The Dirty Truth about Blogging

The article below was originally written for the author newsletter at Discovery House, the publishing house where I am employed. Though the audience for the piece was originally published authors, other writers may be interested in it too. So I’m putting it here.

dirty_truth

As a marketing manager, I know what I’m supposed to say about author blogs. I’m supposed to tell you that blogging is a great, easy way to hook new readers and convince them to buy your book. But here’s the dirty truth: Blogging is hard.

It is hard to juggle writing books (which are meant to last forever on someone’s bookshelf) with writing blog posts (which are old as soon as they are published). It is hard to think of a new topic or fresh angle for each post. It is hard to be consistent when the schedules of our non-writing lives refuse to stay the same. Blogging is just hard to do.

Here’s what two Discovery House authors have to say on the topic:

“When I first started blogging, I tried to keep up with devotionals on a semi-deep level every single day. It drained me of words. It’s hard to exactly explain, but I found it hard to even talk/chat in my everyday life because I had spent myself keeping up with the blogging.” –Heather King, author of Ask Me Anything, Lord

“Blogging is draining and sucks what little writing time I have right down the tubes. And it makes me cranky. I think a lot of people are over-blogged. How much information can we really keep up with these days?” –Jessie Clemence, author of If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do

And yet…

Blogging can be rewarding too. After all, hard things are often those most worth doing. Blogging reinforces the habit of writing. It can breed community. It can stimulate creativity. It can tell us what issues hit home with readers.

Per Heather and Jessie:

“Since I blog along the same vein as what I write book-wise, I had to find a balance. I blog 3 times a week now, with the heavier devotionals 2 of those days and that content helps me find thoughts/content/words for the books. I take those blog posts as jumping-off points for book content.

“I also think if I can find the posts that connect with readers in a big way, it helps keep my book-writing more relevant (at least that’s the hope!).” –Heather King, author of Ask Me Anything, Lord

“I keep blogging because it does give me consistent practice at writing. It also keeps the website fresh and then gives people a reason to check in and remember I’m alive. When my posts are shared it can bring in brand new readers, who then see a picture of the latest cover as they peruse.

“It makes me less cranky to think of the blog as a way to connect with readers.” –Jessie Clemence, author of If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do

Blogging is hard, but when approached in a balanced way, it can work with your writing instead of against it. Do you think you might be ready for the challenge?

If so, remember the 3 Rules of Blogging:

  1. Be Consistent – It doesn’t matter whether you post new content every day, three times a week, or twice a month, as long as your readers know when they can expect new content from you (and you can deliver it).
  2. Be Brief (or Epic) – People usually read posts that are 400 words or less. Also, people read posts that are over 1,000 words. Avoid the middle ground. Go for short and sweet or give them a full meal.
  3. Be Yourself – People are coming to your blog to read your writing. Maybe they have read one of your books and care about the same things that you do. Maybe they stumbled onto you blog accidentally. Either way, you have an opportunity to show them that you are a writer worth investing in.

Happy Blogging!

If LOTR Races Were Writers…

I was looking through my old posts for some inspiration. Yesterday, I blogged about some good reasons to give up blogging. I left out a reason.

Most of the time, you write into the void, hoping that one or two people will read your words but knowing that even if they do, they won’t read them again and all of your effort will be wasted.

And so I feel compelled to share some of my favorite past posts. If you are new to my blog, you are welcome to go back and read from the beginning, but I’m going to save you some work and just share the things that I think are worth sharing.

The post below was originally published on January 31, 2013.

* * * * * * * * *

lotr_writers

I am a nerd. I wear this badge proudly. I can speak knowledgeably about Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Lord of the Rings. Yes, I can even talk about the Silmarillion. And so, it should come as no surprise that I think about questions like this:

If each race from Lord of the Rings represented a type of writer,
to which race would I belong?

Of course, before I can answer that question, we need to look at what type of writer each race might represent.

lego_hobbitHobbits

Hobbits are gifted storytellers, lovers of simplicity, and they value a good party as much, or more than, a hard day’s work. As writers, they are often distracted by social engagements, but this makes their writing richer… when they get around to it. Don’t forget that the writer of The Hobbit was a hobbit.

lego_elfElves

Elves are a poetic race with a tongue that is beautiful to listen to, but difficult to understand. They compose epic poems praising high ideals and their knowledge of obscure history is secondary only to the Valar and Maiar themselves. The fact that they do not age and cannot die unless mortally wounded or heartbroken assists them in having a longer perspective than men. As writers, words come easily to them, but their high literature is not accessible and is often shunned by the mainstream. That is okay with them, as they would rather their Rivendells be hidden away from average eyes anyway.

Dwarveslego_dwarf

Dwarves are fans of action and gold. They carve stories out of the living stone of imagination, crafting complex structures that impress all who see them. They are concerned with the details and how elements fit together. Dwarves are a serious race, not grim, but focused. Every now and again though, they dig too greedily and awaken things best left asleep. As writers, they are know how tell a good, axe-wielding fight scene and have great attention to detail. Their books are often bestsellers and go on to live comfortably on the silver screen as well as they do on the page.

Menlego_man

Of all the races, men are the shortest-lived. In other words, men are entirely forgettable. Their end is a mystery, for they neither dwell in the Halls of Mandos like elves, nor return to the earth from which they sprang forth like dwarves. Being short-lived, men are often also short-sighted. As writers, men do not use outlines and often have no idea where their story will end. They simply write to see where the journey to take them.

Pukel-menlego_pukelman

Don’t remember the pukel-men? They weren’t in the movie version of LOTR, so if that is your only reference point, you won’t have any idea who I’m talking about. Technically speaking, the Pukel-men, or Drúedain,  are counted among the first men who walked on Middle-earth. They resembled Neanderthals, were friendly with Elves of the first age, and hate orcs with a passion. They are a secretive race and wish to be left in peace. In the war of the One Ring, their leader, Ghân-buri-Ghân, played a vital role, guiding the Rohirrim to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. If that hadn’t happened, the war against Sauron would have been lost. As writers, the Pukel-men are ultra-niche, keeping to themselves, wanting no influence in the outside literary world.

Entslego_ent

Ents are a long-winded race. It takes hours to finish a sentence, days to finish a paragraph, and many seasons to tell a whole story. Though they speak slowly, they say the things that must be said. And once they get into a groove, nothing can get them off course. As writers, they are not hasty. They write slowly and thoughtfully, but their stories are always worth reading. I believe Tolkien himself had a bit of Entish blood (sap?) running through his veins, as it took him about twelve years to write LOTR.

Wizardslego_wizard

Strictly speaking, wizards aren’t writers at all, but editors. These are the wise folk who know the land, can see the needs of the time, and offer guidance to those wise enough to listen. They speak all languages and give of themselves freely for the good of the quest.

Now, I realize that these are only the main races of LOTR and that I haven’t covered any of the bad guys. Maybe I’ll do that in another post. In any case, now that I’ve laid out the races and the types of writers they represent, I must admit that I am a hobbit. I am often distracted by the happenings within my life and find it difficult to simply sit and write for hours on end. lego_gollumThough, perhaps that is for the best. Were I to become too focused on something, I may turn into another race altogether, referring to my writing as “precious” and viciously attacking anyone who came between it and I.

No, I think I am happy as a hobbit, but even more so because I am surrounded by a fellowship made up of each race. I value my writers group, the Weaklings, and know that if my quest to become a published author is to be realized, I must draw from the strengths of my companions.

What are you?

The Publisher Panel | A Breathe Conference Retrospective

books towerOne of the treats of any writers conference is the chance to hear directly from publishers. This year, one of the plenary sessions at Breathe was a panel discussion with representatives from Harper Collins, Kregel, Discovery House, Tyndale, and Zondervan. The panel was moderated by writer and agent, Ann Byle.

Here were a few of the questions that came up:

What are the considerations that go into a publisher’s choice of new book projects?

  • Is the writing good? If so, is the concept salable?
  • Is the author established?
  • How is their project different from what’s out there?
  • How does it fit in with the rest of the publisher’s line? Is there another book to be published that is too similar?

How important is an author’s reach into their target audience?

  • This is vital for non-fiction. Authors must have an authoritative voice on their subject matter.
  • Fiction is a different animal, but authors must still have access to their readers through online communities. Even if they don’t have 20,000 Facebook likes, they must show intention to grow their community.

What things should a writer not do?

  • Lack confidence.
  • Rush the process. Getting published is a long journey. Don’t get impatient.
  • Quote Wikipedia. Just go find the original source material, please.
  • Be inflexible with your agent/publisher/editor.
  • Have expectations about the process if you haven’t been through it before.

What can an author expect from a publisher after the book is published?

  • If editors make your book look good, marketers make it look better. Show some initiative and be involved in the marketing efforts of your book.
  • Author care should include a publisher keeping in touch with you, making sure that you have the information you need along the process.
  • Publishers will make sure that authors have a plan for how the book is going to be marketed.

What changes do you see in the publishing world?

  • The rise and eventual plateau of e-books.
  • The rise of self-publishing.
  • The emergence of hybrid authors (authors who use both traditional and self-publishing).
  • The downward pressure of price points at determined by e-books.
  • The loss of brick and mortar bookstores. Thanks to Amazon, the delivery system for books is still changing.
  • The loss of print book reviews due to the death of newspapers and magazines.

I’m thankful that the organizers of the Breathe Conference were able to get such a great panel together. Even though a lot of what they covered is probably common sense, it is good to hear that we needn’t always have the largest platform in the world in order to get published. We need only do our best and show that we are improving.

Well, that and have an amazing manuscript.

Holiday Mix-Up

One of my sisters-in-law is an elementary teacher in North Carolina. Not only is she a great person because she is blood-related to my wife, but she also uses my Saturday Photo Prompts in her classroom as teaching tools. My favorite part of this fact is that occasionally she’ll send me the stories that her students write based on my prompts.

Such was the case recently when she sent the stories you will read below. Unfortunately, due to some kind of mix-up, the photo upon which these stories are based did not originate from my Saturday Photo Prompts as she thought it did. In any case, they are wonderful stories and I can’t just keep them to myself, so I’m going to share them now before another holiday passes and these are really out of date.

Enjoy!

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pumpkins

Once upon a time there was a contest but only on Halloween. Everyone started on their pumpkins. There was 147 people. After a kid cut one oft he pumpkins and then a ghost came out. But the kids or the father and mother did not see the ghost. The kids felt sad that their pumpkin was a mess. But they put it in the contest. But they put in the wrong one. They saw a ghost and got it and their pumpkins and ran. They went to their house. Then Halloween was over and they won gods. (Not sure what that last bit’s about)

– Jennifer

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

 One day a ghost who got trapped in a pumpkin and the pumpkin grew legs and arms. And guess what, he was now a pumpkin man. So he followed a bird. He followed it into town and scared the people away. The town’s people grabbed the pitchfork and torches. They chased the pumpkin man. Mr. Jack ran for his life. So he won’t get stopped. Help! Help! cried Mr. Jack. Then they sliced off his head.

– Trenton

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

 One night, it was Halloween and everybody saw a bunch of some scary pumpkins. But one looked really weird. It was a pumpkin that was haunted. And people always say if you touch it you will disappear. There was a boy named Max who was very interested in where the pumpkin would take you. So one night he decided to touch the pumpkin and…. nothing happened. So the next morning Max told everybody that the pumpkin was not haunted. And the pumpkin was never haunted again. Max was glad nobody else had believed in a haunted pumpkin anymore.

– Jeremiah

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

 One day was there a pumpkin carving contest. There was a little girl who wanted to enter the pumpkin contest. Then she went to tell her friends all about it. They all went to the sign up sheet so they can enter the contest. Then they started to carve the pumpkin. Julie said I do not was to do anything normal like a smiley face on the pumpkin. I want to do something outrageous like put the word BOO or a witch on the pumpkin. Then somebody shouted let’s do a villain or a really scary face. It was the day of the contest and the judges got ready. They looked at each pumpkin and then the judges decided it was the scary pumpkin the little kids had made. They won!

– Jasmin

Breathe In, Breathe Out

breathe-logo

breathe2012-300x225This Friday, I’ll be doing a workshop on flash fiction at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference.

This will be my third time presenting something at Breathe, and it’s always an honor to be there. The first year, I did a team presentation with my friend Andrew Rogers on What Publishers and Bookstores Want Authors to know about Marketing. The second year, I did a thing on Creating Successful Bookstore Events. Those events made a lot of sense, given my job in marketing for Baker Book House.

But this year, my credentials are a bit thin. Sure, I write flash fiction. Sure, I think everyone should write flash fiction. And sure, I think that flash fiction is going to be the next big thing in the mainstream. But outside of my personal blog, my flash fiction has never been published.

Is that a problem? I hope not. Since the goal of my workshop is to introduce people to the idea of storycraft on the minor scale, I don’t think it makes a big difference whether my name is recognizable for flash fiction or not. In fact, virtually no one is famous for their flash fiction, so even if I were one of the greats, there is a very small chance that someone would have heard of me anyway.

I think the biggest asset I can bring to the Breathe Conference is my passion for an underutilized fiction form. I didn’t realize how committed to short-form fiction I was until I spoke with people after the last Jot Conference. I found myself inserting it time and again into conversations with my fellow writers, perhaps even when it didn’t belong. And that’s okay (or so I tell myself), because if people can walk away from my workshop as energized about writing as I am while speaking about flash, my talk will have been a success.

I know that online registration for the conference is now closed, but if you are interested in attending, I’m sure that you’ll still be able to pay at the door. Check out the conference line-up here. I hope to see you there on Friday!

Oh, and one last plug for Chad Allen’s event at Baker Book House tonight. Be there.

Remember to Breathe

I had two exciting messages via email and Facebook the other day.

Breathe Christian Writer's ConferenceIn the first, I was invited to be a speaker at the Breathe Writers Conference in October. My topic will be Flash Fiction. The organizers reached out to me because of my presentation on that topic at Jot, the mini-conference that my writer’s group put together. I’ve been a speaker at Breathe before, but my topic then was on how bookstores can help writers (checkout my Bookstore Symbiosis series here on my blog for the gist of my talk).

I’m pretty excited about getting my talk together and differentiating it from what I used at Jot. Also, I’m hoping to have some flash fiction publishing credits to my name by then so I can feel qualified to speak on the topic.

The other message I got the other day was from the film maker I mentioned a while back who was looking for some material to turn into short movies. He had a friend write an adaptation of one of my 100 word stories and asked me to look it over. The adaptation is amazing! I can’t wait for you all to see it!

He mentioned that they are hoping to film it sometime this summer, so there’s a chance that I’ll be able to show it at my talk in October at Breathe.

In any case, be sure to check out the Breathe website for more details. Having been there as both a speaker and an attendee, I can honestly tell you that it is a writer’s conference like no other. The speakers they choose always have time to talk to the attendees, the other attendees are always kind, and the general feel of the conference is always supportive.

The keynote speaker this year is Latayne C. Scott. Here’s her bio from the Breathe site:

Latayne C. Scott is the award-winning author of over a dozen books, published by major Christian publishers such as Zondervan, Moody, Baker, Word and others. In addition, she has published poems, radio plays, and hundreds of articles in magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman, Guideposts, Writer’s Digest, The Upper Room, Christian Research Journal, Christian Retailing, and Military Officer. A full-time writer, she also speaks at seminars, retreats, and on television and radio programs. She is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for Creative Christian Writing, and makes her home in her native New Mexico.

If you have any inkling of becoming a writer, be sure to check it out.

If LOTR Races Were Writers…

I am a nerd. I wear this badge proudly. I can speak knowledgeably about Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Lord of the Rings. Yes, I can even talk about the Silmarillion. And so, it should come as no surprise that I think about questions like this:

If each race from Lord of the Rings represented a type of writer,
to which race would I belong?

Of course, before I can answer that question, we need to look at what type of writer each race might represent.

lego_hobbitHobbits

Hobbits are gifted storytellers, lovers of simplicity, and they value a good party as much, or more than, a hard day’s work. As writers, they are often distracted by social engagements, but this makes their writing richer… when they get around to it. Don’t forget that the writer of The Hobbit was a hobbit.

lego_elfElves

Elves are a poetic race with a tongue that is beautiful to listen to, but difficult to understand. They compose epic poems praising high ideals and their knowledge of obscure history is secondary only to the Valar and Maiar themselves. The fact that they do not age and cannot die unless mortally wounded or heartbroken assists them in having a longer perspective than men. As writers, words come easily to them, but their high literature is not accessible and is often shunned by the mainstream. That is okay with them, as they would rather their Rivendells be hidden away from average eyes anyway.

Dwarveslego_dwarf

Dwarves are fans of action and gold. They carve stories out of the living stone of imagination, crafting complex structures that impress all who see them. They are concerned with the details and how elements fit together. Dwarves are a serious race, not grim, but focused. Every now and again though, they dig too greedily and awaken things best left asleep. As writers, they are know how tell a good, axe-wielding fight scene and have great attention to detail. Their books are often bestsellers and go on to live comfortably on the silver screen as well as they do on the page.

Menlego_man

Of all the races, men are the shortest-lived. In other words, men are entirely forgettable. Their end is a mystery, for they neither dwell in the Halls of Mandos like elves, nor return to the earth from which they sprang forth like dwarves. Being short-lived, men are often also short-sighted. As writers, men do not use outlines and often have no idea where their story will end. They simply write to see where the journey to take them.

Pukel-menlego_pukelman

Don’t remember the pukel-men? They weren’t in the movie version of LOTR, so if that is your only reference point, you won’t have any idea who I’m talking about. Technically speaking, the Pukel-men, or Drúedain,  are counted among the first men who walked on Middle-earth. They resembled Neanderthals, were friendly with Elves of the first age, and hate orcs with a passion. They are a secretive race and wish to be left in peace. In the war of the One Ring, their leader, Ghân-buri-Ghân, played a vital role, guiding the Rohirrim to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. If that hadn’t happened, the war against Sauron would have been lost. As writers, the Pukel-men are ultra-niche, keeping to themselves, wanting no influence in the outside literary world.

Entslego_ent

Ents are a long-winded race. It takes hours to finish a sentence, days to finish a paragraph, and many seasons to tell a whole story. Though they speak slowly, they say the things that must be said. And once they get into a groove, nothing can get them off course. As writers, they are not hasty. They write slowly and thoughtfully, but their stories are always worth reading. I believe Tolkien himself had a bit of Entish blood (sap?) running through his veins, as it took him about twelve years to write LOTR.

Wizardslego_wizard

Strictly speaking, wizards aren’t writers at all, but editors. These are the wise folk who know the land, can see the needs of the time, and offer guidance to those wise enough to listen. They speak all languages and give of themselves freely for the good of the quest.

Now, I realize that these are only the main races of LOTR and that I haven’t covered any of the bad guys. Maybe I’ll do that in another post. In any case, now that I’ve laid out the races and the types of writers they represent, I must admit that I am a hobbit. I am often distracted by the happenings within my life and find it difficult to simply sit and write for hours on end. lego_gollumThough, perhaps that is for the best. Were I to become too focused on something, I may turn into another race altogether, referring to my writing as “precious” and viciously attacking anyone who came between it and I.

No, I think I am happy as a hobbit, but even more so because I am surrounded by a fellowship made up of each race. I value my writers group, the Weaklings, and know that if my quest to become a published author is to be realized, I must draw from the strengths of my companions.

What are you?

Happy Birthday from Me! | For Writers

Today is my 30th birthday. And instead of expecting a gift from each of you, I’ve decided to give you a gift.

For any students or writers out there, this is a tool that I have developed for my bag of writing tricks. It has a page of prepositions, pages of boys and girls names, a page of weapons, and a list of different ways to say “said”.

Download the ABC’s of writing tools here.

This could also be a tool for parents-to-be to browse name choices. Just an idea.

Anyway, I’ve found it to be a handy resource and I hope you do too.

Answer: How do we get non-writers to read?

I’m writing this post in response to the one that I re-blogged yesterday from Eric Wyatt. Eric noticed that the majority of the readers and commentators on his blog were other writers who were hoping to be published. He asked how we can attract the readers who we hope will (when we are published) buy our books.

These are a few of the things that I came up with that contribute to the writers-reading-writers phenomena.

Content dictates readership. If we are writers hoping to be published, there is a good chance that we are writing about being writers hoping to be published. We are probably writing things like tips for writers, the writer’s experience, how to be a better writer, how to revise manuscripts, and so on. Who cares most about these things? Writers.

We are trying to build our platform, but we are misguided in our approach. We are told (often by other blogging writers) that it is important to have a platform in order to get published. This is true. Nowadays, it is a key selling point to a publisher if we have thousands of followers on our blog. We are trying our hardest to show to publishers that we know what we are doing when it comes to writing, that we can put content out there and that we are experts in our field. But as a writing hoping to publish fiction, is it really going to do me a lot of good writing about writing when I am hoping to write books of imaginative fantasy?

We are hoping to attract hungry readers with cookbooks instead of a tasty meal.

It is the nature of the blogging beast. We are writing on a medium designed for writers. If the readers we want to attract were on WordPress, they are most likely writers as well. Writers read blogs. Readers read published books. There is a disconnect for most writers between the two.

So what do we do about that?

Maybe we should take a look at what our favorite authors are blogging about. What is it that their fans want from them? Maybe we should write more of that. I looked up a few popular authors, and of the ones who blog, they blog about their books, they blog snippets and samples to whet our appetites, they blog about how they came up with certain characters and about how inspires them.

Show, don’t tell. We are often told this advice about becoming a better writer, but the same can be true about the content of our blogs. If we want to attract people to our writing, we should be showing more of our writing.

I know, I know. If we publish it on our blogs, publishers won’t pay for it.

Good point. So lets show our writing abilities by other means, without giving away the whole thing. Can you publish a synopsis, a character profile, a setting, a sample chapter or scene? Ask any marketing person today and they will tell you that giving things away sells products. It may be counterintuitive, but it is true.

Perhaps you can show your writing talent without even mentioning your current work in progress. There are a number of good blogs that offer writing prompts for you to hone your skill and show your writing prowess. One of my favorites is Julia’s Place and the Weekly 100 Word Challenge, but there are others out there as well. Just look on Duotrope for opportunities and prompts for publication.

Review books. If you write within a specific genre, read and publish reviews of books in the same genre. If you want readers to find your things, they are going to be searching for reviews of these books. If you write a good review, they are going to click around your blog to find out what else you have reviewed/written. Maybe they’ll stumble across a sample of your writing and bookmark your blog.

Write with a buffer. I find that when I am writing last-minute, I tend to write less polished posts that are about whatever is on my mind at the time. Often, this means that I write about writing, which only other writers tend to care about. I am not intentional about what I want readers to see. It just goes straight from my head to the computer screen and then on to the world at large.

By writing ahead and giving myself some time to ask myself if my post is something that a reader (not just writers) would want to see. This is also helpful in giving myself a chance to be sick or lazy if I need a day or two away from the blog (or if I need a day or two to work solely on my novel).

Publish where the readers are. If you aren’t publishing your blog to your Facebook account or your twitter feed or your [insert whatever the next popular social media fad is here], then you are missing out on putting content in front of people who may be interested. Of course, this presupposes that you have content that they want to see.

Maybe you are already publishing to these places, but you are only being read by family and friends. If you want to use a gimmick to get readers to your blog, try a giveaway. Provide an incentive for your family and friends to share your posts with their family and friends. If your incentive is good enough (or if your writing is good enough), this could just start that perfect word-of-mouth campaign that we are all after.

Those are my thoughts.

I may even start using them to help the content of my blog become something that readers will want to read. We’ll have to see.