To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question

The following is a guest post from Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent with Books and Such. It was first published on her blog at www.rachellegardner.com.

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Standard wisdom used to be that authors, both fiction and non-fiction, should build relationships with readers through blogs. As social media and online marketing have evolved, my thoughts on blogging have changed.

The proliferation of blogs in the last ten years has made it increasingly difficult to stand out in the crowd. Many authors are blogging faithfully but it doesn’t seem to be increasing readership of their books; in fact most of their readers are other writers. One good indicator blogging might not be for you is if you have a hard time figuring out what you should write about.

So, how do you decide if you should have a blog?
Have a blog if:

  1. You have something important to say and it seems people want to hear it.
  2.  You understand that blogging is about offering something of value, NOT about promoting yourself and your books.
  3.  You enjoy blogging (for the most part, anyway).
  4.  You find blogging contributes to your creativity and enthusiasm for writing your books, rather than sucking all the energy out of you.
  5.  You can find the time for blogging without it completely stressing you out.
  6.  Your books have a highly defined target audience, making it easy to target your blog.
  7. Your books are topical (especially non-fiction), so that you have a clear and obvious theme for your blog.

Don’t have a blog if:

  1. You keep asking yourself and others, “But what should I blog about?”
  2. You only want to blog to promote your books and/or because you think you “have to.”
  3. The whole idea stresses you out.
  4. You honestly don’t have the time in your schedule to blog regularly.
  5. You’ve been blogging for a year or more, and haven’t built up to a traffic level that seems worth it.

Here are some alternatives to blogging when it comes to online networking and promotion.

  • joining a group blog
  • sending email newsletters
  • using Facebook effectively
  • leveraging the various ways Goodreads offers for promoting books
  • attracting a readership through Pinterest and/or Instagram
  • having an effective LinkedIn profile page

If you don’t want to blog or be engaged in online promotion, should you self-publish instead of seeking a publisher?

I get this question from writers frequently, and my answer is: What would be the point of self-publishing a book, if you have no intention of promoting it? Who will buy it? With millions of books available for sale at any given time, what’s your plan for letting people know that yours exists?

Blogging and other means of online promotion aren’t just hoops that publishers want you to jump through. They’re real and necessary methods of letting people know about your book. So if you have no intention of letting anyone know about your book, through a sustained, long-term promotional plan of online engagement, then think carefully about whether you want to write a book for publication. If you build it: they will NOT come. You must promote it.
Do you blog? If so, how’s it going? If not, why not? 

Rachelle Gardner is a literary agent with Books and Such Literary Agency based in California. In addition, she is an experienced editor, writing/publishing coach, social media coach, and speaker. She has been working in publishing since 1995. Find her at http://www.rachellegardner.com. 

WordServe News: April 2016

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary this month!

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

georgeJosh Aronson and Denise George released Orchestra of Exiles  with Berkley Books. This compelling biography tells the story of Bronislaw Huberman, the violinist who founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra and saved hundreds of people from Hitler—as seen in Josh Aronson’s documentary of the same name.

51v21ckDovL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_Wayne Cordeiro released the NIV LifeConnect Study Bible with Zondervan. Intended to help you grow deeper and stronger in your spiritual life, this feature-packed Bible offers helpful notes and articles, a variety of study tools, and links that direct you to an incredible set of digital resources. At home, online, or wherever you go, connecting with the Word of God is never more than a click, a tap, or a swipe away.

61VwcpvzlKL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_Debora M. Coty released the Too Blessed to be Stressed coloring book  with Barbour. Encouraging readers to “color your way to calm,” the book offers 45 unique images on quality stock to comfort and inspire through beautiful design, refreshing thoughts, and scripture selections. Perfect for  anyone who enjoys a touch of inspiration alongside their creativity.

51S3bnXfyKL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Greg Johnson released If I Could Ask God Just One Question with Barbour. Written for teens, this short, question-and-answer format book offers solid, biblically based answers to teens’ most-asked questions about life, God, the Bible, and faith.

 

krusenCristóbal Krusen published They Were Christians with Baker Books. With passion and precision, Krusen brings to light the little-known stories of faith behind twelve influential people of history — including Abraham Lincoln, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Louis Pasteur, Frederick Douglass, Florence Nightingale, and John D. Rockefeller Sr.

41VN6aCurjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Gillian Marchenko published Still Life with InterVarsity Press. This touching personal memoir describes Gillian’s journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. Real and raw, Still Life affirms that while there are not always quick fixes, hope remains, and living with depression is still life.

New Contracts

Jonathan McKee signed with Barbour Publishing for his next book, If I Had a Parenting Do-Over, coming in Spring 2017!

Tricia Lott Williford signed a two-book deal with NavPress! The first, Every Confidence, a memoir of the pursuit of confidence, courage, and joy in a world that teaches women to be anything but brave, will release in July 2017.

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What We’re Celebrating!

Tough As They Come by SSG Travis Mills and Marcus Brotherton received a Christopher Award in the Books for Adults category. Mills and Brotherton will be honored at the 67th annual Christopher Awards, to be presented in New York City on May 19th, 2016.

Orchestra of Exiles by Josh Aronson and Denise George was featured in the New York Post’s “Required Reading” column.

Dianne Christner’s Covered Bridge Charm reached #9 on the EPCA Fiction Bestseller list!

Tim Maurer, author of Simple Money, appeared on the Today Show to discuss his book and questions about personal finance! You can see the segment here.

When You Know Who You Are, You Know What to Write

public domain; pixabay.com

public domain; pixabay.com

As writers and communicators, we’ve probably all heard the saying, “Communicate with the listener in mind.” I keep this statement on my desk to be reminded often that I need to be intentional in my writing – intentional to focus on clearly articulating the topic at hand with you – the reader – in mind. When I prepare a live presentation, the same practice applies. Like John Maxwell said in his book by the same title, “Everyone communicates, but few connect.”

If we only write or talk to have something to say, it does little good to anyone. And in a day when seemingly everyone has a platform of some kind, it matters even more that our words count.

Beware getting lost in the practice of communicating with your listeners/readers in mind, though.

In the private practice (counseling, coaching and consulting) my husband and I have, and in my teaching and writing, one of the main focuses of all I do is to affirm and re-affirm to clients, audience members, and readers that everything we do reflects what we believe about our identity. Like Joyce Meyer has often said, “Your DO is not Your WHO.” In other words, you aren’t what you do – either in daily behavior nor in vocation – for better or worse. That reality is hard to remember sometimes, isn’t it?

I have a couple of heroes in my life about whom, over the years, I’ve thought or even said aloud, “I wish I could write like him/her,” or “I wish I could be as funny/articulate/bold/etc as ________________ is.” While learning from others and even emulating others we admire can be a really positive experience in personal growth, we need to be careful that we avoid trying to become another person in our attempts to find success.

No one will bring to the world what you’ve been placed here to offer.

Discovering my identity and then practicing the position of my identity is key to experiencing success (i.e. “the abundant life” Jesus spoke of in John 10:10).

“Your DO is not Your WHO.” – Joyce Meyer

In my book, Why Can’t We Just Get Along?, the main point throughout is that “When you know who you are, you know what to do.” Since this is true in everyday life and relationships, we can trust that it is also true in our vocation. For the purpose of this blog, I’m speaking specifically to writers. If we never discover,  or if we fail to remember who we are, we will lose our unique voices in our writing as we attempt to ‘communicate with the listener(s) in mind’. The pull to be who others want us to be, even well-meaning friends and colleagues, will be too strong to avoid. We may (no guarantees here!) become extremely popular or even write a bestseller, but if it isn’t our voice the readers hear, is it really worth it?

This is a question only you can answer for yourself. For me, it just isn’t worth it.

Readers connect with different writers for as many reasons as there are writers and readers! I love it when I can “hear” the sound of different writers’ voices. Your readers love it when they can hear you distinct voice as well. So, as you’re working diligently on having solid content to share, avoid the pull to share it in someone else’s voice.

“My voice is never much louder than a ripple, but even small voices sound loud when you talk about things that matter.”
Natalie Lloyd, The Key to Extraordinary

 

 

6 Questions and Ideas for Your Writing Reflections

Photo/KarenJordan

“[T]ake chances, make mistakes, get messy!” (Magic School Bus)

Do you tend to focus most on your grammar and mechanics when you self-edit? I do.

I want to offer you some questions and ideas that will help to get you out of the “grammar cop” mode and into a more reflective mood.

Writing instructor. I compiled this list of questions as a writing instructor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I offered these questions to my students to help them in their revision process with their papers.

I’m not sure where I got most of these reflective questions. Writing instructors tend to do a lot of “academic borrowing.” If you teach, you know exactly what I mean.

Professional writer. I also try to remember to ask myself the following questions when I’m reflecting on my own work, so I won’t be so critical of my own work. I tend to be a bit of a self-deprecating perfectionist at times.

I offer the questions and ideas to reflect on your work. I hope it will encourage you to tell the stories that matter most to you. So, let me know if they help you. [You can share your thoughts in the comment section below.]

Consider these questions/ideas as you reflect on your next project:

  1. Who do you imagine might be the audience for this story? (Self, parent, child, writing group, etc.) What details did you include for your audience?
  2. What feelings and reactions did you have as you were writing the story? What surprises? What insights? What have you done or what might you do that would capture those feelings, reactions, insights?
  3. What do you think this story means to you? Have you shown what the story means to you in the writing of it? What have you done? Where and what might you do?
  4. Pose questions you wonder about this story or that emerge from this story. What do you need to know in order to complete this story?
  5. How would you revise this story? Write a plan for your revision.
  6. What did you learn about yourself from writing this story? What did you learn about writing from writing this story? What did you learn about writing from reflecting on this story?

What reflective questions do you ask yourself when you revise your work?

Devotional Essentials, Part 3

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It’s probably no exaggeration to say that millions of people—maybe even tens of millions—use devotionals as a regular part of their Christian walk. And while many of them are re-reading classic works like My Utmost for His Highest, Morning and Evening, or The Real Force—A 40-Day Devotional (sorry, just a little shameless self-promotion there), many others are looking for brand-new readings that speak to their particular interests or needs. Book and magazine publishers, web sites, and churches all regularly produce new devotional material for this large and hungry audience. If you’re interested in writing devotionals, I hope you’ve found this “Devotional Essentials” series helpful. In this third installment, we conclude by discussing the S and T of the TEST I’ve suggested: Effective devotional pieces move from Topic to Example to Segue to Takeaway.

While every aspect of a devotional is important, the Segue and Takeaway are truly vital. If your Topic intrigued someone enough to start reading, you’ve already won a small victory—there are plenty of other devotionals that she could have chosen. Assuming your Examples are worthy of your Topic, the “storyline” of the devotional should keep his attention. But now we get to the devotional’s raison d’être: the biblical tie-in and spiritual point of the whole thing. Done well, your devotional will educate, edify, even excite readers. Done poorly, it may convince readers not to come back.

A Segue is a transition, “made without pause or interruption,” in Merriam-Webster’s definition. How do we move from the Example of our devotional—often a “secular” topic such as a sporting event, a movie scene, or some everyday experience—to the biblical teaching and the ultimate spiritual point, the Takeaway?

The Segue will be vary in complexity, depending on how closely the scriptural information parallels your example. If they’re very close, you might not need any transition at all—the connection will be obvious enough. But in most cases, a Segue should bridge the two ideas. It might be as simple as inserting a phrase like “In a similar way. . . .” Or the Segue may need to be developed over a couple sentences. (If you need more than that to explain the relationship, though, you might be trying to connect the wrong Scripture and story.)

Beware of the too-easy transition. In the “Home Run Kings” example of my last post, it would be easy (but cheesy) to come out of details about Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron by saying, “And Jesus will always hit a home run for you!” Give your devotional more thought (and your reader more respect) by developing Segues that are less obvious and more memorable. While devotionals aren’t a place for deep theological discussion, they can and should challenge readers with some fresh perspective on the Bible.

It’s that Bible teaching that comprises the Takeaway, the point of information or call to action you want readers to remember. As with each part of a devotional, the Bible teaching must be concise—the Takeaway will challenge your skills of condensing material, while staying true to the actual context and teaching of your chosen Scripture. Ideally, the Takeaway ends with a pithy, memorable wrap-up that encapsulates the entire entry and sticks in the mind.

Let’s finish today with a sample devotional that breaks out the elements of the TEST in context:

Topic: Major League Baseball

Example:

He was good enough to reach the major leagues, but not good enough to stay long. Yet he’ll always be good enough in the record books.

Confused? It’s a baseball riddle, of sorts.

The answer is Bill Goodenough, who appeared in ten games for the 1893 St. Louis Cardinals. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 170-pound center fielder was a late-season call-up for the Cards, debuting on August 31 for a squad that would finish tenth in the twelve-team National League.

Goodenough’s statistics were as mundane as his team’s performance that year. In 31 at bats, he rapped only four singles and a double for a batting average of .161. He reached base six other times—equally divided between walks and hit by pitches—stole a pair of bases, and scored four runs. And then Bill Goodenough, apparently not good enough, disappeared from the major leagues.

Segue:

We might play off Mr. Goodenough’s story to encourage people to try a little harder, live a little better, strive a little more to be “good enough” to please God. But that really misses the point.

Takeaway:

The apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Rome that, “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20). Our good works aren’t what please God—it’s what we believe about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2).

It’s good to do good, but never think that’s your ticket to heaven. Only faith in Jesus makes you “good enough.”

 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Romans 3:27–28

Thanks for reading. Now go write some devotionals!

 

Planning for Pansters: Writing a Novel without an Outline

I envy those writers who outline their whole novel before they even begin chapter one. They sit down at their computer, begin typing and already know what they’re going to type. A little expansion here, a little fleshing out there. There’s no fretting as they try to pick out their story’s path one step at a time.

O boy, do I wish ….

But no, I’m a panster (as in I write by the seat of my pants). I’ve tried outlining, but except for a handful of scenes, I simply cannot tell what needs to happen in a story until I start writing in my characters’ voices. One scene leads to the next.

But as J.R.R. Tolkien famously said, “All those who wander are not lost.” If you’re a panster, trust yourself to discover your novel’s path as you write it. A little wandering is likely to give the story a few surprise twists. There are, however, a few tips that will shine a light on your path though, so you don’t get so far off the track that you have a mess on your hands when you’re done.

Tolkien

Keep your premise firmly in mind as you write each scene. It may take you a hundred pages to truly discover where your story is going, but you should have a strong premise from page one, and each scene should build and deepen that premise in some way. Follow tangents as you wish, as long as you keep this in mind, and you’ll still have a coherent story in the end.

Before you write, choose two or three comparable novels to the one you intend to write as loose guides. That is, select novels you’ve read that have the type of structure and audience you’re aiming for. The goal isn’t to copy other plots, but to give you solid ideas for your story’s structure as you go.

Know what your characters’ goals are and put obstacles in their way. In every scene. Don’t be shy. Stir up the waters and create lots of trouble for your characters. Ultimately, if you write most scenes to make your reader worry, you’ll end up with a story that stays on track.

End each scene with a hook. This may simply mean that you’ve moved your character and his or her goal further apart. But anything that makes your reader want to read on will do (i.e., a mystery that is laid out in the last paragraph). Incidentally, ending on a hook may make it easier for you to know where to start when you come back to the computer as well.

Aim for the finale. Although I don’t outline, I generally have a fairly strong image of the catastrophe at the end, that great battle that makes it seem all is lost, but ultimately brings the character to his or her reward. If you know the finale, you’ll faithfully build to it.

compassIf you follow these guidelines, you don’t need an outline to make sure your story stays on route. But what about coming up with the story itself when you have no outline to refer to?  

Last but not least, leave time for your story to stew. If you’re not following an outline, you must give your muse time to dream up new scenes. For me, that means taking long walks or doing mindless activities (dishes or laundry) alone, while my mind drifts. When I let my unconscious mind free, I usually find images or snatches of dialogue that will take me through the next scene or two.

 

Becoming Social Media Savvy

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The World of Social Media

If you want to become a published author in today’s world, you need to embrace social media. Some aspiring authors may be very comfortable with social media and already have a large and successful online platform. However, many people preparing to write their first book may have a platform established in another way, such as through teaching, speaking, or published articles, and the world of social media may be foreign to them.

Here are a few tips for new authors looking to expand their social media presence:

  1. Consider your overall social media needs. Most new authors have careers in addition to their writing. While in many cases your writing may be an outgrowth of your career, sometimes the social media needs of your career may conflict with the social media needs of your writing platform. Consider how you can achieve a workable compromise between the two. Perhaps you work in a career where a limited social media presence based solely on professional accomplishments would be ideal. However, your writing platform may thrive if you develop a more personable social media presence that lets your readers share in some details from your daily life. Maybe you can connect with work colleagues on a platform such as LinkedIn, while using Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, and Google+ to connect with readers. Find what works for you, and modify your social media presence as necessary.
  2. Create layers of social media connection. Before deciding to become an author, you may have used social media as a means of connecting with friends and family. Now you find that your literary agent and your publishing house want you to connect with readers through social media. Connecting with readers requires a public social media presence. However, privacy controls on social media sites such as Facebook allow you to keep your posts to friends and family private while creating new posts for the general public. Using privacy controls, you can create layers of social media connection, sharing photos of your children with close friends and family members while sharing photos of book-signing events with the whole world. You might want to create a Facebook page with all posts public to connect with readers, while using your Facebook profile to connect with friends. However, consider leaving some posts from your Facebook profile public for readers who find you through a Facebook search.
  3. Adapt your social media strategy to stay current. All social media sites are constantly changing, especially platforms such as Facebook, where signs around the company’s campus remind employees that “this journey is only 1% finished”. After a major update on one of your social media sites, check privacy settings, and revisit your approach to social media. Is there a great new feature that you should start using? Should you publish more videos, or schedule posts for a different time of day? As an author, your journey in the world of social media is only 1% finished. Learn from your past experiences on social media and the wisdom of other writers, and create fresh content using new tools and the latest technology.

What tips do you have to share with other writers on becoming social media savvy?