Writing and Publishing for a Purpose

John Merritt: Writing and Publishing for a PurposeYEAH!!! There were times when I never thought my book would actually be on bookstore shelves or available online as it is today! It’s been a long and sometimes arduous journey to get Don’t Blink in print. Now that it is, I hope and pray that God will use this book for the purpose intended—to inspire Christians to live life to the fullest, and as a gift to our non-Christian friends who could use a different perspective on what the Christian life looks like.

It’s been said that there’s a book inside each one of us. And while this is no doubt true, the big question is: Will anybody read it? I wondered that of my own book. And how do you know if people are reading it and benefiting from it? Ah, this is where social media provides some answers.

I’ve been transparent about my lack of passion for social media—especially my own! And yet, I am finding that this is not only where you get honest feedback but also transparent testimony of the effectiveness (or not) of what you are putting out there. In fact, reading some comments about Don’t Blink on the internet has provided confirmation that God is using this in ways that I had hoped and prayed for.

Here’s an example: After reading the first five chapters of your book, I have to say thank you for rekindling my sense of adventure! I have been dreading writing my company mission statement and personal bio, etc, for my website. You reminded me of my passion for life and to just go for it, with Jesus by my side! What could be better? I think I was getting a little stagnant or complacent. What an invigorating breath of Christ-filled air! After reading “Don’t Blink” poolside this hot afternoon, I dove in for a swim and it was GOOD TO BE ALIVE! I plan on purchasing copies for my father and my friends. Thank you!

I’ve been asked why I wrote a book, and responses like this provide the answer. I knew going into this project that 80% of men don’t read books. While my book has both a female and male audience in mind, I wanted men to find the book readable. So each of the 23 chapter starts with a captivating short story followed by a down-to-earth, real-life application. Seems like the book is keeping the short male attention span engaged—and I love that!

To all of you who have read or plan to read Don’t Blink: The Life You Won’t Want to Miss I thank you. And remember, I wrote it with your non-Christian friend in mind—so please share it. Would make a nice gift for someone you care about this holiday season that is almost upon us.

God’s best to you!

John

Advertisements

Define Your Readers to Gain an Audience

Define Your Readers to Gain an Audience via @JanalynVoigt | Wordserve Water CoolerChildren have a way of grabbing your attention, whether you want to give it or not. Ignore them long enough, and they’ll get right in your face. Even after they are fed, watered, dried, and engaged, their demands can continue. Sometimes the need is not physical. I mean, how many glasses of water can one child drink, exactly?

Pay attention to me!

This is the real desire. Children want to matter, to be seen by you, and to know you care about them.

Adults aren’t much different. We might exercise more restraint, but the needs are the same. We want to know we’re important, and that someone really cares about us. It follows that for readers to give you their precious resources of time and money, they need to know you see and care about them.

To put this another way, how can you ever hope to reach people you don’t even know?

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.” — John Cheever

I have heard writers all but brag they don’t write for readers but for themselves, alone. As creative artists, writers should balance the expectations of readers with the exigencies within their stories. Freedom of creative expression factors in as well. You, as a writer, won’t do your best work if you feel unable to create. On the other hand, too much freedom of expression can leave a creative work without readers.

As John Cheever points out so eloquently in his quote, a kiss takes two, and when both parties participate equally, the result can be earthshaking.

Defining Your Readers

Who are they? 

Understanding your readers isn’t as hard as it sounds. Often, we are drawn to write the books we want to read. Those who would enjoy these books will have similar tastes as you and are likely to be a lot like you. Knowing your audience can be as simple as understanding yourself. Even if you write for a different age group (for example, children), this still holds true. You should know the age bracket and gender of your main readership, their desires, their identifications, and their beliefs.

Desire

Some of our desires are universal. We all want food and drink, for example. Move beyond the physical and you’ll uncover shared emotional desires so intense they are more like needs. Love, intimacy, and friendship are three of these.

  • What does your audience want?
  • How can you help them attain their desires?

Identification

One of the strongest human urges is to belong. That translates into feeling like part of a family unit, a group of friends, and an interest group (also known as a tribe).

  • What organizations does your audience identify with?
  • What online social groups or forums draw your readers?
  • Who are the people or groups your audience identifies with?
  • How can you cause your readers to identify with you?
  • What does your writing help your audience to become?

Belief

Belief is a powerful motivating force, which is what makes finding the audience right for you so important. Violate a potential reader’s beliefs, and it’s all over. Reinforce those beliefs, and you’ll gain a fan.

  • What do your ideal readers believe?
  • Does your writing reinforce those beliefs?

What Your Audience Wants From You

Unlike children, your readers won’t usually hang around to demand your attention. Establishing a relationship with your audience requires that they know you see them.

  • Know what they want.
  • Understand who they are and want to be.
  • Communicate that you share their beliefs.
Live Write Breathe Readership Challenge

Join the fun!

To help writers gain readers, I’ve put together a self-guided 30-Day Readership Challenge at Live Write Breathe, my website for writers. I’ll cover the following topics:

  • Connecting with readers through the who of you.
  • Reaching readers through what you do.
  • Finding readers when you’re brand new.
  • Finding readers where they hang out, too.
  • Know why readers matter to you.

You are welcome to join in.

Do I HAVE to Be a “Christian Writer”?

confused woman--question marks

For my first eight years as a publishing writer, I had a hot New York agent. She hung with me through high times and low—until the day I sent her my new manuscript, which was overtly faith-based. She dropped me like a potato on fire. I knew that would happen. But I had to obey God and offer explicit Scripture-based hope. Most of my subsequent books have done the same.

I never wanted to be a “Christian writer.” I never wanted to be confined to “Christian readers.” I wanted to write for ALL people, and I still do. But I also know my faith can turn people away. Here is our dilemma: how do we write the truth with integrity, yet speak to all people, regardless of faith? Here are some thoughts that guide me through the thorny “Christian Writers” thicket.

We need not tell all the truth about anything at any one time (even if we thought we knew it). Life, issues, experiences, even under the purview of God, are all complex, multi-layered, paradoxical. Communicating Truth and truths is a process that we engage in over a lifetime, encompassing many possible stages: plowing, sowing, watering, reaping. We need never feel that we have to roll out the entire plan of redemption in any one novel or memoir to make it “Christian.” There’s time. Think of your work as a body of work over your lifetime.

old books on shelf

Though I want all people to know Christ, more, I want Christ to be made known.
Because he is found everywhere in life, in all places, in all things, I am not only freed but compelled to discover Him and make some aspect of His being known through twig, creek, moonrise, miscarriage, forgiveness, cyclone, salmon, burial, and supper.

Belief in Christ’s truth-claims do not narrow our art. Christians are accused of being “narrow-minded” because they subscribe to Christ’s radical and exclusive truth claims (“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but by me.”) Belief in this claim does not confine, exclude, or narrow our art: nothing and no one is more capacious, more inclusive, more imaginative, more original than Christ himself, who created all things, who is before all things, who binds all things together, who can be found in every cell of creation.

Pacing in Writing | Wordserve Water Cooler

I intend to write only out of calling and passion. I seek that from God, not my agent, not the market, not editors, or even my publisher. This guarantees a wobbly path rather than a sure career. But, face it: there is no sure career in writing except the career of writing from faithfulness, obedience, and joy.

God’s truths are not just propositional and communicable by language: they are experiential, relational, incarnational. I desire to write from a faith that I am trying to live in and out of, rather than a faith I am simply pronouncing. Without lived-in faith, our words truly are noisy gongs. As Joy Sawyer has so brilliantly written,

“ . . . without an ever-increasing, tangible portrait of our God engraved upon our hearts, we reduce our proclamation of the gospel to the “clanging symbol” of language alone. Maybe that is why our message suffers so much when we rely upon mere rhetoric to communicate our faith: it’s simply bad poetry. Just as a poem can scarcely exist without images, we most fully express our poet-God by daily allowing ourselves to be crafted into the image of Christ.

I end here. I believe that writing is a calling, a kind of pilgrimage that takes us, like Abraham, from one land to another, through, of course, wastelands, where the promise of a promised land appears invisible and impossible—-but the writing inexorably, day by night, moves us closer to the city of God. And if we write well and true, we will not be traveling there alone. Others, at first reluctant, will slowly move with us, following our own feet and our words, drawn to the brightness of a city with open gates and lights that never dim.

Open gate--stone wall

To Write a Book Someday, Share Your Writing Now

8139708904_9a1d1783d4_bSome people will tell you the defining characteristic of a writer is that he or she is someone who writes. There is truth to that perspective, but it fails to offer a complete picture. It also gives many “aspiring writers” an excuse to be nothing more than journal keepers: diligently plucking away at Moleskine memoirs or first-novel manuscripts that have zero chance of getting published, ever.

The point here is not a matter of quality. It’s about privacy.

The reason why many written works-in-progress will never see the light of publishing day is that they are stowed, always and forever, in a drawer or on a hard drive where they have no risk of being evaluated by a second person. The writers of these works will never be writers because they will never have readers. They exist completely outside the writing market, and the only critical eye they allow to view their work is their own.

If you think that one day you’d like for people to read your writing, then you should begin by inviting people to read your writing now. Here are five ways readers can strengthen your writing and make it even more worth reading:

Readers help you get over yourself. It’s not uncommon for writers to feel uncertain or insecure about what they’ve written. Will this technique work here? Am I being clear? Am I using a marketable concept? Does anybody else care about the subject? Without readers to help confirm where and how a piece of writing is hitting its target (and where and how it’s missing its mark), these uncertainties and insecurities often grow and fester. But when you prioritize feedback, typically you get it. As a result you might find that your sinking suspicions will be confirmed. Some of your assumptions might be challenged. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by rave reviews. Whatever the case, you won’t be stuck wondering anymore, and that will help light a clear way forward.

Readers identify strengths in your work. Encouragement and affirmation give extra fuel when you’re trying to produce a manuscript. So ask your readers to note the places where they laugh out loud, hold their breath with anticipation, get caught by surprise, can’t stop turning pages, or are struck speechless. That paragraph you’re thinking about deleting? It might be your readers’ favorite part. Give them a chance to tell you so.

Readers identify weaknesses in your work. That poetic metaphor you’ve taken days and months to craft? It might be so complex that it’s confusing your readers. The story you’ve built a whole chapter around? Your readers might be bored out of their minds.

As the writer of a work, you will undoubtedly feel more attached to it than your readers will. Because of your heightened emotional attachment, you’ll probably miss seeing some of your writing’s flaws. You might even be blind to enormous holes in the work. Let your readers open your eyes to the problems you don’t see, so you can take the opportunity to fix them.

Readers expand your perspective. You are only one person, so your outlook on the world is limited and skewed. You have strange views about certain things, and some of your views simply haven’t been challenged in a way that forces you to clarify them well or charitably. Readers can help you identify the odd little points in a draft, the ones that either are or seem arrogant, stingy, dismissive, hyper-emotional, you name it. Points like these will jut out in unseemly ways, always subtracting and distracting from good work, unless someone will be so kind as to call your attention to them, so you can know to improve them.

Readers make the process realistic. If your writing aspirations are real, then you’re going to have to accept the reality of readers at some point. Get used to feedback now, and critiques won’t make you crazy later. Write with readers in mind now, and it won’t feel strange when they’re a part of the process later. Start learning what readers are interested in now, and then when your defining moments as a writer come, you’ll be prepared to deliver for your readers.


YOUR TURN: Respond in the comments: How have readers helped your writing? What kind of readers give the best feedback? What keeps you from pursuing readers?


Photo credit: cogdogblog cc

The Heart of An Artist

Hands of Businesswoman Using LaptopWe think, we feel, we bleed on the page. We’re sewers of words, stitch by stitch until our heads unravel fuzzy.  Hey, are you talking to me?

People don’t always “get” us, and we’re okay with that because we already know we’re a bit strange, no shocker. Our dearest people love us anyway.

We writers draw boundaries and let our voice mail field calls. We plop our rears on chairs and pop up prayers and Advils and away we go, ready to transport our readers.

A thousand distractions call, but we have a dream-scream and God put it there. And if God put it there, nobody can take it away. And who needs to clean her house anyway? We have books to write.

We’re emotional creatures, God bless us. We’re well endowed with feelings. We love and hate our emotions with a passion. We get a high when we make readers laugh, cry, and get angry, boom-boom-boom, sometimes all at the same time.

My husband wipes his eyes as he reads the fruit of my year-long labor. He’s lost in the part where Ema McKinley swallows her grandsons into a hug. It’s her first hug since the miracle. And as Ema absorbs the feel of those boys, my husband sniffles and I swell. Swell with the joy of the craft and the miracles and the emotion-packed words.

Jesus had emotions. Remember how he wept? To love is to feel, and when Lazarus died, Jesus felt what we’d feel. In love, He felt for us.

We feel for our audience when we write, and this is our love gift.  We want to love them closer to something. Just like Jesus, the Living Word, wants to love us closer to Himself.

Hey, big-hearted artist, what do you love most about writing? What drives you to do what you do?

Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet. Psalm 45:1

Risking Rejection

Why are we afraid to fail? Often because we believe rejection exposes a gap in us. It points to something we don’t want others to see. It confirms what our suspicions tell us.

We aren’t acceptable.

As writers, we risk rejection from many different sources. Projects and people alike can make us feel unacceptable, and throw us into a pit of paralyzing despair. Any one of a myriad of things have the power to make us give up on our writing dreams. If we let it.Definition of Rejection

  • Literary agents can reject us.
  • Booking agents can reject us.
  • Publishers can reject us.
  • Editors can reject us.
  • Endorsers can reject us.
  • Influencers can reject us.
  • Reviewers can reject us.
  • Media can reject us.
  • Readers can reject us.
  • And through Self-deprecation, we can reject ourselves.

So how can you empower yourself to feel acceptable when rejection says you’re not?

Author Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall’s Blindness Didn’t Hold Him Back

Challenge your own viewpoint. Take a 180 approach and look at this specific moment as your personal catalyst for change, improvement, and a call to do better work. Jim Stovall, a blind author and movie maker, knows rejection well.

You’ve GOT to watch the video on his link to see what he says about giving up. Here’s a quote to give you a hint of the amazing story you’ll want to hear. “That big dream would not have been put inside of you if you didn’t have the capacity to achieve it.”

Author John Grisham

John Grisham’s Tenacity Made the Difference

Another powerful example of tenacity in the face of rejection comes from an author most of us recognize. Internationally acclaimed novelist John Grisham. He understands what it feels like to fail in front of professionals, but he chose to learn from his mistakes, and keep on keeping on.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you of the greatest victory that came from the greatest rejection of all. A book that was denounced, fought against, and even after publication, faced efforts to utterly destroy it. But yet, the words inscribed inside changed the world, and made it a better place. The book I refer to is The Bible. Aren’t you glad God didn’t give up.

So the next time you get a rejection letter, phone call, email, or text, remember these three things.

Anita Brooks Walking Bridge Photo

Is Success Waiting Around Your Corner?

1. The capacity to make your big dream reality is already inside of you.

2. Rejection prepares us for great things in the future, and reminds us to stay humble when we arrive there.

3.  Just because a few people fight against your efforts doesn’t mean you won’t come out victorious.

Maintain a teachable attitude, then act with integrity, humility, and tenacity. This is your big dream. Take courage, and don’t let anyone convince you it’s unacceptable. Risking rejection can turn that big dream of yours into something real. But only if you don’t give up too soon.

“Would You Like to Meet the Author?”

"Soapdish" photo from www.lazydork.com

“Soapdish” photo from http://www.lazydork.com

There’s a funny scene in the movie “Soapdish” that depicts a depressed soap opera actress, played by Sally Field, getting her recognition fix. She goes in dark sunglasses to a shopping mall with her best friend, who suddenly shouts “Is that who I think it is?”

Everyone around them stops, the actress removes her glasses, and she is immediately thronged by fans, all wanting an autograph. She smiles, graciously greets her admirers, coos at babies, and regains her self-confidence.

This has never happened to me. Not the depression part–every writer gets the blues in the face of the enormity of the writing endeavor. But I’ve never had crowds of people clamor for my autograph–not in a bookstore, and certainly not in the middle of a shopping mall.

I did have a moment recently, however, that brought this scene to mind in a good way.

My husband and I were playing hooky, taking a weekday afternoon to stroll through the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which happens to be about five minutes away from our home. The Arb has carried my books for several years now in its gift shop, and I’ve made a few book signing appearances there, but I’m by no means an author who is recognized by the general public. After touring the gardens, my husband and I headed into the gift shop for our usual browsing, and while I inspected some lovely sweaters and ceramic dishes, he went into the book section to see my books on display.

A moment later, I heard his voice from across the aisle.

“Would you like to meet the author?” he asked a woman who was standing in front of the display, one of my books in her hand. “She’s my wife.”

Say no, I willed her. Sporting my heavy parka, my hair doing its dry electricity bush thing, the last thing I’d expected was to be called upon to meet a reader.

“I’d love to,” she replied, turning in the direction he was pointing out to her, which was straight at me.

I slapped on my ‘meet-my-reader’ face and smiled as my husband ushered her over. We shook hands and I introduced myself, then asked her if she’d read any of my books.

“No, but I’ve heard about them,” she told me. “So I thought I’d give one a try.”

We chatted a bit more, I offered to sign the book in her hand, and after a few more minutes, she left to pay for her book at the register.

“Do you feel like the actress in the shopping mall?” my husband asked, referring to the movie we’d both enjoyed many times over.

“Yes and no,” I replied. “Yes, in that I was recognized, thanks to you,” I added, punching him lightly in the arm, “and no, in that I wasn’t feeling the need for attention to refuel my artistic career. But it was fun to give a new reader a nice surprise she didn’t expect.”

Actually, I hope I do that every time readers pick up one of my books: I want them to get a nice surprise.

Without the dry electricity hair bush thing, though, thank you very much.