Are You Meeting Readers’ Expectations?

He woke me at 2:30 in the early morning hours. My teenage son said he had a stomachache and felt nauseous. After about a half-hour, we decided he had the signs of appendicitis and rushed him to the emergency room.

Four hours and one ambulance ride later, the boy was being checked into the Children’s hospital. During admission, the nurse asked him if he would like a visit by the chaplain. Scared and nervous about his upcoming appendectomy, my son said yes.

Anesthesia, surgery, recovery, and finally checkout to go home followed. On the drive home, my son remarked that he was disappointed that the chaplain never came to pray for him.

Simply by asking the child if he would like a chaplain visit, the nurse set up the expectation in my son that a chaplain would come pray for him. She didn’t state, “If available, would you like a chaplain to visit you.” She simply asked if my son if he wanted a visit.

You, too, set up expectations in your readers. You may not even be aware of the expectations you construct. Your book’s title, the cover art, your back-cover copy, and even endorsements create expectations in the reader.

A couple years ago, a member author of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) placed his book in CSPA’s books for bloggers review program, BookCrash. The book received mediocre reviews. Most of the reviews commented that the book was not quite what the reviewer expected.

The author was unhappy about this. He told me that the 100-word description that BookCrash allowed was not enough to convey to the reader what the book was about. He stated that if he had been allowed to write a longer description, reviewers would not have had a wrong expectation about the book.

I listened to his opinion. However, I believe the real problem was the title of the book. The title of this particular book set up a wrong expectation. Upon reading the title, I believed the book would provide a certain message. However, when I carefully read the description the author had written, it did not match the expectation the title raised for me.

Authors, choose your book’s title and cover art carefully. These are the first two things a reader considers when checking your book out. Both the title and cover art set up powerful expectations of what to expect from your book. Be sure that yours reflect the actual contents of your book.

Test your title and your cover art with friends and fans. Ask them what type of book they expect from the cover art and what expectation the title of your book raises in them. Make sure the title and cover art for your next book only raise expectations that you will meet.

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Photo courtesy of CongerDesign.

Are You Staying True to Your Calling?

I have often heard it said that the church is one of the most segregated institutions in the United States. I sometimes wonder if the Christian publishing industry is helping or hurting this issue.

I recently met an author who wrote a Christian novel set in Africa. When she tried to pitch the idea to editors and literary agents for a traditional Christian publishing contract, they told her they did not think they could sell a novel set in Africa—that setting was not a popular read.

So, feeling called of God to produce the novel, the author independently published her story. Her cover art contained a picture of an African-American man and woman. This author then began showing the published book to other Christian publishing industry experts to talk about marketing the book. She got the same message from almost every expert.

She was told to not expect to sell many copies of her book due to the cover art including African-American people. The experts advised that she take off the images of the people on the cover to help the book sell better.

As this author relayed this story to me, it made me think that, for the most part, the traditional Christian publishing industry is not concerned about racial integration in the body of Christ. Rather, publishing houses are a business. As a business, their top priority is profit. The one question they ask when considering a book is, “How many copies can we sell?” If they don’t think it will sell enough copies to meet their financial requirements, they pass it up.

Traditional publishing’s mission is not about challenging the status quo and daring people to confront difficult issues within the body of Christ. After all, some of the largest Christian publishing houses are now owned by secular publishing conglomerates. Rather, traditional publishing houses are businesses. As such, they focus on the bottom line.

I am thankful for Indie publishing. While indie authors and publishers need to be wise in their publishing and marketing efforts, how many copies a book will sell does not need to be the foremost priority. Rather, indie authors and publishers can be led by their mission and what God is calling them to do.

Interestingly, a new study by the American Bible Society showed that African-Americans are more engaged with the Bible than any other group. Among this racial group, 71 percent are friendly toward or engaged with the Bible compared to just 58 percent of all Americans. If Christians of non-African heritage will be turned away by this author’s book’s cover, she may still have a vibrant audience in among African-American Christians.

What about you. Have you gotten off track? Has your attitude become one that mainly focuses on the number of books you can sell rather than on staying true to your mission and the calling that God has placed in your heart?

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Photo courtesy of John-Mark Smith.

Five Tips for Staying Focused

If you are a small publisher or an independently published author, you wear many hats. Some of these hats include: writer, editor, proof reader, copywriter, blogger, marketer, publicist, and social media strategist.

With so many hat and tasks, sometimes it is hard to focus on just one. However, studies have shown that people are the most productive when they don’t multitask. Instead, your productivity is maximized when you are able to concentrate on just one task and get in the flow.

If you are having a hard time focusing on one task and find that you are not accomplishing as much as you would like to, consider these five strategies for focusing.

1. Schedule your tasks.
Studies show that chunking tasks in time intervals throughout the day is conducive to focusing on that task and accomplishing more. Schedule chunks of time for various tasks. If you want to write, schedule an hour in your day for writing. If you want to spend time on marketing tasks, schedule that into your day.

2. Turn off distractions.
To focus and get into the flow, turn off distractions. Turn off your cell phone. Turn off the notifications on your computer that pop up when you have a new email. Turn off anything that draws your attention and makes you lose focus. You might even need to put a bark collar on the dog or wear noise-cancelling earphone.

3. Allow yourself breaks.
Don’t overdo. Studies show that are maximum for concentration is an hour. After that, we lose the flow and productivity. So, after 45 minutes to an hour, give yourself a 15-minute break. Check your emails and your messages. Get something to drink. Stretch and walk around. Then come back and work on the next task in your schedule.

4. Use an accountability partner.
Using the buddy system can work wonders for focusing. Simply knowing that you have told someone what you aim to accomplish and knowing that they will ask you if you have done it provides great incentive to focus and accomplish a task. Find another small publisher or writer and get some accountability.

5. Reward yourself.
Set goals for yourself and give yourself a reward when you reach them. For example, if you are writing, set a word count for yourself. If you reach it, then give yourself a reward. Consider a Starbucks’ coffee, a pick me up smoothie, or a nice cup of tea. Giving yourself small rewards that acknowledge your accomplishments provides you additional incentive to focus and accomplish goals.

When you start to feel overwhelmed, start with one thing. Do that one thing using the techniques described here to stay focused. Remember, focused activity leads to more productivity.

Do you have any techniques for staying focused that weren’t mentioned here? Please share them with me and others who read this in the comments.

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Photo courtesy of SplitShire

Four Truths Every Author Should Know

I often hear authors and aspiring authors say things like:

  • When I finish my book, I will attend a writer’s conference.
  • When my book starts to make some money, I will have money to spend on marketing.
  • When I get some reviews for my book, I will begin promoting it.
  • When my novel garners attention and sales, I will write another one.

Sadly, this is backwards thinking.

false-beliefs

Too many people think “when I arrive” I will take the next step. They have the process reversed. In reality, you must “take the next step” to arrive.

Consider the following truths:

1. Attending a writer’s conference will give you the skills and motivation you need to complete your book.

This summer, I met a woman at a writer’s conference who has slowly been working on a novel. She has many self-doubts. So, each year after the conference, she takes the next step, but then the doubts creep back in. She attends the writer’s conference each year to keep herself motivated and on track. She is now, after three years, in the process of rewriting her novel and plans to have it done in 2017 for publication.

2. Marketing your book is essential to drawing people to purchase your book.

You can’t wait until you make money on your book to start marketing. People can’t purchase a book they don’t know exists. Marketing lets people know your book exists. Funds for marketing should be part of your budget when you decide to publish a book. Don’t neglect this important step.

Sometimes authors and publishers tell me that they will join Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) when they start having success with their books. This is the same backwards thinking as marketing your book once it starts to make money. A professional association helps you become more successful by giving you an appearance of professionalism, providing you the information you need to be more successful, and helping you with affordable marketing opportunities.

3. Promotion for your book should start before you produce it.

Don’t wait until you have a book in hand or until you have some reviews to begin to promote your book. You should start promoting your book six months to a year before it goes on sale. Build interest as you are writing the book. Whet people’s appetites with teasers so that they want more and can’t wait to read your book when it is released.

4. Novelists who write multiple books sell better than those who only pen one book.

The statistics show this to be true. People read books by authors they like. So, if you only pen one book, you lose sales. The more books you write the better. With multiple books, a reader reads your book and likes it will purchase and read your other novels as well. One bestselling Christian author told me that every time she releases a new book, the sales for her other books increase.

If you have been operating under a false belief about writing and selling books, I encourage you to embrace the truth.

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Do You Have This Habit?

“Motivation gets you started. Habit keeps you going.” ~Jim Rohn

One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t the due to decision making, but were habits.

The beauty of habits is that we don’t have to think about whether we are going to do the activity or not. It is simply part of our daily routine. We shower, brush our teeth, eat lunch, walk the dog, and check our email without pondering whether we should do the activity or not. These are all habits that are part of our daily routine.

habit

Successful, productive people have work-related habits that drive their daily behavior. These work habits keep them from being distracted and getting off track. As a result, productive people can accomplish more tasks then someone who is constantly getting distracted or making a decision about whether he should do a work-related activity or not.

As a writer, you should have a writing habit that is part of your day. Maybe you set aside an hour every morning before you go to work or your family members rise to write. Maybe you write on your lunch hour. If you want to produce more books, having writing be part of your daily habit is a good way to ensure that you do.

One member of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) says that writing a book was always on his bucket list. However, it did not become a reality until he decided to set aside one hour a day for writing. He has now written more than four books. You can bet that his writing hour is now a habit.

If you are an independently published author, then performing marketing activities each day should be included in your daily routine. That way, you don’t need to think about whether you are going to approach a blogger, submit a guest post to a blog, or create an advertisement each day. You simply know you are going to do a marketing activity, so you just have to choose which one.

Have you made it a daily habit to:

  1. Spend a few minutes on social media connecting with and informing others?
  2. Create material to use in your ongoing content marketing efforts?
  3. Perform at least one (hopefully more) marketing activity for your book(s)?
  4. Follow trending news stories that relate to your book’s topic so you can jump on media opportunities?

The good news is that it is never too late to start a new habit. If writing or marketing are not part of your daily routine, make them a part of it. Make these activities a habit that becomes automatic and you will begin to experience more success.

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