I had a conversation with someone who isn’t in the publishing industry recently and we covered the typical acquaintance topics: Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it? Are you from around here? What do you do for a living?
When it was my turn, I told him I’m a writer who probably edits more than he writes because of the changes in the industry.
He tilted his head, so I explained a few of the changes. Why pay for a print magazine or newspaper subscription when you can read the same articles online for free?
“But somebody still has to pay those writers. And I don’t understand why, but readers who were willing to pay periodic $20, $30 or $50 subscription fees for print versions of magazines and newspapers are unwilling to pay a single penny for e-versions. Somehow, a switch hasn’t flipped in their brains yet – the one that says, ‘I’m paying for content, not a piece of paper I’m going to recycle tomorrow.’”
“So what does that mean for a writer like you?” he said.
“Journalists who are staffers live in constant fear of losing their jobs – many already have, and for the ones who remain, they often have to produce the content of two writers,” I said. “As a reader, you’ll probably see more ads and fewer pages. The math has to work for them to keep the doors open.
“For freelancers like me, it means fewer paying markets. I was the sports columnist for a newspaper here in town, but the paper shut down a few years ago. I covered sports for a magazine and it only lasted nine months. I covered high school sports for another newspaper here locally and they cut their rate to the point that I couldn’t accept any more work. And the major daily in town gobbled up all of the small-town newspapers in the vicinity and they share content, so they don’t need as many writers (guys like me). ”
“I had no idea,” he said.
“Not many do, but I’m not pessimistic. Instead I’m trying to re-invent myself – much like everyone else in the industry. But as difficult as this time is, it’s also a great time to be a writer. We have fewer gatekeepers than ever before and independent publishing is a viable option for entrepreneurial-minded authors. I waited too long to think this way, so I’m slowly making the shift now.”
Yesterday, author Philip Yancey addressed the changes in the industry on his blog in an article called Farewell to the Golden Age. He has a rather cynical view because the old way (walking into a book store and purchasing a book) is dying and it’s the only way he has ever known, but if you are looking for an overview of what has taken place, his post is a good place to start.
New Links to Lee’s Articles:
A kinder, gentler Manny Ramirez (SB Nation) – includes an anecdote about how he treated one photographer at a minor league game recently and how that type of treatment is a picture of who he has become post-scandal(s).
Why the PCL HR leader isn’t an All-Star (SB Nation) – for the diehard minor league baseball fan with a curious mind.
The PCL announces ’14 All-Star team (SB Nation) – a list of all thirty Pacific Coast Leaguplayers bound for the Triple-A All-Star Game in Durham, North Carolina on July 16.
Wrote this article for SB Nation's Minor League Ball site about how topics as simple as radio, smartphones and minor league baseball bonded total strangers.
Alice Cooper's "Eighteen" blared on the radio in the garage of the auto repair shop I pulled up to on Saturday evening. My mom's van had a flat tire and I was happy to find a place that was still open that late on the weekend.
"I'm eighteen and I like it, love it, like it," sang Dave the auto mechanic as he prepared to pull the tire off the van. "Wouldn't it be great to be eighteen again?" he asked me.
Yes and no. There's that whole not knowing what you want thing that doesn't sound all that appealing to me. "Do you ever wonder if songs like that will be on oldies radio stations one day?" I asked. "Can you imagine listening to Alice Cooper on an oldies station in the nursing home?"
"This is the oldies station."
I thought it was a classic rock station, but who was I to argue?
As Dave, who looked to be in his late 50s, talked, he worked on the tire, dipping it into a tub of water, examining it for bubbles. We exchanged a series of radio station call letters and while I consider myself to be a radio guy, I'm a novice compared to Dave. He named radio personalities and stations that have changed format multiple times so easily that I think he's been waiting to have this conversation for a while.
"Are you a radio app guy?" I said. "Do you listen to iHeartRadio or TuneIn? Or maybe Pandora?"
Over the next five minutes he rattled off his opinions about all three. For the record, he's a big fan of TuneIn, not so much of the other two.
"Ah, there it is," he said. He pointed to a place on the inside of the tire, next to the wheel. "That can be fixed."
"Good to know."
As he pulled the tire off the wheel, the conversation flowed naturally toward smartphones and the waning need for personal landlines.
"I kept my landline at home while my parents were still alive," he said. "I was always afraid of missing that call in the middle of the night and I didn't think I would hear my cell phone. They are both gone now, so I didn't need the landline any longer."
"Sorry to hear that."
"So you look old enough to have gone to concerts when Rosenblatt Stadium was still around," he said.
"I saw a few in my day."
"Some bands just sound better in outside venues, you know? I loved going to concerts there. Have you been to the new stadium?"
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Authors aren’t supposed to respond to bad reviews. Reviews are for readers, not authors.
But as an author, I try to get something out of each bad review, especially when the reviewer is within my target market (or somewhere close to it). I may have failed to communicate clearly and I need to figure out how to improve going forward.
Although, in all honesty, I grumble about it first. I give myself a few days to gain some perspective and then I consider what the reviewer said.
My NASCAR devotional book, Racin’ Flat Out for Christ: Spiritual Lessons from the World of NASCAR, has received seven reviews so far: two five-star reviews, two four-stars, two three-stars and one two-star.
The reviewer who gave the book two stars said, “This is more like a good church hand out that should be handed out for free for a good cause.” I didn’t know whether she was in my target market or not, so I clicked on her name to see her other reviews and my book is the only one she has reviewed. So, this review isn’t helpful for me as a writer.
One of the three-star reviews says, “I was hoping for personal testimonies from drivers. There’s very little of that. This is a mediocre teaching book by Warren.” I can tell from the context of his comment that he is a Christian, but I can’t tell if he’s fully in my target market (a NASCAR fan who is a Christian). So I needed to dig a little deeper.
Before I did that though, I knew he had a fundamental misunderstanding of what the book is about (the sub-title says it’s about spiritual lessons from the world of NASCAR, so it isn’t a book of testimonies, and that is by design).
This person has reviewed 209 books. As I paged through them, most are fiction, and many of those contain an element of fantasy. Many of the books have a Christian slant. And in one of his reviews he refers to a time in his life when he was an assistant pastor in a liturgical church. So I had no doubt about his coming from a Christian perspective. But as I flipped through page after page of reviews, I didn’t come across a single sports book, let alone a NASCAR book, leading me to conclude that he probably isn’t in my target audience, so this review wasn't helpful for me, either.
But one Amazon Top 500 reviewer left a lengthy review of my singles devotional book, Single Servings, that I found quite helpful. As I looked through his other reviews, I saw many books about how theology applies to the modern church (something I tried to do with this book), but he isn't single, so he wasn't the perfect match regarding my target market. But knowing his desire to live out theology in real life made me want to hear what he had to say.
Here are his suggested areas of improvement:
“There are a couple of areas I might suggest some improvement. I would liked to have seen some serious interaction with Paul’s statement about those who are given the gift of celibacy and how these people differ from those who are single because God has not yet seen fit to bless them with a spouse. The author also writes quite often about hearing God or listening to God’s voice, but without indicating whether this is to be done only through Scripture or whether he refers to hearing God’s voice through subjective impressions and so on. Clarity in this matter would have been useful.”
His desire to see some serious interaction with Paul’s statement about those who have the gift of celibacy versus those who are single because God hasn’t brought them a spouse yet is an interesting one. My position on this wasn’t fully developed ten years ago when I wrote this book, so I don’t think I could have done this topic justice at the time. Ten years later, I have formed an opinion about this topic (here’s an article I wrote about the topic for CBN), and it’s one I would include in the book if I were writing it today.
Regarding the reviewer’s other point about how one hears God’s voice, he makes a valid point. It’s just not one I considered when I wrote the book, but his comment makes me want to go deeper regarding similar concepts I discuss in future efforts. And that’s the takeaway for me.
How about you? If you are an author, how do you filter the critical comments and what have you learned from them?
Over the years I’ve confused people with the number of websites and blogs I run. My intentions were to keep my many sides separate. I’m a sportswriter, a devotional writer, a journalist, a freelance editor and an aspiring novelist. Over the past year, though, I’ve been re-evaluating my web presence and have come to a conclusion that it’s more important to have content and links in one place – right here on my website.
I’ll be adding information here soon about my editing services (you’ll find it in the tabs above), and I’ll be posting links to my newest articles that appear around the web as well as blogging about the writing process once in a while, too. In other words, this will be my main hub on the web.
This will allow me to let you in on a few good deals, including this one – until June 29, Revell has reduced the price of the e-book version of my singles devotional, Single Servings, to $1.99 on the Kindle and Nook. Christianbook.com is offering the e-version for $1.59. Single Servings came out nine years ago, but it still has an audience among kindreds who are navigating life without a spouse and I’m so grateful for that.
Speaking of books, will you do me a favor? If you have read Single Servings, Racin’ Flat Out for Christ, The Experience of Christmas, Inspiring Thoughts for Golfers or Fun Facts for Sports Lovers, will you take a few minutes to leave a review on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, GoodReads or anywhere else you hang out online? The more good reviews a book receives, the more exposure it gets.
The latest article I had published appears on the SB Nation website, MinorLeagueBall.com. During the College World Series, I had the opportunity to follow the TCU Horned Frogs as they visited sick patients at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. The thing I was most impressed with was, long after the tour was over and the video cameras were off, the players talked among themselves about the patients, mentioning them by name. Here’s a link to the story: Hospital Visit Makes Impact on TCU Players
Some of you have asked about the novel I wrote last fall. I’m in the middle of revisions and have every intention of writing book two in the series this fall. I spoke to an editor recently who is interested in seeing a proposal about book one, so I’m shifting gears to work on that. Hopefully, I’ll have good news to share about it soon.
My friends will tell you I’m a Julia Roberts fan. I’ve seen most of her movies and some of them have made an impression on me. Notting Hill comes to mind. But recently she posted something on Instagram that I’ve been seeing from many celebrities on social media and it made me think.
She posted a picture of a t-shirt that says, “I love my fans.” Well, the shirt actually uses the heart icon for love, but her caption reads: “I LOVE YOU.”
I have a friend who believes we live in such a time that we need to contend for the definition of words and I feel a sense of obligation in this case.
“Love” has a number of definitions, including to “have a great affection for,” to “derive or receive pleasure from” and to “be enamored with.” In that sense, Julia Roberts loves her fans, and they love her back.
It’s nice and all, but I wonder if we spend too much time loving people we will never meet, who will never know our names.
Jesus called us to a deeper kind of love – one that is far more satisfying for everyone involved – when he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
If, as a fan of Julia Roberts, I’m having a hard time making ends meet, she won’t be showing up at my door with a bag of groceries, but if I have developed a good relationship with my neighbor, then there’s a good chance he will, and vice versa.
Knowing that makes me feel less alone.
I once asked my next-door neighbor to feed my cat while I was on a trip. When I got back, I discovered he not only fed my cat, but he also fixed the deadbolt on my door.
A few years ago, when my city had a massive windstorm and the power was out for days, that same neighbor allowed me to hook into his generator even though his generator had an extremely limited amount of power.
When he was diagnosed with cancer, I told him I would pray for him, and I did. Thankfully, he’s in remission now.
And when his son died, I attended the funeral and mourned with his family.
But I still have work to do. I don’t know all of my neighbors. I know most of their names, and a few of their stories, but I need to go deeper with them, if they are willing. And I certainly need to know more about them than I do about Julia Roberts.
I think she would agree.
UPDATE: June 25, 2014
Julia Roberts' photo was deleted from Instagram, so I replaced the image with the one you see above.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.