Thursday, June 02, 2005
Happy Thursday. The weekend’s a-comin’.
Various comments/questions from yesterday deserve response. (If you’re not reading the comments, you’re missing out on some fun. If you’re an early blog reader, you might want to read the previous day’s comments so that you get them all.)
Evelyn, so glad to hear you’re coming to the ACFW conference. Rich, Domino, and Lynette—ditto. Yes, we must have a blogger/bloggee get-together. (You know, during all that free time we’ll have.) The tables at meals only hold 8-10. But we’ll find a way.
Shannon, you need no account to be a BG here. It’s all free. (Well, except you have to listen to me blather.)
Rich, I hope you’ll tell us what happened to your job yesterday.
Question from Kelly K. about pen names—I will address that topic perhaps tomorrow.
Finally, Ron’s question about getting stuck in a certain genre, maybe even one you hadn’t planned on. Yup. It happens. Hard to get away from ye ol’ branding issue. We will talk more about this, too.
Okay. In yesterday’s NES we left off with the approach of my marketing meeting with Zondervan in early January of this year—the meeting at which we were gonna figure out how to continue marketing me in both genres of suspense and women’s fiction.
I’m going to digress here and talk about marketing in general today. This is an important topic. We authors in the Christian world often seem to have trouble with the very idea of marketing. At least I hear questions and concerns about it pretty frequently. The concerns go something like this: We are writing fiction, yes. But we are also writing for the cause of God’s kingdom. And when we’re working for God’s kingdom, we shouldn’t be worried about elevating ourselves. Marketing our books, talking them up, trying to get them sold, is all about elevating ourselves, right? How can you keep your focus on serving God when you’re worried about sales and making all the money you can? Shouldn’t we just be good servants, write the best books we can, and leave sales in God’s hands?
Understandable concerns. And those who think this way are very sincere. But I don’t agree with this thinking at all. Here’s my take on the whole issue.
1. Yes, I am writing fiction ultimately for God’s kingdom. Anything I do for God’s kingdom needs to be at its best. I must write the best novels I can. This means writing the best stories I can produce, plus weaving in God’s word—as He has specifically called me to do it. (My calling, not anyone else’s. Which is why I can’t compare myself to my colleagues.)
2. I am not writing these stories that I’ve worked so hard on, these stories interwoven with God’s truth, so that the fewest amount of people can read them. I want as many people as possible to read them because I really do believe that (a) they provide good entertainment, and (b) they can help strengthen folks in their walks with God. As Jesus said, you don’t put a light under a bushel. In the same way, I don’t write a book so it can sit on shelves.
3. My publisher, whose mission is to produce materials that honor God and further His kingdom, is a business. Businesses have to make money to stay afloat. Publishing my novels costs them money and employee energy. My books need to reap enough benefits for my publisher so that they can afford to keep publishing them.
4. A publisher has a large piece of the marketing pie for a book, but not the whole pie. To be a team player with my publisher, I need to do what marketing I can to help sales. In this competitive environment it is simply unfair to a publisher (unless you’re so successful that personal marketing doesn’t matter) to say, “Hey, marketing’s totally their job. I just write the books. Marketing myself sounds so vain and worldly that I just can’t handle it. Besides, I think I should only trust God for sales.” The argument may not be worded so bluntly, but in essence, this is what I’ve heard people say. And my answer is: No, you’re not leaving sales in God’s hands; you’re leaving sales in your publisher’s hands. If marketing is so wrong, why should they be doing it any more than you?
5. Here’s where the tricky part comes in for me. Because as I do market, and focus on sales, it could really be easy to focus too much on that. I know I’m getting too focused if I read about someone else’s higher sales and feel a twinge of jealousy. Or look at the advanced marketing a publisher gives another author and feel slighted. Or if I start thinking, my books aren’t selling well enough so what am I doing this for anyway, God?
6. Bottom line for me—it comes down to balance. To understanding that part of my job as an author is to market as well as write. At the same time to trust God and rejoice in what He’s doing in my life, even if, after all my hard work (and kicking cabinets), sales don’t go as well as I think they ought to. So on one hand, I’m always doing what I can to push sales. On the other hand, I’m thanking God for the sales He has granted me. And I take utmost pleasure in hearing from readers who’ve been impacted from my books.
7. How do I keep this balance? Pray. A lot. Ever since I started writing Christian fiction, I have prayed a very dangerous prayer. I urge you BGs to pray it too. It’s simply this: “God, don’t let me be any more successful than I can handle.” I want to be successful. I want my books to sell. I’m willing to help market them. But I don’t want to become successful at the risk of puffing up with pride or forgetting how God brought me through all of this in the first place. On the other hand, neither do I want my human frailties to keep God from granting me all the sales He’d like to grant me. So I work against pride and jealousy and other human frailty issues constantly. Doesn’t mean I never feel these things. It does mean that when I feel them, I immediately, willfully tell God that I reject the emotions. I simply refuse to dwell there.
This balance that I strive for rests on the fulcrum of my calling—which is to write stories interwoven with God’s truth. Following that calling will keep me from saying yes to some contract that may be highly lucrative, but that would in some way quash my Christian message. Following that calling means telling my agent that my film rights aren’t for sale to just any producer—who may likely take all of the Christianity out of my story. So in the end, do sales and money drive me the most? No. But neither do I believe that the pursuit of sales is worldly and vain. It could be—if I let it take top priority in my life. But I won’t.
Questions? Comments? An important topic, BGs. One that all you writers out there will have to deal with.