Excelling at the Craft of Writing… A New Book!

Here at the Water Cooler, writers are dedicated to helping each other grow in their craft. The community that has grown over the past five-plus years is both practical and essential: it enables writers to make connections with others on similar writing journeys; it encourages creativity, collaboration, and growth; and, perhaps most significantly, it pushes each of you to become better writers.

Who couldn’t do with a little more of that?

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In order to bring the ideas and content of the Water Cooler to the widest audience, we’ve embarked upon an exciting project: a three-part series of published books, The Best of the WordServe Water Cooler. We’re thrilled to announce that the first book, Excelling at the Craft of Writing: 101 Ways to Move Your Prose to the Next Level, is now available in print and ebook! This collection of 101 easy-to-read, engaging essays covers a range of topics that include organizing and outlining your work; creating vivid characters and dialogue; and fine-tuning your language, style, and voice. With proven advice from more than thirty WordServe authors, Excelling at the Craft of Writing moves from the first seeds of starting your writing project up to the last steps of creating a proposal and pitching your work to agents. It’s going to be a must-have resource for writers at every stage!

Many of you are already familiar with this book, having generously allowed us to include one or more of your posts in the manuscript; many more of you will be contacted for inclusion in the upcoming two books, on marketing and the writer’s life respectively. We hope that you’ll all want to participate in helping to promote the books, which should bring the work of the Water Cooler—and all of you—to a wider audience.

That’s why we’re offering a special promotion for Water Cooler readers. If you’re willing to promote Excelling at the Craft of Writing by advertising it on your site with a widget or dedicated post; tweeting it out to your followers; or posting on Facebook, we’ll send you a FREE digital version of the book to read on your e-reader device.

If you’re willing to help promote, please contact keely@wordserveliterary.com to tell us how and to receive your free book.

We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the writers who allowed us to include their work in Excelling at the Craft of Writing, as well as all of you who have written and continue to write for the Water Cooler each month. We couldn’t do it without the dedicated involvement of so many great writers, and the blog’s success is a testament to your thoughtful, incisive, and intelligent posts each week. Thank you for being a part of this community!

–The WordServe Team

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.

How to Know ForSureForSureForSure You’re Ready for an Agent

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Do you have that first novel completed? Have you been staying up late and getting up early to study and write about a topic you’re passionate about telling the world?

Then it might be time to query a few agents to see if you have what it takes to get their attention. But keep your expectations realistic. New authors are harder to break out than they’ve ever been. And please, don’t blame the agent. We’re just the messenger of what publishers keep telling us.

You’ll need some criteria to go by to determine if you’re ready. Here are a few dozen hints.

First: Know who you truly are…

  1. Someone who has always wanted to write
  2. Someone with a message you feel God is asking you to put to paper
  3. Someone with a message that others have said needs to be put to paper
  4. Someone who can’t wait to get to your computer to create the stories in your head
  5. Someone who reads a lot, both within the genre they write as well as others.

Second: Understand what the book publishing industry is looking for…

  1. The 80/20 principle is alive and well in publishing. Publishers must have the big sellers to stay in business. So 80% of their advance and marketing money will always go to 20% of the authors and books. And if you’re a new author, unless you’re a pastor of a mega-church or you can write like Hemmingway (or better), you’re likely not going to be amongst the 20%.
  2. Because of the loss of browsing retail, publishers can’t find readers, so they expect authors to find them. They want authors with built-in audiences ready to buy. That’s why they are less willing to take risks on unknown/debut authors, preferring known quantities instead of new voices. If I had 200 new authors to speak to, there would be perhaps 5% who will ever get published traditionally. Not because they can’t write. Not because they don’t have a compelling message. It’s because they still have an information gap about what it takes to get published and be successful at it.
  3. Great writing. They want authors who are sold out to getting honest critique. They want a book with a clear vision/message, and an obvious audience (felt need). They hope authors are willing to study the craft of writing, attend conferences, willing to join and participate in critique groups or have a critique partner. Most of all, they want authors who have “come to play.” They’re working on building audiences; they’re invested in their own marketing and they have a plan to grow. Publishers and agents want more than one book. They want to grow with you and your career.

Third, what motivates you…

  1. Money. Okay, that’s not terrible. Would C.S. Lewis have written The Chronicles of Narnia for free? Provision—whether it’s today’s manna or retirement’s manna–motivates us, and it’s not evil. However, if this is your ONLY motivation, you have to ponder whether God will bless it. You also have to recognize that it’s harder than ever to make a living as a writer today, and that the days of six and seven-figure advances (with a few exceptions) are largely gone.
  2. Legacy. Publishers don’t care about this unless you’re already famous. Legacy projects get self-published, and that is perfectly fine.
  3. This does not include “ax to grind” books. Please, self-publish those. We can’t sell them.
  4. “I can’t help myself.” Obsession is a good place to be, but not if you’re sacrificing your health, family, bank account and soul to do it. Your obsession should pass the “sniff test” by those who know you best. Just because you feel “God has told me” to do this, doesn’t make that statement true. Obsessions MUST be confirmed by several people in your life before you give them wings in a big way.

So, with all of this in mind, here’s how to know “forsure-forsure-forsure” you’re ready for an agent.

For sure…

  • You have something inside of you that must get out. A novel, a message, a memoir, a brand. When I started FaithHappenings.com two years ago, I was like a dog with a bone. My excitement did border on obsession.
  • You’ve put at least half of the book on paper–the whole book if you’re a novelist. (With novels, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.)
  • You understand that traditional publishing is a business and you won’t question their motives if they reject your work. People DO know more than you.
  • You feel God’s pleasure in your efforts to communicate what you want to share.
  • You can’t wait to get to your computer.

For sure, for sure…

  • You know your motivation. It doesn’t have to be pristine, you just have to know what it is.
  • You know your book will get published no matter what. You are going to do this! Start traditionally if that is a goal, but not let that stop you from doing what’s needed to publish independently, if you have to.
  • Someone has said that your message, life story or writing is above the curve. But even so, remember this: Perhaps one person per state ever makes it to the major leagues in each year. The pyramid is very small at the top in any professional endeavor.
  • You are patient with the process and want to trust an industry professional to help guide your book/career. Once you think you know more than they do, turn off the tap on traditional publishing. And this is fine. Some are wired to be control freaks. Go with it. Don’t drive yourself and an agent/publisher crazy if you want to control every step in the process.

For sure, for sure, for sure…

  • You have 5,000 to 10,000 “followers” (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) Further, you are convinced—and you hereby solemnly swear to not complain—that you must help any publisher you go with—traditional or your own efforts—FIND READERS.
  • Twenty people who don’t know you well have seen your book/writing and they’re not adding much more to it. You hear the term “great writer” from several different people.
  • You know your genre, your audience, your message—you have FOCUS!!!
  • You have a great proposal that answers the publisher/agent questions. If you don’t, get the agent’s proposal template. We all have one. Work hard on it. Don’t have typos, and follow directions! There are too many other people vying for an agent or editor’s attention for them to waste time on a proposal that doesn’t meet the basic requirements listed.
  • Read three book marketing books. And then in your proposal, give the agent five pages of marketing ideas you KNOW you can do.
  • You have counted the cost:
    • Family/Time
    • Money
    • Inevitable rejection and bad reviews, perhaps even the “ten mean church ladies” who write scathing letters and reviews on nearly every book they see.
  • You know you have “come to play.”
  • You know what five agents/agencies you want to be with. Get to know what they have represented. (You aren’t sending your proposal out en masse to every agent whose email address you can find.) Of these five, take the first one who says yes. Realize that you may not get the top guy, but the reputation of the agency is what you’re after.

If you can check off nearly all of these criteria, you’re forsure, forsure, forsure ready.

WordServe News: October 2015

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

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

Welcome, Nick Harrison

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Greg Johnson is pleased to announce the hiring of Nick Harrison as a new literary agent for WordServe Literary. Nick has been an author and collaborator on multiple books, but the last 15 years he has been Senior Editor at Harvest House Publishers responsible for acquisitions of both fiction and nonfiction.

“Nick will add a depth to the team that the whole agency will appreciate,” says Greg. “He’s worked with top authors for many years, has seen first-hand how the industry has changed, and is well-equipped to serve new and established authors to help them meet their ministry and personal goals.”

Nick adds, “WordServe Literary was my first choice to work with after I knew my time at Harvest House was nearing its end. Their reputation in the industry, the broad list of authors they’re working with, and the company mission ‘to serve authors of faith in all of their creative endeavors,’ made this the right decision.”

Nick will continue to write and edit on occasion, but will be primarily building a client list of established and up-and-coming authors to represent. If you know of someone ready for representation, have them contact him directly at nick@wordserveliterary.com.

 

In Memoriam

51ODJUNvR9L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_It’s not often a literary agent gets the chance to represent a real American Hero, but Jerry Parr certainly was. He died this month at age 85. After President Ronald Reagan was shot, Jerry was the Secret Service agent who shoved him into the car and checked the president for wounds. He made the split second call to get him to a hospital. Those split seconds saved the President’s life. He wrote a book that WordServe represented called In the Secret Service (Tyndale).  To read more, check out this link.

 

New Releases

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Terry Brennan released The Aleppo Code with Kregel. It is the third book in The Jerusalem Prophecies series, following Tom Bohannon’s band of adventurers as they gather again in Jerusalem to examine a copy of the tenth-century Aleppo Code, the oldest complete text of Jewish scripture. Unfolding against the backdrop of an Israeli/U.S. strike against Iran and the planned economic overthrow of the European Union by the sinister head of the international Muslim Brotherhood, The Aleppo Code  is an epic conclusion to Brennan’s heart-pounding series.

 

41vFxYzYBNL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Greg Johnson released 101 Family Meal-Time Devotions with goTandem.

Each of the 101 five-minute readings in this book helps bring family devotions to life so families can make more of their time together at the dinner table. Relevant scripture passages and thought-provoking questions are included to spark meaningful family discussion and help children (ages 6-12) develop important Christian values.

 

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Paul Kent released The Real Force: A 40-Day Devotional with Worthy Publishers.

Many of the themes central to the Star Wars story reflect the same beliefs and core values of Christianity, as Paul Kent reveals in this engaging devotional. Each reading discusses a scene or character from the Star Wars universe, relates it to a contemporary life challenge, and connects it with relevant scripture.

 

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Pam Ovwigho released Better Relationships, Better Life: Encouragement & Hope for Improving EVERY Relationship with goTandem.

Guiding readers through Colossians 3, Pam Ovwhigho helps readers put relationship builders into practice to help change the way we relate to others in every part of our life.

 

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Wintley Phipps, with James Lund, released Your Best Destiny: Becoming the Person You Were Created to Be, with Tyndale Momentum.

Vocal artist and pastor Wintley Phipps unlocks eight secrets that reveal readers’ unique characters and help them grow stronger, overcome obstacles, and achieve what God has in store for their lives.

 

 

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Tiffany Ross released A Servant’s Heart: 180 Encouraging Thoughts for Church Volunteers with goTandem.

Filled with 180 encouraging scriptures, prayers, and quotes that honor the ordinary heroes in our churches–volunteers–this book is an ideal gift, the perfect way to celebrate volunteers, and maybe even recruit new workers to step up and accept God’s call to care!

 

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Jonathan Sandys & Wallace Henley released God & Churchill with Tyndale.

God and Churchill tells the story of how one man, armed with belief in his divine destiny, embarked on a course to save Christian civilization when Hitler and the forces of evil stood opposed. It traces the personal, political, and spiritual path of one of history’s greatest leaders and offers hope for our own violent and troubled times.

 

419PszQMIqL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Susie Shellenberger released 40 Days to Complete God Confidence with goTandem. Complete God Confidence shares forty engaging stories that illustrate the liberating assurance of 1 John 5:13-15: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” Regardless of our struggle, we can have confidence in Christ.

 

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Karen Witmeyer released Brides of Texas with Bethany House.  A 3-in-1 collection, this volume brings together Karen’s bestselling and beloved books A Tailor-Made Bride, Short-Straw Bride, and Stealing the Preacher. Offering the best of inspirational historical romance, each story is set in a different location in Texas and contains plenty of adventure and humor with feisty heroines and rugged cowboy heroes.

 

 

New WordServe Clients

We’re pleased to announce that Bertram Hayes-Davis and Mark Affleck signed with WordServe Literary this month.

New Contracts

Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop signed a contract with Tyndale for 3 books: My Side of the StreetMy Side of the Street 365-Day Devotional, and Recovery of the Soul. The books will focus on moving towards relational health and on helping people in recovery find the spiritual strength they need by focusing on the four absolutes of soul recovery: honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love.

Jim and Lynne Jackson signed with Bethany House for their new book, Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart, offering a Biblically informed approach to corrective disicpline that puts God’s purposes for parents and their kids at the forefront.

Jordyn Redwood signed a contract with Love Inspired Suspense for a new book, Fractured Memory, to be published July, 2016.

Kara Powell, Jacob Mulder, and Brad Griffin signed a deal with Kregel for the publication of Current Church, a research-driven book exploring how churches can effectively assimilate and attract younger-generation Christians.

Kara Powell also signed a second contract with Baker for an untitled non-fiction book to be published in 2018.

Angela Strong signed a 3-book deal with Mountain Brook Ink for her “Finding Love In” series. Finding Love in Sun Valley, Idaho will publish in early 2016; Finding Love in Big Sky, Montana will publish in fall 2016, and Finding Love in Park City, Utah will publish in spring 2017.

Janalyn Voigt signed a 3-book deal with Mountain Brook Ink for her new series, the Montana Gold Series. Tentatively titled Hills of Nevermore, Cheyenne Sunrise, and Stagecoach to Liberty, the books will be published in 2017 and 2018.

 

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What We’re Celebrating!

God & Churchill  by Jonathan Sandys & Wallace Henley reached #1 on Amazon in religious leader biographies!

Too Blessed to Be Stressed Cookbook by Debora Coty was named a 2015 Fall Okra pick, an honor given by SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) for “Great Southern Books, Fresh Off the Vine.”

WordServe News: June 2015

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

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

New Releases

Bryan Bishop, researcher with Youth With a Mission, released Boundless with Baker 9780801017162_p0_v2_s260x420Publishing

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Arnie Cole and Pam Ovwigho released in partnership with GoTandem9781630583736_p0_v1_s260x420 Resources, Managing Your Family’s High-Tech Habits.

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Rebecca DeMarino released her second book in The Southold Chronicles with Revell, To 9780800722197_p0_v3_s260x420Capture Her Heart.

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Greg Johnson and Michael Ross released in partnership with GoTandem Resources, 10 Reasons to Stay Christian in High School9781630583750_p0_v1_s260x420 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jonathan McKee with Danette Matty released The Skinny on Volunteers with Group 9781470720858_p0_v2_s260x420Publishing.

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Bill Myers released his nonfiction title with Barbour Publishing, The Jesus Experience. 9781630589899_p0_v2_s260x420

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Michael Ross and Brian Doyle released in partnership with GoTandem 9781630583743_p0_v2_s260x420Resources, Words that Heal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michael and Tiffany Ross in partnership with GoTandem Resources released 101 Ways 9781630583729_p0_v3_s260x420to Strengthen the Parent-Child Connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New WordServe Clients

Matthew Mellema and Julie Parker signed with Wordserve Literary!

New Contracts

Larry Dugger signed with Charisma for his book, The Other Side of the Wilderness. Due out in Summer 2016

Karen Jordan signed with Leafwood Press for her debut nonfiction book, tentatively titled, Words that Change Everything. 

Jim Putman signed a three book contact with Baker Publishing, the first book releasing in the Fall of 2016.

Linda Znachko signed with Kregel publishers for her memoir, 13 Hours that Changed My Life. Due out in Fall of 2016.

20 Reasons Books Don’t Sell (Part 2)

stock-624712_640You can catch part one from Monday here on the Watercooler. Feeling discouraged yet? You’re not the only one trying to make a go of it in publishing and it’s a tough business, but my post isn’t over yet, and I hope you’ll find some room to breathe by the end of this post. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

10:The book is poorly written. You didn’t get a good edit. This is more common with independently-published authors who don’t pay for developmental or copy edits, but not unheard of in traditional publishing.

11: All we hear is crickets. The book never got word of mouth or enough great reviews (50+). There is no tangible buzz about you as an author or the book. Like a movie that no one talks about will sink after week two, the same is nearly true with books. Most books can sell 3,000 to 5,000 copies with little buzz. But if a book has sold more than 10,000 copies, it’s because people are talking.

12: Publisher oversight. The ebook didn’t release simultaneously—and in effect the marketing and PR upon the book’s initial release went to naught – without the e-product available “on the shelves” during the launch. Years ago, one marketing director I was dealing with didn’t know Facebook could be used to promote a book (luckily his PR person did). While gross incompetence is rare, mistakes happen out of the control of the author or agent.

13: A book was written and it should have been an article. We’ve all read books that were all but over after chapter 4. The story was predictable or the points over-used. Yes, there is nothing new under the sun, but try to make sure you’re conveying content that you can’t get in a few blogs.

14: One careless word. The book had a swear word in it so Lifeway wouldn’t carry it. This happens a fair amount of times because authors insist that profanity makes it more “real” (which it might) and they’d rather sacrifice sales than not be real. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working out for you?” If you want to play in certain sandboxes, you have to play by the sandbox’s rules. Sorry.

15: Setting and storyline. If it’s fiction, having a setting outside of America, England or Ireland. “Because I love Russia (or Africa or Thailand)” just plain rarely sells well in America. Or having a storyline that is not entertaining—and very hard—to read (i.e. child abuse, sexual abuse, deaths of key characters).

16: Changing reading habits. People don’t read as much as they used to. Or if they do, it’s blogs and articles that are free on the web. More true with nonfiction readers. The attention span of today’s internet-soaked reader has shortened radically.

17: Cheap buyers. People are waiting around for the free or cheap ebook that comes out a year later instead of spending $10 to $20 on a new book they know they will get eventually and pay less (or nothing) for. Also, the proliferation of self-pub’d books that have a lower price tag has put a dent in a traditional author’s sales.

18: Life happened. Something happened in the author’s life so that all of their well-laid plans to launch and promote their book flew out the window. Or it happened to the in-house PR person’s life. Or the outside PR person’s life. Or the agent’s life. Or their famous author friends’ lives. “Life happens” all the time, and I’ve seen more than a few books sink because cancer or a death occurred in the family of some key person trying to make the book a success.

19: Book retail has gone bye-bye. If you’re a Christian writer, the lack of stores to sell into can certainly be one place to put the blame. When I first started as an agent 21 years ago, there were 6,500 Christian bookstores. Now there are about 1,000. So . . . “no one walks into Christian bookstores anymore” is fairly true.

20: The industry. Frankly, publishing is hard. Every publishing house is working harder for less money. Every editor, marketing and PR person, sales person . . . is overloaded with work because margins are thin. If there is a “new normal” that will get us back to center in publishing, it hasn’t happened yet.

These 20 reasons, and likely a few others, would all not count a twit if people could just find out about the new books they want to read. Agents and editors are still finding great stories, fabulous writers and motivated publishers. The problem? Creating awareness for these great books! Retail continues to shrink, magazines are all but gone, and with over 100,000 new bloggers (on WordPress alone) starting blogs every day, it’s only a matter of time before most of us are tuning out all of the content coming into our inbox (if we haven’t already). How will people start finding out about all of these good books?

The newest and biggest elephant in the publishing room is this:  How, with the demise of print media and bookstores, do we find and target regular book-buying readers who are interested in a particular genre and book topic?

Faithhappenings.com was created to help answer this question. FaithHappenings offers the following unique benefits to authors, publishers and reader-consumers:

  • When a member checks specific boxes on their preferences, it will send readers an email when a new book comes out in any genre they enjoy and buy.
  • FaithHappenings also lists music and videos, independently published books and music, local events of every type, scripture, blogs, devotionals and much more… and all a member has to do is check a box to find out about them. It only takes three minutes to fill out a profile, and it is free to do so.

Check out www.faithhappenings.com. There are 454 local websites that carry local and national info, with a big emphasis on books!

20 Reasons Books Don’t Sell (Part 1)

books-21849_640When your book doesn’t move off the shelves or Amazon warehouses in vast quantities, our first tendency is to point fingers. There is something deep in the human psyche that needs to blame someone when hopes, dreams and plans don’t work out. Publishers blame authors, authors blame publishers (or oddly enough, their agents), retail might blame marketing.

The truth is, there will never be one reason why a particular book doesn’t sell. All any of us—author, publisher, agent, retail partner—can do is look in the mirror and ask, “Did I personally do all I could to help the process?” The other truth is, everyone who invests time in writing, agenting, editing, packaging, marketing, publishing, and selling a book wants the book to turn a profit.  We all want books to sell . . . every single book! Otherwise, none of us could stay in business.  So let’s disabuse ourselves of mistrusting motives of the key people trying to help our book—everyone wants to stay in business!

So why don’t books sell? It’s usually not because of a lack of desire, or effort, or skill, or hope, or prayer… it’s a myriad of tangible and intangible factors. Some an author can control, some a publisher can, and many are outside the control of anyone.

Welcome to the world of publishing in the 2010s. Times… they have changed. So what are the reasons a good book may not have great sales?

  1. Hundreds of books have been scuttled because a war or national tragedy took center stage right when a book releases. Suddenly, all of the great PR efforts and TV interviews set up get pre-empted, never to be rescheduled because everyone has moved onto the newest front list of books to promote.
  2. A bad package. It doesn’t happen too often these days; publishers like to make authors/agents happy. But cover designs do sell—or not sell—books. A great title that screams “must read,” a subtitle that grabs, back cover copy that says, “keep looking,” engaging table of contents, endorsements or a foreword by someone of note, a compelling first few pages… these are a few factors that can turn a book browser into a buyer.
  3. Champions leave. With uncertainty in the industry and publisher entrenchment these last five years, editors have been leaving or moving to different jobs at an enormous clip. Without an in-house champion to keep the book on track, details often fall through the cracks no matter who is following up. New editors must inherit projects, but if they didn’t acquire them, sometimes those books get treated like the red-headed step-child.
  4. Marketing/PR failures. A publisher had no effective marketing plan, or didn’t work their marketing plan no matter the agent effort or follow up. The truth is, the 80/20 principle is truer in publishing than likely anywhere else. Eighty percent of their marketing money goes to 20% of their books, because 80% of their income comes from 20% of their books. A huge fact of life in a very tough publishing environment. Sadly, these days, it may even be 90/10.
  5. Author ambivalence. An author decided they’d let others do the heavy lifting in creating awareness about the book. The writer took the attitude that “Everyone, other than me, should tell the world about my book—because I don’t want to be seen as commercializing anything; I’m above that.” Or, “God has called me to write, not to market my writing.” Or, “I’m busy writing my next book. I don’t have time.” Or, “I’m just not good at pushing my own stuff.” Spiritualizing or tossing out excuses about your inactivity likely means one thing in today’s book culture: a short writing career. God will more often “bless” hard and smart work. If you don’t believe in your work enough to champion it, rethink book publishing. Or, perhaps become a collaborator, you can write and not have to worry about promotion.
  6. Author platform. Ah yes, the scourge of authors everywhere. If you haven’t built enough potential readers into your sphere of influence through blogging, speaking, radio or social networking, publishers will just often say, “We can’t help you.” Why? See reason 20.
  7. Friendship failure. An author’s famous friends (the ones your proposal said were on board) who promised to blog, tweet and Facebook about it forgot, or got too busy, or finally read your book and didn’t like it, or have been doing too much of it for every other author friend they have and are just tired of filling their social networking space crowing about someone else’s product (when they have their own to PR).
  8. Small target audience. The book doesn’t meet a broad enough felt need. Niche books used to have a chance. These days they often do not.
  9. Topic overpopulated. The book has been done a million ways from Sunday and there is just too much competition on the subject.

Not all is as discouraging as this post might have started out—and how you might be thinking. I’ll continue my post on Wednesday with further analysis, but also a bit of hope that I hope will help shift the publishing paradigm and eventually change how we as authors, publishers and agents approach the industry.

A New Resource for Your Platform

My right pointer finger was getting sore. Why? I had smashed the delete button on my computer to that “not for us” email from another editor on a book proposal they said they wanted, and one I really believed in.

And my thumb had a bruise. I had pressed “end call” on another kind phone rejection for a project everyone had said they were really excited about.

Yelling from my office to my at-the-time assistant Jason, “If I hear, ‘the author doesn’t have enough Facebook friends’ again I’m going to scream. Really?! Mark Zuckerburg is determining what Christian publishers publish now? Is that what this industry has come to?”

It’s not that I didn’t know social networking results weren’t the first questions out of editor’s mouths (yes, before passion, craft and story). I’d been hearing it for a few years. And my authors were working it! Dozens of authors trying to build their platform with Fan pages, Twitter, blogs, guest blogging, guest Tweeting, personal messages, Pinterest posting.

Noise, noise and more noise.

Yes, it was working for a few superstars who hit the blogging thing at the right moment with the right content. But now there was just the tsunami of words in everyone’s inbox. I kept thinking, Certainly we’re getting close to a tipping point where most people are just going to delete everything that comes in.

I felt bad for my authors; felt bad for the editors and marketing directors who couldn’t buy a book anymore just because they loved it. And I felt like something had to be done to help my authors out with their platforms. Perhaps there is something I could do…

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

FH Logo - approved 0714That was about 18 months ago. And my life has totally changed.

What once was a staid but exciting “work from home” literary agency has turned into a literary agency AND this huge potential of a marketing vehicle called www.faithhappenings.com. I now have 454 local websites with national content populated everywhere and local content being slowly added week-by week.

What I hoped would help my authors get the word out on their great books to people who aren’t walking into Christian bookstores anymore, has turned into something a bit larger.

YOUR COMPLETE, TAILORED, FAITH RESOURCE.

I felt a broadly-based Christian website that served people locally would not only help readers bump into books, bloggers, and speakers quite a bit more, but might also make a dent for the Kingdom in ways no website has before. I wanted the site to be able to hold anything and everything—locally and nationally–that was “soul-enriching,” “marriage-enriching,” “family-enriching,” and “church-enriching.”

So we launched June 6th, and now have this membership-free-to-everyone national website that has completely automated your ability to find out about:

  • Events in your area (concerts, speakers, conferences, fundraisers, author events)
  • Products that release from publishers, self-published authors, music, indie music, audiobooks, videos—in 80 different categories. Simply check a box on what you want to hear about when it releases, and you get an email once a week. Never miss a new release in your favorite genre again!
  • Daily Scripture, devotional content (including video), blogs, personality profiles, “resource specials of the day” and much, much more.

If you’re an author, speaker or blogger, the site is made for you. If you’re doing an author event for free, my space is free. You just fill out this quick-and-easy template.

If you want to get the word out on your blog, we can do that.

If you want to speak more in your local area and the areas surrounding you, our site can advertise you as a speaker, but also any and all local speaking events open to the public.

If you have a self-published book and wonder how people will find out about it beyond your social media universe, we can help.

And if you want to offer your product as a special of the day to create awareness about it, we have a daily “Resources of the Day” (25/day max) to help get the word out.

Throw in about two dozen other local and national features and you have a site with the potential to make it so you never have to Google anything local and faith-based again. It will all be there in one website. Your Complete, Tailored, Faith Resource.

So I invite you to go to www.faithhappenings.com, sign up in your local area, and then look around.

And if you like the site and feel like you could perhaps help us out, we’re looking for a few thousand people for paid and commission-based sales positions:

  1. Affiliate Partners: Are you an author/blogger/speaker who has worked hard at building a platform? Then instead of just asking you to do us a favor by spreading the word, we’ve created a way for you to make money by helping us find members and vendors.
  2. Lead Community Associates: We need about 400 people to take the lead in populating their local site with local content.
  3. Community Associate: Someone who has between 5-15 hours/week to spread the word about FaithHappenings to their networks (and who wants to make between $200 and $1000/month), and then also to meet in their neighborhoods with churches and potential vendors about being a free or paid lister on the site. A CA works independently, but also as a team member with a Lead CA or other CA’s to canvass a community with the benefits of this one-stop resource.
  4. Area Coordinators: This person has between 25-35 hours a week to recruit, train and supervise other CA’s within a larger area. Generously commissioned-based, but a huge income potential for those who can wait to build a strong local foundation.

To learn more about any of these jobs/needs, please email us at workforus@faithhappenings.com. Let us know which job description you’d like to see and which area you are interested in serving.

Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part Two

Last time I posted to the Water Cooler, I discussed some of the ways that having dreams and aspirations can affect you in a positive way.

CliffWSThis post I’d like to look at some possible dangers of having ambition.

Dangers of Aspirations:

1. Assuming it’s God’s will.

I’ve had authors so single focused, so full of energy and passion, that they interpret this to mean “It’s God’s will that I write for publication.” I’m not the end-all expert on God’s will, but I don’t believe it is simply feeling passionate about something. Yes, feeling passionate about a cause or a new adventure makes you feel alive, but so does war. The men from Band of Brothers who have written books say, “Never have I felt so alive as when I was in battle.” An activity may get your heart moving and leave you with an adrenaline high, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily God’s will.

2. Overly ambitious writers won’t always listen to counsel.

So many authors have come my way and said, “God told me to write this.” Or, “This will sell millions of copies because these are God’s words.” Too many to count. The danger in this approach is that writers begin to feel their manuscript is so divinely inspired that it would be almost a sin for an agent or editor to suggest changes to it.

Having aspirations without seeking and listening to wise counsel will often lead to a big waste of weeks, months, even years. So if you’re a writer, you must temper your aspirations with the reality of counsel. If everyone who isn’t a family member says your baby is ugly, it likely is.

The best writers are the ones who seek out critique groups, writing partners, and then when they strike gold (they finally get a professional writer or agent to look at their work) they listen. And when they hit the mother lode by finding a publisher, they should realize how much God can use these professional partners to make their work even better.

3. Overwhelm those not sharing the train you are on, going in your direction.

People with writing aspirations can be overwhelming in their single-mindedness. They feel they somehow need this to accomplish something of value. If you’re one who says, “I have to write. I cannot NOT write,” be careful of those around you. They don’t understand. (Unless they are writers, too!)

Aspirations that lead to the neglect of people you love most (for more than a few weeks when you’re on a deadline) are probably not from God. They are more likely from your own need to find significance in having published something with your name on it.

I became an agent because I was faced with a choice. I had written 15 books, had a big platform in youth ministry, and came to a crossroads: Do I write and speak and try to be more famous? Or do I stay involved in the process of books (which I loved) and be able to hang out with my own two young sons instead of other people’s kids? I made the right choice and never looked back.

If aspirations aren’t in balance with your family goals, then I’d question if they are God’s will for you.

To keep ambitions and aspirations from turning into obsessions, they need to be:

• Tempered with counsel, prayer, balance.
• Put up against the harvest of fruit.

If something you’re pursuing doesn’t seem to be yielding the desired results, then there is a good chance that this aspiration may be a stepping stone to a bigger aspiration God has in mind for you. I’ve discovered that most of our lives have a building block-like history to them that makes sense as you reach the middle or near the end of your story.

My biggest revelation on aspirations is that they must be tied to a soul, especially the souls of those you love.

Aspire to feed your family. Writing for money isn’t a bad thing. If publishers hadn’t paid C.S. Lewis to write Chronicles of Narnia, who knows if he would have written it.

Aspire to make a dent for God’s Kingdom. Great. We all want to live our lives for something that will outlast us.

But make sure your ambitions and aspirations are always tied closely to the souls of those whom God has put into your life. In other words, how is your calling to write also blessing those nearest to you?

What about you? What have you done to keep your aspirations from becoming an obsession?

Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part One

Are you in a season of fresh aspirations?

WomanCliffWSSeveral years ago I had aspirations. (Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, they had me.) I was obsessed. I’d stay up late at night, sadly, on my computer, surfing…dead relatives. That’s right, I had an Ancestry.com obsession. I aspired to know everything about all of the branches of my family tree. Soon I had more than 4000 strangers (and a few hundred names I actually knew) attached to my electronic tree, many with pictures and whole histories about their life. Fun and time consuming, but now it’s done.

After 20 years as an agent, I’ve seen literally thousands who have writing aspirations. It starts with an ambition, “Gee, I think I could write a book.” They give it legs by feeding their aspiration, “Wow, I really need to write this book, so I’d better learn how to do it—and then spend weeks doing it.” But oftentimes a good desire to write turns into an obsession, “I have to get this book done and in print if it’s the last thing I do.”

And oftentimes they throw God in the mix as Supreme Instigator.

“I’m so excited about this manuscript, it must be God’s will that I become a famous novelist. Therefore, I will do everything possible to make this God-given dream come true.”

Ambitions and aspirations can certainly be clues to God’s will for us, though ambition alone is not enough to discern God’s calling. My own history of aspirations has had mixed results, with joys and dangers along the way.

The Joys of Aspirations:

1. They Bring Energy.

I’ve got some aspirations about a new project/business I’m working on that will help my authors and, hopefully, help the Kingdom for years to come. As my wife Becky would attest, it’s brought me more energy and motivation about work than she’s seen in a long time. I love being an agent, but with the changes happening in publishing, I’ve been restless. I’ve seen too many great books go unpublished because some publishers are concerned about the lack of social networking tribes in an author’s portfolio. I aspire to do something about that (more on that in a later post).

2. They Bring Focus.

The Apostle Paul had ambitions and aspirations. “…This one thing I do, forgetting what is in the past, I press ahead to the goal of the upward call…”. He wanted to live in the moment and not be hamstrung by his past: a helpful goal that brought focus to his day-to-day life. One of his other aspirations was “…to see Rome…”. He eventually did, and was able to preach the Gospel to likely hundreds.

3. They Bring Fruit.

Aspirations to write books gave me hope that perhaps my life could count for something; that my words on paper could outlive me. That’s what books do. They allow God to use our stories and life lessons in ways that bless others. And with digital books, our stories could live forever on Amazon and other platforms. Granted, they might be ranked at four million, but at least our books are there!

4. They Bring Passion.

About 20 years ago when I was writing as a hobby and working a day job, my routines were to get up at 5 a.m. and write for two hours before work. Then after the kids were in bed, I’d write for another hour or two. That’s what aspirations do; they give us so much passion that we’d rather not sleep.

Next time I’ll discuss some of the dangers of aspirations. What about you? How does having dreams and aspirations affect you in a positive way?