The Only Story That Matters

july 013I was beginning to panic about my book sales. Despite my hard work and ceaseless efforts to promote my new book, I just wasn’t making a dent in the supply of books I’d bought from my publisher. Since I’d borrowed the money from our family savings, I felt guilty that I wasn’t refilling the coffer as quickly as I’d so optimistically assumed I would.

What more could I do? Post even more frequently on social networks? Write more guest blogs? Camp out on the doorsteps of radio and television stations to get their attention? Go into even more debt by hiring a publicist, in hopes he could convince people to buy my book? Beg the few bookstores still in existence to push my book at customers?

I didn’t do any of those things.

Instead, I asked God for help. I prayed for more book sales.

And He delivered.

Within days, I heard from two stores who had taken some of my copies that they needed more. Some event bookings I’d been pursuing for months finally came through, and I added them to my calendar. One night as I lay awake in bed, thinking about my book, I realized there was another market I could tap into, and the next day, I discovered solid leads for doing exactly that.

And then my daily Scripture devotional chimed in with Jeremiah 32:17.

universe“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

Yes, I was reassured and completely grateful for God’s generosity to me in the form of helping me sell more books as I had requested in prayer. I’d asked, and I’d received.

Praise God!

To be honest, though, I felt something even more compellingly: I felt chastised. I’d asked the omnipotent Lord, who created the universe itself, to help me sell books! Who did I think I was to even imagine He would care about a few hundred dollars in my life? It’s not like I needed a PLANET or anything. I wanted material success. I wanted to put some money back in the bank. I wanted God to make me feel better about a story I wrote. A story!!

Talk about putting myself at the center of the universe. I was humbled. Embarrassed. Aghast at my own egocentricity.

And, most of all, stunned by God’s patience with me, because this isn’t the first time I’ve let my selfish priorities slide in over what I know to be the single most important relationship of my life: my relationship with God.

It’s true – nothing is too hard for God, and that includes loving me…and you.

And really, that’s the only story that matters, isn’t it?

 

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Entertaining Angels

My illustrator, Tom, with one of 48 hot dogs we grilled at a book event.

My illustrator, Tom, with one of 48 hot dogs we grilled at a book event.

I’ve been  marketing books of mine now for more than 20 years but only recently realized a big mistake I was making:

Thinking it was only about books and sales. 

Instead of, say, salt and light. Or experiences. Or giving instead of getting. 

Example: I used to fret when I’d show up for an event and only a handful of people would be there. It made me feel like a failure. Like I was wasting my time and, given my poor-me attitude, the time of those who showed up.

Then it dawned on me: God must have some purpose for me to be wherever I was. And if people are important to God then they should be important to me, whether three or three hundred show up.

“I don’t worry about the folks who didn’t show up,” I now tell people if there’s a sea of empty chairs. “I’m just thrilled to be with those of you who did. Thanks for coming.”

Changing my attitude changed everything. Realizing my worth is defined by God’s love for me and not by any popularity I might get from people, I loosened up and had more fun.

Sure, I’ve had my moments, but, more often than not, I started laughing at situations that otherwise might have angered me. “OK, OK,” I might say to a group of eight people amid 25 chairs, “let’s all scoot to the center to make room for others.” (Proverbs 18:12: Humility comes before honor.)

I became less concerned about selling books than about making sure people were having a good experience.

I became more attuned to others, reminding myself that perhaps there was just one person in the audience who needed some inspiration or a good laugh from me that day.

Recently, one event hammered home this lesson. In the spring I had set up an event at a small-town library regarding a new children’s book I’d written and my friend Tom had illustrated. At the time, I had casually joked with the librarian that maybe we’d make it a barbecue.

Six months later — and three days before an event that I’d all but forgotten about — I got an e-mail from the librarian. “Can we help you at all with the barbecue Wednesday night?”

I called Tom. “I guess I sort of promised we’d do a barbecue for their town,” I said.

He didn’t say, “You WHAT?” He’s way more grounded than I am. Instead, he said, “Let’s do it, baby!” and organized who would bring what. 

As I rolled down a freeway with a grill in the back of my ’95 pickup, I said to myself: Are we really putting on a barbecue in a town of 600 people?

That’s when I heard a thud. Despite my tie-down job, the grill had flipped over, its guts strewn around the pickup bed. It was 95 degrees. I was on the side of a freeway trying to re-secure a grill. And I was not happy. Does John Grisham have to do stuff like this to sell a few books? 

Once Tom and I reached the town, 30 minutes away, nobody showed up. At first.

Then, slowly, people trickled in. Five. A dozen. More. Tom started grilling dogs. A group broke out in “Happy Birthday” to a friend of theirs. I realized people were having a blast. 

A woman took me by the arm. “I brought my neighbor,” she said. “She’s dying of cancer and said she would love to meet you. She loves your writing.”

Two hours later, in the pink light of an Oregon sunset, Tom and I were heading home when he said something I’ve never forgotten: “This was one of the coolest nights of my life.”

Same here. We’d grilled and given away 48 hot dogs, sold two dozen books and brought together people in a small town for an evening of fun. 

What’s more, I’d had the privilege of spending time with a woman who would, three months later, be dead, but who somehow thought seeing me was important.

Now, I don’t even like to call it “marketing.” I call it a privilege to spend time with people — sometimes many, sometimes just a few — who think I’m important enough to give up a few hours of their time to see.

And I remember Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Stealth Marketing

Like many writers, I have issues with shameless self-promotion: I really hate blowing my own horn because isn’t that exactly what Christian humility tells us NOT to do?  Like every writer, though, I have to get myself into the marketplace to not only make sales and gain a readership, but also to spread the word that God has given me to share.

What’s a humble Christian to do?

One answer I’ve found is what I call ‘Stealth Marketing’ – marketing that doesn’t feel or look like traditional book selling yet still puts my name and book in front of new audiences I might not otherwise reach. Basically, I do non-profit events.

In particular, I donate books to silent auctions or hold a book signing to benefit a local charity. I’ve found that what I forfeit in cash revenue, I get back many times over in free publicity, good will, new readers, and a personal sense of contribution.

In the past year, I’ve donated books to local, regional, and national silent auction fundraisers. I started with the annual dinner auction at my children’s school, which is usually attended by some 300 people. I wrote up a brief sketch of the book and submitted it along with a photo to be used on the display card at the auction, as well as in the auction booklet. After the event, I had a call from another school parent who told me that she thought the books were such a great item idea, that she was going to buy a set of my books to donate to another group’s auction. I estimated that would double the exposure I’d just gotten from the first auction. Out of curiosity, I checked my website tracking to find that the number of hits clearly rose after the dinner. Good intentions and a book donation can go a long way, I realized.

Deciding I’d found a productive way to publicize my books and generate sales without the self-promotion I dreaded, I began to look for non-profit groups that corresponded with my target market – birdwatchers and mystery readers – to reach new audiences. In the past year, my books were listed in  programs for a variety of fundraisers, including the Raptor Research Foundation’s annual (international) meeting, the national conference of MIA/POW families, a Savannah (GA) Rotary Club, and the International Festival of Owls. After each event, I’ve seen increased traffic to my website.

Closer to home, I really enjoyed the book signing hosted by my favorite local eatery. It was a success for all of us involved: I asked customers to bring items for the local food shelf, and I discounted each book they bought. We collected bags of food to restock the shelves just before the winter holidays, the diner had increased business that morning, and I got free publicity in the bulletins of area churches that support the food shelf, not to mention that warm feeling of doing something good for my community!

Do you practice stealth marketing?

Authorship Is A Lesson In Humility

The pain was almost unbearable as I read my book doctor’s lengthy and critical evaluation of my first manuscript. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. Without significant additional help, not to mention hundreds of hours of work and a lot of money for surgery, my manuscript wasn’t going to live. It was my first lesson in humility as a would-be author.

Thankfully, my book doctor was funny and tactful as he delivered his prognosis. He told me he could teach me how to resuscitate my baby if I was willing to pay the $80 per hour co-pay.

As if my deficiencies as a writer weren’t a big enough blow to my ego, I was also told I had to wait three months before he could carve out time for my writing lessons. Come on, man! Three months? Really?

The harsh truth was no matter how much authority and respect I garnered in my day job as a physician, in the world of book-writing and publishing, I was a vulnerable, inexperienced nobody. I couldn’t even get a writing coach’s quick attention when I was paying.

Fast forward a year, and thanks to my book doctor’s worth-the-wait teaching, plus my own endurance through repeated rejections and humiliation, I produced a much-improved manuscript and ultimately went on to secure Greg Johnson as my agent and a publishing contract with Zondervan for The Eden Diet.

Woo-hoo! I got an amazing agent and a book contract! I thought that meant, “No more begging for people’s time and attention regarding my book.” Wrong! I hadn’t yet even begun to market. I didn’t know yet how humiliating book signings can be, “Please, Mrs. Bookstore Patron, may I interrupt your shopping agenda and tell you about my book?” Many stopped and listened, politely, but some walked right by, as if they didn’t hear me talking.

Compare that to my life at the office. In my doctor-world, I have actual authority and garner near-immediate respect from people who don’t even know me.

Fast forward again and now I have a contract with Strang/Charisma House for a book that can help even more people. Will I risk rejection again as I hold book signings and market for this second book? Absolutely. I counted the cost, and it’s worth the price. My message can bring countless readers into physical, mental and spiritual wholeness. Isn’t their profound healing worth a little momentary discomfort on my part?

Besides, any tiny shred of humiliation I endure along the way to help other people is infinitesimally small compared to the humiliation my Lord suffered when He was hung on the cross. Actually, now that I think about His humiliation for the greater good, I don’t even have the right to talk about humility.