July 13th, 2020
While writing, publishing, and promoting Stolen Shroud, I never got tired of the process, nor did I grow restless with thinking about this book. I once heard David Foster Wallace say that when it finally comes time to promote your book, it’s been a long time since you’ve written it, and you’ve moved onto other projects, so your enthusiasm for the book you’re promoting is gone. With self-publishing, the turnover time is quick, so that helps. But eventually, there’s nothing left to do to promote it. One feeling I have to guard against is FOMO, fear of missing out, which makes me want to try every promotional idea I hear about. But to balance that out, I don’t like being the guy using my social media solely as a promotional tool, and my friends do not exist to be my potential customers, so I pick the promotional strategies that seem to fit my approach and have a chance to work, which are very few, and go with those.
Once I’d exhausted my strategies, I just left the book out there in the sea of Amazon books, without even running ads as they are money losers. But to help me feel like I wasn’t giving up on it, my last latent strategy before I stopped actively trying new ones was . . . entering contests. I don’t remember how, but I came across a page with a list of the top indie book contests. I didn’t realize these were out there, because before when I looked into it, all the contests would only read the first three chapters of your book, so that it was the length of a short story. This is the same way that literary agents look at books. The first three chapters of my book are not special. I’ve read about literary agents pitching books to publishers, where if the author doesn’t have a resume, they might read a section of the book where the writing is so good that it wows the publisher. Again, this is not where I shine (and what a crappy way to pick a novel—based on writing style only). But where I think my book shines is at the end, at which point the reader has invested hours of his or her life to follow along, and then hopefully the twist and the resolution are a satisfying payoff. So I found out there are contests that exist where the judge reads the entire book (hopefully). They are not exclusively Christian, but some have Christian categories. There is a fee to pay them for their time of actually reading the book, which is totally fair.
I assumed that most of the judges would have the same problems with my book that I’ve heard from some of my readers. Namely, that jumping between present and past breaks the momentum, that the past chapters aren’t directly tied into the plot and perhaps aren’t necessary, that it is too preachy, and that the science is too much. But here was my hope. I think the book is targeted to a very narrow demographic, which is people like me. So for most people it won’t be their thing, but if I’m fortunate enough to get a judge who happens to think like me (or rather, if God hooks me up), then I’ll have a chance. In other words, it’s polarizing. It’s a ‘you either love it or you hate it’ kind of thing, which could be good for a winner take all contest.
You can imagine how excited I was when I received an email for the first contest I entered, the National Indie Excellence Award, that told me I was the winner in the religious fiction category.
So now what? My plan is to try for a BookBub promo in September, where I’d even ask to sell it for $.99 rather than free. Maybe that’s asking too much, but they like awards, so I’ll give it a try. Also, I’ll wait to see if I have any similar luck with the contests that finish in the fall or the spring. When the dust settles, and hopefully we’re having conversations like, “Remember when Covid cases were spiking and everyone was wearing masks?”, then I can dip my toe in the waters and see if I can find any interested agent/publisher. Meanwhile, I have an idea for another book. Hint, not a sequel (tried that), and not even fiction. But I’ll save that info for a later post. That will keep me busy for a while, and it would be good to at least have one draft of another book before trying to pitch this one again.
Shot Through the Heart
May 10th, 2020
Ok, I’m being dramatic, but humor me. I did a review exchange with another author who told me my book wasn’t displaying correctly on her Kindle. No big deal. Probably just a problem with older Kindle models, because I’ve checked other versions. So I went in to the epub file to look around, and noticed that none of my italics are in there. Ok, again, not a big deal. I started to add them, and then got to a scene change, and saw there was nothing in the file to denote a scene change. I loaded it up on my Kindle for PC . . . and no scene change!
How this happened was that the company who did my formatting had to provide both an epub for Kindle, and a pdf for the paperback. When I would go to upload the epub to Kindle, it loads a virtual Kindle viewer where I can scroll through, but it’s clunky and after checking the main stuff, like the start of the chapters, I accepted and published it. The pdf is easier to look through so I would check in depth there and assumed the epub was the same. Or more accurately, I didn’t really think about it. One big lesson learned here this: I found my formatter by asking my cover designer if they did formatting too, and they told me they were just starting to do that and haven’t even posted the prices yet. Red flag. Never be a guinea pig, folks.
One of my first reviewers complained that she couldn’t keep up with who the viewpoint character was and I assumed she was a moron. That definitely should have tipped me off but it didn’t. No one else said anything. I don’t know how readers could keep up when a scene changed or the viewpoint character changed within a chapter. You know, just something like the following to cue them in:
Some chapters jumped back and forth out of different characters’ heads, and readers must have thought I was being unclear rather than that my formatter didn’t bring those over to the ebook, or they would have told me about it.
I’ve done four ad promo campaigns and am planning to do two more, but most of the big ones I’ve used by now. By the way, I was eventually able to close some sales with Amazon AMS Ads when I figured out how to get Amazon to let me say “Number 1 in Christian Science Fiction March 12, 2020” or whatever in my ad copy. I still spent a lot more than I made on them, but it helped me sell a couple (incorrectly formatted) copies per day.
Big picture—it’s not a big deal. But it is a big deal to me. I’ve put my life into this and hate that I missed this and the book was confusing to the people who’ve read it. On the plus side, I have 39 reviews, which is more than I hoped I’d have at this point. I assume I would have more if the scene breaks were there, but minimally more I’m sure. Same with organic, word of mouth referrals. Not enough difference to change the trajectory of the book, but each starfish matters to me, if you know that hackneyed preacher illustration. However, the end goal is still the same. Score a BookBub promo, or win a contest, and try to use those resume points to get an agent/publisher interested. At least I found out about the error now rather than down the road.
In the Beginning Was the Word
April 2nd, 2020
Thought I’d post about the content of my book for a change, but will also get around to the publishing aspect later. One cool thing about publishing the book is I’ve made friends with some writers. Joshua David who wrote Seed: Judgment has been a godsend helping me navigate my launch and giving me a great editorial review. After launch, this guy reached out to me called Joe Marino. He and his late wife came up with the invisible reweave theory, which is that the 1988 carbon date was wrong because the bottom of the Shroud had been rewoven by these French reweaving masters. I didn’t go with this theory in my book because I’d heard it shot down, but Joe mentioned that the people who shot it down have since spoken with him, and he won them over to his side. So maybe the second edition of my book will change from the complicated theory of extra carbon-14 because of the Resurrection, to the reweave theory.
I mention Joe because he mentioned another Shroud of Turin novel called Carbon-14: The Shroud of Turin, which I knew about but hadn’t read yet. I reached out to the author R.A. Williams and he has been very helpful and wrote me a great review as well. Still getting to my point. Williams wrote me the following the other day after reading my book:
You know when I was reading about the holographic nature of the universe in your book, it reminded me of a notion I have about the opening words of John.:
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light (light form image on Shroud) of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.
These verses had always confused me until I learned about the holographic universe theory implying that reality is basically composed of information. And what is a word, but coded information? So in the beginning, there was only information and that information was with God and that information was God, who is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end–the basic fabric of the universe. Seems like Bohm could have saved a lot of time conjuring up his theory and simply read the Gospel of John. Or did he read John and use it as an inspiration for his theory? Hmmm. I suppose the world will never know.
I joked that I may have to steal this for a later edition of the book, and Williams said by all means, that’s why he passed it on. I’d like to do this, but the problem is the words have to come from Jay, because he is the only one who knows about this. I already have Jay quoting Romans 8:28 back to Mark, and he says he knows it because of visiting Mark’s church. How would Jay know John 1? From Mark’s church again? I guess I could have Jay raised in church, even though he never believes in God. Didn’t want to have all of the characters with a Christian background, because that’s not the world we live in. But, Jay being in the Bible belt, that makes sense. Just thinking out loud here, but I think it sounds good. Makes him knowing Romans 8:28 more realistic. I’m always interested in feedback, by the way. Why would there be a later edition of the book, you ask (even though you didn’t)? Because I may need Ronnie to live. Depends on if my idea for book 2 works, which I won’t know until I try to write it, which won’t be for a while.
Ok, that’s long enough. Saving the publishing stuff for the next post. Hint: it’s going pretty well.
March 27th, 2020
Launch went well. I learned a lot. For one, the self-publishing gurus go on and on about free promo days for your book, and on and on about getting to number 1 in an Amazon niche category. I assumed there was a correlation there, but there isn’t. My guess is that the gurus talk about the free days because they were a killer strategy back in the day. A promo site would send out a newsletter with free books, the author would flip back to paid the next day, and the people who got the newsletter late would end up buying your book. Nowadays, there are a ton of these promos sites, and a megaton of authors using them, and not so many readers reading them. The reason free promos still can be a good strategy is to get reviews. In my case, I realized they weren’t a fit for me a couple days beforehand and turned off the free promos that I could. A couple ran anyway and I got 1350 downloads, but I didn’t have my review link in my book at that time, so don’t think that will help me.
What did help were the 99 cent promos, because those count toward sales and rankings. I stacked a bunch during the week after my scheduled free promo week, and got to number 1 in several categories on the first day. When you get to number 1, Amazon puts an orange Best Seller sticker next to your book when it shows up on searches, and in the product details page, it says which category you’re number 1 in. This is cool to show your friends, but don’t think it did much for me. Maybe a few more sales. What it didn’t do was generate any interest from any podcasters or bloggers who I tried to reach out to. Unfortunately, there are no ‘influencers’ that I know of in my genre anyway. However, a Shroud of Turin expert reached out to me and I’m setup to do a book fair and radio interview with a Catholic station in Michigan in June, pending Corona. Maybe it helped him when I told him I was number 1 in Christian Sci-Fi, but it was probably enough to get recommended by the Shroud of Turin expert. This of course would be a money loser, but an investment in my resume.
The AMS ads have been a flop. I spent over $100 before I made my first 99 cent sale. I had an Average Cost of Sale above 10,000%! But, another good thing about the best seller badge is that I finally figured out how to get Amazon to let me use that in my ad copy. Since then it has been selling better. But every fiction author I’ve heard from spends a lot more than they make there. Again, they said back in the day it was good, but now with a glut of authors, and everyone using advanced tactics in the ads, the prices have gone up, and the sales have gone down. I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. I’m really happy with everything, and like I said before, at least self-publishing is an option, unlike it used to be. It’s just hard to prove you’re legit with so much noise out there.
My new goal is to get my book accepted by BookBub. This is a very lofty goal, because they usually only take books by famous or established authors, or authors with tons of reviews. BookBub is the mother of book deal and giveaway sites, and it’s a badge of honor to be accepted. I’m working on getting reviews a few different ways. Also, I think I’ll raise my book price next week, and then later do another round of 99 cent promos to get sales, and then free promos after that to get reviews. I also entered a few indie book contests, one which happens pretty soon, and one which won’t happen until about this time next year. That’s another thing that BookBub likes, other than reviews, is awards. What is tough about BookBub for me is genre. My book is a Christian Archaeological Biographical Apologetic Sci-Fi Literary Thriller, and for some reason they don’t have that genre. So I’m left with Supernatural Thriller, which seems like it needs about 400 reviews to compete, and Christian Fiction, which for them is synonymous with old-timey Romance/Amish books, and BookBub is clear that they accept books that are similar to those that are selling for them. I’ll let you know if I figure out how to crack the code, or what comes up next.
One Week to Go
February 18th, 2020
One week to go until launch. However, that date, February 24th, is more of a soft launch for me. I’ll upload my final manuscript by Feb 20th, which the good folks at Miblart are editing for me now. On March 2nd, I’ll start an Amazon ad campaign, but the real launch starts on March 9th. That’s when I’ve signed up/paid for some promo sites to run my book as a 99 cent ebook for that week. I’ve heard this used to be a really good tactic, but over time more book promo sites have come along and flooded the market, and more authors have caught on to this tactic, and it’s not what it used to be, but it’s still something. I’m just glad that freaking Kindle Unlimited hasn’t taken over and crushed publishing like Napster did to the music industry, and that there is still a way to get some attention for a no-name at launch.
As for the reviews that have come in, you can go to my home page to see what the reviews page at the beginning of my book will look like (the first three, in case I have more by the time you’re reading this). I’m happy with them. So, at the end of the week of March 9th, I’ll see how I’m doing in relation to the Amazon Best Seller badge, and go from there.
Getting Reviews, Interviews, Etc.
February 5th, 2020
Launch is getting close. I’ve been putting off posting because I’m waiting for some responses from prospective reviewers, but figure I’ll post now before the whole launch is over. One strategy that worked was getting involved in a Goodreads board, where I agreed to read a book by a guy who was asking for reviews (and his book was actually on topic for that message board, unlike the others asking for reviews), and it turned out to be a great book. I tried that again and the next book was trash, as one would expect from a random self-published book. The guy who wrote the great book, ‘Seed: Judgement,’ went on to read my book, and loved it. I put his review on the front page of my site, and am building a review page in my book. The problem is timing. I have other reviewers who will be reading my book. On the one hand, I want to time it so that they read my book and don’t post their review until my book goes live. On the other, it would be nice to have the review beforehand so that I can add it into the book itself (you have to upload the text five days before launch. If you make changes to your book after launch, Amazon considers it a new addition, and you start from square one in their algorithm). So, I’ll have to ask the presumptuous question, could you read my book early, give me a blurb, and then sit on your review until my book launches, even though they are doing me a favor to read and review my book, and most of them are probably struggling to read books and review them in time to meet their deadlines. If I have to choose one, I’d rather the review come out after launch (for sales, because I never buy presale books so I figure that a lot of other people don’t) and miss them in the review page in my book than vice versa, but if I can get both, that’s great. The idea of a book review page at the front of the book is to encourage people who already have a copy that it’s worth their time to read.
Like I’ve said previously, I’d like to get good reviews, and then use those reviews to prove to other reviewers/influencers that I’m legit. At this point I’m trying to determine who I can approach cold, and who I should wait to approach until I have some good resume bullet points. Problem is at this point, it seems like almost everyone is hard to get a response from, so I’d have to wait until almost launch to approach anyone. Which leads me to yet one more strategy, which is getting the orange Best-seller sticker on Amazon. I’ve bought Publisher Rocket and found the Amazon sub-categories where I have the best chance to get to number one. Of course it remains to be seen how hard that is, but the author I mentioned in the first paragraph did it, so it could happen. And if it does, then I’ll mention that I’m an ‘Amazon Best Seller’ in every ad copy blurb and interview/review request that I write from now until the end of time, and see if that opens any doors for me. The next post I write will be right before launch about how things have come together and what I’m expecting. It’s almost finally here!
Approaches to Writing, and Newsletter or Not
September 25th, 2019
When it comes to approaches to writing and getting published, a couple of pieces of advice for new writers that stuck with me, or were already in me and the advice rang true, were as follows. 1) If the only reason you’re writing is for profit, you’re defeating the purpose of writing. You write to create something beautiful and to connect with readers in a special way, not to make money. 2) When writing a first book, you shouldn’t hold anything back for later sequels. Give this one everything you have, and worry about sequels if you get that far.
When I started the book, I had every intention of getting it published traditionally. I figured every author was unpublished at some point and then got signed for their first book, so why not me? That was a more palpable idea when I started writing the book at the beginning of 2016. I’ve since learned that without a social media following, agents aren’t interested. I’ve also learned that the business model is to write a deep series, give away the first book for cheap, and make money on the backend of the series. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I started. I would have never done that even if I knew it was necessary, but I’m glad I didn’t have that daunting prospect in my mind when I wrote my book.
My problems with the new model are that writing high volume breaks the above two rules for me. It would mean putting a concern for having a writing career over creating something meaningful (I’m not saying this is true for everyone, but it is true my case). More importantly, it would mean holding back some ideas for later sequels, and like I’ve said in a previous blog, the magic happens when one combines his or her best ideas into the same story. This all leads to the chicken and egg problem of, how does one build a following (to promote the book) before one has anything to follow? Especially in my case if all the proverbial eggs (mixed metaphor) are in the basket of the first and potentially only book. In other words, why build a following if there will be nothing to follow by the time the followers exist?
I think I’ve come to terms with the idea of a newsletter, although I still hate that term. One reason for a newsletter is to keep my current book on people’s brains as I try to promote it, and get my followers hyped up and telling their friends about it. Another is that it would be good to have a list of people who liked my first book because those people would potentially be interested in whatever else I decided to do down the road, whether it be another book, a project in different media, a ministry, etc.
The next question then is how to get people to sign up for a newsletter. The typical way is to give away something in exchange for a reader signing up. This makes a lot of sense in non-fiction, where the author is meeting different pain points of the reader, and can give away one product for the hope of selling future products to his or her list. In fiction this makes less sense to me, but I read a blog where a guy said he wrote a prequel novella to his series showing how the main character got into the crime solving business or whatever and gave that away for signing up for his newsletter. I tried to do this but the writer’s block wall popped up. I agree with Orson Scott Card that writer’s block is your friend. It’s how you know that what you’re trying to do isn’t working, and is telling you to do something else. I could probably keep pushing at it like I did for some parts of my book. Especially the first Raj chapter. But instead I’m planning to use a short story ‘from the world of Stolen Shroud’ which I’ve already written to give something to readers who sign up for the newsletter.
In my next post, I may discuss submitting the final draft for electronic and hard copies, and sending them out for reviews, if something else doesn’t come up sooner.
Apologetics in Christian Fiction
September 20th, 2019
This post title could also be called ‘Preachiness in Christian Fiction,’ but for my book the term ‘apologetics’ is more germane. The literary consensus is that preachiness is bad, and that a work should be Christian insofar as the underlying themes subtly reveal Christ, or a character models Christ-like behavior. But I’m not so sure that’s enough. In the case of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia,’ some literary folks say Lewis is too allegorical and heavy handed. At the same time, many (most?) who read it blow past the allegories and only see the story. For some of these readers, the idea of Aslan dying on the stone table will work on their subconscious, while other readers will remain oblivious. I think Lewis gets the balance right, especially since it’s a fantasy story and a children’s story. If he were more blatant with his purpose (he said everything he ever wrote was evangelical), it would feel shoe-horned in.
Now in the case of ‘The Shack,’ I don’t think anyone has ever wished it was more preachy. Paul Young says it’s his theology in narrative form, or some such. While I think it’s good for what it is, an illustrated sermon, if you go into ‘The Shack’ expecting a novel, like I did, you will get impatient with the preaching. Why is it so wildly successful? I think one reason is that morons like me took it at face value and thought it was a true story. That literary device was a brilliant choice by Young. Another reason is that it is a tract to help those who are wounded and mad at God heal. So while ‘The Shack’ is too preachy, it has a special anointing and is the exception that proves the rule.
I sent an earlier draft of my book to a literary agent and he was concerned about the characters’ discussion being too didactic, and rightfully so. He told me that a publisher told him, ‘When I sense an agenda, I stop reading.’ A defensive reaction to this would be, ‘Perhaps that’s why publishers turned down ‘The Shack’ and missed out.’ But the truth is that the publisher is right. As writers, our core job is to tell a good story, and when the agenda steps on the story, the reader is frustrated. The agent is correct in that the story should work on the readers at a deep level like Narnia. However, I contend that it is possible to integrate compelling ideas with story at the conscious level as well, although it’s a difficult tight rope for an author to walk.
It would be helpful here if I explained where my book came from. I experienced a crisis of faith during part of my 20s and 30s. I’ve always thought I was a writer and that I had a novel in me, even though there was little external evidence of this. So while I struggled with my faith, I had the following thought: if I pull out of this struggle, I’d like to write a novel in which the main character loses his faith, and then gets it back in the end. There are many novels where the main character becomes disillusioned. Not as many about becoming disillusioned, and then finding out that the original illusion was real all along. So when God pulled me out of the mire, I felt like I was pregnant with a book, even though I didn’t know what it was about yet.
The plot that came to me centered around The Shroud of Turin and The Family Tomb of Jesus. More specifically, people involved in scientific tests being done on these objects. This called for dialogue explaining some details about these items, where I had to avoid making it a data dump, and having the characters tell each other things that they both already knew for benefit of the reader. So–good when the dialogue forwards the plot and illuminates the reader, bad when it is knowledge for knowledge’s sake, or too esoteric to understand.
But the book is more character-driven than plot-driven, with the events in the flashbacks centering around the main character losing his faith and finding it again. There are real-world apologetic questions and answers the character learns, and perhaps the reader learns them with him. This has to be carefully done, because the reader did not buy an apologetic text book, but a novel, and so the specific arguments that are given, if they are not driving the plot forward, at least have to push the character arc forward. What I’m getting at is that I had some apologetic arguments throughout this novel in the early drafts, and these arguments were heavy handed and preachy. With each subsequent draft I have lessened those effects and integrated them more seamlessly into the story. One question I want to answer (in case any of you are asking it) is how I did that.
First, I found a fantastic editor, who was a little sympathetic for the unorthodox approach of the novel, but had the eye of a layman for the book, and pointed it out to me when I got too technical. I suppose it’s obvious that everyone needs a good editor. But second, and a better insight I think, is that I read the book out loud to a general audience, which in my case was my wife and three teenagers. I’m a little strange in the fact that I worked on this novel for almost four years and never shared anything about it with my wife, even though she’s a good fiction reader. I chose to trade away insights she could have given me during the writing for her insight at the finished product. Plus, I like to surprise people and wanted to see her reaction at the end. Reading the book to them was an absolute blast. However, anytime I read something that was superfluous to the story, it was very cringy, and I made a mental note to remove or edit those parts. I believe that left me with a book that is palatable for a general audience, but still has deep content for my core audience, which are people who have ever, or still, question their faith.
Back to the publisher who said, ‘When I sense an agenda, I stop reading.’ All authors have an agenda. Or at least they should. After writing my book, I started looking into self-publishing and saw that I was supposed to be ‘writing to market’ all along, because a full-time author needs readers, so write what they’re reading. Bull crap. I’m not writing to be a full-time author–to fill a market niche. I’m writing because I have something to say that’s burning inside me. Something to say that can help people who find themselves in the predicament I was in when I was younger. A novel is not a sermon. But Christians almost can’t help but be preachy when they write, because God has put inside them truths to communicate. And frankly, I think Christian readers want that. It’s possible to find a good secular story that isn’t R-rated, if I search hard enough. I can even find and enjoy a good Christian novel where I see characters who exemplify Jesus, while (I’m) not learning anything new about Jesus’ character. For the ideal Christian fiction experience, I want to get a revelation. I know that’s expecting a lot, but why not? That is why ‘This Present Darkness’ basically launched Christian fiction, with its revelation about the importance of prayer. It’s not half the novel that a later Peretti book is, ‘The Visitation’ (which I try to mimic a bit in my book), but it contains a special anointing. That anointing is what all Christian fiction authors should strive for.
Social Media, Podcasts, and Blogs
September 17th, 2019
I’ve briefly touched on the number one necessity in writing these days. It’s not about the quality of your work, but the size of your social media footprint. What do I have for social media? Four followers on Twitter, where I’ve never made a tweet, a handful of friends on Instagram, where’ I’ve posted about 10 pictures, and about 400 friends and acquaintances on Facebook. I suppose I’ll have to make an author page on Facebook and invite some of my friends, where I will feel like I’m imposing on them, but oh well. I’ve even thought about offering some free unpublished flashback chapters as a reward for signing up for the newsletter. I have two of these already, and could write more. I’ll wait a bit after launch before I decide if there is any appetite for that or not.
Conventional wisdom says I need to build up my social media following. Start tweeting, posting on Instagram, pushing people to a Facebook author page and posting there, so that I can push my book to as many people as possible when I launch. For me, I don’t think it’s worth the tradeoff. I only have my friends to promote to at this point, and my plan is to post about it during my 99 cent promo. Maybe after launch I’ll start working Twitter, along with my plans to post on my Facebook author page and send out messages to the above group of readers in a ‘newsletter’ (hate that term).
So what’s my marketing plan seeing as how the above plan isn’t even a plan? I mentioned in my last post that I’m hoping to get on an apologetics podcast. I’ve since been able to make contact with the podcaster, and he asked for a copy of my book. So it comes down to whether or not he likes it enough to invite me to be a guest on his podcast. Along these lines, I’ve made contact with a book reviewer who reviews Christian Speculative Fiction specifically. He not only agreed to let me guest blog for him, but also to review my book. I’m pumped about both of these opportunities. I plan to reach out to other podcasters and book review bloggers leading up to launch, and ask them to take a look at my book (maybe mentioning these others who are having me on, assuming the podcast thing works out). Then after launch, once the podcast and review go live, go back to any other bloggers or podcasters who weren’t interested the first time around, or who I thought were too big to approach earlier, and give them links to the review and podcast, and see if they are interested then. Hopefully the podcasts and reviews happen and go well, and I even get some unsolicited requests.
There’s a concept called a blog tour, where an author launching a book guest blogs about his or her book or book launch, hopefully with a unique take. I have written one up for the blog where I’ve already been invited to guest post, and I plan to reach out and find more blogs who are open to having guest bloggers. And speaking of guest blogs, my next post will be the one I plan to use for my first guest blog.
Self-publishing Battle Plan
August 22nd, 2019
Unfortunately, my self-publishing battle plan gets thinner the deeper I look into it. Of course I’m going to get the best cover I can to help with click-thrus. My cover has a picture of the Shroud of Turin, and is a little reminiscent of The DaVinci Code. I can’t market to DaVinci Code people as they wouldn’t dig my worldview. I’d like market it as a reverse DaVinci Code (only 17 years later), but there is no existing market for that, and the book didn’t turn out like that in the end anyway, as religious mystery thriller isn’t my genre. So here’s the paradox. To sell books, your supposed to write in a genre with demand. However, that motivation strikes me as too profit-driven. I know there’s an argument that says why write if nobody is reading your books, but on the flip side, why write if you aren’t passionate about what you’re writing? I wanted to write a book that didn’t exist, that I wished did exist, and that’s what I did. But because this type of book didn’t exist before, there is no preexisting genre into which it fits. Ideally the book becomes popular and creates its own genre (apologetic fiction?), but that is a once in a generation occurrence, and a pretty daunting prospect for a new/nobody author.
Back to the Battle Plan. There’s an apologetics podcast I listen to that has an interview format, and I plan to ask the podcaster if he’s interested in interviewing me. His guests are way bigger than me, and they are subject matter experts rather than fiction writers, but I’m hoping for the best. Other than that one, I’ll be reaching out to podcasts that interview unknown fiction authors, which I’m guessing have pretty small followings. If I were writing in a popular genre, like romance, there are influencers (podcasters and bloggers) who can fall in love with your book and make your career with one positive review. If there is anyone like that in the genre I’m going to put my book into (Christian Speculative), I don’t know who it is. One problem is that Christian Speculative is not a going concern, but a bucket for two or three popular authors: Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti (who almost never writes anymore), and Davis Bunn. I believe there is a market for this genre, but this audience doesn’t know it (the audience itself) exists yet, perhaps because the right books haven’t come along to congeal these people and create this market.
At least these handful of Christian Speculative authors exist, because in the age of granular Internet advertising, one can directly target these authors’ readers with ads. Ads are tough, though. People don’t like ads, and this is more the case with fiction than with non-fiction, because with fiction it’s harder to convince the reader you can meet her need, because the need you’re meeting isn’t as well-defined as some of her non-fiction needs (like how to self-publish and market a book, for example). Amazon ads seem most promising, because your prospective readers are there to spend money, and some of their ads don’t look like ads, but blend nicely with the ‘also boughts.’ Even so, the vast majority of testimonies I read are from people losing a ton of money on ads. And even the guys with the ‘how to make money advertising on Amazon’ courses say you have to have written a deep series before this will work, because Amazon auctions their clicks between advertisers, and they look at the long-term effect of the click. If a click leads to a buy of a book in a 12-part series, then that click could lead to 11 more purchases, as opposed to zero more in my case. So I’ll have to overpay for ads because I’ll be going up against prolific writers in the Amazon ad auctions. Then I’ll have to hope that I can target the right audience, pick the right cover, and have the right summary and reviews to convert the click into a buy.
That covers the podcast and ad plans for now. Next I’ll write about using social media (or lack thereof in my case), blogs, and more about podcasts.
Self vs. Traditional Publishing
August 13th, 2019
I decided that I’m going to self-publish. The model for self-publishing, as I understand it from the ‘how to become a full-time author’ books and podcasts I’ve read and listened to, is for the author to pump out multiple books per year, and build the author brand, and income flow, and even writing skill along the way. I have no interest in this pulp hackery. It’s the equivalent of soap operas on television—pumping out high-quantity, low-quality entertainment. James Patterson can spit out a ton of books per year, but he has a staff of ghostwriters. My primary goal is not to build an author brand and become a full-time writer. It is to create the best piece of art that I can (and I use the word ‘art’ with fear and trembling), and expose it to as many people as possible. Creating the novel took me years of thinking and writing in turns. So why go the self-publishing route when the model doesn’t fit my approach?
The obvious answer is that I won’t have to wait to strike a deal with a publisher. But say I did strike a deal. Say my quality is as good as I think it is, and a publisher is willing to overlook my deficiencies in social media presence. In that case, there are still some downsides to going traditional. The main one is that it takes on average two years from striking a deal with a publisher to the book hitting the shelves. And that doesn’t count the time it takes to strike that deal. My book has cooked long enough and is ready for market. It even takes place in 2020. Also, I don’t hear good feedback about traditional publishers’ promotional efforts, especially for new authors. I hear it’s spammy—where they send out emails and press releases (without follow up) and hope something sticks. Better to know that it all rests on me than subconsciously let myself off the hook, hoping that the publisher will do their job. As for money, I don’t really care about the publisher’s 85% cut. I’ll spend at least that promoting my own book. I’m less interested in making money than I am in getting people to actually read my book.
Not that there isn’t a positive side to traditional publishing. Even though odds are long to have a best-seller with a traditional publisher, they are much better than the odds are with self-publishing. Traditional publishers still function as gatekeepers, letting readers know they are getting a quality product that has been vetted (but that’s less the case now than it used to be). They earn the author instant credibility. I’m sure a publishing deal would open up many podcasts and blogs to having me on as a guest. As a self-published author, I’m going to be relying on my B.S.-ing skills to land these interviews. I mean, I love my product, but I’ll need to represent it like it’s a big deal before it is, and pray that the right influence makers will fall in love with my book and help me spread the word.
Granted, I haven’t done any of this yet, and don’t know what I’m talking about. These are just my current impressions. In my next post I’ll lay out my battle plan for self-publishing. I’m sure you’d be more interested in knowing what worked and what didn’t after the fact, but posting this beforehand will be a good contrast with my post after the fact.
Submitting Proposals, and the Final Drafts
August 9th, 2019
I’ve finished my fourth draft. It’s a masterpiece (I think). Now what? Well, I had looked a little into this after the third draft. First off, no publisher will take unsolicited submissions. So I found a list of literary agents who Thomas Nelson (the biggest Christian publisher) deal with, and found that almost none of them will take unsolicited submissions either. I revisited this list shortly before I finished my fourth draft and chose three agents who looked like a good fit, and if those didn’t work out, there was a promising service that hooked you up with agents who work with Baker Publishing (the other of the ‘big two’ Christian publishers), and these agents were actually looking for new clients.
Within a couple hours of finishing my fourth draft, I sent in a query letter to one of the three literary agents taking submissions. This was, of course, a bad idea, but I was excited and got carried away. This guy had some good gimmicks and I felt like it was meant to be, but in retrospect he didn’t even work in my genre. He only took submissions for a few months out of the year, and if you didn’t hear back from him in 14 days, you weren’t going to hear anything from him. Apparently he gets so many of these query letters that he or his intern don’t have time to click reply to your email, paste ‘Sorry, not interested,’ and then click send. In fairness to him, he may feel that a rejection should come with a reason, and he doesn’t want to take the time to do that. I did buy his book about how not to get your query letter rejected, so it’s a pretty good scam on his part.
After 14 days were up, I saw that the other agents on my list didn’t want a query letter, which is one page, but wanted a full proposal, which includes what you would put on the jacket cover of the book, a brief bio, manuscript history, head shot, your marketing analysis and strategy, social media presence, personal connections, three page summary of the book, and finally the first three chapters of the book. I sent my proposal to the next one, and he came back in only a couple of days and told me he wasn’t interested in taking on new authors as he had just had a bad experience with one. I appreciated his promptness so I could move onto the next agent. He also gave me some good advice about why he thought he couldn’t sell this to a publisher—namely, it was still too preachy. I agreed, and wrote draft five based on what he pointed out (and I knew deep down). I toned down the preachiness, and removed a chapter that wasn’t pertinent to the story and wrote a new one in its place.
Next, I submitted the third proposal—this one to the king of all Christian literary agents, who even though he has his own firm, still takes blind submissions. I sent in a hard copy because he says he responds to all of those, but it’s past the time frame he gave for responding and I still haven’t heard back. I believe he’s sincere as I’ve heard from another first-time author who has dealt with him. Maybe I’ll get something from him, maybe I won’t, but I don’t care anymore. One day as I was whining to myself about how agents care about the wrong things, like social media presence, of which I have none, and not the quality of the work, I felt like God told me I was supposed to self-publish. I bet that last sentence looks as obnoxious to you as it does to me. ‘What, your books sucks and you can’t find a publisher, so you decide to be one of the billions of people who throw their crap up on Amazon, and blame God for this decision?’ This is how I felt, so I fought it for a while. And when I say, “God told me,” I don’t mean by an inner voice, so ‘told’ isn’t a great word, but it’s the best way I can think to phrase the impression I got about self-publishing, I think, from God.
There’s more to my decision to self-publish, but that’s enough of that. So now that I’ve decided not to try to get matched up with an interested agent (for Baker Publishing), I looked at my next steps to self-publishing and saw that I needed to get my manuscript professionally edited. I had done this for about 10 chapters after my third draft, which was helpful, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the editor. This time I went onto Reddit’s self-publishing forum and found an editor who not only did line editing for cheap, but also ended up throwing in copy editing and manuscript editing. I still had some preachiness to extract, and I still had a (flashback) chapter that didn’t tie in well enough to the story. So I wrote my final draft, draft six, in which I applied most of his suggestions, including removing another chapter and adding a new one, and completing the character arcs, which had been too loose. I’m thrilled with the final product! In my next post I’ll write about self vs. traditional publishing.
August 8th, 2019
In my ‘Sucky First Draft’ post, I wrote about the lousy first draft, and then the better second draft, when I figured out to add flashback chapters in between the main thread chapters. For my third draft, I went back and made the story comprehensible, since I was making it up during the second draft, and thus I didn’t know what I should be foreshadowing, and there was no continuity between what I thought would happen, and what happened. After this draft it was comprehensible, so I sent it to my best friend. He said ‘I have to admit that I liked it,’ which was a huge compliment since he has read every book out there and hates almost all of them (of course, he graded me on a curve). But the novel was still pretty rough. The flashbacks were their own set pieces and didn’t tie in enough with the main plot. The writing in the main plot was mechanical and voiceless. Some of the settings and obstacles were contrived. It was preachy. And on and on.
Between writing my third and fourth drafts (about 5 months), I had an idea. Change the main thread from third-person past to first-person present. I would use David Mitchell’s ‘The Bone Clocks’ as my model. And . . . it worked. Most of the advice I’ve read about an author finding his voice is as follows. Don’t try to manufacture it. Your voice will emerge as you figure out the best way to tell your story. This was not my experience. I believed in my story and third-person past was the most straightforward way to tell it, but my voice was boring, and when it wasn’t boring, it was inconsistent with the narrative tone of the rest of the novel. What I realized was that I’ve had my voice all along and I’ve been hiding it. My voice is my personality—and the way to display it was to write as the character, and have him give my asides and thoughts directly to the reader. I don’t think I ever broke the fourth wall, but I beat the holy hell out of it.
In addition to finding my voice, I continued making it less preachy, and bringing the disparate parts together into a cohesive story. This meant removing some chapters and writing different ones in their place, or leaving nothing at all in their place, but covering that scene offscreen by a few sentences from a character.
I was finished (I thought). I was happy, and ready to submit for publication. I imagine this is the step that most of you are interested in. I know I was. The previous posts about the writing process are more personal for each individual writer, whereas the publishing process is more general and applicable to all writers or would be writers. I’ll write about my experience submitting queries and proposals in my next post.
Sucky First Draft
July 8th, 2019
I had something to say. I had my idea. Next, I had to find out if I knew how to write. And the verdict came in as . . . a resounding ‘no’! The main thread read like it was written by a high school student. The characters were indiscriminate blobs. But the worst of it was the subplot. The subplot followed the Shroud of Turin at critical moments of its history. One thing I learned is that writing historical fiction is hard. There’s much truth to the cliche ‘write what you know,’ and did not know close to enough about the cities of Edessa and Constantinople from 60 – 1300 AD. But before I began doing intense research on them, I realized that the subplot was not closely related to the story, but was more of a project to show how it’s plausible that the Shroud of Turin made it from Jerusalem to France over the course of 1300 years. That is not a project for a novel like mine, but for a purely historical novel, or a non-fiction book like Ian Wilson’s ‘The Shroud of Turin’.
After I wrote the first draft, I tried to read ‘The DaVinci Code’. I kind of wanted to follow that formula a little, even though I don’t like those kinds of books, because that seemed to be the best formula for what I wanted to say in my book. But, I wanted to wait until after the first draft so that I wouldn’t be copying it too closely. I find the idea of ‘The DaVinci Code’ a bit despicable, because while no historian takes it seriously, Dan Brown implies in interviews that he believes it, which if he does, he’s drinking his own Kool-Aid. That being said, I hear a lot of people, and not only people opposed to the idea of ‘The DaVinci Code’, accuse the book of being poorly written. As a new author who just finished a sucky first draft, I strongly disagreed. In fact, it was so much better than what I had done that I was leaning toward the opinion that writing a novel wasn’t for me.
Around this time someone I knew had written a book and I listened in on her telling someone else about her marketing plan for the book. I started to think about her marketing plan in the context of my unwritten mess, and the fire for my novel started to rekindle, pun intended. I went back to my book and decided that one thing I needed to do was learn who my characters were. To do that, I would do some free writing about their backstories, and then it hit me. The answer to both problems was the same. I would yank out the Shroud of Turin history chapters, and replace them with chapters about my characters in the past, which would not only help me and the reader learn who they were, but would intertwine with the present day plot thread and set up the action there. The format would be like the show ‘LOST’, except that the flashbacks would be more directly tied into the main plot.
I think it worked. I know it worked much better than the first draft mess. This second draft was where I did most of the heavy lifting. For each flashback chapter, I had to come up with a dramatic set piece that worked in itself and pushed the plot ahead and revealed key information. While I think it worked, it was still missing something, which I’ll write about in my next post about later drafts.
July 5th, 2019
Hmmmm. What to blog about? I’ll start by blogging about the process of going from the germ of an idea to completed manuscript, and later I’ll blog about the publishing process.
I’ve always thought I was a writer, contrary to all evidence, as I never . . . wrote anything, outside of a few creative writing classes. Nevertheless. I started getting a compulsion to write and was planning out how I would organize my life so that I could write, all before I even got the idea that I turned into a book, such that I don’t remember feeling any different about the project before and after I got the idea. I became pregnant with the novel before I knew what it would be about.
The reason why I had a novel bursting inside of me is that I finally had something to say. I’d always wanted to write, but when I was young I would have been parroting back what I’d been taught. When I was older I struggled with my faith, and I remember thinking, ‘If I get through this, I’d like to write a novel.’ There are many novels about becoming disillusioned. Not as many about becoming disillusioned, and then finding out that the original illusion was real all along.
So I had something to say, how I rediscovered my faith, but what would the novel be about. The idea came to me when I was watching a documentary about the Shroud of Turin made by Grizzly Adams Production (yes, that show with the bearded hermit in the 70’s.) The idea that got me started was imagining if some group were to steal or destroy the Shroud before it could be thoroughly tested again. Then I imagined a scenario where the main character was present at a press conference where the Shroud was stolen and started from there.
I read some good advice from one of my favorite authors, Orson Scott Card. He wrote that when a book he’s writing really takes off, it’s not from taking one of his big story ideas and following it to its conclusion. It takes off when he takes one of his big story ideas, and combines it with another big idea in the same story. The fusion adds life. I found that every time I added a big idea, the story became richer, so I threw every idea I had into the story and was eventually able to make them all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
In my next blog post I’ll write about the horrible first draft and what clicked to make the second draft start to work.