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Got Fear?

That terrible secret carried since childhood.
The time you didn’t get busted for something bad, because nobody witnessed the crime.
How you feel about that person — that person everybody else adores.
Painful, personal things. We want to avoid thinking about them.
And writers need to do the exact opposite.
Writing books — novels in particular — is a perennially weird journey. With every book, the writer begins with a flat field of good intentions, but by the time the manuscript goes to editors, everything has been tilled, furrowed, seeded until it finally produces some unexpected harvest, the kind of odd fruit that causes the writer utter defensive statements such as: “Well, I know you said a book about quilting, but that was before I realized the quilters were serial killers.”
Writers sympathize with bad guys, because an author who doesn’t creates cardboard villains. We show the worst things happening to the nicest people, because conflict turns pages. We dig down to the messiest parts of the soul because –you are digging down to the messiest parts, aren’t you?
Because that’s where the reader needs us, and wants us.
More importantly, it’s where God wants us.
Consider the disciples in the boat:
“On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  Mark 4:35-40 (NRSV)

If I could invent one tool for writers it would be a Fear-o-Meter. Looks like a hand-held compass but emits an ear-piercing screech when pointed at the writer’s biggest fear. Not just a humiliating device for a humiliating profession, the Fear-o-Meter’s real purpose would be for pausing, and considering. Perhaps what’s needed is confession and repentance. Maybe more trust in Jesus Christ.
But usually for a writer, fear is the signal to start writing about swirling emotions.
Of course, that means hard work. Really hard work.  And writers have thousands of ideas. Hundreds of stories. Dozens of great characters.
Unfortunately, most of them are worthless.
Nobody can guarantee that writing about what scares you will automatically bring a best-seller. But it does mean your book is much more likely to have that passion, that life, that undefinable quality that draws in a reader who later says, “Gee, I thought I was the only one who felt that way . . . .”
Last September, two highly esteemed theologians, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, sat down for an interview before a live audience at the Apollo Theatre. Springsteen offered some insights into writing songs, and since his songs always sound like short stories to me, I sat up to listen.
Well, no wonder those songs hit so many nerves — Springsteen’s got a Fear-O-Meter!
And he doesn’t leave home without it:

“I’ve always believed the greatest rock and roll musicians are desperate men. You’ve got to have something bothering you all the time. My songs are good because … it’s like in art and love, hey, one and one makes three. In music, if it makes two, you’ve failed, my friends. You know, if you’re painting, if all you’ve got is your paint and your canvas, you’ve failed. If all you got is your notes, you’ve failed. You’ve got to find that third thing that you don’t completely understand, but that is truly coming up from inside of you. And you can set it any place, you can     choose any type of character, but if you don’t reach down and touch that thing, then you’re just not gonna have anything to say, and it’s not gonna feel like it has life and breath in it, you’re not gonna create something real, and it’s not gonna feel authentic. So I worked hard on those things.”

Fearfully and wonderfully made,

Sibella

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One of my friends in the wedding industry says that her job is 10% event professional and 90% counselor—providing wisdom, perspective, and mediation as needed.  This is often true of work in literary publicity, too, and one of the reasons my job’s both challenging and rewarding.  I love to seek and observe context and help counsel authors on what should (and shouldn’t!) consume their focus.

As of late I’m fielding a lot more questions on reviews and their value in influencing potential buyers, especially as we’re actively pursuing opportunities to place that control in hands of readers.  Reader reviews—both on retail sites or personal blogs—are here to stay, and research is proving that peer feedback is at the top of consumers’ trusted lists for helping to make purchase decisions.

So here’s the number one question: how do you respond to a negative review?  In addition to some thoughts of my own here, I conducted an informal survey weave in advice from authors and other industry pros:

  1. DO sleep on it. There’s no denying the sting, but just like a first draft of a novel, you need time to process what’s been said before you decide if it’s worth reading.
  2. DON’T melt down in social media settings. It’s tempting to call out an ill-informed reader or someone who’s downright nasty, but think of yourself and your brand as professional and above that groveling.  As much as that review hurts, it’s probably nothing like what might have been said about an entity like the @%*$ cable company that can’t seem to keep my internet connection stable…and you don’t see them cursing the unsatisfied customer.
  3. DO share with your publicist. Give me a call or drop me an email and tell me what you’re thinking.  Our marketing team can be one protective little coop of mother hens, but we’re also used to examining feedback for an entire roster of authors and can provide some needed perspective, in addition to an ear to sound off in if you need.
  4. DON’T forget that a reader’s review is just that: one reader’s review, even if that reader reviews under a publication’s title. When we round up feedback to highlight in our continued promotional efforts, we get to choose what’s featured and what’s forgotten.  Few potential readers follow and remember ALL of your reviews as closely as you do.
  5. DO examine for truth. Rachel Hauck says, “After the initial hit, go back and reread the review and see if there is any tidbit of truth. Learn from it and move on.” Is there an expressed reader need there that if addressed, could change your writing for the better and perhaps help you to grow your tribe?  We know better than to try to please everyone, but if enough would-be readers come up with the same request, it’s worth considering.
  6. DON’T question your career. Our team celebrated a real milestone this year with our being named the #1 Christian Fiction supplier.  We’d like to think we’ve done a few things right as an internal team, but the bottom line is the quality of our roster and stories is the reason for this success.
  7. DO treasure the good reviews, especially the ones that come in the form of personal notes.  I have a file in my email archives called Character Builders.  I used to shove in the snarky notes, too, but now it’s mostly the kudos that I save.  A reminder from Phil 4:8 (NKJV, of course, Nelson friends): “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  Respond to those readers and thank them for the encouragement—personal connection is the best way to develop loyal fans and never has it been easier for an author to reach his readers.

Cheering you on,

KB

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Friends,

I don’t know about you, but these are some trying times—financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically. Here are a few recent personal events, some almost laughable…my cat got bitten by a snake and his arm swelled to twice the size. My dog’s hind legs are going lame. The microwave broke. A man in a truck hit the back of my car. I had an acute case of pancreatitis and endured a two day hospital stay…just after we’d switched to THE WRONG health insurance.

But you know what’s right? So much more. My family. Our health. Our love. Our faith. God doesn’t forsake us.

It’s in times like these that I look to the ground in the grocery store and see a handwritten note with this on it:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:6-7

Or I turn on the car radio and hear Casting Crowns singing this:
”… once again, I say amen
and it’s still raining
as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain,
“I’m with you”
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away. “

”And I’ll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am
and every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm”

Now, this doesn’t make me forget about the good friend who passed away before Christmas or the uncle who is dying now of cancer, the family members who are losing their homes, the people in Haiti who are suffering from the quake…but I tell you what. We, as committed followers of Christ are not guaranteed to have NO troubles. After all, we live in this world. We do, however, have a faith this is not of this world. Not at all. We have access to an amazing PEACE even in the storms. I don’t know about you, but in these trying times, my faith allows me to remember all the things the Lord has delivered me from. He will deliver me, too, from these storms, and oh, when he does, how much more can I testify! What a blessing to be able to write and share hope and faith with those who have none. Aren’t we blessed?? Here’s a little story I wrote that says just that. Enjoy.

THE BOY IN THE BOX
By Nicole Seitz

There once was a boy who lived in a box. All he saw was black. All he heard was the grumble of his belly. Loneliness was crisp and cool like frost in his bones.

One day, he awoke to find a small hole in the side of his box. A thin stripe of light fell across his knee. He moved closer to the hole. He pressed his eye up to it and couldn’t believe what he could see.

There were colors—red, pink, yellow, white, blue, green, purple—his mind sparkled. He saw chairs in a room and suddenly felt uncomfortable on the hard ground. He saw food on a table, and the grumbling in his belly grew louder. His mind whirled with all he saw, and suddenly he longed to be out there. Outside of his box.

But he didn’t know how.

So he sat, and sat. Another two days he sat. He studied the room outside his box, the floor, the chairs, the table with food. Then he watched a boy walk in a door. Later, he watched him walk out again. In and out. The boy in the box studied how the door worked. It was just a large hole in a very large wall.

The next morning, the boy in the box knew what he had to do. He started at the small hole and used his finger to tear, slowly at first, then faster until light spilled all over him, and he smiled with warm delight.

The boy crawled out of his box and for the first time, stood tall. His legs and back were sore and stiff, but he was free from his box, free from the darkness. At the table, he sat in a real chair and filled his belly until it didn’t grumble anymore. He moved about, stretched his legs, and learned everything he could about his colorful new room.

After a few days, the boy stood in front of a door. Something stirred inside him. He wanted to open it, but he was afraid. What would he find out there? Didn’t he have everything he needed here in this room? It was certainly more comfortable than his box had been.

The boy looked at it now, the box, squat in the corner, and couldn’t believe he’d ever fit inside. He knew he could never return—he’d grown too much, seen too much, learned too much. So he turned, gathered his courage, and opened the door.

The smell of green grass and the song of birds beckoned. He set one foot out and held his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun. The glorious light! And white puffy clouds in a lavender sky, and houses with people in them, and streets, and cars, and trees, and flowers, and squirrels, and cats, and barking dogs. The boy wondered why he hadn’t stepped outside sooner.

He walked along the sidewalk, passing house after house, until he came to one with the door cracked open. He knocked, but no one answered. He walked inside and saw a very nice room with colors and chairs and a table with food.

And in the corner, he saw a box.

The boy crept closer and knocked on the cardboard.

“Hello?” said a voice from inside the box.

“You okay in there?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“But you’re in a box.”

“I am? Well, I live here.”

“There’s more to life than the black of your box.”

“There is? I didn’t know.”

“Here.” And the boy poked a stick in the side of the cardboard. He heard the box-dweller rustle inside.

“Wow. There’s a stripe of light across my knee.”

“I know. It’s wonderful. And that’s just the beginning.”

The boy who had once lived in a box was smiling now, and holding his stick, he walked out of the house and down the sidewalk to find other children living in houses, living in rooms, living in boxes, in darkness. He knew they were out there. Just as he had been.

They were all over the world.

Suddenly, the boy had a new longing.

www.nicoleseitz.com

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Reading Daniel Menaker’s A Good Talk has heightened my awareness of conversation’s power. Amazing things happen when people really talk to each other. We take risks. We make discoveries. We connect.

But sometimes it’s hard to find common ground.

A recent Newsweek column written by Neal Gabler http://www.newsweek.com/id/226457 offers an interesting perspective.

Gabler says that celebrity is, “actually a new art form that competes with—and often supersedes—more traditional entertainments like movies, books, plays, and TV shows…[It] performs…many of the functions those old media performed in their heyday: among them, distracting us, sensitizing us to the human condition, and creating a fund of common experience around which we can form a national community. I would even argue that celebrity is the great new art form of the 21st century.”

I wouldn’t go quite so far as Gabler. But it does make sense to me that celebrity narratives allow us a surefire way to connect with people dissimilar to us. Even if she differs from me in term of politics, religion, economic status, etc., the Stranger at the Coffee Shop will likely have an opinion about the latest scandal. And even more important, if she and I engage in a conversation about that broadly shared narrative, we might begin to agree on some issues of morality.

Certainly there are hazards to celebrity-conversation. Proverbs warns us about gossip (which I understand to be the divulging of secrets and creating/perpetuating scandal). As does Paul in Romans.  And I’ll do my best not to judge anyone, celebrity or not. Only God knows the heart.

But being able to discuss the consequences of behavior with an example of, for instance, infidelity using the Tiger Woods story allows us to really engage with another person who, presumably, has a conscience and a moral center. Speaking in the abstract about the same matter would be hardly as powerful. And if we can discover empathy for the parties involved, I believe God smiles on that.

Agree or disagree. I’m open. But I know we can agree that nothing allows us to connect like a shared narrative. That’s why I’m so grateful we’re in the business of storytelling. Dear Authors, your novels allow readers to engage in narratives where the life of faith in Christ Jesus is core. That’s why I’m carrying a copy of People and a dozen of your novels to my local coffee shop!

  • What topics of conversation do you usually gravitate to or find yourself in?
  • How do you see celebrity lives affecting our culture and conversations today (for better or worse)?

Engaging in conversation, I’m yours truly, Ami.

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“Where do you get all of your ideas?”

I hear this question so often it’s not even a surprise any more.

My response is simple, “Where don’t I get ideas?”

All around there are stories and story pieces in every element of life. I have more ideas than several lifetimes could develop. I find them in conversations at Starbucks, in stories my friends and family tell, in the headlines, in scenes of movies, television, other books, Wikipedia…pretty much anything can spark an idea.

Recently, my husband Nieldon and I were watching Planet Earth. It was a section that began with aerial views of the Amazon River and Jungle. There were dozens of waterfalls and a mist rising like some surreal otherworldly vision. A deep wonder pulls from within me whenever I watch nature shows like this. I feel mesmerized by the scenes.

The Planet Earth show produced by the BBC, Discovery Channel, and NHK is “the definitive look at the diversity of our planet.” Filming occurred in 204 locations in 62 countries on all 7 continents. Over 2,000 days in the field and 71 cameramen and women were needed to capture the footage. And the footage is spectacular.

“I don’t see how people can watch something like this and not believe in God,” I said to my husband as we watched a type of flying squirrel careen from tree to tree.

This sparked a discussion about how science can be religion and the theory of evolution that morphed into us talking about how the Christians community hasn’t always been proactive or relevant about certain essential topics in culture.

At a section about frogs, Nieldon said, “I wonder why little boys like to kill things. Look at how amazing that frog is?”

The footages showed them leaping and climbing, their colors and details extraordinary. The frogs were works of art. When Nieldon was a boy in the Philippines, he killed a frog because it was ugly. He’s never quite gotten over the guilt of it. We talked about original sin from there.

Then we viewed a fungus that gets inside the brains of insects. It drives the insect insane. Then the fungus bursts out of the bug’s head like something from an Alien movie.
“Imagine if that fungus mutated and could infect humans,” one of us said. The intellectual topic of zombies evolved from there.

From one episode of Planet Earth, I can come up with countless ideas for stories: aliens and zombies, a coming-of-age book about a boy who kills a frog, historical fiction with explorers discovering remote jungle locations…. Where do ideas come from people ask?
One of my very favorite parts in Planet Earth is when the narrator, Sigourney Weaver, says some version of, “We don’t know why this happens….”

For all our theology, science, studies, intellectual discussions, and story ideas, we can never truly understand who God is. We understand God about as well as that frog understands us. It just isn’t possible. It’s a reminder that I find extremely comforting, making it simpler for me to be as Christ said to be, “like a child.”

I’m sure the producers of Planet Earth didn’t intend to show the awesomeness of God through their program, and yet, that’s exactly what they’ve done. I can’t watch five minutes without feeling humbled and awed by our Creator.

Our fiction at Thomas Nelson is vast in genre but tied together by being books that offer a Christian worldview. Sometimes Christ’s message of redemption is vivid and tugs wildly at the souls of the readers. Other times, God’s love is woven in with subtle power. At times, it’s the Holy Spirit’s invisible touch that reflects the Divine beyond what we know we’ve created.

From ideas to stories to bound books on the shelves, we’re all honored to be part of creating something reminiscent of what God’s creation does:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4)

I’d love to hear what brings out a wonder of God in you? Where do you get your ideas?  How do you find stories reflect the greatness of our Lord and Savior?

Sincerely,
Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

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Just Ask

“So, what do you do?”

I’ve asked this question more times than my math loathing brain is comfortable to admit.  Last night at a Super Bowl party, I posed this exact question a party go-er I had just met.

“Shannon, what do you do?”

And as the words, tumbled out of my mouth while I was balancing a Styrofoam plate of cheese dip and meatballs, I realized that I was pigeon holing her.  So quickly, I added:

“…not that work is all you do, or defines you…or…er…so?”

My best friend tilted her head and gave me a look that said, “What are you doing? You sound so awkward.”

Awkward or not, we are not simply the title in small print under our names at the bottom of emails. Sure, we write, create, sell and work with press, but we are all so much more.  Maybe you coach your kid’s  t-ball team, have the award-winning recipe for rocky road cake or actually invited the iPad first only to have the idea stolen in the night by some guy named Steve Jobs.

Like Shrek, we are all a bunch of onions!

Just because you answer the question:

“So, what do you do?”

with

“I’m an author for Thomas Nelson.”

does not mean you are limited to writing and creating.

Send me your marketing ideas, questions, contest hopes and dreams!  We are always looking for ways to keep your novels top of mind with readers.

Remember those group projects your professors in college made you do? You know, the ones that were supposed to fine-tune your skills on brainstorming, utilizing each other’s strengths and coming together with the best possible answer? Think of your Thomas Nelson fiction team just like that, except this time you won’t get stuck doing all the work.

(or was that just my college experience…)

Do what you do best, but if you have a question or an idea just ask and we’ll our very best to make it happen!

Cheers!

Ashley Schneider

Marketing Specialist

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This blog is not profound or life-changing. It’s not even particularly provocative. To be in such impressive company with the Thomas Nelson editors, staff and authors and try to pen a blog about writing was simply too overwhelming for me. So, I decided to go with my strengths.
Ask anyone who knows me well. They will tell you I am very organized. And that is true—my closet is arranged by color, as is my sock drawer; my books are arranged alphabetically by author; my spices are arranged alphabetically, as are my canned goods. (I know, I know – disgusting!)
However, when I started writing and working out of my home, my penchant for organization seemed to fly out the window. I found myself drowning in paper work. Since most authors work out of home offices, I thought it might be helpful to offer some organizational tips that I have found helpful:
1.) Don’t put it down, put it up. As an author of historical fiction, I print out volumes of material nearly every day. I use several books a day for research. I found myself stacking things on the floor instead of putting them away. I have started making myself re-shelve my books, file what needs to be filed and throw away what needs to be thrown away as I go.
2.) Keep your email whittled down to 20 or under a day.
I get probably 100-120 emails a day. Most of them I can go through quickly and delete, but if I don’t take care of it daily, it takes on a life of its own. It lurks in the back of my mind and nips away at my creativity. So, find your delete button and clear out the pesky ones, and send a quick reply to fan mail and inquiries every day.
3.) Use a computer filing system to cut down on paper files.
On one of our author discussions Colleen Coble mentioned the Microsoft Word One Note online filing system. Thank you, Colleen! This is a computer filing system where one can organize research, notes, expenses, etc. I have probably cut my paper filing in half. (Other systems have similar programs, I understand.) I file research, all my blog interviews, images from research that I want to preserve, etc. Just be sure you have good backup.
4.) Utilize your walls.
I have the luxury of a room that I can use exclusively for my office. You may be using a corner of your bedroom, or your dining room table, but whatever the case may be, I have found that making use of wall space for something other than pictures has offered more options than I previously realized. Hot files – For files that you are working on currently and need to reach quickly, use hot files within reach instead of having to search through file cabinets. I have one for current projects I’m working on and all the correspondence concerning those, and one for speaking engagements. It’s easy to find them and add to them. Cork board – This is one of my favorite new things. I’ve covered one wall with cork board and am posting things like the covers of my books, pictures of costumes, my storyboard. Calendar – After I double-booked myself last fall, I put an erasable 120-day planner on one wall where I can see it every day! Every engagement goes on that calendar now – speaking engagements, doctor’s appointments, deadlines. Everything! Flat-backed baskets – These handy little items can hold everything from mailing supplies to cds and ink cartridges.
5.) Take five. – At the end of every work day take 5 or 10 minutes to clear the clutter. You don’t have to vacuum and wash the windows, just clear the main clutter. That way it doesn’t build up to where it is a daily adventure to find your computer amid the paper work and coffee cups.
I hope these few little tips will prove helpful. I always learn something when I read organizational tips. Now, I need to go update my calendar.

Happy Writing!
Golden Keyes Parsons

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