The Most Important Characteristic is Insight

“The most important characteristic of content marketing today is not quality or quantity. It’s insight.”

Lee Odden, the CEO of TopRank Marketing, says: “Marketers talk about all these really clever ways of creating content, more and more content … really imaginative ways of creating a diverse array of content types with nominal resources, and nowhere in these discussions do they ever really say anything. The most important characteristic of content marketing today is not quality or quantity. It’s insight. And that is the differentiator lacking almost everywhere.”

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

Expect to Be Misunderstood

People who are not yet acquainted with their creativity will think you’re odd. If you’re fully invested in a creative vision, then they’ll suspect that you’re imbalanced. If they really admire what you’re doing, they may go the other extreme and hold you in awe. Either way, you are misunderstood. Whether your calling is to write novels or to help form cooperatives in Third World countries, you will encounter prejudice.

Perfectly fine people will think you are wasting your life if you don’t get a real job that gives you a nice retirement package. Perfectly loving friends and family members will keep waiting for you to grow up and get over this phase. Well-intentioned religious folks will worry about your dealing with dark and uncomfortable topics. You’re not going to escape these reactions. It’s up to you to find loving responses to them. Concentrate on people’s intentions rather that their aggravating theories and comments.

When people hear that I’m writing a story, they usually assume there’s some agenda. They wonder what “the point” is. They react with confusion when I say that I’m exploring a certain theme through these characters-that there is “no point,” at least not at the beginning. In our culture good, conscientious people come up with plans, steps and objectives. They are not conditioned to think in terms of a transcendent process. So any answers I give that don’t line up with an action plan create awkward silences in the conversation. I don’t take offense at this, but I assume that the only people who will really understand my creative life are those who are engaged in their own.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

When to Self-Publish

Today’s guest article is from Chris Ferebee of The Christopher Ferebee Agency.

I’m often asked by both would be and published authors, if and when to consider self-publishing. For those unpublished, the question often comes from the desire to be published as quickly as possible and frustration with trying to break into the industry. Both are often asking because they’ve read of significant success coming to self-published authors and wondering whether they even need traditional publishers anymore. As a literary agent, I earn a living representing successful authors to commercial publishers, but I absolutely believe there is a place for self-publishing. However, whether successfully published or looking to publish for the first time, there a few considerations that apply across the board.

Audience

Most publishers are looking more and more to the author to help sell their book. Publishers are having a harder time than ever successfully breaking out new authors. However, they can absolutely help amplify an existing audience. When you self-publish, there’s no amplification. You want to know how big your “platform” is? Self-publish. Self-publishing may be a shortcut to selling your content, but there is no shortcut to building a following and an audience for your work. Self-publishing will expose how successful you’ve been at this faster than anything else.

Market

When you publish with a commercial publisher, your book is generally available anywhere books are sold. When you self-publish, you are typically locked into a specific ecosystem. For example, to sell your book electronically through Amazon, you have to agree to exclusively sell your book on Amazon. Most people don’t consider that a big deal because Amazon controls 65% of the electronic book market. But only 19.5% of all books sold in the US are Amazon Kindle titles. In actuality, you’re tapping into a small segment of the overall book market. If you self-publish into a different ecosystem, you’re reaching an even smaller segment. All the more reason you need to have a robust following for your work to be successful.

Fulfillment

A lot of authors will decide to sell their book directly from their own website to cut out the middle man and retain as much of their revenue as possible. But this means you’ll have to figure out how to deliver your book in the format your audience wants to read it in. Does you audience read on a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad? Do they know what specific file format each device uses and how to load that file onto their device once they’ve downloaded it from you? What if your audience wants your book in a physical format? Do you have the means of producing, warehousing and fufilling physical book sales? When you become a direct seller, you have to take all of these things into consideration.

In short, there’s no easy street to publishing, self or otherwise.  But if you decide to take the plunge, there can be significant benefits. For a published author, it offers you the ability to offer your audience something to tide them over between commercial releases. It can be an opportunity to generate revenue off of valuable content that makes sense for self-publishing, but that wouldn’t make sense for a commercial publisher to consider. It can allow you to bring a resource to market to capitalize on a trend significantly faster than most commercial publishers will be able to. It can be a valuable tool used to gain fans and followers and build your platform. For a self-published author, when done successfully it can help gain the attention of commercial publishers and prove that you do, in fact, have a loyal following willing to engage with your content. For anyone, it can be an opportunity to try your hand at content that doesn’t necessarily fit your “brand,” but allows you to introduce your audience to some of your other interests and creative endeavors.

As a few examples, here are some books my commercially published clients have released as self-published works for many of the reasons above:

Charles Martin – River Road: A collection of short stories from Charles’ early writing days.

Timothy Willard – Shine So Bright: A beautiful children’s Christmas story, successfully funded on Kickstarter and now available for sale.

Margaret Feinberg – Live Loved: An adult coloring book encouraging scripture memorization, which has since been contracted and published by Bethany House.

Rob Bell – Millones Cajones: A fun and surprising novel about a motivational speaker that suffers a crises of identity.

Creativity May Involve an Artistic Temperament-and It May Not

When we see the terms artist and creative, we tend to think of the most flamboyant representatives of these two categories. A personality such as Pyotr Ilich Tchailovsky or Pablo Picasso is quite publicity friendly-and also translates well into movie rights. We think of Ernest Hemingway or Andy Warhol or Martha Graham when someone says “artist”.

But some of the most creative people do not look artistic at all. They work long hours and are quite practical and unromantic. Have you talked lately with someone who organizes relief efforts after an earthquake has ripped apart an entire region? You don’t get any more creative than that, and yet such people appear to be more pragmatic than creative.

Forget about the stereotypes. Some creative people can be recognized as such from a mile away. Others practice their creative gifts day in and day out but no one would ever think to call them artists.
Maybe you have an artistic temperament, and maybe you don’t. That really doesn’t matter. What is important is that you discover your creative gifts and develop them.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Art – by Frederick Buechner

“An old silent pond.
Into the pond a frog jumps.
Splash!
Silence again.”

It is perhaps the best known of all Japanese haiku. No subject could be more humdrum. No language could be more pedestrian. Basho, the poet, makes no comment on what he is describing. He implies no meaning, message, or metaphor. He simply invites our attention to no more and no less than just this: the old pond in its watery stillness, the kerplunk of the frog, the gradual return of the stillness.

In effect he is putting a frame around the moment, and what the frame does is enable us to see not just something about the moment, but the moment itself in all its ineffable ordinariness and particularity. The chances are that if we had been passing by when the frog jumped, we wouldn’t have noticed a thing or, noticing it, wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But the frame sets it off from everything else that distracts us. That is the nature and purpose of frames. The frame does not change the moment, but it changes our way of perceiving the moment. It makes us notice the moment, and that is what Basho wants above all else. It is what literature in general wants above all else too.

From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention. Pay attention to the frog. Pay attention to the west wind. Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train. In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.

The painter does the same thing, of course. Rembrandt puts a frame around an old woman’s face. It is seamed with wrinkles. The upper lip is sunken in, the skin waxy and pale. It is not a remarkable face. You would not look twice at the old woman if you found her sitting across the aisle from you on a bus. But it is a face so remarkably seen that it forces you to see it remarkably, just as Cezanne makes you see a bowl of apples or Andrew Wyeth a muslin curtain blowing in at an open window. It is a face unlike any other face in all the world. All the faces in the world are in this one old face.

Unlike painters, who work with space, musicians work with time, with note following note as second follows second. Listen! say Vivaldi, Brahms, Stravinsky. Listen to this time that I have framed between the first note and the last and to these sounds in time. Listen to the way the silence is broken into uneven lengths between the sounds and to the silences themselves. Listen to the scrape of bow against gut, the rap of stick against drumhead, the rush of breath through reed and wood. The sounds of the earth are like music, the old song goes, and the sounds of music are also like the sounds of the earth, which is of course where music comes from. Listen to the voices outside the window, the rumble of the furnace, the creak of your chair, the water running in the kitchen sink. Learn to listen to the music of your own lengths of time, your own silences.

Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.

Is it too much to say that to stop, look, and listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history, is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power plays, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces, but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

In a letter to a friend Emily Dickinson wrote that “Consider the lilies of the field” was the only commandment she never broke. She could have done a lot worse. Consider the lilies. It is the sine qua non of art and religion both.

~ from Beyond Words

“How Marketing Differs for Spiritual Writers” – video training

Topics in this introductory level presentation include:

  • why social media matters
  • examples of social media success
  • recommendations for how social media should differ for spiritual writers
  • recommendations for prioritizing social media platforms

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