Thursday, June 02, 2005

Marketing Issues

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.


Grady Houger said...

Using humility to shirk responsibility vs. the pride of sales? I wish I had those problems! Yet for me as a literary nobody, now is the time for me to build character that will withstand such trials.

It seems marketing (when free of deception), is the mechanism that informs people about your offerings. Money fuels the medium, and no matter what level of success a person has gained, our egos need be kept in check by remembering that our skills are gifts from God, not our own abilities.

C.J. Darlington said...

“God, don’t let me be any more successful than I can handle.”

Wow. That is a powerful prayer. And so true. I realize that if things had happened to me all at once in my life (good things mind you) I wouldn't have been ready for them. Life is a journey. And if God's at the helm, you can't help but stay on course.

Suzan Robertson said...

publishing is a business like any other business, even CBA publishers. Of course we write for the glory of God, but we as Christians are called to action in our ministry, which includes the writing and the marketing. Pray, write, sell your book, then get out there and tell everyone about it so that they may share in your obedience to the glory of God. Makes sense to me!
See you in Nashville!

Shannon said...

To be honest, marketing is the one aspect of being published that terrifies me. My stomach knots up at just the thought of it . . . but the Lord gives us grace for each step of the way, yes?

And oh, I know I don't have to log in just to read your ramblings *grin*, but it's so much fun posting along with everyone else!

D. Gudger said...

Alot to think about. I haven't thought that far ahead at this point, but I'm curious, what does marketing involve for an author?

Stories these days are the best medium for getting the message out. People want to see how Christianity works. You do that quite well!

mrsd said...

Interesting thoughts and great advice. Thank you!

Ron Estrada said...

Great advice as always, BC. I've actually taken this argument to the point where I stopped writing completely. After all, if it was God' plan, He'd make me do it. Surely there are more productive ways to serve Him. Somehow we buy the lie that if it's God's will, there need be no effort on our part. That's just silly. God will choose you, you have the right to accept or deny the challenge. Acceptance is hard work, but what blessings there are in store.

Kelly Klepfer said...

Interesting. I think this discussion it covered in the Word. Talents - the writer all the way through to the publisher has an obligation to do the best with the materials provided by God. Ink, paper and cold, hard cash.
Your prayer is interesting also - Proverbs has a prayer (paraphrased) Lord don't let me get so rich that I forget that you have provided all, nor so poor that I dishonor your name.
For the bazillionth time - thanks Brandylin.

Cara Putman said...

Marketing is a necessary part of the process. It doens't do any good to write a wonderful story filled with God's truth if we aren't willing to make sure as many people as possible get exposed to that truth. I don't want to hide my light under a bucket even if it's in the form of entertainment. Think of the many people that can be reached through each of our stories that would never be reached by us individually. It's an extremely humbling thought!

Becky said...

Good thoughts. It seems to me that any profession that thrusts a person into the public eye requires extra prayer for a humble spirit.

The scary thing is that pride doesn't just attack the successful. In its uglier form, it can appear as envy, or as you said, Brandilyn, jealousy.

Those sins exist apart from any marketing effort, so I think it is a spurious argument to say that marketing fosters pride.

Ironic, too, that no one challenges a pastor's right to get paid for his work, or a missionary to raise support. I don't see marketing as so very different. Of course, like anything, it could be handled in an obnoxious way--where every contact is viewed as a potential sale, and made to feel that way.

I kind of think it is easier for others to do the marketing for us, so I believe when we find a writer that pays attention to craft--tells a good story, uses beautiful language, shows the truth of this world as well as spiritual truth--we should be willing to play a role in the marketing process. I'm thinking of things like passing out bookmarks, writing reviews on Amazon, telling friends about the book/author, asking our library to carry the book--that sort of thing.

Along those lines, do all you BGs subscribe to Brandilyn's newsletter? If not, I highly recomment you ask to be added to her mailing list. It's informative--not just about Brandilyn's own work but about Christian fiction.


Kelly Klepfer said...

Re: ACFW Conference..
This is my new goal. Finish my WIP, send it through my critique group, come up with the proposal to pitch and earn money to fund the conference. Of course, I need to actually join ACFW instead of just talking about it. Is that too much to do before August 15th?
I feel driven to go.

Lynette Eason said...

HI Brandilyn, I tried to post the other day, but for some reason it didn't work. Oh well, I was just saying that I really like the title Web of Lies and can see how people get trapped into believing Satan's lies. I know for a fact that I was supposed to quit my job to stay home with my kids, homeschool and write, yet I keep hearing that little voice saying, "You're crazy, you can't do this. You're not good enough - and never will be." etc. So, I've had to make a decision each time that little voice pops up, to PRAY like crazy!

Anonymous said...

hi. my mom, a post on here, likes your books