Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Ultimate Purpose of a Book Title

The following post was written by Rob Eagar of WildFire Marketing and is used with his permission.
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Below are title options for two different books. Which option do you find the most appealing?

Book 1

Option A: Conscious Couplehood

Option B: Getting the Love You Want

Book 2

Option A: What Happens When a Cheez-Its and Chocolate Girl Gets Healthy

Option B: Made to Crave

The answer is obvious. In both cases, Option B is the more appealing title. In fact, both of those titles wound up becoming runaway New York Times bestsellers. However, in each situation, the authors originally wanted to use Option A. Imagine the apathetic reaction if readers had seen Option A. Neither of those titles make sense.

I've consulted with both of these bestselling authors and heard their stories. They were so close to using a terrible title for their books. Fortunately, they decided to go back to the drawing board and develop new options. Today, they're glad they changed their mind and went with Option B.

But how did these authors make the original mistake of believing Option A was a good idea? Why was their thinking incorrect? The answer is that they didn't know the ultimate purpose for creating a book title:

The ultimate purpose of a book title is to tease, not teach.

I've met too many authors, especially non-fiction writers, who believe their book title is supposed to teach, educate, or inform the reader. This problem typically affects academic, religious, or business authors who get enamored with their methodology or curriculum. They struggle to get out of their own head and view their book from the perspective of an apathetic reader. I've also seen the same problem affect fiction writers who create boring titles for their novels.

Never forget that when people see your book title, they are skeptical, cynical, and distracted. They don't care about your methodology. They don't care about your seven steps for success. They don't care about your proven plan. They don't care about your fiction story. They don't care about your sacred insights. They just want to know if your book is worth reading.

The purpose of a title is to tease the reader to want more, not teach the reader what you know. When you overcome the desire to teach and learn how to tease readers, you just might turn an otherwise boring book into a bestseller.

Did I tease your interest to improve your next book title?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

How Do You Define Success? (Part 3 of 3)

If you read the two previous blog entries, you could scoff, "You've made it, so you can talk that way."

Yes, I am a successful author, and I've now made a living from it for more than thirty years. But that's still not how I define success. To people like my unnamed friend, success shows itself in the external world—accomplishing certain things.

I know several authors who earn a living—and some gross far more than I ever will—but they're no more contented than I am. And some lead miserable lives, constantly trying to bump their sales record or hit the New York Times' best-seller list with each project.

I'd like to sell more books and bring in more money. I see nothing wrong with that. But for me, the sales figures are byproducts of a healthy relationship with myself and my Creator. My contentment rests on my firmly held faith that God is ultimately in control and my role is to be content wherever I find myself.

I'm contented but not lazy. I still work as hard at the craft as I always have, but my emotions aren't fixed to the results.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How Do You Define Success? (Part 2 of 3)

"I'm angry at God," my writer-friend said over lunch. "I want to be a best-selling author and God won't let me."

In shock, I stared at him. "You told me you'd published nine novels and countless articles. How many authors do you know who've sold that many books?"

"But I'm not a best-selling author."

Although that conversation happened several years ago, I think of it often. I told him that many authors would envy his record.

"But I can't make a living from my writing."

Then I understood. He needed to have books on the best-seller lists and earn enough to support himself from book sales. I don't know him that well, but my guess is that even if he achieves his goal, he'd still feel unsuccessful.

His dreams of hitting the top of the charts is a fine idea. And it may happen. But even if he does, will he feel like a winner?

Success is an inside job.
It's who we are and not what we produce.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

How Do You Define Success? (Part 1 of 3)

"I want to be like you when I grow up." I've heard that comment from writers of all ages. And I understand.

"You're my role model," is another way I've heard it.

Both comments mean they've defined me as successful. And yes, I am, but it's because I've decided I'm a success.

My definition has shifted through the decades. When I began publishing articles, and before moving into books, I envisioned halos of success around those who had published a book—a real book through a royalty-paying publisher. In my mind, that author had arrived.

Then I sold my first book, followed by a second and a third. My concept of achievement changed to think anyone who had published more books than I had or produced bigger sales figures was successful. Thus, for me, professional triumph was a moving target.

At this stage of my development, I admit that I'm successful—but not for the reasons I once understood. At the end of my email signature each month, I write one of my maxims. Here's what I wrote one month: The greatest privilege I have in this life is to be exactly who I am.

Almost every morning I awaken and thank God for what I call my joyful contentment. I truly like my life and relish being who I am. Others may be (and are) more successful with larger sales, more published books, or any other measurement. And if I focused on external measures to judge whether I was a star, I'd probably say, "Not quite."

I'd always find reasons I wasn't successful.

And so will you.

But if you and I measure internally, it means we don't have to be famous, make millions, or publish 400 books during our lifetimes. If we like ourselves, embrace our work, and live with integrity intact, we're successful.

Each day I thank God for my talents. I didn't give them to myself. So what reason do I have to boast? My task is to be faithful in using my gifts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Why It's Okay to Lose a Contest (Part 2 of 2)

Tamela Hancock Murray, an agent with The Steve Laube Agency, wrote this article, which is a continuation of last week's post. It's used with her permission.

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3.) Contest wins don’t always lead to more money. While the author’s prestige grows with each success and a sticker on a cover may help a reader gravitate to a book, an award may or may not translate into sales. If you doubt this, consider the many books, television shows, and movies that bomb despite raves from critics.

4.) Contest wins for unpublished authors don’t always lead to a book contract. Judges review submissions from the pool they receive and choose a winner. They may be looking at your entry versus three, six, or ten. Since most competitions for unpublished authors are wide open, authors with varying levels of skill may enter. By contrast, a busy editor may receive three, six, ten, or many more submissions in a single day. Literary agents rigorously vetted most of those proposals, so competition is likely to be much more stiff on an editor’s desk than in a contest. So while a contest win may urge an editor to take a closer look, that rivalry may mean your story doesn’t rise to the top of a publisher’s stack.

If you enter a contest and don’t final or win, don’t despair. At the very least, the contest gives you a chance to see where your work ranks among other current authors’. And you may gain valuable written feedback. Please note that many, if not most, works that eventually are published by a traditional publisher never win a contest for unpublished authors. Most books, including many bestsellers, never win an award.

My advice? Keep entering contests, but also keep the results in perspective.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Why It's Okay to Lose a Contest (Part 1 of 2)

Tamela Hancock Murray, an agent with The Steve Laube Agency, wrote this article. It's used with her permission.

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Any author who’s entered contests knows that they are difficult to win. The competition is more fierce than ever. For example, I just judged an ACFW competition and would have been happy to represent most of the authors whose work I reviewed. Entries get better every year. This is good news for readers while encouraging authors to fine tune their work. In the case of prestigious contests such as those sponsored by ACFW, there are no losers. I had the privilege of attending the Christy Award dinner on several occasions. Again, there are no losers in any group of Christy finalists.

There are other reasons not to be depressed if you lose a contest:

1.) Judges have subjective opinions. Their views are valuable, and feedback — even if it’s just a perfect score — is worthwhile. But as with any other sentiments, it’s up to the author to decide which comments to take to heart.

2.) Not all contests are created equal. Some coordinators have a pool of more appropriate judges than others. I’ve been asked to judge contests where my credentials made sense. I’ve also been asked to rank submissions where the poor coordinator plainly reached out to me in desperation. What does this mean for authors? Consider all opinions, but don’t stress.

(We’ll cover two more reasons in next week’s post.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Markets Are Different Than You Think (Part 2 of 2)

This post is by Dan Balow, an agent with The Steve Laube Agency, and is used with his permission.

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Years ago, I heard the worst church sermon ever. Instead of illuminating a passage of Scripture, the speaker seemed to assert:
  • All Christians vote Republican 
  • All Christians were disgusted at “liberal” social gospel teachers. 
  • All Christians were repulsed by television preachers. 
  • All Christians should distrust the media. 
  • All teenagers were irresponsible. 
  • Every male should be a great financial provider for their family of multiple children and their stay-at-home wife and mother. 
  • Public schools are all evil, liberal strongholds of negative influence and should be fought or avoided. 
Agree or disagree with the statements, placing every believer under the same umbrella felt wildly simplistic.

Certainly, it is easier to treat people as homogeneous “markets” where everyone looks, acts and thinks alike, but unfortunately, it is much more complex than that. The market for Christian books is made up of people struggling with all sorts of things and often seeking comfort in everything but their faith.

That’s the world to which you write, one which is not what you think, or would like to think.

Metaphorically speaking, there is no such thing as preaching to the choir.

People are complicated, almost immune from categorization and require authors to rely heavily on immutable Biblical principles, which they know still apply, despite changes in culture.

You are not writing a book for married women. You are writing a book for a woman who is struggling every day to find stability amidst shifting sands, seeking to love God above all else and love their neighbor in spite of her circumstances. And by the way, her husband won’t go to church and her son is making terrible life choices.

When you write, don’t think about writing to people living lives you think they should live. Write to real people. They are all seeking to grow in their faith amidst all the list of influences I mentioned above.

The ground is shifting and if the foundation is not strong, the building will crumble.

In conclusion, if writing comes easy for you, you probably aren’t thinking about an audience of readers as you should. You think you know them, but they are unreal caricatures.

This is why it is important for writers of non-fiction to have a speaking ministry as part of their life work. It connects them to actual people as they interact.

You should sit in humble silence before you dare put anything on paper.

When you truly know your audience, writing from your faith should be hard, as you ponder how imperfect the world is and how deep is the love of God.