Feb

18

2014

Adopt a Bookstore

by Dan Balow

bookstore2

Bookstores throughout the United States are going through the most challenging period in their history.  The combination of online purchase of printed books and the dawn of the eBook have combined to deliver a one-two punch to the business of book retailing.

For Christian bookstores, the challenges started over a decade ago when a substantial part of their business (in some cases over a third) began to disappear when music became a downloaded media (iTunes started in 2001) and retail sales of CD’s began to decrease significantly.  A second hit came when movies and video started to be rented and sold in numerous locations, then eventually becoming a downloaded or streamed media.  To a lesser extent, audiobooks becoming primarily a downloaded media was another hit.

Remember Borders?  They positioned themselves as a “media” retailer and the loss of music and movies put them into a spiral that resulted in their demise.  Of course, the fact that they were a publicly held corporation didn’t help.  Investors bail out fast when revenues drop and profit is marginal or nonexistent.  They were not able to make the changes necessary to survive.

Add all these pieces and history together and you have the story of the challenges to be addressed by Christian retailers in 2014. The Christian Bookseller’s Association is addressing the issues from the bookseller standpoint, but I have a proposal what authors can do.

Adopt a bookstore.

No, not a legal transaction, but authors have an ability to draw an audience small and large.  Hold regular meetings of readers in the store.  Read to them.  Talk to them.  Test out your new book on them before it is published.  Encourage the bookstore. Shop there, buy something.  Get to know the staff.  Post a list of your favorite books. 

Christian bookstores have had a number of negative things happen that are out of their control.  No matter what they do, they were bound to lose the music and video market to download.  But they are still the place where a large number of people go to discover something new, buy a gift and connect.  As an author, if you make a local bookstore part of your “social media platform”, you will be glad you did. After all, doesn’t the concept of “social” mean actually meeting with real people face-to-face?

And one more thing, when you are shopping anywhere for anything, you don’t need to tell the staff, “Thanks for your time, but I am going to buy this online”.  Trust me, it’s like telling a friend that you need to go because you have a better friend you’d rather be with.  Golden rule time…that’s all.

Any ideas how to “adopt a bookstore”?  Have you done it already?  

 

Feb

17

2014

How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

measuresuccess

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

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Feb

14

2014

A Valentine’s Day Message

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George Eliot wrote in the novel Adam Bede:

What greater thing is there for two human souls,
than to feel that they are joined for life –
to strengthen each other in all labor,
to rest on each other in all sorrow,
to minister to each other in all pain,
to be one with each other
in silent unspeakable memories . . .

In those beautiful words is a question. “What greater thing is there?”

I think I might have an answer. It is when those two souls are joined together in the bond of Jesus Christ. It is there, and only there, where the power, joy, grace, peace, and exhilaration of that unbreakable union soars among the highest places and slogs through the muddiest swamps. Together. Always.

To my Valentine, Lisa.

Steve

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Feb

13

2014

Rooting for the Bad Guy?

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Man with mysterious eyes

Last week I blogged about amoral protagonists. But what about protagonists who are unquestionably immoral?

Some general market books make their readers root for the bad guy. Think about accounts of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, written from their points of view. Or a book written primarily from the point of view of a courtesan, such as Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement. These books set the reader in a life where there is no Christ, yet the reader can’t help but feel sympathy for the protagonists by coming to an understanding of how circumstances combined by the moral failings of others set characters in one unhappy situation after another. 

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Feb

12

2014

Why I Read Romance Novels

by Karen Ball

Valentine’s Day is on its way, and that got me to thinking about that four-letter word we all use with impunity:

LOVE.

What a powerful word, one so full of meaning I could write a dozen blogs about it and still not exhaust the depth and breadth of all it entails. I’m grateful for love. For God’s love. For my hubby’s love. For my family’s love. For my doggies’ love. Love has blessed me more than I could ever deserve. But then, isn’t that the very nature of love—that it comes to us regardless of our so-called “worth.” And one area where I most enjoy the blessing of love is in writing. Whether poetry or novels, nonfiction or essays, I’m not afraid to admit that I love reading about love. And I especially enjoy–get ready for it–romance novels!

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Feb

11

2014

Wanted: More Choir Members

Dan Balow

choir_5082c

At some point in their writing career, many Christian authors express a desire to write a book that would reach the un-churched. That desire is a completely honorable and wonderful goal, just as any believer should desire to represent Christ in their lives in such a way that unbelievers would ask them questions about the hope that is in them. 

However, the inference by such statements as “preaching to the choir” is that writing to churchgoers is somehow less desirable.  I know the intent of those authors is to have their books used for pre-evangelism, but unfortunately, when most Christian authors use the term “cross-over” to describe their book, it is code for “leave out anything Christian”.  I am not sure this is a wise use of your time unless you are very gifted and unique writer.

Indulge me for just another minute before you start writing a reply, hitting me with examples of Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, MacDonald, Bunyan, Tolstoy, Chesterton, etc.

First, God Almighty can and does use whatever he wants to get people’s attention.  I hear God even used a talking donkey once. Second, it is a matter of fact that the books that God has used most frequently for evangelism have testified strongly to Jesus Christ and the power of the Gospel to change a life.  Consider these:

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Feb

10

2014

Bring the Books

Agency Library

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

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Feb

7

2014

Fun Fridays – February 7, 2014

This should have been broadcast during the Super Bowl….

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Feb

6

2014

The Moral Protagonist: A Key Difference

angry

This is entirely an opinion, but in my reading of general market fiction versus Christian fiction, I have noticed one key difference:

The protagonists don’t have to be moral.

In Christian fiction, the protagonists must be moral or have a great desire to be moral at their core, even though they may make mistakes.

Christian fiction offers a Christian world view.  The characters’ circumstances test their moral fiber. Readers want to see how the characters deal with their situations and trials, and the resulting consequences. Whether or not the characters experience a happy ending will depend a lot on the genre and story itself, but the characters should grow in and/or find sustenance in their faith.

In general market romance fiction, the characters can be of any faith or no faith. More likely than not, the issue of the characters’ faith won’t be visited at all or might be explained or dismissed in a phrase. Often, the characters are swept up in circumstances they must overcome, but they won’t draw upon religious faith to solve their problems. Their solutions may or may not reflect a moral choice. More likely they will reflect the necessary choice to their survival.

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Feb

4

2014

Still Wanted: Writing that Sings!

by Karen Ball

iStock_000001066974XSmall

Anyone who has jumped into the waters of agenting knows they’ll be asked one question, over and over and over:  “What are you looking for?” Well, now that I’ve got a couple of years of this amazing work under my belt, let me build on what I said when I started. Back then, I said I was looking, first and foremost, for books that glorify God, then for writing that sings, that speaks to the heart and spirit, that uplifts and challenges. Well, that’s all the same! But there are a few clarifications I want to make.  First, here’s the not so good news:

What I’m Not Looking For

Children’s & Middle Grade Books: As much as I enjoy reading these books (that’s one of the only perks to never having had children—I get all the kid’s books!), I am not representing them. It’s not that I don’t see the need. It’s simply that I’m not experienced with these kinds of books. My work lo, these many years in publishing, has been with adult books. Now, I have worked with Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, but I already have some great clients in that category and am not, at present, looking for more.

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