Five Myths of Publishing

The 30-plus journals on my bookshelf prove that I’ve had a passion for writing since I was a little girl. And after my first son was born, I began prayerfully crafting and submitting book proposals. Up until that point, I had been a prolific freelance writer, but [here’s a reality check] it took me five years and about fifty rejections before I got my first contract.

Now, after ten-plus years as an author in the Christian book industry (Christian Booksellers Association), I can see how much I’ve grown as a writer, and as a person of faith.

I’ll be transparent here: before I became an author with a traditional publisher, I believed several myths, which are common to aspiring writers. I want to share, and debunk, them here. [Note: I don’t write fiction, and I haven’t tried self-publishing, so my statements will be coming from a traditionally published non-fiction author’s perspective.]

1. If I find an agent, I’ll get a book deal. I’ve had several agents, and all of them had their strengths. However, in all but two of my contracts, I already had an offer when I approached the agent. I’m sorry to report that signing with an agent–though it’s something to be celebrated–is not a golden ticket to Book Deal Land.

2. If I don’t have an agent, I won’t get a book deal. What leads to book deals? Great ideas, stellar proposals, strong platforms, and authentic relationships with editors. Small and mid-size publishers are ALWAYS looking for new talent, so write like crazy; be teachable; meet editors at conferences; and speak or do other things to increase your visibility.

3. If my book is good enough, I won’t have to market it. How I wish this were true! Unless you name starts with “Bill” and ends with “Graham,” you’ll need to participate in your publisher’s marketing and publicity plan. You may be asked to guest-blog, send out review copies, write op-eds, speak, and/or appear as a guest on radio and television shows–in both traditional and online media. There are ways to market yourself without selling your soul–or upchucking. I promise! (My advice? Pray; BE YOURSELF; find mentors in the industry; and talk to your editor, agent, or fellow authors about creative ways to fight stage fright and shyness.)

4. If I follow a certain marketing plan, my book will be a bestseller. People make big money selling this lie and creating plans you can follow in order to get your book on certain lists. But those plans are expensive, time-consuming, and not-at-all foolproof. To be honest, the book I did the least marketing on (because it was a work-for-hire) sold many, many times better than the tomes I did extensive marketing and promotion on.

So what’s true in this “house of mirrors” called publishing?

Great writers WILL get published–in some form. Readers want to buy amazing books, which they can read and tell their friends about. Publishers long to find one-of-a-kind ideas, brought to life by seasoned, unique and professional writers.

And, most important of all, if the Creator has given you a talent for writing, He wants to use that gift to encourage others. There are so many ways to be published now. The whole world has changed over the last few years, and publishing is evolving at warp-speed. So hone your craft; seek His face; and ask Him what He wants to teach you on the journey.

You might just be surprised–and pleased–by what you learn.

About the author: Communications expert, mom, wife and chocoholic Dena Dyer is a contributor to over twenty anthologies and the author of six books, with a seventh (25 Christmas Blessings) coming out in September from Barbour Publishing. Visit her blog/site, “Mother Inferior,” to find out more about her books, family, and faith.

How EBooks Can Complement Your Traditional Writing

Most authors (or soon-to-be authors) think of themselves purely as creators of old-school books. But as the publishing landscape changes, we have an increasing number of opportunities to use our story-telling skills – including via ebooks.

When I say “ebook,” I don’t mean a digital version of your traditionally published book, nor a digital version of your self-published book. I’m talking about the kind of informational ebooks that live only online.

These ebooks are typically shorter than traditional books, and they’re often nonfiction, the self-help variety. You can sell them through Amazon, but many creators (like me) choose to sell them through their own website instead.

Before you pooh-pooh this avenue for your writing, recognize that creating ebooks can boost your writing career in ways traditional books can’t. That means if you delve into ebooks at the same time as traditional publishing, the two pursuits can play off each other.

Here are three ways creating ebooks can boost your traditional writing career:

1. Make money to support your writing habit

We all know publishers aren’t handing out huge advances lately. Creating digital products can help you bridge the financial gap between books. Here’s why: When you self-publish digitally, you keep all the profits. And overhead is low because there’s no physical product. Here’s what I paid to create my newest digital guide:

  • $450 for edits
  • $100 for postcards to bring to speaking gigs (optional)
  • $5/month for ejunkie, the e-commerce system I use to sell the guide
  • PayPal fees (because buyers pay me through PayPal)

Not so shabby, huh? And perhaps the best part is that every time you want to offer your digital product to a blog for review, it costs you nothing. Rather than eating the cost of a physical book, you simply email them the digital file.

EBooks also have a higher price point than traditional books. For example, my guide How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business sells for $24. Since neither a publisher nor a distributor (I’m my own distributor) take a cut, that means $24 in my pocket every time I sell a guide. I’ve sold more than 125 since launching the guide two months ago.

2. Attract people who might want to read your traditionally published book

If your digital products are related to your overall writing pursuits, they can help you build an audience for your traditional books.

Here’s what I mean: My newest guide, How to Take a Career Break to Travel, is directly related to my travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa (which Rachelle is preparing to pitch to publishers). Essentially, my guide is a complement to my memoir.

Yet because I’m publishing the guide myself, I’m able to get it out there before my (hopefully) traditional book. And guess what? The people who read my guide will likely be the same target market for my book. Not only will this help people find out about me (and hopefully subscribe to my newsletter or blog) before my book comes out, I’ve gone so far as to include a note about my upcoming travel memoir inside the guide.

In other words, this guide is oh-so-subtle marketing for my memoir.

3. Drive more traffic to your blog

Since I launched my first eguide, traffic to my site has increased dramatically. I’m now at 15,000+ hits/month mark Rachelle mentioned in her recent post about building platform.

Selling an eguide boosts traffic for several reasons:

  • People are visiting my blog to check out my guide (and maybe buy it!)
  • Some of those new visitors realized they like my blog, so they bookmarked it or subscribed and visited again later, maybe even daily
  • Guest posts I’ve written for sites with big audiences (like Mashable) with the goal of promoting my guide have brought lots of new visitors my way

All of those eyes on my website will help me sell my book to a publisher and sell my traditionally published book to readers.

Have you considered wading into ebook territory? If you have questions, I’m happy to answer based on my experience.

servicios de satelite

The Long View of Getting Published

Photo by Michael Hirst

There are two distinct parts to my career as an author. Part one, when I saw myself as more of a lone wolf and part two, when I finally started admitting I don’t know everything.

The second half where humility has played a lot bigger part has been more rewarding in every way, particularly financially and spiritually.

Funny little thing I’m learning about life is that when I stop trying to force my will and realize I may not get what I want but I can still be of service, more of what I wanted all along shows up. However, to head down that path the first few times took a lot of courage and hope because I didn’t have any personal proof. Fortunately, I had worn myself out trying things my way. I became willing.

To be an author, whether it’s as an independent or through the traditional venues takes more people and therefore a lot more willingness. The independent route sounds like it would be easier to stick to your own common sense and that would be more than enough, except for the occasional question. But publishing a book is a process that requires a lot of hands.

Besides, I was more arrogant than that anyway, running down the traditional path and still telling everyone how I saw things.

However, when I stopped listening for just the small kernel I wanted and expected to hear, dropped any agenda and not only took in the information but gave it time to sink in, things really began to move in a better direction. That opened things up even more.

What if I even followed through on some of the suggestions to see if other people who are actually the professionals in their slice of the publishing game were right? Perhaps my part in the entire process is to be a team player, be open to all of the information that’s coming in and just do what’s been suggested.

Some wrong turns are to be expected and even that’s okay because  the last tool I keep close by is the one that makes all of it okay.

I am powerless over the outcome but there is One who has His hand on everything, loves all of us beyond our ability to understand and has a plan that includes everyone. This is the most important part to me and makes it possible to relax and go back to the day I’m in when I’m worried about how book sales will go or if a book will get published at all.

The answer is, maybe it will, maybe it won’t.

In the past I couldn’t live with that answer so I tried harder to fix things. That just didn’t work and I wore out others as well as myself. Doors closed.

Now, I ask myself if I’ve done my part? Do I trust the professionals I’m working with on this book? What’s in front of me to do? How can I go be of service?

I know, all of that sounded really contrary to becoming published to me too, at first. But I had tried the lone wolf gig and only gotten mediocre results, at best.

I became willing to try a new tack. God is everything or God is nothing and I wanted, maybe even needed God to be everything so I started listening with a new ear. I asked for help and admitted when I didn’t know something. I grew more patient and less ‘helpful’ with suggestions. I did what was asked of me, on time and nothing more, allowing others to do their job without my interference. I became willing to change structure or style and see what happened.

And on the days when my anxiety still sits on my chest like an angry gorilla, I go pray, turn it all over to God and ask for peace of mind and heart. Then I get back to my day, do what’s right in front of me and keep going. As a result, more of my publishing life has fallen into place and my relationships in that area are a lot stronger.

Strip down and never lose sight

Crisscrossed with knee-high boundaries of grass, the field stretched far below the hilltop. To the distant right, the sound of a fast-moving four-wheeler buzzed louder until I saw it speed toward the horizon, followed seconds later by a skinny-ing mass of runners.

Along with all the other camera-laden parents, I  darted across the fields, staking strategic positions to capture my son rounding a corner or blazing down a hillside. I hurdled boulders, pushed through sluggish throngs, and catapulted my rattling, aging body from one carrefour of the course to another.

When my runner passed by, I whooped.

I hollered.

I scurried across the field to the next junction to cheer him on some more.

Hundreds of spectators gathered to watch the state middle school cross-country championship. Hundreds of kids flashed by. Yet within that undulating motley horde, I found and locked eyes with my son. 

The corner of his mouth turned up when he saw me.

He gulped more air.

He lengthened his stride. 

He disappeared.

And I scurried to the next junction to cheer him on again . . . until I met him at the finish line, red-faced, breathless, and satisfied.

We’re not unlike these cross-country runners, you and I, especially if we feel called to write for the Christian market. After returning from the 2011 ACFW conference, I spent days processing not only that event, but also my writing journey as a whole. I argued with my muse, re-evaluated my purpose, and gasped for clarity amidst the torrid winds of the publishing industry.

Until I watched my sons race last weekend.

And I remembered.

I remembered running up the hill of uncertainty after taking years off writing to focus on parenting.

Around the corner was an industry professional who said no to a query, but invited me to Mount Hermon, where my heart for Him and writing collided like a flare on a pitch black highway.

I rounded the craggy corner of tens of rejections.

Then I “happened upon” a newspaper editor who just “happened to need” a new weekly columnist.

I fell behind, distanced from hope by whispers that no one needs or wants to hear my pathetic story or craftless words.

On the back stretch I caught sight of the waving arms of a friend who led me to my agent.

I lost sight of other runners sprinting ahead of me, pouring out multiple books a year, and I wanted to give up my goal to publish even one.

Around the next bend, a blog reader commented that the words on my website changed her life.

I coveted the bold, new uniforms of other runners and wondered if I should water down or change my message.

A fan on the sideline told me how a Christian book by a Christian writer saved her husband’s soul.

We are in a race, we faith-focused writers . . . a race to make Him known . . . a race to further the inbreaking of His Kingdom . . . a race beckoning us to finish hard, finish well, and finish strong . . . no matter where we fall in the pack.

And around every corner . . . along the loneliest stretches . . . down the effortless hills and up the steepest inclines, He runs to meet us . . . to cheer us on . . . to lock our wandering eyes upon His countenance above all others along the swarming sidelines.

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! . . . Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way . . . ” (Hebrews 12:1-3, TMV)

What about you?

Where have you felt God’s presence along your race course? How have veteran Christian writers inspired you? When have you heard Him whooping and hollering, redirecting your steps and restoring your focus on Him?

Say what? — Writing believable dialogue

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, good dialogue is essential to the success of your work. Either the dialogue will draw the reader into the scene, or it will bore the reader—and as a result, she may choose to close your book without finishing it.

Know that good dialogue in books does not correlate to real-life speech. When you stop in the grocery store to have a few words with a neighbor the conversation is usually small talk. It doesn’t have to mean much except that you value the person enough to spend a few minutes chatting. But in fiction (and in non-fiction), dialogue exists to enhance characterization, support the mood, convey emotion, and control the pace of the story.

The first rule of dialogue is to avoid dialogue ping-pong. People don’t speak logically, and sometimes it’s more effective to answer a statement or a question with a question.

The following examples illustrate dialogue ping-pong and interesting pull-you-into-the-story dialogue:

Suzanne slipped into the seat across from Angela. The cool vinyl chilled her thighs as she scooted to the middle of the booth.

“Thanks for joining me, Suzanne.”

“You’re welcome. How have you been?”

“I’ve been fine, thank you. And you?”

“I’ve been better, thanks.”

Angela picked up the red menu. “What are you going to order?”

“I’ve heard the turkey sandwich is delicious.”

***

Suzanne slipped into the seat across from Angela. The cool vinyl chilled her thighs as she scooted to the middle of the booth.

“Thanks for joining me, Suzanna.”

“Did I have a choice?”

Angela slid the menu across the Formica table and flipped it open. “It was an absolute stroke of luck that I ran into Crystal at the flea market last weekend. If not, I would have never heard about your situation.”

Suzanne gazed down at the greasy menu. “I may just order tea.”

“I’ve heard the gazpacho is delicious.” Angela cocked her head. “And like revenge, it’s a dish best served cold.”

Good dialogue develops and establishes characters. Characters need to speak differently from one another. Give your characters a verbal tic—“Ya, know.” Have one character refer to dad as Dad and another call him Pops. Consider that characters may have different vocabularies with different people. A polished lawyer will speak one way in court, but when he goes home to the bayou, he’d speak differently.

Dialogue describes conflict, setting, and characters. Rather than writing, Angela was the kind of woman you couldn’t trust, have one of your characters say, “Look out for Angela. That girl will stab you in the back and then accuse you of carrying a concealed weapon.” Also consider that what is not said in dialogue is just as important as what is said.

Dialogue can control the pace of the story. To speed up the story, use short sentences with few action beats. This will give you a lot of white space on the page and create a feeling of fast motion. To slow down the pace of a story, put action beats, thoughts, or description into the story.

Avoid using dialogue as an information dump“Edward, I know you’re sensitive about people questioning your motives because of that incident that happened to you in high school when the principal misunderstood why you were leaving the campus early.”

Dialogue is more than a way to express your character’s words—it’s a way to express the world you’re inviting your readers to enter. And as long as you can write good dialogue, your chances of being published will increase!

I don’t pretend to be a dialogue know-it-all, so please share some of your tips and advice on writing good dialogue. Don’t be shy, what are they?