Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Finding a Christmas Program to Fit Your Small Church

xChristmas ornament facesYou’ve just flipped the calendar over to October and Christmas panic sets in. You haven’t even chosen a Christmas program yet and you know Christmas is just around the corner. Maybe you are wallowing in indecision because you don’t have a lot of performers and talent in your church. If this describes you

 5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Christmas Program

1. What is my purpose for the program?

Often Christmas programs are mainly evangelistic. It is the one time in the year to reach the families of kids who come to church. If that’s true for you, you want to be sure to feature these kids, not just your core church kids. Parents come to see their kids perform. Showcasing their kids is more important than showcasing more talented performers.

2. What do I have to work with?

How many people will participate? What ages are they?  How willing are they to work? Are they musicians or are they more inclined toward drama? Consider how you can use the people you have in a way that will make them feel good about their participation.

3. How can I make the message meaningful for the audience, yet fun?

You may have people attend your program who only rarely attend church. You want this experience to be a positive one. If the overall tone is heavy and preachy it may push them further away. You certainly want a strong salvation message clearly presented, but lighter moments may help your unsaved audience better receive the message. Look for a Christmas program which will keep the atmosphere friendly and positive.

4. How can I make the program meaningful for the performers?

Program practice needs to be well organized, moving through the practices in an efficient manner. Some sense of discipline is necessary, but the general atmosphere should be upbeat. You want to emphasize that the purpose of your performance is God’s glory, not to show off. Yet the whole experience should be fun and fulfilling.

You may choose a program that your church is capable of producing through hard work, but you also need to consider how willing your people are. If your kids, performers, and workers are not highly motivated, you are probably better off not choosing a very difficult program. If you are going to have to threaten your performers and workers and drive them mercilessly to memorize lines and attend long practices, you’ve probably chosen the wrong program. On the other hand, a few highly motivated people can form the core of a more difficult program, with less motivated people playing less demanding parts.

5. Where can I find a simple program that will work for my small church, a small group within my church, or a Christmas service?

I offer seven Christmas programs which I have used in a small mission church. Some are more demanding than others. “No Room for Jesus” is my personal favourite. Most are free, but some you have to order. Click here for a list of these programs.

How to Use Book Reviews and Awards to Sell Your Book

Kid reading the Book. EducationToday anyone can have a book published.  Many people dream of it. In fact one recent survey says 81% of people feel they have a book in them that they should write.

I don’t know about you, but this statistic fills me with more despair than hope.  I’ve been writing for publication for about 35 years and while it is reassuring that I can bring any book of mine to print, it seems unfair that any novice who can put 20,000 words or so on paper can do the same. Of course, selling the book once it is published is another story.

The hardest part of writing today is not the actual writing or the publication, but getting your voice heard among all of the other voices. Self-publication has lost much of its former stigma and offers opportunities like never before. But because it is so easy to be published, many books of inferior quality and content are competing for attention. In addition to that, many good books are calling out to readers. How can potential readers hear about your book above all the noise of the information overload?

Book reviews and awards help the good books to rise to the top. They give needed exposure for readers to find and read your books. I used to wonder how the lucky authors got those reviews and awards. Now I know that authors aren’t going to get any of either unless they, or their publishers or agents, submit their books.

Somehow that goes against the grain. I feel silly suggesting my book is good enough to merit an award. I’d rather someone else would nominate me. Who am I to ask for a book review? But if my message is worth a year or two of the hard work of writing, it must also be worth my time to promote.

Book Reviews

Consumer Book Reviews

Today what do most readers do first when deciding whether or not to buy a book? They check out the reviews on Amazon. Even shoppers in bookstores often check with Amazon on their phones before buying. That makes Amazon reviews really important.

When you have a book published, or even afterward, work to find readers who will review your book on Amazon. You may need to offer a free book in exchange for an honest review. Good reviews are great, but if all your reviews are 5-star reviews with glowing reports, readers may suspect they are only written by your friends. Even a few negative reports may help, especially if your content is controversial. Work hard to get a good number of Amazon reviews.

If you have author friends who have only a few reviews on Amazon for a book, consider helping them out by writing reviews for them. They will love you for it.

Goodreads is also a great place to have reviews. Amazon now owns Goodreads and they work together, but Goodreads is currently about the best social network devoted to reading. Their membership is growing rapidly. Goodreads allows you to schedule give-aways, and authors generally give away free books hoping readers will review the books when they finish them.

Book Review Blogs

Book review blogs can also be a good source of online book reviews. Self-publication has created a huge need for book reviews so these blogs are everywhere, but be aware than some don’t have a large readership. Successful blogs sometimes sound welcoming to new authors, but when you pursue a review you find that they aren’t accepting more submissions.

Many of these blogs also work in only one genre, like Christian fiction. In November 2013 I published a true story about Mary Weaver, an innocent Christian woman who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.   Edges of Truth is challenging to promote because it straddles several genres. It reads like fiction, but it’s a true story. As a biography it is often listed with historical figures like Martin Luther or Hudson Taylor, but it appeals to a different sort of reader. It fits best as a memoir, but some companies don’t have a separate listing for memoirs. Many of the review blogs are for Christian fiction, but this book doesn’t fit there.

Spend some time on Google finding blogs that fit your book and check their submission guidelines. This may be a good source of book reviews for you.

Trade Reviews

Librarians and Christian retailers often look for trade reviews of your book when considering a purchase. Some trade review magazines charge anywhere from $100 to $500 to review your book, and you may even end up with a very negative review that is useless to you.

Be aware that many trade reviewers want galleys as much as three months prior to publication.

I wanted to be able to sell our book Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story to libraries in Iowa and I knew that many librarians wouldn’t consider it until I had a good trade review. I chose to seek a review by Midwest Book Review. Though it isn’t in the very top layer of prestigious reviewers, I felt it was a good fit for our book. They give special consideration to small presses and self-published authors. They accept books that are already in print. They don’t charge for their reviews. Our memoir happened in the Midwest which fits their company. And Midwest had already reviewed another one of my books and given it a good review.

I was told that Edges of Truth  ”handily passed their initial screening process” but that they had so many submissions that they couldn’t handle them all. The editor of MBR said they would print a review by someone else if I got a professional review.

Online Christian Book Review Sites

We (my co-author and the person my book was about and I) had counted heavily on getting a review by Midwest Book Review to be able to sell to Iowa libraries. When we didn’t get it I didn’t know where to turn. Research on the internet brought me to a book that could give me some new sources. Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace (Third Edition) by Sarah Bolme was worth the price of the book to me if only to point me to some good sources of book reviews and book awards. It lists a number of online Christian book reviews sites. Many of them offer free book reviews, but you can get them faster if you pay something. Some are also connected to book awards.

I submitted Edges of Truth to Reader’s Favorite using the free option and waited for a review. Within a couple of months I received a 5-star review.

It’s nice to have a 5-star review. It makes you feel like you have a little trophy you can set on your mantel. But I didn’t go to all the trouble of seeking that review for that little thrill of recognition. The review is a tool we can use to promote our book. If we don’t promote our book no one will buy it. If no one buys it, no one will read it. If no one reads it, what’s the point of two years of hard work  by two co-authors and the book’s subject?

How to Use a Book Review

The first thing I did with my Reader’s Favorite review was to send it to Midwest Book Review who published it in their August 2014 issue of their online book review “Reviewer’s Bookwatch.”

Though initially declined by MBR, this gives me a review that was featured by them. I drafted an informational letter that included the review and sent it to 91 public libraries in Iowa asking them to consider purchasing our book for their shelves.

I can also use this review and the 5-star seal on the cover of the book and inside the book with other reviews. I can put it on our website.  It sometimes shows up on the Amazon description of the book under “Editorial Reviews.” I can use this review, or parts of it, anywhere I want. I can use it to interest other reviewers in reviewing the book.

A good review, then, is not about boosting the author’s ego. It is a useful tool that can be used in many ways to promote your book.

Book Awards

Book awards work in a similar way. Many book reviews are connected to book awards. Again, Sarah Bolme’s book   was very helpful in listing awards that apply to Christian books.

Most of the awards require an entrance fee of somewhere between $45 to $110. Most books can only be entered for about a year within their date of publication. They all come with one guarantee: If you don’t enter you don’t win.

I felt Mary Weaver’s story was unique and had strong take-away value. If it could win any place in any award category it would help us to sell the book. I researched the various awards, their categories, and deadlines. I looked at Amazon descriptions of books that had won the awards in recent years and tried to sense if our book would stand a fighting chance of winning. Then I chose four contests that I felt were a good fit for our book.

Christian Small Publishers Book of the Year Award  specializes in books that are self-published or published by small publishers. Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY’s)  has a lot of competition in their larger categories, but they have a regional category for the Midwest that I felt we could stand a chance in. Illumination Book Awards  has an Enduring Light Medal for books with a Christian worldview that have been published since 2000.

I won’t hear final results for most of these contests until early 2015, but if we win any place in any award, we can use it to sell our books.

 

[Image courtesy of Anna Subbotina/Deposit Photos.]

 

 

Celebrating Anniversary Milestones

Twenty years ago my first book was published by Bob Jones University Press. Ten years ago they published my second book. Since then I’ve published four other books. Today I’m inviting you to join in the celebration of two milestones and learn some fun facts about these two books. I am also celebrating by offering both of these books as giveaways on Goodreads from September 12 to October 10, 2014. (Sorry, only US Goodreads members can enter to win. These books don’t have worldwide distribution rights.)

 2014 — Twentieth Anniversary of Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World

This book about an American girl who becomes an MK in Taiwan is in its seventh printing!peanut-butter

Q: Peanut Butter Friends has outsold all your other books by far. Why do you think that is?

A: I believe two things really help sell this book.

First of all, it has a unique message.  It gives a very realistic view of an MK leaving America, encountering a new culture, and learning to adapt to all the changes in the various aspects of her life.  It shows a mission field that is modern, but has a very different culture than a Western culture. I’ve hunted and I can’t find one other fiction book for kids that does this. If you know of one, let me know. Many mission agencies have given this book to MK’s who are on their way to the mission field for the first time to help them understand the issues they will face in a new culture.

Secondly, Bob Jones University Press also uses this book as a companion novel with their Bible Truths 3: Following Christ. Many third graders read this book as part of their school work.

Q: Why does your book have such a long title when most titles today are short?

A: Of all the books I’ve written, Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World is the one most people recognize and remember.  People often say they love the title. In the beginning Bob Jones University Press said the title was too long. Shorter titles are more popular today and they said it would give their cover designer problems. In the end, however, they accepted the title and worked it into their design. My husband often remarks that it is the title that people remember.

Q:  I know Peanut Butter Friends is fiction, but does it reflect the experience of your daughters growing up in Taiwan?

A: Not really. They grew up in Taiwan from the time they were babies, so much of their experience was different than Amy’s. They didn’t experience “culture shock” like an older child would going to a new country.  For much of their growing up years, however, they belonged to the only non-Chinese family in a town of 250,000 people. They did experience many things in the book. My husband and I experienced more culture shock as adults. I adapted my experience to a kid’s age level and wrote about the challenges MK’s commonly encounter in Taiwan.

Q: Was Peanut Butter Friends hard to write?

A: This was a very easy book to write because it came from my experience. The things Amy faced were many of the same things I faced, only on a child’s level. The things she ate, the places she went, the world in which she lived were the same as mine. I just took life all around me and put it in a fictional setting.

Q: Fiction is fun to read, but does it really change lives?

A: I hear from a very small percentage of my readers, but several  MK’s have told me how this book has changed their lives. Here’s one example:

About ten years ago an MK named Amy wrote me. In 1998 Amy was six years old and her family was flying to Taiwan to begin being missionaries there. Amy was sad to be leaving her American friends behind and had been praying to make new friends in Taiwan. When Amy got on the plane her mom surprised her with a gift from her Grandma. That gift was a fiction book about a girl named Amy who also left America to become an MK in Taiwan—Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World. The real Amy’s mom told me, “Your book was such an incredible personal love gift from our Lord!” Amy read this book about 12 times during their first term of service in Taiwan. I like to think she patterned some of her life in Taiwan after my book.

Review by a reader

Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World is a fantastic book! It was such a great help to me, as I am sure it was to everyone else who has read it. My family & I are actually missionaries to Wales, so it helped that this girl my age was facing the same situations that I will deal with on the mission field! What I loved most was how she faced her problems in the end. Instead of bundling all of her fears inside, she went to God to ask for His help. I should do the same. Take it from me when I say that this book is a must-have! (In an earlier letter Krystal says she has read this book at least 11 times and that it’s her “all-time favorite.”)

—Krystal McPeters, 2014

Read the first chapter here.

Read the discussion questions here.

 2014 — Tenth Anniversary of Two Sides to Everything

This book tells about an American boy from Denver who goes to live for a short time in rural New Zealand.two_sides

Q: Is this a story about missionaries too?

A: Not strictly. Josh leaves his parents in Denver to come live on a sheep farm in New Zealand with his mom’s uncle while she recovers from a serious accident. This book explores cultural differences, but only mentions American missionaries who have started the church Josh attends.

Q: Why did you write this book about adapting to another culture when you had already written one?

A: Chinese culture in Taiwan is very different from Kiwi culture in New Zealand. Kiwis (New Zealanders) speak English and their culture is much more similar to American culture, and yet there are subtle differences. Today many missionaries go to very progressive countries with a Western culture. They face different challenges than missionaries who go to third world countries with an extremely different culture. Two Sides reflects a ministry in a progressive, Western culture.

Q: How did you do research for Two Sides?

A: I live in Invercargill, New Zealand, a town of about 50,000 people on the southern tip of New Zealand. (It is home to the southernmost Starbucks in the world.) I am less familiar with the rural setting that this book reflects. Many of the people in our church know much more about farm life than I do. I asked my friends lots of questions and I stayed overnight at a farm bed and breakfast and asked the farmer lots of questions. I also sent pictures from our area that the artist, Matthew Archambault, used to illustrate the book.

Q: Is Two Sides also a reflection of what you have learned in New Zealand?

A: Certainly all the cultural ideas are ones I learned from living here. The main idea of the book is one that I have especially learned by living in different cultures as well as doing things with people of different personality types. Many people may experience the same event, yet each goes away with a slightly different view of what happened and why. We will get along with people better when we learn to view life from different perspectives.

 Reviews by Readers

Deb Brammer weaves a great story that will keep readers turning the pages. Christian values are throughout the book without being preachy. Children ages 9-12 will find plenty of action and adventure. Older kids, including myself, found the book intriguing. Highly recommended!

—Jessica Loughner, age 13, Christian Book Previews

 What a great find! BJUP does it again! Two Sides to Everything is a book my son eagerly devoured in one day (hours of reading pleasure.) Written by Deb Brammer, this book takes you to New Zealand where a whole different culture is discovered. Lots of drama, ending in a lesson in character and wisdom. Journey Forth, a department over at BJUP, is coming out with more and more excellent material all the time. Perfect for homeschoolers!

—Gena Suarez, Publisher, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

 Read the first chapter here.

Read the discussion questions here.

Building Harmony into Ministry Marriages

0 TXVzaWNfTm90ZXNfU3Rhbl8wMDIuanBnPart Four: Managing Your Finances

Picture an orchestra playing a magnificent symphony. All the different instruments make their entrance and play their respective parts. At the end, all come together in a swelling crescendo that moves the emotions and stirs the heart. It leaves you with an unforgettable feeling you can’t explain. You remember that high note that the flute hit perfectly or the rumbling of the bass. You don’t think about the mechanical bits like how many beats there were to a measure or what key the piece was in. Those mechanical bits aren’t even noticeable when the piece is played right, but if one player is playing to a different time or in a different key, the symphony is far from pleasant.

Finances are one of the mundane parts of marriage that no one likes to talk about. When they’re in order your marriage can move on to more interesting pursuits. When there is dissension or unwise choices in this area, however, the marriage suffers in other ways.

Art and I are so blessed to have come from similar family backgrounds. Both of us were raised in Christian homes by parents who were faithful, fun, and frugal. That gives us similar ideas about finances and how to spend them. Handling finances can be a big problem. They lead to the breakup of many marriages. Even ministry marriages struggle with this.

Here again, balance is a key word in dealing with finances. Couples who spend more than they make get in huge financial trouble. But couples who are so frugal that they don’t provide for the needs of their families also have problems.

Living within a Budget

Somehow couples need to agree on how much they can spend and what to spend it on. They need to look ahead and prepare for emergencies that could come up. During certain times in their lives they might need to be extremely frugal. Seminary students with families often have to pinch every penny in order to get by. They may have to do very careful shopping at the grocery store and buy necessities second hand. Hopefully the situation will ease with time.

When you are on a very tight budget with no choice about it, you will have to work hard to stay contented. Everyone around you may seem to have more money than you have, but you must be happy with less. Wanting more than you can have will make your marriage unhappy and may push you to make unwise choices.

Hopefully you will come to a time when, even though you may have to be careful, you will have a little more freedom to make choices. Both husband and wife should have some freedom to use money for things they choose. A husband should be able to trust his wife to spend money freely within the guidelines that have agreed to. Part of being an adult should be having freedom to make financial choices.

Very often God puts a frugal person with someone who spends more freely so that they can balance each other out. If the money just isn’t there, obviously, you can’t spend it, but we can be too frugal as well.

I have seen ministry marriages in which the wife and family lived in unnecessarily harsh conditions, without enough heat in the house or without proper food. Sometimes the family never takes a vacation or goes fun places together. In some cases the wife has to account for every penny she spends and can spend little to no money on things she enjoys.  This puts a strain on the marriage. Many marriages go through hard financial times, but I believe, if at all possible, a wife and family ought to be able to enjoy reasonable comfort and some fun things and activities.

Kids will also be less likely to resent the ministry if they don’t feel poor. Most ministry families have to be careful with their spending and may have less “things” than families around them. But when children grow up and they feel like they never had nice things growing up, that their Christmases and birthdays were pathetic compared to their friends, they may resent that. Giving them a few nice things that they really want and that give them good memories may really help their perception of the ministry. And a wife who feels she can’t give nice things to her kids won’t be happy either.

On the other hand, I know marriages that failed largely due to a wife who spent money too fast on things they didn’t really need. If you find yourself shopping for fun and buying more than you need, think about whether or not you can afford to do that or if you need to stop.

Marriages will be stronger if both husband and wife:

  • agree to financial guidelines,
  • live within their budget or guidelines,
  • have freedom to make choices, and
  • work to be content with the standard of living they can afford.

[image courtesy of m1Anna Stsonn6/Deposit Photos]

Building Harmony into Ministry Marriages

m1Anna Stsonn4Part Three: Nurturing Your Relationship

It’s easy to get so busy in the ministry that you neglect your marriage relationship, but that relationship is foundational to your ministry. A man may be a powerful preacher or able administrator, but if his marriage relationship is in chaos, his ministry will be greatly hampered. Harmony in the relationship is key to a harmonious ministry.

Remember when you were first “in love”? When he looked at you, you felt like a beauty queen.  When she looked at you, you felt like lightning was coursing through your body. After several years of marriage you begin to understand that a lot of that physical attraction is just hormones. Yes, a good sexual relationship will help a marriage and protect it from outside attack, but there’s got to be more to a relationship that that. In time libido will wane, and then what will you have left?

Art and I have been married thirty-seven years. More and more I see that the biggest hunk of marital love is friendship and companionship.  You may change ministries. You may move away from family. But a marriage should last a lifetime. If your marriage relationship is weak, your ministry will suffer too. So how can you protect and nurture your marriage relationship?

 Trust

Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her.” (NKJV)

Your marriage partner should be able to completely trust you and you should be able to trust him. That means you don’t sneak around behind his back and do things you know he wouldn’t approve of. You make decisions that fit with agreements you have already made. You don’t undermine his authority. You know her well enough to know what she’ll like or won’t like and try to please her. You honor joint agreements. You know what your spouse wants to be consulted on and when he doesn’t mind if you make decisions for him and you honor that.

If you can’t trust your marriage partner totally or you can’t be trusted, your relationship will suffer greatly.

 Consideration

Art often quotes 1 Peter 3:7 to married men. “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them (your wives) with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (NKJV)

That means a husband needs to consider the needs and desires of his wife. When he makes decisions he needs to consider what’s best for his wife and delight in making her happy. His decision shouldn’t run over her needs.

At the same time a wife needs to consider her husband, how to help him and make him happy.

Simple kindness and consideration for each other is a big part of what makes a marriage relationship strong.

One thing I love about Art is the fact that he takes care of my silly but precious things like dolls, teddy bears, or collectables. If they are important to me, they’re important to him.

 Friendship

Your marriage partner should be your best friend for life. That means you need to nurture that friendship. You may have separate interests that you like to pursue, and that is healthy, but you should also have things you like to do together.

What do you like to talk about? Are those things encouraging to you, or do they discourage? Can your read or view something together that gives you more to talk about? Is one person doing most of the talking and the other mainly listening? Encourage each other to share the things that mean a lot to you. Thank each other for sharing even when you don’t agree. Instead of censuring your partner, listen to understand his or her viewpoint.

Develop common interests. You may encourage each other in private pursuits, but you should also have things you enjoy doing together. After a while boredom may step in, so consider breaking the mold and beginning a new joint venture.

Art has always been a fast distance runner. He picks up any sport naturally and well. I’m hopeless at sports but love creative crafts and writing. We’ve each pursued our own interests, but we also learn from the other. I understand more about sports than I used to. Art will sometimes talk about writing issues. But we both like to rummage around garage sales and second hand stores. Sure, our house gets full of silly collectables sometimes and we have to restrain ourselves or recycle things we have previously loved. But looking for bargains brings us closer together. I don’t know just why.

Of course, we both love to go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef as well. (Who wouldn’t?)

Life is busy these days. Follow a diet. Spend time with your kids. Increase your skills. Keep up with social networks. Excel at your job. But in your busyness, don’t neglect your marriage relationship or it will affect your ministry and almost every area of your life.

[image courtesy of m1Anna Stsonn6/Deposit Photos]