Friday, July 3, 2015

State of the Publishing Industry Update

Deb chatting about her books
I always look forward to hearing literary agent Steve Laube of the Steve Laube Agency give his State of the Industry speech at our annual AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) conference.

Steve is knowledgeable. Steve is wise. Steve is funny.

It's great to be informed from someone in the know about the publishing industry's newest news, whether it's good, bad, or ugly.

This year (last week) we heard a bit of all three. Here are the highlights:

  • Fiction e-books make up 50% of all book sales.
  • General e-books make up 30% of all book sales.
  • Novels are considered throw-aways after 1 read.
  • Nonfiction books are keeps on your shelf as bookmarks of your life. 
  • The publishing industry is like a labyrinth; the walls move every day ... meaning editorial departments and publishing house staff shift constantly. Some disappear completely. Personalities drive publishing companies.
  • Amazon holds the keys to publishing sales, even though their own effort at publishing failed dramatically. Amazon sells books only to get you in to their "store," collect your data and sell you other stuff (they make their most money off other goods, not books). For example, Amazon is the #1 diaper seller in the world; they also make huge shoe and electronics sales. 
  • Amazon print and digital (Kindle) sales make up half the business of many Christian publishers.
  • In bookstore retail news, the recent Family Christian Stores declaration of bankruptcy (26 stores in 34 states) lost some publishers up to one million dollars in February, 2015, although Family Christian was probably doing only about 5% of all Christian book sale business. This story is not over yet. As you know, Family Christian still has its doors open. 
  • Even if Family Christian goes under, it will not sink the industry. Christian book sales in general are strong, steady, and stable.
  • Newsletters are now considered the #1 marketing tool for authors because the author is in total control (unlike social media outlets such as Twitter or FaceBook who make and change their rules whenever they please). 

Our audience of people who look to the Christian Book industry to feed our families left encouraged and ready to press our noses back to the grindstones.

I did hear mutterings among my peers of professional speakers that speaking invitations from distant churches (requiring paid cross country travel and accommodations) had declined somewhat this year, but we could only speculate that the financial crunch of '08-09 had caused residual tightening of belts and budgets.

I'd love to hear your take on the health of publishing. What has been your recent experience?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lots of Winners!

Lots of Winners!!!

Hey, hey - we've got some winners here! Ten to be exact.

Congrats to the fine folks below whose names were drawn in my "Them Babies Just Keep on Bouncing" contest.

Each will receive the Too Blessed to be Stressed Baby Blessing of their choice. To find out more about each Baby Blessing, hop on my website and click on the "Books" dropbox, then Too Blessed Babies.

Some products aren't available just yet (such as the Too Blessed to be Stressed 2016 Planner, the 3-Minute Devo for Women, and the Too Blessed to be Stressed Cookbook, but as soon as they are released, I promise I'll get your prize to you).

Please don't fret if your name's not on the list this time; stay tuned for another great giveaway coming up in conjunction with the fall release of the Too Blessed to be Stressed Cookbook (and I'm talking prizes including not only free autographed books but also GROCERY STORE GIFT CARDS for buying the ingredients to try out the Cookbook's 110 terrific recipes requiring less than 20 minutes prep time ... plus a few ultra cool surprises!)

So without further ado, here are the winners of a free Baby Blessing!

Angela Holland                           Kathy Newborn
Rick Jackson                              Paulette Smallwood
Adriana Fuentes                          Kathy James
Kristen Schuettenberg                 Pamela Black
Tina Rae Collins                          Ana Raquel

Congrats!! Just e-mail or FB message me with your choice and mailing address and your prize will soon be on its way!

And here are your prize options:

Too Blessed to be Stressed (original book)
Muy Bendecida Para Estar Estrasada (Spanish version of original book)
Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal
The Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition
Too Blessed to be Stressed Cookbook (releasing Nov 1)
Too Blessed to be Stressed Wall Calendar
Too Blessed to be Stressed: 3-Minute Devotions for Women (releasing this winter)
Too Blessed to be Stressed 2016 Planner (releasing Sept 1)

A whopping THANK YOU to all my BBFF (Best Blog Friends Forever) for entering - you're always a winner with me!


Monday, June 22, 2015

What is Truth, Really?

Spouse and I were rewatching an old fave movie the other night - A Knight's Tale - and I noticed something interesting I'd not caught the last ten times I watched it.

The charming story takes place in the olden days of Knights and Ladies, nobility and peasants, with the late great Heath Ledger looking his most dapper in the lead role. (I highly recommend it as a clean and clever Friday night fam flick.)

Near the beginning of the movie, Heath's character and his two adorable peasant sidekicks encounter a naked Geoffrey Chaucer trudging down the road. Paul Bettany, who plays a hilariously high-wordy, immensely likable Chaucer, apparently suffers from a gambling addiction and when he loses everything on a bad run, including his clothes, it's not unusual for him to be gallivanting around in his birthday suit (don't worry, we only see his backside).

So on yet another occasion when he again is reduced to stark buffidity (not a word but should be), Chaucer defends a bold-faced lie he has just laid on an angry Heath with this little gem: "I'm a writer! I give the truth scope."

Oh the marvel of that magnificent statement! Let me repeat it so we writers can roll it around together on our collective tongue:

"I'm a writer! I give the truth scope."

Well said, Geoff, ole boy.

I am often asked by writers-in-the-making at my writing workshops how much literary license is allowable in constructing nonfiction ... say, memoirs for example. (Obviously the sky's the limit in fiction, so I will focus on nonfiction here.)

My answer? More than you might think.

Consider the bestselling mega-hit memoir, Angela's Ashes. It's highly unlikely that author Frank McCourt, an adult recording true events of his long past childhood, could recall word-for-word conversations that took place every day for the numerous years covered in the book.

Yet chapter after chapter is ripe with detailed conversations that expertly expose character traits and move story lines along toward a gripping climax, more showing than telling (every writer's ultimate goal).

I've never had the opportunity to ask Frank if he was compelled to use literary license in creating all that dialogue, but my educated guess is that it was necessary for him to elaborate on basic elements of truth in order to reconstruct scenes that led to events as he remembered them.

Every memoir and creative nonfiction workshop I've ever attended confirms and condones this.There really is no other logical way to record conversations that occurred long ago, or that occurred without the author present. You work with what you DO know to be true, staying loyal to the character and events, and do the best you can to fill in the holes.

So stop stressing over that memoir chapter depicting the well deserved nosebleed you gave your pesky cousin when you were eight. When he appears at your door snorting fire after reading about it as a 45-year-old, simply smile and quote the Prince of Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, "I'm a writer! I give the truth scope."



Saturday, May 16, 2015


Out with the old and in with the new
As usual, I'm in a hurry as I fly down the frozen food aisle, jerking my grocery buggy to a halt in front of the familiar glass case from which I've plucked my low-calorie lunch of choice a thousand times before.

Intending to grab a few of my favorite flavors and run, my hand freezes in mid-air.

Wait. Whoa, Nellie. What's this? In place of the white boxes with the orange curly-cue logo I've been purchasing for the past few years, there's a stack of strange brown logo-less boxes I don't recognize.

Grrrr. Who moved my cheese?

But upon further inspection, I see that this is, after all, the very same product I'm seeking. Same only different.

The food looks the same and has the same nutritional listings. But it's in a new box. With a completely new look. About 180 degrees from the way it used to look.

So why do companies repackage products? Even tried and true products?

A few obvious reasons include a desire to:
  • Revamp their image
  • Attract a new or wider audience
  • Update their look 

A recent example is the Motorola cell phone, which after years on the market was redesigned to appear more like a fashion statement. Indeed, sort of like a  piece of jewelry. Why? Because women are their proven primary market and women, as you know, are interested in fashion.

(Hey, why don't they think chocolate here? I'd buy a new cell phone if it looked and smelled like a Cadbury bar.)

Similarly, Johnson & Johnson felt that Rembrandt toothpaste needed a cleaner, fresher look, so they simplified, using the same tube but changing the packaging from a word-cluttered, color-splashed spectacle to a plain white box that opens from the top like a gift. A gift to yourself.

Have these changes made a difference in sales? The jury's still out, but early indicators are quite positive.

Books do the same thing for the same reasons. 

I've made a game out of  looking up a certain historical romance each time I've enter a bookstore for the past few years because the gal on the book cover has on a different colored dress every time I see her. That chick has the most extensive wardrobe of any one-dimensional woman I know.

Because of a simple change - same dress, different color - that book has had as many lives as a Manx. Other books may come and go from bookstore shelves within three months, six months, one year, but that one's taken up residence and doesn't appear to be going anywhere any time soon.

I understand the red dress has been the hands-down bestselller. Hmm. Not really hard to guess why.

Last year the publisher of three of my early books decided on repackaging for the same reasons listed above. You  may have already seen the remakes of my historical novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails, but the finalized cover for Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers has recently been released.

I'd love to share it with you now (see above).

I think repackaging is generally a good idea and an effective marketing tool, but some argue that occasionally it causes confusion and consumer irritation ("Why change a good thing?" "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.")

So what do you think? I'd love to hear your feedback.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Pearls from my Oyster
As I was leaving a local home improvement store yesterday, I was approached in the parking lot by a smiling man. Not creepy smiling. Pleasantly smiling.

Here's our memorable exchange:

Man: Hey, you're Debora Coty, aren't you? [He eyes the bag in my hand] So authors actually do their own shopping?

Me: Authors not only do their own shopping, they scrub their own toilets. And then they scrub other people's toilets too.

If you're an author, you're nodding your head and chortling right now. Because you probably clean houses to support your writing habit.

The public perception of the lucrative and lavish life enjoyed by published authors always cracks me up. As if being published is the genie in the lamp. If I had a quarter for every person whose eyebrows plowed into their hairline while their pupils disturbingly dilated when they learn I write books, I might be able to have my roots touched up more often so I don't have to wear so many hats.

(Oops - now you know my secret; and you thought I just liked hats!)

The next sentence out of the cheeky conversant's mouth is usually, "You're an AUTHOR? Wow - you must be really pulling in the dough, right?"

After squelching the impulse to respond with, "And that's business of yours, how?" I ever-so-patiently explain that, well, no, only 2% of all authors (counting the high end J.K. Rowlings and Jerry Jenkinses) make enough to quit their day jobs. I can tell by their dubious expression that they're not buying.

At this point I usually remember that I left the stove on and flee to head off the fire department. But sometimes, if I sense this is a sincerely-inquisitive-but-obviously-ignorant person, I'll explain further that the publishing industry has drastically changed in the past twenty years and although some big mainstream authors still get six-figure advances and royalty checks fat enough to insulate an attic, the vast majority of authors these days - especially authors writing for the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) - um, don't.

I've had my share of royalty checks for $2.56 and I know plenty others who have too.

Most folks, even aspiring authors at writer's conferences, seem surprised when I mention that it took ten years for me to make it into the black. Long-suffering Spouse, who prepares our taxes, kept telling me every April for an entire decade that the IRS was eventually going to wonder why this crazy person (me) didn't switch hobbies (because it certainly couldn't be a profession when you lose money every single year).

This from the guy who once asked me why I was staring at a red-headed woodpecker hammering away at our backyard oak. When I wondered aloud, "Why would anyone repeatedly bash their head against a tree?" he answered, "For the same reason some people become writers."

I love that man.

Okay, so back to the point. Don't write to get rich. It won't happen.

Write because you can't not write. And then maybe one day, if you scrub enough toilets, your unsightly roots will be a thing of the past and you can wear hats simply because you want to.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Something Special is Simmering!

3 Cheers for the Barbour artist who created this adorable cover!

I'm so excited! I just received the final draft of my Too Blessed to be Stressed Cookbook cover, so it's one step closer to becoming a reality!

For those of you who have never written a cookbook, here's the process in 15 easy steps:

1. Brainstorm idea at 2 cold, dark night.
2. Present idea in query form to publisher (via agent if you have one) and pray that they ask for a proposal.
3. Do happy dance when they finally do ask for a proposal.
4. Spend several weeks writing, editing, and fine-tuning a 10-page proposal for something you cannot for the life of you envision.
5. Pester every prominent person you've ever met who is remotely related to cooking to obtain their promise for an endorsement. Include in proposal.
5. Bathe that sucker in prayer and send it in.
6. Many moons pass. Keep praying.
7. Receive contract offer (via agent). Sign. Return.
8. Collect all recipes from family and friends that meet your criteria (prep time for this stress-free cookbook must be 20 minutes or less). Start cooking like mad to test every recipe that may potentially be included.
9. Create a slush pile for rejects (because they either take too long to make, don't taste incredible enough, require too much clean-up, aren't simple enough, or the ingredients are too hard to find.)
10. Complete first draft. Edit. Then reread with a gnat strainer and re-edit six times.
11. Submit completed manuscript.
12. Console distraught family and neighbors who are standing by holding empty plates; the cascade of awesome food samples has dried up. Discover you must go on a diet because you've gained 7-lbs writing your cookbook and can no longer button your pants (The chocolate section was a killer.)
13. Receive first draft of cookbook cover (where I am today). Suggest minor changes. Receive the final draft - Yay! It's marvelous and perky and adorable!
14. Several months later, receive final edits from publishing house.
15. Brand new cookbook releases October 1. Now the hardest part: Selling it!

Never thought I'd see the day that I'd write a cookbook, but it was SO much fun and I loved every minute of it. (Especially testing the chocolate section.) Plus, I know these simple, terrific recipes and menu suggestions (complete with grocery lists!) will help lots of women care for their fams without feeling like they're drowning in the stress-pool of life.

So tell me, what kind of a cookbook would YOU write if you ever decide to write one?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Buying the Person Behind the Product, Not Just the Product

Me excited to find my book at Cracker Barrel
I've been looking for a change. Without going into too much hairy detail, I've recently decided it's time to look for a new publicist.

And in shopping around, I've learned a few things that I believe are key marketing principles.

First of all, let me say that I'm a firm believer in the power of a good publicist to get word of your book out there to places you can't, and therefore drive sales.

I learned this lesson with my first few books which were published by a small press. All marketing and publicity was up to me. Me and only me. Sales were meager and each and every sale was hard-fought.

Then came my first traditionally published book, Mom NEEDS Chocolate, which was contracted in 2007, the year every industry in America - including the publishing industry - was hit hard by the recession and had to tighten their belts or go under. During the two years between the time I signed the contract and the actual release date in 2009, the publisher's publicity department shrank from 14 people to one.

There was no way that one poor overworked gal would be able to make the splash I yearned for my book to make while trying to promote the other dozen books releasing in the same quarter. So without any significant research, I hired the first outside PR firm I came across to create more ripples. The problem with that firm was that it was comprised of only one woman who had just had a baby (a bit distracting, right?) and turned out to be quite expensive for the services I received.

Live and learn. The price for not doing your homework and leaping before you look.  

Then came my "Take On Life" series with Barbour Books (a different publisher than my previous book). When the first book in the series was ready for release (Too Blessed to be Stressed, 2011), I had heard the 90/10 rule, that 90 percent of new authors share a mere 10 percent of the PR department's attention (the majority of funds and efforts go toward the best selling titles and authors). So after doing more research this time, I hired a highly recommended publicity firm (a different one) to work alongside the Barbour publicity team in order to cover all the bases.

The success of Too Blessed to be Stressed (over 60k copies sold and still counting) plus the spawning of 10 Baby Blessings (books and book product offspring of the original book) indicate that it was a good idea.

So with the publicity campaigns of More Beauty, Less Beast (2012), Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate (2013), and Too Loved to be Lost (2014), I continued to use the same publicist with pretty good results.

But lately, with the upcoming 2015 release of the Too Blessed to be Stressed Cookbook, I began to itch for something more in a publicity campaign. Something different. Something with a little more pizzazz. So began my publicist shopping expedition.

And here's where the real marketing lesson began.

I came up with a list of 15 publicity firms that are generally associated with Christian publishing. Not that they don't deal with secular markets as well, but primarily their clients are Christian authors of inspirational books. I began e-mailing queries, explaining briefly who I am, where I am on my writing journey, and where I'd like to end up, ending with, "Would you be interested in representing me?"

The first five responses were less than heart-warming. I was greeted with tepid enthusiasm and instructed to fill out a form. Afterward, they would get back to me. Maybe. When they had time. And Jupiter aligned with Uranus.

It reminded me of the oblivious store clerk chatting on her phone with a  friend when you're in a hurry to check out. She may or may not acknowledge your presence, then turns her back to you as if you're a pest and annoying inconvenience and continues gabbing away.

You feel:
1. Unwanted.
2. That your business is unappreciated.
3. You are unimportant, insignificant, and invisible.

The sixth query response, in contrast, launched fireworks lighting up my sky.

"I'm was so excited to receive your query yesterday," the warm-voiced gal gushed over the phone (she had requested an immediate phone conversation when she got my e-mail query). "Of course I've heard of you and I love your work. I love your brand. I love the concept of this cookbook and I've been bubbling over with ideas about how to market it to a wider secular audience as well as the Christian market."

Oh yeah? Well, I love you too, sister!

I suddenly felt:
1. Wanted.
2. That my business is valuable and greatly appreciated.
3. That I'm visible to this gal and she thinks she can make me visible to the rest of the world.

So who do you think I'm more inclined to hand over my hard-earned dollars to? I don't know if this self-marketing-savvy woman really did know my work before she received my query and perused my website, but because of her enthusiasm and the way she presented herself, it really doesn't matter to me. She knows me now, and she's willing to put her enthusiasm to work for me.

She knew that by selling herself to me, I would be buying the person behind the product, not just the product. That's POWERFUL marketing.

And if she can do it to me, she can do it for me.  

Something to remember in my own future self-marketing forays. And you too, author buddy.