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.