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 Contest wins for unpublished authors don’t always lead to a book contract.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 Since most competitions for unpublished authors are wide open, authors with varying levels of skill may enter.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note that many, if not most, works that eventually are published by a traditional publisher never win a contest for unpublished authors.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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Markets Are Different Than You Think (Part 1 of 2)

This article is by Dan Balow, an agent with the Steve Laube Agency. It's used with his permission.

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Let’s discuss the culture in the United States and the Christian writer. Here are some unavoidable things to keep in mind as you write:
  • Ours is an “entertainment culture” where all forms of diversion are more important than just about anything.
  • Ours is a “drinking culture” where alcohol in all forms could be characterized as socially and economically important to more people than ever before.
  • Ours is a “sexualized culture” where certain behavior is assumed and even encouraged.
  • Homosexuality is a widely accepted lifestyle.
  • Most people generally hold a mix of political views, making them difficult to label.
  • Divorce is prevalent and long-term co-habitation is common.
  • Fewer and fewer children have a mother and father who live with them.
  • People do not work at the same company their entire lives, then retire. Pensions are something for public employees only and probably not forever. Retirement will come later and later. 
With the above I am addressing the culture as a whole, churchgoers and non-churchgoers. In addition, Christians have this going for them:
  • Most have a mix of theological views, many which have little or nothing to do with Scripture. They struggle to reconcile the list above with the Bible.
  • Church attendance is either shrinking or growing depending on who you talk to, but it is more commonly described as sporadic and unpredictable. 
As Christian writers go about the process of developing their work, they write to a less-than-ideal world where things are not at all like some Christian Norman Rockwell image might suggest.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Book Hook Hall of Fame (Part 2 of 2)

This post comes from marketing consultant Rob Eagar’s blog, “Wildfire Marketing.” It's used with his permission. (Cec)

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As a book marketing consultant, I like to help my author clients develop book hooks using the "what if I told you" technique. For fiction authors, I remind them that a good hook should present a heroic quest and the implied conflict that the protagonist will experience.

Every great book hook has this quality in common: you want to know how the story, the history, or the non-fiction advice will play out.

Sometimes it's easier to create a hook for your book when you see effective examples displayed. Below are 10 excellent samples:

1. What if a suicidal man had an angel show him how his town would turn out if he'd never lived?

2. What if I told you four Jamaicans decided to enter the Winter Olympics as a bobsled team...and had never seen snow?

3. What if you could be debt-free in 12 months, no matter how much you owe?

4. What if you can actually train your brain to win?

5. What if two people who hate each other start anonymously writing each other online and fall in love?

6. What if I told you the amount of rainforest equal to 31 million football fields disappears each year?

7. What if you can learn when to say and how to say no without feeling guilty?

8. What if you discovered your entire life was just a computer-generated illusion?

9. What if the first man to walk on Mars suddenly realizes he'll be the first to die there?

10. What if I told you everyone speaks, but not everyone is heard?

Notice how these "what if" questions naturally make you want to know more. That's the purpose of a book hook. Make people curious. Make them wonder. Make them want to purchase and read what happens next.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Book Hook Hall of Fame (Part 1 of 2)

As I finished creating my 10-part series on writing aphorisms, I read marketing consultant Rob Eagar’s blog, “Wildfire Marketing.” The next two posts are reprinted with his permission. (Cec)

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What if you could convince people to buy your book with just one sentence?

Would you want to learn how? Of course, every author would be curious to know the answer.

That's the power of a hook. And it just worked on you. (Ha!)

A book hook is a statement or question designed to generate immediate curiosity and make the reader desire to know more.

Why are hooks so important? Language is the power of the book sale. You're not selling books to machines. You're selling books to human beings. A book hook is powerful language that naturally makes people notice and want more.

How do you create a great book hook? Use this simple technique to get started. Imagine that your book is about to become a movie. Think like a screenwriter instead of an author.

For example, if you write fiction, picture your novel as an upcoming major motion picture, such as a thriller, a romantic comedy, or a horror film. How would you grab the reader's attention in one sentence?

If you've written a memoir, imagine your book as a dramatic tale on the silver screen. How would you make people curious about your story using one question or statement? If your genre is non-fiction history, education, religion, or self-help, imagine your book as a feature documentary.

Another effective technique for a great book hook is related to the way ESPN promotes their popular sports documentaries on TV called "30 for 30." They market every film using a narrator who asks the question, "What if I told you ____?" For each documentary, they fill in the blank to that question with a provocative statement.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 10 of 10)

When we sell manuscripts to publishers, they retain the right for the title. In my early days, I had no choice when editors insisted on changing mine. For example, one of my early books carried the title Put on a Happy Faith, and sold 40,000 the first year. My follow-up book I titled Have a Faith Lift. An editor said, “You’ve made an inroad with the cutesy title, and now we want to reach out of the more sedate readers.”

I had no voice in the matter and it came out as How to Live a Christian Life. It sold a total of 6,000 copies.

These days, however, publishing houses usually confer with their authors. Most of my books have kept the original title with sometimes a minor tweaking. My title was 90 Minutes in Heaven: A Story of Life and Death. Revell editors reversed the subtitle to A Story of Death and Life. I think they were correct.

On the other hand, another book I wrote for Don Piper carried the title of Departing Instructions for the Life Ahead: A Study of John 13 to 17.

Sad to say, the New York house didn’t seem to understand our audience, and they called it Getting to Heaven, with the subtitle Departing Instructors for Your Life Now. I still think it was a dreadful mistake on their part. (That publisher has since closed its Christian book division.)

Think about your title. Play with it in such a way that attracts readers. The use of aphorisms can work there. One of my titles was Making Sense When Life Doesn’t. The book didn’t have outstanding sales, but I still believe it was a good title. It also was a terse summary of my book.

The more faithfully I write aphorisms, 
the more I see many practical uses for them.