Friday, July 28, 2006

Question about the Christy Awards

Happy Friday. First, I need to announce that I will be taking Monday and Tuesday off from blogging. We'll meet back here Wednesday. (My husband and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary with a trip to Kauai.)

This question came in as a comment to yesterday’s post:

"Where are the Christy Award winning books on that best-selling list? How is it that more isn't done, marketing wise, to move the best books onto the best-seller list?"

There are a numerous ways to answer that question. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue, which may well differ from mine.

The bottom line answer is that the Christy Awards are geared toward the more literary-minded books in each category. It’s an established fact in both the general market and our market that literary fiction doesn’t sell very well—far less well than commercial fiction. (Unless your book becomes an Oprah pick.)

Also, we have to remember that by the time a book wins a Christy Award, that novel was released some time ago—anywhere from around eight to twenty months, depending on what month it was released the previous year. The Christy Awards have not taken hold enough in the industry to bump sales of a novel much, even though there is some special marketing for winners. Sad to say, in the end the awards are a nice kudo for the winners, but they do little to nothing for sales.

However, there’s another side to the question—an imbedded assumption that isn’t necessarily the case: that the “best books” are reflected in the Christy Awards.

Novels are entered in the Christy competition by the publisher. It’s expensive to enter a book—$175 per entry. Only publishers can enter a book—not an author. (If a book wins, the publisher also agrees to pay the Christys $1000 to help cover the marketing efforts that the organization does for the winners.) Because of the entry fee, publishers are careful about which books they enter. Some publishers can afford to enter more books than others. Sometimes publishers, knowing that a novel is more commercially-minded and not likely to place in the Christys anyway, don’t bother entering it.

In addition, there are some authors who have decided it’s best for them spiritually not to be a part of any kind of awards, and won’t allow their books to be entered.

So the Christys inevitably can’t represent all of Christian fiction in the first place. They only represent those books that the publishers chose to enter/could afford to enter, and the authors allowed to be entered.

The other issue is the age-old question of commercial versus literary—is the latter always “better?” It depends on who you ask—the cognoscenti or the hoi polloi (to use the terms that would most divide the two groups). The two types of fiction focus on different things. Commercial tends to be about plot and characterization. (Some would argue commercial focuses only on plot. I say not so, at least in the best commercial novels. The most unique plot in the world isn’t going to matter if the reader doesn’t care about the characters.) Literary tends to be about beauty of language and characterization. Again, this is a sweeping simplification that we could argue until the hereafter, and there are many books that tend to balance this divide. Some commercially-minded novels have great language. Some literary-minded novels have more plot than others. The literary lovers would argue that these novels are the ones that tend to hang around as classics, while fast-selling commercial fiction will wither over time. This ain’t necessarily so, either, as some of the fiction we term “classic” today was thought anything but literary in its day of publication.

I’m glad for the Christy Awards. I’m really happy for the winners and finalists. But we do have to understand the context in which a book might final/win, and we can’t expect these books—however well written they may be—to hit the bestseller list, because in the end they don't always appeal to the majority of readers.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

June Bestseller List

Check out the new bestseller list, reflecting sales in the month of June. For the first time (as far as I know), spots 1, 2, and 3 in the Top Fifty list belong to fiction. LaHaye/Jenkins’ The Rapture is #1, both on the fiction list and the Top Fifty; Kingsbury’s Like Dandelion Dust is #2; and Wick’s Leave a Candle Burning is #3.

In total, the top eleven slots on the fiction list also made it to the Top Fifty list, with Blackstock’s Last Light at #11 in fiction ranking #48 on Top Fifty. Last Light is interesting. This is a comeback to the list, as this novel released last fall. This is probably due to the approaching release of Night Light, second in the series.

Other names on the list include Dekker/Peretti, Brunstetter, Rivers, Rosenberg, Henderson, and Lewis.

This phenomenon is no doubt due to June being a big month in major-name release of novels. It’s no coincidence that books by Jenkins, Wick, and Kingsbury would release as ICRS approaches.

There are no new names on this month’s list, which is too bad. I always love to see a new one pop up. All the same, this is an interesting list that reflects the rising sell-power of CBA fiction.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Problem with Healing

A couple days ago the 700 Club ran their segment on the story of my healing from Lyme disease once again. I must say, they’re certainly getting some mileage out of that segment. I think this is about the fourth round of its showing since it first aired last fall.

I never know when it will be replayed. Someone usually alerts me that they’ve seen the trailer for the upcoming show. When I hear this, I know I will once again receive numerous e-mails from watchers of the show.

This time I received an e-mail from someone who had contacted me the first time. I’ll call her Mary. I remembered her because of how struck I’d been by her first e-mail to me. She is really suffering from a chronic, painful disease and has been praying for a long time to be healed. Mary’s church teaches that Jesus wants to heal everyone, and if someone hasn’t been healed, bottom line, something is wrong with the way that person is practicing his/her faith. Mary asked me to pray for her because she was struggling so much. She was trying to ignore the pain and claim her healing, but it just wasn’t there.

My heart went out to Mary so much. I thought, “What a burden for her.” Not only to be sick, but to carry guilt over not being healed, as if she’s to blame. I just couldn’t accept that somehow my faith was “right” so I’d been healed, while hers was apparently “wrong.” I was completely unworthy of the healing I received. (Aren’t we all completely unworthy, when it comes to God’s gifts?) I prayed about an answer, then wrote her back, trying to encourage her. Telling her that apparently God doesn’t always choose to heal when we ask for it, and that this is not her fault. It’s not because of her lack of faith.

I never heard a response—until this week. After seeing my segment a second time, Mary wanted to reach out to me again. She is still really struggling. After an email or two back and forth, it was very apparent that we still look at illness/healing in completely different ways. She still firmly believes, as her church teaches, that God wants to heal all. I was grateful that we could have a discussion without arguing. I wanted to better understand this belief. So I asked Mary—what about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh?” What about wonderful Christians whom we all know who die? Answers: according to her church’s teaching, Paul’s “thorn” was not a physical ailment. And if Christians die, then something, somewhere was not quite working right with their faith. Mary is absolutely emphatic about this belief and, through passionate argument, implored me to embrace it.

I just have a hard time with this. I want to ask Mary a hundred more questions. But I can’t. Mary is struggling and in pain, and she doesn’t have the energy to continue the discussion right now without becoming too emotional. I can understand that—I wouldn’t have had the energy four years ago either. She was honest enough (I’m so glad!) to tell me that I’d hurt her with my very first e-mail. (And here I was trying to encourage her.) She did not read my words as a way to lessen the guilt she carried. Rather, she read them as my saying that the blessing God had decided to give to me was not one she was going to receive. She was left wondering why she wasn’t worthy of a similar blessing.

Well, first I apologized. I felt horrible. Thank goodness she was honest enough to tell me so I could set things straight. But I am left with much confusion after our e-mails. It seems to me the belief that one’s lack of faith is to blame for no healing focuses on unworthiness and blame. This is why I think Mary read my opinion the way she did. It was still through those eyes of self-guilt. Mary found it easier to believe she is somehow lacking in her faith—in other words, blame herself--than to believe God has chosen up to this point to say no to her healing, because apparently He’d be saying no due to her unworthiness.

There does not seem to be room in this belief that God sometimes does choose to allow us to suffer. I wonder how people who believe this explain babies born with birth defects. Or explain why some fall ill in the first place and some do not. Is this because those of us who become sick are lacking in faith?

My main problem with this belief (besides the guilt trip is lays on people) is that those who are not healed can never learn to accept a “no” answer as part of God’s plan for their lives, however difficult. They are left in a state of flux, always hoping, never getting, and inevitably self-blaming. I still say whether Paul’s “thorn” was physical or not, God clearly said no to his prayer. And whatever it was obviously made Paul’s life difficult. A “thorn in the flesh” is not comfortable. And what about when God said “no” to Jesus’ own prayer for a way out of the cross? God apparently had a higher plan, and that plan involved allowing suffering.

But you see, I can also really understand where Mary’s belief comes from. “By His stripes we are healed,” the Bible says. That verse doesn’t say “sometimes.” It says “we are.” And Jesus, while on earth, healed everyone except only those who did not believe. According to those stories in the New Testament, it was their fault. So Mary asks me, how do you explain this?

I can’t answer Mary’s questions to her satisfaction, nor can she answer mine. We didn’t really expect to change each others’ minds anyway. But I must admit, I come away from our conversation with more questions than before. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) I can see how my belief is a slap in the face to her. How much it hurt her to hear that God has chosen up to this point to not heal her. Either way, her belief or mine, this problem of suffering is difficult. Either God wants to heal, and our faith doesn’t cut it; or God chooses not to—which doesn’t exactly feel all that great either.

I don’t expect to solve the problem on this blog, but I do think it merits discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Perhaps some of you other there share Mary’s belief and can help me better understand.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Writers Retreat Over

Thanks to Bev Huston, our guest blogger yesterday. Highly creative Bev is one of the three authors blogging for the character Bev Trexel on Scenes and Beans. No doubt this same first name thing is one of the catalysts for the Twilight Zone reality warp that Bev H. experienced over the weekend when she visited Simple Pleasures.

Today everyone has gone home, and the house is sounding mighty quiet. Over the weekend the eleven of us plotted nine books (2 of the participants aren't writing now, but still enjoy being a part of the group).

For those of you who might be thinking of forming a brainstorming group, here's how we handle the sessions. Each one was set to last an hour and fifteen minutes this year, although we went over on most. Maybe we'll go for an hour and a half next year. We did two in the morning with a short break in between, had lunch, then did a third for the day. By that time it would be 2:30 or so. Rest of the day was play time. This went on for three full days. Our brains don't get too tired this way, and each participant can come away with some solid ideas for the next book.

Each sessions begins with the presenter telling about her book--as much as she knows. Then we all discuss ideas of where to take the basic premise. This is when thoughts really pop and we can see the synergy of the group at work. Meanwhile the author is taking notes or typing into her computer to record the various ideas. As we continue discussing, these ideas tend to become honed and focused. We flesh them out further until we have the basic skeleton for a book. (Methinks that's a mixed metaphor, but you get the idea.)

After about an hour we're discussed out, and we then go to the "list." Each person lists suggestions of further details as the author requests. It may be particular scene ideas. It may be backstory motivation points. It may be ideas for subplots. Then we go around the table and read the ideas aloud. These written pages are then handed to the author.

The author leaves the session with plenty to build upon. It's amazing to see how well this process works when you get a group of creative novelists together.

Of course, around these work times (and during them) we eat a lot and laugh even more. Our devotion and prayer times are also wonderful.

Anyone out there involved in a similar brainstorming group? Let us know how you handle your sessions.

Monday, July 24, 2006

From Here to Reality

As you know, Brandilyn has a houseful of talented authors attending a much-needed relaxing, spiritual, restorative weekend … ok, who am I kidding? Y’all know we’re having a wild, fun-filled brainstorming retreat. Complete with sore ribs, tears and coughing spells from laughing so hard we can’t breathe … she really does live up to her trademark, doesn’t she? Though it’s not like we forgot to breathe, it’s just that we can’t breathe.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes.

Of course, well all begged Brandilyn for an opportunity to post to her blog. I mean, who wouldn’t? So, being the fair-minded and gracious hostess that she is, we had to draw straws to see who won this amazing break into celebritydom. I can’t begin to tell you how honoured (yes that’s how you spell it where I come from), humbled, and just down right tickled I am to be writing this since I have the secrets y’all wanna know.

First off, I could find no red hair dye anywhere in the house. Yes folks, she’s a natural red head as opposed to a bottled one … and I’m not talking about ketchup here. Second, she really does have green eyes (if you’re a Christy judge, I apologize). Third, she has perfect toes. Each painted little piggy is a faultless as the next! While she can’t quite stick her tongue out as far as our visiting Southern Belle, she has does have a knack for making faces. I’d love to post one of the pics I took, but I’m sure she’d nix that pretty quick. Y’all will have to sit at your computers, banging the keyboard, chanting, “Show me the money—err, image!!” Perhaps, with all the racket she will relent… though after this weekend, I doubt she’ll ever be able to hear again.

But seriously, I think I’ve digressed.

What I really wanted to talk about was the surreal events of this afternoon. Yes, I know there are so many things worth sharing, but I do believe this will give you some insight into your fearless blogger.

Brandilyn and I decided to slip into town to visit one of my favourite (yes, that’s how we spell that word, too) stores and pick up some fans. Did you know Idaho is having a heat wave and it’s 100+ degrees here? Anyway, she asks if I would like to see the real “Simple Pleasures” store she has in her book, Violet Dawn. I heartily agree – mostly because the heat from the street is melting my feet. We duck inside a moderate sized store, with shimmery things that we both ooh and aah over. My mother always told me it’s the crow in me that likes shiny things. I don’t think anyone has ever said that to Brandilyn.

As we step a little farther into the store, we are greeted by Marilyn, who is warm and friendly. I say how I had hoped to see Paige here today and the woman advises me it is the girl’s day off. I’m a little taken aback as I am expecting merely a polite chuckle. Marilyn then apologizes that Sarah has left for the day.

So, now I feel a little uneasy. After all, Paige and Sarah are merely characters in a book.

Quickly my uneasiness passes. Now I just feel categorically freaked. Yep, I’ve stepped into some twilight zone for Brandilyn says, “Marilyn, this is Bev Trexel. Bailey has her blogging too."

Marilyn seems genuinely pleased to meet me and states she has heard about me. Next she asks how long I taught school and then how did Angie and I meet. Now it’s one thing to play act with your friends when you’re 8, but there’s something downright strange when you’re into double digits. Eventually, Brandilyn has things to discuss and so I slip away from the conversation which seems to have transcended back to reality.

But it was short-lived.

“Don’t you think that would look good on Bailey’s wall?” Brandilyn asks.

I nod.

“Angie tried some of that cream caramel you are looking at. She loved it so much, she bought 2 jars. Has she let you try it yet?”

I inconspicuously glance over my shoulder with one of those “you talkin’ to me?” looks. Apparently she is, cuz there ain’t no one behind me. I reply, “I’ve never seen nor tasted anything like it.”

Marilyn pulls out some pretzel sticks and opens two jars – one cream caramel, one raspberry caramel – and insists we try some.

Oh, man they are delicious!

“I bet Bailey could use the cream caramel in her macchiato. That would save her from making it from scratch.” Brandilyn smiles at me like it’s the most normal thing to come out of her mouth since we all arrived. Of course, even with the “I kill people for a living” comment made to Larry the air conditioner repairman last week, this line is still scarier.

Before I can react, the little bell over the door chimes and in walk some customers. I’m actually relieved. Now things will return to normal and we can slip out. Marilyn follows us to the door and as she approaches the customers she says, “Welcome to Kanner Lake. Is there something I can help you with?”

Friday, July 21, 2006

Corrupting the Neighborhood

My crazy writer friends had only been here a few hours when they began corrupting the neighborhood.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting with three of the first arrivals. Larry the repair man was here, fixing our air conditioning system. (It’s supposed to get to 100 this weekend.) Larry’s been the fix-it guy for our system since we bought this house five years ago. He knew I’m an author, but somehow got the idea I write kid’s books. Where he got that idea is beyond me. (Unless the body count in kid’s books is rising these days.) At any rate, we were talking about sweet female things--to be more specific, a body in a hot tub--when Larry appeared on the deck, saying the air conditioning was all fixed. One friend (who explicitly told me to “leave her out of this post”) got all hot and bothered that he’d heard our conversation and would think it real. So she sets off explaining that we’re only talking about a book of mine. Naturally the rest of the gang has to pipe up and say how I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to kill people. Poor Larry. By now he’s glancing nervously toward his truck. He shoves me a paper to sign and gets out of here.

Five minutes later the phone rings. It’s Larry. “Hey, I was just thinking. Do you know you can kill a person with Freon?” He goes on to explain with great alacrity how it’s an odorless gas that displaces oxygen. “If you somehow found a way to tap into a line of freon and pump it into a house, you’d have a bunch of dead people.”

By now my pals are hearing my side of the conversation as I pull a few more choice details regarding this potentially juicy crime from Larry. “Man,” I tell him as we end the conversation, “five minutes of talking to me and my friends, and you’ve been corrupted. You arrived a repair man; you left a killer. My deepest apologies to your family.”

Something tells me it's going to be a very long weekend.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Descended Upon

Sorry about blogspot yesterday. What a pain. The comments flat out wouldn't work.

Descended upon--yes, that's what happening today. Actually started last night. At our Coeur d'Alene home, this is the fourth annual gathering of a group of writer friends. They will stay until Monday morning. All together there are 11 of us. Can't get any bigger than that, because we'd run out of beds and space around the table. We take turns helping each other plot a book--each writer gets a set amount of time to "present" a novel's premise and hear ideas from the other novelists as to how to expand it into a full story. Then in the afternoon and evening we play.

My husband, who arrives today, always feel a bit overrun. It's a combination of all the estrogen and novelist mentality. In other words--crazy all around.

This is also a wonderful time of fellowship and praying together. Bottom line, I guess you could say we work hard, play hard, and pray hard. And we're LOUD. Believe me, the whole bay will know the troops have arrived.

If you haven't tried getting with a group of novelists to help plot books, I recommend it. What's really cool is to see the book written, then eventually out on the shelves, and know you had a part in it.

Perhaps I'll see if one of my wild friends wants to take part in a guest post for tomorrow. Although turning them loose on my blog does make me break out in a cold sweat.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wall Street Journal on Novel Marketing

Last week an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal about the new ways novelists are marketing their books. It caught my attention because it talks about using the Internet and people to spread the word about a book, much like I am doing with the Kanner Lake series. “Drat,” I said aloud when I read the article, “this was written too soon.” The Wall Street Journal is a publication I’ve promised myself to target for a future article about Kanner Lake and the Scenes and Beans blog. Hope to still get that article in there at some point, but in the meantime, this article spoke to just the kind of thing I’m trying to do.

The point of the article is that mass-marketing techniques are not the only adequate ways to promote novels anymore, with so many being published each year. “Getting even one of them noticed,” the article said, “is a challenge and a clear call to revise the marketing playbook.”

Publishers and authors are using the Internet in “more sophisticated ways, though email blasts, interactive games and viral marketing aimed at small segments of the public.” Other publishers are promoting their novelists as experts on the narrow topics their novels concern, much like nonfiction authors have done for a long time. It doesn’t matter if the segment of people concerned with the topic is a small one. According to this theory, when members of a target book embrace a novel, they will tell their friends and family. Although the article doesn’t use the terms, this is the
“buzz-marketing” idea of Mark Hughes, Stielstra’s “pyro-marketing” idea and the theories discussed talked in Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. The article used numerous examples, including a novel featuring an autistic protagonist. The author hooked up with groups involved in autism research and counseling, and through his work there, word about his novel was spread.

The article cites numerous other examples of novels whose promotion was targeted to a specific group. Most of these promotions seemed to help book sales. Of course, some promotions are more successful than others.

The bottom line thought here is getting a core group of people interested in your novel for a reason that benefits those people. This is the idea behind Kanner Lake’s
Scenes and Beans blog. The blog is only two weeks old at this point, and the first book in the series, Violet Dawn, isn’t even out yet. But already the writers involved in the blog are seeing beginning results for themselves. They are reporting such things as higher visits on their own blogs and lowering of their Technorati ranks (the lower, the better). A couple weeks ago I sent each SBG (Scenes and Beans blogger) a press release that they could submit to local papers. The press release featured the SBG and how he/she won a part in this blog, the character he/she is writing, his/her own URL, and a quote from me and from Zondervan about this writer’s talent. SBG Chris Mikesell snagged an interview with a local reporter after sending out the press release, and SBG Sherry Ramsey saw her press release run in the Priest River Times (a northern Idaho paper in the general vicinity of Kanner Lake). SBG Pamela James said her release is set to run in their church newsletter. Others have run the release on their own blogs. More reports of results are trickling in.

I have to admit Scenes and Beans is a huge project and has taken much time to set up, although I think it will start being easier now that it’s rolling. And you might remember that after Violet Dawn releases, any reader can submit a post for possible use on the blog. These posts will begin running next January, which means the original SBGs only need fulfill their commitment through December. Although as word about Scenes and Beans continues to spread, the SBGs should continue to benefit.

I am jazzed to hear that my Kanner Lake series is being talked about and covered by media already. But frankly, I’m even more jazzed to hear that the bloggers involved are benefiting from the publicity. This is the way I intended this project to be from the beginning—all involved benefiting.

For all of us writing novels and looking for innovative ways to help market them—the Wall Street Journal had it right: “Getting [a novel] noticed is a challenge and a clear call to revise the marketing playbook.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Market Research for a Novel

Hello once again from Coeur d’Alene. Sunday morning I left California to do the annual drive to Idaho (so we can have a second car here for the rest of the summer). Yesterday’s post was from Bend, Oregon, where I stopped overnight on the trip. Now I’m back in paradise, looking out at the lake as I write this.

Yesterday I received this letter from a BG:

After sending out a book proposal, I've had an agent request the entire manuscript. He also wants me to include the proposal again, and gave me a few ideas to make it even stronger. I should include the names of similar novels and what makes mine distinct. My question is, similar in what way? Genre alone? Or similar plot, or setting?

Now, as a beginner, I did things backwards. I didn't research the market before I wrote my book.

Genre is easiest to search for. My book is historical suspense. I did a search for Christian historical suspense and only one title came up. I read the excerpt and had a hard time getting through the first chapter. Do I go out and buy a book and take valuable time to read it just because it's in my genre?

Hm. This is a bit different. Usually it’s the nonfiction book proposals that require market research to see what similar works are out there. I don’t think many novelists research the market before writing their stories.

At any rate, to comply with this request, a search under “historical suspense” won’t be very beneficial. Most novels won’t be tagged this way, which is why the search only brought up one title. I suggest that this BG go to the fiction page of, where you can search novels by genre. Historical suspense would more likely be under suspense. In the suspense category (as with all categories) you can choose the search to be by publication date in descending order. This will bring up the latest releases, and some releases not even out yet. It will take a bit of scrolling and research, but from this list you can see which stories are set historically. You’ll find numerous suspense novels set in biblical times. I don’t think the search need go back past 2004.

After looking at the suspense novels, I suggest looking also under the historical category to see if any there stand out as suspense. This way you’ll be hitting it from both sides.

Mainly I think what the agent wants is a quick description of other books that have the same time/location. Once you find those, how is your book different? Reading the back cover copy should be enough. You don’t need to be buying and reading all these books.

Okay, the rest of you BGs. You know I make no bones about not being the best proposal writer around. What do you think of my advice? Do you have anything to change/add for this BG? Anyone else out there had to market research your novel?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Best ICRS Report Saved for Last

First a bit of housekeeping. If you want to exchange links with Forensics and Faith and Scenes and Beans, please send me your URL and blog name (or I’ll use your name for your Web site). I’ll be continually adding to the “Exchanged Links” on both sites, and appreciate your putting Scenes and Beans, and Forensics and Faith on your sites in return.

Today—one last post about ICRS. I saved the best for last, to remind us why we’re in the Christian market in the first place. Particularly among the hustle-bustle of the convention floor, and in the midst of meeting with editors and agents and selling new deals, etc., it’s easy to forget the merciful and powerful God upon whom the CBA market is built in the first place.

During my signing on Monday, with a long line of folks waiting to receive a book, a friend sidled up to me and whispered in my ear about needing prayer. I will call this person C. (An initial picked at random.) C. told me of lying awake the night before, knowing prayer was needed for heavy-duty health issues. One surgical-type procedure has already been done—which did not correct the problem C. was facing, and bigger surgery could be necessary. Just being on the convention floor was difficult for C., who felt dizzy and enervated, unsure of the ability to make it through the rest of the busy day. As C. laid in bed awake during the night, God impressed my name upon C. as the person to ask for prayer.

Well, how cool is this!? Isn’t this just like God—in the middle of my signing, and what does He remind me of? Signing, schmining, big deal. Nothing’s more important than our praying for one another as His body of believers. In fact, I had asked God before leaving for Denver for an opportunity to pray for someone’s healing. Here it was. I told C. that as soon as I could get away, we’d find a quiet corner to pray.

Less than an hour later, we were doing just that—with a mutual friend along who would silently pray the whole time in agreement with the prayers God sent. We faced a corner on the convention floor, turning our backs on the booths and people, shutting everything else out. That little area became hallowed ground.

As always, I first asked, “God, show me how to pray for C.” And I waited. The answer came quite quickly. But it was one of those God answers that made no sense. He does this often, which is why I always pray this prayer at first, even though I’ve been asked to pray for a specific request. God tends to have His own agenda.

The answer that came had to do with C.’s spine, which had nothing to do with the part of the body that C. was having trouble with. But what’s a person to do but believe God knows what He’s talking about? So I laid my hands on C.’s spine and prayed aloud for healing. God’s prayers kept flowing for the spine—all up and down it. They wouldn’t stop for awhile. I was not able to move on to what I thought we'd be praying for. Then the prayers moved to the head, as part of the skeletal system, and even down to the left foot. Well, okay, I did as I was told, but by the time I stooped down to lay my hand on the left foot, I really was wondering a bit about God. I finally asked, “C., is this making any sense to you?” “Oh, yes,” C. said, and I think our mutual friend said “yes” also. Wow, great! Confirmation for me—God did know what He was talking about. Amazing how that happens.

Finally, prayers for the skeletal system stopped and went on to the part of the body I was originally supposed to pray for. And then, when the prayers felt done with, I said amen.

C. and our friend both said, “Wow, the minute you laid hands on C’s spine, we felt heat, we felt energy.” C. felt healing immediately. I didn’t feel a thing, but I was sure glad to hear their report. God is so good!

Six days later, C. told me of much immediate healing that day—for the spine issues and much improvement for the other issues as well. C. was able to finish out the day with amazing energy.

Isn’t our God terrific!? In the midst of a convention floor, He decides to pull a miracle. I was so amazed—and yet I know I shouldn’t be. Well, I’m not amazed at God’s power or mercy, but I’m just always amazed when I get to be right in the middle of it. That’s a very humbling experience.

Four years ago was my first convention. I came home from it, feeling healthy. Two days later I stooped down to get a pan in a lower kitchen cabinet, my legs gave way, I fell down hard and couldn’t get up. That was my first day of battling Lyme disease. Four years later, and over three years after my own miraculous healing, God let me witness someone else’s healing. What a wonderful reminder of Who He Is.

God rules. Including on the ICRS convention floor.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Inspired by . . . The Bible Experience

On Monday at ICRS as I walked in to the Zondervan hospitality suite, I saw Paul Caminiti, Vice President of Bibles. I told him how excited I was to see the video of the Inspired By the Bible Experience in the Zondervan booth upstairs on the convention floor. The video reveals a behind-the-scenes look of the project, including a number of the actors and actresses recording their parts. I’m telling you, they’re not just reading the Bible. They are acting.

The New Testament CDs release this October, packaged in a bright lime green box. A bonus DVD, which shows, among other things, the making of the recordings is included. The project is aptly labeled “Theater of the Mind and Spirit.” It is a fully acted performance complete with music and sound effects—captured in audio form. On the package’s cover—names of some of the celebrities involved: Angela Bassett, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Cuba Gooding Jr., Blair Underwood (Jesus), Samuel Jackson (God), Denzel Washington (Solomon). The Old Testament CDs release October 2007.

Paul Caminiti introduced me to Louis “Buster” Brown, from the
Inspired by . . . Media Group in Beverly Hills. Buster, who wrote some of the music for the Prince of Egypt movie, also wrote music for this project. He secured the Prague Philharmonic, with a whopping 60 strings, to play. Music is a huge part of this audio Bible, both Buster and Paul told me. As with a movie, it sets the aura and provides background. Each book is introduced with music, and Buster’s original theme is at the beginning and end.

As for sound effects—sounds in the Garden of Gethsemane at night. The scream of the man whose ear is cut off as Jesus is arrested. Tears and groans. Sounds of nature, etc.

Media interest in the project has been huge. Paul had recently been interviewed for 40 minutes by the L.A. Times. He’d also interviewed with Essence magazine, and
USA Today ran an article announcing the project a few months ago. Publicity will continue to grow as the time draws near for the New Testament’s release.

From the Inspired By . . . Web site (also click on
this page to see the wonderful behind-the scenes video that was showing in the Zondervan booth):

“Inspired By… The Bible Experience is the most ambitious undertaking in recent recording history. The Bible is brought to life by a collection of distinguished artists and personalities, in a complete and fully dramatized audio recording of all 66 Books of Scripture. The 368 character portrayals are further accentuated by a compelling and inspirational musical soundtrack. This amazing and anointed audio production presents the world with the unique opportunity to be Inspired By… The Bible Experience.

“Inspired By Media Group has designed a sophisticated layering of sound and music to create a complete audio environment that provides listeners a tangible perspective on the biblical characters and circumstances. The cast is comprised of celebrated performers from the fields of film, television, music, and theater while the underscore reflects a broad spectrum of indigenous musical genres.

“Everyone involved in this production contributed time and talent as a labor of love. This historic gathering of exceptional talent was paired with the latest and best in recording technology, to create a new standard in the presentation of the oldest and most popular literature known to man. The result is offered as a manifestation of God’s never ceasing love and will to engage.

“Thus, be Inspired By… The Bible Experience.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Report from the Convention

Howdy, BGs, once again from California. Got home yesterday afternoon.

Monday afternoon at the convention I signed copies of Web of Lies and ARCs (advanced reader copies) of Violet Dawn at the Zondervan booth. Went through 100 of each in about an hour. I made sure to stand in a few other suspense authors’ lines to get their books.
T.L. (Tony) Hines and Robin Parrish signed together in the Baker booth (their publisher is Bethany) on Tuesday. I already had a copy of Tony’s new book, Waking Lazarus, which we’ve talked about here on Forensics and Faith. But I’ve been interested to read Relentless, Robin’s much-talked-about debut, which just released. Robin is editor of Infuze Magazine. (If you aren’t a subscriber to this magazine, you should be.) After I’ve read Relentless, I hope to talk about it here.

The convention floor seemed quieter this year. There seemed to be lots of wide spaces between booths. Every year attendance shrinks a little. In years past a lot of buying went on at the convention. But now, with sales reps calling regularly on booksellers, there is little actual buying of books. There are numerous workshops for booksellers to attend, but with the number of stores shrinking and budgets tight, many booksellers can’t justify the cost to attend. Actual numbers of attendees will probably be announced in the next Christian Retailing magazine, and I’ll pass that along.

Couple of interesting things at Zondervan to tell you. First, the company has a new logo—a very contemporary looking block Z in gold. This comes on the company’s 75th anniversary. The logo was revealed at the show, and isn’t on the Z Web site yet (or I’d show you a picture). I talked to Bill Oechsler, VP of Marketing, who’s been at Z for nine months. He told me the amazing story of this logo and the process used to create it. The project began at the end of March. That’s doggone quick to come up with something as important as a new company icon. This couldn’t have happened if Z didn’t already have a firm understanding of what the company is about and a large base of data about their products and market.

Hanon-McKendry, brand consultants to many companies, including faith-based organizations such as Focus on the Family and Promise Keepers, was hired to create the logo. Bill O. pulled together a seven-member team of Zondervan folks who could make decisions and see the project to fruition. Along with the logo came Zondervan’s new tagline, “Live life inspired.” In everything the company does, Bill told me, be it produce books and Bibles, in their marketing, in company meetings—anything—Zondervan seeks to offer a “transformational Christian experience.” The mission statement of Z has essentially remained the same: “It’s our mission to be the leading Christian communications company meeting the needs of people with resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical principles.”

The top gold bar in the “Z” represents God, the bottom gold bar—just a smidgen shorter than the top one—represents man, made in God’s image but not equal with God. The thicker, angled bar in the middle represents Jesus, connecting the two. When you turn the logo sideways it looks like stacked books, with the middle one leaning a bit.

Tuesday night—my last night in Denver—Z authors and certain retailers and media folks were invited to a special 75th anniversary reception at the stunning governor’s mansion. (This is not the governor’s residence. But, according to a photographer I spoke with, it’s rarely used for parties and such. I don’t know how it came about that Zondervan was able to use the house.) Each attendee was given a beautiful, tall champagne-type glass with the new Z logo. (Although the glasses used to serve drinks were filled with sparkling apple cider, not champagne.)

Marketing-minded as I am, I found it very interesting to learn the inside scoop about the new logo and tagline “Live life inspired”--or “themeline,” as it was called in the daily magazine printed at the convention. A logo and tagline represent the foundation of any company—what it stands for, what it does, what it hopes to accomplish in the world. I’m happy to be published by a company that is secure in its understanding of its goals and mission. This is important for me to understand as a Z author, because I know each of my novels must be in line with what the company is all about.

Tomorrow—the latest (and some inside scoop) on Zondervan’s upcoming “Inspired by the Bible Experience” audio Bible. This is one incredible project!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Christy Awards--Part 2

In 2000 for the first Christy Awards, 80 books were submitted. This year almost 150 titles were submitted, reflecting the growth of Christian fiction. For the first time the contemporary category was broken into two--stand-alone and series—due to the large number of books submitted in that category. Publishers submit books—not the authors. The submission fee is hefty for a contest—I think it’s around $100 per book. Generally speaking, the awards tend to single out the more literary-voiced books in each genre.

I don’t know how many attended the banquet this year. I do know the large banquet room was full of tables. Some publishers host their own tables—Zondervan typically has two. These publishers often pay for their authors’ dinners (Z has always paid for its novelists and provided a seat for us at the Z table) while other publishers don’t do this, and the authors are left on their own. And, of course, there are lots of editors and agents, so many people just find a table that isn’t reserved for a publisher and sit with their pals.

Before dinner the finalists were honored, each one going up front to receive a medallion and have the their photos taken as a category group. There were three finalists for each category. Dinner followed, then the keynote address. After the address, winners were announced. This format has changed every year, and I think this one was the best. This way those who don’t win aren’t left standing in front of everyone as the winner is announced.

Author Bret Lott, Oprah pick for his novel Jewell, was the keynote speaker. Lott and his wife formerly hailed from South Carolina, where he taught Sunday School. They now live in Baton Rouge. He has had 11 books published.

Lott told us that he became a Christian at 18 through a Josh McDowell rally. At age 20, while working as an RC Cola salesman and attending college, he took a creative writing course merely because it fit his schedule. In reading, Lott’s hero became Flannery O’Conner. When Lott decided he wanted to write, he went to John White, a Christian author, and asked him now to be a Christian novelist. White told him, “Write with the integrity of a Christian. See the world with empathy and detail and love—and with all its dust.” That became Lott’s passion.

“The cold world of New York publishing doesn’t quite know what to do with me,” Lott said. He is a Christian writer, and he’s known for writing well—which makes him rather an “idiot savant” to New York. Lott sees his stories as presenting the world with its “dust, with which Christ was familiar.” Christ surprised his listeners with His own stores, Lott said, and through such stories “a reader can come face to face with himself in the dust of life.”

Jewell was his fourth book. Prior to that, he’d published two novels and a book of short stories. Jewell was inspired by the life of Lott’s grandmother, who bore six children, one of whom—Lott’s aunt—had Downs Syndrome. In writing the book, Lott asked his grandmother, “What was your great failure in life?” She replied that she thought she could “fix things” and realized late in life that she couldn’t. From this inspiration came the story of a mother of a daughter with Downs Syndrome, who was always looking to try to “fix it.”

Award Winners:

Contemporary Stand Alone: W. Dale Cramer, Levi’s Will (Bethany). (Dale also won last year for his novel Bad Ground.) Dale’s novel was based on his father, who was banned by his Amish family sixty years ago. In all those years, his father had not been able to sit at the same table with his family for a meal. After reading Dale’s book, the family saw things in a new light and lifted the ban. “For the first time in 60 years,” Dale said in his acceptance speech, “last Thanksgiving my father sat down to eat with his family.” The difference this book has made in the life of his own family has been tremendous. He concluded with the emotional statement, “Look what God has done with the work of my hands.”

Contemporary Series: Vanessa Del Fabbro, The Road To Home (Steeple Hill). In a wonderful south African accent, Vanessa thanked her Steeple Hill editors. (This book was also a finalist in the First Novel category.)

Historical: Liz Curtis Higgs, Whence Came a Prince (WaterBrook). Gracious Liz praised her fellow finalists, telling James Scott Bell (the other finalist who was in attendance) that his book was wonderful, and she was so honored to be in his company. Liz tearfully thanked the WaterBrook folks for all their work on her behalf.

Romance: Deeanne Gist, A Bride Most Begrudging (Bethany). Deeanne, an ABA novelist, told the audience that this novel had sat on her shelf for five years. Then she just happened to read an interview with Dave Long in the CBA magazine and decided to submit the manuscript to him.

Suspense/Mystery: Athol Dickson, River Rising (Bethany). Athol thanked Bethany for all their work, singling out the artist for the novel’s cover, and Dave Long as his editor.

Visionary: Karen Hancock, Shadow Over Kiriath (Bethany). This is Karen’s second win in this category. She thanked Bethany House, also thanking Steve Laube, now her agent and her former editor at Bethany, for so strongly supporting fantasy and pushing for Bethany to publish her work.

First novel: Nicole Mazzarella, This Heavy Silence (Paraclete Press). Nicole said, “This novel grew from my experiencing of God’s grace.”

Next year’s Christy Award banquet will be held in Atlanta.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Inside The Christy Banquet--Part 1

I’m going to take a number of days to tell you about some of the sights and sounds here in Denver. No doubt other bloggers and e-mail posters have listed who the Christy Award winners are. So I offer you something a little different.

This year on Saturday night the Christy banquet was held in the downtown Denver Marriott. I always enjoy the evening since it’s a gathering of wonderful fiction editors, agents and writers. There’s so many fascinating and talented people I want to talk with. I’ll start one conversation and end up getting pulled off to something else. This being my fifth Christy dinner, I feel at home now. Not so the first year I attended.

That would be in 2002, in L.A. That was also my first C.B.A. convention (now ICRS) and first ChiLibris retreat. I had three books on the shelves at that point and was definitely still feeling like a new kid on the block. Naturally, feeling nervous about attending the convention and dinner, I wanted to look just right. Well, what do I know. I heard “banquet” and “award,” and this na├»ve newbie thought, “Oh, okay, this is like the Oscar awards for Christian writing.” Which, of course, means ya dress to the nines.

A smarter person would have asked an experienced Christy attendee about the dress code.

So yours truly bought a new gown. Floor length and green, completely sequined, low backed. I told my husband (this is the only year he’s been with me) the dinner was formal, so he packed not a tux, but an expensive suit with French cuff shirt and gold cuff links. Fast forward to the ChiLibris retreat, when I started hearing what other women were wearing. Trust me, it wasn’t floor length gowns. More like basic Sunday dress. No way floor length. No way sequins. Definitely not low-backed.

Oh, boy. At least other men would be dressed in suits, so Mark wouldn’t look all that different. But I was gonna stand out like a green sequined sore thumb. With a couple of fingers thrown in. Looking at myself in the mirror before leaving the hotel room, I just wanted to fall through the floor. But what to do? So I had a little talk with myself. “Okay, B, you can either act like you’re mortified out of your mind—which you are—or you can walk in on your husband’s arm with your head held high, as if you perfectly well knew you’d be more dressed than anyone else, and that’s just fine by you.” Plan A—make myself and everyone around me miserable, because they’d surely feel my self-consciousness. Plan B—forget self-consciousness at my faux pas and just have a good time.

I’m a practical sort. I chose Plan B.

We got to the banquet. I felt like a neon sign, but didn’t let on. I was very glad to have my husband with me. We met all the Zondervan folk. We had seats at their reserved table. I’d just as soon have sat in a corner. No such luck. By twisted Murphy’s Law I ended up sitting next to none other than the Zondervan President/CEO.

He was a gracious man and never said a word about my dress.

At the table next to us sat a prominent novelist. I caught him staring at me. I just knew he was thinking, “Who on earth let that crazy woman in CBA?”

To be truthful, I did get compliments from many kind women. Even while they were no doubt thinking, “There but for the grace of God—and more than a few IQ points—go I.”

To this day there are numerous folks who haven’t forgotten the dress. Some in ACFW still talk about it. This is partly my doing. Since the doggone subject wouldn’t die, I decided to turn the thing on its head and make fun of myself. At the ACFW conference that fall I dressed up a lifestyle doll in the gown and a red wig. (That red wig was later used to outfit Mildred Koppelheimer, but that is, indeed, another story.)

An interesting thing happened the next year among the ChiLibris gals. Someone started talking on the loop about dressing to the nines for the banquet. I don’t know if my green dress had anything to do with that idea or not. At any rate, many of us decided to make it a fancy night. We knew many would still be in basic black dresses or Sunday best, and that was fine. But for those of us who wanted to dress up to help make the celebration of Christian fiction feel more festive—we decided to go for it.

Way cool. I had gowned cohorts that year. Although no one was in full sequins. Including me.

Since then it’s become a tradition for us dress-uppers. I’ve pulled a different gown from my closet every year, joining many of the other female novelists who’ve taken to doing the same. Others choose not to go that fancy. It’s just whatever the person feels comfortable with. Everybody’s happy with how they choose to look, and nobody need feel self-conscious. And so we’re free to have a great time, see all our pals in the industry, and forget about ourselves. Most of all, we rejoice with the winners of the awards. We all know and love each other, so whoever wins, it’s easy to feel happy. And together we’re celebrating fiction with a Christian worldview.

Tomorrow—this year’s keynote speaker, the award winners and some surprising acceptance speeches. (I took notes.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Surprise Debut

These rappers extraordinaire brought down the house at the ChiLibris retreat with their world debut of "Nice, Nice Baby."

Read the CBN Newsflash at Charis Connection.

Friday, July 07, 2006

From Denver

It's raining in Denver. What’s the deal, it’s July. Isn’t this supposed to be dry weather time? My hotel’s ¾ of a mile from the convention center. I’m not walking that in the rain.

Fortunately I have a few days. First is the ChiLibris retreat (an organization for CBA fiction writers who've had at least two novels published). Our meetings are right here in the hotel. Today I’ll probably not even see the light of day outside. I can even jog in the workout room.

Yesterday the flight from San Francisco to Denver took about two hours. Guess the time it took me to get to the hotel after landing. Two hours. Loong baggage wait. Then the shuttle. Then lots of traffic into town. Sheesh. I reached the hotel a whole 15 minutes before dinner.

The driver of the shuttle didn’t have to tell me my hotel was (finally) around the corner. I heard the noise. You don’t get 60 novelists together and expect any peace in the place, lemme me ya. I doubt this hotel will ever be the same.

It’s got wireless in the rooms. Yowza.

We ate in at the hotel—a casual catered pasta dinner. I went around hugging everybody, and everybody else was hugging everybody else. Quite the friendly group. At dinner I purposely sat down with someone I didn’t know. New to ChiLibris. Name’s
Brad Whittington. You might recognize that name. He won a Christy for his first novel, Welcome to Fred, two years ago. Brad has a blog, in which he finds crazy things on the Internet and posts links to them. This is something that a guy who writes novels like the Fred books would do.

Also at the table were Robert Whitlow and his wife, Kathy. Robert’s as southern as you can get (two words out of his mouth and you’ll know), a lawyer-turned novelist. Check out his very cool
Web site with numerous videos. His latest big project was producing a movie from his novel The List. It’s now done and in editing. Robert informs me it will have a limited release in big theaters.

A reminder—those of you who want to exchange links for this blog and/or Scenes and Beans, send your hyperlinks on over. I’ll gather a bunch and then put them up on both sites.

Check back here Monday for a special planned post. I can guarantee you it’ll be something you wouldn’t guess. And highly entertaining.

Well, naturally.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Various Pieces of News

I returned to California yesterday for a quick stop—now this morning am flying out to Denver. Thursday night through Sunday morning is the ChiLibris retreat (Christian novelists). On Saturday we’ll attend the Christy banquet. Some of you BGs I’ll see at the CL retreat, or the Christy’s, or perhaps at the ICRS convention floor, which opens Monday. I’ll be signing at the Zondervan booth at 1 p.m. Monday—galleys of Violet Dawn. I will be posting from Denver and letting y’all know the sights and sounds.

A few other items for today:

1. Now that this blog has its new look, I want to start a formal link exchange. If you want to exchange a link with Forensics and Faith, please
e-mail me with your own hyperlinked blog name, or if it’s a Web site, hyperlink your own name. It’ll really help if you put “Link Exchange” in the subject line.

2. Over on Scenes and Beans, Bailey Truitt will soon start her own link exchange. If you want to exchange links with that blog as well, please also let me know in your e-mail.

3. Speaking of
Scenes and Beans—it got off to a great start with over 200 visits on the very first day! Lots of fun comments as well. Hope you all will check back over there today.

4. The latest Christian Retailing magazine has a full-page ad for Deception, Randy Alcorn’s conclusion to his previous two novels, Deadline and Dominion. It’s been awhile since Randy came out with a novel, and his stories are always terrific.
Deception releases in the fall. If you’re at ICRS, you can see it featured at the Multnomah booth, #1765.

5. Also according to Christian Retailing, a new biblical film from Hollywood—The Nativity Story—is releasing December 1 from New Line Cinema. This film tells of a two-year period in Mary and Joseph’s lives leading to the birth of Christ and the arriving of the Magi. The screenplay is by Mike Rich, who also wrote Finding Forrester, The Rookie and Radio. Tyndale is releasing a correlating novel with the same title by best-selling author
Angela Hunt on November 1. Tyndale will be working closely with New Line on promotional and marketing opportunities. Waytago, Angie.

6. Do you know about You can register
here in order to use the site. There you can leave your opinions about all kinds of things—including books. (And you can read others' opinions.) That’s right—leave a mini-review and see how others rate what you had to say. One more way to get the word out about a book.

7. is currently selling bargain copies of
Getting Into Character for $3.99! That’s $13 off the retail price. Quantities are limited, and the book continues to sell at its regular discount price of $13.99. The “bargain” books are new, but they have a line drawn across the bottom of the pages when the book is closed. They were probably bought from some bookseller going out of business. So when these copies are gone, you’ll not find GIC at this price again.

8. Over a seven-week period, the first twelve chapters of Violet Dawn will be serialized on the Kanner Lake Web site--starting tomorrow. Sign up
here to receive an e-mail notification when the new chapters are posted each Friday (one to two a week). Big Honkin’ Chicken’s Club members—here’s your chance to ease into the story. Come on, even you can handle one to two chapters a week. For every 20 people who sign up, one will win an autographed copy of Violet Dawn.

See ya BGs tomorrow from the Mile High City.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The REAL Show

The night was spectacular.

After a hot, hot day, the evening air felt just right, still plenty warm on the lake at ten o’clock. Boats had gathered in the wide top of Coeur d’Alene Lake, facing the resort, awaiting fireworks that would be shot off barges just past the docks. In our bay families had gathered up and down the shoreline, sending up their own fireworks bought down the road from the Indian reservation. We shot off plenty of our own, my son aiming Roman candles to skip across the water like pink stones before exploding.

As the sky darkened we climbed into the boat and headed the short distance toward the barges.

While we waited for the show, we ate strawberry shortcake with whip cream. Definitely better on the water.

Mark aimed our boat facing the resort—north. But behind the hills to the west is where the real show started.

We noticed it before the fireworks began. At first I thought it was distant fireworks in some other town, lighting the clouds in that part of the sky. But then it grew in intensity. The low-slung clouds behind those mountains began to pulse with diffused lightning.

At the resort the fireworks began, exploding blue, green, white, amber in the sky. The rippling water reflected each color, boats honking their horns and folks whooping their excitement that another year had passed and here we were again on July 4th, amazed at the pyrotechnics.

After the fifth firework, the first lightning bolt jagged through the west. Horizontal. Cleaving the sky across the top of the hills, fibrillating the clouds a milky white.

“You want fireworks?” God said. “Watch this.”

My head turned from the fireworks to His show.

For the next ten to fifteen minutes, through the entire fireworks bonanza, my head swiveled back and forth, watching the colors explode, watching the lightning jag. My daughter and her friend shrieked at each new lightning bolt, until they turned from the fireworks to focus completely on nature. My daughter trained her camera on the mountains, gleeing over each photo she caught of a bolt.

The fireworks whistled and pop-popped and burst, their echoes loud against low hills to the east and booming like cannons against the far northern hills. Meanwhile God kept up His show, moving it slowly north. I kept swiveling back and forth, trying to catch it all. The fireworks finale was awesome, filling the sky with every color of the rainbow. As the echoes finally faded, catcalls of appreciation and wonder echoed across the water from the boats.

The lightning played on.

Now as I sit in our great room writing this post, facing north toward the shimmering lights of town across the water, neighbors around the bay shoot off fireworks from all directions. And straight ahead, God’s show sears the sky. This post is writing slowly because I can hardly keep my eyes on the computer screen, so constant are the sights outside. The lightning continues to outshine all else.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God,
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
Night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words.
Their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out to all the earth,
And their utterance to the end of the world.

Psalm 19

Scenes and Beans is live today! Please hop over to read Bailey’s introductory post. She just might finish the thing if the rest of the rambunctious crew at Java Joint will leave her alone. Your comments (playing along with the fiction of the blog) are most welcome.

Monday, July 03, 2006

This Little Author Went to Market

Well, this is fascinating.

In light of all that’s happening this week, I started to write a post about marketing. You all know I’m not one of those authors who sits back and thinks the publisher should do all the marketing. And I don’t want you all to be, either. Self-marketing works. But you have to keep at it, and you need to be very creative. I sat down to write a post to encourage you in your own creativity.

Then just before starting the post, I got it in my head to google “Kanner Lake.” For some reason I hadn’t thought to do this before. I knew the only “Kanner Lake” sites that would come up would be talking about my series, because I googled that name before I ever decided to use it to make sure it’s not a real lake somewhere. So I hit “search”—and my mouth dropped open. How many hits? Over 16,000.

Violet Dawn, first book in the series, doesn’t even release for another month.

We all know how google works. Once you start looking at the sites, you’ll see far less than the total hit count, unless you want google to show you all the sites—many of which are very similar. However, I wanted to compare apples to apples, so I then ran a search for my last release, Web of Lies. I added my name to make sure the hits would all be about my book. Result for total hits—just under 9800. And Web of Lies went on a successful blog tour just a few months ago. I then ran a search for “Dead of Night” plus my name (Dead of Night was released before WOL). Result—about 2500.

No doubt the huge jump between Dead of Night and Web of Lies is due in part to the blog tour for WOL. Plus Forensics and Faith had been going for a year by the time WOL released, which added to links. Now with the Kanner Lake series, there is no denying what is happening. Through involving other people in the Scenes and Beans blog, I’ve found a way to get people talking about my series weeks before it even hits shelves.

This is the key that I see over and over in the new marketing books. Out with the mass market advertising approach; in with networking, grass roots support, and word of mouth.

But in order for the word of mouth thing to work, you gotta give folks a good reason to talk about your product, whether it’s dishwashing detergent or a book. There seems to be two basic reasons people will talk about a product: (1) The people enjoyed the product so much they want to tell others about it, and (2) There’s something to be gained personally by the folks who talk about the product.

I think if you can hit both 1 & 2, you’ve really got something.

People will engage in #1 at their own incentive simply because the product worked. “Hey, Mary, have you tried new XYZ dishwashing liquid? That stuff’s amazing.” “Wow, have you read XYZ book? I just loved it!”

For the Kanner Lake series, I do hope readers talk about the books because they enjoy them. But the series hasn’t launched yet, so I can’t count on #1 at this point. Except that 50 interested people did get an early read of Violet Dawn through auditioning for Scenes and Beans, and that surely counts for something. But the main thing going on for the series right now is #2. I’m working on giving the S&B bloggers (SBGs) lots of incentives to talk about the series by my turn-about promoting of them and their own work and sites. The more successful Scenes and Beans is in terms of readership, the more the SBGs willl benefit. And later, as the series’ readership at large will be able to send in posts for possible use on the blog, the network of folks benefiting from talking about Scenes and Beans will spread. (Although the original SBGs will always have a special distinction, which they deserve.)

Since I first started mentioning this marketing idea here on Forensics and Faith—before I could even specify what it was—I figured it would be a public experiment. I don’t mind being forthright about how it’s all working over time. I figure we can all learn from watching how the project goes—and then each of you can take that knowledge to create new marketing ideas of your own. I have plans for a very large readership for S&B. Will I make that? Well, I’ll give it my best shot. And I’ll let you know how well I succeed. I do know that blogs take time to build readership, but I’ll be constantly working to promote S&B from the very beginning. I’ll also let you know how well the SBGs benefit by their participation.

Of course, blog readership and search hits aren’t the end result when you’re writing books. The bottom line will be—how will all this help sell the Kanner Lake books? I won’t be able to fully answer that question, because the results of my own marketing in terms of sales can’t always be delineated from sales as a result of Zondervan’s marketing—and they are doing more to promote this book than any of my previous ones. But I’ll let you know as much as I can figure out.

I’ve seen some of my suspense writer pals do some interesting things in marketing their books.
T.L. Hines (author of Waking Lazarus), is a marketer. Chris Well (author of Forgiving Solomon Long and Deliver Us From Evelyn) has always got his eye on marketing too. So whether I’m talking about my own marketing ideas or others’, I do want to continue discussing the issue here at Forensics and Faith now and then. We all can learn from each other as we share ideas and see how well they work in the marketplace.

Here’s to marketing—and your own creative ideas.

Have a great 4th, everyone. I’ll take a day off of blogging tomorrow, then be back with you on Wednesday.