RELAX: You Are Not Alone… So Create Magic

I’ve said it before- My journey as a writer hasn’t quite gone as planned. I still remember the day my first short story went up on Amazon. I was so sure that the price incentive of .99 cents would be the thing that launched me up on the sales rank. Imagine my surprise when it barely moved. I was devastated. I was hurt. I thought- Seriously, I worked this hard on a 6,500-word short story and I’m not even going to break even…? What the heck…?

Did I quit…? No, I pressed on and wrote the novella My Friend Louie. I was so certain this little YA Horror Story would be the hit. Again, nothing happened… I asked myself a million questions. I could not understand what I was doing wrong. I remember sitting on my patio and just shaking my head. I felt God was leading me to write, to be a storyteller, to create with Him. However, I was not experiencing success on the level I wanted to.

That is when it hit me- I defined my career according to my terms and not God’s terms.

So, for two years I did a few things.

  • Studied the craft.
  • Made friends and connected with others in the industry
  • Practiced, Practiced, Practiced…

Those two stories are still up there for sale (But I have come so much further).

The point is. I have banged my head against the wall a hundred times. I have tossed in the towel every day. I have quit- Only to come back and bang away at the keys instead.

Maybe it’s my nature. I mean- I’ve gone from being a high school drop out to being a VP in a Marketing Firm. Maybe I don’t know how to quit. Maybe because on some level I know one day I’ll make a decent break through.

Maybe, Maybe, Maybe- Maybe I’ve realized that creating stories is the only thing I’m any good at.

Yes, I give up. Yes, I stare at a blank page and cuss the blinking cursor. Yes, at times I feel it is pointless. Yes, I feel disrespected. Yes, I feel my genre is laughed upon and underrepresented. Yes, I feel most publishers do not know jack about marketing. Yes, I have wanted to give up… Guess what- So has every other creative type I know.

We write because we are called. We write because it is who we are.

Remember- We create a special magic when we become one with the page, and the words, they are the wands…

So keep writing. Never look back. Someone, somewhere, needs to hear your story.

4 Things I’ve Learned After 11 Years of Working in Marketing

I’ve worked in Marketing for Eleven Years now. I’ve made mistakes- I’ve Fixed others Mistakes- And I’ve learned from Mistakes. However, one secret I know is this-

Marketing is not that hard.

It really isn’t. I think we have a tendency to make it harder than it really is. But the truth is: all you need are a few basic things-

One: A good product

Two: A passion for your product

Three: An ability to overcome the fear and share.

When most people ask me how much they should spend on marketing their books, products, etc. I tell them unless you have the money- You should only spend your time.

Sounds strange. But so many get ahead of themselves. Put your money in the production of the product FIRST. A well-edited book with a great cover will do more for you. If you have money left over, invest what you can in marketing.

Here are four things I’ve learned by being in upper management that anyone can do on any budget.

  1. Find what works for you and stick with it consistently.

Our company specializes in Direct Mail. It’s what most of you would call junk mail. But we have mastered it. Everything from creative design to programming mailing lists, to the production of envelopes, applications, brochures, etc is done in house. We even fold, insert, and sort all our mail down to a specific postal carrier route. We have mastered it by bringing everything in-house. We send out 3.5 Million pieces of mail each week. (YES- You read that right.) We know what works for us and we have a concept:

“How do we get you to open up the envelope without tricking you?”

  1. Your Fans / Clients / and Existing Customers- when satisfied will be your Number 1 point of future sales. (Click to Tweet This)

Here’s something. We market to our existing customers. We spend a lot of time and product development in marketing to the family members of existing customers who have been loyal for years. These products are some of our biggest sales. That’s not just us. Any large successful business does the same thing. Word of mouth is the biggest friend you can have. Find your fans- Build that email list- And hold on tight to them.

  1. Frequency- Frequency- Frequency:

Listen- Only Impulse Buyers buy the first time- 85% of the rest of the market need to see it more than once. Now please understand something. We don’t mail each customer every week. Sometimes it’s simply once a month. However, we hit them more than once. If you are a writer or entrepreneur don’t make every facebook, Tweet, or Instagram post about your book or product. After a while I’m going to be like: “Yeah, I get it.” But don’t ever go silent. Push it and don’t be afraid to push it.

  1. Test your control strategy against a test strategy:

We test everything. We have packages that have worked for years- But that doesn’t mean we stop brainstorming new ideas and concepts. Try one thing one day. The next week at the same time- Try something else. Test your results. Test your reach. Don’t shy away from data- It may not always tell the right story, but it can be eye-opening when it tells the same story consistently.  

Nadine & Books: an interview w/ Nadine Brandes

Hey everyone,

I’ve very excited to have with me today Nadine Brandes; Carol award winning author of A Time to Die and soon to be released A Time to Speak. Today we are discussing all things books: So put on your Geek Cap and join the conversation in the comments below.

So Nadine, let’s start off with a few of your favorites. I’m always interested to hear what other writers both like to read and hate…

What were some of your favorite books you read while growing up…?

I loved Narnia and Nancy Drew. Those were my main reads for a long time until Harry Potter came out. Then I became the kid who stalked J K Rowling’s writing updates, waiting for her to publish the next book. Even though they can be controversial in Christian circles, God used them to inspire me to see the power of good versus evil. He used it to awaken a love for fantasy in me.

Do you ever find yourself re-reading, or planning to re-read any particular book or series…?

I try to re-read Lord of the Rings every January as well as Francine Rivers’ The Mark of the Lion Series. Obviously, I re-read Harry Potter, but I don’t plan it out. I read it when I’m in the mood and also read them aloud to hubby. J

What genres do you like best or see yourself gravitating towards more…?

I used to think I was a fantasy girl, but then when I made a list of all my favorite movies and books…I realized I liked sci-fi much more than I thought. Besides, my books are technically sci fi. But when I’m picking up a book from the library or bookstore, it’s usually YA fantasy or YA sci-fi.

Any particular genres you dislike…?

Romance. *hides* Okay, it’s not awful. Actually the Christian romance has gotten much better these days. But when I was growing up it was all far too cheesy, unrealistic, and cliché. I grew very disenchanted and frustrated with the genre and I guess that carried over into my adult years. I still get irritated with unrealistic romance in YA novels.

So, hopefully I didn’t just make a bunch of enemies since Romance is the top genre in the CBA.

What about Covers, you have incredible covers; any particular covers stand out for you…?

I can take no credit for Kirk Douponce’s brilliance, but I’m sure glad he was assigned to my books! I’m a picky reader when it comes to covers (and I totally judge books by them) so I’m glad I ended up with covers to my own books that I ADORE.

Some of my favorite covers are:

Curio, by Evangeline Denmark (also by Kirk DouPonce)

Plenilune, by Jennifer Freitag

Throne of Glass, by Sara J Maas

Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson

Those are the books that I pick up just for the covers. I haven’t actually read any of them yet, but I hope they match the awesomeness of their covers! 😀

Let’s talk Characters a moment- Who are some of your favorite fictional characters…?

I love Merlin, from BBC’s TV show Merlin, Hadassah from Mark of the Lion, Harry Potter (duh), Achan from Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings Series, and Francis from the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played.

These are all characters who had to overcome overwhelming odds. Some of them were born with talents, some weren’t. But they’re all courageous and brave, pushing forward through the toughest adversity. I love them all dearly.

I love anti heroes or the ones you’re just not sure you can trust but end up being good. (Snape is one of my favorites.) What about you, any particular anti-heroes you just love…?

You took my favorite. 😛 SNAPE! By the way, before the last book came out, I always believed he’d be good. Just saying.

Edmund from Narnia. While I hated him in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, I love how passionate he becomes for following Aslan.

Atretes from The Mark of the Lion Series.

What about villains. What stands out as a great villain..? Is there one that has ever just kind of frightened you…?

Maleficent! Maleficent has always been, in my opinion, right up there next to Voldemort. She’s scary and horrible (until Disney released a new version of her and now this example will simply never work.)

I get angry with Characters sometimes. There have been a few I find myself wanting to slap upside the head and knock some sense into. You ever come across a character you just want to say: “Why are you doing that…?” If so, who would that be…?

Any character who’s making a stupid decision. You know the ones: “So-and-so just told you not to trust that evil villain…and now you’re trusting him?!” Or if they have a secret that will save the world, but decide not to tell anyone.

To name a few: Tris Prior from Divergent, Thomas from The Maze Runner, Bella during all the Twilight books, Vrell from From Darkness Won (though I still loved her. :D)

I hate a bad ending to a book. And I have read several. What makes you unhappy about endings…? What do not want to see at the end of a book…?

Hopelessness! (*Curse you, Mockingjay*) There always needs to be a nugget of hope. Because in life, there’s always a nugget of hope. And the moment we lose that in our fiction is when we start feeding our readers lies about life and present them only with darkness.

I also hate endings that don’t fit the story or seem to random to bring in the “shock factor” (*Curse you, Merlin.*)

Okay, your series “The Out of Time Series” is Dystopian. I love dystopian fiction and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my Favorites. What about you, do you have any particular favorite…?

Despite the hopeless ending and the horridness of Mockingjay, I still cling to The Hunger Games. That was one of the first books that really helped me get the dystopian genre. And I chose to set the Out of Time Series in a dystopian world because of those books.

I also love Ready Player One, which is a virtual reality dystopian. Despite the profanity (you’ve been warned) the story is brilliant.

Let’s take fictional worlds for a moment… If you could step into a book and be a part of a fictional world which one would it be, and why…?

Hogwarts. Obviously, I’d hope to have magical abilities, but even if I was a Squib, I’d want to wander Diagon Alley for a while. It’s always been the most magical world in my mind, probably because I grew up with the books and with Harry Potter. After that, I’d want to go to Hobbiton.

Is there any particular book, or series that influenced your writing…?

I’m pretty sure I answered this amidst some of my other answers, but to give a good list:

Harry Potter, by J K Rowling

Mark of the Lion Series, by Francine Rivers

Love Does, by Bob Goff

The Blood of Kings Trilogy, by Jill Williamson

A Time to Die was you first published Novel. It was nominated for a Christy and won the Carol award at ACFW this year. Did you expect this book to ever be a success like that in terms of recognition and reception…?

At the risk of sounding prideful…sort of.

Don’t get me wrong. I was still scraping my jaw off the floor and crying a lot, but here’s why I say “sort of”:

From the moment I was given the idea for the book, I knew it wasn’t mine. When I started writing, my writing came out in a “voice” (that writing professionals are calling a “natural talent”) that I’d never seen myself use before. I can’t think of it as natural talent. It came out of nowhere! When I wrote the first chapter of A Time to Die at midnight on a school night in grad school, I re-read it the next day and the whole time, I thought, “I didn’t write this. I don’t write like this.” It was like reading someone else’s work.

I feel like I’ve been along for the ride this entire time and that none of it is actually me. God’s just using my fingers. Seriously. So because it was such a bizarre U-turn from how I used to write/think/dream, I knew that God had a purpose for the book and my constant prayer was that He’d grow it so it would touch more lives.

To me…these awards and nominations are simply giving God the glory that I knew He deserved from the very start with this book. So I hope that people see it that way – it has nothing to do with me. God could snap His fingers and I’d return to my old drab way of writing and that’s okay. Because it’s always been Him.

Is there anything that you hope readers will take away from this series…?

That we are created for something mighty and powerful! We are meant to be bringers of shalom and no matter if we have a 9-5 desk job or we’re world travelers, God will use us in world-changing ways. It’s just our job to say, “Here I am.” 🙂

Thanks for stopping by Nadine. Let Nadine and I know what some of your favorites are in the comments below. And check out Nadine’s new release “A Time to Speak” this Friday.

Be Sure to Attend the Book Launch Party on October 20th

(Click on the Pic Below for more Details)

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Personal Reflections on “A Time to Speak”

I must admit. Writing a post about a book is one of the most difficult things for me to do. Especially when you want to show how incredible a book has moved you. How on earth does one express the joys of a story in only a few hundred words? It’s near impossible.

I considered quoting a passage that I particularly loved. But honestly, what’s the point. Once I stepped across the threshold and started I’m not sure where I would stop quoting. The list is endless.

Let me simply say this with all honesty: I love this Series. I can’t wait to dive back into this world again. And I cannot wait for the release of book 3.

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There is a certain beauty within these pages. One founded on Truth that echoes across a canyon like distant thunder. Cheesy I know– But I ‘m a geek who finds himself moved by words and the pictures they paint.

I realize that what I write here may not be seen as a review- And I’m okay with that. Because a review can’t really display exactly the way a story makes you feel. It can’t show beauty, pain, or make one feel the pulse of your heart as you race with a character while the stakes grow larger. Only the pure enjoyment of a story can do that. All I can do is provide what I hope is more meaningful- A nod of approval. And a challenge to dive in.

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I was honored to receive an advanced copy of book two in Nadine Brandes “Out of Time Series.”

A Time to Speak starts off directly where the first book left us. And the first lines are just as powerful as book one, setting the tone for the rest of the story:

“I’ve been robbed of my death.

A date was set, a coffin prepared,

and a grave dug in the earth, yet I breathe against my own will…

Parvin Blackwater is struggling with acceptance. With accepting the death of her twin brother, accepting the fact that the clock that counted down to zero (or her death) was in fact not hers, and accepting that she is alive. But Parvin Blackwater of Book 2 is different. And despite a weight of blame she feels for what may have happened- She is determined. The line on page 3 sets her arc for the book up:

“I don’t have the energy to be offended… I need to get moving, start fixing all the brokenness clouding my village. I have a calling to fulfill…”

Her trust in both God and others doesn’t come near as easy as it once did and as a result there is a struggle within.

But that’s the entire point of A Time to Speak. Stepping out, and taking a step of faith. So many times we look throughout life and see injustice being done. From those that may be weak and have no voice or power to influence, to those that distort and twist God’s word for their own ambitions, to the preying on of young innocents, time and time again we feel a sense, a calling, an urge to speak out and proclaim truth- But instead we find ourselves cowering back and living in the midst of shadows.

Parvin Blackwater gives us hope that we can be more than simply silent figurines on a mantle.

Let me leave by saying this: Fiction by no mean is truth. It is not scripture in the least bit. But it is built off a worldview the author has. And when that worldview has God’s word as a foundation, then light can’t help but seep through. The truths that come out through this story are theologically and doctrinally sound. And as a result… It speaks and challenges me in ways very few stories can. It leaves me hungry and craving more.

The last lines in this second book are powerful. More powerful then the first. The questions that burn in my mind are endless. So be warned- And be prepared to leave this story with Goosebumps.

 

Be sure to check back in this Monday October 12th: I’ll be interviewing Nadine where we discuss all things Books…

Also Nadine will be having a Facebook Launch Party on October 20th. You can sign up to attend through the pic below.

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If you are interested in connecting with Nadine or learning more about her and her work you can do so through the following links below.

A Pleasure to Burn…

Ray Bradbury and Dystopian

This month I had the privilege of reading an advance copy of book 2 in the : “Out of Time Series” by Carol award winning author Nadine Brandes. (More to come on that later) I absolutely love Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic stories. From Mad Max, to The Postman, to Hunger Games, The Stand, this Genre just never seems to die. In fact- Just when some publishing-expert declares it’s on its way out, another hit pops up on the shelf.

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But that got me thinking about my favorite book of all time by no less than my favorite author. It’s the one Dystopian story that has withstood the test of time over and over and over again.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953, and remains a classic. Bradbury wrote it in nine days on a typewriter in a library at the University of California Los Angeles.

There has been much discussion that has taken place over the years as to its meaning – was it a response to Nazi book burning?  An allegory of the McCarthy era and political censorship in the USA? A forewarning of the excesses of “political correctness”?  A story about television’s (or how about iPads) increasing omnipresence and the accompanying erosion of critical thinking? I’m not even sure Bradbury himself fully knew the meaning (as he wasn’t ever entirely forthcoming about why he wrote it.)

But what is it about this short little novel that seems to be able to stand the test of time? I think Neil Gaiman did an amazing job of summoning it up:

“Sometimes writers write about a world that does not yet exist,” Neil Gaiman begins his Introduction to the 60th Anniversary Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

 This is a book of warning. It is a reminder that what we have is valuable, and that sometimes we take what we value for granted….

 People think—wrongly—that speculative fiction is about predicting the future, but it isn’t; or if it is, it tends to do a rotten job of it….

 What speculative fiction is really good at is not the future but the present—taking an aspect of it that troubles or is dangerous, and extending and extrapolating that aspect into something that allows the people of that time to see what they are doing from a different angle and from a different place. It’s cautionary.

 Fahrenheit 451 is speculative fiction. It’s an “If this goes on…” story. Ray Bradbury was writing about his present, which is our past.

In our life we are faced with the same day to day challenges that Bradbury faced. At times we shake our heads at the constant polarization around us, the constant bickering, the push – pull within society and we stop and ask the same question- “If this goes on…”

It is difficult to look around society and think will it ever get better than this. Most of us would go so far as to say no. But I have a feeling that it’s quite possible we can move beyond the hopeless and see some light ahead to pave our way forward.

Bradbury ends Fahrenheit 451 with hope & faith in a better future. There are many that would disagree with me. And they have every right to think I am wrong. The town has been flattened by bombs, but the books of history, faith, fantasy, and all genres live in the “Book People.”

“They plan to pass this knowledge onto their children and wait until society needs that knowledge again. They don’t have long to wait because several bombs hit the city while they are hiking that day. After weathering the shock waves from the blast, they turn back; civilization needs them. On the way, Montag begins to remember Ecclesiastes.”

By ending this novel with the destruction of the city and the world as they knew it, Bradbury gives the idea that changes are coming and this civilization will change and grow, and rebuild (like the mythical phoenix to which Granger refers in the end.)

“A time to break down, and a time to build up. Yes. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak,” Montag thinks as the book people move up the river at the end of the story.

I’m very passionate about my beliefs. I find myself on most days biting my tongue. I’ve learned I’m normally stuck in the middle like a small child in a divorce. But there comes a time when I have step out and voice what I feel is injustice.

That’s why I love Dystopian Fiction: It makes us say “I wish I had this courage…”

What about you dear reader- Is there something in life you should have spoken up about but never did…? If so, why not…?