Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Engineered Bestsellers, Rock Star Pastors, and Rosie Ruiz

March 21st, 2014 | Books, CBA, Collaborating and Ghosting, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Marketing and Platforms, Religion, The Business of Writing, Trends | 5 Comments

by Ghostwriter [While this says it's written by Chip MacGregor, it is not. It's written by a professional collaborative writer who is a friend -- Chip just posted it.]

Hi. I’m Ghostwriter and I’m the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.

The news that Mars Hill Church paid ResultSource about $200,000 to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list shocked a lot of people. For me, that news solved a mystery.

As I already mentioned, I am a collaborative author and occasionally a ghostwriter. Although I am a published author in my own right, I learned long ago that I could earn a much better living helping other people write their books. It’s a good life, and I enjoy my work. Nevertheless, I still hope that someday I’ll see one of my books on a bestseller list—any bestseller list.

This explains my obsession with Amazon rankings and sales figures.

I know, I know…

You have to take Amazon numbers with several hundred grains of salt. I get that. But I still enjoy checking my author page and seeing how many copies of my books have sold in the previous week. Generally, the numbers are unremarkable. Sometimes they are depressing. But a while back those numbers astonished and mystified me.

I’d collaborated on a book with a megachurch pastor and, although it was a contract job for which I received a flat fee and no royalties, I asked for and received cover credit. Because my name was on the cover, I was able to list the book on my Amazon author page and track its sales statistics. Even though I wasn’t going to receive royalties for the book, I was still curious to see how well it was selling.

So I set the book up and waited for the launch date. The first week’s sales stats took my breath away. The book went from zero to 10,000 sales virtually overnight. I must confess that at this point I was kicking myself for not asking for a percentage of the royalties. I figured we had a runaway bestseller on our hands.

Since Amazon posts BookScan sales figures weekly, I spent a week eagerly looking forward to the next report. But when the stats were posted, not only was I disappointed, I was puzzled. In one week, the book’s sales crashed from 10,000 to about 200. The next week it dropped off even further—to about 50.

You read that correctly.

Fifty.

If you do the math, that amounts to about a 99.95% drop off in three weeks.

At first, I thought the church had purchased a bunch of books, maybe to sell in bookstores on their various campuses. But I checked the geographical sales figures, and they were literally all over the map. Ten copies here. Twenty-five copies there. Sixty in another place. Almost every state in the U.S. was represented. I was flummoxed — until I heard about Mars Hill Church’s arrangement with a marketing firm known as ResultSource. Then all the puzzle pieces fell into place.

The pastor I collaborated with had mentioned that he had a “consultant” who helped his previous book get on a major (not the NYT) bestseller list, and that he planned to use them again. In my naïveté, I assumed the consultant was a publicist who helped market the book. Now I believe it was either ResultSource or a similar company.

Like it or not, I am now the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.

How does that make me feel? It makes me feel an uncomfortable kinship with an infamous long-distance runner named Rosie Ruiz.

Ms. Ruiz won the 1980 Boston Marathon in the women’s category with the fastest time in the history of the race. However, her celebration was short lived when it became clear that she did not run the entire race. She wanted the glory of winning the Boston Marathon, but she wasn’t willing to put in the hard work required to do it legitimately. Even if she had put in the work, she might not have been good enough to win. Rosie wasn’t willing to take that risk. She wanted glory and fame. She wanted a guaranteed win. So she took a shortcut — she cheated.

That’s what’s happening when megachurch pastors, conference speakers, and big organizations hire companies like ResultSource to “help” their books attain bestseller status. Like Rosie Ruiz, they want the glory. They want a guaranteed win. So they take a shortcut. They cheat.

Is this done all the time in the publishing industry? Chip MacGregor says no, and I agree with him. This is not a publishing industry problem. I believe engineered bestsellers are symptomatic of an evangelical Christian culture that worships success and elevates megachurch pastors to rock star status.

Boston Marathon officials disqualified Rosie Ruiz and stripped her of her title. Unfortunately, no one is going to strip these pastors and Christian leaders of their phony “bestselling author” status. However, one can hope that the embarrassment caused by the Mark Driscoll fiasco will make them think twice before paying for another engineered bestseller.

And maybe, just maybe, they will remove the phrase, “bestselling author,” from their bios and websites until they attain that status legitimately — through people actually buying, reading, and sharing their books.

Making sure I get the story straight…

March 19th, 2014 | Books, Career, CBA, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Religion, The Business of Writing, Trends | 14 Comments

I was once let go from a job in publishing for “creative differences,” the same week another guy was let go, at another company, for some very different reasons. We worked in the same industry, are the same race and age, and he lived in a city where I had once lived. Several people got our stories mixed up. I had a writing conference cancel my participation at their event, saying they had heard rumors that cast me in a bad light, and that they didn’t want me coming. You can imagine my surprise when I was told they were un-inviting me, since none of what they’d heard was actually true. I invited them to call my former boss, to talk with the people around me, and to check my references. But I also got angry — I mean, they made their decisions based on a RUMOR? They’d never even called me to ask about it? They never checked facts with anyone at my former employer? Nope. They just heard a story and took it as gospel … and, to make matters worse, the other guy (the one who had actually been fired from that other house) was scheduled to speak at their conference. (I didn’t mention that to the conference director. I figured she could figure out the truth on her own damn time.)

I’ve never gone back to that conference, and I’ve never forgotten how much that error hurt. It’s why I want to make sure I get my facts straight on the stories I write, so that I don’t share something hurtful about somebody unfairly. I don’t mind offering bad news, and I realize some people will read my blog to get some information that publishers are too frequently reluctant to share, but I want to make sure I get my facts correct.

Here’s why I mention all of this: I got a couple of phone calls from publishers after my last blog, and they led to share several thoughts…

1. Mark Driscoll, the Seattle pastor who I’ve had bad experiences with in the past, and who I raked over the coals on Monday for having bought his way onto the bestseller lists, offered up an apology yesterday. [You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/nbajg67 ] I have mixed emotions about this… On the one hand, I tend to roll my eyes at the fact he didn’t own up to plagiarism. He preferred to reference things “we” did, instead of just taking responsibility for books with his own name on them. His solution (to stay away from social media and not do many conferences this year) sounds, to me, like an effort to simply stay out of the limelight. And the concept of sending a private letter to church members only, taking it down so it doesn’t get passed around to news sources, and simply trying to make a private statement about a public error is TERRIBLE. For crying out loud, who is giving this guy advice?

2. BUT, on the other hand, the guy seems to have made an effort to make things right. A couple of people who know him well told me he’s actually been changed by this. That he’s considerably less full of himself than he used to be. That he really does want to make an effort to be more of a pastor and less of a celebrity. And you know what? I think making a good-faith effort deserves respect.

3. One publisher who called me said that, in his mind, the plagiarism was inadvertent — research assistants had done it, and Mark never purposefully intended to steal anyone’s words. So that publisher said it wasn’t really “plagiarism,” but a simple error. I tend to disagree with that notion — not because I think Mark Driscoll was actually trying to get away with stealing someone’s words, but because the book had his name on it. Um… this is MY blog. I type the words. When somebody else blogs, their name goes on the post (for example, yesterday’s excellent blog by Erin Buterbaugh). So if I hire somebody, and they steal some words and post them as mine, then it’s ME who is responsible, not some unnamed assistant. My intention may not be to harm anyone, but when it happens, I’m the one who has to come out, tell the truth, and apologize. If I’m too big and famous to write, or too busy with work to actually check the words, then perhaps I ought not to have my name on the cover, since I didn’t actually write it. All that said, I understand that the plagiarism was probably inadvertent. But, in my view, it’s still plagiarism, no matter the intent, and still requires an author to take responsibility and apologize.

4. Another publisher called to say that ResultSource is a good marketing company, who has worked with numerous bestselling authors, and they do a good job. He noted their speciality is helping speakers get a bunch of books sold by targeting their list of followers, and encouraging them to all purchase the book the week it launches. JUST SO WE’RE CLEAR, I’m all for that approach. I think any marketing an author does is aimed at selling books. An author does a bunch of radio shows, or does a blog tour, or speaks at conferences, and says to everyone, “Go buy my book!” That’s just marketing — getting in front of one’s potential audience and trying to convince them to buy your product. So let’s be clear: I have no problem with an author marketing his or her book. ResultSource apparently does this very well. But I was told, by two different people, that what was unique about this campaign was that those outside of Mark Driscoll’s following were used to purchase copies of the book, and World Magazine reported that numerous credit cards were used to purchase the copies specifically to get around the reporting strategies of the New York Times bestseller list. In other words, it wasn’t the core group, who you would expect to be encouraged to purchase the book, but outsiders who would not normally have bought it. That’s why I said this was a case, in my view, of gaming the system.

5. And that leads to another thing I heard from publishers — that the New York Times is so tight-lipped about what “the system” actually is for getting on the bestseller list, they have no idea how to manipulate it. Nobody really knows what numbers the NYT uses to actually create their list, and publishers complained to me that frequently a book selling particularly well but with an unpopular topic (such as a book featuring conservative politics, or a book about conservative Christianity) won’t make the list, while a book that obviously sold far fewer copies but with a more liberal perspective will make the list. Please understand I’m not arguing, only reporting what more than one publisher told me.

6. And that in turn means that the only way to insure a book sells the required number of copies to guarantee a spot on the list (in current terms, that means selling roughly 11,000 copies in a week), is to have some sort of marketing plan that focuses on selling a bunch of copies all at once. Again, I’m all for marketing books, as evidenced by the content of this blog. Every publisher I talked to said they want to hit the NYT list, and they’ll do all they can to hit it, but they also insisted they would never work with a company that tried to cheat their way on by basically hiring strangers to go purchase copies. I thought I’d mention that, since a lot of people have maintained that “everybody does that.” I made it clear in my previous post, and I still hold to the statement, that NOT everybody is doing this to try and cheat their way onto the list. I stand by these words: “I’ve never known one of the respectable legacy publishers to pull this sort of schtick.”

7. That said, it’s also clear nearly every publishing house is working with ResultSource. Not to have them buy copies via strangers, but to have them work with an author’s platform in order to encourage everyone to purchase a copy the same week. Again, for the record, I don’t have a problem with that. And I’m not here to bash ResultSource, who is clearly doing some good things, since every single publisher I spoke with works with them. (I sent a note to the president of ResultSource about all of this, by the way. I want to make sure the facts are correct. But their website is shut down and the phone not working. Um… I have no idea if this is related to the controversy or not.)

8. Finally, one publisher who is well-acquainted with the situation told me that the financial figure that was reported in the World article (“more than $200,000″) was not accurate. I don’t have any way of corroborating that, but it’s a source I consider reliable, and someone who was not the publisher of the book in question, so this person doesn’t have a dog in the hunt. I think it’s only fair to mention that this individual told me the actual number paid by Mark Driscoll was considerably lower than the number reported in the story.

Again, I once had a bad situation with Mr. Driscoll. He said something to me that I discovered was patently untrue, I’ve not been a fan of his macho crap in the pulpit, I’ve grown weary of the mindless hero-worship I have detected in his followers, so I have tended to be a critic and look with doubt on some of his words. But… well, I want to make sure I have my facts straight, so I’m not doing exactly the thing I have been critical of others doing to me. And if a guy says he wants to change, I need to have the grace to take him at his word. Sure, I’d prefer Mr. Driscoll owned up to the plagiarism in his works, whether he did it deliberately or not. I’d prefer he took responsibility for the problems, and not blamed unnamed assistants, or outside counsel, or anyone other than himself, whose name is on the books. I’d prefer if he were going to apologize, he did so publicly, since the errors were made publicly, instead of sort-of apologizing but then hiding the note away. I’d prefer his board didn’t look like a bunch of sycophants, praising him in the midst of obvious errors, instead of promising to ensure this never happens again. And I’d prefer he was more forthcoming about the whole affair, since Americans have a tremendous ability to forgive when a public person is up-front about his or her errors (but they’ll go after someone who waffles like a reporter digging for a story). So there are things I’d prefer. But most of all, I’d prefer to be correct in the things I share on this blog. I hope I got all of them correct today.

What’s wrong with buying your way onto the bestseller list?

March 14th, 2014 | Author News, Deals, Books, CBA, Collaborating and Ghosting, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Religion, The Business of Writing, Trends | 113 Comments

Last week I made a point of saying that I think a guy who buys his way onto the bestseller lists is a weasel, and I had a bunch of people write to ask me why. This is a worthwhile topic for everyone in publishing, so let me offer some background…

Mark Driscoll pastors a large church in Seattle. Last fall he was accused of plagiarizing the words of another author, Peter Jones, in his latest book, and in addition there were other examples given of him plagiarizing, including pages of text recreated  word-for-word from a Bible commentary and stuck into one of the church’s publications. The people at Driscoll’s church made the situation worse, first claiming it was okay because one of the obviously plagiarized documents had never been sold, then changing their story when it turns out it had indeed been sold, but saying they hadn’t made much, then blaming it all on un unnamed research assistant (even though it had Mark Driscoll’s name on it), then taking pains to criticize the “haters” instead of owning up to their own ignorance and laziness. The whole thing was a mess. Driscoll clearly plagiarized (whether you want to cut him slack and call it something else), and his publisher examined the book and released a statement that admitted there were “inadequate citations,” but defending him for handling the situation well. In the end, the entire mess faded away. I was a bit surprised, since I’ve seen books get cancelled and editorial careers get ruined over less than this. Still, we all moved on.

Until last week, when it was revealed that Rev. Driscoll had paid a marketing firm, ResultSource, more than $200,000 to get his book onto the New York Time bestseller list. The scheme included hiring people to purchase 6000 copies of the book in bookstores, then ordering another 5000 copies in bulk. They even made sure to use more than 1000 different payment methods, so BookScan couldn’t track all the purchases back to a single source. In other words, they cheated to manipulate the system, got the book onto the list (for that one week), and did it so that Driscoll can refer to himself as “a New York Times bestselling author.”

I was critical of him for doing it, since I don’t think gaming the system is the right thing to do. It’s unfair. It’s lazy. It’s dishonest. And it’s basically nothing more than rampant egotism. But I had several people write to me, or post on Facebook, that this is common practice. A couple people said “everybody is doing it,” and some claimed “publishers are doing that all the time.” My response: Bullshit. Sorry if that offends, but we need to call it what it is. This is NOT standard practice. Everybody is NOT doing it. I used to be an associate publisher with Time-Warner, and this is not something we ever did, nor could I conceive of us doing it. I’ve also worked with every one of the Big Six publishers, as well as dozens of smaller publishers and every CBA publishing house, and I’ve never known one of the respectable legacy publishers to pull this sort of schtick.

Are the bestseller lists rigged? Perhaps, to a small degree — certainly Amazon seems to include an inordinate number of their own titles on the Amazon bestseller lists, and occasionally we’ll all be surprised at how a book with modest sales somehow wound up on a bestseller list because of the strange (and secret) way some of them account for the books. But for the most part, the books showing up on the lists are there because of sales. Honest, straightforward sales. Sometimes we get shocked when a crappy book (say, for example, Fifty Shades of Gray) suddenly starts showing up everywhere — but it showed up because, in spite of the boring story and fourth-grade writing ability, the book SOLD. Like it or not, that book wasn’t snuck onto a list dishonestly. Um… do we really want a PASTOR cheating his way onto the NYT list? And, matched with the fact that his name was on books that he now claims he didn’t actually write, what does that say about the guy? 

I find the whole thing incredibly lazy, and was shocked to discover the church itself admitted they didn’t know if church funds had been used to pay the bill. (Really? They spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars to stroke the author’s ego, and they don’t know where the money came from? Let’s just say that stretches the bounds of credulity.) This is the sort of news that is bound to come out, and will hurt you, since it demonstrates your laziness and need for attention. So no, I’m not one of those in the “he’s just spreading the Good News camp.” That’s baloney. If Mark Driscoll just wanted to spread the good news, he could have purchased $200,000 worth of books and given them away. This was done to make himself feel important, and in doing so, he does potential damage to honest authors, who work to write and market their books.

So today Mark Driscoll admits, in an interview in Charisma, the scheme was cooked up and a bad idea… but, of course, he’s not to blame. Nope. He explained that “outside counsel advised us to use ResultSource.” So those pesky outside counselors are to blame, like that pesky unnamed research assistant who plagiarized is to blame. Not Mark. Not the guy with his name all over stuff. Huh-uh. Instead, his board made a statement that they appreciate his “endurance through false accusation.” Um… excuse me, but what exactly was the FALSE part? His book contains the un-cited work of another writer, which his own publisher acknowledged was inappropriate  He had clearly plagiarized materials with his name on it. A company was paid a pile of money to pump his book and dishonestly get it onto bestseller lists. Those are all facts. What exactly is the “false” part? Well, except for the part where Mark claims he actually wrote any of this, I mean. I’m fairly certain that part is false. 

What’s wrong with buying your way onto the bestseller list? It’s an expensive, short-term ego stroke for the lazy and dishonest, and it excludes real writers from actually making the list. My two cents.

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You can find out more information on Mark Driscoll, plagiarism, and buying your way onto a bestseller list by going to World Magazine, Slate, the blaze.com, and the writings of Warren Throckmorton. You could probably also go to Mark Driscoll’s site, but be aware that, even though it has his name on it, he probably didn’t write it, and if there are errors it’s somebody else’s fault. 

 

Conspirators R Us

March 5th, 2012 | Current Affairs, Religion, Self-Publishing | 1 Comment

 

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you doubtless understand this blog is, at heart, a "publishing journalism" site. Things happen in the publishing industry, and I talk about them. There are lessons for writers to learn, and I share them. Other people have opinions, and I let them offer their thoughts. That's why I found it interesting that a publisher is threatening to sue me. 
 
You might have heard the news that Wine Press Publishing, a vanity press in the state of Washington, is in a battle with the former owner of the company, a woman named Athena Dean. You can google the topic to get all the details, which is how I found out about it. The argument basically comes down to the former owner claiming she was treated badly by a group she believes is, more or less, a fundamentalist church that has taken over the company. The current situation is an interesting study in business ethics and church governance and arcane theology, but you'd have to go somewhere else to find the details, since I've never blogged about it before. I haven't said anything about it on my corporate website, either. Nor have I written about it for any other magazine, e-zine, or journal. I could have — I mean, I'm a trained journalist, talking about the publishing industry, and the allegation that a big company that's very involved in Christian publishing has acted unfairly toward employees or tried to intimidate people is news. But I didn't. Not because I was afraid to (and yes, I've heard a couple people warn that Wine Press has used lawyers and intimidation tactics on others in the past), but because I wanted to wait and see what the facts brought out. I don't have a dog in this hunt — but I'm very interested in the hunt itself and the story surrounding it. 
 
My sole reference to this particular cat-fight is a comment I left on a Facebook page. That's right — I once read an article and left a comment on the piece I saw, since I found it shocking. Here's what I wrote upon reading about the allegations: "Holy cow. I mean… WOW! This will blow the socks off of anyone who's been involved in CBA publishing in recent years. Wow…" 
 
That's the sum total of my verbiage so far on the topic. Certainly if you've read some of the things that have been alleged, you were probably shocked as well. But, like me, you probably refrained from taking sides and writing attack pieces. And that's why I thought it was interesting when I opened my mail last week and found an official letter from the Wine Press attorney, accusing me of being "a co-conspirator" with some people to interfere with their business. Really. Me, a co-conspirator. 
 
As evidence of the conspiracy, they sent me copies of confidentiality agreements signed by former employees Cindy Scinto (a person I've never met, and never spoken to), Amber Payne (a person I've never met, never spoken to, and never even heard of), and Athena Dean (who I've met at several writing conferences, always when she was representing Wine Press). Yes — these are my alleged co-conspirators… three people I don't know, two of whom I've never actually spoken to. The letter also noted that my activity was "illegal and shameful, and your liability for it is great, and growing by the day," and the pages offered various Bible verses to show me how godly their argument was. It failed to explain which part of my Facebook comment was illegal, or what was shameful about making a comment, or how exactly I'd be liable, but it did note that I was to "disavow all support and agreement with the conspiracy in order to avoid further liability." I particularly like that part — I'm thinking this is sort of like being on the old "Mission Impossible" team — where you don't know the other people, but, like Mr Phelps, you had to disavow any knowledge of your actions. Anyway, the letter demanded I send proof of my actions to the lawyer's office within ten days, and ended with the dire warning, "Failure to do so can and will result in full prosecution of you… to the full extent of the law." Uh huh. 
 
I have a couple thoughts I'll share… First, the lawyer really needs to brush up on his First Amendment reading. For all the scary language, I'm fairly certain freedom of the press still exists in this country, so unless I slander someone or intend actual malice in a review, I'm not sure I can actually be charged with a crime. I mean, I understand if the people running Wine Press are embarrassed about the current situation getting talked about negatively in public (former employees complaining publicly, the person who started the company taking accusations to local law enforcement, etc), but I'm pretty confident the limited number of CBA news outlets, such as this blog, are still allowed to report on the story. 
 
Second, I'm no lawyer, but it would appear to me there has to be some sort of collusion (or at least a conversation) for there to be a conspiracy. For that matter, I'm surprised they didn't list Carla Williams as a conspirator — she's the only person at Wine Press I really know. (But her being married to the guy behind all of this probaby kept them from going after her as well.) Of course, I'd love to hear what law I broke. Maybe in the follow-up letter, the people at Wine Press can explain it to me, and include some more Old Testament verses to shore up their claims. 
 
Third, the threat of criminal prosecution came… from their lawyer? Unless Wine Press has now been put in charge of the District Attorney's office, I don't think they can actually prosecute me. I don't know — maybe I need to watch some more reruns of Law & Order, so I can brush up on my legal stuff. I know the folks at Wine Press sued an author for criticizing them (and lost), but perhaps they learned something when they got smacked down by that judge.
 
Fourth, it seems like it would be completely inappropriate to send out signed copies of someone else's confidentiality agreement. I mean, isn't that why you have a confidentiality agreement? So you can keep it, you know, "confidential"? (The attorney I spoke to told me that's pretty much all I need to recognize their lawyer's level of professional competence.)
 
And fifth, the threats in the letter they sent me would appear to support what I've heard — that Wine Press likes to try and intimidate people in order to get their way. 
Of course, most of the people behind Wine Press are all part of a church — the Sound Doctrine church, which I know some online reports have branded a cult. They are perhaps best known for their belief in "hating for Jesus" — a concept I SWEAR I'm not making up. Anyway, they were nice enough to include some Scripture verses in the packet they sent me, to try and dress this up as a "Christian" conversation. (I'm pretty sure I could pull out some verses from Corinthians about not threatening to take other believers to court, but that's beside the point.) One verse they cite is this: "Gossip separates close friends." Which was good to read, considering this came from the company that set up THIS website:  http://hardtruth.sdoctrine.org/realfacts/ which appears to me to be nothing more than a hatchet job on the woman they're now fighting with, Athena Dean. So apparently SOME gossip is okay (for example, I notice they make a point of revealing Athena has been divorced twice — a fact I'm not sure is germane to the current conversation).
[Editorial Note: I noticed the Sound Doctrine Church people have tweaked this website, apparently trying to soften some of the language or steer readers to other pages. My apologies if you click on it and it now leads to a "Chip MacGregor is the Antichrist" page. You never know with these folks.]
 
Anyway, I really wanted to write to them and explain that (a) I'm not part of a conspiracy, and (b) I don't scare easily, and (c) up until they acted like jerks and inspired me, I'd never actually written about the situation, but only read about it online, in stories available to anyone with an internet connection and a Facebook account. Instead, I think I'll write and offer them some of my own biblical advice: "Be fruitful and multiply." Except I may not use those words…

 

Hello, I Love Me, Won’t I Tell Me My Name?

November 22nd, 2011 | Religion | 26 Comments

I don't know if it's possible to start out a blog and not say something about what the author has been doing. So… here it is: I've been writing a book. 

No, I'm not kidding. It's called 40 Ways to Get Closer to God. 

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Here's the cover. I'm happy with it. It's an important topic for me, and I was thrilled to be able to work on it with Keri Kent, a writer I respect. But let me warn you: if you read this book, you're not going to glow in the dark. It's not one of those, "I worked to be perfect… now YOU can be perfect like me" type of books. Those books always make me want to vomit. Besides, I'm not tall enough, and I don't have cool enough hair to get my picture on the cover. Instead, this is more of a "I'm a dork, but I did this stuff, so now I'm less of a dork than I used to be… in a way, I guess" sort of book. 

I can tell you one bit of good news: I know if you and I sat down at Starbucks to talk about this topic, the things in the book are exactly what I'd say. The stories (about my dad's suicide, or my friend's death, or my kids going for a pajama ride) are all true, and they're the stories I'd tell. There's no pretense here.

There's also no magic potion. Moving down the road spiritually takes time. You don't pick up a guitar one day and start selling concert tickets the next. You don't take up a paint brush in the morning and expect to create a masterpiece in the afternoon. Anything good takes time — and that includes your spiritual life. 

So I don't know if this is the most important thing you can do if you want to improve your spiritual life. (If you need to see faster growth, try serving at a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving.) But it's one thing, and it's mine, so I thought I'd tell you about it. If you order a copy through Amazon or B&N.com, let me know, so I can tell everyone what a wonderful person you are. 

Thanks for letting me brag about me today. 

-Chip

Some perspective as we head toward Christmas…

December 19th, 2009 | Career, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Religion | 29 Comments


It seems like everybody has been touched by this lousy economy. I read a report yesterday that explained why this is by far the worst economic climate of our lifetimes. Not only is unemployment at more than 8%, but the world of work has changed considerably. Over the past decade, there were many more people who were working at home, working part time, telecommuting, and cobbling together a living. If you include all those people (who weren't "laid off," they simply no longer have freelance jobs available to them), the unemployment rate is something closer to 15% — the worst since the Great Depression. We've certainly seen that in publishing. Every house has cut staff, most have trimmed the number of books they'll release. Borders is on the ropes, some publishers look like they may be in trouble, and even Scholastic (who made a fortune introducing the world to Harry Potter) appears to have some serious issues. There's carnage everywhere in publishing. And even though we know that books are recession-resistant, overall sales have been down. 

What does a writer do in this sort of economy? I'd like to make a handful of suggestions to you. 

First, while things in the world economy may be dire, a depression isn't just about the world. It's about your individual projects. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to suggest you take break from the unrelenting bad news heard on the mainstream media. And even the sidestream media. I mean it — turn off the TV, don't listen to talk radio, and stop checking FoxNews.com. It's the Christmas season, so give up broadcast media for a while. Consider yourself on a "news fast." You might think it's silly, but if you try it, you'll soon realize the benefit of not having fear-mongers and outraged talk show hosts fill your head with bad news. Decide you're going to take from now until Martin Luther King's birthday and stay away from the news. See if your attitude doesn't improve. (And let me tell you how this works for me: While many agents are spending time whining about the lousy publishing economy, I just keep working on the projects my authors represent. And I find them selling. Maybe not as many as two years ago, and maybe not for as much as they'd have sold for one year ago, but I"m still doing deals for people. Even in this bad economy, there are book deals to be made. I've found this to be true with other agent friends of mine — we just keep working.) So turn off the Chicken Little, World-Is-Coming-To-An-End types, assume somebody will tell you if something important happens, and focus on your writing. 

Second, I want you to consider recent sales. Because the contracts I negotiate for my authors generally have confidentiality clauses, I'm not going to reveal the particulars, but I can tell you this much: the majority of deals I've done in the past five months have been exclusive. In other words, the project was created with one particular publisher in mind. There was forethought put into what the project would be, and who it would be aimed at. The author really focused on the needs of a particular house, created it especially for that publisher, and we sold it to them. Of the last ten deals I did, eight of them were designed with ONE publisher in mind. Let me offer one example, since it shows some insight into the way this works… Gina Holmes runs the popular "Novel Journey" website. She has worked on that for years, meeting people, making connections, slowly building up a name that people in the industry would recognize. When she began writing, she didn't have one particular house in mind, but she knew she had a strong story that would work in the market. Over time, we began to target one publisher that would be a nice match for her story. 

I spoke to the editor in charge of fiction there, so she'd know Gina was working on a book for her. The two spoke, the editor offered ideas for helping improve the story. Over time, Gina created exactly the novel that publisher wanted. And because Gina wasn't in a hurry, she was able to create a much stronger book. In the end, they made Gina a great offer — much better than she'd have received if she had simply banged something out
. There's not any one factor in this, but several ingredients that came together — Gina's platform, her story, her writing ability, the relationship with the publisher, the allotment of time to let the story build, the feeling of partnership that developed (since we all prefer to do business with people know and trust). In a lousy economy, that's how publishing still works. So think about creating a book that is ideal for one house. (And this would be a great place to mention that Gina's novel, CROSSING OCEANS, is releasing next summer. It's going to be great!) 

Third, even if there's financial discouragement around you, commit to write every day. It's what you are gifted at, and what you are called to do. Why give up your best gift and your calling at a time when things are tight? Fix a time in your schedule, sit down at the same place each day, and bang out those thousand words (or those five thousand, depending on how fast you work). Continuing to write is probably your best therapy when the rest of the world looks like it's falling apart. Besides, in a world that's struggling, there is still a need for books that will change us, inspire us, encourage us, spur us to action, offer us an entertaining escape, or cause us to live more effectively. 

Fourth, if you really are worried about your writing career in this lousy world economy, do something for someone else each day. I mean it. When you do something tangible for someone else, when you encourage them or make a point of complimenting or thanking them, it changes your attitude about the world we live in. In her wonderful book Making a LIterary Life, Carolyn See says the two essential elements in a writers life are to write a thousand words a day and to send someone a charming note each day. That's great advice. So if you're concerned about the world and the economy, then take eight minutes every day and send a thank you note to that editor who talked with you at the conference, or write a note of encouragement to that author whose book you liked, or tell your publicist how much you appreciate her. Sure, it's a great way to network. But that's not the reason to do it – you do it because it's one of the few things you can do as a writer that will get you out of your own world and into the world of someone else. Aren't you always encouraged when, out of the blue, you get one of those nice "thank you" notes for something you did that you considered a small token? Hey, we've had some very tough things happen lately. A couple authors I represent are married to people who have lost their jobs. A couple folks have faced serious health issues. A couple authors lost a parent or father-in-law. Several are facing a serious financial crunch. One good buddy, a wonderful guy who is doing a series of books with Bethany House Publishers, lost his twelve-year-old son unexpectedly just a few months ago. He and his family are facing their first Christmas after a huge loss. People need encouragement, and that's one tangible thing you can provide.

Fifth (and get ready because I'm about to sound like Pastor Chippy), examine your faith in God. Our treasure isn't in this world. Our trust really isn't in our stock portfolio or our 401k's. Our trust is in God, and He wasn't surprised when this depression began. He isn't sitting in heaven, slapping HIs forehead in surprise and saying, "I sure didn't see THAT coming." The fact is, I don't care if you're one of those people who reads this blog for the publishing advice and doesn't really believe in God. I have full confidence that God is still in charge, and still paying attention to this world, even if it looks like it's all falling apart. He still cares about you, and will still take care of you, even in difficult circumstances. So learn to trust God, however you perceive Him to be. If you're finding it hard, commit to reading your bible a bit each day in order to build your faith, and take the time to talk with someone about your concerns. We're all in this crazy business together, and at heart, we all love it. Publishing can be fickle, and certainly has the ability to ruin a promising day, but the fact is, we all know that words still matter, and if God really exists, that means He is in charge of publishing just like He's in charge of everything else. End of sermon.

I hope you have a merry Christmas. If you've got a question for an agent, send it in, because next week we're going to do a series called ASK AN AGENT. You can ask anything you've always wanted to ask an agent, and I'll try to answer it briefly but completely.  


Kristy and Karen and Mike

August 20th, 2008 | Religion | 45 Comments

When my son Colin was about five years old, we took him to the Rose Parade in Portland. He got one of those helium balloons that have a Mickey Mouse head inside a second, larger balloon. Colin loved it, and enjoyed bouncing it around the car and the house, but then we walked outside, he let go, and… off it sailed into the Northwest sky, lost to the winds.

We talked about it a little bit. I didn’t scold him. Accidents happen. He was sad, and crying a bit, and upset that he’d done something so silly as to let go of the string. "Papa," he said to me (for he has always called me Papa), "when I grow up, I’m going to have a job where I go around and collect all the lost balloons, and take them back to the kids who lost them."

I don’t tell many "little children" stories — too much W.C. Fields in me, believing that children and dogs should be offered in small doses. But today I’d love to be five years old again, with dreams of doing something great for people; something big and nice and sweet, without being held back by an adult explaining why you can’t do it. Here’s why…

A month ago, my friend Krisy Dykes died of a brain tumor. Kristy was a writer, and a very nice person, always opening her emails with the same words: "Greetings from sunny Florida!" Late in her career, she called me and asked if I could help her. As it turns out, I couldn’t. Not very much, anyway. But I always appreciated her positive, joyful spirit, and her willingness to be an ambassador for Christian writing.

Then last night, I got a call from someone. An author I represent, Karen Harter, is in the hospital suffering with the late stages of cancer. They don’t expect her to last more than another day or two. Karen is a fabulous writer. Her first novel, Where Mercy Flows, won the Christy Award as Christian Novel of the Year, and her second, Autumn Blue, was both a RITA finalist and an ACFW Book of the Year finalist. Karen has the gift — Readers Digest likened her work to Anne Rivers Siddons. All of us expected her to be a star in the industry someday, then this evil disease hit.

And now one of my best friends in the world, Mike Swickard, is fighting it. Mike has cancer everywhere — he’s been fighting it for years, and all they’re really doing now is helping him get a handle on the pain, and he is just trying to fight it off so that he can make his daughter’s wedding on Friday night.

Mike and I go way back. We went to the same church, sang in the same group, graduated from the same high school. We used to go backpacking, had plenty of scrapes together, nearly got arrested one time by a small-town deputy with an oversized need to be in charge. I was in Mike and Heidi’s wedding. Mike was always the strongest guy I knew, and it pains me to see him beat down by this. 

When I got the call last night, from someone at the church who needed to give me the update about Karen, I was struck by all the things that were left unsaid. I needed to tell her again how much I enjoyed her work, and what a great influence her writing was going to have on others, and how much I have enjoyed knowing her and talking about words. And now it’s too late.

So I called Mike and talked with him.  I just wanted him to know how much he meant to me, and that I had appreciated his friendship, and that after my father died, he was one of the guys I turned to in order to figure out how to be a man. And that the world will be a smaller place when he leaves.

We’re not the same, Mike and I. He’s a welder, and knows everything there is to know about cars, and can take a 1952 Plymouth and restore it to pristine condition. I can do none of those things — it was always my job to hand him the tools and nod a lot, pretending I knew what he was talking about when he’d use a word like "tappet" or "rig reamer." I didn’t know then; I still don’t. But I’m glad to know Mike’s down time has made him a huge reader, and he always had an agile mind, so we can talk books and ideas without either of us feeling self-conscious.

Look… I don’t offer that many life lessons. I guess I figure I have too many questions as it is, so the last thing I need to do is to tell somebody else how to live his or her life. But hear me on this: If I had a chance to go around and collect all the lost helium balloons so that I could return them to sad little boys, I’d do it today. I don’t. However, I have plenty of people who I know and love, and I can tell them know how much I appreciate them, so that neither of us leaves the world feeling regret over things undone. It’s my chance to do something big and nice and sweet.

My thanks to Kristy and Karen and Mike for their wonderful friendship. I have appreciated you each for your unique gifts. Be at peace.

UPDATE: Award-winning author Karen Harter passed away in the wee hours this morning. Her husband Jeff was by her side, and she was surrounded by family and friends. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

UPDATE: My friend Mike Swickard, the Strongest Man in the World, passed away while I was traveling. The world is a lesser place with his passing. Rest in peace, Mike. I will always remember you.