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Monday, September 22, 2014

New Publishing Trends

Freshly released!
I was so excited when my editor told me my new Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal would be carried by Cracker Barrel! As you already know, these days it's not a sure thing that anyone at all will carry your books.

In fact, I've heard a few interesting industry trends recently that I thought I'd pass on you, writerly friends.

The first is sadly no surprise - as bookstores and book departments in big box stores are shrinking in size and number (have you noticed the teensy book section in Sam's Club recently compared to the bustling multi-aisles they had only two years ago?) traditional publishers are shrinking in number as well. Some are closing their doors and others are merging, but the result is the same ... less opportunities for agents and authors to attract traditional press eyeballs.

They want to stick with the tried and true, thank you. Meaning mostly the mega-names that have sold well for them in the past. That's why agents are pitching quality manuscripts by quality authors to publishing houses and are being turned away.

Oh, except for gift books. Pubs seem to be open to gift books, even from newish authors as long as the titles are catchy and they have mass appeal. People will always want to pick up nice gift books for friends in the hospital or someone going through a bad time. It's something to wrap in a pretty package to show how much you care and something the recipient can hold in her hands to feel the love.

Hence the primary reason Cracker Barrel, who as you know specializes in gift shopping to take your mind off your growling stomach while you're waiting for your table, snapped up the beautifully embossed hard cover version of my original paperback book, Too Blessed to be Stressed. Gift books are still a goldmine and will be for some time until someone figures out a way to sell an e-book you can tie a shiny bow around.

And we mustn't forget how-to books. People are eager to buy gift books for Aunt Matilda's Christmas present and BFF Louise's surprise birthday party, but they're downright hyper to buy themselves the newest self-help book on improving their marriage, parenting, sex, and spiritual lives in five easy steps. Who wouldn't want to do something important to them even better? And at little cost with no one aware that you're trying to fix a secret fault?

So if you're a gift book or self-help writer, or if you specialize in devos or spiritual encouragement, you may eat a celebratory Cadbury bar. But only one.

You'll need to pocket the change because there's not a lot of money in book deals these days. You may not have known - unless you're already a published inspirational author - and I hate to be the one to break it to you if this is a sudden shock, but ... you'll never get rich in this writing gig. Average first and second book advances used to be $10k to $15k ten years ago but nowadays if they're offered at all, they're more like $3k to $5k. And sadly, there are so many companies that don't offer any advance at all, people are tickled to get that much. Try to feed, clothe, and air-condition your family for a month with that.

The logical outcome of all this is, of course, a huge boon in online self-publishing and the use of social media for platform-building.

Many traditionally published authors are going hybrid (producing some self-published books along with the ones their traditional publisher churns out), and many new authors are choosing from the get-go to indie publish. The age old hideous-cover-terrible-editing stigma of self-published books is beginning to fade as indie companies cater more and more to discerning authors, but going the extra mile to produce nothing short of excellent quality material is essential for the new kids on the block if they want this trend to continue to be a viable option.

So what's a writer to do?

Keep writing, that's what. Explore all possibilities - blogs, guest posts, print magazines (there are a few left and hey, Sunday School materials will always be on demand!), e-zines ... oh, far too many opportunities to name here if you use your imagination and do your homework.

But that's the main thing: If you feel called to write, then keep on using every possible opportunity to impact lives with your written words. If Papa God asks you to build a shed, my friend, He'll supply the nails.

*A special shout out to Casey Herringshaw for her astute 9/15/14 blogpost on The WordServe Water Cooler titled "A View From the Assistant's Desk." By the way, if you don't subscribe to Wordservewatercooler.com or FaithHappenings.com, you absolutely positively need to get your behunkus in gear and do it today!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Best Picture of All Time

This image says it all
Yes, if you've followed my blog for long, you've seen this picture before. And you'll no doubt see it again. As a writer, it's my absolute favorite picture-says-a-thousand-words image of all time.

I know people usually think of this words-jumping-to-life feeling in terms of fiction, but as an inspirational nonfiction writer, this is exactly the way I want my readers to feel about Papa God wrapping His warm, loving, safe arms around them through the catalyst of my words on the page.

It's what I live for.

And when I receive letters from readers telling me they've been in this exact place, feeling the acceptance and contentment reflected in the face of the gal in the image, I rejoice down to the tips of my toenails.

Here are a few comments I've received:

"Thank you for helping me realize it's okay to be a diamond in the rough." ~Denise

"I'm 21 years old and have recently been laid off so I can no longer help my father with his medical bills. I read the first two pages of Too Blessed to be Stressed and started to cry. It had an enormous impact on my heart. I read certain sections daily and take it with me almost everywhere I go to refer to when I feel lost."  ~Erin

"I live in Puerto Rico and just finished reading Too Blessed to be Stressed in Spanish. I love the way you show us how God is included in everyday."  -Ana Maria

"I am currently a stay-at-home mom and Mom NEEDS Chocolate helped me know I'm not alone in this crazy and wonderful ride called Motherhood." ~Krystle

"Your book, Everyday Hope, truly saved me last year during one of the most challenging times of my life. Every day, as I lay in bed crying, the only thing that I could feel comfort in doing was reading pages of this book. I've read it again and again. The winter season passed and now, a year later, I'm in a place of renewed hope in my life. The only difference is that this year I have a new attitude and a new path to follow."  ~Marisa

"I cannot say enough how More Beauty, Less Beast has blessed my life. I bought the last copy at the bookstore and gave it to a teacher at the preschool going through a hard time. I know it will transform her life like it has mine."  ~Leondra

"Thank you and your co-writers for our wonderful book, Grit for the Oyster; it has inspired me and hit me right between the eyes that it's not about me but about doing the best I can with the gifts God has given me. May God bless you a thousand times as you have blessed us with this book."  ~Dave

"After seeing the format of how you compile your thoughts in Too Blessed to be Stressed into short messages and categories made me realize, 'Yes! That'show my brain works! Forget all the details, just get to the good stuff!'" ~Kaley

"Thank so much for writing More Beauty, Less Beast, Debora. I can't say enough wonderful things about it. You touched my heart, made me laugh out loud and brought me closer to the Lord."   ~Lori

"I just lost my dad due to a heart attack last Saturday. It was the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my life. I just read your book, Too Blessed to be Stressed, this week and it gave me a lot of hope and comfort. Thank you and God bless you."  ~Jen

"I let my mom borrow my copy of Too Blessed to be Stressed and she is on her tenth read now. I can't thank you enough for helping put that beautiful smile back on my mom's face!"  ~Pamela

Writerly friend, I share these comments with you to help spur you on. Sometimes we write for months, even years without feedback that anyone is responding out there. But this is the bottom line of why we toil away as writers, isn't it? To touch another heart ... to become the catalyst for that powerful unseen force to reach out through the page and envelop the reader in a comforting, healing, strengthening embrace.

So what has been your motivation to keep on writing?


Monday, August 18, 2014

A Bear of a Challenge

Deb and Chuck making new friends
Accuracy in details. It's a bear of a challenge for writers, but one we must tackle regardless of how hairy it may be.

Not long ago I heard a writer speaking. Now sometimes speakers write and sometimes writers speak. This was the latter. And she did it well.

During her wonderfully inspiring keynote address to a room full of fellow writers, this highly acclaimed author used a phrase that really resonated with me. She claimed it as a quote from one of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy. 

Well, as it happens, I had just finished listening to the CD (audio) version of that very book on my way to the conference. (Okay - don't ask why a grown woman with no children in the car chooses to listen to the Chronicles of Narnia over all the murder mysteries, romances, and motivational books on her shelf. It was either that or Harry Potter, and I've just about worn those out.) 

But you know what? For the life of me, I could not recall that specific phrase from anywhere in the book. And it was one of those rare, awesome memory-worms that I definitely would have noticed. 

So thinking maybe somehow it had been edited out of the audio version, I came home from the conference and dusted off my 35-year-old print copy of The Horse and His Boy and proceeded to rifle through the pages, paying particular attention to the sections that seemed most likely to contain the afore-mentioned phrase.

Nothing.

So I began at the front and for the next four hours, read the book from cover to cover, painstakingly searching for this handful of artfully sculpted words that I would love to use in context and reference correctly in my own work.

It simply wasn't there. 

Grrrrr.

If only this well-known author, who certainly knew better, had expended the energy to check her sources and reference her quotes correctly, it would have saved me many hours of effort and frustration. As it is, I have this terrific quote and no one to attribute it to. 

So please. Be a great writer instead of a good one. Make the effort to include accurate attributions and references in your work. And I'll be the first to reward you with a great big bear hug. 

  



Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Times They Are A-Changin'

I recently attended a wonderfully informational writer's conference in Atlanta (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), where Tamela Hancock Murray, a literary agent with the Steve Lauby agency delivered a State of the Industry address chockful of aspiring and veteran writer need-to-know nuggets.

I'll space them out over my next few posts so you don't feel like a tree fell on your head.

Feel free to contact me with questions or comments - I'd love to hear from you! Here goes:

  • Quite a few mergers occurred within the inspirational publishing industry this year, which resulted in the loss of many good editors and jobs. These include the alliance formed by Tyndale and NavPress, closed fiction divisions by B & H, Summerside, and Moody, merger of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, and Baker acquired Regal.  
  • These changes, of course, shrink the market for Christian authors to shop their manuscripts. Yucko.
  • Because of the evaporating larger house market, it behooves new authors to consider small presses more than ever. (Deb's note: I've been advocating small presses for years. It's where I got my start - many produce great quality books at no cost to the author, and most don't requite agents but will deal directly with the author.)
  • Self-publishing is still ironing out its kinks. Self-pub books tend to get fewer than 10 reviews on Amazon and most successful self-pub books are by already big name authors with large platforms. The few exceptions who get big press with highly successful first e-books or print books make it look easier than it is.
  • Hybrid authors (who do both self-publishing and traditional publishing) are on the rise; many are publishing their older traditionally published books after they're out of print and the rights revert to the author. (Note: rights reverting to the author MUST appear in the contract; check your fine print.)


More next post. Any thoughts you'd like to share about the above?




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Terrific New Contest!

Summer 2014: Baby Blessings Shower

The Babies Are Arriving!

As you may have heard, my book Too Blessed to be Stressed has been busy birthing offspring; I call them my Baby Blessings. So far, the bouncing bundles of joy include:

Too Blessed to be Stressed 2014 Planner
TooBlessedPlanner

Too Blessed to be Stressed Perpetual Calendar Too Blessed to Be Stressed Perpetual Calendar

Muy Bendecida Para Estar Estresada (Spanish translation) Too Blessed to be Stressed (Spanish)
The Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition
Too Blessed to Be Stressed - Promise Book

Due next in July is the Too Blessed to be Stressed 2015 Planner and in September, the Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal, which is a hard cover version of the original paperback with additional space for Too Blessed to be Stressed 2015 Planneranswering “Let’s Decom-Stress” reflection questions and journaling. I’m planning cool contests to give away copies of each one to celebrate their birthdays, so be sure to subscribe to my blog to find out about all the freebies as the news breaks!
In the meantime, I’m throwing a baby shower in reverse! That means I give YOU gifts to celebrate! Keep reading …

A Baby Shower Like No Other
In celebration of my Baby Blessings, I want to see yours! Just shoot me an e-photo of your cherished baby (human, 4-legged or even 4-wheeled) on my CONTACT page by August 8th and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win the Baby Blessing (listed above) of your choice. Winning photos will be posted on my blog in mid-August.

If you haven't already subscribed to my personal blog, please do so that you won't miss a thing (this is my writer's blog; my personal blog is www.deboracoty.blogspot.com).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Breaking Into Print

I received an e-letter from an aspiring writer this week asking for tips on how to break into print (she's currently a college English major, focused on creative writing).

As I'm often asked for advice from young writers on how to get your feet wet in the sea of publication, I thought I'd reprint my response to her here. Much of it is my personal story. I hope you find something in my tale helpful for your own writing journey. Here was my reply:



I think you're wise to pursue creative writing in college; I sometimes think if I had, it would have saved me a lot of cramming and learning the hard way later (I majored in occupational therapy at UF). But I had no way of knowing I would turn out to be a writer - it was more Papa God's idea than mine.

I started writing professionally about 10 years ago at age 45 when my youngest chick flew the coop for college and I heard a still, small voice whisper to my heart (in a dentist's office of all places!) that it was time to chase the childhood dream He'd put in my heart to write.

I began with magazine articles and with a mentor's help (mostly to make me NOT look like the amateur I was), was able to get 10 pieces published that first year. Although the industry has changed dramatically during the past decade, I still believe it's the best way to go - take small bites (articles both online and print, blogs, etc) before tackling the whole enchilada (a book). I'm now blessed with over 130 articles published internationally, most of them based on personal anecdotes and life lessons learned. Many of them are laced with humor (I highly recommend this to promote sales - everybody likes to laugh!). 

From magazines, I moved on to a newspaper column (which I still write 8 years later), kind of a Christian Erma Bombeck slice of life perspective.

Both of these experiences were crucial to:
1) Pad my resume and provide clips for catching bigger and better writing gigs (and eventually an agent).
2) Provide experience for writing tight and learning the ropes.
3) Demonstrate to book publishers that I was a serious writer, knew my stuff, and that I was worth taking a chance on (publishing and promoting a book is a hefty and risky endeavor).
4) Begin building my platform for a future book career - growing a readership and establishing my writing voice.
5) Get my name "out there."

My first three books (two YA historical novels and a combo devo/how-to for writers) were published by a small press. This is another thing I advocate at my writing workshops: small presses. They will deal with unagented writers and provide many of the same things larger traditional presses do, except for large scale book distribution. Since the books are usually POD (Print On Demand), bookstores won't carry them because they're nonreturnable, but these days that doesn't matter as much because the bulk of sales are online and electronic anyway. You don't pay a penny with a small press and end up with a nice book to show for it. (As opposed to some self-published books with inferior covers and poor editing.)

It was only after I had three books under my belt that I was able to land an agent - these days you don't choose them, they choose you, but only if they feel your manuscript is completely ready, sell-able and polished (this means professional editing before submitting a manuscript to either an agent or publisher is an absolute must). As I alluded to earlier, the larger publishing houses only deal with agents. My agent, then, was able to open bigger doors to better contracts. My 14th book will be released this fall.

I'm sure you already know that an excellent resource is the Christian Writers Market Guide (for inspirational writers) and I highly recommend combing that highly valuable book for places your work might be a good fit. All the info you'll need is contained therein - follow submission guidelines to the letter.

If your writing is solid and of good quality, it's only a matter of time until you start placing pieces. And periodical publishing brings in a little income while you're learning the ropes (averages 10-20 cents per word, sometimes more). 

Another way to add planks to your platform is to become more visible. Choose something related to your chosen genre that meets a felt need with the public, develop an expertise and become a speaker. My niche is quirky women's humor so I developed presentations related to the topics of my inspirational women's books - stress, self-control, beauty, fear, unconditional love - and have spoken to more than 100 groups in the past three years. Back room book sales are usually quite lucrative and the exposure (mostly word of mouth) really boosts your following.

There's no magic formula that works for everyone - every writer I know broke in a different way. But I think the common thread is determination and perseverance ... and continuing to perfect your craft.

I would also recommend a subscription to Writer's Digest or another trade journal (that's where I learned more about the writing biz than anywhere else), and to also subscribe to writing blogs of those successful within your genre. There's quite a lot of good info in the archives of mine that you would likely find helpful: www.gritfortheoyster-blogspot.com. I'd also like to invite you to subscribe to my personal blog: www.deboracoty.blogspot.com to get a flavor for the ongoing process of connecting with your readers after the books are out.


Go where the decision makers are. Attend one or two writers conferences each year; do your homework before hand and prepare queries or one-pagers to pitch to at least three editors face to face (conferences are the only place you can do this so it's worth the $500 or so it costs - I've landed many article and/or book deals at conferences). 

Even if they don't think your piece is "ready," they'll give you invaluable input so that you'll see clearly where you need to go from here and next time it will be. These are the actual people who make the decisions what to publish... let them meet you personally and get to know you. Rapport goes a l-o-n-g way in the pub biz.

Realistically, you may not come out of the starting gate making a living off your writing income. Many or perhaps most of us have other jobs and write on the side. Some of the fortunate few do well enough to eventually quit their day jobs and only write, but not most. After a decade writing professionally, I'm only just now starting to receive royalty checks that have more than three digits. I never did quit my day job as an occupational therapist and don't intend to in the near future, although I have been able to cut my hours back to allow for more writing time.



And a HUGE must: learn to write a killer query. So immensely important.

Professional writing is truly great fun, although a lot of work. But when those letters from readers start coming in that thank you for changing their lives and touching their hearts with Papa God's love, you know it's all worth it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Radical Makeovers

My new book covers! 
What do you think? 
Woo Hoo!

Soooo exciting!

These are the new covers for my two historical novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails. 

My publisher felt it was time for an update and I think they give Emma-Lee, the main character of both books, a fresh new look.

I actually resisted at first - accepting change has never been my forte. But I'm glad I relented now that I've seen what a very talented cover artist can do ... not really altering my perception of who Emma-Lee is, but enhancing the possibilities and engaging the imagination in all that she could be.

It was my desire to keep the distant storm clouds and dark edges on the horizon of The Distant Shore to symbolize the tragedy and mystery that Emma-Lee was thrust into on the island through no fault of her own. Not unlike many of the problems we face every day - problems not of our own making, but problems we must wade through nonetheless.

And the cover artist (whom I've never met or even spoken to) came up with the beautiful brightness and glorious sunbeams (if you read my books, you know how much I absolutely ADORE those symbolic fingers of our Creator reaching down to us in the form of sunbeams!) portraying Emma-Lee's emerging faith and hope in Papa God for Billowing Sails

The use of sunbeams is just another marvelously cool coincidence that isn't.

It's a grace note. An amazing grace note that proves to me yet again that Papa God is involved in every single detail of our lives. Even book cover radical makeovers!

P.S. If you've never read these delightful novels inspired by a true story, good news! They're on sale for $1.99 each for a limited time in e-reader version for both Kindle and Nook. And of course they're also available in print from www.Amazon.com and www.BarnesandNoble.com as well as anywhere books are sold.