Saturday, September 20, 2014

Christian Fantasy: Regaining Lost Ground

As I survey the landscape of both fantasy fiction and Christian readers, I am saddened by a trend happening across the nation. It is not a new trend, but a slide down a slippery slope that has been going on for nearly half a century.  We have all heard the old adage about boiling a frog by putting it in cold water and slowing turning up the heat. A similar fate seems to have overtaken the legacy left by the founders of fantasy fiction. It is the secularization of the genre, and the alienation of Christian readers.

Epic fantasy has its deepest roots dating back hundreds or thousands of years, into ancient myths and legends. But around the time of World War II, two friends produced works that brought myths and legends to life in vivid works of fiction, blended with themes of faith and Christianity.  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are widely recognized as the fathers of modern, epic fantasy. They were also Christians, with Tolkien actually leading Lewis from agnosticism to faith in Christ. Lewis went on to not only be an amazing fantasy writer, but his theological work, especially in the area of Christian apologetics, was profound.

So with such profoundly faith-based roots in the founding fathers of modern fantasy, and in those who followed closely on their heels, why do we find today the majority of Christian readers retreating from anything resembling fantasy?  While there have been stalwart Christian fantasy authors who have fought the good fight, from Tolkien and Lewis, through Madeline L’Engle, Katherine Kurtz, Frank Peretti, Stephen Lawhea, Ted Dekker, and others, Christians seem to have largely lost their beachhead in fantasy fiction.

A look at the recent top-selling authors in the fantasy genre is all it might take to turn away most Christian readers. Best sellers filled with gratuitous gore and sex, soaked in foul language, and reveling in glorifying sin in all its manifestations are a large reason Christian readers are retreating in droves from a genre that seems to have lost any glimmer of light whatsoever.

But I would urge Christian readers to pause a moment to recognize, all is not lost. There are faithful fantasy and science fiction authors who have not checked their faith at the door in order to sell books to the masses. In addition to the breakout Christian authors mentioned above, there are a plethora of Christian Speculative Fiction authors grinding away in near obscurity, producing great fantasy and science fiction stories that are firmly grounded in their faith.  There are faithful Christian Speculative Fiction review sites, like David Bergsland’s “Reality Calling” ( ) or Peter Younghusband’s “Christian Fiction Review” ( ) who dedicate time and energy to informing Christian readers about wholesome, faith-based fantasy and science fiction stories.  There are many Christian fantasy reader groups on Facebook and Goodreads, like “Why Christian Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books Totally Rule” ( ), “Christian Fiction Gathering” ( ), to help readers connect with faithful authors.

I say all this to make one point crystal clear. If you are a Christian that loves Tolkien and Lewis, don’t despair.  There are many more adventures waiting that do not require you to check your faith at the door or steel yourself for a wade through filth just to get your fantasy fix. If you are willing to search for these authors, I can promise there are thousands of faithful authors desperately looking to connect with YOU!  Remember the story from 1 Kings 19 where Elijah felt like he was the only one in the world that still believed and served God, but God answered and said He had reserved seven thousand to Himself who had not bowed a knee to Baal.  Both Christian authors seeing to connect with readers, and Christian readers despairing of the state of modern fantasy are both crying out like Elijah that they are alone.  Yet I can tell you, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, that if you seek, you will find. 

Readers, there are authors out there who have not bowed their knee, and who are writing for you.  Authors, there are Christians who love fantasy and science fiction, and are desperately seeking faithful reading options. With a little effort, we can find each other and send a message to the publishing industry that Christians have not abandoned this marketplace, but that there are millions of faithful readers out there willing to support faithful authors. When we do that, these publishers currently making their livelihoods off pedaling sin-riddled literature will have to get on board and be a part of turning this industry back to its Christian roots.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Discernment: Distinguishing between Fiction and Fact

Hey, everyone! Look, I am getting better and more regular with my blog posts, just like I said. Okay, you there, in the blue shirt, I saw you mumble "Let's see how long it lasts". Come on, give me the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, more seriously, in some recent discussions online the question came up about why some mainstream Christian readers tend to veer away, leery of Christian Speculative Fiction which explores the gray areas. Here is my take on what may be going on, and I hope it will spark some readers to at least be open more to Christian Speculative Fiction without feeling that writers of this genre are in any way promoting new doctrine or beliefs. Just because we explore the gray areas in fiction, that does not mean it in any way takes us out of the mainstream with our actual beliefs, theology, or discipleship.

Where I think some discomfort may lie is in Christian readers not being able to draw that distinction, between what I teach/believe as a theologian, pastor, and missionary vs what questions/possibilities I explore as a Christian writer of Speculative Fiction. I can compartmentalize those two areas without conflict, but some have gotten very upset with me exploring, for example, the question of the existence of repentant fallen angels in my Chadash Chronicles books as somehow part of my actual theology. I assure you, it is not.

I honestly don't know either way whether there could be repentant or forgiven fallen, but I can defend at least the possibility Scripturally. I don't teach it as doctrine, but I also don't believe the idea violates any part of Scripture either. It is well and safely within the bounds of "gray area". I think if more mainstream Christians could come to grips with differentiating the solid "yes and no" of doctrine and theology from the "what if's" of Christian Speculative Fiction, we would see a huge growth in consumer base for the stories written by Christian Speculative Fiction authors like myself.

With my church connections, etc, I have no doubt I could hit well known best seller lists if I wrote a book about missions, about theology, about developing a personal relationship with God, etc. I firmly believe me writing a non-fiction spiritual-content book would literally fly off the shelves. This is not to sound arrogant, but it is a reality I have seen time and again.  Christian are fantastic about supporting faith leaders in their faith-based work.  I am not in any way criticizing that.  I think it is fantastic.

My speculative fiction work has been much more modestly received, however.  I think this has two main reasons.  First, not every Christian reads speculative fiction at all, which does limit the market even within the community of supportive Christian readers.  Secondly, many who might enjoy this genre for their pleasure reading, when it has nothing to do really with Christian themes, aren't sure what to do with Christian Fantasy and Science-Fiction that gets a little too close to their theology.

Hopefully change will come if enough of us keep striving to put out quality Christian speculative fiction, and keep doing our part to collectively raise awareness of each other's works. The time may yet come where discernment matures enough for Christian readers to draw that distinction between what an author believes as a Christian and what he/she explore as a fiction writer.

I would challenge anyone to find anything in my fiction that specifically opposes anything in Scripture. I took great pains to avoid that, but would want to know if I failed somewhere. I have set up an email address where you can reach me directly with any concerns in this area.  That address is and I encourage readers to bring any questions/concerns you find in my work to me at that address.  I will do my best to share with you how I came to conclude that falling in the "gray area".  At the end of the day we may still not see eye to eye, but at least you will know I have not written anything haphazardly, but took care, consideration, and Scriptural study to ensure I did my best, even in my fiction, to not violate anything from God's word.

I do, however, run back and forth like crazy all in the "gray area" that Scripture does NOT talk about, either to affirm or deny. I live comfortably in the gray area with regards to my fiction, but my ministry, what I teach and disciple and use to plant churches in the field, stays FIRMLY in the black and white. I am not in any way a "fringe Christian" in my ministry work, but I am definitely all about the "what if"s of the fringe when it comes to my Speculative Fiction.

Blessings to all my readers, fans, and colleagues in the realm of Christian Speculative Fiction. You all remain an encouragement and a great gift to my family and I with your prayers, your support, and your love.

For those new to Otherworld Windows and wanting to know where they can get my books, here are the Amazon links, as well as the link to my daughter's debut novel on Amazon kindle as well:

Chadash Chronicles Book One: Fool's Errand

Chadash Chronicles Book Two: Mystic's Mayhem

Ariel's Debut Novel:  Dragon's Touch

Monday, July 21, 2014


Given one of the key elements of being a writer, or a responsible and helpful reader, is receiving or providing constructive criticism, I want to take a moment to clarify a couple of things for both the writers and readers following Otherworld Windows:

1) What is and is not "constructive" criticism

2) What do we do with both constructive and destructive criticism when it comes


Constructive criticism is criticism that not only points out something found lacking in a work, but also provides detailed information on what exactly the problem is so the author is equipped going forward to fix the situation should he/she see the validity of the criticism.

For example, a trusted friend recently read the first paragraphs of my two novels already on the market. His response was "you need a new editor". That statement alone was NOT constructive criticism, because it did not provide me with the information to identify the problem in order to address it in future works.

However, being that this person is a trusted friend, when asked what he saw, he provided detailed information on where I had used superfluous words in communicating my message. That what I had said could have been said clearer and more succinctly. NOW I had true and valuable constructive criticism.

As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. It is a problem I struggle with in my writing. It also happened to be a problem I caught myself doing during my self-edits of my third book, Paryn’s Gold, which thankfully has yet to be released, thus providing time to go over it again with an eye for this particular penchant in mind.


"Man this books sucks.", "Worst book ever, couldn't finish it.", "Don't quit your day job, you will never make a living as a writer.", "Single most excruciating thing I have ever tried to read."

Am I engaging in hyperbole here? No, I am not. These are actual statements I have seen posted on Amazon book reviews. Some Otherworld Windows readers, who are also authors, if they have more than one or two books out there, might even have gotten one or two of these wild-hair, one-star reviews amidst the plethora of four and five star accolades.

So what do we do with this kind of feedback? Not much. Even if we think the person may have had a legitimate beef with something we wrote, their method of expressing their displeasure fails to contain the information needed to address the issue. Do we completely ignore it? My inclination is, not entirely. It is at least good to know that our work does not appeal to some people.

Don't take that too hard though. Think of your favorite, best-selling, best-written book of classic literature. I mean the one that curled your toes the first time you read it, and has remained lodged in your heart and mind ever since. Now go to the Amazon page and look at the reviews. Invariably there will be a handful of one-stars. Read some of them? Sound familiar? Seriously, everyone gets bad reviews eventually. If they haven't, it means not enough people are reading their books. Hmm, that should probably bother me since my books have all 4 and 5 star reviews thus far. I guess the dozen or so people who have actually read them must all be in my target demographic...


If it is constructive, well-thought-out and kindly presented, my advice is that there is probably a grain of truth there worth noting. Some folks I know (you know who you are), when they receive criticism, will go out of their way to post why the criticism is completely invalid and that the reader just didn't "get" what they were doing when they wrote it that way.

Let me be blunt here. That's pretty classless. You don't have to agree with every criticism, but disagree using your inside-the-head voice. If you have to explain to readers what you were doing, you do have a problem. It means that you have ineffectively communicated your "genius" to your target audience. There might be something to take a look at there.

On the other hand, if an author is so insecure in their writing that they feel the need to take and make major changes every time they get someone who gives them a reason they didn't like something, they wind up with a voiceless, hodge-podge mess of a manuscript. Not every reader is the same, so everyone is going to either like or dislike how you wrote this or that.

For authors, the key is FIND YOUR VOICE. Now constructive criticism can greatly help in that. And if, like my friend, someone points out to you a valid problem that isn't part of the deliberate voice you intended, then be gracious and appreciative that someone cared enough to tell you the truth. If you did intend it that way, and what they don't like is really integral to your deliberate, intentional voice, then feel free to politely, but quietly, ignore the mad ravings of a lunatic and keep right on going.

One thing is for certain, though. As an author, you WILL receive criticism. It is part of the DNA and the purpose of Amazon reviews, Goodreads reviews, online reader blogs, etc. If you don't like that, stop writing and find a job that is less likely to open you to criticism. Hermit comes to mind as one of the few career choices likely to insulate you completely from criticism by others.

When you are posting reviews online as a reader, however, you should also have some decorum as well. For Christians, this means you have the responsibility of presenting the "truth in love" in your criticism. Regardless of your worldview, however, as a responsible and decent human being, make sure, if you are being critical of something, you tell the writer what specifically you did not like about it, and what you would suggest be looked at or fixed going forward. Be kind but constructive in your criticism.

One final note: Pulling punches, not responding, or worse yet pouring undeserved praise upon someone does not help anyone. It might make them feel better, but it won't help them become a better writer. If someone thinks their mud cookie is a Black Forest cake, then it is unlikely they are going to turn the critical eye needed to their work to actually begin to transform it into something edible, or eventually something actually tasty. Let's all help each other by being honest, providing constructive criticism in a loving way, and being open to hear that criticism and look critically at where our own work might really benefit from taking some of the feedback and advice we receive.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why Are Christians So Up In Arms About The Noah Film?

This has been a question buzzing around social media for several weeks, stemming from early reports, some even pre-release, of the grossly unbiblical content of the story.  The filmmakers have even touted this unbiblical content as a selling point for the film.  So if this is no mystery, why are Christians still lining up to see this film.  And why are other Christians so angry about the film and so determined not to support it financially.  This blog post isn't going to be about the Noah film in particular, but about the dangerous mindset of acceptance and the message that sends to exploitative filmmakers.

The whole point of the objection, from my perspective at least, is the idea of letting filmmakers milk the wallets of the faithful by putting together any form of godless drivel they want, but as long as they put a biblical character in the story, doe-eyed Christians with more money than discernment will line up to hand it to them.  The point is not whether or not one movie will corrupt our faith as believers, it is the message we send to these types of exploitative filmmakers.  Basically it tells them that Christians are rubes and they can get rich passing off whatever they want to them as long as they use at least the thinnest thread to tie it to the Bible.

I grew up during the time of the blacksploitation films.  They were horrible caricatures of African Americans, and basically cast them as either slaves, dullards, pimps or thugs.  The filmmakers made a mockery of an entire race, but you know who lined up at the theaters to give their money away to these exploitative filmmakers?  Blacks.  Why?  Because it was their only chance to see someone even remotely representative of their race on film.  It wasn't until well after the civil rights movement, decades later, that blacks actually began to start getting serious dramatic roles in film and television.  But in the meantime, these huckster filmmakers made a mint exploiting the fact that they had a brand new market that would line up to line their pockets.  The filmmakers had to make blacks look ridiculous in these films, or else they would have lost their mainstream, largely racist, white audience.  But by making these exploitation films, they got the best of both worlds and raked in profits from both whites and blacks.

These godsploitation type films are exactly the same thing.  These filmmakers don't want to alienate their secular audiences, but the commercial success of truly God-based films like Passion of the Christ, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, etc, have put these greed-hounds on the scent of a whole new pile of money sitting in Christian wallets.  So how do they tap into that cash without alienating their normal film-goer base?  Easy, make a film that is as ridiculous and outlandish as any secular film, but put a Bible character in the story and watch these undiscerning Christians line up to empty their wallets to these filmmakers.

If Christians are not willing to stand together, to unite to send a message that "hey, you aren't getting our support making these ridiculous godsploitation films", then they are going to keep on doing it, and keep on getting rich, and generations of unbelievers are going to be forming their opinions of what God has to say to them from these types of films.  They certainly aren't getting it from Christians, because the overwhelming majority are too busy making themselves comfortable inside the church walls to be out in the neighborhoods, the parks, the workplaces and the schools telling others about Christ.

I'll climb down off my soapbox now, but as a Christian author, I care as much as anyone about things like this.  If I write things that DO glorify God, and I want to win the general public over with glimpses into the truth through both non-fiction and our fiction work, then why in the world would I want to help the enemy establish his stronghold in the marketplace.  If I, and other Christian authors, and Christian readers, aren't willing to take a stand on moral ground, we ought to at least be willing to stand on self-preservation as Christian authors, readers and film-goers.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Faith And Fiction: Finding The Balance

I was privileged enough to be able this week to take part in a web radio show called The Write Stuff hosted by fellow Christian Speculative Fiction Author Parker J. Cole.  The topic was Fiction Stories: Gospel Facts.  If you missed the show, you can listen to it on the web archives here:

Parker and I had a great discussion on what it means to write "Christian Fiction".  That is an interesting topic which we discussed in great detail on the show.  I would urge you to give it a listen when you have some time.

One of the challenges we discussed was the negative response many Speculative Fiction authors face from, of all places, fellow Christians.  A large part of this stems from a lack of better discernment and understanding on the part of many believers.  If there is even the slightest doubt about something, the knee-jerk reaction is to condemn rather than seek to understand and discern.

If a story having elements of harsh language, adult situations, murder, magic, deception, rape, slavery, etc were sufficient to prevent it from being considered "Christian" literature, then we would be forced to toss out the Bible, as every one of those elements, and many more, are prevalent within the Bible stories.  Merely the presence of these elements is not sufficient a basis to decide whether or not a story can be considered "Christian".

The key to proper discernment lies within how that challenging content is handled.  The Bible reports these things as accurate renditions of the stories, but they are never gratuitous and never glorified.  So the key to proper discernment is, does the author merely report these things as they appear in the story, or are they glorified or normalized as acceptable?  In short, does the author specifically endorse what the Bible condemns, or vice versa?

Christian authors owe it to themselves to be educated and informed about what they are writing.  If an element appears in a story, a Christian author needs to know why it is there, and how it fits inside the provisions and bounds of Scriptural living for a Christian.  If it follows the example of Scripture, then it may well be possible to include these elements and the story still legitimately be considered "Christian".  If, however, these negative elements are endorsed or glorified, then the story should probably not carry the monicker "Christian".

Equally important, if there is not enough "Christ" in the story for a reader to at least be led to ask questions about God and one's relationship with Him, then once again the story probably should not rightfully carry the term "Christian".  I mean after all you can't have "Christian" without "Christ".  That doesn't mean that every story has to be a salvation story or a sermon loosely wrapped in a story.  It is possible for a Christian author to write a fiction story that is not overtly (or even subtly) Christian.  That is acceptable and if that is what an author is led to write, then by all means go for it.  But that author should know what it is he/she is writing and not attach the label "Christian" to works that for all intents and purposes do not contain elements or themes consistent with that label.

For a more in depth discussion on the topic, click on the link above and check out the show.  For an example of how I chose to strike that balance, I encourage you to check out my novels in the Chadash Chronicles series, Fool's Errand and Mystic's Mayhem, now available through at these links:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Difference Is In The Details: Authors vs. Book Writers

I know I was supposed to make this blog more about Speculative Fiction in general rather than just about writing Speculative Fiction, but much of what I feel led to share is as much for readers as it is for writers.  I want to get into some author interviews, book reviews, etc. later on, but for now what has come to me to share is about helping to educate new writers to some things to make their writing better, which in turn helps readers understand not only what to look for as a reader but also, hopefully, how to find better writers so that their reading experience is more enjoyable.

Part of what we do in our service on the field is equipping.  The better we can teach others to teach others, the more solid the overall foundation, and the stronger the base of believers wherever we are.  In this blog, I am hoping to do the same thing for Speculative Fiction.  The better writers write, the better the overall foundation of Speculative Fiction in general, and particularly Christian Speculative Fiction will be.

One of the issues with the relative ease of self-publishing today is that there is no stern-faced, intentionally-critical, gatekeepers at publishing houses serving as a filter for bad writing anymore.  Surely books that are produced by traditional publishers still have that in place, but the majority of books today are published either as self-published titles, published via vanity presses, or published via small house publishers which are sort of something in between those two.

Self-published titles really only have the vetting and quality control the author chooses to impose upon themselves.  Often this varies from none whatsoever to sorely inadequate to not quite enough.  While I have read a few (very few) self-published titles that were actually solid quality and would have passed muster at a traditional house, most would have benefited greatly from some additional editing.  Vanity published titles are little better given the conflict of interest which would exist from wanting to entice an author to pay for their publishing vs. risking running that author off by telling them their work needs work.  Small press are probably the best of the three because most small press publishers do have editors and try to provide some level of quality control.  Their primary focus is building a reputation, and they don't want a reputation for poor quality.

So how does someone who is wanting to self-publish handle the quality control issue?  There are a number of things to keep in mind.  Again, this applies to readers as well in knowing what to look for and learning to recognize even from book-jacket blurbs or online descriptions how to spot potentially problem books.

1) Details are important.  Out of the self-published books that clearly have done a fairly decent job of editing, this area is probably the one that I have seen the most failures.  This is not just with self-published books, though, as editors rarely provide enough scrutiny in these areas, so holes in the details creep into traditionally published books almost as much as anywhere else.  Things like anachronisms, defying the laws of physics without explanation (I say without explanation because in Speculative Fiction, defying physics either through magic or currently non-existent technology is a staple of the genre, but if you do it, at least have thought through how it works), inconsistencies in story, character, timeline, etc., not attending to normal details of logistics and support (this is a HUGE deal with Fantasy where massive armies move without any thought to how they are fed and paid, horses travel for days on end without consideration of how they are fed and watered, etc), and other things that an author would pay attention to, but where the book writer just doesn't pause their storytelling long enough to really think through the details.

It drives me crazy when a small nation fields a massive army for war without any thought of how that army was equipped, how it is fed, how they are paid, and what the ramifications of the workforce are back home while the majority of the workforce is off at war.  How about when a historically set story discusses an invention that wasn't around until 60 years after the story is set?  Does that drive anyone else crazy?  What about when horses are ridden for miles and miles day after day and no mention or thought to provision for those horses is ever dealt with?  Other examples are when I have seen someone mentioned in one place with one backstory/history/timeline but later in the story some of the details change.  This kind of thing can drive alert readers nuts and generally show poor planning and attention to detail on the part of the book writer.  These are areas where it is clearly evident when you encounter a genuine author vs. a book writer, as an author will pay attention to these details and render a smoothly operating, consistent world whereas the book writer will deliver something akin to a Hollywood movie set, with the fronts of the buildings looking passable but with no depth of substance behind the facade.

Being an author is more than just being a good storyteller.  It is about taking pride in what you produce and working hard to ensure that the world and work you are creating is as full, complete, and realistic as possible.  An author should have all of their research, notes, background, world-building, etc done and for the most part no more than 20% of that will ever see print.  The difference between a book writer and an author is that 80%.  The author knows their world inside and out and has thought through the details to a degree far beyond what will appear in the story.  A book writer may not think beyond what is needed for the story, which almost invariably is where the holes in the details manifest.  Truly discerning readers will know the difference between the care and attention to detail that an author puts into their work vs. the inconsistencies of someone who is merely a book writer.

2) Planning and Pacing are Vital.  Have you ever read a book that started off in a really amazing way, but then either bogged down to a quicksand-stuck pace or wandered off aimlessly for chapter after chapter before meandering back to the main plot?  This is something a solid content editor for a publisher would normally catch, but even grammatically well-edited manuscripts from self-published writers can find themselves subject to these pacing and planning issues.

One earmark of an author is generally that before they begin writing, they already have an outline and a chapter plan.  They know where they are going, and they have a road map to get there efficiently.  Book writers, on the other hand, often just start writing and have a general idea where they want to go, but no real plan of how, or how quickly, to get there.  This almost invariably leads to problems with pacing and wandering plots.  If you are reading a book and the pacing is radically off, or the plot starts wandering, generally you find yourself putting that book down and having little desire to pick it up again.  Diehard fans, or friends and family, may plow through to the end, but discerning readers are more likely to toss it on the "wasted time" pile and move on to the next book.  When we tell a story, it is not for our benefit, but for the benefit of the reader, and so it behooves a storyteller to put the time and effort into planning out an outline and/or chapter plan before one begins writing so that the reader feels the story is staying on track and is getting there at a reasonable pace.

3) What You Say, Say Well.  This is the biggest clue that prospective readers can use to save time and money avoiding poorly written books.  A book blurb, which is the description designed to introduce the story and entice the reader to buy the book, is at least ten-times more difficult to write well than the book itself.  If you find a book blurb that is truly well written, introduces the main conflict of the story without synopsizing, and raises questions that make you want to know the answers, chances are it is written by an author, and is a book worth taking a chance on.  If the book description is vague, confusing, muddled, off point, uninteresting, overly detailed, or reads like a Cliff's Notes description of the book, it means the book writer may not have the ability to say well what they have to say.  An author agonizes over, tweaks, shifts, changes and crafts the book blurb to achieve that effect of enticement.

The book blurb is generally the first bit of marketing a reader may encounter for a book, so taking the time and care to craft the blurb well shows an author that cares about their craft and about everything they write.  Book writers, on the other hand, couldn't care less and the blurb is merely an afterthought, like washing one's hands after using the restroom.  They do it because it has to be done, but do not take the time to learn how to craft it well.  Beware of poorly-written book blurbs, as they are often a clear warning sign that you have encountered a book writer rather than an author.

4) You Get What You Pay For.  This is tricky as I have found a few (very few) bargain priced, self-published books that I would have happily paid two or three times that cost for.  In general, however, price can sometimes indicate a difference between an author and a book writer.  Book writers who self-publish use free giveaways and bargain prices to drive sales, hoping to make up in volume what they miss in price.  The problem is, a $0.99 bad book is still a bad book and is unlikely to entice me to drop another dollar on a bad sequel.  When I spend $10 or sometimes even $20 on a book, and it is a fantastic book, I am very likely to buy other books, even at the higher prices, because I know I have found an author I like and that my money is well spent.

Think of it this way.  You go to a movie with the family.  Tickets now, even at reasonably priced theaters, are at least $8.  So a family of four is looking at usually around $20-$24 for a movie that they get to see one time, and depending on the environment and behavior of the kids and/or other movie patrons, may not even get to fully enjoy.  Now say you spend the same $20 on a really good book.  Everyone gets to read it again and again, and you can even loan or share it with other friends, family members, etc.  That is for the top-priced books.  Most books, even from traditional publishers, you can get in ebook format for under $10.  So now you have spent half the price, the whole family can enjoy it again and again, and you can even loan it to friends and other family members.  Which is the better bargain?

An author is not ashamed that their book costs more, because they know they have put the time and effort into producing a quality book, and that discerning readers will know the difference and will tell others.  Word of mouth advertising is priceless in the life of a true author, because it is that rave review from readers who have experienced the true care and quality of a genuine author that will continue to draw readers to books, even at higher prices.

Again, this is not to say there are not very, very good bargain books out there.  I am thrilled when I spend $0.99 or $1.99 and get a really great book.  I generally then have a new author that I will follow and continue to read, but I am not bothered by spending much more for a really great book, because I have paid for quality and gotten what I paid for.  Also, however, I am not overly disappointed when I pay nothing or $0.99 for a book that I cannot even finish due to the poor quality of the work by the book writer.  I wasted a dollar, sure, but it could be worse.  My encouragement is for self-published authors (and I mean authors, not book writers) who truly put the time and the effort into quality, don't be ashamed of your work.  Put that higher price tag on it and benefit from the quality you put into it.  I can promise you readers won't be scared off by a $5.99 or $6.99 price tag if they know they are getting a book by a truly quality author.

On the reciprocal side of that argument, readers, don't get too attached to that dollar you just spent on a bargain book.  If it is at least worth what you paid for it if the cover art and blurb was well done enough to entice you to buy it.  Beyond that, you might just look at it as an unsatisfying candy bar or bad cup of coffee and just take it in stride, confident that you have one more book writer to cross off your list of "will buy again" storytellers.  Keep seeking for quality authors and loyally support those who deliver quality writing.  Eventually the market will correct and the divisions will become clearer.  Book writers will eventually come to realize that there is a discerning public of readers out there who demand quality and it will drive them to either become real authors or to find a new hobby.

Until next time,

David G. Johnson
Author of Fools' Errand and Mystic's Mayhem
Books 1 and 2 of the Chadash Chronicles
Available everywhere February 4th, 2014

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Great Juggling Act - Keeping Things From Falling

It is rather ironic that I am writing this post.  It is almost like a doctor who smokes but advises his patients to stop smoking.  There are times when I fail woefully at this crazy juggling act, but more often than not it is because somewhere I have violated one of the key rules I will outline below.  I do know WHAT to do, and even know HOW to do it to keep many things going at once, but the discipline to practice these rules consistently is the difference between successful juggling and things hitting the floor.

1) Know your limits:  Juggling, like any skill, takes practice, and new jugglers don't start juggling with fifteen balls at once.  They usually start with two or three and once they have achieved a level of comfort and expertise with those, then they will begin to add a ball at a time and practice with those.  Once again, when mastery has been achieved, they can continue to add more and more objects until the really good ones can keep a mind-boggling amount of things in the air at once.

Juggling priorities and life tasks is no different.  If you dive right in and try to balance a job, spouse, children, church/ministry, social engagements, and then toss writing, editing, publishing, marketing, etc on top of all that, you are going to wind up with quite a few things on the ground and a life woefully out of balance.  The problem is, with writing, especially for those self-published authors, you often have to be everything from cover designer to editor to typesetter to marketing guru all at once.  So how do you add one ball at a time to a busy life?

Start small.  Start with just writing.  Don't get ahead of yourself and try to phase everything in all at once.  And at first, don't try to do it all yourself.  Focus on writing and getting that routine added to the rest of your life juggling act.  Once that is done, you can start looking at laying some early marketing groundwork next.  Start a blog, join a few Facebook groups, start building that platform from which you will eventually launch your books.  If you wait until you have gone to print to start building a platform, you will find yourself behind the curve and overwhelmed.  If you start these types of steps early, then when it comes time later to go to market with your writing, you already have the writing routine and the blogging/platform activities successfully added to your juggling routine.

Next is to not try to do it all yourself.  Invest in your work if you believe in it.  Be prepared to pay a cover designer (unless you have those skills already), and an editor, and a formatter.  If you try to climb the learning curve on all these things at once, once again you will find balls you were already successfully juggling falling onto the floor.  Eventually, as you learn to master new skills, you can decide if you want to take on more aspects yourself, but initially, remember the juggling rule, and add one ball at a time.

2) Learn to prioritize:  Jugglers know which ball they need to worry about next.  Balls that are two or three places away in the rotation don't get any attention until their time in the rotation is up.  I have seen interviews with successful jugglers who have juggled as many as 15 balls at once.  When asked how they keep up with everything, the answer is, "I only worry about two balls, the one I am throwing and the one I am catching."   That is the key.  What needs to be done next?  Handle that.  Repeat.  Simple, right?  Where we often find ourselves dropping balls is trying too hard to multi-task.  We worry about things that aren't imminent and in the meantime urgent tasks get missed.  We soon find ourselves overwhelmed and hopelessly buried.

In Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the habits is "Keep first things first".  He lists a quadrant chart where activities are plotted in their respective quadrants.  The quadrants are: "Important-Urgent, Important-Not Urgent, Unimportant-Urgent, Unimportant-Not Urgent".  If you can plot out your pending activities in a chart like that, it can really help prioritize what needs to be done.  Obviously "Important-Urgent" items are the ones you should be worried about.  Every week, few days, or possibly every day these items may move into different quadrants, so keeping at least a mental eye on where they are can help you focus on only two balls at a time, the one you are throwing and the one you are catching.

3) Eliminate distractions:  One thing they almost always warn folks about in an audience for a juggling show is "No flash photography".  Flashes at the wrong time, especially when jugglers are juggling things like knives or other objects potentially dangerous to themselves or others, can cause catastrophic effects.  They can force the juggler to take their mind off the task at hand, which, even for a split second, can be very dangerous and result in a cascade failure.

This happens in our life-juggling too.  Something shiny, flashy or fun can take time and focus away from our juggling act and can cause things to hit the ground.  If there are activities, like going to the movies, going on vacation, a volunteer activity at church or in the community, organizing a block party, or any number of one-time, non-routine events that consume time and attention, be sure to plan for these things and adjust your juggling act accordingly.  If you want to add this new object into your juggling routine for a short time, think about which other activity can be taken out to make room for it.  Since it is not a regular thing, you may not want to devote the energy and effort required to be able to add another ball to the juggling routine, and in these instances simply taking a break from one of the other activities that you normally juggle.  That can free up temporary bandwidth for the shiny new but temporary activity while not causing any major disruption in your regular routine.

If you focus on honing your skills of multitasking with these three rules of discipline in mind, you can find the time, effort and energy to balance your writing with the rest of your life and find the way to keep all the balls in the air without feeling overstressed or winding up in a cascade of falling elements of your life.  Wishing you all success in 2014 with your writing and your juggling.


David G. Johnson