miracles.

A car flips over on the highway and bursts into flames. A father hears devastating news about his unborn child. A teenage girl follows a friend to a dangerous party. Then God happens. If you have ever doubted the miraculous power of God, prepare to be astonished. Here, real people share true stories of modern-day miracles–moments of divine intervention when the hand of God was briefly and beautifully revealed.

Congratulations Chloe Howard with Margot Starbuck and Zondervan for the release of Stand Beautiful: A Story of Brokenness, Beauty & Embracing it All. 

In Stand Beautiful, international speaker and TEDx presenter Chloe Howard shares her story of overcoming injustice, battling self-doubt, and rising up to speak out, fueled by a powerful encounter with Bono from the band U2. Chloe’s story shows that even through brokenness and shame, we can venture toward hope, accept our unique selves, and share in our human experiences. Chloe boldly addresses the unlikely hero in each of us. Readers will be inspired to be brave, to speak up against injustice, and redefine beauty as more than what the eye can see. Chloe shares how faith enabled her to endure physical and emotional pain, spurring readers to delve into authenticity and stand beautiful.

Contracts

Barry Corey signed with Tyndale House Publishers for My Hope for You to be released early 2020.

Anthony Thompson and Denise George (collaborator) signed with Bethany/Baker Publishing Group for his book The Healing Power of Forgiveness to be released October 2019.

Larry Dugger signed with Worthy for his book He Calls Me Friend: 60 Devotionals for Men, due to publish in early 2019.

David and Karin Holder with Larry Dugger for the book Living at Full Draw signed with Harvest House Publishers, Inc., due to publish fall 2019.

Marcus Brotherton signed with Passion Publishing to collaborate with Louie Giglio on his next book.

Laurie Myers and Betsy Duffy signed with a Slovvakian publisher for their novel, The Father’s Prayer.

Walter L. Larimore signed with Harvest House Publisher’s Inc. for his book 60 Ways to Healthy & Fit After 50.

New Clients

Cindi Martin joined WordServe this month. Welcome!

Welcome to WordServe, Chris Corning, Olympian and World Champion snow boarder (check him out on YouTube!)

Colonel Arthur Shaw (ret), now age 96, he was the first soldier to set foot on Okinawa during WWII. His book will follow that pivotal battle, as well as his life (to be written by Robert Wise).

What We’re Celebrating

And the winner is…Congratulations to Randol Hammer and Phillip Robinson (with Margot Starbuck) for Forgiveness in the First Degree. Winner of the 2018 Selah Award for Best Memoir!

 

 

Unified by Trey Gowdy and Tim Scott Hits NY Times Best Seller List!

We are Celebrating, Unified by Trey Gowdy and Tim Scott hitting the NY Times Best Seller List!

Unified by Trey Gowdy and Tim Scott  hits the NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list at #14 and a combined hardcover nonfiction/ebook list of #12! Congratulations Congressman Gowdy, Senator Scott and Tyndale House Publishers.

*There was a mistake in the publication that posted to the WordServe Water Cooler in the April 2018 news. Under “What We’re Celebrating” Killing the Deep State by Jerome C. Corsi, Ph. D. was mentioned as a book hitting the NY Times Best Seller List. Although it is true and he is to be congratulated, WordServe Literary Group DOES NOT represent this author/book.

WordServe News April 2018

As usual, some great things have been happening this month at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

Three new releases from The Arterburn Wellness Series and David C. Cook Publishers:

Stephen Arterburn and Becky Johnson, Understanding and Loving a Person with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Biblical and Practical Wisdom to Build Empathy, Preserve Boundaries, and Show Compassion.

This book is a compassionate companion to those who love someone who has experienced severe trauma that left his or her brain changed by PTSD. As someone who suffered from PTSD herself, Becky Johnson knows what is most helpful on the path to recovery. Becky teams up with Stephen Arterburn to offer:

•    Insight into what is happening in the brain
•    Background on treatments such as EMDR
•    Ideas on what to say and what not to say
•    Suggestions for calming a loved one during a PTSD episode

A personal coach and a compassionate companion, this book helps readers become a healing presence in their loved one’s life while practicing self-care as well.

Stephen Arterburn with Jason and Shelley Martinkus, Understanding and Loving a Person with Sexual Addiction: Biblical and Practical Wisdom to Build Empathy, Preserve Boundaries, and Show Compassion. 

This practical guide helps spouses to understand what drives sexual addiction and how to find healing after betrayal.

When Jason Martinkus confessed his infidelity to his wife, Shelley, she wasn’t sure she could ever trust him again. Together they began a difficult but redemptive journey of understanding sexual addiction. In this book, Jason and Shelley join Stephen Arterburn to address the following:

•    What sexual addiction is and how to know if someone is addicted
•    How to understand the roller coaster of post betrayal emotions
•    Guidance in developing boundaries
•    What to do if a spouse doesn’t want to recover

This is a valuable resource for anyone who loves someone addicted to sex or pornography.

Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop, Understanding and Loving a Person with Alcohol or Drug Addiction: Biblical and Practical Wisdom to Build Empathy, Preserve Boundaries, and Show Compassion.

This compassionate and helpful book educates both the mind and heart in the power of addiction and the way to help others find healing.

When a family member or friend is addicted to drugs or alcohol the situation can feel hopeless and confusing. In this book, David Stoop and Stephen Arterburn help readers develop a plan of action by offering:

•    Insight into brain chemistry and addiction
•    Real-life ideas for encouraging healthy choices
•    Guidance in how to help without enabling
•    The connection between depression, ADD, and trauma

Stoop and Arterburn have helped thousands of people around the country understand chemical addiction and how to love someone well in the midst of this gripping disease.

April is National Sexual Assault and Abuse Awareness Month. How Sweet the Sound by Amy Sorrells is a heart-cry story for survivors searching for more than a movement or a march and who need to find hope. For only $2.99, share the hope of How Sweet the Sound with someone who needs it, on ebook format throughout the month of April thanks to Tyndale House Publishers. Learn more about Sexual Assault/Abuse Awareness Month by clicking HERE.

Contracts

Rob Maaddi signed with Zondervan for Fly Eagles Fly to be released September 2018.

Kathryn Graves signed with BroadStreet Publishers for Fashioned by God to be released July 2019.

Sara Varland signed with Harlequinn Books S.A. for Moose Haven Book 3 & 4 to be released June and November 2019.

New Clients

Emily Hutchinson, John Sterge and Brent Chapman joined WordServe this month. Welcome!

What We’re Celebrating

Congratulations Jamie Sumner! Jamie’s UNBOUND was selected as a Mother’s Day pick by Publisher’s Weekly! https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/religion/article/76316-publishers-get-ready-for-mother-s-day.html

 

Killing the Deep State by Jerome C. Corsi, Ph. D. hits the NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list at #14 and a combined hardcover nonfiction/ebook list of #12! Congratulations Dr. Corsi and Tyndale House Publishers.

 

2018 Christian Book Awards

Congratulations to Marcus Brotherton for being named a finalist for the 2018 Christian Book Awards in the Christian Living Category for his collaborative work on Goliath Must Fall: Winning the Battle Against Your Giants with author Louie Giglio

 

 

Congratulations to Christian T. George for The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon Volume 1 for being named a finalist in the 2018 Christian Book Awards Ministry Resources category.

WordServe News March 2018

As usual, some great things have been happening this month at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

New from Mountain Brook Ink and Patricia Lee, Love Calls Her Home, Book 2 in the Mended Hearts Series. Can a hurting boy help two broken people find their way back to love? Lissa Frye returns home from the Navy hoping to find a different future—one which includes a husband, marriage, and a family, until news from her sister impacts Lissa’s personal life and derails her plans.

Congratulations to Kathi Lipp on her re-release from Harvest House Publishers, The Mom Project: 21 Days to a More Connected Family. Do you want to connect with your children outside your regular routine and find ways to understand, enjoy, and learn more about them? This handy guide offers a straightforward, workable plan to do just that! Kathi’s warm, funny, and thought-provoking expertise will give you the tools and confidence you need to connect with your kids. Small efforts can make a big difference in the life of a child…and in the life of a mom!

New from Joe L. Wheeler and Pacific Press, My Favorite Courage Stories the fifth book in Joe L. Wheeler’s Favorite Stories Collection. Desmond remained on top of the cliff until he had lowered every wounded man to safety. During this five-hour ordeal, again and again, Doss prayed, “Just one more, Lord.” The official record would go on to state that 75 men had been save by Desmond Doss, although it was likely closer to 100. Read this incredible story of courage and more in Joe L. Wheeler’s latest collection.

Congratulations Jamie Sumner on her new release from FaithWords, Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood.  Unbound gives hope and encouragement to all women whose picture of motherhood is strained by disillusionment, otherness, and even despair. With honesty and vulnerability, Jamie Sumner walks readers through each stage of her own journey to motherhood through infertility and special needs parenting. She pairs her story with those of women in the Bible, offering readers comfort, hope, and companionship rooted in biblical truths.

Debora M. Coty released her companion journal to the Too Blessed to be Stressed series. In the My Prayer Journal, Coty invites readers to spend some quite time in the comforting presence of our heavenly Father, who cares about anything and everything the day may bring our way. This inspiring journal features a collection of prayer starters plus scripture selections and room to record your own personal thoughts and prayers…the perfect complement to our daily routine.

Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy release Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives U Hope for a Divided Country from Tyndale. Our nation is hungry for unity. Most Americans  would rather celebrate what we have in common than focus on our differences. But the feelings of division are real. In recent years, the very foundation of our melting-pot society has been shaken—ironically, by our differences. We long for a story that will give us a glimpse of how to once again find harmony with our diversity. This is that story.

Also released this month by Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy in conjunction with Tyndale is The Friendship Challenge: A Six-Week Guide to True Reconciliation — One Friendship at a Time. Do you want to transform your community? Take the Friendship Challenge. In 2016, Scott and Gowdy began hosting a series of community roundtables, bringing together pastors, law enforcement officers, and administrators to discuss community relations. In The Friendship Challenge, they apply the lessons they learned to help promote reconciliation in their communities.

Congratulations to Leslie Leyland Fields and Kregel Publications on her new release The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 On Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength. Start embracing the wonder of life after 40. We’re all getting older. How do we make the second half of our lives the best half? Forty incredible women of faith from 40 to 85 tackle aging anxieties head on—and upend them with compelling first-person stories full of humor, sass, and spiritual wisdom.

Contracts

Rick Lawrence signed with Harvest House Publishers for Finding Freedom to be released early 2019.

Cynthia Herron signed a three-book deal with Mountain Brook Ink with a possible book four. The three books will be part of the Welcome to Ruby series. First book in the series, Her Hope Discovered, due for release July 2019.

Kim Kimberling signed with Faith Words for his book Avoiding The Train Wreck Marriage: Keys to Making the Right Connections for a Lifetime, due to publish in early 2019.

Casey Diaz with Mike Yorkey signed with Emanate, an imprint of the Thomas Nelson division of Harper Collins Publishing for The Shot Caller due out Spring 2019.

Laurie Short signed with Bethany House a division of Baker Publishing Group for Hidden Wisdom to be released early 2019.

Jamie Erickson signed with Moody Press for The Unlikely Homeschooler due for release mid 2019.

Lydia Harris signed with Harvest House for her Grandma and Me Cookbook due for release mid 2019.

Sara Varland signed with Love Inspired for books 3 and 4 of the Moose Haven Series, due for release mid and late 2019.

New Clients

Sarah Jackson and Ryan Hendrickson joined WordServe this month. Welcome!

What We’re Celebrating

Congratulations agent Sarah Joy (Freese) Oaklief and family! Welcome to the world sweet Sadie Jayne Anne Oaklief, born March 15. At 6.9 lbs and 19 inches, Sadie Jayne (and mama) are home and doing great!

 

Congratulations to Donald Stratton whose work All the Gallant Men with Ken Gire helped inspire a commercial on PBS which has been nominated for an Emmy! See the commercial here: https://www.facebook.com/ussarizonasurvivor/posts/438281903295828

3 Questions to find your “value added”

Value-added describes the enhancement a company gives its product or service before offering the product to customers. Value-added applies to instances where a firm takes a product that may be considered a homogeneous product, with few differences (if any) from that of a competitor, and provides potential customers with a feature or add-on that gives it a greater sense of value….Investopedia.com

There you have it, folks – a clear definition of “value added,” a key concept in today’s marketing strategies. If you’re a hotel, your “value added” may be a free breakfast, or bonus loyalty points. If you’re a tire dealership, your “value added” may be a discounted  fourth tire after the purchase of three. If you’re a writer…..ah….if you’re a writer….what if you’re a writer?

I’ve been grappling for years with the idea of my “added value,” and I’ve finally come up with a few guidelines that might help you work on your own. As the definition above points out, we writers offer a fairly homogeneous product – writing – so our challenge is to distinguish ourselves from other writers by offering readers something in our work that makes it stand out as having more ‘value’ than other similar products of writing. To identify your “added value”, consider these questions:

  1. What do my readers want from me that they won’t get from someone else? In the case of my murder mysteries, I relied on detailed accurate information about birds to appeal to my readers, so that reading my novels was like a virtual birding trip. Readers often told me they knew the restaurants where my characters ate, or that they had actually visited the real locations named in my books. That familiarity made the books personal for readers, and even inspired a few vacations for readers who wanted to add bird sightings to their life lists. That’s added value.
  2. Do I provide unique extras along with my book? A common extra is a Reader’s Guide at the end of your book for book club discussion. If you are tech-savvy, you can even offer to “attend” book clubs via Skype or other online meeting platforms. That’s a valuable benefit for many readers! Other extras include links to online journaling or videos that supplement your text. Even questions for personal reflection (and the space to answer them) is a nice extra used by many nonfiction writers in their books.
  3. What does my reader need? Ultimately, “value added” is about giving your readers more of what they value. To do that, you have to know your audience and consider what they would regard as additional benefit from reading your work. When I wrote my memoir about overcoming anxiety thanks to our adopted rescue dog, I included endnotes to refer readers to research into depression and anxiety; I’d found those resources helpful in my own recovery and wanted to share that with readers. I also invited readers to email me about their own healing experiences with adopted pets to broaden the conversation about the therapeutic effects of animals (and three years after the book’s publication, I still get wonderful emails from readers about it).

Have you identified your “value added” yet?