2012 Writers and Readers Reach Out

Over the years I’ve challenged my readers at All Things Southern to join me in an annual benefit for the less fortunate. We’ve done everything from drilling wells in Africa with Life Today to partnering with World Vision to buy chickens and goats for needy families around the world.

Last year I became fixated with the exponential power represented by the fellow writers I meet in my travels. Knowing these wordsmiths all had a circle of readers that enjoy his or her work and interact with them via their websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter, I wondered what we might accomplish by combining our individual platforms and multiplying our efforts. The dream led me to launch Writers and Readers Reach Out. The positive results fueled my desire to do more. For the second year, I’m asking writers and readers to embark with me on 30 Days of Thankfulness to coincide with the season of Thanksgiving.

I was in the planning stages of the drive and personally burdened by what I was learning about human trafficking when I read Passport through Darkness, by Kimberly L. Smith.  I knew immediately that Make Way Partners, the organization that Kimberly and her husbanded founded, should be the recipient of this year’s efforts. Make Way Partners works with individuals, churches, and organizations to help prevent and combat the evil of human trafficking and all forms of modern-day oppression.

If you’ll take the time to read just a few of the real-life stories on Kimberly’s blog of women and children who Make Way Partners has rescued from slavery, and for whom they provide long-term care, I believe you’ll want to participate in this beautiful journey of restoration.

Eight years ago, Kimberly began chartering small mission planes to fly her into the war zone where U.S. sanctions and Islamic regimes rendered thousands of orphans unadoptable. Providing food and opening a first-grade school in a lawless land with no other educational systems, MWP partnered with an indigenous leader to rescue and care for these most vulnerable orphans. Year-by-year, they have added a new grade to their school. Now, graduating eighth grade, the orphans of MWP have more education than many current leaders of their nation.  It is time to build a high school, making it possible to raise up the next generation of educated Christian leaders who will stop the cycle of violence and slavery.

Read about a few of these amazing students and the complete high school proposal here: http://kimberlylsmithblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/battle-cry-by-guest-blogger-matt-mcgowen.html

The quotes scattered here are those of the late Helen Keller.  Inviting Ms. Keller to share this journey with writers and readers feels right, for it was the power of a word written in the palm of her hand that unlocked Ms. Keller’s heart and mind and subsequently impacted untold lives around the world!

As readers and writers, no one knows the value of education better than we. Let’s dream big and build a high school for the world’s most vulnerable orphans!

Thirty days of thankfulness. It’s not a long time, but it’s a perfect time to join hands and do something grand, together. ~Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Details for participating authors:

~Writers and Readers 30 Days of Thankfulness begins Nov.1st, 2012

~Each author posts the drive and invites his or her readers to join the effort.

~Participating authors and their websites will be credited and hyperlinked
on Kimberly L. Smith’s author site as well as the MWP blog and Facebook page. The Make Way Partners community is 15,000 strong, representing all 50 states and 10 countries. Kimberly will be blogging about Readers and Writers Reach Out and encouraging her supporters to read works from authors who are of the same mind and passionate to support the same things they care about.

(Authors, please contact audreym@makewaypartners.org if you would like to participate.  Please email Audrey with your name, blog site, Facebook page, website, or any other acknowledgement that you would like to use for your readers to track this opportunity.)

~Each author will be supplied with a button to use on your website, blog, Facebook wall, etc., linked to the donation button at Make Way Parners. You’ll notice the donation form has the following field: “How did you learn about Make Way Partners?” The software can easily track the efforts of individual authors by having the reader respond in that field with the shortened name of our drive and the author’s name. Example: WritersandReaders,authorJohnSmith

*The individual author will have access to how much he or she has personally raised but all other records will be private. There will be no public competition. At the end of the 30 days, we will publically announce the grand total raised, thanking all participating authors.”

Suggestions for participating authors:

~Please feel free to copy and paste this blog post directly, or use your own words to share the story.

~Instead of asking readers for a certain dollar amount, we respectfully suggest asking them to consider the weight of the subject. What would we be willing to do or give if it were our children and grandchildren being bought and sold?

~Strictly optional: On my personal blog, I enjoy having a giveaway in conjunction with the drive. Everyone who donates get entered in the drawing for a signed book, t-shirt, DVD, or anything else I decide to put in a goody bag. Last year I contacted one of my radio sponsors who gladly donated an Ipad for the giveaway! This idea might work for authors who don’t have a radio show, but do have a store or business in their area that would like to participate by sponsoring the author’s drive. In addition, Make Way Partners will give a free copy of Passport through Darkness to every donor.

~Keep the drive before your readers through your own platform during the thirty day focus, aiming to blog about it at least once a week and discuss it frequently via social media.

~Use your media contacts to schedule interviews to talk about Writers and Readers Reach Out 2012. If we can make use of your contacts but you’re unable to donate the interview time, please contact me. It may be that Kimberly or I, if not another of our participating authors, would be able to fill in.

~When twittering or pinning this drive please use hashtags #WritersandReaders2012 or #WR2012. Thank you!

Hugs, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (twitter @shelliet)

http://www.allthingssouthern.com

This is your donate button:

Simply save the .gif to your desktop and insert it into your posts. The direct link you will be pointing to should be: https://app.etapestry.com/hosted/MakeWayPartners/OnlineDonation.html  

***UPDATE– Yes, bloggers are welcome and encouraged to participate, too.  Also, I’d like to thank LITFUSE Publicity Group for donating publicity efforts.

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Loving Our Reader as Ourselves

We write for so many reasons. As we write, we experience many rewards in the writing process alone, but those personal rewards can sometimes obscure the deepest reason of all to write: to love our neighbors. In our case, our neighbors are our readers, those with faces just inches from our words, their minds and hearts living in the very houses we have built.

How can we love our readers as ourselves? It’s become increasingly difficult to find our way forward here because of our postmodern culture’s obsessions with fame and the self, but here are a few steps forward:

1.     Love your readers by writing beyond yourself.

Write from the self, by all means, but don’t let the primary subject be the self, even if you’re writing memoir. Many of us write to attend to the fragments of our lives and to make something coherent and meaningful from them. It’s a noble enterprise, to pursue wisdom from the chaos of our real lives. We are writing our way home, many of us.  “We are lost in a dark wood and we need stories to help us find our way home,” Scott Russell Sanders writes. But don’t forget that this is also the reason readers read, not to find the way to your house, ultimately, but to find their way to their own true home. Our purpose in writing must be more than self-fulfillment. It must be God-and-neighbor fulfillment.

2.     Love your readers by living a genuine faith-ward life.

God’s truths are not just propositional and communicated by language: they are experiential, relational, incarnational.  Our first job as writers is to write from a faith that we ourselves are trying to live in and live out rather than a faith that is simply pronouncements, words on a page. As Joy Sawyer has written,

“And 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. . . . .  our deepest joy is experienced when the poetry of our lives begins to be expressed, as the apostle John said, not in words alone, but in deed and in truth.”

 3.    Love your readers by not preaching at them.

We need not tell all the truth about anything at any one time (even if we knew it). Life, issues, experiences, even under the purview of God, are all complex, multi-layered.  Communicating Truth and truths is a process that we engage in over a lifetime, encompassing many possible stages:  plowing, sowing, watering, reaping.  Think of your writing efforts as a lifelong endeavor rather than a tell-it-all right now.

4.     Love your readers by loving the world we’ve been given.

Though I do indeed want all people to know Christ, more, I want Christ to be made known. And because He is found everywhere in life, in all places, in all things, I am not just freed but compelled to discover and then reveal Him through all the lovely, hideous, fascinating and stultifying  things of this world, which are, after all, His. “Love calls us to the things of this world,” Richard Wilbur has written, and our love for our reader will call us out into this God-made world as well.

And so, I end here, out of love for you, dear readers! I want to preach 100 more ways to love our readers—but let us return to the lives and words we’ve been given, aiming toward a poetry of truth, word and deed!

What is one tangible way you will choose to love your readers this week?

How to Find an Audience for Your Novel

World

Chances are, you’ve heard it before: if you want to sell, know your market. For some, that’s a no-brainer. Those who write romances, for example, can usually name an audience. But what if you haven’t yet settled into a niche or write across genres? If finding your target audience is a sticking point for you, believe me, I understand.

My debut novel, DawnSinger, first in the Tales of Faeraven series (releasing in 2012 from Harbourlight Books) is considered epic fantasy. Although with strong elements of romance, suspense, history and adventure, it really combines genres. Some people will tell you to avoid breaking into publishing with an unusual project like mine. Listen carefully when they speak. Not that I’d have done things any differently. You see, this story breathed into my soul years ago and wouldn’t let me go, even when I quit writing. Ah, but that’s another tale. Unless you can cite a similar one, you’re better off writing something more conventional.

I confess: at first I wrote DawnSinger for its story without giving much thought to its readers. This showed in my inability to articulate who they might be. In my biased opinion, my novel’s target audience incorporated everyone. I soon discovered editors’ opinions of such a grandiose claim, especially from an emerging author. It’s not really true anyway. No book in existence appeals to all readers. I asked myself some hard questions and, in the editing process, adapted DawnSinger for a readership I identified. Most of my life I’ve done things backwards, and developing my story for its audience was no exception.

My experience begs a question. Should you write for others or yourself? Is it better to plan with an audience in mind or oppose this mindset? If you write “from the heart” won’t readers find you anyway? In other words, should you pursue readers or draw them?

Neither. And both. I’ll explain.

If you only focus on ensnaring an audience without regard for your calling as a literary artist you risk writing soulless drivel. Readers know instinctively whether you have a deep feeling for your subject or not. Don’t even try to pretend with them. For this reason, It’s best not to write to trends for which you have no passion. When you consider the opportunity cost, it’s not worth it. What is an opportunity cost? The price you pay in lost time because you’re not writing something that suits you better. If you’re anything like me, you can come up with more ideas than you’ll ever write in a lifetime. When deciding whether to chase a trend, bear that in mind.

That’s not to say you should let your inner artist run amok with total disregard for marketability (assuming you want a readership). Don’t let the proverbial pendulum swing too far the other direction. Why not? Because writing to publish isn’t just about art. It’s also about business. You want to identify your target audience for the same reason an acquisition editor searches for certain types of manuscripts. Each publishing house caters to the tastes of a specific readership, and so should you.

To avoid frustration as a communicator, you should have both a.) something to say and b.) someone willing to hear it. Identifying A will help you find B. Name the fire that burns within you and you’ll identify those whose lives will ignite from a spark you light. Reach deep to tap your passions. That’s where you’ll find your readers.

You’ve Got “Connections”

It’s a great privilege to connect with the world through our words and a greater privilege to connect with the Word about our worlds.

Connect with God about our writing

“God gave you this dream,” my pastor told me.  “You need to give it back to Him in prayer because He’s the only one who can make it count for eternity.”

One of my friends posted this on Facebook:  “I struggled with my writing for three hours, but after praying, I couldn’t stop the flow.  Why did I wait so long?”

When we’re not intentional about prayer, it falls by the wayside like everything else we’re not intentional about.

God wants to be our writing partner.  He says, “Let me have it!”

  • Lord, give me wisdom and direction today.
  • Inspire me and keep me focused.
  • Help me to persevere for your glory. 

“Commit everything you do to the LORD.  Trust him, and he will help you. ” Psalm 37:5

Connect with “the connected”

“You need prayer partners,” a well-known Christian author told me.  “Trustworthy, faith-filled people who will intercede on your behalf before God.”

Because we’re missionaries of words, the enemy stops at nothing to hinder us.  We need to call on our allies.

I took my friend’s advice and prayed for a little army of intercessors I could add to my email prayer list.  They encourage me to keep going, and I encourage them that they’re a key part of my ministry’s eternal reward.

“The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” 1 Corinthians 3:8

Connect with God about our readers

If we’re missionaries, our readers are the mission field.

I wrote the poems in A Friend in the Storm, with only one reader in mind, my friend Chantale who was dying of cancer.  I didn’t know my audience would grow from one to hundreds when she asked me to read them at her funeral.  I didn’t know my audience would grow from hundreds to thousands when Zondervan published them in a gift book.  I simply wanted to be a faithful friend.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”  Luke 16:10

Here’s how I pray for my readers:

  • Father, draw the right people to my book today.
  • Anoint my words to jump off the page into their hearts.
  • Please bring Holy Spirit peace and transformation.

Connect with God about your agent

If we’re going to pray about our God-given gift, we’re going to pray for our agents because they’re a big part of the gift!  Just as they represent us before editors, we’re privileged to represent them before the Father.

  • Lord, may she stay close to you, in the Word and in prayer.
  • Please help her be balanced and manage her time wisely.
  • Give her favor, Father.  Please open all the right doors for her today.

Connect with God about other writers

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:2

We need to pray for other writers the way we would want them to pray for us.

Here are three great groups to remember in prayer:

  • Writers that feed us
  • Writers in our immediate circles
  • Writers we DO NOT want to pray for

Who are we currently reading?  Karen KingsburyMax LucadoKathi Macias?  We need to ask the Lord to continually inspire and bless them.

If we’re a part of a writer’s group or literary agency like WordServe that shares prayer requests, we have a community opportunity to practice true, selfless love.

Are we envious or jealous?  We need to pray!  God even calls us to pray for those writers who wronged us.  It happens.  And prayer changes us ever as much as it changes them!

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

I’m wondering, dear friends, what is your experience with the power of prayer?

Four Ways to Engage Fiction Readers

 

From listening to my readers and following book reviews, four key topics repeatedly surface. While they’re not new ideas, they contain basic value in creating fictional worlds.

Readers wish to be swept away from their normal reality.

If readers wish to be swept away from their normal reality, our fiction has to contain something compelling or unique. This element must be intentional, not just something we hope for in our writing. And it should be identifiable. It can be an unusual setting or a fresh plot idea. Or how about an uplifting theme or a unique friendship? In order to offer something fresh yet appealing, I find it helpful to identify my readers and understand my genre.

Not only that, once we’ve swept readers off their feet, we must protect their experience by keeping them airborne—in their fictional world. They trust us not to let them come crashing back to earth without warning. Good writing remains invisible while creating a safety-net of lasting and vivid impressions. In other words, we must be careful not to do anything to draw them out of the story and ruin their fictional experience.

Readers need their emotions engaged and gratified.

 In order to engage and gratify readers’ emotions, we must create fascinating characters with whom they can identify—because they are looking for an emotional connection with the story. Our stories, and especially our endings, must not leave them up in the air, but provide emotional satisfaction and resolution. Again, we target the emotions associated with our genre. Suspense readers are looking for the adrenalin rush. They enjoy a short fall as long as they land safely in the end. Romance readers need to set their feet back on earth with a contented sigh.

Readers expect a takeaway.

 Readers also expect a story takeaway. When they have to come back to reality, they want something to take with them to enrich their everyday lives. It can be a spiritual theme that gives them hope in the real world. For a mystery, it might be an unexpected and intriguing twist. In women’s fiction, it might be a distinct image that provokes further thought or action—such as a family that solves their problems around the dinner table. While we foremost entertain, it’s this lingering takeaway that lives on inside our readers’ minds and excites them to spread the word about our stories. It compels them to follow our works.

Readers want to know more about authors.

Readers want to connect with us. It’s humbly amazing, and it’s the source of our greatest blessings. There’s something very intimate in the breath of story, the giving and taking that goes into the entire fictional experience. As authors, we’re sensitive beings who delight in the wonder and fear of it. And so we gladly leave our signature—a link for readers to interact with us or find out more about our writing.

What else? What do readers want from fiction?