Changes in Christian Publication in the Last Forty Years

I’ve been neglecting the writers who follow me for a while, so this one is for my writer friends. This year I’ve been writing for publication for forty years. Things have changed dramatically during that time. One advantage to getting older is understanding the history behind things. Today I want to talk about the changes I’ve witnessed in publication over the last 40 years.

I tend to think of the changes in decades. In the 1980’s I started writing articles for publication on my typewriter. Much of the time I aimed at one article a month. I found a publisher that liked my articles and quickly built a foundation of published articles and stories.

Christian fiction was very limited before 1980, but Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly changed everything. It astonished Christian editors with its unexpected overnight success. Suddenly Christian publishers were hungry for fiction, especially prairie romance. Some were putting out new titles every month. In the rush to publish, quality fiction was mixed with inferior fiction. Readers slowed their buying and some authors got stuck with manuscripts they’d been asked to write, but couldn’t sell. Great opportunities to publish opened up in the early 80’s, but dried up quickly halfway through the decade. Publishers turned to other genres like mysteries and fantasy and writers tried to follow the trends. Manuscripts started flooding the desks of editors.

Moving into the 90’s, most Christian publishers were refusing to consider manuscripts that didn’t come from agents. Now writers were not only concerned about good writing, but marketing their books to agents, who would then try to market them to editors.

I had written a book in the 80’s that I’d had professionally critiqued with favorable comments. I kept revising and submitting the book, without success. Those were the days of printed manuscripts and envelopes and stamps. With each submission I had the long waiting period of sending manuscripts one by one and waiting for replies. In the meantime, I wrote Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World. This kids’ book was easy to write because I was basically living the book on an adult level. Bob Jones University Press bought it and published it in 1994. I only had to worry about the writing of that book. Publishing and marketing were completely out of my hands. The book sold well, better than any of my other books have. It has now had been printed seven times.

By 2000 we had the internet and writing for publication was changing quickly. The tragedy on 9-11-2001, for reasons I don’t understand, really hit Christian publishers hard. Readers quit buying as much Christian fiction and publishers couldn’t take the risks they had taken before. It became harder even to find an agent who would consider your book. At the same time, it became far easier to self-publish. The stigma of self-publication began to fade as some well-known authors turned to self-publication in order to gain higher royalties. Soon writers’ success of a writer started depending less about their writing ability and more about how well they do social media and marketing. Kindle brought ebooks into the equation which dramatically changed the way books where published and marketed.

BJUP published Two Sides of Everything in 2004, and two of my other books in that decade, but I could see they were slowing down, too, in what they would accept, even of my books after they had already published four of them.

Today anyone can publish his own book. Many new authors publish, not because they are ready, but because they can. Vast numbers of writers write one book. Some of these are poorly written, but a few of their friends buy their book and they can say they’re  published authors.

Self-publication can work well, however, because it pays much higher royalties than traditional publishers and gives control over the book’s content completely to the author. With this method, authors don’t have to spend years trying to find agents for their books who then have to market it to publishers. They can publish their books whenever they’re ready. On the other hand, the author may lose the safety net of an editor who helps him hone his work until it becomes good enough to sell. Today’s writers aren’t finished with their job when they finish writing their books. Now they have to market their books. They need their own websites and blogs and need to keep up on several forms of social media so readers can find them.

In December of 2010 I first heard Mary Weaver’s story. (Now published as Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story.) I felt it was a story that needed to be told. I returned to the States in 2011, wrote a book proposal, and attended a writer’s conference to try to find an interested editor or agent. When I told Mary’s story to people in general I sensed huge interest, but every editor and agent refused to even consider it. They all agreed on two things. The story happened too long ago and Mary wasn’t a celebrity. Sensing God leading us forward, I knew it was time to consider self-publication. Now I’ve self-published Mary’s story, a companion Bible study book, and the Art Spotlight Mysteries, a series of cozy mysteries that are light-hearted, but deal with some deeper issues.

Today authors like me are more likely to refer to themselves as “indie authors” instead of self-published ones. Indie authors are independent authors who may hire help for proofreading, editing, and design but keep complete control of their book. I’ve joined the ranks of writers who need to continually grow in social media and marketing skills. Thankfully, with the huge increase in Christian indie authors, the help available has also increased. Many professionals who used to work for publishers now hire their services out to indie authors. These authors also band together in Facebook groups to learn from each other in the ever-changing world of indie publication. I belong to a group called “Christian Indie Authors” that has been a huge help to me.

Right now I’m working on a series of contemporary novels that deal with missionary ministry in New Zealand. As I edge close to retirement, I’m trying to establish a foundation for selling adult novels so that I can continue to write well into retirement.

What does God want me to do? Part 2—Writing for Publication

In my February blog we talked about finding God’s will through the Bible, positioning ourselves to do His will, getting godly counsel, and rattling doorknobs.  I promised to give you some personal examples of how I found God’s will in several areas of my life. Today I’m going to talk about how God led me through various steps in writing for Christian publication. I hope this will help some of you who are searching for God’s will in a similar area.

Getting Started

I enjoyed writing from the first time I had to write an essay for grade school all the way up to Bible college. I didn’t know anything about writing for publication, however, and I didn’t know if I would be “good enough” to do this. Early in my junior year at Faith Baptist Bible College I asked the Lord to show me if this is what he had for me.

God used a godly counsellor, one of my professors, to help me begin to think about this. Mr. Clarence Townsend taught both journalism classes the school offered at that time. He had published at least some articles. He was familiar with my writing. He asked me a scary question: “If you could do anything you wanted with your writing, what would you choose?”

I told him someday I would love to write a series of children’s books like the Chronicles of Narnia. He didn’t laugh! He told me to set that as a long range goal. That took my breath away.

Then he helped me form some short range goals to get to my long range goals. He showed me how to submit an article for a take-home paper with Regular Baptist Press. He showed me the writers’ guidelines and talked about the kind of article they would probably like to see. He helped me dare to actually submit an article. My first article or two were rejected, but I soon established a rapport with the editor and began submitting articles on a regular basis. Getting articles published was a short range goal that also allowed me to have a ministry in the short run.

I also pursued other short range goals: writing kids’ prayer letters, attending writers’ conferences, reading publications on writing, writing plays and puppet shows for ministry. All of these things developed my writing skill, taught me how to work with editors, and help me develop new ideas.

Writing Books and Ministry Materials

In the 1980’s I also wrote my first book. I submitted it to editors, had it critiqued by professionals, rewrote it, retitled it, submitted it to more editors. One editor had showed interest in the first chapter, but when I finished the book he was no longer interested. I spent 4 or 5 hours just printing out that book to send to an editor. I sent it by mail and waited months to hear about it.

At one point, while I was waiting to hear from an editor, I wrote another book. This was a kid’s book about a missionary kid who came from the US to live in Taiwan. This book was easy to write because the protagonist, Amy, dealt with some of the same issues I had to wrestle with as an adult who moved to Taiwan. While the first book has never been published, Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World was published by Bob Jones University Press in 1994. By now It has been printed seven times. It’s part of BJUP’s homeschool curriculum for third grade and has been used by many mission boards to prepare MK’s to go to the mission field.

With my first book in print I figured I could largely leave articles behind and begin to write kids’ books. In time BJUP did publish three more of my books for kids and teens. I also tried to market other manuscripts: a VBS program, Christmas programs, a puppet show book, an ESL Bible study book. I initially wrote these things for our own ministry, but wanted to be able to offer them to others. Some of these I successfully marketed to Christian publishers, some I didn’t.

Finding New Markets and Means of Publication

If you know anything about writing for publication you know that selling work to traditional Christian publishers changed dramatically in the early years of the new millennium. Things that used to be easy to sell, no longer were. Today traditional publishers are much slower to take risks. But now we see the rise of “indie publishing” in which independent authors self-publish or use small independent publishers and maintain complete creative control over their books. Indie publication is the great game changer that opens new doors for authors today.

After traditionally publishing four books, Edges of Truth, carried me into the new world of indie publishing. I felt the Lord leading me to write this true story of Mary Weaver, a godly Christian woman who was convicted of shaking and slamming a baby to death. God worked in amazing ways in the case of this innocent lady, but traditional publishers felt Mary wasn’t well enough known for them to take risks on her story. I self-published this book in 2013 without the need for years of searching for an agent and a publisher. Though self-publishing means I have to find designers to do what I can’t and do my own book promotion, I enjoy writing what I think the Lord wants me to write with the guarantee it can reach publication.

The internet also offers a digital platform to sell or give away writing in a myriad of forms.

In forty years of ministry I’ve written many ministry resources which, while helpful to us, were almost impossible to sell to traditional publishers. Though I wasn’t able to sell some of these puppet shows, programs, and ESL Bible studies to publishers, they created a lot of interest when offered on my website. Having your own website and blog gives you the freedom to write things your way and offer them to others.

Self-publication is becoming easier all the time, but if you are self-publishing you need to make sure you are offering a quality product. You need to be prepared to market that product in a variety of ways. Information about self-publication and marketing is available in many different formats over the internet.

So I still need the Lord’s guidance. I continue to ask him to lead me in the current writing process. I seek advice from Christian writers and groups who know more about publication than I do. I talk to editors and other writers at conferences. I submit manuscripts and pay attention to the reaction from editors and agents. I look for feedback from people I trust. I take the next step and ask God to lock the doors I shouldn’t go through, and open the ones I should.

God uses these things to lead me step by step forward. With each step the Lord shows me enough to take the next step. And we go forward together.

Perhaps you are beginning to write for Christian publication and you don’t know what to do next. Where can you go for answers to questions and suggestions for your next steps?

I have many articles that give tips on starting to write for publication. You might find them helpful.

Here is my article on Christian writer’s conferences  and which ones I have attended and recommend.

May the Lord guide you as you work to find his will for you today.

How to Review a Book on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you read a book recently that you really loved and wish you could thank the author? Here’s an easy, free way to help an author and make him or her really happy: Write a review of his or her book on Amazon. Good Amazon reviews are gold to authors, especially if they don’t have many or all of their reviews have been written a long time ago.

  1. Open an Amazon account if you don’t have one.

You don’t have to buy your book from Amazon to review it on Amazon, but you do have to have an Amazon account. Amazon is the biggest bookseller in America and it often has the cheapest price for the books you want to buy, so why wouldn’t you want to have an account with them. If you don’t know how to open an account, this link will tell you:

  1. Sign into your account.

  2. Find the place to write the review.

Type the title or author of the book you want to review into the search box. When the book comes up, scroll down until you find the box “Write a Review” and click on that. Choose how many stars you want to give the book.

  1. Write your review.

Even a short review is helpful, but here are some tips to make your review especially helpful.

  • Include why you liked the book. You don’t have to spend time summarizing the book, as the book summary will already be included above the reviews. Don’t tell so much about the book that you spoil the ending. But be specific about the reasons you liked the book. This will help customers decide if they want to buy the book. You can even compare the book to similar books by the same author or others.
  • Don’t make your review too long or too short. Written reviews must be at least 20 words long and can’t be more than 5000. A good length is 75 to 100 words.
  • Be honest. Don’t give a book a 5 star rating if you don’t feel it deserves it. If your comments are too sentimental and your praise is overdone, the customer will probably think you are a friend of the author’s and disregard everything you say. Amazon may even pull your review if they think you are a friend or have a personal relationship with the author. To ensure your review is honest you may want to balance your praise. You could say something like this, “While the book includes numerous religious references I think someone who isn’t a Christian would still enjoy it.” Or “This novel doesn’t have as much action as some suspense novels, but the characterization more than makes up for it.”
  • Very negative reviews may help a customer decide whether or not to buy the book, but unless you feel very strongly about the negative points, you may not feel that you want to post a review that will actually hurt sales for the author. After all, authors are people too.
  • If you received the book free in exchange for your review, it is good to mention this.
  • Don’t obsess, just do it. You don’t have to be a professional book reviewer or write a long review to be helpful. Just think about what you would want to know if you were considering buying the book and write your true feelings.

Remember, even a very short review is helpful to an author unless it is very negative. It may seem like a lot of hassle to write a review, but authors work very hard today to sell their books and Amazon reviews are one of the best ways to help them.

May you and yours have a blessed Christmas!

Perfect Gift for the Price of a Card: How to Gift an Ebook

With Christmas just weeks away, consider the advantages of giving the reader on your list an ebook.

  • Most ebooks cost no more than a greeting card.
  • You can gift it to people who live far away without paying postage.
  • It makes a great stocking stuffer or smaller gift.
  • You don’t have to leave your house to shop for it.
  • You can order it now and have it delivered on Christmas Day.
  • A quality book gives a reader hours of pleasure and relaxation.
  • A great Christian book can inspire and encourage.

Cheap.  Easy. Postage free.  Meaningful.  How could you miss?

Don’t know how to gift an ebook? Here’s some links to explain how to gift a Kindle, iBook, Nook, or Kobo.

Gift an Ebook:

Kindle: 

iBook

Nook

Kobo

Not sure what to order? My newest book, I Scream, has just come out, not only as a paperback, but also on all these sales channels. This is the last book in the Art Spotlight Mysteries (previously listed as the Keyhole Mysteries.) You can find it, and the other two in the series, here.

Buy I Scream:

Kindle:

 iBooks:

Nook: 

Kobo: