Is Your Email Inbox Overflowing?

I recall when my husband and I first got dial-up internet with an email service. Now and then, an email would pop into our inbox. We’d cull through the few emails, respond as needed, and move on.

I also remember when I first established an email address for my writer website. Again, emails trickled in, and I was happy to read each and every word that came my way.

Those days are long gone.

Email inbox showing 179 unread messages

Photo credit: ©adimas

Perhaps they’ve passed for you too. When you start getting a bunch of email, it’s exciting because it means you’re reaching people. Isn’t that what you want your words to do? Don’t you want many readers?

Yes, but that increase in email also means you probably can’t read every word. Or at least you can’t respond personally and extensively to each and every email.

As a person involved in ministry, I feel terrible when someone pours out their heart and soul, telling me their personal story and asking for my help, and I simply can’t answer like I want to. This has been a difficult shift for me. Especially when I know how wonderful it can feel to get a personalized return email from someone you contacted.

But I also know that if I did answer each and every email with the care and attention it deserves, I wouldn’t be able to write more books or even blog posts. I’d spend day after day counseling people one by one through email.

And that’s not the mission God gave me.

Jesus dealt with this same press of needy people. Sometimes He stopped and interacted with them, but sometimes He stepped away so that He could stay focused and pursue His primary mission:

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake” (Matthew 8:18).

And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan” (Matthew 15:39, ESV).

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15-16).

Do you feel guilty about the emails sitting in your inbox? About the people who desire or demand your time when you just don’t have it to give?

Yes, we need to let God interrupt our work when He wants something done. But all those emails in our inbox aren’t necessarily God’s calling for us. He has given us a mission of writing, whether in fiction or nonfiction, and that is the primary way we reach people for Him.

When I remember my Lord’s calling above all, I can keep my eyes on where He wants me to work. And I can trust that the Holy Spirit will lead those in need to other resources, because I’m definitely not the only one who can help. We exist in a Body of Christ, and I am just a finger.

In the meantime, I send out canned responses to thank people for their emails, explain what my response policy is, and encourage them to seek local help if they need Christian counseling, mentoring, or pastoring. And then, I write more blog posts and more books, praying these resources will answer some of those questions and help the marriages I long to help.

How do you approach your overflowing email inbox? How do you stay on mission?

Are We Authors or Salespeople?

bookI’ve been in a quandary lately. I’ve been writing for 6½ years on my blog, self-published my first book in 2013, and came out with my best book, Hot, Holy & Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design, through WordServe and BroadStreet Publishing last year. And I’m still not making much income.

Yes, I wholly appreciate the deal my agency made for me, and it was a solid entry into the traditional publishing market. But the truth is, while we’re happy for the Max Lucados and Francine Riverses of the publishing world, the majority of working authors don’t make a huge income.

Other than good timing and a spat of luck (or is it?), what can we do to increase our income?

Thankfully, I have two close friends with marketing backgrounds. Not so thankfully, they recently told me everything they think I’m doing wrong in marketing myself and my books. Okay, I’m actually thankful for that too, but it was tough to hear them chide me for not pushing my product more.

Why have I struggled with effectively advertising my book? With talking up my writing and speaking? With marketing my brand?

Part of it is that I’m by nature not much of a salesperson. I was that introverted kid who, when asked to fund-raise for whatever activity I was involved in, barely made her quota because selling to people was such a painful experience.

Another part is this sense that I’m in ministry, and shouldn’t my primary goal be helping people rather than making a buck? Yet Romans 4:4 says, “When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Even people in helping professions deserve to be paid. And you and I both know that writing a book isn’t an easy task: You earned a paycheck.

Practically speaking, I need to fund my ministry. I could get a job doing something else that promises a specific and consistent income, but then I wouldn’t be able to keep writing—at least not at my current rate. Some of you are currently working jobs you’d love to quit so that you could focus on your writing and your godly message. Increasing our income means we can pay our bills, build a nest egg, and still write. We don’t need million-dollar mansions, but we do need enough to take care of our families. As 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

One more challenge is that while it can be hard to sell generally, it’s even harder to sell yourself. Sure, we sell our content and our stories, but our name is emblazoned on the book cover. And as Christians, we might wonder if it smacks of pride to be pushing our brand — our brand being ME.

However, I’ve realized that it’s not about me, J. Parker, being a success. Rather, I’m passionate about my message. That message reflects what I believe about God’s design for marriage, and it’s a message I want to get out to as many wives as possible. Spreading a godly message or theme is a worthy goal, one many Christian authors have.

Thus, I’m trying to make a mental shift to talking more about my book, to seeking out advertising opportunities, to promoting my writing and speaking in new formats and forums.

In short, I’m becoming a salesperson.

Because when my book sells, my family benefits from more income, but my reader also benefits from reading my book and God’s message is spread even further. That sale is a win-win-win.

Podcasting: Another Way to Reach Readers?

Discoverability. We know that’s the key to selling books—getting your title in front of your intended audience. Your old faithfuls, God bless ’em, will stick with you when you publish. But you want your message, your story, your ministry to gain ground by finding new readers. You want to reach out to folks who didn’t know about you before or have been dragging their feet to buy your book.

So you strive for marketing plans that work, SEO that brings people to your website, favorable algorithms that make your book show up in Amazon recommendations, and the always-valuable Word of Mouth.

I have a website and a blog. I’ve done interviews and guest posts on other websites. I’ve promoted through social media sites Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. But if someone doesn’t come to me on the internet, how can I get to them?

Microphone in the old studio with on air signEnter three colleagues, women who also write about sexual intimacy in marriage on their blogs. This past year, we sprouted the idea to put together a group podcast. Call it a round table, but we prefer kitchen table. Because that’s what it feels like to us—sitting around a kitchen table with our cups of coffee and talking about one of our favorite subjects, God’s gift of sex in marriage.

As a podcast listener myself, I immediately saw the potential for reaching a new audience. As busy as people are today, it’s often easier for them to plug in earphones, click on an app, and listen to a podcast than to peruse a bookstore, read blog posts, or even follow social media. And listening week after week, they begin to feel that they know the hosts. They’re sitting around that proverbial kitchen table with them and at some point think, I really want to read their book.

Now I’m not involving myself in this podcast merely to sell books. Our main purpose is to spread the good news of God’s gift of sexual intimacy in marriage and to help wives address issues that prevent them from fully embracing that gift. But I’m not oblivious to the fact that this new medium will get my name and title in front of a new batch of potential readers.

In case you’re interested, here’s a summary of what we’ve learned (so far) about podcasting:

You’ll have upfront costs. They include a professionally designed logo, the podcast hosting service, sound equipment, and editing software. Michael Hyatt offers a great breakdown of options for getting started at different tiers. We took the medium-route, with hopes of later adding better recording equipment and a professional voice-over introduction.

There’s a big learning curve. At least for four women with no audio-visual experience. We have spent months researching podcasting, discussing our launch and marketing plans, recording episodes in advance, and learning how to use editing software.

Treat it like a book launch. Remember how you had to write your bio, back cover copy, schedule blog tours, make sure your website was ready, etc.? A podcast launch also requires preparation. We designed a website, set up social media accounts, brainstormed topics, and recorded three episodes before we said boo to anyone else about our plans. And by the time that we launch, we’ll have up to 10 episodes already recorded.

Consider partnering with others. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” Yes, it’s required more flexibility with our schedules to get all four of us together to record, but it’s been lovely to share the work and the costs and to have the encouragement of other Christian women. On the business side, we’re able to cross-promote, with each of us getting access to the other threes’ audiences.

Our brand-new podcast, Sex Chat for Christian Wives, will first air on February 14 and every other week thereafter. We’ll see what God does with this project. But I hope to be able to report this time next year that this endeavor not only sold more of my books, but helped many marriages and marriage beds.

Thank God for My Virtual Assistant

I made a bold decision this year: I hired a virtual assistant. Now before you think that means I’m really prime-time, know that I’ve been blogging for six years and have three books out – plus she only puts in about 10 hours per month for me. But, still, what a godsend!

If you’re wondering whether to hire a virtual assistant for yourself, let me tell you how things have worked with mine.

Virtual Assistant

What do I have her do?

Since I blog three times a week, on the other days my virtual assistant posts archived articles from my website to various social media sites. She also shares all of my posts, as well as other website links I send her, to Pinterest – a great social media site that overwhelms me because I’m not at all visual. She puts together my monthly newsletter, after I provide content, and sends it out. She moderates comments on my blog when I’m going to be out of town or I’m too busy to take care of that aspect of my website.

But virtual assistants do all kinds of things, including interacting on social media, generating newsletters, scheduling appearances and speaking events, creating promotional graphics, coordinating giveaways, mailing gifts and thank-yous, tracking site statistics, etc. What your virtual assistant does for you depends on what you need, what services they provide, and what deal you strike.

How did I find her?

I got lucky. Or, if you’d rather, blessed. I mentioned on my website that I was looking for a virtual assistant, and three people contacted me. I emailed each the job description and requested a résumé and references. I ended up with a primary candidate, interviewed her by phone, and decided it was a great match. And yes, I prayed about my decision before offering her the position.

Like it or not, becoming an author means you’re now CEO of Me, Inc. If you hire a virtual assistant, you need to seek that person in a professional manner. Get a résumé, check references, interview, and know upfront what you’re willing to pay. The virtual assistant may have a standard rate or be willing to negotiate, but you need to know if your expectations are on the same page. Choosing a virtual assistant also feels like a personal decision, because this person will at times be the face of Me, Inc., and you need to be able to trust him or her with that responsibility.

What positive results have I seen?

I have more time to write! Which is why I got into doing this to begin with. I’m also not spending time trying to figure out how to feel comfortable and be effective on Pinterest, or feeling guilty for not being there even though I want to connect with those readers. Following a death in my family, I turned the reins of my blog over to my virtual assistant and didn’t have to worry about comments being moderated and posted. Her sharing of archived posts has boosted my Facebook reach and thus my number of followers by hundreds. And I can’t prove it, but I believe my greater reach has translated into book sales – sales I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

On a personal level, she’s also been a real encouragement. I know she’s got my back, and she knows I care about her life and success as well. I haven’t met my virtual assistant (she lives several states away), but I hope to someday. Because not only do I think she deserves the small paycheck I give her each month, I’m eager to give her a hug to thank her for all she does. In the meantime, I’m thanking God for my virtual assistant.

What questions do you have about virtual assistants? And is it time for you to hire one?

WordServe News: May 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

duggerLarry Dugger released 40 Days to Defeat Your Past with Charisma House. Just as Jesus squared off with the devil in the wilderness, we must square off with our devils. Forty Days to Defeat Your Past is a one-day-at-a-time process that uses the number forty to help readers identify and defeat the destructive patterns of their past and establish new, healthy habits to lead them into freedom.

ebookJan Dunlap released Heaven’s Gate, the first book in her Archangels series, with FaithHappenings Publishers. Following the character of Dr. Michael Carilion as he uncovers the missing piece of the One Theory—the Holy Grail of theoretical physics—this supernatural thriller wrestles with questions of science, faith, and a shattering new understanding of life after death.

51L8nL3LvpL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_J. Parker release Hot, Holy, and Humorous with BroadStreet Publishing. Wrongful thinking and attitudes about sex permeate our culture, even in Christian circles. Starting from a foundation of faith and humor, this book offers candid advice for wives who want to make the most of God’s gift of sexual intimacy in marriage.

lead me home

Amy K. Sorrells released Lead Me Home with Tyndale. This powerful novel follows the stories of two men in a small town – one, a young man forced to grow up too soon, the other a pastor of the local church who questions his calling as the church doors close for good. As severe storms roll through, threatening the community, both men confront the fear of losing what they care about most, and reconsider where they truly belong.

51jGauNvGIL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Jennifer Strickland released 21 Myths (Even Good) Girls Believe about Sex with Shiloh Run Press. With honest, straight-forward language, Strickland strips away the lies surrounding dating and sex and shares the myths, the truths, and the practical ways girls can enjoy the pursuit of passion and purity.

New Contracts

Mary Davis signed with Barbour for her work, Unworthy Hearts, part of the Pony Express Romance Collection.

Ken Gire and Donald Stratton signed with HarperCollins to publish the memoir of 93-year-old Stratton, who survived the bombing of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Melissa K. Norris signed with Harvest House for her next book, The Made-From-Scratch Home. This follow-up to her most recent book, The Made-From-Scratch Life, will be available in early 2018.

Barbara Scott signed with Gilead Publishing for her novella I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which will be included in a Christmas seasonal collection of contemporary romances.

Mike Yorkey signed with Barbour to publish a new book on Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, due out early next year.

New Clients

Linda Clare, Ron Hammer, Mary May Larmoyeux, Phillip Robertson, and Craig Selness signed with WordServe this month. Welcome!

4 Tips for Writing About Sensitive Topics

I write about sex in marriage. Talk about a sensitive and potentially controversial topic. Even the idea of publicly discussing sex in Christian circles can trigger everything from raised eyebrows to scathing rebukes.

4 Tips for Writing about Sensitive Topics

Yet I’ve always believed that if God is willing to bring up sensitive issues, so should His people. How can you address sensitive topics responsibly? Here are four quick tips.

1. It’s not merely what you say, it’s how you say it. Christians can be entirely right about the content of what they teach, and entirely wrong in how they treat others in getting their point across. Presenting truth doesn’t excuse us from commands to be loving, kind, gentle, patient, and self-controlled.

Ask how you’re presenting your points. Are you solely concerned about the issue, or do you consider the people affected? Do you invite conversation or lambaste anyone who doesn’t agree?

If your readers see you as caring about them, they’re far more likely to listen to what you have to say. Keep them in mind as you write.

2. Some react negatively because you poked a personal wound. Sometimes a reader’s hostile reaction isn’t personal. Rather, you unintentionally touched a raw wound.

For example, if I address how most husbands need the emotional connection of sex, I’ll get angry reactions from higher-drive wives whose husbands don’t seem to want sex, from wives whose husbands have been demanding or abusive, from husbands who’ve been refused for years and rant about how I’m too soft on wives, etc. Rather than feeling attacked, I try to show compassion for their difficult situation.

We should present our topic as fairly and lovingly as possible. But if someone freaks out about something you said, remember it may not be about you at all.

3. You don’t owe anything to false teachers. We bloggers know these commenters as “trolls”—meaning people who troll the Internet for articles on a particular topic and leave comments that promote lies and hate. At first, I tried to engage these readers, but nowadays I can spot a troll, or false teacher, pretty quickly. And I don’t put up with it.

It’s not that a writer’s skin isn’t tough. Challenges, debates, and discussion are fine, but if someone promotes false teaching or personally attacks other readers, it’s time to draw a line. Our readership relies on us to present truth and encouragement.

Adopt a comments policy explaining you’ll delete remarks with egregiously wrong or dangerous teaching. Don’t allow false teachers to soil your ministry by giving them a platform.

4. Find a supportive community. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to find a community who’ll support you when difficulties arise. My marriage author friends provide everything from encouragement to prayer to wisdom. And they laugh with me, which is healing in the face of trouble.

When it comes to writing, people who do what you do are not opponents; they are allies. Befriend them and gain strength from one another.

We can’t dismiss our obligation to share God’s Word boldly (Acts 4:31) and to help struggling people (Psalm 34:18) simply because it makes some in our midst uncomfortable. Your readers, many who’d never leave a comment or contact you, will appreciate your courage to address sensitive topics.