I have some exciting news to share with you. I signed a contract last week with Bold Vision Books to re-release my Christmas devotional book, “The Experience of Christmas.” It’ll be a slightly updated version from the one that originally appeared in print from Barbour Publishing in 2006. The even better news is, Bold Vision Books plans to release it this year, in time for the Christmas season. It will be available in paperback as well as e-book on all of the major e-reader platforms. Once we’ve decided on a cover, I’ll post it here.
If you are a baseball fan, you’ll be interested in this next bit of news – I wrote a story for SB Nation’s Minor League Ball site about the Netflix original documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” The documentary is about a group of unlikely (some say they were misfits) guys who played for the independent Class-A Portland Mavericks in the 1970s. Bing Russell, Kurt Russell's father, owned and operated the team. One of the players, Dan Parma, contacted me to share some of his stories from his playing days, and that article just went up on MinorLeagueBall.com. Here’s a sneak peek – he tells a story about hitching a ride to a game one night after the team bus caught on fire and he ended up in the back of a pickup truck with chickens.
I’ve been contemplating a response to the Tony Stewart – Kevin Ward, Jr. tragedy that I plan to post here in the next day or so. This news story goes far beyond sports so even if you aren’t a sports fan, you’ve probably heard about it, and maybe even have been voicing an opinion about it. I hope you’ll give me an opportunity to be one of the many voices you consider as this story unfolds.
After nearly a week on the road, I’m back in my home office today.
Last Wednesday, I traveled to the Ozarks for a retreat and had a great time. I’m always looking for a good story, and I found one. The hotel we were staying in was built by Stan Musial in 1985, so I wrote a story about it that ended up on SB Nation’s Minor League Ball website.
While I was at the hotel, I had an interesting experience that reminded me I wasn’t in Nebraska anymore. The fire alarm went off in my room one morning while I was in the shower. I got out, wrapped a towel around myself, and called the front desk.
Here's our conversation:
Me: This is room #. My fire alarm is going off.
Desk: Did you just get out of the shower?
Me: Yes. [Apparently the steam from the shower sets the fire alarm off frequently.]
Desk: I'm not showing any threat down here. Open the slaughter.
Me: Open the slaughter?
Desk: Yes, open the slaughter.
Me: What's a slaughter?
Desk: The door to your room.
Me: You want me to open the door to my room?
Five minutes later, I realized he was telling me to open the sliding glass door that opens to my deck. Apparently they are called "sliders" in that part of the country, but it was the accent that really got me.
Speaking of Missouri, The Pathway newspaper in Jefferson City published a story I wrote for them about the Heartland Interstate Strategy’s planned late August bus tour of the I-29 corridor that runs from Kansas City to Winnipeg. The task force plans to facilitate church plants up and down the corridor and the bus tour is the first active step.
After the retreat, I visited family in the St. Louis area. My three-year-old nephew was full of questions.
"Now, who are you again?"
"Why do you walk so slow?"
"You don't have any games on your iPhone?"
The answers to the questions, in order:
Because I am old.
No. I am old.
As I traveled home on Monday, I saw a storefront sign that made me wonder if I was two days late for a meeting. How could I not take a picture?
I’m staring at a purple wall, sitting on a bar stool with my back to the entire coffee shop because none of the available tables on the perimeter have an outlet except this one. For the record, that’s a good way to make sure I never return – especially since the battery on the laptop I’m using is dead and I haven’t worked up the desire to buy a new one.
Strike two is a lack of air conditioning. I can hear it humming, but it isn’t exactly making the place as cool as I would prefer.
I’m waiting for strike three, but I decide to at least take a look at the next pitch.
A group of five women, who look to be college age, are chatting behind me and I hear snippets of their conversations as all of them talk at the same time.
“They’re cute, but …”
“I have Facebook.”
“A two-year-old …”
“I looked for it on Twitter …”
“I tweeted so many times ...”
“My Twitter is lame. I follow Associated Press …”
Five minutes later, they all get up and leave.
The place grows silent, except for Radiohead’s “Creep” that is playing on the radio on a speaker mounted on the wall just over my head. It makes me think about how most of us, as writers, don’t think we really belong here – in the publishing world. How many other writers have sat in this very spot, laptop open, banging out a manuscript, hoping beyond hope that it will land them what they are looking for – an agent, a publishing deal, fame, validity?
Aren’t we all creeps in one form or fashion, just looking for our own way?
I’ve written six non-fiction books for traditional publishers and I’m working on a Christmas novella I plan to self publish. I’ve also had hundreds of articles published. But publishers aren’t knocking down my door. That doesn’t mean they don’t call or email once in a while, but that’s hardly the same thing.
I’m not an A-list author. I know that. Truth be told, I’m not a B-list author, either. That makes me a C-list author.
C is for creep.
Maybe I don’t belong here, but yet, here I am – drinking my five-dollar skinny vanilla latte while continuing to write, continuing to forego other activities, because I’m compelled. I know the marvelous effect words can have on a person.
When I pull out a Jan Karon novel and lose myself in the fictional town of Mitford, I realize I’m just a younger version of Father Tim. I don’t live in a small town. I'm not in my sixties. I'm not Episcopalian. I'm certainly not a priest, but yet, I identify with him.
Early in the series, he's a busy guy who gets lost in his work, his dog, the books he is reading, his naps, his buddies he meets for coffee in the local café, the people in his church, and the single life. Substitute a cat for a dog, and shave about 15 years out of the equation, and I am Father Tim. Identifying with him makes me feel less alone.
A plump man who is carrying a hardcover book walks into the coffee shop and approaches the counter. The barista, an attractive young woman with a petite nose ring, asks him what he would like to order and he speaks in a hushed tone, stammering over his words. He finally orders a chamomile tea, and he offers an apology. “Sometimes I’m slow in expressing myself.”
The barista doesn’t miss a beat. “Sometimes I’m slow to understand, so we’re even. Give me just a minute and I’ll have your tea right out to you.”
After he gets it, he sits down at a table in the middle of the coffee shop, and opens his book. Even though he is sitting behind me, I still sense he wants to make a connection with the barista, reminding me of the book Coffee Shop Conversations by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher, minus the overt spiritual context, but with the same intention to push pass the awkwardness to simply have a conversation.
“Any internships yet?” he finally asks the barista.
Obviously he’s been here before and had prior conversations with her. I wonder how many times he stops in each week, working up the courage to say something – anything to her? My heart aches for his awkwardness. I’ve been there. But I’m also pulling for him – not in the sense that he “gets the girl,” although that would be a great story, assuming they are both single, but more so for him to keep reaching out in an attempt to make human connections.
Creeps eventually shut down. I know this because I am one – on more levels than one. Reaching out takes genuine effort. Our natural tendency is to sit in the corner with a good book and fade into the woodwork. But obscurity never trumps human connection. We know this, so once in a while we venture out of our corner.
“Not yet, but I’m keeping my eyes open,” she says.
“I’m not trying to pester you … just trying to encourage you.”
“Oh, I know. Thank you.”
I have never seen "Beauty and the Beast," but the two exchanges I’ve just heard between these two is what I envision the movie to be about – one outwardly beautiful person showing genuine kindness toward a creep, of sorts, making him feel equal. I’d like to believe she did so because she actually believes that, but even if she was just being polite to keep him at arm’s length, she was gentle with him. As such, she might have given him the courage to keep reaching out to others.
And in my mind, that’s what really makes her beautiful.
I’ve heard it my entire writing career.
As a man who has always wanted to write inspirational romance of the more gentle variety (where romance isn’t necessarily the focus, but it’s ever-present), traditional publishing house editors have told me it won’t fly. Women won’t go for it, they said. Besides, as a single man, what do you know about romance?
I listened, pursuing other writing avenues, while Nicholas Sparks, Travis Thrasher, James Patterson, Brian Morton, Murray Pura, Dan Walsh and host of others did it anyway. Maybe they didn’t encounter the naysayers in the industry the way I did. Or maybe they did and they had more courage.
A couple of years ago, Serena Chase, who blogs at www.EdgyInspirationalRomance.com, wrote a blog post for “USA Today” in which she interviewed four male inspirational romance writers (some of whom are mentioned in the list above), partially about the pushback they get for writing such material, and she echoed what I’ve heard for years during her line of questioning:
“I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but in the past I was sometimes a bit skeptical of reading romantic fiction with a guy’s name on the cover,” she says. “The more I read novels by authors like y'all, though, the more those biases fall away. Like me, most of your readers are women.”
I’m thankful for authors like Sparks, Thrasher, Patterson, Walsh and the others who wrote what they wanted to write and found an audience, in spite of what anybody else may have said to them, or the teasing they may have been subject to. I wasn’t that brave early in my writing career. But that is changing.
Last fall I wrote an inspirational Christmas novella that contains a love story. No apologies. No regrets. And there will be more of these types of books to follow.
I’m sentimental by nature and growing more so as the years roll by. In my view, romance and sentimentalism are cousins and I enjoy spending time with both of them. I look for and draw meaning from music, quotes, birthday cards, anniversaries, carved initials, golf clubs – you name it.
I have a birthday card from my dad pinned to a file cabinet by my workspace at home. It says, “Separately, we are as fragile as reeds and as easily broken. But together we are as strong as reeds tied in a bundle.”
Those words were certainly true of our relationship while Dad was still alive. They may be even more true now.
Many of our conversations were about things that matter. The topics progressed as I got older from grades, to girls, to dreams, to family history and finally to mistakes. Dad made many mistakes, and while he didn’t always own them openly right way, he owned them in his soul. I know, because we often spoke about them later in his life.
While he was alive, he, like all of us, was free to alter his advice, thoughts, beliefs and confessions. Now that he is gone, everything he passed on to me is frozen. And while it’s never good to give too much credence to such things, because the living need room to make their own mistakes, it’s daresome to give too little.
Together, we are as strong as reeds tied in a bundle.
In my inspirational giftbook, Inspiring Thoughts for Golfers: A Celebration of Life on the Links, published by Barbour in 2010, I was unashamedly sentimental in the following story I shared about my dad’s golf clubs:
I’m learning to quiet the naysayers’ voices in my head by writing what comes natural to me. I don’t want to prove them wrong. I just want to feel that stirring in my soul that only comes from viewing life this way, and then writing about it.
When a tornado destroys a small town in the Midwest or the South, people often say, “You aren’t going to rebuild there, are you?”
“This is the place I call home,” most of the victims will say. “It’s all I know. So yes, we will rebuild.”
But a few decide to move on.
Well, a tornado has struck the publishing industry – at least the traditional side of it – and some full-time authors/freelancers are considering whether they should rebuild or do something else to support their writing habit.
Earlier this week, I wrote about how the e-revolution has changed things for me as a writer, and I linked to author Philip Yancey’s post in which he says farewell to the golden age of publishing. Agent Rachelle Gardner has since responded: How to Respond to Alarming Changes.
As traditional publishers merge and minimize risk by taking on fewer lesser known authors, and as advances from them drop (sometimes to nothing), and as payments on work-for-hire contracts arrive later and later, the writing seems to be on the wall – the future in traditional publishing looks shaky for those who aren't A-level authors, causing the rest of us to scramble.
At least one author and speaker I know about (Mary DeMuth) has taken a sabbatical to reevaluate her writing and speaking as a profession.
In a way, all of us are reevaluating.
From my perspective, I spent too many years in the traditional publishing world without reading between the lines. I have three royalty published books, but in addition to being a journalist, my route in the traditional publishing industry has been more of a freelance editor, work-for-hire-specialist and content creator than it has been a traditional author who submits my own ideas (mostly because from book proposal, to acceptance, to publication, to first royalty payment typically takes two years, and that doesn’t work for me). And that’s okay. I’m single and I can live on less than the author who has a family to support.
But a few years ago, publishers and other entities I create content for began paying me later and later. One self-publishing company for which I edited was late (beyond 30 days) in sending 13 of its final 14 payments. A once trusted traditional publisher began sending payments on work-for-hire projects only after I followed-up, gently asking the status of the payment. I chased one book packager for two years for a mere $50.00. I did a short article critique for a ministry a few months ago and they have completely ignored my repeated invoices totaling less than $50.00. I finally wrote it off because I was spending more time than the invoice was worth. By the way, you wouldn’t believe the name of the ministry if I told you.
Freelancers and work-for-hire types have always been the lowest priority when it comes to payments (meaning everything and everybody else was paid first), but in ages past publishers still paid us when they said they would. That's not necessarily the case now. It never dawned on me to try anything else but to find other publishers who might actually pay on time. To be fair, a few publishers do pay on time for the type of work I do, but they are the exception now, rather than the rule.
Early this year I began paying attention to what indie authors* were saying about running their own businesses without depending on traditional publishers for income (although, some are indeed hybrids). Those who are doing so successfully are entrepreneurial – working long hours, but also controlling everything, including when they are paid. They are busy platform-building, creating their own e-books (and offering them as POD), publishing them a few months later (after edits, proofing and a cover design), marketing heavily and then receiving royalties directly from retailers on a monthly basis.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows on that side either because more people than ever are self publishing, so it’s harder than ever to be noticed.
Agent Chip MacGregor, who is an advocate of both traditional and self publishing, wrote a post back in February called Self Publishing as Amway, in which he makes this point: “There are now more than twelve MILLION books for sale on Amazon. Makes it a bit tough to stand out, when you consider the vast number of titles. And while it’s hard to know an exact number, we think roughly eight million of those are self-published titled. More than a million people have posted a book for sale on the site. A few are making a living at it. 150 authors have sold more than 100,000 copies. Um . . . do the math. More than a million authors; 150 who hit it big on KDP.”
I haven’t been around as long as MacGregor, nor do I pretend to have his level of expertise, but two questions popped into my mind when he cited these numbers: Do we really need to sell 100,000 copies to make a living? And how many of those one million authors are selling 5,000 copies?
While hitting it big would be nice, I don't necessarily need to. I just need to pay the bills.
Amazon pays a 70% royalty rate on e-books over $2.99. So, if an author sold 10,000 copies of an e-book he or she prices at $3.99, earnings would be $27,930, minus maybe $1,000 for editing, proofing and cover design. If an author sold 5,000 copies, his or her earnings would be $13,965, minus editing, proofing and cover design. And these numbers aren’t including POD sales numbers. I’m not saying these dollar amounts are going to allow for a lavish lifestyle, or even support every author, but once an established author creates a backlist that never goes out of print, these numbers wouldn't discourage me.
Nobody really knows where all of these changes in the industry are taking us. All we can do is to watch the industry through the lens of our experience and then position ourselves accordingly. That’s what I’m trying to so as I consider focusing more on indie publishing in the future. If you are an author, or a reader, I would love to hear your thoughts.
*By "indie authors" I mean authors who are not dependent on publishers. Author Joanna Penn offers a good definition here.