I am using the 20th year remembrance of the death of Clifton Hillegass as inspiration to make a larger point about the direction an author’s life can take.

Clifton (pictured above is his statue in Kearney, NE) was the creator of CliffsNotes and passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of 83 on May 5, 2001.

I assume most of you reading this post are aware of CliffsNotes and also of how much some educators and literature purists hated them and how much their students loved them. But you might be interested to know Clifton Hillegass’s original intent for the summary books was to point out the subtleties and nuances of great literature that might have been lost on a high-school or college student. He was a lover of great literature and plays, with no intention of diminishing them in any way.

To make a long story short, instead of CliffsNotes being used to illuminate, they were used instead of reading the actual book. So the apparent “scourge” of CliffsNotes rampaged over the decades, now consisting of 300+ titles with sales exceeding 100 million copies worldwide. In 1999, a similar type of product, SparkNotes started and is currently owned and sold by Barnes & Noble Bookstores.

By the way, there is a CliffsNotes version of the Old Testament, New Testament, and the complete Bible. Think of the time you can save!

So what’s the point today?

It doesn’t matter what your original purpose was for writing. You will be defined and directed by what you are successful doing. Even mild success has this effect.

In one sense, writing is no different than any other profession or pursuit. You might start out desiring something specific for your life and find a measure of success doing something else. Many people start off doing what they are educated and trained to do; but through success, end up doing something else for their lifework.

If you notice, I am not using theological words like predestined or gifted. Things like this are not always that dramatically spiritual. However, your life journey is never a mystery to God!

You had an idea. But God had a little different idea, involving a bit of Proverbs 16:9:

In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps (NIV).

And also a good dose of Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).

There are pastors who started out ministering to their congregation, but found themselves with a fertile ministry in a specific area. Then after focusing their efforts there, they are heretofore known primarily by that fruitful ministry. They held tight to God’s providence, but loose to their plans.

Our future on this earth is driven far more by what God allows to be fruit-bearing than by what we want to be successful doing. Doesn’t mean you don’t have a vision behind what you do. Just don’t be surprised if God does something with your writing and life different than you originally planned.

Keep your mission big and eternal. Keep your plans small and flexible.

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Bookstore Economics 101

by Steve Laube

Understanding the economics of your local brick-and-mortar bookstore should help you understand the upheaval that is happening in our industry. So put on your math cap and let’s take a ride.

This article focuses on the bookstore not the publisher or the writer. I spent over a decade in the Christian bookstore business, and while that was a long time ago the economic principles are the same.

Let’s start with a $10 book (retail price). I’m using $10 because it will make the math a little easier to follow.

The bookstore buys the book for $6 (or 40% discount off the retail price) from the publisher (who calls that $6 the net price). Note that this discount varies between 40% and 50%.

When the books sells to a customer the store then makes a $4 profit ($10 – $6 = $4).

If the store discounts the book during a 20% off promotion they have to sell two copies to make that same $4 profit. But often a 20% off sale is not enough to double the sales volume. Why? Because a high-volume operation like is happy to sell that $10 book for $6.50 (35% off). They can do this because they plan on selling 10 copies at the discounted price and clear $5 in profit. This pricing strategy has a chilling effect on the ability of the local store to compete.

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Fun Fridays – April 30, 2021

Before watching today’s video, I would never have guessed how many languages are spoken on Earth today. Amaze your friends with the answer! In the midst of the video, Tom Scott makes a point about words that have changed meaning in recent years (before and after the Internet). I thought …

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Testing the Truth

Years ago, after a class on taxes at a writers conference, an attendee shook her head. “That teacher’s going to get a lot of people in trouble.” I couldn’t deny that some of the suggestions offered seemed risky. I disregarded most of what I’d heard as I made my way …

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Procrastination Tips for Writers

I was going to write this post months ago, but I kept putting it off. True story. Most writers don’t need much help procrastinating. Many of us will do almost anything to avoid the actual task of writing. It’s amazing how many things can distract us from our WIP (work-in-progress) …

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When the Outlook Is Bleak

by Steve Laube

In the constant ebb and flow of this industry we have authors celebrating and authors in tears. Ask any agent and you will hear the same. For every author excited about their new contract there is another experiencing bitter disappointment.

And I wish I could fix it.

To hear the anguish is difficult, but to be the one who delivers the bad news is heart-wrenching. Why is it that they seem to come in bunches? So what do you do when you run into the inevitable disappointments the writing experience throws at you?

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Fun Fridays – April 23, 2021

Since the snow has finally melted for most of you and spring is in bloom, I thought it would be fun to look at the melting of snowflakes, in reverse. Start with the drop of water and see it turn into something of great beauty. Sort of like your writing. …

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Ready for Pushback?

Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you (1 John 3:13, NIV). One of the lovely aspects (I’m kidding) of ubiquitous communication in our world today is that nothing goes out without a comment in return. Positive and negative comments abound. Something written in passing or …

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Will the Editor Catch My Error?

Awhile back, an author asked if the editor will catch and correct inaccuracies. The best answer is no. Or a maybe. Fact-checking isn’t necessarily an editor’s job. Editing is their job. No author has a right to expect an editor to know every detail about every topic to make a …

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