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

The Importance of a Book Proposal

by Jana Burson of The Christopher Ferebee Agency

Your proposal is not only the tool by which you will obtain your literary agent, it’s also the tool your agent will use to shop your book and, hopefully, get you a publishing deal. This is not a post about how to put a proposal together. There are tons of resources online to help with that including this one and this one. I do, however, want to share some tips on things you should and shouldn’t do when putting your proposal together.


Just like when you are meeting someone for the first time, you put extra care and attention into what you wear and say in the hopes of impressing the other person. The same extra effort should be poured into your book proposal. Put your best foot forward!

When I first started working in publishing, the lens through which I reviewed book proposals was as a publicist. Seven years later, my role, and therefore my lens, changed to that of an acquisitions editor. While those roles were different, there were still so many similarities in how a book proposal is ultimately reviewed. Now as a literary agent, my previous experience in book publicity and acquisitions plays a large role in how I review a book proposal today. The first three things I look for are (1) strong and fresh concept, (2) phenomenal writing, and (3) a well established or growing platform. Following are some tips to consider when developing your book proposal.

Your Book Proposal Should:

  • Have a strong title/subtitle
  • Have a very clear and fresh idea or concept that can be conveyed in 1-2 sentences
  • Include why you are the best person to write on the topic
  • Have a well thought out and developed outline with well written chapter synopses that convey the full direction/flow of the book
  • Have absolutely stellar writing
  • Include previous sales history, if applicable
  • Convey the size and power of your platform, and show any major growth that’s taken place, and explain how you will use your platform to help sell books
  • Include an author photo, as it personalizes the content
  • If possible, include a short video (2 minutes or less) sharing your heart behind the book
  • Convey your overall style and personality. While there are items of a proposal that must be included, feel free to be creative in how it conveys who you are

Your Book Proposal Should Not:

  • Contain incorrect or inflated information
  • Be more than 50 pages (Shorter than that is even better)
  • Be a rough draft of an idea you have
  • Be off brand from the niche or area of expertise you’ve built your platform on
  • Contain multiple misspellings or grammatical mistakes

The more excellent and thorough your proposal is, the better impression you will make when publishing houses review it for the first time.

For Aspiring Writers: Your One-Stop Conference/Festival Etiquette Guide

For Aspiring Writers: Your One-Stop Conference/Festival Etiquette Guide

By Sarah Arthur

As a published author who has made some of my biggest breaks by meeting editors at writing conferences, I’m often asked how I did this. How does someone who is relatively unknown get on the publishing radar? And how does one do this without alienating the entire industry, or selling your soul—or both?

My story is rather unusual, as I describe in this fun podcast interview—and I’m not entirely certain how it all happened (good weather? planetary alignments? divine somethingness?). So to answer the above questions I scribbled down my hunches and then messaged a group of veteran writers, editors, and poets, asking, “If you were to write a conference/festival etiquette guide for aspiring writers hoping to get published, what would it include?”

Their responses confirmed my hunches, plus gave me some great inside stories from the industry. What follows is your One-Stop Conference/Festival Etiquette Guide. For those who’ve been in the conference circuit for awhile, what else would you add?

  1. Be there to learn. Unless you’ve been doing this writing/publishing thing for longer than most editors have been alive, consider the conference itself as a relatively inexpensive college-level course in a topic about which (as an unpublished author) you know slightly more than nothing. This applies not only to what you can learn about the publishing industry but about the craft of writing itself, and even—yes: brace yourself—your own work (see #8).
  2. Treat editors like human beings. I can’t stress this enough. As one editor says, “Please don’t look at editors as inhuman publication machines who exist only either to do something for you or to reject you because they’re jerks.” Editors are real people who have to eat and pee and sleep like everyone else. Some of them miss their families; others have medical conditions, for pity’s sake. Find an area of common interest that doesn’t involve your cherished project. One editor advises, “Approach editors/publishers as fellow book-lovers and go from there.” Demonstrating that you’re a team player by showing you can give and take graciously in a mutual conversation is key. “Writing is a solitary discipline,” says that same editor, “but publishing, especially at the small press level, is a collaborative endeavor and needs a solid platform of trust, shared artistic values, and enterprise-in-common to work.”
  3. Research before you make a pitch. No: the publisher that’s never published monologues does not want to hear your monologue about your groundbreaking monologue. You will not make them abandon their brand, much less their founding vision, in one thirty-second conversation. Get online before the conference and learn what they do and don’t publish—not just genres but topics, issues, and authors. Purchase some of their books and not only read them but review them on Goodreads and Amazon, even on your own blog. In the words of one editor, “Haven’t read any of our books? Then why do you think you’re a good fit?”
  4. Ask questions. College course, remember? You’re here to learn, which means pursuing lines of inquiry with a kind of earnest curiosity—even delight. “Ask about their publications, ask what they like to see and where to find guidelines,” says one editor. Keep in mind that many editors are also writers: one suggests, “Ask them about their work. Don’t bring up your own work. After talking about what they do for a minute or two, they may ask about what you do.” Another says, “If you’re new to publishing and truly just want to have a conversation about how things work and make some friends, then do that! Just be clear about what you need/want from the conversation and most editors will be happy to talk with you.”
  5. Listen. It seems obvious, but once you’ve asked a question, close your mouth. For as long as they keep talking. Then follow up with another question. Attend an editor’s workshop(s); be there if the editor is on a panel. Read books the editor has written, if any. Become, if you will, a kind of disciple. But also be mindful that the editor only has so many people he or she can engage in a day. Someone else might be standing in line behind you, and out of respect for the invisible fellowship of writers around the world, without whom you wouldn’t be a writer yourself, step graciously aside. Then go find another editor to listen to.
  6. Buy their publications. In the words of one editor, “Consider budgeting to buy a few things to show your good faith understanding that publishing houses and small presses don’t survive without reader support.” If the publisher has a booth in the Exhibit Hall, take their products seriously: browse; then, if you find their titles or back issues intriguing, purchase something. One writer, who is also professor, says, “If you are a professor/instructor ask about a publisher’s books for your classes. I use small press titles whenever I can. Twenty copies bought for a class makes a big difference to a press like that.” Another editor says, “I’m much more willing to look at your manuscript if you are willing to support the press. It might end up being the best $20 you ever spend.”
  7. Be up front about your interest in making a pitch. Note this doesn’t say, “Pitch your project unsolicited.” You can’t throw your material at someone you’ve never met, unasked, and expect them to take you seriously. Rather, this is saying, “I really appreciate your publishing house’s vision and titles—including _________, which I’ve just reviewed on Goodreads. And it’s made me think that what I’ve written might be a good fit for you. Would you be open to me emailing you about that sometime?” And then the editor will either outline their company’s submission process (and you’d better take notes), or ask, “Well, what’s it about?”—because that way they know whether an email correspondence will be worth their time or become a vast black hole in the literary space-time continuum. Don’t be aggressive, but at the same time, says one editor, “Don’t offer to meet me for coffee under the auspices of asking a few questions when you really want to pitch a book. Just give me your damn pitch.”
  8. Hold your work lightly. At the first writing conference I ever attended, before I got published, I had grand visions of becoming a children’s book writer and illustrator. I came with manuscripts, a portfolio of illustrations, business cards and proposals to that effect. Pause at this point and take a look at my list of published works. Do you see any illustrated children’s books on there? No? That’s because the connections I made at that original conference ultimately had nothing to do with what I thought my work was about. Keep this in mind as you lug that little stack of proposals and sample materials around with you from workshop to workshop, from booth to booth in the Exhibit Hall. If you’re holding your cherished project in a closed fist, it might be time to open your hand a bit. What else might come of these connections?
  9. Learn how to graciously take “no” for an answer. For your reading pleasure, here’s an example of what not to do, as supplied by an editor for whom this was a real-life experience at the AWP:

Clueless Jerk: Hi, Editor! Here’s my chapbook manuscript. [shoves pile of papers in Editor’s face]

Editor: We only accept manuscripts online. Also, we don’t publish chapbooks. Try X, Y or Z publishers down the line.

Clueless Jerk: Yeah, but this is really good. I think you’ll make an exception if you read it. I’ll come back tomorrow to see what you think. [walks away]

Let’s rehearse all the things this aspiring writer did wrong, shall we? No, let’s just assume he broke all the rules. But he especially ignored a clear “no” when the editor kindly but firmly explained how their submission process works, what kinds of things they publish, and helpfully suggested some other options. That’s the end of the conversation, people. As one editor says, “I’ve had my fill of writers who want me to look at their stuff even when I’ve told them it’s not what we publish. Just stop talking!” After a publisher explains why your work isn’t a good fit, you simply say, “That’s really helpful. Thanks so much!” Then you browse their products, purchase something (if possible, particularly if you think this publisher might be a good fit for something else you could work on down the road), smile, and walk away.

  1. Honor the relationship. Have I said that editors are real people? Yep. They have only so many hours a day to answer email, respond to follow-up questions, or set appointments. So whatever happens after your interaction should remain professional, cheerful, and brief—and above all, should respect that the publishing process (including correspondence) is often glacially slow due to the volume of material an editor is reviewing. Haven’t heard back in two weeks? Two months? This is normal. One follow-up email by you 6-8 weeks after the conference is appropriate, but after that, leave it alone. And again: take “no” for an answer. Yet another lovely example supplied by my editor friends after AWP:

Clueless Jerk Number Two: Hi, Editor. About the manuscript that I sent, do you know if it received any consideration at all?

Editor: I don’t remember your manuscript, and you haven’t helped by not mentioning the title. We receive 150 manuscripts per year. I only see the last twenty or thirty, after grad students do the screening. You could submit next year. There will be a different pool of graduate students, and you might have better luck.

Clueless Jerk Two: I’ll just come back to the table later when there’s a grad student here and creep her out by giving her dirty looks and asking why she turned down my amazing manuscript.

Editor: Okay, good luck with that. Creep.

(Test question: What ten etiquette rules did the above conference attendee break?)

To wrap up, I tell one last story from my personal experience. I first met one of my editors at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, four years ago. He and I both happened to be waiting for colleagues who were engaged in conversation, so I turned to him and said, “Hi Dan [not his real name], I’m Sarah Arthur. You’re one of the editors at Woodhouse [invented], right?” He was cordial, and then I asked him if he ever got to simply enjoy the workshops, or if he was trapped with one appointment after another. At which point he warmed right up, talked for awhile, then asked me what I do. Soon he motioned for me to sit, and we talked for another 15 minutes—out of which came lunch and a book deal.

Yep, treat editors like human beings. Not that they’ll all give you a book deal. But they’ll remember their humanity was honored, that someone gave them the chance to exhale.


Sarah Arthur is a fun-loving speaker and the author of eleven books, including the bestseller Walking with Frodo (Tyndale) and the literary guides to prayer series with Paraclete Press (At the Still Point, Light Upon Light, and Between Midnight and Dawn). Her most recent title, co-authored with friend and colleague Erin Wasinger, is The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos Press).

“How To Build Your Own Podcast Program” – video training

Mike McHargue (better known as Science Mike) is an author, podcaster, and speaker who travels the world helping people understand the science of life’s most profound and mundane experiences. Mike’s the host of Ask Science Mike, and co-hosts The Liturgists Podcast with his friend Michael Gungor. In this 65 minute video presentation (including Q&A), Mike goes through all the steps necessary to develop your own podcasting platform, sharing what he has learned through developing his own.

Learn more here.

Creating Social Currency

In “Contagious” Dr. Jonah Berger establishes three key strategies to help create social currency that gives people a way to make themselves look good while promoting you and your ideas along the way.

1. Identify your inner remarkability. The key to finding your remarkability is to think about what makes you surprising, interesting, or novel. In my book “Social Media Explained,” I suggest that marketing strategy needs to begin by finishing this sentence: “Only we …” That’s a tough task, but it’s the essential path to discover your remarkability.

2. Help people achieve something with your content.

3. Make it exclusive. According to digital marketing savant Christopher S. Penn of SHIFT Communications. “Scarcity is actually more powerful than ever on the social web,” he said. “While content may be free, what has become extremely scarce is time, attention, and influence. These are hot commodities, rare commodities.”

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

Take Note of Others’ Responses

Pay attention to how other people respond to your creative work. A true gift gives true pleasure to others-or it truly stirs them up. When your friend’s face lights up while he’s talking about some endeavor of yours, you know that somehow that endeavor really connected to another person. When people have a strong reaction to your work, positive or negative, that tells you that you’ve hit on something that’s meaningful.

– 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.


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.


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.


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.
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

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