Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Bright, Shining Light from the Little Dark Study

As the New Year dawns, here's a thought to encourage all writers who belong to Jesus, those who toil away in the "little dark study" day after day and night after night.

The little dark study is often cold and lonely.  Sometimes we feel we're wasting our time there.  We'd rather be anywhere else.

But there's a calling into the darkness we can't ignore.  So we sit, hunched over, fingers curled above the keys, praying for words that will communicate the beauty of the One we serve.  Words that will fill hearts with His glory and the wonder of His great grace.

We are not alone.  We follow in the humble footsteps of other sinners who've gone before us. Sinners like this one:

Amazing Grace.

May God bless you during the New Year, and bless the world through your faithful response to His calling on your life.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Those Pesky, Unwanted Black Lines in Your Manuscript

Do you suffer from those pesky* black lines that appear in your manuscript for no apparent reason and will not delete under any circumstance?

I had this problem, literally for years, when I was working on Zinovy's Journey.  I was super frustrated, because I could not submit a manuscript to an editor in that condition.  

I finally asked a workshop presenter at a Mt. Hermon Writers' conference what to do about the problem.  She couldn't help me, but a couple of young techie guys sitting behind me heard my question and solved the problem in less than three minutes.

First, the problem:  

It happens with Word, when you use a repeated series of symbols without spaces between them in your text, as you might do when you're creating scene breaks.  Word "auto format," in its great wisdom, thinks you're trying to create a border, so it gives you part of one, across the page, at whimsically selected places throughout your text.

Here's the simple solution:

1)  Highlight the text on either side of the black line.  Word won't let you highlight the black line, itself, but if you select the text above and below it, continuously, the black line will be highlighted invisibly.

2) Go to "format" in the menu bar at the top of the document, then select "borders and shading," and click on "none." The black line will disappear as mysteriously as it has appeared.

3)  Ever after, if you want to use symbols for scene breaks, just put a space between each character and it won't happen again.

When you do get a manuscript in front of an editor, they will likely take out all your fancy-dancy scene breaks anyway, but in the meantime you can enjoy them all by yourself.

Hope this helps!  Happy un-formatting!
* (Randy Ingermannson's favorite word)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Mystery of Marketing

Since the debut of Zinovy's Journey in October, 2011 (Has the book really been out that long?) I notice that all my posts on this blog have veered over toward the marketing department, either directly or indirectly. 

The Authorial Process

When the authorial process begins, all the action takes place in the writing department.  But it very quickly (don't ever use either of those two adverbs, especially right next to each other) moves over into the editing department, and the two department heads (or the two-headed monster, whichever analogy seems appropriate to you) wrestle back and forth with each other until both are exhausted and left, sweating and panting, on the editorial floor.  

At this point the publishing department (in my case the self-publishing department) picks up the manuscript, wipes away the blood, sweat and tears, whips the product into a more-or-less presentable condition, and puts it on Amazon.com.   

From there, the product moves into the marketing department, and it stays there forever. 

Marketing--The Great Mystery

How does marketing work?  Is it magic? Miracle? Or just more blood, sweat and tears?  

I asked my friend and mentor, Jeff Gerke, for advice on this mystery.  He's young, bright, excited about writing, imaginative and experienced in all aspects of the writing process, so I figured if anyone could solve this mystery it would be him. 

Here is. . .

Jeff Gerke's Marketing Formula:

I'm a believer in what I call the 30-to-1 Marketing Plan.  You have to do 30 things to market your book before 1 of them works. 

The problem is that you don't know which one it was, and if you did it again, it wouldn't work again.  So you have to keep doing those and 30 [other] new things to get a new 1.  Do that enough times and your 1's will finally begin to add up. 

There really is a correlation between elbow grease and results, when it comes to marketing fiction.  My authors who do less to market their books tend to sell fewer copies than my authors who work longer and harder to promote their books.

So there it is.  Jeff would be the first to say that magic plays a part.  He is, after all, a fantasy writer.  And he believes in miracles as well.  But bottom line, like any other great achievement in life, it's the well-greased elbow that gets the job done.

I'm pushing up my sleeves as we speak.

P.S.  If you're a writer of faith-friendly books who is considering self-publishing, I highly recommend Jeff Gerke's services.  He is a well-respected fiction-writing jack-of-all-trades, with experience in all aspects of publishing. He was invaluable in my process, as a consultant, an editor, a typesetter, a cover designer and, through it all, an encourager. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Five Ways To Discover the "Social" in Social Media

I'm lonesome.  This morning I woke up to thirty messages in my e-mail inbox and not one of them was from a real person.  At least not directly. 

It's my fault.  In some kind of a crazed feeding frenzy, I signed up for each of those messages at one time or another.  But instead of appeasing my appetite, they've just made me hungrier. Why? Maybe it's because they don't have what I'm really hungry for. 

I'm hungry for the social, but I'm only finding the media. 

I'm beginning to realize that social media only provides the kind of interaction I might find by myself at a bar in a strange town.  The bar is full of interesting people, for sure, but the noise level is so high, and the smell of stale alcohol so strong, that I can't really focus on any one person and get to know them in a meaningful way.

When I do start a conversation, I often discover the person at the other end of the interaction is only there to hook up with someone for the evening.  Their immediate, baser personal hungers are driving the relationship. 

Whoa.  Wait a minute.  I'm there for the same reason.  No wonder I'm not finding my hunger satisfied in this place.

So where do I go from here?  How do I extract myself from this stinky bar and find real relationships with real people?  

Here's a plan, a quick "to do" list.  I'm not promising anyone, including myself, that it's going to work any better than my New Year's resolutions do.  But at least it's a start.

I will:

1.  Unsubscribe from impersonal sites.  Leave only connections directly related to people I have met face-to-face or at least communicated personally with via some kind of electronic avenue.

2.  Communicate personally with those I leave on my subscription list.  Comment on their posts, or tweet to them, or e-mail, always with something significant and specific to say about their messages.

3.  Tweet meaningfully. I will send a personal tweet message to everyone who "follows" me on Twitter, asking them to explain why they followed and and give me some personal information. I've actually already begun doing this and it's revealing.  The responses I get are fascinating, and if I don't get a personal response, with a tidbit of personal information in it, I don't follow back.  

4.  Forget about Marketing.  Yes, I mean that.  I need to give up the idea of promoting my book on social media.  If people discover Zinovy's Journey through my social media connections, it will have to be a natural and unpremeditated occurrence.

5.  Pray that God will direct my steps.  I will trust the Holy Spirit to be my social secretary.  I will make sure my spirit is in tune with the Spirit of Jesus, and then I will interact, personally and honestly, only with connections I feel drawn to.

Already I'm struggling with this process.  I just went to my inbox and successfully unsubscribed from three connections, but then I got to my daily Twitter message, telling me who I might like to follow, and ended up signing on to yet another irresistible blog. 

Sigh.  Three steps forward and one backward.  But I did comment on that blog post, and it felt a lot more satisfying than simply signing up. And I'm not giving up on this idea. I'm going to plug away at the process, living and learning, looking for meaningful relationships in the maze of social media.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

That Illusive Target Called "Audience"

Zinovy's Journey has been published for a year now and I still haven't figured out who it was published for.  I guess it's because the story hooked me before the idea of audience did.  I had no idea who I was writing for, way back then.  I just knew I had to write.

I still don't know who it's for.  I'm getting great reader reviews from men and women, young and old, Christian and non-Christian. 

I know it's probably a cop-out to say Zinovy's Journey is a mainstream novel, but I'm beginning to think it might be (And, yes, I am aware of all the hedge words in that sentence). 

Zinovy's Journey has a universal hook (the world is destroyed at the beginning of the book); a universal storyline (the hero's journey); a universal internal conflict (the search for meaningful relationships in life); a universally appealing external conflict (an innocent child in danger).  All this should lead to a universal appeal, right? 

So why aren't people flocking to my website to buy it?

I know the answer.  It's marketing.  That's where I'm at right now.  I'm using a shot-gun approach.  Probably not the best idea.  Instead I should be taking aim at a number of specific targets.  But the number of possibilities is playing Russian roulette with my mind.

This article by Randy Ingermannson is helpful, however.  Randy gives us a new way to look at "targets."  He borrows an idea from John Locke, who says our target audience can be more accurately determined by what emotions our story evokes.  Interesting thought.  Encouraging. 

Now if I could just figure out an effective way to hit the readers' emotions in that big, crazy world of bulls eyes out there.