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Stories in Hiding Places

by Dan Balow

The Hiding Place

Since I blog on Tuesdays and the next April 15 to fall on a Tuesday is not for another eleven years, I felt like I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

Corrie ten Boom was born on this date in 1892 and died on this date in 1983.  If Evangelicals were in the habit of naming saints, she would among them.

For those unaware of this great Christian woman, she and her family helped many Jews escape the Nazis during World War Two in occupied Holland.  The classic book, The Hiding Place (Chosen Books, 1971) and movie (1975) by the same name chronicled this dramatic story.

Seventy years ago, in early 1944, an informant told German soldiers about a secret room in the ten Booms family home in Haarlem, Holland used for hiding Jews so they would not be sent to concentration camps. (The picture above is the entrance to that secret room, now preserved)

The Nazi’s raided the house and arrested the entire family.  After a stop in a nearby prison camp, Corrie and her sister Betsie were eventually transferred to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany, about 50 miles north of Berlin. 

Shortly before she died in December 1944, Betsie told Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that He (God) is not deeper still.”  They would become words burned into Corrie’s soul and the souls of people who heard Corrie speak in the 70’s after The Hiding Place released and became an international bestseller.

Twelve days after Betsie died, Corrie was unexpectedly released from the camp in what was discovered later as a “clerical error” on the part of the Germans.

During my freshman year at Wheaton College (IL), Corrie came to campus to speak at a mandatory 10:30 am chapel for students on November 12, 1974. Forty years later I can still see the little 82 year-old woman speaking quietly to 2,000 wide and teary-eyed college students and faculty…giving testimony to God’s love, grace, forgiveness, faithfulness and mercy.  And for a brief moment, self-absorbed college students got a taste for what it meant to completely surrender to Jesus Christ.

John and Elizabeth Sherrill wrote The Hiding Place, but according to some accounts, they came to hear about Corrie in the mid-1960’s while researching another book, God’s Smuggler, the story of another Dutchman, Andrew van der Bijl (Brother Andrew) which was published in 1967.  Brother Andrew and Corrie travelled for ministry together.

I started out wanting to write about Corrie ten Boom on the date she was born and died, because she is a Christian hero in our definition of the word, but undoubtedly, in God’s as well. (Sometimes those two definitions are not the same)

But once I had a chance to revisit her life and consider her impact on the Christian publishing world, as well as that of John and Elizabeth Sherrill, I was reminded that the greatest stories are those where God is involved throughout a journey and often unseen. Sometimes the plot and characters are unexpected and the outcome is even more surprising. 

God is in the process of writing our stories every day and giving those of you who write, new material, often from unexpected places.

Corrie ten Boom once commented on how we should trust God’s faithfulness and work in our lives through all circumstances when she said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

Be still, and know that I am God.  (Psalm 46:10)

Should I Respond to a One-Star Review?

by Tamela Hancock Murray

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Have you ever received a one-star review? Or do you dread the day that might happen? Or perhaps you are hoping to be published so you can get a review. Any review. When you start receiving reviews, some of them might not be as stellar as you had hoped. So what, if anything, should you do?

Good, Bad, Indifferent?

When I look at reviews of sites such as Amazon, I think it’s healthy to see a range of reviews from five stars to one star rather than all fives. Why? Because a reasonable mix of reviews indicates that strangers are reading your book. Any author can find a few friends to post five star reviews, but a mixed reaction shows that a book is being marketed to a variety of readers. It’s nice not to receive any one-star reviews and keep your mix in the five to three range, but a few lower reviews mixed in with positive comments shouldn’t mark the end of your career.

That doesn’t mean one-star reviews take you to a happy place, though. Instead, you may feel angry, defensive, offended, surprised, and perhaps tearful. No matter what, don’t let your fingers hit the keyboard to respond publicly to any review when you are feeling these emotions. Call a friend and gripe, cry to your spouse, play catch with your dog, but never post any comments until you are calm. In fact, this applies to any form of posting comments online.

A Gracious Response

The idea for this topic occurred to me when I spoke with one of my authors, Angie Breidenbach. Angie has a positive outlook on life and she wasn’t upset by her one-star review on her book, A Healing Heart

Instead, she posted a gracious response that even gained her at least one more reader:

Thank you for your review. The character reactions are actually based on the study of people I know in real life. And to be honest, Mara is based on my own journey back from being angry with God. So I suppose it’s simply a case of whether you’ve ever experienced it or seen it happen to someone you love, or not. I wish you a delightful and joyous life – one that never has to face these dilemmas. May yours be a peace-filled, happy journey :)

That’s not to say that a well-mannered response will always be successful, though. We’ve all met the person who just won’t like us or our books no matter what we do or how we write. So how to decide?

Not All One-Star Reviews Are Equal

Some reviewers will state what they disliked about the book in an honest way. The nicer ones will also say what they did like about the book as well. Chances are, as the author, you won’t agree with a negative review. Very few people would be able to respond without appearing defensive or argumentative. Approach responding with extreme caution. Or better yet, don’t offer a retort at all.

Other reviewers are looking for a safe way to vent their own anger and frustration and may attack you and your beliefs personally. There is no reason to respond to them. By virtue of name-calling, the person has lost the argument.

In the Christian publishing world, we have a problem peculiar to us in that some people will read our books and then become mad that they portray a Christian message. These readers didn’t properly review the promotional material around your book before deciding to purchase. That is on the reader, not you, as an author. No need to respond to these reviews.

I’ve seen many one-star reviews commenting that the electronic format was poor so they rate the book one star for that reason. Sadly, this will bring down a book’s average but the author’s only safe response is to alert the publisher to the problem.

Still other reviewers will rank a competing book with a one-star and then try to convince readers to buy their books instead. Usually they’ll get called on this unethical practice by other reviewers. No need to comment on such a transparent ploy.

Remember, You Have a Team

If a reviewer has made an unjustifiable attack on your work and you really feel you need to make a correction, I still recommend not responding in any way until you speak with your agent and/or editor. For example, if a reviewer says your book misstates facts, defending the integrity of your research may be in order. But by all means, consult the team of publishing professionals behind you before engaging in any public defense or explanation.

Your Obligations

Yes, you are obligated to your readers in that you must deliver the best quality work you can at all times. This shows you care about your reader and her time. But you are not obligated to respond to your reviews at all. Many authors make a firm practice not to read their reviews. The flip side of reviews is that too many glowing ones may make you feel overconfident. Sort of like the old Hollywood expression about the star who believes his own publicity. 

Whether you keep up with your reviews or not, don’t take any of them too seriously. Better to spend your time writing your next wonderful book.

Your Turn

Do one-star reviews keep you from buying a book?

Have you been disappointed in a book with glowing reviews?

What book or books do think have really lived up to their reviews?

Have you ever written a one-star review?

Do You Like to Cry While Reading?

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Woman in tears

I’ll have to admit, I don’t like to cry. I don’t even like depressing songs. Instead I prefer things that are upbeat. For example, here are some of the lyrics to a song that helped me get through my teen years:

Flashlight.

Red Light.

Neon Light.

Spotlight.

Most of all you can funk. Help me find the funk….

Yoww

I think I found the funk!

["Flashlight" was written by Ronald R. Brooks, Gregory E. Jacobs, David R. Elliot, Bernard Worrell, William Earl Collins, and George Clinton Jr..]

Not that I can’t get serious. But I still like that fun song even today.

So now it’s your turn, if you like to cry while reading. What have been your favorite tearjerker books? I’ll give you a clue. Steve Laube told me that the marketing people at Bethany Publishing House wanted to mail a box of tissues with every copy of Deborah Raney’s A Vow to Cherish when it was first published.

So, what is your favorite tearjerker novel? 

Why Did I Keep Reading?

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Stack of books against sky

As I believe I’ve mentioned on this blog, along with Christian books, I try to keep abreast of general market books. But I admit, I don’t always finish reading the books I begin reading. So what makes me stick with a book from cover to cover? Here’s just one example for nonfiction:

17704903Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune  by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. 

Why did I stay with this book while abandoning other books that may have been just as worthwhile or perhaps even better? Here’s why:

A New Book by C.S. Lewis!

by Steve Laube

imageandimaginationlewis

If you want the perfect gift for the bibliophile in your life consider this new book from C. S. Lewis called Image and Imagination (under $20 in paperback). To quote the description from the Cambridge University Press site:

This selection from the writings of C. S. Lewis gathers together forty book reviews, never before reprinted, as well as four major essays which have been unavailable for many decades. A fifth essay, ‘Image and Imagination’, is published for the first time.

Included are his reviews of Tolkien’s Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

But the crowning jewel is the 20 page essay “Image and Imagination.” This unpublished piece was found handwritten in a ruled notebook used by Lewis for his early drafts. Walter Hooper, who compiled this book, suggests that the essay was originally intended for but never sent to T.S. Eliot’s journal The Criterion in 1931. It is a rather dense exploration of ideas which, like much of Lewis’ academic work, demands much concentration of the reader.

How to Post a Negative Review

by Tamela Hancock Murray

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Posting a negative review is not the same as trashing a book. Sometimes you really are doing a service to let prospective readers know the book in question may not be right for them. Here are a few tips:

Be sure you rarely post a negative review. If you make a habit of posting bad reviews, you’ll be known as a grump who hates everything and your words will lose their power.

Approach from a position of authority. Why should prospective readers value your opinion? Examples might be that you are the president of an historical society, a professor, or hold some other position that shows readers when you say a book contains inaccuracies, you probably know what you are talking about.

Address problems with the book itself, not your perceptions of the author’s shortcomings as a person. The author may be dead wrong, but approaching the book dispassionately will gain you more respect in the reading community than simply blasting the author.

Avoid Trashing a Book Online

by Tamela Hancock Murray

destroy

When I’m thinking of buying a book, I do read the one-star reviews. There. I admitted it. But would I write one? No, and here are three reasons why:

The author is not a moneymaking machine, but a human. A mean reviewer won’t see the fallout of posting a nasty review, but writers cry, get angry, sulk and fall into depressions over one-star reviews. It’s not fair to use the Internet to vent at a target you think is safe because you are in a bad mood that day or just angry in general. I know I’m preaching to the proverbial choir because I don’t sense angry dispositions among our regular blog readers, but we’ve all seen reviews from people who need a chill pill. If a book happens to hit all your HATE IT buttons, take your chill pill before bequeathing a one-star review. Wait a day or two before spouting off. Or better yet, don’t.

What Did You Read This Summer?

by Steve Laube

In 1957 H.L. Mencken coined a new word to describe a group of people which he called the bibliobibuli, which means “People who read too much.” (From the Greek “biblio”, meaning books, and the Latin “bibulous”, from “bibere”, to drink.)

But how much is too much? And who decides that? I happen to believe that there is always room for more. I was once asked what I did for a living. I answered, “I read.” They followed up with the question, “What do you do for fun?” I smiled and said, “I read.” It is both a privilege and a blessing to work with so many gifted authors and to be immersed in their ideas every day.

But there are tons of books I read outside of work. When thinking about the variety of books I read these past few months it became a fun exercise so I decided to describe a few of them below. I have intentionally avoided books by clients or other prospective authors.

Non-Fiction
As mentioned in an earlier post I teach the Bible in a small class every Sunday morning of about 20 people. Last week we completed our eight month journey through the Apocrypha and the history of the Western world during the 400 years between the book of Malachi and the book of Matthew. As part of my research I was able to finish working through:

  • The Anchor Bible Commentaries on both 1 & 2 Maccabees by Jonathan A. Goldstein (1,200 pages of extraordinary scholarship).
  • The World of Jesus by Dr. William H. Marty (highly recommended introductory material, especially on Rome and Herod).

Back to School for You

by Steve Laube

Back to school message above open book graphic on white background with vignette

I’m of the generation that remembers the day after Labor Day being the first day of school. But no more. All through August kids of all ages have been headed back to the classroom. When our daughters were in Marching Band they had rehearsals on the field twice a day, starting two weeks before school began…which put their practices into the month of July…in Phoenix….where it was 114 degrees yesterday.

But while you may be past having to go to school you should still have a learning mindset. We all need to be open to new ideas and expand our understanding of the world around us. For writers, agents, and editors it may mean going to a writers conference or it could mean some self-study by reading something about this industry. Let me suggest a few books that could do the trick.

Influencers and Etiquette

by Tamela Hancock Murray

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Recently one of my author friends needed a couple of people to act as influencers. She asked me to give her the names of people who aren’t writers, which I think is a fine idea because readers in other professions will reach new audiences. I asked several people. None of them knew what an influencer is until I explained it. So when you are tasked to find influencers, feel free to direct them to this post.

Is an influencer the same as an endorser?

Not in the formal sense. An endorser is a recognized name, usually a popular author writing in the same topic or genre or a known authority in the field such as a doctor or pastor. That person writes praise for the book that will appear on the front or back cover or inside the book.

An influencer is a person who agrees to read a book with the hope that he or she will spread positive news about it. This person is viewed as a fan or friendly reader and doesn’t need to be a particular expert other than having read the book. Any reader can be an influencer, but librarians, book club members, and people with special interest in the era or topic are great choices.

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