Monday, November 15, 2010

So Long for Now!

Dear Blog Followers,

This post is in the form of a letter because that's how I've communicated my plans with my other friends and colleagues.

The Lord and I have had a few come-to-Jesus moments in the last month, and He finally won. My husband Mike is in 100% agreement.

After much thought, prayer, pushing, and prodding, I have cancelled all freelance work, workshops, conferences, and blog postings for this next year. In short, I'm retiring . . . for now.

Some of you may know that I battle fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and probably chronic fatigue syndrome, but what you don't know is that those conditions aren't under as much control as I wanted people to believe. Over the years I've learned to compensate and push through the pain and disguise it from employers and friends.

But I never know when I'll have a bad day or week, and when I do my life comes to a grinding halt. Not a good thing when I must work on deadline. Work stress has played a large part in exacerbating my problems.

Rest and restoration will be my bywords for the next year.

I'll finish out the 2013 contracts for Abingdon, and then after selling our house we'll head to Florida to live near our granddaughter. I wish I were there now walking on the beach.

I don't know what God has for me on the other side of this season, but the Lord has made it abundantly clear this is the right choice. A dear friend and author, Cynthia Ruchti, shared a Scripture with me that will carry me through.

"But we encourage you . . . to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands . . . so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone."
--I Thessalonians 4:10b-11, Holman Bible.

I've never given myself permission to lead a quiet life; hard work is all I've known since I was 19. I'm now 62.

The NIV version of that verse reads to make it your "ambition" to lead a quiet life. I’m seeking a quiet and peaceable life. It’s a foreign concept in today’s world where position and money are the yardsticks of success. Yet Jesus encouraged His followers to store up treasure in heaven.

Interesting . . . my decision to retire comes during our 30-Day Prayer Challenge for the Christian publishing industry, which ends tomorrow. As I’ve prayed, I’ve changed, and I've observed a few major changes in the book business:

  • Christian books sales have dipped for the fourth straight month.
  • Summerside Press has been sold to Guideposts.
  • The sales of digital books are increasing.
In Christian Retailing, David Almack, U.S. Director of CLC International, which publishes books and runs CLC Bookcenters in the Philadelphia area and New Jersey, has called on book sellers to return to their first love.
"In our current economic environment, I have come to the conclusion that we must all become avid readers or we will die," he said.
He challenged book sellers to turn off their televisions, put down their cell phones, and take a fast from Facebook. I would add, if you don't read, how can you sell books?

Doom and gloom? Not at all. I think the CBA industry faces challenging times, but bold new leaders will emerge. They will take the baton and run the next lap of this race. Will one of them be you?

So long for now, dear friends. May the Lord bless and keep you and make His face to shine upon you. In Jesus name, amen.


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This is day #29 in our 30-day Prayer Challenge for the Christian book industry. What changes have you noticed? Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mark Twain and the Topic of Weather

Recently, my friend and Abingdon author Rita Gerlach (Surrender the Wind) introduced me to a little known book by Mark Twain titled The American Claimant published in 1892. The only parts I’ve read so far are the prologue and his appendix, and I must confess, they are the most innovative I've ever read.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Editors tell you to never write a prologue. That’s because most authors use them as a back story dump, and most people don't read them. If you can write a prologue like Twain’s, have at it.

In this post, I’ll kill two birds with one stone—yes, a cliché I know—but quite apropos in this circumstance. Editors also tell you to never start a novel describing the weather. Who cares if giant raindrops reflect back your tears?

And an appendix is usually unnecessary in fiction. But I didn’t realize that Mark Twain felt as vehement about the topic of weather as I learned in his prologue. This is unusual, but I want you to read the whole thing. I needed a laugh this morning.

* * *

No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood.

Many a reader who wanted to read a tale through was not able to do it because of delays on account of the weather. Nothing breaks up an author’s progress like having to stop every few pages to fuss-up the weather. Thus it is plain that persistent intrusions of weather are bad for both reader and author.

Of course weather is necessary to a narrative of human experience. That is conceded. But it ought to be put where it will not be in the way; where it will not interrupt the flow of the narrative. And it ought to be the ablest weather that can be had, not ignorant poor-quality, amateur weather. Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article of it. The present author can do only a few trifling ordinary kinds of weather, and he cannot do those very good. So it has seemed wisest to borrow such weather as is necessary for the book from qualified and recognized experts—giving credit, of course. This weather will be found over in the back part of the book, out of the way. See Appendix. The reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along.
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How clever! How wry! How sardonic! Mark Twain in all his glory. In the Appendix to The American Claimant he offers the reader “Weather for Use in This Book.” Evidently, writing about weather was a problem in his era too.

Did I ever tell you that my paternal grandmother was his second cousin? Yep, Missourians all.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone! (And yes, I know the exclamation point police are on their way. I just heard the sirens.)
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This is day #19 in our 30-day Prayer Challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Don't Forget to Vote Today

The future of our country may depend on your single vote. God bless America!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Life of a Freelancer Takes Faith

This will be a short posting today because I'm feeling a bit puny, as my mother would have said, so I'm sacked out on the sofa watching Fox News and election coverage. I spent the last week working for Abingdon, and this weekend, I finished a children's book about Joseph. I have two other projects waiting in the wings.

Deadlines are deadlines. Delivery of a quality project is essential. If the work takes longer than you anticipate, you still need to come through for the customer. For me, it took rolling out of bed at 5 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

My goal is to manage my time better and take weekends off. It might not be possible. Every freelancer I know works weekends, nights, early mornings, and rarely takes time off. When they have a lull in business, they play and pray for more work.

Tomorrow I'll finish up a short edit and the day after I start on a manuscript-length macro edit. I also have the possibility of writing a work-for-hire fiction book for teens. The pay is good, but I won't receive any royalty, and I have a feeling the deadline will be short. I can see more 5 a.m. start times even if I get the job. It takes faith to walk this road.

But enough about me.

Are you still praying for the CBA book industry? I expect to see movement in this area with all of you praying for owners, executives, editors, authors, marketing and sales people, production people, and book buyers and sellers.

These are tough times for the book business, but I have great faith that prayer makes a difference. We may not know the outcome in our lifetime, but I do believe the God of the universe has made adjustments because of our pleas. May He bless each and every one of you now and forever. Amen.

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This is day #15 in the 30-day Prayer Challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What Every Writer Wants

Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations with authors who want one thing in life: to quit their day jobs so they can write full-time. Let’s look at the odds of that happening.

I don’t want to discourage anyone, but the truth is that there are at least 75,000 to 80,000 books published every year in America . . . maybe more. And this week I read that only about 200 or so writers make enough money to stay home and write full-time. I’d give you the source, but I can’t remember where I read that stat; I only remember that it slapped me upside the head with reality.

So should you stop writing? Of course not. But you do need to establish the reason why you write. Is it to get rich? To live comfortably and pay your bills? To serve God? Because you can’t NOT write? All or none of the above?

I started this blog to inspire authors to write the truth. Before you can do that, you need to wipe the scales from your eyes and look at publishing, especially CBA publishing, in the bright light of day. Take off your sunglasses and follow me.

You struggle for years to write your first novel, or your first seven, before you make a sale. Now you’re a debut author. If you’re fortunate, you may have a series planned that a publisher loves. But since you’re a new author they may not want to take a chance on whether you can deliver a manuscript every six months for at least three books (anything less is not a series). The editor acquires your first book.

Depending on the publisher, that first book may net you an advance of anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000. But remember, that money is called an advance because you have to earn it back for the publisher, and they want you to earn it back within the first year.

How do you do that? Your agent will negotiate a royalty rate, and most publishers will give you an escalating advance as an incentive to sell enough copies to pay back your advance. For instance, you may be offered 12% for the first 10,000 copies you sell; 14% for the next 10,000 copies, and 16% for every copy you sell after 20,000. That’s just an estimate. Some publishers set the escalating percentages much higher. The average CBA title sells about 4,500 to 5,000 copies. Publishers who pay you a $10,000 advance want you to sell twice the average or more.

Let’s say your book sells for $12.99, and you make 12% of the net amount (about half of the retail price) or about 78 cents per copy. Actually, it may be less depending on what your percentages are for selling into markets that demand a higher discount from the publisher. That’s why an agent is worth the 15% you pay her or him. After paying your agent you may make about 65 cents per copy . . . or less.

But you don’t get the entire amount of your advance up front. Normally, it’s paid out in thirds, although some are now dividing the advance into fourths. Abingdon still pays the advance in two checks.

Let’s say you are paid 1/3 of a $9,000 advance at contract signing: that’s $3,000. The next third will not be paid until the editor accepts your manuscript. You’ll be living on about $1,000 a month until you finish your second book. The last $3,000 will be paid on publication, which may be 9 to 12 months down the road.

You won’t see a royalty check for about 18 months—that is if you see one at all. Remember, you need to sell enough copies to earn out your advance before you are paid any royalties. You also may have high returns, and those will be subtracted from your total sales.

Can you quit your day job and live on $1,000 a month? Add it up. It takes most writers at least 6 to 8 months to write a book. Unless you want to live in a tent in the woods and eat off the fat of the land, you better keep working.

Of course, if you have several successful books that pay you regular royalties, you might consider a full-time occupation as a writer, but be prepared to supplement your income by teaching workshops, selling books at conferences, and helping other writers for a fee.

I can hear your wheels turning. “But you quit!” Yes, I did, but I jumped off a 1,000-foot cliff without a parachute. If it weren’t for the Lord’s peace that passes all understanding, I’d crawl under my desk, suck my thumb, and sob while I rocked to and fro.

For the moment, I’m still receiving a small stipend from Abingdon until I wind up the contract stage of the 2013 acquisitions. At the beginning of October, I made a $1,000 for editing a manuscript. Yesterday, I took on a work-for-hire assignment to write a children’s story for $500, and an author called me today to read her initial chapters for my opinion. That will pay me another $100 for four hours of work.

My husband’s Social Security pays our house payment, and I’m responsible for paying the rest of the bills: utilities, credit cards, medical, taxes. In January, I’ll collect my Social Security, which is $500 less than what I would have made if I had waited until I was 65 to draw it out. That’s slightly more than $1,000. But the government will deduct $1 for every $2 I earn. By then my work at Abingdon will have expired.

If you see Mike and I living in a tent on a beach in Florida, drop by and say hello. But I trust the Lord has a plan. I have contacts, and those contacts know the quality of my work. God has plenty for me to do. And that’s the truth.

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This is day #10 in the 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Network, Schmepwork

Half your life as a writer will be spent in networking. Maybe more. The days of Hemingway sipping espresso in a Paris café while he scribbled his first draft are gone. Of course, his main network time was spent drinking all night with F. Scott Fitzgerald and running around Spain, watching bullfights and fly fishing. No one can deny that Hem lived life.

I yearn for those days when kids still played baseball after school until dark, or we could spend an afternoon lying on the grass watching clouds scuttle across the sky. Our best writing came after daydreaming in a swing, drinking iced tea and staring into space. Now we feel guilty if we spend five minutes daydreaming in the shower.

Today writers network instead. We’re consummate multi-taskers. Some of you set timers on your cell phones or watches to remind yourself to sign off Facebook or stop Tweeting how many pages you’ve produced.

We’re addicted to social networking, e-mail, and a thousand other ways to postpone the inevitable: starting at a blank page. Hemingway used actual paper. Imagine that. We use a computer screen with a blinking cursor that silently screams “hurry up.”

Yet I know writers who are able to balance their marketing, sales, and networking efforts while giving birth to another manuscript. I’m amazed. They can produce two or three books a year. I’m even more amazed.

We’re writing what the market wants to read. But, just for a moment, think about this: What if you decided to write a book that you wanted to write . . . one that continually nudged you over the course of years? Maybe God wants you to produce the next great American novel rather than write something in a popular genre.

A few agents and editors want to slap me about now. Because once you’re in the game of publishing, you will be expected to churn out at least one or two books a year to satisfy your audience.

After agent Rachelle Gardner recommended Betsy Lerner’s book The Forest for the Trees, I ordered it and just finished it last night. I highly recommend it; you will find yourself between its covers.

In the last chapter Lerner writes, “Publishers are concerned that the business model that has long served their business will no longer work. All this is disheartening for writers. It’s no wonder that some are tweeting for their supper. . . . I fear that we are dancing on the deck of the Titanic.”

But you know me: I look at life from the perspective of a glass half-full. Publishing is changing, and no one in the business (CBA or ABA) has figured out where it’s going or what to do about it. Remember that old cliché that if you’re digging a hole and it’s only getting deeper, stop?

This is day #8 in our 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian publishing industry. We can’t go back to the lazy days of the fifties. As authors and publishers we need to embrace the digital age. It’s here to stay.

But frankly, I think if publishing execs spent a little more time daydreaming, they might just find the way out of this mess. What do you think?

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This is day #8 in my 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Engaging the World on the Internet

Last night I spied on enemy territory. I actually listened in on blog conversations where Christianity is an anathema. These people were quite sincere in spouting their opinions, but none of them had any facts—truth—to back up their assertions.

If you haven’t been published yet, consider engaging the world on the Internet. Your impact is immediate: no editors, no Pub Boards, no book buyers to please. Think about it. Put on the armor of God, pick up the sword of the Spirit, and like Caleb and Joshua, go spy on the giants in another land on the Internet.

Do you remember the story of the spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land? Only two—Caleb and Joshua—came back with a bold and courageous report that the Israelites could take out the bad guys. The other spies were afraid of the giants in the land. So the whole tribe of Israel had to wander through the desert until the older generation who remembered Egypt had died off.

Why do we write? To preach to the choir? If the Christian book industry is in trouble financially, what will you do if the number of bookstores continues to decline? What will you do if there is so much competition for publication that you could be waiting in line for years before you have a book published?

Did you know that one online magazine article might touch the hearts of 50,000 readers, but your first book might only sell 4,000 copies?

Now is the time to pray for God’s will in your life . . . not your own. Can you lay down a dream to pick up God’s dream? If you are called to write a book, then write it and stop worrying where you will sell it once it’s written. God will open doors you can’t even imagine.

But if you are more in love with the idea of being a writer than the actual writing process, now is the time to admit it. Pray for God’s will in your life. Is He instead calling you to write magazine articles or to post on your blog?

Now for a really wild idea. Is the Lord calling you to spy on enemy territory and take the land He has given you? Consider listening in on a blog for awhile and when you see error, refute it with the truth in love. It’s a big world out there.

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This is day #4 of our 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.