It’s Not About You

If you’ve paid any attention to my posts, you know that I am bullish regarding the need for new authors to participate in social media and build a platform (a following of people who resonate with what you have to say, and who are thus likely to purchase your books, regardless of whether you work through a traditional publisher or self-publish).

But often I hear from early-stage writers that they are reluctant to do this because they don’t like self-promotion; they don’t want to “toot their own horn.”

My answer to this sentiment is two-fold:

1. Whether we are talking about social media or writing a book, the important thing is that it is not about you. It needs to be about your ideas that will help people. Why does someone buy a book? Because they want to learn, because they want to solve a problem, because they’re interested in the topic. Sorry, but you’re not a celebrity, and they really don’t care about you. They care about what is unique and valuable that you have to say.

If you have not already, this is a mindset I suggest you adopt, and it is incredibly freeing and focusing. What you are all about is helping people! What is better than that? It is freeing because it removes the guilt, and it is focusing because it forces you to concentrate on what really matters…

2. If you believe that God is working through you, then let it happen! Let God do the talking! Remember all of this Holy Spirit stuff that we say we believe. Then believe!

Attraction -> Affinity -> Action

Every business today, no matter its size or legacy, faces four massive challenges. They are:

– Clutter
– Competition
– Commoditization
– Consumer consciousness

Faced with unlimited choices, savvy consumers are becoming more discerning, and more companies are lining up to respond to their wants and needs.

For a long time, product development and marketing were about making stuff and creating awareness and the converting that awareness to attention in the hope that it would lead a prospective customer to take action and part with money.

Awareness and attention were the holy grails of every marketing strategy, so the way you became successful was to pay for more of both. But there’s a subtle change taking place. Brands that are starting small, that are customer-centric and not just focused on a single bottom line, are making inroads into territories once dominated by big, established players in the marketplace. People are choosing to spend their money with companies that take the time to get to know them and whose actions resonate with their values – companies that thrive by doing the right thing and making things customers love, instead of trying to get customers to love their things. Their advantage isn’t necessarily being faster or cheaper, bigger or better; it is that they take time to understand their customer before making what she wants.

Marketing has gone from this…

…to this…


It turns out that affinity that is earned, not attention that is bought and paid for, is what’s powering business growth now.

– from “Meaningful” by Bernadette Jiwa

On baseball, elections, & why fiction – Part One

Originally posted on November 3, 2016 by Sarah Arthur

The day after one of the biggest wins in sports history, with less than a week to go before a contentious presidential election (no hyperlink needed), seems an odd time to be writing fiction. I’m sleep-deprived, for one. And I have a lot of things to say besides inventing dialogue between pretend characters.

I believe this election matters. I have my own considered reasons why and what it could mean for my sons as they grow up. I have written roughly a dozen articles in my head on everything from–nope, I won’t go there (if you know me, even a little bit, you can probably guess). But despite the fact I’m getting ready to launch what could be perceived as my first-ever “political” book in January, I’m not weighing in on whatever happens next Tuesday. I’m writing fiction.

Copping out? Maybe. Maybe I’m just an ostrich shoving my head in the sand, as if inventing worlds can help me escape this one. Maybe I’m just exercising a particular brand of elitist privilege that allows me to blithely pursue a superfluous “hobby” while people out there are dying. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. During the three years that my husband and I lived with the homeless in the inner city, I often felt like my job of writing about literature was basically the least helpful thing I could offer anyone. Can a hungry kid eat a book? Is this vocation putting a roof over anyone’s head? (I earn too little for that.) Should I be protesting something? Writing letters to Congress? I gave serious thought to abandoning the writing life altogether.

Yet I would return, again and again, to stories. Books by people like Dorothy Sayers and C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. Authors who wrote during wartime–even some, like Tolkien, from the front lines. Many of them had plenty of things to say about current events, as evidenced by their collections of letters. The poet T. S. Eliot, for instance, was an outspoken conservative who published political essays in the literary journal he founded, while Dorothy Sayers went to bat for women on issues of gender equality. I, for one, love her treatise Are Women Human? but rarely run into anyone else who’s heard of it. And I had no idea Eliot wrote political essays till a lecturer at a conference mentioned it–which perhaps betrays my limited knowledge of Eliot, or perhaps betrays something deeper, something about the nature of his real legacy.

My point? These authors gave the world something. But it wasn’t their opinions on the critical political decisions of their time. It wasn’t their pithy 140-character soundbites that shamed their enemies and changed no one’s minds. Their generation, too, had journalists and politicians and activists who triumphed and failed, some of whom we remember, many of whom we don’t. But what lasted were these authors’ stories.


Back to those three years with the homeless. Toward the middle of our stay, before my husband’s job took us to the suburbs of Lansing, MI, one of our guests had to have leg surgery. She was a recovering narcotics abuser from the streets, as different from me in race and class and life experiences as any friendship I could imagine; and her long recovery stretched the limits of our household’s energy and compassion. She, a bored and demanding sufferer; the rest of us running at top speed just to make sure everyone got fed and deadlines were met and paychecks deposited…God help us.

At one point she had run out of movies to watch, so I brought her my limited collection: the boxed trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, extended editions. My caveats were plentiful: “It’s fantasy by a dead white guy. Lots of white guys running around. Almost no females, and they’re all white except the giant spider. I’m not offended if you hate it.” But she said, “Sure,” so I loaded movie number one into the DVD player and left.

Hours–maybe even days–later, as I stepped away from my laptop to grab some snacks from the kitchen, wafting down the hall came the soundtrack of The Return of the King. It swelled recognizably to the last, most certainly doomed battle before the gates of Mordor; I could practically taste my own remembered tears running down my cheeks. “For Frodo,” came the voice of Viggo Mortensen–then mayhem, Howard Shore’s unforgettable strings, the apparent triumph of evil at the end of all things. But somewhere in the midst of it rose that lone soprano–you know the one I mean–and all of sudden I heard my housemate yelling.

“The eagles!” she whooped, “the eagles are comin’!”

The house rocked with her roars of jubilation. “Thank you, Jesus, the eagles are comin’!”


I once heard Newbery winner Katherine Paterson say to a packed auditorium at the Festival of Faith & Writing, “I want to be a spy for hope.” And now I get it. After that moment in the hallway, my housemate’s joy ringing down the walls, I get it. This week, while following all the manic online activity and joyous enthusiasm around the kickoff to National Novel Writing Month, I get it. After turning to my Facebook community for encouragement–and receiving a flood of moving, hopeful responses–I get it.

Right now, what the world needs is for me to be writing fiction. What my sons need is for me to write stories they will read for themselves someday, long after the next president is gone. Stories for my homeless friends, stories that outlast today’s headlines, stories for my great-grandchildren or whenever the Cubs next win the World Series.

This is why fiction.

This is what I have to say.

10 Tips for Working with an Editor

– by Tony Jones

A while back I was in Chicago, meeting with my editor about my next book. I’ve known him professionally and as a friend for over a decade, but we’ve never worked together before, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. Over the course of a day, sitting at his kitchen table, we talked about everything from what I see as my role in the wider world to what should be my “voice” in this book to how the table of contents should flow.

As a result of our meeting, the table of contents is, in fact, completely different. I had written about 23,000 words of the manuscript prior to our meeting, so we also went over some passages, talking about my voice, my writing style, etc. All in all, it was a great meeting, and I’m fortunate to be working with him.

With a dozen books in print, I’ve worked with almost that many editors. I’ve also worked as an editor, both in my role at sparkhouse, and in a couple book projects. So, from my vantage point, here are my Top Ten Tips for Working with an Editor:

1) Fight for time with your editor. Some authors like working closely with their editors. Others prefer a more hands-off approach. I’m in the former camp. I really like the feeling that a book is a team project. But I’ve found that really happens primarily when I instigate it. Most editors seems to hang back and wait for the author to initiate meetings.

2) Remember that your editor works for you, and for the publisher. The editor is a conduit of sorts. She will work at making your book better, but she’s also got the best interests of the publisher at heart. These two allegiances aren’t contradictory, but they don’t always line up as much as you might want.

3) Remember that your editor isn’t only working on your book. Most editors are responsible for bringing between one and two dozen books to print per year. Be understanding when someone else’s book is ahead of yours in the queue.

4) Remember that your editor has other duties, too. If your book is one of twelve that your editor is working on, that doesn’t mean that your editor will spend a month, holed up in a cabin, editing your manuscript. He is also attending conferences and trade shows, going to meetings, and reading manuscripts that are coming in.

5) Take advantage of your editor’s view of the market. More than you, your editor is paying close attention to what’s selling. MY editor and I have had several conversations about what has made recent books by Rob Bell and Nadia Bolz-Weber successful. He tracks their sales on Bookscan, and he is reading trade publications that I’m not.

6) Decide what you’re going to fight for. Going into our meeting, there were certain things I really wanted. The title, for instance, was important to me. The table of contents was not. Something in between is my voice in this book, which my editor would like to be less professorial. Okay, he wants it to be not at all professorial. That’s going to be a struggle for me, not because I want to sound professorial, but because that’s how I’ve been trained to write.

7) Don’t be afraid to ask for another editor. If you’re writing a book for a publishing house or a magazine, and you just don’t click with the editor who acquired your book or article, as for a second opinion. One editor does not necessarily have the perfect perspective on your writing, and another set of eyes can be very helpful.

8) Thank your editor in the acknowledgments. This is an obvious one, but put it on your to-do list.

9) Use the lag time. After your book is complete, there will be several months before it comes out. And no one is more in touch with your strengths and weaknesses as a writer at that moment-in-time than your editor. She’s been neck deep in your writing for weeks or months. So ask her what she thinks you should write next. Bounce around some ideas. And, if possible, get a contract for your next book before the current book drops.

10) Involve the editor in marketing. The person who’s assigned to market your book has most likely not read it. Maybe he’s skimmed it. Your editor, on the other hand, is intimately acquainted with your book, and he probably works three desks down from the marketer. So encourage your editor to advocate for your book with the marketing team.

Do I Need a Synopsis?

– by Angela Scheff

You’ve been working on your killer idea. You’ve put time into developing your chapters, your narrative arc, your proposal. By chance you run into a publisher who asks, “So what’s your book about?” You have 30 seconds to tell her. You’ve been waiting for this moment! You can do this! But your mind goes blank …

While the chances of randomly running into a publisher are slim (unless you’re headed to a writers conference), your proposal is your response as your agent submits it to interested publishers. But publishers are busy and they look at so many proposals a day and they run out of time and they’ve heard it all and even though you’ve worked so hard on an entire proposal, chances are, you have 30 seconds to pique their interest. So what do you do?

You write a killer synopsis!

To match your killer idea. The synopsis, aka the elevator pitch, is your first line in your well-crafted proposal, and your chance to introduce your book to publishers, to hook them, to inspire them to continue reading. The synopsis can be one or two sentences long or could even be the title and subtitle. Either way, it must be




If your response is, But my idea is bigger than a single sentence! It’s more complicated then that, then your proposal is not ready to be shopped yet. Fly higher and see the bigger picture.

Need some inspiration? Take a look on amazon and look at your favorite books’ descriptions—usually the first sentence draws you in. Look at how movies are marketed and described. Peruse Netflix. (And then you can rewrite them in your head as some of them are a bit ridiculous and don’t draw you in at all.)

The bottom line: while you have a great chance to describe your book idea in your overview section (which is usually a page long), your synopsis is your 30-second chance to gain publishers’ interest and inspire them to read more.

22 Quick Ideas to Achieve Content Ignition

Paraphrased from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

1. Add social sharing buttons to your website.
2. Give away your content; make it easy to access
3. Be entertaining, funny, and inspiring
4. When writing long-form content, make it easy to scan
5. Aim for conversation, not controversy
6. In today’s world, you must craft a descriptive, emotive, accurate, catchy, and “tweet-able” headline
7. According to a BuzzSumo analysis, adding a photo or illustration doubles the probability that your content will get shared
8. Use lists in your posts (and refer to the list in your headline – list this one!)
9. Use LinkedWithin to suggest similar content to your blog readers. At the bottom of each post it displays other relevant articles from your blog.
10. Reuse your “evergreen” content
11. Determine your best posting time (time of day, day of week)
12. Re-purpose content into various content forms (video, audio, text, meme, etc.)
13. Ask others for reviews and feedback
14. Provide content that is practical (usable by your target audience)
15. Learn to use hashtags effectively
16. Make everything look professional; no typos!
17. Concentrate on brand new research and ideas
18. Encourage comments and interaction
19. Tap into FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) with a teaser headline
20. Help your readers use your content to help others (and thus feel good about it)
21. Include “click to Tweet” boxes in your blog articles
22. Be yourself – include your personality!

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

Small Events

by Frederick Buechner

Life went on of course because that is what life does. I kept on writing books, which a relatively small but faithful audience kept on reading. It was at this time that I wrote two short autobiographical volumes called The Sacred Journey in 1982 and Now and Then in 1983, and they helped let a little light and air into the dark place where I was imprisoned. They gave me more of a sense than I had ever had before of how as far back as I could remember things had been stirring in my life that I was all but totally unaware of at the time.

If anybody had predicted when I was an undergraduate at Princeton that I was going to be ordained as a minister ten years after graduation, I think I would have been flabbergasted. Yet as I wrote those two autobiographical volumes I found myself remembering small events as far back as early childhood which were even then leading me in something like that direction but so subtly and almost imperceptibly that it wasn’t until decades had passed that I saw them for what they were—or thought I did because you can never be sure whether you are discovering that kind of truth or inventing it. The events were often so small that I was surprised to remember them, yet they turned out to have been road markers on a journey I didn’t even know I was taking. The people involved in them were often people I had never thought of as having played particularly significant roles in my life yet looking back at them I saw that, for me, they had been life-givers, saints.

Writing is a Spiritual Discipline – by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

I’ve come to understand that for me writing is a spiritual discipline, a therapy of sorts. It is one of the ways that I communicate with God. Over the past few years I’ve committed to writing my way to freedom, casting a new vision, planning and strategizing a way of living and being as a disciple of Christ in a fallen world—a disciple who is fully black, fully women, fully known, fully loved, and fully empowered by the Holy Spirit. Every day, I choose to live free!
I don’t just write for myself. I use my pen, or mostly the keys of my laptop, as a weapon of war—to resist, to affirm our common humanity, and to defend it. I write for communities who are downtrodden and in desperate need of the liberation that only God can provide. I write for people whose conscience tells them that something is not right but in humility can confess that they don’t know what to do about all the brokenness. I write for people who long to embrace the love of Jesus but are perplexed by the hypocrisy of his church. I write for the people who are committed to figuring it out together.
What if we all learned a new way, and what if we were not afraid? What if we truly lived redeemed?
*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL
Learn more from Natasha at our spiritual writers’ conference in May:

Have a Checklist

It can be helpful to have a checklist, particularly once you’re in the middle, most engaged stage of work. The middle is often a muddle, and if you have some simple list of things to do or check, that can help you keep moving. For instance, if you’re stuck in the middle stage of a short story, go back to one of your basic guides for short story writing. Go through the aspects of the craft-viewpoint, character, description and so forth. Use the guide to help you step back from the work and run a basic check on it. For me, working on a novel’s timeline can help me get unstuck. I spend an afternoon with a large sketchpad, outlining what happens when. That nearly always opens up the process for me in a fresh way.


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



They Push Me

I turn to these writers and their pages again and again. They are my teachers and my mentors. Though not all of them are poets in the rhyme-and-meter sense of the word, they are certainly poets in the Wordsworth or Coleridge sense of the word. And heaven knows they are better writers than I will ever be.

Grateful is the only word I know for the glimpses they have given me of what it means to attempt the work and live the life of a writer.

I keep these books close at hand because they help me remember the things I tend to forget. The books are inspiring to be sure, but they also teach me very practical things. They remind me to pay attention to the stories of my life so that in the telling of them I might help others recall the stories of their lives, which is where the real truth of their lives is revealed.

They push me to make sentences that people can hear as well as read, to work as hard as I can until the whole of what I am writing becomes as clear as I can make it. To not give up the work even when the work seems clearly impossible to write.

They help me remember, in whatever story I am writing, to look for the light in the midst of the darkness. To pay attention to the larger world around me, not just the world I call my own.

They push me to tell the truth, the hard truth about my life, as someone may be dying to hear it. To tell the old stories when the time comes but make them come alive. To not be so busy being an artiste that I forget to be a person and a friend.


from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson


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