A Few Words about Discovery House

Last night, I had the opportunity to speak at a meeting of the Word Weavers in West Michigan. One of their members asked me to talk about my employer, Discovery House, as well as my involvement with the Jot Writer’s Conference and blogging. As you are reading this, I’m going to assume that you are familiar with my blogging history, and I know that I’ve blogged in the past about the Jot Writer’s Conference, but aside from a couple posts about my move to Discovery House, I haven’t written much about my employer.

Let’s fix that.

dh_logoWho is Discovery House?

Discovery House is the book publishing arm of Our Daily Bread Ministries (ODBM). ODBM has over 75 years of ministry experience. Starting as a radio ministry in Detroit, Dr. M. R. DeHaan was a preacher with a vision for getting people into their Bibles by using all available methods. Thus, the radio ministry started producing monthly devotionals known as Our Daily Bread, but branched out to include the television program “Day of Discovery” (started in 1968 and is one of the longest running Christian television programs), book publishing with Discovery House Publishing, and online Christian education programs with Christian University GlobalNet and ChristianCourses.com

Discovery House was established in 1987 as a way to delve further into the Bible and it’s life application in ways that were impossible with the Our Daily Bread devotionals.

“The goal of Discovery House is to publish books that feed the soul with the Word of God, fostering growth and godliness in the lives of God’s people. That was part of our founding vision, and we want it to be true of each new release that we offer. Whether you’re looking for books, music, video, audio, software, greeting cards, or content to download, we try to provide you with materials that focus on Scripture, that show reverence for God and His Word, that demonstrate the relevance of vibrant faith, and that equip and encourage you in your life every day.” –Carol Holquist, publisher

What does Discovery House publish?

my_utmostOur #1 best-seller is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Discovery House is the authorized publisher of the Oswald Chambers Publication Association and has exclusive rights to all of Chambers’ writings.

Our top books for this past year have been the Our Daily Bread for Kids Devotional by Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley, The Discovery House Bible Atlas by John Beck, Prayers for Your Children by James Banks, A Grandmother’s Prayers by Kay Swatkowski, The Our Daily Bread Devotional Collections (new each year), and Adventuring Through the Bible by Ray Stedman.

How many books does Discovery House publish each year?

Between 25 – 30, though that doesn’t necessarily include re-cover projects or new editions of existing publications.

What type of books is Discovery House looking to acquire?hurt_people

Discovery House loves books with long tails. We are known for our devotional offerings, but we publish a number of topical books as well. We do not publish fiction and we’ve only just ventured into the academic sphere with the Bible Atlas and the children’s arena with Our Daily Bread for Kids. We are not currently seeking submissions for children’s products as all of the plans for our children’s line are being commissioned by the publishing house. This coming year, we are publishing devotionals, bible study material, books on prayer, Christian living titles, memoirs, and a couple of book apps.

How does Discovery House acquire its books?

There are three main ways that we get the books that we publish: unsolicited manuscripts, agented books, and commissioned products. Most publishers only publish the last two of types of acquisitions. For new projects, Discovery House publishes mostly unsolicited manuscripts.

What are the submission guidelines?

You can find them here.

If you are ever in the West Michigan area, you can feel free to stop in for a tour, where there is a chance that you would hear a lot of this information again. But on the tour you would also get to learn about Our Daily Bread Ministries as a whole and even see the big printing presses where they are made. Thanks for reading!

New Word I Just Learned: Blad

“Blad” sounds like a third-rate vampire knock-off movie (either as a mix of “blood” and “Vlad” if it is a classic vampire movie –or– as a misspelling of “Blade” which is a different kind of vampire/vampire-hunter protagonist), and maybe it is, but it is also an underused publishing term.

papereen-26-1420209A “blad” is a booklet, used as an advertisement. It’s probably a mashup of the words “blurb” and “ad.” And the publishing industry uses them frequently, though you may recognize them differently in the current digital age. For instance, the “Look Inside” feature on most Amazon book listings is essentially a “blad.”

In doing my research for the word, I’ve come across another reason why “blad” should be brought back into use. It is also a bit of a play on words, because “blad” is related to the word “blade,” which is the Proto-Germanic version of “leaf”. Think about a blade of grass. Same thing. But, wait a second! What are the pages of a book called? Leaves. Thus, on a whole different level a “blad” is a subsection of a book.

So now that you know, you can help me make “blad” popular again.*

*I have no idea if it was ever a popular word. But I think it should be.

I am awaiting rejection.

Submitting is a double-edged sword. Specifically, I’m speaking as a writer who submits their work for review and publication… or rejection. One the one hand, there’s no other way to get a work published than to submit it. On the other hand, well, rejection.

At the moment, I’ve got two pieces of writing out there in the world awaiting their fates and one more that was previously rejected that I am thinking about sending out again. You might think that getting a rejection notice would be the worst part of the submission process. That’s just not true. The absolute worst part (for me, anyway) is the waiting, the time it takes from when I send my work out into the world to the time when I hear something back from the publisher.

tEREUy1vSfuSu8LzTop3_IMG_2538I hate waiting. I’m so hooked on instant gratification (possibly because I am a Millennial, and we just hate waiting for anything) that, and I’m not even kidding here, as soon as I hit the send button on my email to an editor, I’m hoping to hear something back on the inside of five minutes. After all, how long can it take to read the things that I’m submitting for review? Are these editors’ jobs not dependent on people sending them things to read and possibly publish? Why aren’t they reading my submission as soon as I’ve sent it at 11pm?

Seriously, this should not take so long.

And yet, I work for a publisher. I am good friends with some editors. I know these things take time. I know that I’m not the only person submitting stuff for review. But knowledge of the publishing process does not equate to a comfortable wait.

So what should a writer do in order to stay sane while waiting for rejection? I’m going to do the only thing I can do. I’m going to write new things, I’m going to forget about the old ones, and I’m never going to run out of things to submit. So I guess I’ll never have to run out of things to stress out over either.

Lucky me.

Writers, how do you deal with the waiting time between submission and acceptance/rejection?

Lunch with a Publisher

chilis_large

Two out of two publishers with whom I have dined have asked me if I like sushi. I don’t. So we went to Chili’s.

I had the recent good fortune to dine with one of the head honchos at Baker Publishing Group. Jack Kuhatschek is an accomplished author and publishing professional who has been on the front lines at InterVarsity Press, Zondervan, and Baker Publishing. His official title is Executive Vice President and Publisher. So how did I get to have lunch with him?

I asked.

On the advice of another employee at the publishing house, I asked Jack if I could borrow some of his time in order to ask some questions about my career path. As I’ve stated before, after ten years of working in a bookstore on the retail side, I’ve discovered that I want to work on the content creation side of books. But publishing is an especially difficult field to break into (especially when you end sentences with prepositions). And when your formal education isn’t related to the written word, it can be even harder. So I needed some advice.

I was a bit nervous about the meeting, because Jack and I had crossed paths only a few times before. The first time we met, he was new to Baker and was visiting the store in order to set up a meeting for some publishing employees. I assisted in the moving of chairs and tables and we made polite small talk. I believe he asked me if I had read any good books lately. I told him as straight-faced as I could that I was illiterate. I don’t know why I did that. I suppose I thought it would be funny, but it proved more awkward than anything because it pretty much killed our polite conversation.

Fortunately, I needn’t have worried because either Jack didn’t remember or he was kind enough not to mention this fact at our lunch.

Jack was more than helpful. Upon sitting down to eat, he asked me what I hoped to gain from our time together. I told him of my hopes and asked if he could illuminate the next step for me. I have a basic understanding of how a book goes from an idea to a finished product in the bookstore, and I told Jack that I’d be interested in something editorial in nature.

“Are you familiar with the different types of editorial jobs?” he asked me.

“Vaguely,” I said.

There are two basic divisions when it comes to editing jobs. There are acquiring editors who are responsible for getting material from authors for a publisher to publish, and there are content editors who are responsible for making that material readable.

“The two types of editors are quite different,” he told me.

Acquisitions editors tend to be more outgoing and personable. They often fall into the extroverted camp of people. Content editors are often quite happy to work quietly and alone. They recharge in solitude. But often, in order to get a job in acquisitions, one must prove their mettle as a content editor first.

Fortunately, I already have a bit of experience with critical reading skills due to my association with the Dove Foundation, where I review books and document instances of questionable content for discerning parents. The next step for me is going to be getting my foot in the door as a freelance content editor.

“That’s all well and good, Josh,” you say, “but how does your lunch with Jack benefit me as a blog reader?”

Good question, reader. Here’s what you can learn from my experience. If you need help, ask for it. Don’t act like you know everything. Be willing to ask questions. And if a person makes polite conversation, for Heaven’s sake, don’t make things awkward by saying that you are illiterate.

SMART Goals for the New Year

smart_goals

I had lunch the other day with Chad Allen. Chad is the editorial director for Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I know Chad from our dealings at work as well as his participation in the first Jot Conference. And I figured that if anyone could give me some advice on becoming the type of person that a publishing house needs, it would be Chad.

After arriving late, I explained to Chad that I was considering an MFA program in order to be qualified for a job in publishing. He echoed some of the comments from my post on the topic that very few of the folks at Baker Publishing have MFAs, so it really isn’t a prerequisite.

He asked what my goals were. I gave him some vague notions of working on the creation end of the book process rather than the distribution end. I really don’t know what that looks like though. He gave me this advice: set up some interviews with various people at publishing to see if you’d like their job.

I also told him that I enjoy writing and that I hope to be published one day.

He asked if I was familiar with Michael Hyatt’s SMART Goals. I wasn’t.

Michael Hyatt is the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, as well a prolific blogger, author, and writing/life coach. His post on goal setting is worth reading in full, but I’m going to spoil it for you here. A SMART Goal is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • and Time-bound

Hyatt says that people are more likely to achieve these goals when the goals are few, you write them down, you review them frequently, and you share them selectively.

Chad told me to set some goals and keep in touch.

As I head into the New Year, I won’t be doing any resolutions (like I did last year), but I will be setting some goals. I won’t tell you what they are (Michael Hyatt points out that people who broadcast their goals are less likely to achieve them), but I will keep in touch with you too.

Happy New Year!

I am a Fan of Rejection

rejected2Twice now, a story of mine has been rejected by potential publishers. I just got the email saying so a few minutes ago. I won’t tell you who the publisher was, but it is one that I enjoy and respect (which is why I sent them my story in the first place).

The rejection was for a flash story that I wrote over a couple of nights and then edited over a couple of weeks. Friends and family read it and gave me feedback. I felt like it was ready, so I sent it out. And it got rejected. Twice.

And that’s okay. In fact, it is good.

Of course, I would have loved for it to have been bought by the first place I sent it, but the fact that it wasn’t doesn’t give me great pause. There are hundred of thousands of publishers out there and I haven’t tried them all yet.

I still feel like it is a good story, though I’ll take another look at it to see if there is some tweaking that I can do to make it a better story. And in the mean time, while it was out there in the slush piles, waiting for some editor to look at it, I had a chance to write another story. And that story is almost ready to send out to be possibly rejected like the first one.

But you know what? Even if I send them both out and they both get rejected twenty times each, I still have faith in the system.

Why am I so okay with rejection? Because in addition to being a writer and a bookstore employee, I am a paid reviewer for the Dove Foundation and I read books for content and quality. And in such a role, I just read what is possibly one of the worst books I have ever read. For the dignity of the author, I won’t speak directly about the book here (you can search my reviews at Dove.org if you need to know), but I will say that the book was self-published.

Now, I know that the publishing industry has changed and that there are a lot of good reasons why an author might self-publish. I have blogging friends that are proudly self-published authors. They have done the research and decided that going it alone is the best financial way to go. But at the risk of offending those folks, there is another more obvious reason that an author might self-publish a book. BECAUSE NO PUBLISHER WOULD TOUCH IT.

My faith in the system remains because publishers make their money by screening out books that they don’t think worthy of space on a bookshelf. The self-publishing industry makes their money by accepting people who, for one reason or another, don’t want to pass through that screening process. And while I don’t think that rejection letters are a badge of pride (like some authors I know), I do see them as a validation that the system works.

Are there exceptions to the rule? Sure. But the rule exists because of the 99.9% who prove it true.

I have hope that all of my writings will be published one day, but for now I am happy to write, hone my craft, and be rejected enough times to learn from my mistakes and become a better writer.

4 Approaches to Publishing

When I started working at the bookstore, I knew of only two ways that an author gets their book on our store’s bookshelf. One, a publisher sold it to us. And two, the author brought in copies personally and asked us to sell it on a consignment basis.

Technology changes.

That was about eight years ago.

Since then, we’ve gone through a major recession, Amazon has become the dominant player for book sales, and e-books have entered the scene. Technology has advanced, publishers have tightened their belts or disappeared altogether. And whatever happened to Borders bookstore?

The point is that times change. Technology advances. Publishers have had to get smarter on the books they put out and the process they use to get them into people’s hands. The shift has left space for start-ups to come in and introduce new avenues to publishing.

Today, I’m going to spell out 4 ways that books can get published. I’m sure there are more, but I think these are a good place to start.

So, if you have a book that you want published, here are your options:

1. Pure Self-Publishing – You write a book by yourself. You pay someone to print it. Pure and simple. You don’t need anyone messing with your vision. You don’t need any help with things like editing or marketing. But… if you do, you can pay for that too. Many self-publishing companies offer a buffet-style approach to the publishing process by offering marking, book design, and editing as price-per-service items, but instead of making money from those books selling in bookstores, they finance themselves by charging you, the author. Once they are delivered to your garage, they are your responsibility.(Here’s an example.)

What’s the upside? You get a great profit margin on the books that you are able to sell by yourself. You get complete control over the whole process.

Who is this right for? This approach is perfect for rich, confident, and excellent writers who don’t need editors. Preferably, they should either be creative or have creative friends who are willing to do things like book design for them.

2. Smart (Low-Risk) Self-Publishing – You write the book. You edit the book. You list the book among a digital library of thousands of other books waiting for someone, anyone, to come along who want to read it. Once you get 1,000 people who want to read your book badly enough to buy it (based on a synopsis and roughly 10 pages of your writing), this company will publish your books. If not enough people sign up for your book in a given time, everyone gets their money back. This is the Kickstarter approach to self-publishing. (Here’s an example.)

What’s the upside? No investment other than your time. The people paying for your book are the people who want to actually read it.

Who is this right for? This approach is perfect for timid people who know 1,000 people who like them enough to pay for their book. This is also good for people who are jaded to traditional publishing rejection letters and would rather convince thousands of ordinary people than one more mean acquisitions editor.

3. Publisher Assisted E-book Publishing – You write the book. You submit the book directly to the publisher (no agent needed). The book is treated just like any other book submission. If the publisher likes it, they offer you a publishing deal, but for e-book format only. The books still gets touched (an improved) by editors, marketing teams, and graphics design professionals, but without all the nasty costs of physically producing the book. The book is shipped out to the digital marketplace and the author makes a percentage of the profits from the book sales. (Here’s an example.)

What’s the upside? Getting in front of a publisher is a tricky business, especially without a good agent. This is a way to get your material read by people who know what they are doing. If they like you enough, maybe your next book will get published in a physical format.

Who is this right for? This format is perfect for people who are convinced that print is dead and that digital is the only format that matters anymore. This is also good for people who have given up on the prospect of actually seeing their book on a physical bookshelf in a brick-and-mortar store, but still want people to have some kind of access to the book that they have sunk so much of their life and time into.

4. Traditional Publishing – You write the book. You either approach a smaller publishing house or a writing agency. Miracles happen. Your book is chosen for publication. They publisher treats it to editing, graphic design, marketing. The publisher pays to have the book printed (and probably put into e-book format too). The printed book is pitched to bookstores and chains. The book is advertised (if you are lucky) to potential readers. Advanced reader copies (or ARCs) are given to key influencers for review and to start the word of mouth advertising. The book is released. You do a book tour, speaking and signing and generally getting more famous by the second (or possibly not). If the book is successful, you’ll probably be asked to write some more. If the book is not successful, you give up on the dream entirely and take up something like underwater basket weaving or Canasta or something. (Here’s an example.)

What is the upside? This is the average writer’s dream. To be accepted by a publisher is to be validated by a credible source for the hours of your life that you spent in writing this book. Publishers have a better chance of promoting your book than you do on your own.

Who is this right for? This approach is perfect for writers who trust the publishing process and still want to see their work in bookstores across the country. Sure, you get a smaller cut of the profits, and sure, there is no guarantee that your book will sell if published by a reputable publisher (something like 90% of them don’t), but that doesn’t matter to you, because this is what you always dreamed about.

Do none of these options seem right to you? Maybe you don’t want to be a published author after all. In the words of Herman Baker, founder of Baker Book House and Baker Publishing Group:

If you have given up already as a result of this article, nothing is lost. You would have fallen by the wayside anyway. You can thank me for saving you time and effort.

8 Questions | Meet Roger Colby from Writing is Hard Work

Roger Colby & J.R.R. Tolkien

Today’s post is an interview that I did with fellow blogger and writer, Roger Colby of Writing is Hard Work. If you aren’t following Roger’s blog yet, check it out. If you don’t know where to start, I really enjoyed his recent post on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ten Tips for Writers.

Anyway, on to the interview!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

1. How did you get into writing?

As a teen I felt kind of like an outcast, so I didn’t really have too many close friends.  I wasn’t a social butterfly, so I spent a lot of time reading.  During my sophomore year in high school I took a creative writing course that changed my life.  I found out that there was something I could do that made people hang on my every word.  Although I was capable of straight “A’s” this was the first class to which I gave everything.  I have been writing in one way or another ever since.  I wrote short stories up until about 4 years ago.  I have a massive collection of these short stories, and many of them are bursting at the seams to become novels.

2. As an English teacher, what is the one thing that you want all of your students to learn above all else?

I want my students to learn how to think for themselves, know why they think it and have evidence for those thoughts.  Too many students are told by a well meaning teacher: “Just write whatever you feel.  It’s ok.  Just write.”  This breeds idiocy.  When students enter my classroom they must support their opinions with fact.  I do not give out knowledge, they find it.

3. What fills your creativity well?

Believe it or not it has never really run dry.  I think there must be a synapse in there that is made from that adamantium Wolverine claw metal.  However, I do find that time alone with a book or time alone on a walk along my road (I live in the country) usually causes my brain to start churning out ideas.  I then have to write them all down in a little notebook or on my iPhone.  I quickly forget them otherwise.

4. How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

I have four great children and a wife who is awesome.  I also teach full time, administrate an alternative education program and am active in my local church.  I have to budget out my time.  Time management is probably a writer’s most important tool.  I have about two hours for writing a day scheduled.  I have an hour in the morning scheduled for blogging and another hour scheduled for social networking.  I schedule weekends mostly for the kids and dating my wife.  I must write 1000 words a day, whether or not the writing is absolute garbage.  I also have a wife who understands how important writing is to me.  She is a huge part of my writing flame.

5. Why did you pursue the self-publishing route instead of the traditional publishing model?

I have sent my stuff off for years.  I have published a few things over the years in small local magazines, but nothing that could make it through the glass ceiling of the national publications.  I have a drawer full and a deleted sector of my hard drive full of rejection letters.  Most of them are automated and I know that they didn’t even look at my material.  I became very cynical about the publishing industry when they published Twilight.  That book is a total rag.  It is full of errors, plot holes, and general bad writing.  I scraped together a bunch of money ($2000) and published my first novel through Outskirts Press, a fleecing agency for the uninformed.  After discovering Amazon Createspace and Kindle, Nook and Smashwords, I realized that I could use blogging and social media to help me get more readers and publish for next to nothing.  Self publishing gives me an avenue to get all of this writing down the pipeline so that it is not sitting around on my desktop like the trained dog no one will ever see perform.

6. What are you doing as a self-published author to promote your books?

As stated above, I am blogging regularly, using Facebook and Twitter to network and interact with people who may be potential readers.  I am using a marketing strategy that is somewhat experimental.  The self-published book series “Wool” reached the best seller list because A) the writing is good B) he offered his novel in digital installments which were free and C) he build buzz through blogging and social media.  I am not expecting my book to be a best seller, but I am doing everything to help it along that I can.  It is a lot of work, but worth it if I can at least sell 100 copies (the best case scenario for a self published author).

7. What advice to you have for people considering self-publishing?

Do it.  However, before you go uploading your tome to the internet you might want to consider a few things: 1) Write well. Amazon, at last estimate, had almost 1 million digital books in their library.  Many of these (or I should say most) are people who are not really writers who are lazy and do not care to clean up their grammar or spelling or type-os and are absolutely embarrassing the market.  2) Get an editor.  Find a professional editor and then PAY them to edit your text.  3) Find a writer’s group.  There are writers groups in your area that probably meet at the local library or somewhere.  Get plugged in to that group and have them critique your work.  LISTEN to their critique.  You are not God’s gift to the publishing world.  Be humble.  Take your lumps.  Become a better writer.

8. What do you want people to know about you aside from your writing?

I am an avid fanboy.  I have a full-on, screen accurate Ghostbusters costume, a custom Mandalorian costume, and a 1940’s Captain America costume complete with metal shield.  I do charity events to raise money for Spencer Children’s Hospital and the MDA.  I do this with a local group of fanboys and girls (www.jediokc.com) and geek out with them on a regular basis.  I also consider myself a “world” Christian in that I am absolutely against the “Americanized” version of Christianity that is used as a mule by politicians and is a weekend hobby for most people and a poor representation of what Christianity is meant to be.  I have been to China for 5 weeks, and other missions efforts, and have seen Christianity as it is practiced in other countries.  If only American Christians had the guts that Chinese Christians had, this would be a better world.

Breathe Rachelle, the Baker Can’t Be Older than Jesus – or – Links

Link and Report Card Day! I hope you are as excited as I am. I’ve scoured the internet in search of the best, and I’ve come back with 4 links that won’t disappoint.

Breathe Christian Writer's ConferenceFirst is the website for the Breathe Conference. It’s a writers’ conference organized by The Guild, a group of published ladies who live in West Michigan and gather regularly to support each others’ writing. The Breathe Conference is unlike other writers’ conferences in how incredibly supportive it is. When other conferences leave you feeling intimidated and unfit to write, Breathe encourages while it teaches. The conference is in October, so there is plenty of time to sign up. There are even scholarships available, so if you want to check it out, try for one of those.

Older Than Jesus is the blog by Alison Hodgson, a member of the Guild and one of the organizers of the Breathe Conference. Alison’s writing captures her personality well, both the funny bits and the more serious bits. She’s one of the nicest and snarkiest people I know, and she holds a special place for me as a reader in that she was the person who introduced me to the writings of Jasper Ffrorde.

Rachelle GardnerI learned about Rachelle Gardner’s blog from my coworker Chris Jager. Chris runs the fiction department at Baker and writes for the store’s fiction blog as well as the online magazine, Family Fiction. But back to Rachelle’s blog… Rachelle is a literary agent with a lot of great information for writers about the world of publishing. If you are a writer, do yourself a favor and check out her blog.

The final link is for the academically-minded Christian. My friend and coworker Louis McBride started the store’s academic blog, The Baker Book House Church Connection, at the behest of Andrew Rogers as a way to connect to churches in the area and inform the pastors about the newest and best books available to them. I remember Louis being skeptical, but like he does everything else, he grinned and gave it his best effort. Now, it is a well respected blog among Christian academic circles, the influence of which spreads far beyond the West Michigan church arena. Louis is always insightful, and if you don’t feel smarter after reading his blog, you may not be able to read (how are you reading this right now then?).

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Now for the report card portion of the post. I only added about 500 words to my novel this week, so I could have done better there. On the upside, my blogging is going like gangbusters. If today’s post goes over like last week’s post, I’ll get pushed over the not-at-all-important-in-the-long-run number of 1000 all-time visits, which is still a pretty cool thing. Overall, I’m going to give myself a B- for this week’s writing. Better luck next time, me!

Two last plugs, if you somehow missed the contests that I am running, this one ends Monday and is super easy, and this one ends at the end of the month and is considerably more difficult. Either way, I’m giving away books, so check it out and share the news with your friends. Thanks for reading this week!

PS – I’ll be continuing my Bookstore Symbiosis series next Monday, in case you were interested in such things.