Marketing and Writing - Tips and Events

Writing For Your Life Today

Create a Transcendent Story

Spirituality can offer depth and direction to creative work. A well-written short story can be a real kick to read, but a well-written short story that dips into matters of the soul can be life changing. When you make a song or film whose foundation is some incredible theme such as liberation or dignity or the sacrifices made by love, that song or film offers something to the world that goes far beyond the words and images. When the characters in your novel or play are working through emotional issues, you can create a moving story; when they are working through spiritual issues, you can create a transcendent story.


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

Can You Overwhelm Them with Content?

In his best-selling book “The Content Code” marketing guru Mark Schaefer points out:

Without the Content Code, the only sustainable content strategy has been to find an unsaturated niche and overwhelm the web with so much quality content that search engines discover only you. Effectively, you’re creating Content Shock by crowding out your competitors. The strategy is this simple:

  1. Find an unsaturated niche.
  2. Consistently produce a volume of quality, helpful material aimed at a relevant audience (or persona).
  3. Never stop producing content.

However, Mark continues by describing that in our age of information overload, finding an unsaturated niche has become harder, and will continue to get tougher.


How Important Is Your Platform?

– by Jana Burson

We are often asked: how important is my platform as an author?

The quick answer is that your platform is just as important as the quality of your content and concept, especially in the crowded world of book publishing today.

Most publishing houses take a three-pronged approach when reviewing proposals:

  1. strong and fresh concept
  2. stellar content and writing
  3. platform

If one of these three are weak or missing, it’s not likely that the proposal is going to make it through the process.

There was a time, even a decade ago, when an author’s platform didn’t carry as much weight as the quality of their concept and writing. This was before the power of social media, the change in the way people get news, and the rise of online shopping. Now publishing houses need to know there’s a proven way to reach the core buyer for an author’s message.


Platform refers to your level of visibility or influence, expertise or authority on the subject matter, proof of engagement and your target audience. Editors and agents alike are looking for answers to these questions when reviewing the platform section of your proposal.

So often I hear writers say they are overwhelmed when it comes to their platform because they aren’t marketers by nature. The truth is, you don’t have to have a degree in marketing to put in the time and consistent effort to build and enhance your platform. You simply have to be true to your message and consistent in providing quality content for your followers/readers.


Platform building is not the same for everyone and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that involves long-term strategic work and planning … much like writing!

The question is: are you willing to engage the process?


Sarah Arthur’s Top 10 Tips for Revising/Editing

A while ago a friend asked for tips on revising/editing. Here’s what I said, based on things I’ve done as a writer and editor over the past sixteen years:

(1) Pretend you’re an editor in Manhattan with no time to waste. Be ruthless, as if you just arrived at your desk after hideous traffic snarls and have exactly one hour to sip Starbucks before the next meeting in which you will crush some writer’s hopes. Dress the part if you have to.

(2) Read the article out loud to yourself in a British accent: you will immediately notice the bad grammar, not to mention all the places where it sounds dumber than necessary.

(3) Don’t let yourself listen to your favorite music except while revising.

(4) Reward yourself with chocolate after each finished paragraph or section.

(5) Print the darn thing (double-spaced) and mark it up with a colored pen–yes, even red pen, if it makes you sit up straight and start behaving like you can handle criticism (because nothing you do to yourself will be as unkind as what readers will do to you). For a book-length manuscript, save it as a pdf (double-spaced, two-sided) and email it to the printing center at your local office supply store for pickup later. This is a grownup business expense, people.

(6) For a book-length manuscript: format and save it as an e-pub file in Dropbox or Google Drive (or email it to yourself), then download and open it on your e-reader as if it’s a novel that someone actually published. Then sit in your comfiest chair, like you’ve just bought something by Bret Lott, and start reading. Would you like it? Would you keep reading? In this exquisitely short life, for which there are far fewer days than books to read, would you bother swiping to the next page?

(7) Cry.

(8) Throw things.

(9) Walk away. Count to ten–even ten days. It’s like parenting small children, actually. You could hurt this thing and yourself if you press on. Come back later, after your heart-rate goes back down and your breathing returns to normal.

(10) Recognize that you will never be done editing. At some point you have to say “Good enough,” wipe your hands, and treat yourself to a 1500-calorie dessert somewhere. Adult beverage not optional.

When Your Calling and the Market Collide – by John Backman

I am writing a book on self-denial.

Go ahead, laugh it up. I do. In Brian’s recent interview, Susan Salley of Abingdon Press asked us to consider why someone would pick up our book. Can you imagine someone picking up a book with self-denial in the title? Me neither.

And yet, in the depths of my deepest self, there’s a decided push to see the project through. The push has all the earmarks of—to use an unfashionable word—a calling.

This dilemma, I suspect, comes with the territory of spiritual writing. There’s what the market wants: what will sell, what readers will read, what will grow our platforms and our careers. And then there’s what God (the Universe, the One, Ultimate Reality, etc.) is asking us to do. Unless we meet the market, our writing goes nowhere; unless we follow the divine nudge, we go nowhere.

Can you do both? What happens when you can’t?

The obvious solution is to find the place where your calling and your market meet. That’s good advice on many fronts, and there are usually several ways to connect the two. Maybe, for instance, you recast your language for broader appeal without sacrificing the integrity of your message. Maybe you hone your definition of market.

With the self-denial book, I’ve had to do both. Since the title couldn’t include self-denial, I’m using the term giving your life away, which is actually more precise and maybe a shade more palatable. As to market, most readers will turn off at any whiff of self-denial, but you know who may not? Catholics. Self-denial, especially in service to others, is part of the Catholic tradition.

But this isn’t just about one book. The tension between calling and market can extend to every corner of our spiritual writing. Consider:

  • What if your calling lands you in a tiny market segment, writing books that a few people find life-changing but many others ignore?
  • What if your spiritual practice calls you to model a slower, more reflective way of life even as the blogosphere demands you post weekly? (It’s why contemplatives make lousy bloggers—well, this contemplative anyway.)
  • If your writing touches on current events, how do you fill your blog with deep spiritual insight into the news of the day when that insight can take weeks to develop?
  • What happens when your heart prompts you to write about wildly divergent topics, yet a clearer focus to your writing would strengthen your brand?
  • What if you must speak some hard truths into the world even though half your readership won’t appreciate it?

Here too there are workarounds. In terms of social media frequency, for instance, Brian has mentioned building an inventory of tweets and blog posts to maintain a regular publishing schedule. But sometimes the workarounds don’t quite work, and we are left with the tension.

The bright spot, perhaps, is that we spiritual folks are good at living in tension. We know that sometimes tension spawns insights we never would have expected. Those insights can eventually make our writing—and our lives—richer.

So maybe we use the workarounds, but don’t default to them too fast. Maybe we live with the tension until the tension yields something. What about you? Have you experienced the tension? How do you live with it, or into it?



About the Author

A spiritual director, contributor to Huffington Post Religion, and associate of an Episcopal monastery, John Backman writes and speaks about contemplative spirituality and its surprising relevance for today’s deepest issues. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths) and his articles have appeared in numerous faith-based publications. He has presented at a range of conferences, including the Parliament of the World’s Religions.


Writing in Life’s Storms – by Patricia Raybon

My husband is probably sick, but I’m writing a book proposal. Not despite him being probably sick. But because he is probably sick. It doesn’t make total sense. But I keep on writing. I’m supposed to be at a writing conference in Michigan—supposed to be teaching there now.

Instead, we’re going to doctors. We’ve scheduled an MRI. It got unscheduled. We scheduled it a second time. It got unscheduled again. We scheduled it a third time–because my husband is probably sick. So while we wait for tests to tell us, either way, I sit down and write. Just like I’m writing now.

And that’s the point. Writers write not because the moment is perfect. We write because it isn’t. Learning that changes everything.

I wasn’t thinking of such when I sat down to write this week. I’d spent months thinking about a book proposal idea. I never could find time to work on it. Or so I told myself.

Then a writing friend mentioned she’d come back from four days at her family cabin, “just writing. No phone. No TV. Just me and the dog and the computer.”

Hearing that, I actually got despondent, feeling writer envy of someone who has time to write and a getaway to write it in. Then something switched.

Reading a book by one of the ancients—in this case, Brother Lawrence of France—I decided, on a whim, to see when his book was written. During a writing retreat? At a writing conference? At a family cabin without cell phone service or interruptions? No.

His book was written while France burned. Or at least while France seethed. Assassination. Treachery. War. During the 1600s, when the absolutist, power-hungry and young King Louis XIII seized control, grieving the French soul and soil, Brother Lawrence wrote. He wrote anyway.

So did the Apostle Paul. He wrote despite persecution, chains, evil emperors—all targeting Christians as “superstitious” heretics. Yet he wrote. Dictating. Composing. Inspiring. And his epistles today are still treasured by believers.

Thus, writers write. We write anyway. Therefore, Shakespeare wrote—anyway. Mozart composed—anyway. Emily Dickinson scribed—anyway. Phillis Wheatley , the first African American poet to be published, rhymed—anyway. Despite being stolen into slavery from West Africa at age 7, and taken to Boston in 1761—an era when black slaves were forbidden by violence to learn to read or write—she was taught the craft. Anyway. So she wrote.

The purpose of art, and the making of it, said Pablo Picasso, “is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

At the same time, said Doris Lessing, “I think a writer’s job is to provoke questions. I like to think that if someone’s read a book of mine, they’ve had—I don’t know what—the literary equivalent of a shower. Something that would start them thinking in a slightly different way, perhaps. That’s what I think writers are for.”

We’re probably weakest, in fact, when we’re writing about perfect moments—always so rare for most of humanity. But let the thunder roll, the clouds gather, the rains drown out hopes and hearts, and then, our writing matters.

Today, as political fear mongers dump on news journalists—even beating them up in public—political writing hasn’t stopped. Some argue it’s stronger and better.

George Orwell, author of the classic novel 1984, explained: “When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

The lightning is flashing, in other words, and people are explaining the reasons why. In those times, then we writers write. Then we teachers teach. Then we artists paint. Then we dancers dance. Then we composers make music. Then we sculptors sculpt. Indeed, then we doctors heal.

Words are medicine, for sure. And my husband? Doctors are still at it. Still eliminating possible problems. Still searching for solutions. Still poking and prodding, looking for their medical answers. But he’s not waiting on them. He bought himself a cane and he’s out walking. Anyway.

I walk with him. Then I come back and write. One book proposal? Actually, I wrote two. My agent likes both of them. I’m believing one or both will get published.

Meantime, I go to my desk to write. Just as you. Then let storm clouds roil and downpours fall. Our writing is seed. May God bless it to grow. Anyway. And always. Even now.

Patricia Raybon is an award-winning author of books and essays on bridge-building grace and faith.

©2017 by Patricia Raybon


Winning in the Face of Information Overload

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer


Let’s take a look at how a content ignition strategy can work in even the most desperate marketing situations. I was asked to provide a marketing strategy for a client in an extraordinarily difficult situation. The well-known global brand was entering a new market with high content saturation dominated by three established competitors. In terms of content marketing, one leading competitor had dominated every platform, every subject, and every content style to the point where trying to compete seemed hopeless.

The client called me in to do content marketing triage, and after a few months of intense research and deliberation, I presented three tactics to provide this company some room to maneuver.

  1. Focus on sub-categories.

The competitor had overlooked new demographic subsets who were coming into the market and eager to use their products. When I did research on these segments, I found a wide open opportunity. The competitor had no content targeted to these personas. We set about dominating the under-served channels with amazing new content served up especially for them.

  1. Explore different types of content.

YouTube first floated the idea that different types of content, when combined together in an ideal mix, are extremely successful in building an engaged audience for the long-term. The three types of content are:

  • Hygiene content: This is the content that serves the daily health of your audience. This content makes them aware of your brand and helps them connect to you when they need you most. This is the specific, short-form content that is most likely to turn up in organic search results. An example of hygiene content is a series of how-to videos from a do-it-yourself store like Home Depot.
  • Hub content: While hygiene content might get somebody to your site, hub content is intended to keep them there. This could be a series of articles about a more in-depth topic, or perhaps a serialized story, that makes people want to go down the rabbit hole and stay on your site. This could also be “evergreen” content that people seem to love and read month after month. An example of hub content is the addictive and thrilling adventure videos produced by Adidas Outdoor featuring daredevil athletes using their gear. Hub content lifts subscriptions to your content, spurs engagement, builds brand interest, and may even lead to brand loyalty.
  • Hero content: Hero content is something brilliant, dramatic, and bold that transcends the normal day-today Internet offerings. This is the content that creates viral buzz. A famous example is the epic videos Nike created to celebrate the World Cup. The most recent one, “Winner Stays,” playfully captures the schoolyard fantasy of young soccer players who morph into their favorite global stars. This type of content is difficult to produce. Nike was intentional in spending millions to create this hero content with the goal of creating massive brand awareness and dominating the conversation around the world’s biggest sporting event. The video received 100 million views.

It’s important to understand that each type of content plays a role in the overall brand-building plan. One way to carve a place for yourself is to create content in a category your competitors might be missing. In the specific case of my client battling three big competitors, we learned that there was an opening in the hygiene content category that would allow us to capture a niche that leads to search engine traffic.

  1. Focus on social transmission.

Here’s the mistake most companies make: They check the box on content and then forget about ignition. Content isn’t effective if it doesn’t move. People have to see it, engage with it, share it—or you’re wasting your money. By putting the emphasis on exposing your content instead of simply producing more, more, more, you create a powerful new marketing competency in the information era.


– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

How Do I Find An Agent?

– by Christopher Ferebee

Whenever I am speaking at any form of writer’s event, be it a Learning Community during the Q Conference, at Writer’s Boot Camp or the Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton Seminary, one question is asked more than any other.

How do I find an agent?

We’ll be answering questions throughout this series on how you approach an agent, but assuming you’re all ready to go, here are some ideas on how you might go about actually finding one.

Agents are a lot like publishers, in that each has their own unique approach to the business. They have certain genres they represent authors in and others they don’t. There are certain types of voices and projects they’re drawn to and others they’re not. The number one thing you can do to advance your cause of successfully finding an agent to represent you is to do your research.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this. First, go to the bookstore or library and find books similar to the genre your writing in. Often times the author’s agent is thanked in the acknowledgments or listed on the copyright page. Find authors similar to you and check who their agent is. Websites like Writer’s Digest are all over the internet with agent information you can find through a simple search. There are books such as the Guide to Literary Agents, which has tons of information about the agencies working in the business and the types of projects they’re acquiring.

If you’re willing to spend a little money, you can subscribe to a site like Publisher’s Marketplace. This site not only has contact information for agents and publishers, but also has comprehensive deal reporting where you can track the projects specific agents have actually sold and get a feel for the types of projects that agent is working with and the publishers they do business with.

But once you’ve compiled a list of potential agents, do a little more digging. Most agents list their clients on their website or have specific submissions guidelines. Even with an agency like ours where we’ve intentionally left a list of our clients off the site, we post agency news and blogs about what our clients are up to. You can find out a lot about who we represent and the books we work on by doing a little digging. When you ultimately query an agent, anything you can do to personalize your query by telling the agent why you think you’d be a fit based on their previous work will go a LONG way.

My last piece of advice? You have to persevere. I often tell my clients and prospective clients that this is a business of rejection. Even when I am representing a well established author to publishers, I hear “no” more often than yes. You don’t need every agent banging down your door asking to represent you. You just need one. And doing your research will get you a lot closer to finding the right one.

A Grammatical PSA

by Tony Jones

Are you in seminary? Starting grad school this fall? If so, here are some hints to make your professors more happier as they grade your papers:

  • Avoid the subjunctive mood.
  • Avoid the passive voice.
  • Don’t use “scare quotes.”
  • Punctuation goes inside of quote marks. See above.
  • Book titles are italicized, not underlined or in quote marks.
  • Always use a serif font.
  • Always use the Oxford Comma.
  • Only a single space between sentences. Unless you’re using a typewriter. Which you aren’t.
  • Don’t capitalize words that are not proper nouns.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.


Breakeven Analysis for Self vs. Traditional Publishing

I thought it might be helpful to go through a little math, in order to compare the revenue coming to an author through self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. (Note: these examples are fictitious and not based on any real author situation.)

Let’s say that you have a 250 page trade paperback book, with a list price of $15.99. It will be 5.5″ by 8.5″ with no illustrations; just text.

Traditional publisher contracts will often times give an author royalties of either 7.5% of a book’s retail price, or 22% of the book’s net revenue to the publisher (this allows discounts to better be taken into account). In either case, this results in roughly $1.20 per book sold that goes to the author.

In a self publishing scenario, looking only at paperbacks sold in the US, using Amazon Createspace, the amount coming to the author would be $5.74 per book for books sold through (You can go to and without even logging in, experiment with different book sizes and retail prices, and see what your royalties would be through a variety of distribution channels.)

The result is that you need to sell about 4.8 times as many books through traditional publishing as through self-publishing in order to make the same amount of money.

Now there are many caveats to mention here; it is not at all an apples-to-apples comparison:

  • With traditional publishing you are likely to receive an up-front advance on royalties when you sign the contract. You could think of this as getting paid to write the book. Your book sales may or may not end up justifying the amount of the advance, but that financial risk is with the publisher.
  • With self-publishing you will probably need to spend some money up-front on editing and book design assistance. (here are some examples of such services our partners offer)
  • If your book is self-published, it is far less likely to be available in brick-and-mortar bookstores. But they will probably be able to order it if a customer asks.
  • If your book goes through a publisher, they have a sales team that pushes your book to traditional bookstores, thus increasing its awareness and sales.

In today’s world, most of the marketing effort required to sell books is the responsibility of the author. That is true whether the book is self or traditionally published.

As I have often said, self-publishing is not for everyone.  However if you are not able to line up a traditional publisher, it is not a bad option!

Get in touch!