Friday, November 30, 2012

Freebie Marketing--Thoughts from the Edge

I'm fresh from a new marketing/promotion experience courtesy of publisher David C. Cook who offered my novel, Talking to the Dead, as a free ebook download for two days this November. (If you missed the freebie, it's on sale until Dec 17th for only $2.99 across nearly all ebook platforms). I was happy about the opportunity to reach new readers and I dug in with both hands to help spread the word. Many of you, faithful readers/friends dug in with me for which I'm grateful and awed.

Here are some bits of experience, thoughts, limitations, and demons I rode out over the two day freebie giveaway:

--at one point, after I realized the promo was a "success" in all possible measurable ways, I wrestled with the notion that all it takes to be #1 is to offer full length novels for free. I stared down this monster by reasoning the purpose of the promo was not sales, but exposure. New people being introduced to my work means traction under the new work when it releases (whenever that might be).

--my astonishment at the realization that, after years of "putting myself out there" online, at writer's conferences, and on this blog, I actually can move books--and, simultaneously realizing that it's not me AT ALL moving these books, but it's YOU, my friends, readers, fans, and all around amazing people. All I did was create a couple of picture files and asked friends to share.

--on the Novel Matters Facebook page, I was reading comments on the post promoting the free download and I noticed two women who were obviously talking to each other, but in a language I didn't know. I clicked over to one of their pages and discovered they were from Romania. I copy and pasted one of the comments into Google Translate and translated from Romanian to English. Turns out the two women were discussing my novel, and one of woman said she didn't have Kindle so she couldn't get the book. I typed out a response to them (in English) about how they could still get the book for free and included all the relevant links. I then had Google translate my comment into Romanian, and I posted it in the comments section. I was feeling all kinds of international that day, let me tell ya.

--the thrill of working in partnership with a team of industry professionals who are excited about your work is unparalleled. The marketing team at David C. Cook is an enthusiastic bunch. They love books, they love readers. They know how to connect the two in ways I can't begin to imagine. Disappointed writers will often lament that publishers don't know how to connect with readers and can't promote fiction. That publishers leave everything up to the author. Not true. It's the writer who must find the best ways to partner with the publisher to promote. They are a large system, you are a single, deeply creative soul. Use both to your full advantage.

--back to "sure, I'm #1 in the whole Kindle store because the book is free". Yeah, that one again. I beat it with a shut up stick.

--I was pretty much glued to social media for two days. Yes, I obsessively watched the measurable numbers (which means Amazon, really. None of the other sites bother with sales info on their sites), but that wasn't what took all my time and attention. I made sure that I "liked" and/or commented on everyone's posts or comments that mentioned my work online. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Review Sites, all of them kept me hyper busy. I also did a whole lot of "thank you-ing" throughout the two days. Being Canadian, I'm polite by nature, but I absolutely wanted to connect and thank people who took time out of their busy days to share my news. I felt genuinely honoured by that.

--So, if I'm online all day solid, how on earth am I getting any writing done? Not. Just not. But, it's reasonable to spend two days with a limited time promotion. This has helped me understand the real needs of promo. I don't have to work at it all day, every day, but I do need to dedicate blocks of time for promotion and marketing--around relevant events.

--I have the most loving and devoted group of friends imaginable. I dearly wish I could talk numbers just to let you know how amazing you are, how far you can reach, but I can't (mostly because they aren't all in yet. It takes between 60-90 days after the promotion ends to collect all the numbers--but really, folks, we swept the Amazon Kindle Store. The whole flippin' Kindle Store. That's gotta tell you something, right?). Let me just say even the very, very early numbers floored me. When Cook emailed me (and they were tickled too!) I just stared at the numbers. When I was able to speak again the only things that came out were whispers of "Thank you." and occasionally, "Me?"

--marketing and promotion is an oil and water mix of hope, elation, dejection, yardsticks, and shut up sticks.

Thank you so much for your help, word of mouth, and general good looking-ness.

What about you? Would you want to give your work away? Have you? Is it a good idea? We love to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Going Indie

It was with much thought, prayer and a good dose of nerves that I decided to go independent in publishing my latest novel, Unraveled, which I released in August. My former agent had tried to find a home for it in CBA, with no success, so when I told her I wanted to publish it myself, she gave me her blessing. I made the decision because I believe in the story, and because I believe the quality of the writing is equal to my other published novels. But it was apparent that if it was to be published, it would be done independently. The reader comments I’ve received so far make me glad I was brave enough to give it a try.

There were a number of ways I could go once I made the decision, but I chose to go with Amazon CreateSpace because our own gifted Latayne had used CreateSpace for The Hinge of Your History: The Phases of Faith. She gave me pointers on how to get started, and once I began the process, Amazon made it very easy to navigate through. I’ve been very satisfied with CreateSpace, and would go that route again without hesitation.

Now I’m in the marketing phase, which is a daunting task. But I was pretty much on my own in promoting Every Good & Perfect Gift and Lying on Sunday, so this isn’t new territory. Fortunately, I’m a lot more knowledgeable than I was in ‘08 when those novels were published, and I have many more contacts. That said, I’m still only making a ripple with my efforts, when my goal is to make a splash. I’d really like to connect with book clubs, but I’m not sure how to find them. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I'm marketing extensively to libraries, as I did with my earlier novels, which is already proving effective.

As you know if you follow this blog on a regular basis, Patti is also in the midst of going independent, and I’m happily benefitting from her research. She recommended Make a Killing on Kindle Without Blogging, Facebook and Twitter: The Guerilla Marketer’s Guide to Selling Your Ebooks on Amazon by Michael Alvear. I like his writing style, like his dry wit and humor, but after reading the first four chapters my assessment was: Just shoot me now. There was no way that I, a relatively unknown author, who is not remotely guerilla-ish, was going to succeed at selling books, whether traditionally or independently published. No. Way. I might as well hang it up. But then I got to Chapter 5, and began feeling less suicidal. Rather than telling me all the reasons why I should fail, Michael began to show me how I could succeed. I’m creating my strategy and will soon put his recommendations to the test.

James Scott Bell’s Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books has also been helpful. The suggestions that overlap in both books are the ones I’m concentrating on first.

Is going independent the optimum course for me? That remains to be seen. What is certain is that there’s never been a better time to try. No longer does self-publishing require an outlay of thousands of dollars, or mean boxes of books in your garage. With a minimum investment you can have a quality product to put on the market, but that’s the key word here: “quality” is vital. From cover to content, don’t cut corners. Period. The old maxim holds true: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  With the enormous changes taking place in the publishing world, self-publishing is losing its stigma. Many A-list authors are going that route, particularly with ebooks, because for many, it makes the most sense.

What about you? Have you considered going independent? If so, why? If not, why? And again, if you have suggestions about reaching book clubs, I'd appreciate hearing from you.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Looking Forward: Choosing a writer's conference in 2013

Writer's conferences can be a terrific opportunity to network with writers and meet with editors and agents. They can also be an opportunity to make bung things up so badly you'll want to run home, hide under your bed and never come out again.

Strange things happen at writer's conferences. Normal adults begin behaving as if the conference were some big slumber party. Writers cry. Many of them. Often. Otherwise psychologically healthy people break down and start stalking people. The conference atmosphere is surreal and you need to prepare for it now. Here's a quick check list for deciding which conference you should attend, and what to do once you get there.

1) Align the conference you want to attend to writing goals
This rule assumes a great deal of forethought prior to registering for a conference. As a writer, you are the CEO of your small business - an entrepreneur. It's important to have clear goals for what you want to accomplish as a writer and how you plan to accomplish them. Are you just starting out? You're in luck. Most conferences offer workshops for beginner writers - but ensure you sign up for the workshops that best fit with what you hope to accomplish. A workshop on writing Amish Memoirs may well be fascinating, but if you hope to write devotional books for computer nerds - you shouldn't waste time in the memoir workshop. The short version of this rule: Writer, know thyself.

2) Don't keep going to the same conference year after year out of habit.
Routine and habit are fine for housework and memorizing the multiplication table, but creative types require fresh thought, stimulation, and adventure to keep the writing pipes running. I know, it's so great to get together with a gang of ol' writing buddies and catch up, but returning year after year to the same ol' same ol' does nothing to boost your creative effort. Are you looking to raise the bar on your writing? Check out some of the conferences you've been over looking all these years and take a chance. The short version of this rule: Think outside the box.

3) Stalking a specific editor or agent because God told you they will publish/represent you is always a bad idea. Conferences have systems in place that put writers and industry professionals together. Do everything you can to work within the system (e.g. fifteen-minute appointments, submitting your manuscript ahead of time to a specific editor/agent or for critique). If the system fails you for some reason, don't lose heart. And don't follow them into the washroom. Relax. Be professional. Agents and editors aren’t thrilled about signing a writer who goes to extremes to get noticed. One way to get noticed is to spend time online, reading blogs and commenting. The short version of this rule: Have faith; be a pro.

4) Realize that pitching your book will feel weird - and get over it. You will only have a short time to talk to any single industry pro, and while it may feel strange to sit down and go straight into your pitch, the editor will thank you. Your pitch is the reason for the meeting. Eating up half your allotted time with chitchat is a waste of your time and it annoys the editor or agent.  
Give 'em what they want—the goods on your book. It will feel weird for about three seconds, then the editor/agent/publisher will say something back to you and you'll go - whew! I did it! I can do this! Short version of this rule: Shoot from the hip.

5) If you get stars in your eyes, give them a rub and keep your agenda in mind. Some conferences are packed with multi-published authors we all gush over. It's fun to rub elbows with the likes of them - but remember, you're on a journey to become a multi-published author yourself. Avoid gushing. It's actually awkward for the author you are gushing over. A smile, or handshake and a quick, "I enjoy your books. It's a pleasure to meet you" or words to that effect are perfect. Short version of this rule: Act like you belong (because you do!)

6) Multi-published authors want to help you, but they are not information cows to be milked. I attended a conference last year and was approached by a hopeful writer who asked me to share my professional contacts with her. Three times she asked. Then she informed me that I wasn’t a good person because I refused her reasonable request. The exchanges made me uncomfortable, but there’s no way I was going to hand over contacts emails and phone numbers. Publishing is about developing relationships. This takes time, but the rewards are lasting - and I don't just mean sharing contacts. I have wonderful relationships with editors and publishers because they are terrific people. The short version of this rule: Relationships first.

Now you: What's your question about attending a writer's conference? Do you have a tip to share? Leave a comment!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Going Global

On Monday, Sharon, Katy and I met with Megan Sayer for lunch in Old Sacramento. Megan is a regular reader of Novel Matters and comments often on our posts, and she  had come all the way from Tasmania (not just to see us).  We spent a delightful afternoon together before she headed for colder climates. Here we are:

It’s so interesting to get a glimpse of your culture through someone else's eyes.  The pumpkin that Megan is holding was one such glimpse.  Pumpkins are a symbol of autumn, harvest, Halloween and Thanksgiving in the U.S. When I see them on display, I get all warm and fuzzy.  They call up visions of chilly autumn evenings by the fire, the family around a Thanksgiving table, carving jack-o-lanterns with my kids, and remind me that the holidays are coming!  Megan was a bit amused by them. They are just vegetables in her experience. She asked what we would think if we saw a potato sitting on someone's porch.  I had to admit, it would seem pretty silly without the experience that went along with it. After all, Tasmania is just coming into summer right now. The weather channel shows a high of 60s to 70 degrees (fahrenheit). Makes perfect sense!

Though our time together was brief, our discussion got me thinking about how many of our personal experiences get included in our writing under the assumption that they are commonly held beliefs.  They could be family traditions, or the expressions of regional or national holidays, for example.  I recently read Alan Bradley's Flavia deLuce mysteries and really enjoyed the setting (both in time period and location) and the stories made sense, but I can't say that I 'got' it all. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, unless the plot turns on what we perceive as a common experience, and we lose our readers.  

My takeaway is to see through more of a global lens whenever possible in my writing. Does any of this post-Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) rambling ring a bell with anyone? We'd love to hear.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I realize that many of our readers are not United States citizens. But tomorrow for most of us is a day of Thanksgiving, and for Christians, a day of praise as well.

Related to your writing, to whom or what are you most grateful?

In retrospect, I see a "hinge" in my life where my thoughts of becoming either a dentist or an archaeologist turned toward writing. I had a high school teacher, Ruth Roberts, who later told me she was touched by my writing assignments in her English class. (I was just trying to survive: my dad had undergone two brain surgeries in the midst of my parents' divorce proceedings. I didn't write directly about my circumstances at all -- like most teenagers of the day, I was ashamed of anything that might mark me as unlike my classmates--but apparently what I wrote got her attention.)

Mrs. Roberts knew of two state-wide poetry contests and without my knowledge entered some of my poems in them. I won awards, and for the first time thought of myself as a writer, not just a fifteen-year-old who wrote. That perception trumped my lack of self-confidence and helped me enter more contests, one of which resulted in a college scholarship.

I later made connections with Mrs. Roberts, and in my capacity as president of the New Mexico State Poetry Society, founded a state-wide poetry contest for high school students: The Ruth Roberts Poetry Prize. She has been gone from this life for many years, but I salute her today.

Today, for whom are you grateful? Who caused you to first think of yourself as a writer?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Danger is My Middle Name

For the last week or so, I've been revisiting the writings of Madeleine L'Engle. She said so much in the most concise language. One quote spurred my thinking: "Writers think. Writers ask questions. Writers are dangerous." Really? Am I dangerous? Do I challenge tired ways of thinking? Prejudices? Hate? Ignorance? I prefer reading fiction that challenges my comfort, but do I write that kind of story? In Goodness & Mercy, my present work in progress, I want people to look beyond their inadequacy to the cross. I challenge them  to rethink how God gifts children and adults to serve His purposes without them even being aware of their contributions, and how our gifts can be as much a burden as a blessing. If this is dangerous, then Danger is my middle name.

How have you proved yourself dangerous in your writing?

Patti, I'm really enjoying the snippets of quotes from Madeleine L'Engle you've been posting on the Novel Matters facebook page. She, like only a rare few others, strikes me as one of those effortless intellectuals who, by virtue of her tremendous success, had to then go about attempting to explain what it was that made her so remarkable (Marilynne Robinson is another writer like this. Barbara Kingsolver, too--can anyone think of others?). This quote, however, has lost some it's edge in our post-post modern culture. Now, questions are the norm and the boldest move anyone can make is to take a stab at an answer. But I don't think asking questions of readers is what she meant as the thing that makes writers dangerous. I think she meant that dangerous writers ask questions of themselves before they write. The work of digging through the bedrock of prejudices, cultural crutches, verbal and mental shorthand must be done before the writing commences. Then we climb down into the hole we've dug and look up at the world in a new way, essentially turning the world on it's head. And that's the story we tell--and it's a dangerous one.

Yeah, I think the dangerous part is asking questions we don't know how to answer. That kind of writing takes a lot of faith, and I think it takes a kind of faith many of us don't have. Yikes! What if I come to an answer and it's that God is a blue turtle with the world on his back? Or less flippantly: what if God isn't? It seems to me that if it is really true that "God is and that he rewards those who seek him," then that we can ask all the questions we want, and trust for the answers.

I so agree with Katy's comment about asking questions we don't know the answer to.I've done that in each of my novels, and I'm sure I will continue to do so. It just seems to be the nature of my writing. I ask hard questions about God, and while I'm writing I have no clue about the answers. But as Katy pointed out, God rewards those who seek him, even with questions. And I grow with each novel I write.
But to directly answer the question Patti poses, I'm about the least dangerous person I know. Not much into adventure. But I do love to bring danger and adventure into the lives of my characters. What does that tell you about me? (Insert diabolical chuckle here.) But it's not the kind of danger that stops the hearts of readers or causes them to chew their fingenails to the knuckles. No, it's a different kind of danger: it's deciding whether to fight or flee in the face of heavy emotional and psychological danger. That's also my favorite kind of read. I've dealt with infertility, infidelity, and in the novel I'll release next summer, suicide. I guess the greatest danger that has exposed me to is finding acceptance in CBA.

(I'm so dangerous.... that I posted an item here eight hours ago and Blogger ate it. So here goes again. . .)


Apparently some people think so, if you count the number of death threats I’ve gotten since my first book, The Mormon Mirage, was published. (No kidding.) And a magazine reported that a bookstore carrying my book got a bomb threat. (No kidding there, either.)

Now I’ve added a new dimension to my dangerousness. As many of you know, I wrote a novel based on the millennia-old premise that a woman wrote the biblical Epistle to the Hebrews. My agent said no one would touch it, for almost two years. Way too controversial for CBA. Now two CBA publishers are looking at it because they want something “out of the box.” I think.... they mean dangerous?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Talking to the Dead ebook 80% off until Dec 17th!

You can download Talking to the Dead for only $2.99 (80% off) now through Dec 17th on nearly all ebook platforms!

CBD (list price here is only $2.39--save another 20%)
(There is a small issue with Kobo at the moment. We're working on it and hope to have that platform available at the sale price soon. Ditto Sony ereader.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Putting Novel Pieces Together

Oh, goodness. I'm late with my post today because I've had a busy week and I forgot my turn was up. And now I've got a half hour before I have to go to work, so I'm going to just riff here. Is that okay?

If I were writing a real post, I would pull things together that I want to talk to you about, like for instance:

  • The contradiction we touched on this week, of our dream of  literary success, and our desire for quiet, obscure lives. 
  • The one-year anniversary of Latayne's dream trip to The Holy Land to research her new book, and of her coming home to find her husband was desperately ill. You can read her latest update here.
  • The ways all of us ladies on Novel Matters have struggled in this new economy and new publishing world, and the ways you have struggled as well.
  • My long-time resistance to finding a real job for fear that my life would change in ways I would hate, which ended in my stumbling upon a dream job that I dearly, dearly love. 
  • Bonnie's book, Talking To the Dead going FREE for just a couple days - but it's still not too late. 

Then, if I were writing a real post, I would ask myself how these things connect to one another. I would probably think a long time for the obvious reason that the connection is not obvious.

But I would find the connection because I have twenty-five minutes now and I have to.

Here we go:

We told God we wanted to write good stories, but maybe He thought we said we wanted to live good stories. Which sounds fine on the surface, until you realize that good stories involve conflict, even tragedy sometimes, and stunning reversals, and we wanted - remember? - quiet lives and literary success.

We forgot that art comes out of pain. But He designed it that way. I don't know why. Still, this morning it all seems strangely beautiful.

If I were writing a real post, I would probably quote Marilynne Robinson's Gilead yet again, because I think it is the wisest novel I ever read.

Here's a good one:

"Strange are the uses of adversity." That's a fact.  When I'm up here in my study with the radio on and some old book in my hands and it's nighttime and the wind blows and the house creaks, I forget where I am, and it's as though I'm back in hard times for a minute or two, and there's a sweetness in the experience which I don't understand.  But that only enhances the value of it.  My point here is that you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience.  

I'm off to work, my friends. Please forgive my jumble here. I hope you'll comment anyway - I love to read what you have to say.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Today and Friday! Download Talking to the Dead for FREE!

Today and Friday Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove, is a FREE e-book!

Choose your favourite place to buy ebooks: 
Look what YOU did!

Download this award winning novel for FREE!

And, of course, it would be lovely if you could spread the word to friends, family, pets, random strangers, cute guys you pass on the street--anyone at all!

If you'd like to help spread the word on Facebook and other social media, let me know, and I will email you a file (jpg) you can upload for easy peasy love fest fun.


We had a brilliant conversation this week (and it's only Wednesday) about success, what it is and what it means to us.

Katy said she was happy with obscurity and I agree with her. While I've never known the pressures of world-wide fame, I'm pretty certain I don't want to deal with the invasion of privacy that J.K. Rowling has dealt with. I'm a nice person--hey, I'm Canadian, we're all nice--but bushes of journalists growing outside my front door would turn me cranky pretty quick. I'd totally go ZsaZsa Gabor on them.

Which is ironic because of what I'm going to say next.

David C. Cook is running a promotion for my novel Talking to the Dead--starting tomorrow, Thursday, November 15. I promised the marketing team there that I wouldn't talk about it until later this evening, so, weirdly, I'm talking about how I'd like to keep my quiet obscure life while at the same time hinting to you about a promotion for my novel, while at the same time, not being able to tell you about it until later today. (If you click the link, you'll have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen tomorrow and Friday.)

Life's weird, eh?

So let me keep my obscurity, while at the same time doing me the favour of returning to this blog post later this evening to check out the details of the special promo happening Thursday and Friday--and please share with your friends.

Yeah, a writer's life is weird. We write books we think no one will ever read, then people read them, and we think they'll never go anywhere while the entire time praying they will.

The six of us writers of Novel Matters are so glad you're along with us on this weird ride, sharing your stories of your weird ride.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Success Anyone?

There are many ways to measure success as a writer. It's NaNoWriMo throughout November, and for many a writer success will be measured by word count. Those who hit (or even surpass) the 50,000 word goal will know they have met with success.

For some, it's finishing that first draft.
Others view success as signing with an agent. Or signing publishing contract. Doesn't becoming a published author (which is the correct term for a writer who has published a book length work. Only published book writers are authors. Funny, huh?) mean success? I guess it does.

The funny thing about the world of publishing is that the very moment a writer clears one hurdle she will immediately be confronted by another, larger hurdle. Even multi-published authors face them. It's tempting to believe that with a few books under your belt, you're going to be able to keep writing and keep being published. That could happen, but more often than not, a writer will end up with two books published and then they fade from public eye. Low sales figures on two books is enough to kill a promising writer's career.

I know many writers who say they aren't writing for publication, that they just want to see if they can finish a book. I'm always a bit relived when I hear them say this. Relived for them. The world of publishing is difficult to break into, and it's even harder to remain. 

Unless we're certain of our goals, and are able to hold fast to them regardless of our fortunes, this business will crush us. 

Writers are tender souls. We tip-toe through the rooms of life trying not to disturb anything so that we might observe the world as it is and then write it all down in story form. We love art for the sake of art.
And deep down inside—in that place we dare not think too much about and certainly don't show to others—we very much believe we can become, if not fabulously famous, at least steady with enough published books to our name that we can create small waves of excitement in the right crowd. But that's not why we write. Heavens no. Absolutely not. 
Not really.
Maybe a little.

David Budbill

I want to be
so I can be
about being

What good is my
when I am
in this

Are you writing for the bliss of art alone? Or does some part of you reach for publication, maybe even becoming a known name? How do you measure your success? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Change of Fortune

I was surprised to read the first few words of the opening sentence of Debbie's post on Wednesday: "I learned a new word ..." because that's exactly how I planned to begin this post. I learned a new word ... Great minds? Absolutely. I love Debbie's new word, prevenient, love its implications, especially as it pertains to grace. When I think of God's prevenient grace in my life, think of all the things he kept me from and kept me through, I'm overwhelmed. I mean that in the truest sense of the word. David asks in Psalm 8:4: "What is man that you are mindful of him?" I echo his question, but I tend to personalize it when I ask: Who am I, Lord,  that you are mindful of me? Casting Crowns answers that question in one of my favorite songs, Who Am I? It never fails to move me to tears.

So prevenient was Debbie's new word. Mine is peripety, defined as: A sudden change of fortune or reversal of circumstances. More to the point, it's the hinge on which the reversal turns. I love that word, love how it rolls off the tongue, like serendipity, which is one of the coolest words in our language. While peripety is new to me, I can imagine our own brilliant Dr. Latayne -- and she is brilliant -- using it in everyday conversation. In fact, she's written an excellent book on faith as the hinge that changes everything in the life of Sarah and Abraham: The Hinge of Your History: The Phases of Faith.

I came to know the word peripety through Beth Moore's Bible study on the biblical book of Esther. My daughter Deanne facilitates a women's Bible study at her church, which recently went through the series. Deanne loaned me the set of DVDs with the admonition, "Watch these." So like the dutiful mother I am, I began to watch them. After one or two sessions, I understood why Deanne felt so impressed to recommend them to me. I'm not sure I've ever gone through a Bible study more pertinent to the circumstances of my life than this series on Esther. Two lessons into it I started over again and told my husband we needed to go through it together. We are, and it's speaking to him as deeply as it's speaking to me.

Session six of the study, which covers Esther 6:6-11, is where peripety came into play. Since this post isn't meant to be a Bible study, I won't go into the details, but I highly recommend the series. Seriously.

Among the many areas where peripety applies to my life, I've thought a lot about how it applies to my writing. I've shared before about the long and difficult journey my path to publication took. Long. And Difficult. Twenty years worth. I stood before a brick wall with no doors or windows, no way over or around, when it came to publication. I know many of you can sympathize. And then one day I received a large postcard in the mail advertising the upcoming writers conference at Mount Hermon. I thought, Wow, I would love to go, but it's not possible. I was scheduled to be in Atlanta with my husband that week, to help with a missions conference he was participating in. Tickets bought and paid for, hotel booked. So maybe another time. That's what I told myself, and yet I couldn't throw the postcard away. I left it on the kitchen island, where it sat for several weeks, where I was drawn to it over and over again.

Then one evening Rick picked up the postcard, which I hadn't even mentioned to him, and said, "I think you should go to this." I said, "I'd love to, but it's the week we're to be in Atlanta." Without hesitation he said, "No, I think you should go. I'll take Mindy (our other daughter) to Atlanta." And so I went right in and registered. I can't tell you how excited I was, or how nervous. I applied for a spot in the first fiction writers' critique group with Gayle Roper and submitted my chapter to her online. There was room for only 12 writers, and this was less than 3 weeks before the conference. A long shot? Yes indeed. Surely all the spots had been filled. I couldn't believe it when I received an email from Gayle late one night saying I was accepted. Another writer named Kathleen Popa was in the group. Our friendship began even before we met at Mount Hermon as we read each other's chapters in advance of the conference and recognized a kindred spirit in one another.

While I was at the conference I met editors who liked my writing, whose encouragement gave new life to my hopes and dreams. While it was still 2 years before I received a contract, it was the event that caused a reversal in my circumstances, and that postcard was the hinge.


To this day I don't know why I received it, or how in the world I got on their mailing list. I just know the remarkable difference it made in my life. It was the first link in a chain of events through which I've been so blessed. I met an editor who took my book to committee ... who offered a contract ... which helped me sign with an agent ... who had the idea of bringing a group of literary authors together to blog ... which put Bonnie, Debbie, Katy, Latayne, Patti and me together, authors from different states, different countries in fact, most of whom didn't know each other ... out of which Novel Matters was born ... which forged a deep and important friendship between 6 women of like mind ... and brought you into my life.


Not only is it an important element in the lives we live, it's an important device in the fiction we write. And to maximize its impact the pivot point of the peripety should be a seemingly insignificant event, rather than a point of highest dramatic tension. Like me receiving that postcard. Which changed everything. As it says in the Esther study guide, "A peripeteia swiftly turns a routine sequence of events into a story worth telling" (attributed to Boyd A. Luter and Barry C. Davis, Focus on the Bible). And isn't that the goal of every novelist, to write a story worth telling?

The term peripety is generally linked to dramatic literature, such as works by Shakespeare, but by definition every good novel should have a "sudden change of fortune or reversal of circumstances," whether negative or positive. How might peripety be applied to: David Copperfield, The Great Gatsby, or Lord of the Rings? Where does the sudden change or reversal of circumstances occur, and what is the hinge that precipitates it? What are your ideas?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Being a Living Mystery

I learned a new word yesterday from a reader commenting on Latayne's post.  Prevenient grace. I guess it's more of a term than a word. Anywho, it's a term for the many ways that God's grace comes into our lives before we come to know Him. He pursues us.  He initiates the relationship when we're powerless to do so.  Yowza, I love it! 

I recognized that He did this for us, I just didn't know the terminology for it. If we could look back at the orchestration that led to 'meeting' God, it would blind us with tears. He didn't have to hit us over the head with His love or write it in the sky.

I have heard Latayne's topic discussed among writers who are confused about the degree of directness they should use.  They have a great story that doesn't fit the mold.  Perhaps it's allegory or science fiction/fantasy. As Christian writers, are we obligated to explain?  This dilemma may also be true in our everyday lives, especially for those of us who work in public education or for the government and walk a fine line in displaying our Christianity. We learn to project Christ on a more subtle level as opportunities arise.   Listen to this quote by Cardinal Suhard in Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water:

"To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery.  It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist."

 I know it is a concern among Christian publishers that their books leave no doubt as to being Christ-centered.  They are charged with proclaiming Christ and take it very seriously.  This, of course, is also the goal of Christian authors.  Some editors have voiced that not all readers 'get it' when it comes to implied faith and want a more overt application.

Knowing this, does it change the types of stories you choose to write? We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

From behind the desk

I’ve become a schoolmarm. Teaching at a university-model classical Christian school has changed my life – or, at least, the way I conduct my life on a daily basis. Lesson plans, gradebooks, and showing up three days a week to a workplace are all new to me.

One of the great blessings that has come out of this is teaching a curriculum called “Omnibus,” which is a combination of theology and world literature. I’ve been reading Gilgamesh, The Code of Hammurabi, and other classics. One has had a profound effect on me: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis.

What? You’ve never heard of it? Lewis regarded this, his final novel, as his masterpiece. It is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche from the point of view of Psyche’s older and unattractive sister, Orual. It is a story of redemption, framed in a pagan myth.

It doesn’t mention Jesus, and all the gods are mysterious and incomprehensible. And yet it is the essence of gospel.

I think of the book of Esther, which tells of God rescuing a nation without mentioning God at all.

Can this be, fellow writers? Can we write of God without saying His name? Is it good? Is it necessary? 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Circle the Wagons--Marketing for the Tribe

The last couple of times I've posted –here and here—I addressed the question about marketing fiction, mostly because I’m going independent, but I’m very sorry I didn't know these things when I was published by legacy publishers.

 Michael Hyatt is the indisputable leader in marketing for all things publishing. As the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, you would expect his publisher to provide hot shot marketing help. Hyatt doesn’t count on this kind of help and neither should we. He carries all of the responsibility for the success or failure of his books. In fact, he calls himself the Chief Marketing Officer for each of his books.

And so, fellow CMOs, we’re going to look at a surprising trend in marketing.

I’m not sure how I happened upon Jeff Goins, but it probably had to do with the fact that he was offering a free ebook, You are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One).  As it turned out, he was about to release a nonfiction title, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life, that he wrote with Hyatt.

Goins is about the age of my sons, boy-faced with an engaging voice. I downloaded the free book and signed up for his newsletter. At the time, I was just getting back to acting like a writer and thought a few pointers might be in order.

Goins offered other free ebooks and became a sort of cheerleader on a weekly basis. Then, he offered ebooks and MP3s for sale that would aid my writing goals. I didn’t mind one little bit when his newsletter arrived, and I actually bought the bundled package.

How did he do that?

I don’t buy things from people who knock on the door or telephone me or send me emails. That would be stupid.

But I did buy Goins’ package.

I don’t regret it. The materials are helpful.

But how did he…?

He made me part of his tribe. Several years ago, Hyatt was telling everyone to read Seth Godin’s groundbreaking marketing book, Tribes. I resisted. Now, I’m thinking I’ll have to read it, take notes, and memorize key passages.

In summary, Grodin’s approach to marketing starts with permission, “the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.” The people who anticipate your messages are your tribe. They want to hear you because doing so helps them connect, not only with you but with others. Everything you do, marketing-wise, is directed at feeding, growing, and satisfying the tribe.

Are you feeling like an Indian Guide yet?

Without knowing what we were doing, Novel Matters has become a tribe. You come of your own volition to read our take on the life and craft of the novelist, and you developed relationships with other members of our readership, or tribe, by offering your wisdom and experience. We love that!

For the novelist thinking about developing her tribe, the emphasis is not on going out and finding readers. The emphasis is on writing books for the tribe. This sounds a little bit like pandering to genre standards, and that’s exactly what it means if you write genre fiction, and that’s exactly what you must do.

If you don’t write genre fiction, like the six crazy women at Novel Matters (we won’t be calling ourselves chieftains anytime soon), your tribe might fit into what Donald Maas calls high-impact fiction. We’re starting a book club on his book, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact techniques for Exceptional Storytelling in January. In essence, we’ll be researching what the 21st century reader wants in hopes of building a tribe, aka readers.

This marketing strategy works outside the publishing world. My husband owns a garden center. For him, building his tribe means providing services and products his tribe wants, not trying to find customers to buy the things he likes to sell. It seems commonsensical when stated like that, but it is a different way of thinking about marketing.

Let’s go back to Jeff Goins and his give-aways that drew me into his tribe. This sort of give-away works for fiction, too, although authors are just starting to try it.

Why does giving things away to your potential tribe work? According to Goins, it’s because people don’t necessarily value what they buy. They value what others value and what others are talking about. By building a reputation as a creative, generous person, readers will feel included in your tribe. And buy your book. (Pretty please!)

So, what are we giving away? Diamonds? Luxury sedans? Small islands? In that case, I would have to jump out of the novelist pool. No, Goins and Hyatt promote the idea of giving away content. We’re writers, after all.

Here’s a list of ideas for fiction writers (BTW, this marketing thing would be a lot easier if we were nonfiction writers, but fiction writers NEVER take the easy way out):

A collection of your blog posts. You already know which ones struck a nerve. Fortunately, the whole world hasn’t read your blog, so your posts are fresh content to many. (Oh, you didn’t know that. Sorry.)

Recruit people to be “sneezers,” folks you bring into the process early on. Let them be part of selecting a cover, giving feedback on scenes, voting for the best pictures for a trailer. These folks, according to Hyatt, will be your best influencers. Thank them with free copies of your ebook.

Send out early releases of your book to a selected number of influencers who will agree to write a short review—the good, the bad, and the ugly—on Amazon and other outlets. You should thank these folks with more new content (anyone tired yet?), like devotions that tie into the story, a short story, or deleted scenes.

Goins adds that we should have a reputation for being generous and thankful, so send out thank-yous for all tribe help.

Form a launch team with a team-member only FB page that includes recipes tied to your story, excerpts from the book, posts written as your protagonist, and historical tie-ins from your research. The page can also be a forum for brainstorming  ways to get the word out about your book.

Tracy Higley has a landing page with a great example of using content freebies.

Have you offered free content to build your tribe? What would have made your efforts more successful? What skills, like creating a landing page, did you have to learn to pull this off? Would you offer free content in the future? Would you rather be an Indian Guide? Any other marketing ideas you would care to share--the wonderful and the lame? I'll start with a lame one. I made 500 flower pens (like the ones kept at cash register to keep you from stashing the pen in your purse) with my book's title printed on the side. There's a rumor I dressed in a gardening outfit and traipsed around ICRS handing out pens to almost no one. Completely unsubstantiated. But then there were the lapel pins...