Looking for Followers in All the Wrong Places

Book marketing is challenging. In order to get our words read by others, we have to not only make them aware of our works but convince them to read it. That is necessary from a sales perspective. Christian fiction authors also bear the responsibility of getting their words read as we write to promote God’s kingdom. Yet often authors shun marketing.sara-kurfess-1416213-unsplash

I get it. Marketing is hard and not exciting and just not fun, but we have to put at least as much effort into marketing our books as creating them. I know that from firsthand experience. I did zero promotion for my first two novels (beyond a few lame tweets and mention on a dusty website). And I was surprised and saddened at my anemic sales! So much I had to learn (and still have to learn).

An author’s platform is, in my view, their online presence and following. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog, website, and so on make up the online presence. Constant activity in all channels is necessary, though it’s not necessary to choose all channels. Followers are also necessary, because who will care about or even read tweets to a dozen followers? Sure, hashtags ensure more visibility, but it’s a very large Twitter universe out there.

Currently in the #WritingCommunity there are numerous activities to promote increasing Twitter followers. I admit that I began to participate in these follies, essentially variations of the “I’ll follow you if you follow me.” Why am I negative about them? Because these do not result in quality followers. I could build up 14,000 followers easily but if they are all mainly authors struggling for recognition like myself, what good is that. No, we need to focus on quality not quantity with our social media engagements, else isn’t it a waste of time?

I’ve adopted a better strategy. Write well. Interact with communities I want to reach as an author, not echo chambers. I’d rather have 100 followers passionate about my works than 20,000 who don’t care about my content, just my follow back. Focusing on a quality platform is the only way I can fulfill God’s call for me as a Christian writer.

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Ethics in Leadership

No, this is not the title of my next novel (though I kind of like it). Today I’m scheduled to speak to students at Middle Tennessee State University on ethics in leadership. I’ve been thinking about what to say – often when I give these types of talks, I don’t prepare a “script” but rather go with what is on my mind. It may sound like the wrong method, but in an intimate classroom setting I prefer the discussion approach rather than following a stiff presentation march (with potential Death by PowerPoint).ian-schneider-66374-unsplash

Still, thinking about ethics in leadership has led me to certain points in my life when, in hindsight (and often at the time), I chose the ethical leadership decision. I’ve come to realize the reason for that. In reality, thee is no such thing as unethical leadership.

A leader is not someone who oversees people, a department, a squadron, and so on. Those who approach successful completion of a mission by relying solely on chain of command are not leaders, they are managers. Leaders may or may not be someone’s superior in an organizational chart. In fact, most likely not.

Leadership is about service. Conversely, true service is leadership. Ethical leadership involves using our positions of influence to achieve positive results for others. If one’s motives inherently are self-serving, how can that be leadership? One may argue that both can exist – a person may lead out of service but also desire to reap the benefits – and I would agree. But if the primary motivator is self and not others, that is not ethical leadership (and there is no such thing as unethical leadership, in my opinion).

Christian writers, fiction and non-fiction, take on a tremendous responsibility that I am not sure is often realized. As a Christian, I have the responsibility to advance His kingdom through my words (written and spoken). Yes, book sales and reputation and name recognition are important because we want encouragement that we are making a difference. But they cannot be prime motivators for creating works – He must always be first.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

My Freelance Writing Roots

Yesterday I was working on an ongoing and seemingly endless project: cleaning out my basement. I’m on a mission to simplify my life, and that means releasing items that no longer bring me joy (I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book on decluttering, but I get the core concept).Computerworld

I have an office in the basement that I don’t use much anymore since moving to a rented office (I tend to be more productive outside of the house, so it’s worth the cost). The basement space consists of a desk and table. Computers, monitors, and a small filing cabinet are gone, either repurposed or disposed of. The filing cabinet landed in my rented office, but I didn’t take all of the files with me. Those folders have sat on the basement desk for several months awaiting review.

While examining the contents of one of the folders, I found the last print copy of Computerworld, an Information Technology magazine that used to be a fixture on computer and network pros desks. The magazine launched an online presence many years ago, and eventually that resulted in the downsizing and elimination of the print copy.

I recall reading a message, whether in the print copy, online, or in email, that Computerworld was interested in freelance writers. With no such experience, I inquired and landed my first freelance writing gig. My goal was exposure and to give back, while earning a few dollars. I remember being pleasantly surprised that the job paid more than I originally believed. Earning money while writing – what a concept!

My first article, published almost exactly 13 years ago to the day, began a three-year relationship with Computerworld, where I provided content on computer networking and information security on a not-quite-monthly basis. Originally I had expected the three-part series I pitched to be the extent of the job, but I suppose that my contributions were well-received as the editorial department eventually requested more.

It was a fun experience until I received my first negative feedback. I don’t recall the details, only asking the editor how or if I should respond. Essentially I crafted a very professional reply and learned that not everyone will agree with what I write. A solid lesson that I have built on over the years.

I haven’t written as a freelancer for about a decade now, but I’m suddenly intrigued about the possibility of returning to the field. We will see.

I kept the magazine, by the way. It still brings me joy.

 

 

Scrivener, A Writing Tool

Often I listen to podcasts when I work out. It’s a great use of time, be it while out on the trails jogging or in the gym lifting. Recently I listened to an episode of Dave Chesson’s Book Marketing Show podcast about writing tools. He mentioned the writing tool Scrivener. I had never heard of this software, but then again, I had not performed much research on writing tools.scriviner screenshot

His description of the software intrigued me as I rested between sets on the chest fly machine. I have always used Word for writing, and it has served me well, but it is not designed to create lengthy manuscripts. For example, scene reordering or moving to another chapter is common. There is no easy method beyond cut and paste to do that in Word.

Based on the podcast, I downloaded a trial version of Scrivener after I returned home. They offer a true thirty day test period – use it two days a week and it will last 15 weeks, as stated on their website. That in itself is encouraging, as I have often downloaded test software with good intentions, then life happens, and upon return to test the period is over. No such risk here.

I installed Scrivener and imported my two WIPs into the same project since the first is a short prologue for the novel. I’ll eventually want to separate when it comes time to export (that combines all separate parts, chapters, and scenes into one document) but for character development and tracking, having all together for development makes sense.

I won’t go over some of the features of Scrivener that writers of longer works find useful, as I encourage you to listen to the podcast mentioned above for that information. However, I will plan to periodically provide updates here my impressions and experiences with the software. From my early experience (about an hour), I am convinced that there is value to go further with the trial.

One last point, it’s not expensive. I believe the cost is $45, but the podcast episode page has a code for 20% off.

When Not Writing is Writing

I have not put any effort into my WIP today, nor do I plan to. But that’s not to say that I haven’t been writing. No, by my estimation, I have laid down about 2500 words today. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of the day writing and editing and formatting, just not Christian fiction.

A backstory is in order (yes, I know, never in chapter one, or in the blog case, paragraph one I suppose – this is paragraph two, so I’m good). A little less than two years ago, I left the corporate word to start my own information security executive consulting company, vCISO Services, LLC. We provide executive information security consulting – part-time Chief Information Security Officer services.

I love what I do, which is servingCover2 small and midsized businesses with access to quality, experienced CISO talent. Business has been solid, and we have clients nationwide. I enjoy helping businesses, plus it is a calling – check this video for my short testimony from 2017 explaining that.

However, running a business is more than working for clients. Another aspect is working to find clients to work for. Yes, that dreaded marketing aspect that is a difficult part of being an indie writer exists in all businesses. Thus, at times I have to turn off the client side and focus on marketing. Today was that type of day.

I finished the first edition of a small guide to information security for small and midsized businesses, drawing on my two years as a consultant. What I tried to do was explain the issues that most books or websites don’t address – pragmatic advice for those who need it. At about 6500 words, it’s not a long read, but it’s enough for a giveaway in return for a newsletter list sign up.

This is where my fiction writing experience helps. I’m currently running a BookFunnel promo for my first novel to build my writing email list. This will serve the same purpose for my company list (substantially larger than my author list at the moment but growth is always good). I would not have opened a BookFunnel account if it weren’t for my fiction marketing needs. Nor would I have known about Calibre if I didn’t have a need to convert my first novel to ebook.

So – no WIP writing but much writing activity. Still sounds like a productive day.

 

Breakthrough

I had the opportunity to attend a preview of the upcoming movie Breakthrough a few weeks ago. From the movie’s web site at https://www.breakthroughtickets.com/synopsis/:

BREAKTHROUGH is based on the inspirational true story of one mother’s unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds. When Joyce Smith’s adopted son John falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope seems lost. But as John lies lifeless, Joyce refuses to give up. Her steadfast belief inspires those around her to continue to pray for John’s recovery, even in the face of every case history and scientific prediction.

Sometimes Christian movies, fiction and as in this case based on factual events, can be, simone-viani-1152774-unsplashwell, sugary for lack of a better word. Being a Christian is not easy. Life in time doesn’t become sunshine and roses upon professing faith. That is the beginning of a long, dedicated walk with Jesus, one that sometimes is more difficult to traverse than others as we struggle with issues in our lives here. Sometimes he carries us (as in the famous “Footprints” poem).

Breakthrough isn’t one of those overly sentimental, sweet movies. It is a well-crafted story of pure faith, hope, and the supernatural potential of prayer. It is not without its heart-wrenching moments, and you will shed a tear (or several). But it tackles a very dark and disturbing subject quite well and leaves the viewer with powerful lessons in prayer and community.

The tie-in to Christian fiction, for me, is that this is the type of impact I hope to have with my works. I suppose it would be easier to tackle feel-good subjects that are quite popular now, such as Christian romance novels, but that’s not my calling. I have absolutely nothing against romance novels, but most often the conflict revolves around human relationships by design. I’m delving into conflicts of relationships with God.

I encourage everyone to see Breakthrough whether you’re Christian or not. Breakthrough comes out April 17, 2019. Note that I have absolutely zero connection with the movie beyond the impact it had on me as a viewer. I’m guessing you’ll have a similar experience.

Photo by Simone Viani on Unsplash

 

Choir

I serve in my church choir. We don’t sing every weekend, but usually about every three weeks. When we do sing it’s usually for all four services, two Saturday and two Sunday. We have a weekly rehearsal on Tuesdays and have to learn anywhere from one to five new songs per singing weekend. Then there is Easter and Christmas where we have an extra service usually and more preparation than a choir-840987_1920“normal” singing weekend. Add that my wife and I live 45 minutes from the church, and it should be plain to see that serving in the choir is a significant commitment.

Singing in the choir was my wife’s idea. I had performed some pretty unremarkable covers and original songs during my music learning phase 20-plus years ago and had the grand experience of having been in chorus (and glee club!) in elementary school, but that was the extent of my experience. Still, it eclipsed hers, yet she was enthusiastic about joining. I agreed because we had served in a church ministry prior (making coffee) and wanted to do it with her to support her. Besides, it’d likely only be for a semester (we run on a two-semester schedule with the summer off) as surely her interest would pass.

That was spring of 2016, and we’re still singing with the choir.

We are a worship choir, not a performance choir, though of course we strive for excellence. We help lead people to become more complete and devoted followers of Jesus Christ. I saw this my first time on the stage risers in January 2016 (after I got over my stage unease). That keeps us engaged and willful servants. What a privilege!

And so it is with writing. Three indie novels in to my writing experience, I have learned much, but nothing more significant than understanding my mission is to write for the Lord. I am not a performance writer, though I strive for excellence. I have found my current calling to create Christian Fiction novels that tackle difficult subjects, with the goal that perhaps those tales can bring encouragement and direction to Christ in peoples’ lives.

Does that mean that I will always write Christian fiction? I don’t know, just as I don’t know if I will always sing in the choir. But I will always remain open to God’s call for what He wants me to do to help advance His kingdom.

Photo: https://pixabay.com/photos/choir-church-choir-light-shadow-840987/

First Base and Beyond

“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” – Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of their Own

Yesterday was the start of the 2019 major league baseball season, and it passed me by. I grew up a Yankees fan but after major league baseball cancelled the World Series in 1994, I lost most interest in big-league baseball. But I still find baseball closer to its roots to be a pleasure to watch in person, and enjoy attending a couple Nashville Sounds games per year.mark-duffel-352915-unsplash

Hank’s character was responding to one on his team complaining that playing baseball was hard, and the quote has become a favorite for encouragement memes (seriously, just Google it). Its popularity is rooted in its simple truth. Anything that is worth attaining is going to take much effort and sweat equity.

I think some of us enter the writing trade severely underestimating the difficulties ahead. I know I did. When I proudly self-published my first novel I thought that once available on Amazon people would find it, buy it, and I’d join the ranks of other successful novelists, because in my quite-biased opinion what I had produced was simply that good. But the truth is that you can have the next Old Man and the Sea ready to upload and no one may know, or care.

That’s not to diminish the huge accomplishment of getting to that point. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d guess that at least 30% of people in the United States have considered writing the great American novel, and of those maybe a quarter attempt to, and of those maybe 5% reach Amazon whether traditional or independent publishing. That’s 0.375% of the population or about one in 267 (and even that seems high).

I recently attended a writers conference where Bob Hostetler emphasized that there are nine ways to reach first base, not because he was teaching the attendees the rules of baseball but to illustrate that the same line of thought applies to writing success. I had only focused on one or two ways, and my lackluster (that’s being kind) sales reflected my tepid efforts. I realized I hadn’t tried most other venues (consistent blogging, email lists, conference attendance, and so on) because, well, they were all hard. Lesson learned.

My goal is not to stop at first base. I want to score runs and win the game, because I feel I have meaningful tales that can positively change lives inside of me. I have to embrace the hard. I just hope that when the work pays off and I reach the World Series, they don’t cancel it.

For a free download of my inspirational first novel Forgiveness sign up at https://bookhip.com/XFCCLN

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

 

Authenticity in Christian Fiction

I have written three novels. The first two are best categorized as fantasy, while my third, Leaving Darkness, is my first Christian novel. I have since realized that is the genre I am called to write in.

I just read a tweet that said something to the effect that the advice to write what you know about is wrong. The implication was it limits the subject matter and thereby cannot effectively hold the interest of the reader. To remedy, you need to research to write about what you don’t know, as well.

In some aspects, I certainly agree. For example, my second novel relies upon a Soviet covert plot to infiltrate the United States Catholic Church during the mid 20th century. This was an area I had no expertise in. I realized I’d need as much realism to prop up the fantasy of such a ridiculous idea, so I Googled for facts that could have possibly been interpreted by conspiracy theorists that such an infiltration attempt existed. To my surprise, this actually occurred!aaron-burden-233840-unsplash.jpg

But there are areas I disagree, a most significant one being Christian fiction. Christian fiction differs from other genres in that its purpose is to spread the Gospel and advance the kingdom of God. Those called to write Christian fiction sense a need to use the written word to promote the path to light and salvation. It would be impossible to write authentically about the saving grace of Christ in lives without knowing that personally.

Authenticity goes further though. A Christian fiction author must live their life as a Christ follower. Obviously this does not mean a sinless life because that is impossible. However, to convey the authenticity on paper (or screen) the author needs to follow Christ not just for an hour and a half on Sundays, but rather live, breathe, and proclaim through actions their devotion to Christ.

One of my favorite ways to explain if you’re doing this effectively is if people can identify you as a Christian without you explicitly saying so (either outright or tangentially through other discussions such as church activities). Being a Christ follower changes you – not just internally, but externally.

It should surprise no one that this change is reflected by the written pages as well. Authenticity allows your love of Christ to leap from the words to the reader’s heart. And as a Christian fiction author, that is the primary goal, after all.

For a free copy of my inspirational first fantasy novel Forgiveness sign up at https://bookhip.com/XFCCLN

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Slow Down!

Slow down, you crazy child
And take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile
It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two

-Billy Joel

Yesterday I wrote about discipline. A few hours later I ignored my own words. In a perceived rush, I deviated from disciplined driving and made an error that could of had disastrous results. It didn’t, but the rest of my journey I mentally slapped myself for momentarily losing discipline.zach-meaney-249436-unsplash

The funny thing is I wasn’t even running late. I was invited to speak to a class of graduate students about information security and had plenty of time baked into the drive. As it was, I arrived about 35 minutes early. Not smart.

We seem to live such rushed lives nowadays. I yearn for simplicity. Part of that involves just slowing down. Whether that be driving or anything else including writing, we sacrifice the great gift of the now when solely focused on the end goals. I’m sure everyone’s experienced driving to work with much on the mind and maybe running a bit late, and when you arrive at the office it’s difficult to remember much of the drive. Why would we remember anything? All of our focus was landing in the office.

Goals aren’t bad, rather they are like any other tool – beneficial when used properly, detrimental than not. My writing goal as I work on a 10,000 word novelette is 1,000 words per day. Today I was halfway through my goal when I wrote the line of dialogue “That was then, this is now.” Sound familiar? It did to me. That was a Monkees hit in the 80’s.

Ah, the Monkees, that silly made-for-TV 60’s group that actually churned out some good popular songs. I remember watching the show as a child, laughing at the antics of Mike, Davy, Peter, and Micky, and singing along to the opening theme (“Hey hey we’re the Monkees…). I hadn’t thought much about them recently until last month when Peter Tork passed away.

Maybe that still lingered in my mind when I wrote that line. I had a desire to stop writing (egad!) and  find the video for the song on YouTube. I did, and the next four minutes I was transported back to 1986 during their “reunion” tour (only Peter and Micky).

I didn’t need to slow down and stop writing, and certainly distractions while writing can be detrimental to progress. But we don’t need to go to extremes (another Billy Joel reference – yes!). Take a break every now and then, maybe to recharge, but certainly to remind yourself of this wonderful world around you, beyond the word in creation on the monitor.

Photo by Zach Meaney on Unsplash