Velma Still Cooks in Leeway

When I was in the early stages of writing Velma Still Cooks in Leeway, I decided to spend some time in the book of Ezekiel. The issues I wanted to explore in the story were forgiveness and the need for healthy leadership in the faith community. Ezekiel includes wonderful passages about the “shepherds of Israel,” in which God delivers scathing judgments on leaders who are not caring for the people. So I dwelt in Ezekiel for a month or so, just soaking up ideas and images.

One image that struck me was in chapter 3, verse 14: “The spirit lifted me up and bore me away; I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me.”

These words gave me the idea for my book’s title character, a middle-aged café owner named Velma. She was an ordinary person in a little Midwestern town, but I would give her “fever dreams”-times when she fell into fever and was carried away in dreams that said something about what was happening in her life. I would give Velma an experience suitable to an Old Testament prophet. So the very first sentence of the book reads, “When I was a young girl, strange fevers would fall upon me.”

That was the progression: I choose the theme of the book, which let to reading Ezekiel, which led to giving Velma strange fevers.


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



Straight from the Authors – Part  1

In this article Angela Scheff from the Christopher Ferebee Agency interviews several amazing authors—Lisa Whittle, Jonathan Merritt and Leeana Tankersley—who describe their writing process and how it has changed over time.



LW: It always starts in the same way: a thought, something I’m learning, or a recurring theme in my own life, research online through social media and a blog (to see if people are feeling the same way or have the same need or issue), building the structure of the book (title and chapters), taking notes on my phone from daily thoughts, observations and inspiration from the Lord as they come, randomly, plugging it into the book, then going back through, reading for flow, saying it better, and general editing.


I’m a stretched mom of three with a busy speaking schedule and daily life, so when I write depends largely on the season (for example, summer with the kids at home is a hard time for me to keep a strict writing schedule). I’ve learned to write fast when I have a dedicated chunk of time, and thankfully, the Lord has been faithful to show up with the inspiration much of the time.


But I’ve also experienced what every writer has at one time or another—the dreaded writer’s block, which I’ve learned to embrace and wait for a better day with better words instead of pushing something that isn’t going to work, anyway.


This has always been my process, though the initial thought has been sparked in different ways and under different circumstances. I can honestly say I’ve never gone into a book with the thought, “I’m going to write a book.” It’s always a spark in my heart and mind that eventually turns into a book, based on what I sense others also need to hear.


JM: It has definitely changed over time. I’ve really moved from a “concept-driven” approach to a “content-driven” approach. That is, I try to start with the content I have—stories, points, thoughts, experiences—and form a book out of that. I used to start with an interesting concept and then go find content to fill in the gaps. Most writers I meet have concept-driven processes for books, but those books are far more difficult to write.


LT: I’ve learned how to hold my own hand through the writing process, developing tricks that work well for me. Here are a few:


– I always pre-arrange assignments with myself.


I never sit down at my computer without pre-arranging an assignment with myself first. If I don’t have an assignment before I sit down, I will waste so much time and energy getting started that I will exhaust myself before I’ve even begun.


I have material, noticings, stories, snippets, phrases, ideas I have collected and I know which one I’m going to tackle before I even sit down. Whether I am writing a chapter for a book, an article for a magazine, or a blog post, I do not sit down without a starting point. It’s just too painful and agonizing and depressing to sit there trying to come up with something that will not arrive. This is a great way for me to sabotage myself and the process.


So, I identify one story I’m going to write that day. Or I identity one concept I want to explore. I use my writing time that morning to get as far as I can on my assignment. Often that will lead to the next assignment.


– I compose and edit separately.


I compose on my laptop and I edit on a hard copy. I am a major disciple of composing and editing as completely separate steps. In fact, I’ve been told these two parts of the writing process call on different sides of the brain, so it makes sense that it would be highly troublesome to try to do them both at the same time.


I’ve become more disciplined, over time, about composing as freely and openly as possible, knowing I will come back later with the paper and pen. I find it incredibly satisfying to reward myself for composing by getting a fabulous pen for editing. Bribing is also a major part of my process.


– I get the book in front of me visually.


Books need both a big idea and content to support that big idea. I have found that if I don’t work on establishing both of those elements, I lose my way and the process becomes convoluted. So I use sticky notes to write down the big idea holding the book together and then I write one sticky note per idea or story that will support the big idea. I fill the sliding glass doors in my dining room with these sticky notes and then I pull one off and that sticky note becomes my assignment for the day.


This process has helped me see the entire book in front of me, allowed me to arrange and rearrange easily, and has provided bite-sized assignments that feel doable and never leave me staring at a blank screen (which = death, if I haven’t already mentioned that).


The biggest difference about my process now, having recently released my third book, compared to my process with my first book is that I panic less now. I’m not saying I am free from panic, but I trust the process more now. I know that I have an incredible team around me that wants to help my work find an audience, and I know that I can get a book done. I know where I’m going to face murkiness, pitfalls, detours, and frustrations. And I try to get help when I’m hitting up against those places.


Will a Publisher Consider My Self-Published Work?

What do The Shack, Jesus Calling and 50 Shades of Grey all have in common? Their respective commercial trade publishers have sold millions of copies of each, and they all started out as self-published works. So the easy answer to the question, Will a publisher consider my self-published book, is “yes.” But you knew it would be more nuanced than that.


We have written previously about how self-publishing might fit as a strategic part of your overall publishing strategy. But the purpose of this post is whether you can transition a trade book from self-published to commercially published. The key to this answer is, you guessed it, platform.


As self-publishing and the online sale of books have significantly increased, the amount of available physical retail space allotted to books has significantly decreased. There was a time when a publisher or retailer could choose a book they absolutely loved and make it a bestseller. When the only place to buy books was in a physical retailer, those books could be positioned in a way to make them successful. But as shopping habits of readers have changed, moving largely online, and available retail space has shrunk, publishers and booksellers have largely lost their power to do this. It’s not impossible, but it’s significantly harder. So far, there is no digital equivalent to stacking 50 books on the front table of every major bookstore.


The primary reason an author’s platform has become so important today is because of this reality: Readers don’t follow publishing companies and, outside certain technical fields, don’t read every book published in their preferred genre. Discovering good new books is downright impossible in an online environment. Hence, readers follow and pay attention to their favorite authors, or a short list of friends or influencers whose opinion they trust. Your “platform” is the specific audience and channels of influence you have cultivated that will pay attention to your content.


So will a publisher consider your self-published work? Well, what do the sales of your self-published work say about the size and health of your audience? Whatever reason you decided to self-publish, you now have a tangible example of the size of your platform. If you’ve sold 47 copies, you don’t get to blame it on self-publishing and assume a commercial publisher will make you successful. They won’t. And they won’t consider your self-published work.


But if you’ve sold tens of thousands of copies of your self-published work or, if you can show significantly increasing sales month over month or year over year of your self-published work, then a commercial publisher will pay attention.


A commercial publisher can basically do one thing for you as an author. Whatever your personal reach is, they can amplify it. If you have a significant reach, the amplification will be significant as well. If you have a small reach, the amplification will be also. Yes, they bring editorial expertise, and market knowledge, far greater distribution than you can obtain on your own (even through Amazon), marketing and publicity relationships, etc. I’m not downplaying the role of a commercial publisher, but it all amounts to amplification of the audience you already bring to the table.


If you want to know the size of your audience, self-publish a book. You’ll know pretty quickly whether you have work to do or not. Commercial publishers will absolutely consider your self-published work if it’s successful. They’re looking for good bets. But self-publishing doesn’t get you off the platform hook. It will just be a tangible example of how successful you’ve been cultivating an audience for your work.


– by Chris Ferebee

Examples of Outstanding Social Media Success

Today I would like to share two examples of outstanding social media success.


Example 1: an established author


In this case, the author had written many books over a period of decades, but he had no website and no social media presence whatsoever.  Here is what he did over a period of four years:


Starting point:

  • Facebook fans: 0
  • Twitter followers: 0
  • YouTube views: 0


Four years later:

  • Facebook fans: over 1.8 million
  • Twitter followers: over 300 thousand
  • YouTube views: over 140,000
  • Book sales increased over 40%


How did this happen???!!!

  1. Amazing content to reuse
  2. Experimentation and refinement
  3. Consistent social media posts
  4. Strategic selection of content formats
  5. Social media advertising


Example 2: a brand new business


In this case, the business was starting from scratch: no brand awareness (it did not previously exist!), no online presence.


Starting point:

  • Facebook fans: 0
  • Twitter followers: 0
  • Revenue: 0


Four months later:

  • 136 customers at $99 each


The lesson from these examples? Yes, it is quite possible to use social media to grow your following and your business!

The Two Most Important Things

Last year I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at the Culture Care Summit, led by Mako Fujimura, Director of the Brehm Center for the Arts at Fuller Seminary.  I gave two back-to-back presentations on “Social Media for Creatives” – the attendees were great – many good questions and relevant discussion.


By the time I got to my last slide of the second presentation, a summary slide, I realized that it was missing what I really wanted to say:


“Here are the two most important things for you to remember from this presentation:


  1. Find your market niche – that open space in the market where you have expertise and can become known


  1. Consistently and persistently create content to position yourself as a thought leader in that niche”


Of course, neither of these relate directly to social media; they are part of the broader strategic positioning of yourself as an author.  Social media is simply a means to an end. Before you worry about social media, figure out how to become known!

Look for Opportunities for Newsjacking

A term coined by David Meerman Scott, newsjacking describes a process to align your brand message with breaking news events so you ride a wave of traditional media coverage. A few years ago, when the Catholic Church was about to name a new pope, Notre Dame University informed all the major news outlets that it would have expert commentators standing by when the news broke. When white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel, the Notre Dame experts showed up on every major new channel.


Real time marketing can drive conversions and sales, says Scott. When MultiCare Health System identified a trending topic, eclampsia, during an emotional episode of the hit TV series “Downton Abbey,” the healthcare network published a blog post about the condition within hours of the episode’s airdate. MultiCare Health saw over 1,000 page views, with people spending an average of five minutes on the page. They also received 30 click-throughs to their online appointment system.


– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer


I also recommend David Meerman Scott’s best-selling book:

Tapping the Well

Much inspiration will come from your observations of the life that goes on all around you. But openness to life in general isn’t usually what causes you to shiver and doubt. What takes real courage is openness to your own soul. Most of the scary stuff is right there.
Think of your soul as a great well. At the top and mouth of that well is your conscious life-your thoughts, opinions, known emotions and accessible memories. Down a little deeper is your unconscious life-your dreams, intuitions, the memories you’re not always conscious of. Deeper still-so deep that is flows from the groundwaters that connect you to other people-is what I call the Beyond Conscious. Some psychologists would call it the collective unconscious. Many Christians would call it the communion of saints. Whatever you call it, this deepest part of you is what connects you to the larger world of souls, the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the New Testament letter.
Your well goes down deeper than you know, and it has been gathering information for a very long time. When you are doing work that is truly creative, you are tapping the well. You will tap a lot of things that are already in your life but that you just weren’t aware of-such as your fears and desires, or the physical sensations of walking through a day. Sometimes you tap memories you didn’t know you had or information you didn’t realize you’d learned. From time to time you tap information you really haven’t learned, at least not in a conscious way.
– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Find a Character

Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can. The character, in his great love, or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story.

  • Ray Bradbury, Zen In The Art Of Writing

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