Getting Your Self-Published Book Into Bookstores And Libraries With Debbie Young

Many authors want to get their self-published books into physical bookstores and libraries as well as being allowed into literary organizations. In today’s interview, I talk to Debbie Young about how this can be done.

In the introduction, I talk about speaking on the Shetland Islands, my article on the rollercoaster of being a writer, and that One Day in New York is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Kobo and iBooks.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!

debbie youngDebbie Young writes short stories and flash fiction, as well as non-fiction on various topics. She is also the Commissioning editor for SelfPublishingAdvice.org, the blog for the Alliance of Independent Authors.

She’s also the co-author of Opening up to Indie Authors: A guide for bookstores, libraries, reviews, literary event organizers and self-publishing authors – which we’re talking about today.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube here or read the notes and links below.

  •  How Debbie got started in journalism and PR and then working for a children’s reading charity. She ‘fell into’ self-publishing by writing a book on marketing for Silverwood Books, a partnership publisher. Debbie had been blogging for a while and all this led into writing her own books, and getting involved with the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Quality standards are critical for indie authors

  • Your product must stand alongside any traditionally published book in the bookstore or library. It must be professional.
  • You must leave behind any sense of entitlement. You are making a bid for a place on the shelf alongside any other players in the industry. Having written a book is just not enough anymore. You have to understand why a bookseller or a library might even want your product. Put yourself in their shoes.

The reality of a bookstore

Many authors don’t understand how bookstores work and this leads to misconceptions. Here are some of the main aspects.

  • Booksellers want a 40% (or significant) discount because they need to pay for their store costs, staff costs and all their other business costs from the sale of books. It is incredibly hard to run a bookstore with the slim margins.
  • Ease of administration. Compare the problem from their perspective of dealing with independent authors individually and invoicing each and returning each book etc, with dealing with a distributor who represents hundreds or thousands of books per month. The bookseller can order in bulk, invoice in bulk and deal in economies of scale.
  • They have to operate under sale or return. If the books don’t sell, they have to return them. New books come in every month and new stock replaces the older stock. If you’re an indie you either have to pick them up yourself or organize shipping.

If you want to get your books into physical bookstores

  • Decide on whether you want to go that route in the first place. Check the financial options as most indies make more money from ebooks and print on demand. It’s definitely worth doing print for marketing and price comparison on your Amazon page, but print on demand won’t leave you out of pocket, whereas a print run may do so.
  • If you self-publish on Ingram Spark or LightningSource, you can check a box that accepts sale or return which means you’re more likely to get bookstores ordering from you. Bookstores generally won’t order Createspace books as they have no returns. I mention Barbara Freethy’s deal with Ingram Spark for print books.
  • You’re more likely to get into bookstores if you develop a relationship with your local bookstore and organize events with them. Being a customer of the bookstore will help!

Getting into libraries

  • Understand the clientele of the different libraries e.g. specialist academic libraries vs school libraries. They’re not all the same. Target as you would any other specific market. For example, children’s authors speaking in libraries can be a great way to reach a market.

On literary organizations opening up to indie authors

  • I mention that the SFWA has just opened up to indies, and ITW, RWA etc already are. We talk about how indies have to examine the level of professionalism they are displaying. We have to demonstrate our excellence through books and our behavior. This is the only way to get parity.
  • Switch your head around and think about the viewpoint of the bookstore, the library and the literary organization. What can YOU offer them, as opposed to vice versa.
  • We also talk about the Alliance of Independent Authors and what we both get out of the organization. Primarily, it’s Alliance of Independent Authorsabout companionship on the journey, a supportive environment and people to learn from as you go through the process of writing, publishing and marketing. There’s also education on various aspects – from the impact of EU VAT laws to publishing on Apple, to the intricacies of marketing. Plus, we are stronger together and we represent indies to media and trade as well as lobbying. It’s well worth joining us here :) We do Google hangouts as well as a monthly Q&A with me and Orna Ross on the last Tuesday of the month. ALLi is a global movement that is growing every month – we live in exciting times!

You can find the fantastically useful Opening up to Indie Authors: A guide for bookstores, libraries, reviews, literary event organizers and self-publishing authors on Amazon and all the other ebook stores. It is also available for free for Members of the Alliance of Independent Authors and will soon be split into various parts, so you can buy the section that is most applicable to you.

You can find Debbie at her site, Author Debbie Young, and her books on all online stores.

Transcription of interview with Debbie Young

Joanna: Hi everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I’m here with Debbie Young. Hi, Debbie!

Debbie: Hello.

Joanna: Great to have you on the show. So just a little introduction, Debbie writes short stories and flash fiction as well nonfiction on various topics. She is also the commissioning editor for selfpublishingadvice.org, the blog for the alliance of independent authors, and she is also the co-author of Opening up To Indie Authors – a guide for bookstores, libraries, reviews, literary event organizers and self-publishing authors. It’s a hell of a title, but we’re talking about it today.

So Debbie just start by telling us a bit more about you and your writing journey. And how you became an indie?

Debbie: Right. Okay. Well it took me a very long time really to get around to it. Because I’d always wanted to write books from when I was very little. And it is something that I always enjoyed writing stories, and when I went to university to do an English degree because I’d seen the obvious next step to do, wasn’t quite sure where to go after that. I thought about journalism and my first proper job really was in journalism. And sort of fell into a career of different kinds of jobs that all involved writing in some form or another, for marketing, promotion, communication, sort of spreading information first of all as a journalist then as a PR consultant. Then latterly in a children’s reading charity.

So everything always seemed to lead back to the written word for me, and it was really only when I was working for the children’s reading charity, that purely by chance, I met the wife of somebody who I used to work with years ago when I was in PR consultancy, and she’d set up a self-publishing services company. And that was Helen Hart of SilverWood Books, who offers all kinds of services to help authors who don’t want to go the total DIY route to publish beautiful professional standard books. Got chatting to her about it, by that time I had started blogging. I really enjoy blogging because it’s a way of writing which I wanted to write rather than writing commercial newsletters or magazine articles or whatever. Really enjoyed that and got chatting to her about it, and she was telling me about the problems her authors faced when they produce this beautiful book that how challenging it was for authors to go. This is a few years ago. How challenging it was to find readers for their books and how she wants to give as much help and encouragement to her authors as possible to promote their books.

And the upshot of it was that I said “What you really want is — you’re a publisher you need to publish a book about book promotion and she said “Well, would you like to write it?” So walked into that one, then I wrote a book called Sell Your Books, which was drawing on my sort of PR and communication experience really, to help her authors particularly to market their self-published books. Researching that, I’ve learned so much about the way that self-publishing was going and I had encounters with people who had gone through the old fashioned vanity publishing route in the past, and dismissed that. Never quite had the patience or the time, really, to pursue writing the books that I’d always wanted to write, and to go the traditional route.

But when I heard about the self-publishing route I thought “My goodness. How lucky are we to be born at this time and we have this at our disposal?”

It’s such a Godsend, really, such a wonderful thing to be able to be involved with. Found out that about the alliance of independent authors that Orna Ross was just founding as you well know, and started to become involved with them. Not long afterwards, I was invited by Orna to get involved with running the advice blog. I’d written some guest posts on various topics there, and really was enjoying being part of the community and enjoying the buzz and the companionship that came out of that and finding it was such a great way to learn all about it, as well as having latched onto your website and all that you do. You could see that the people like yourself really leading everybody along in the whole sector. And I just really wanted to be a part of it and really it’s started to take over my whole life now.

Joanna: It tends to do that.

Debbie: It’s addictive, yes.

Joanna: Yes, so you definitely jumped in and it is really a fun community and why I wanted to talk to you about this book is it is a brilliant resource for authors, and I would say the second half is aimed at authors.

The first half is really aimed at that sort of getting events and bookstores and things to open up to indie authors, but the second half is all about how authors can get into bookstores and libraries.

So first up why did you and Dan Holloway write the book? And why do you think the opening up to indie authors idea is so important?

Debbie: Well, it was becoming very apparent from the various conversations online, partly on the ALLi forum and in responses to other blogs and all the various resources online but there are an awful lot of people who had a lot of misconceptions about the way that self-publishing works, about the standards that are required, the way that it operates. And people on both sides of the fence. Authors had a lot of misconceptions about how the trade viewed them. And the trade had and still does have a lot of misunderstandings about how self-publishing works and the quality standards, particularly that the best self-published authors are able to achieve.

I think particularly because I heard about communication and in public relations and building relationships between different parties. It was very clear that somebody really needed to get in there and bring the two together. Sort of almost like being the diplomat bringing together not quite warring factions but making people understand each other better. And once they understood each other better then they would be able to work together more effectively. And Orna had wanted to produce a book like this for some time, and I think I happen to be in the right time, at the right place with the right background to be able to do that and all of these things need to be phrased very diplomatically as well so as to avoid offending or upsetting or making the situation worse rather than better. I’m a diplomat. That was the other thing that I wanted to do when I was younger was to get into diplomatic service.

Joanna: And you know it’s really funny you say that because last year, the year before, I was speaking at a lot of publishing conferences and I also really wanted to be a diplomatic go between. And then something happened and I put my hands up and I gave up. I found however much we talk about quality standards, you mentioned independent authors as opposed to self-publishing which to me independent author kind of implies the professionalism.

And I just got to the end of my tether of defending us, and just wanted to just get on with what we do.

It’s almost– when people are religious and the best way of showing your faith is by your behavior not by preaching about it. I got to that point, and then your book which I think is perfect and diplomatic, and wonderful, and should be more widely read by people in the industry. Anyway, I think what I’m saying is thank you for writing it.

Debbie: Somebody had to do it.

Joanna: And I also think it’s very useful for authors who want to continue approaching these kind of groups. It helps understand their language. So I do kind of want to ask about that because you did mention there, you said the quality standards that the best self-publishers can achieve.

What standards are you asking Indies to have when they approach libraries, bookstores, etc.?

Debbie: Well, the most important thing is they have a book that looks like a professional book that reads like a trade published book in the best possible way. So I always say that if you have an identity grade of books that are taken off the shelf of the library or in a bookshop. You don’t want to be able to spot the self-published one.

And if yours is obviously self-published, you know a homemade, Blue Peter job type of approach then you’re doing something wrong. So first and foremost you’ve got to have a product that will fit in that professional environment. Because bookshops, libraries, festivals, all of these players, they have the highest standards. They are trying to serve their audiences with the best possible goods.

So you’ve got to do all that you can to make your book the best it can possibly be. You’ve also got to leave behind you any sense of entitlement.

You’ve got to be prepared to take your place in the market place, effectively making a bid for the space on the shelf or in the festival program, or in the library shelf alongside the rest of the players. You may feel fantastic that you’ve written a book, and quite rightly so. Because there are so many people out there who always say, “I’ve got a good book,” but never actually do it. Yes, it is a wonderful thing to have been able to write your book and to get it out there, but you have no entitlement to expect people to read it, to buy it, to borrow it, to want to talk about it, unless you’ve given it your all.

And when you go in to deal with any of these players with any of the book buyers, festival organizers or whatever, you’ve got to recognize that they are getting great approaches from people who are as good if not better than you all of the time.

And you’ve got to really have something. You’ve got to have your case, make your case very well, and be prepared to have to make your case. I hear speaking to book sellers, to owners of bookshops who are simply there trying to make their living out of selling books. I hear of so many cases where authors have taken their book into the shop in the middle of a busy Saturday almost expecting the proprietor to snap up copies on the spot to put on their shelves, having no grasp of what they are really asking the book seller to do, not really understanding how they operate, how much administration they have to do, how difficult it is to deal with a one off supplier. And not understanding that the book seller has to make money out of their book. There are even authors who are quite surprised to find that the book seller wants a cut of the price at all. And you thought “What planet have these people been living on?

Joanna: Let’s talk more about that because the reality of a bookstore I’m always surprised that most authors don’t actually realize what the reality of a bookstore is.

So maybe you can just talk about returns, how fast the turnover is, and that discounting element.

Debbie: Yes. Okay. Typical book sellers will expect around 40% discount off your list price, off your recommended retail price. That’s an enormous chunk of your bottom line, really. Why do they expect that? Well, they have their own cost. They have staff costs, they have their rent, their rates, whatever it’s costing them to run their shop. How they are paying for the running of the shop is from the sales of books, and that has to come from somewhere. They are not there as charities. So people don’t really think about the economics of how much it will cost.

To put the boot on the other foot, if an author wanted to try and do sort of the economic sums of how much it would cost them to set up and run a bookshop, they would soon become quite incredulous as to how anyone ever makes profits out of running a bookshop at all. How do so many bookshops stay open? I know that we’re losing a shocking number of independent bookshops all the time. It’s a shrinking marketplace.

Quite honestly, I’m surprised there are still so many shops trading. That’s another campaign that we are going to be looking at this year. Perhaps come on to that a bit later. We wanted to try and encourage authors and try encourage everybody to use bookshops, high street bookshops so much more so that we can help them continue to sell books of all kinds. Not just self-published books but just to keep them on our streets, and keeping our culture thriving really. Sorry, I digressed completely there, but yes, so they are looking for a 40% discount. They are looking for ease of administration if you’re supplying a bookshop with just your book and nobody else’s book. So all the books they sell for you, there’s going to be paperwork involved.

Now I’m very, very lucky I live very close to three independent bookshops, and talking to the proprietor of two of them, Hereward Corbett, Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury and Nailsworth in Gloucestershire. I went in to see him one day when I was researching for this book and he said, “You caught me at a good moment and it’s quiet here. I’ve just had somebody coming in to pitch to me today from one of the big publishing companies with 100 books that are most likely to be the bestsellers within that publisher’s list for the next six months. Ten seconds a book, fully up to speed, I’ll get one invoice for all of those. How good is that?” And you think “Gosh, yes. That is so much simpler than dealing with 100 authors individually, which would just be a diabolical nightmare administratively to have to deal with them all individually.

So not only have you got to make your case to the bookseller for your book being good and saleable but you’ve got to make it worth his while to go the extra mile, and do that extra admin around your book to sell your book, and then if you’ve got your book selling for say 10 pounds, which is quite expensive for paperback, and he’s only getting four pounds per copy effectively. I use those numbers because they’re nice and simple to calculate with, then all he’s getting for doing all the paperwork surrounding your book, and giving you your check, or your cash or backs payment or whatever, to finding it a space on the shelf, keeping it on the shelf, keeping an eye on it, remembering to pay you at the right time or taking it out off the shelf if it’s been there long enough and he doesn’t think it will sell, to let you know that you need to collect it because it’s on sale or return. Well all of that for four pounds is an awful lot of work per book and that’s if he sells any at all.

Most book sellers will only take a couple of copies. If they take 10 copies from you, you are doing very well indeed.

If they are replicating that sort of activity for every book on the shelf, that’s an awful lot of work. They have to operate on the basis of sale or return because if they don’t sell your book then what are they going to do with it? They run on such tight margins and on such tight budgets that they can’t afford to buy books they are not sure of selling. And like in other business like newspaper retailing, magazine retailing it operates on the same basis. The shop will order in newspapers and magazines. If they don’t sell however many copies of The Times that day then The Times will take it back the next day and credit them for it.

It has to work in the same with bookshops or else even more bookshops would be going out of business. The trouble with sale or return is that if books are returned to you unsold they are not going to be in as pristine condition as when you took them in there. So you may not be able to resell them either. So if you are going to sell into physical bookshops you have to really be committed to either accepting that you’re going to collect them in a slightly, well not necessarily battered condition but in a not quite as good condition as you took them in.

Joanna: And you say, “collect.” They’re assuming that people are physically collecting books.

Debbie: Yes, it’s–

Joanna: Otherwise you actually have to pay the shipping if you use a distributor.

Debbie: Yes.

Joanna: So, you can already be out of pocket even for just returns.

Debbie: Yeah. Even if you happen to live flat over a bookshop it’s still. . .

Joanna: And then it is also your time. This is the thing.

Debbie: Exactly, yes.

Joanna: Your time involved.

But can we just also stress the fast turnover of books in general. How long does a book normally stay in a bookstore before the next lot of stuff comes in?

Debbie: Oh, they have books coming in all the time.

Joanna: It’s like a month, isn’t it?

Debbie: Yeah.

Joanna: A month? Six weeks?

Debbie: Yes, and there’ll be…

Joanna: Even if you have a traditional publishing deal your book will be in and out of the bookstore, generally, unless it’s Fifty Shades of Grey, will be in and out within a month to six weeks.

Debbie: Yes, because there will be lots more books coming along to take its place, and lots more that are more current, that are being more talked about, that will be the subject of the next film that’s big in the cinema. And there are always more coming to take their place. For a lot of self-published authors, the game isn’t really worth the candle.

Joanna: Yeah well that’s why I don’t have print as a business model myself. I use print on demand, but after a massive mistake I made years ago when I bought 2000 books, and then ended up putting them all in the landfill. I decided not to go that route. But I know some people do have that dream.

So what are the options for people who do want to do the physical bookstore thing?

Debbie: If you’re publishing through IngramSpark or Lightning Source you can tick the box when you are putting your book up there to accept sale or return. In which case you’re taking a punt on it, basically, saying you are prepared to fund the cost of the shipping and to accept the books returned.

That is quite a big risk, but at the same time while you’re making your books available through those channels to the book sellers it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily going to order them. Because whereas the big publishers will be having reps going round to all the shops pitching, making a case for those books all the time, the only way really that a book seller is likely to order in your book through that route is if they have seen something online or in the media which will prompt them to order in stocks of your book, or if they are local shops that you’ve built up a relationship with.

So if you live close to bookshops and you go into those bookshops a lot, you are a good customer, and you have built up a good relationship with the staff then there is the possibility that you will persuade them to take your books, and that’s fantastic. If you do, terrific, in which case they can order them in that route or if you’re going in there as a customer anyway then why not just plan it? Say you take your books in, take your stocks in when you are going in to do your usual shop or going in and looking as if you’re doing book shopping even if you don’t buy books all the time. That’s the other risk. If you decide that every time that you are going to deal with local bookshops, and do your deliveries by hand, and do the little tour in your car, every so often take your books around. It’s awfully tempting to spend all your potential profits buying books.

Joanna: Your four pound profit.

Debbie: Right. Yes, I must admit I’m guilty of that.

Joanna: I think this is the interesting point. We must say that the biggest Indies like Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, Hugh Howey do have print deals. And Barbara Freethy is now with IngramSpark, who are distributing her books, but she is the biggest indie author and in romance as well. So, maybe we are seeing a change in people doing this but certainly it doesn’t stop people doing print on demand as default.

Everyone should be doing print on demand as a default position.

Debbie: Yes.

Joanna: It’s just that print run and the bookstore thing that may be more questionable.

Debbie: Yeah, I think it’s always good even if you’re not going to go into bookstores at all, it’s still worth having some printed copies through print on demand or through short print run or however. Because received wisdom is you sell more books, more eBooks, if you’ve got the physical book to show people because it gives you a bit of credibility. People this “Oh, so she is a real author? She’s got a print copy.”

Joanna: And it’s great for marketing.

Debbie: Oh gosh yes, and there are lots of other opportunities where a physical book will come in use. At fairs and festivals or just going to author events, to have a few print copies in your bag, although there are all sorts of whizzy ways to making it easy for people to order your eBooks, like giving them a key code on your business card or whatever or giving them a book that they can buy on a memory stick whatever. It’s still really nice to be able to show the physical book.

Joanna: No, definitely.

So, what about libraries? Because I’m actually more interested in libraries first of all because you can get into Overdrive through SmashWords so you can get eBooks into libraries, and also libraries are moving digital.

Debbie: Yes.

Joanna: Which is interesting and I know of a start up by some indies who were going direct to libraries, going to be putting eBooks directly into libraries. So what about indie authors getting into the libraries?

Debbie: I think it’s a similar situation in a way to the bookshops in that you still have to convince them that your book is worth giving their shelf space to, and that they would do better to have your book rather than somebody else’s book. Although librarians don’t have the same responsibilities financially in a way although they don’t feel them as directly as a bookstore proprietor will because they are not worrying about whether they have enough income today their mortgage from the book sales.

They still have a sense of huge responsibility for keeping the shelf space at its most appealing, to keep luring in the punters because if they don’t have people, members of the public coming in to use their library then they will not have a library for very long. So their first duty really is to their key borrowers to keep the shelves looking good and to have an alluring stock in there.

So different libraries all over the world will have different ways of organizing their buying, and the best thing really to do is to make inquiries out to local level to find out what your local libraries are doing.

And I think as with all marketing, really, if you start off local and you build your confidence awareness locally then you can roll out what worked. You can find out what about your particular books excites people, excites bookshops and librarians and then roll it. Fine tune a larger campaign to roll out further afield. I think libraries are also quite misunderstood by a lot of authors in the same way as bookshops are. People don’t realize that in the same way that different bookshops will have different clientele and different bestsellers, and different product ranges. Different libraries will do as well, and it’s also easy to forget that just because you don’t go into specialist libraries. There are lots of specialist libraries that might be relevant to your books, academic libraries, school libraries, professional libraries. They are not all the same. So it’s worth really drilling down and just looking for opportunities that are particularly good for your kinds of books.

And I think people also need authors to spend more time in libraries. I’m always astonished at how many authors I speak to who never really set foot in a bookshop, and equally never set foot in a library. And then they wonder why they have trouble making themselves understood, getting on the same wave length as booksellers and libraries. Well, they’ve got to there just to sort of acclimatize and get to understand just feel how their little world works. And so much of it is down to really building communication and mutual understanding.

Going back to bookshops for a second, I’m always horrified to hear tales from book sellers about people going into bookshops, and asking for information, making all the inquiries, getting recommendations for books and then when the book sellers says, “Well okay is this the book that you like to buy?” They say, “No I’ll get it on Amazon. It’s all right. Don’t worry.” I think the same happens with libraries people don’t really connect as they also need to do to get the best out of the relationship. So I’m hoping that our book will give a bit of a wakeup call to them in both spheres really.

Joanna: Yeah it is interesting and I think like you said you have to think about the demographics, and who’s the market for your book also so each author has to consider what they want to do with their time. So I know for example. . .

Debbie: Yes.

Joanna: Karen Inglis who’s been on the show and who’s a children’s book author. People who write children’s books in particular I think do have to be looking at schools and bookstores and libraries because that’s great way to reach children and their parents. Whereas if you are writing more regular genre fiction like myself and your business model is not around that then you have to make that decision for yourself.

Let’s talk about organizations because I’m really interested. We just heard that the SFWA the Science Fiction Writers of America is now opened up to indies office, and the organization I’m in the ITW International Thriller Writers is open and so is RWA, Romance Writers of America. A lot of these are American organizations you notice where some of our British ones still are not which I think is classic literary snobbery — it really is brilliantly British.

What do you think about the professional organizations? How can Indies help these organizations let us in as such?

Debbie: Again it is a question of proving themselves, proving themselves and their books to be of equal worth to those of their traditional sort of call members which more and more indie offices are able to do because the standards are raising all the time. But again, they have to make sure that they don’t have a sense of entitlement, and they don’t develop a victim mentality, which some of them do. It’s too easy for somebody to go into a little sort of self-destructive spiral saying, “Oh they won’t let me in because I’m an indie author or because I’m self-published, and they are just being snobbish.” Without actually really examining their book and lost some of them. Where if they examine that book they will realize that actually they don’t stuck up.

So they’ve got to make sure their books are of admissible caliber. Because that actually why these organizations have been slow to embrace self-published authors. It’s because they are trying to maintain the caliber of the books that they are all about.

It’s not a personal thing. It isn’t really discriminatory against the people. It’s against the product at the end of the day. I think that the organizations that I’ve been involved with and I don’t have the same degree of involvement that you have because I have written as many genre books as you have. I’m a bit sort of narrow niche with my short stories and flash fiction. I was going to speak to the Romantic Novel Association in Shropshire, I think somewhere very nice it was sort of place they were meeting at the one of their agricultural universities. Just lovely and I was half expecting to have tomatoes thrown.

I was going to talk about self-publishing because I’ve heard they are not that welcoming of it. But actually talking to them I was really taken aback. A lot of the authors that I spoke to they really got it. They understood what it was all about. A lot of the trade published authors who had great success in this very price selling genre had been through the standard process with trade publishers.

And having the less popular books, their older books being delisted, taken out of print, and they were finding that, once they got their rights back they could self-publish their and do very nicely out of them and by trying to match them to the standards of the trade published books. To the reader, they didn’t know or care who was publishing them. They were just clicking to get hold of books written by their much loved authors, and these authors were finding that not only will these books going down well, but they were also making well money out of them per copy than of their latest best seller, which was very interesting.

So in a way, those organizations are slightly sort of reforming themselves from within because the authors as the individuals are having that experience.

And the authors themselves seem to be very open minded about it and we quite happy to entertain the idea. But like everybody they’d also all seen lots of examples of very badly self-published books. That made them wary of accepting more together sort of us alone. And I guess that’s as it should be really.

Joanna: Yeah and I agree I think these organizations do have a line set in the ITW you have to kind of prove your sales numbers. Which is hilarious because if you are traditionally published you don’t have to prove any sales at all. You just prove that you’ve got a book published which is as we know very different thing. But also it is interesting you say that because this is the second year I’m judging. Well, I picked a panel for Bristol Crime Fest which I know you know about. So a lot of people submitted for the panel and so for two years now I’ve had a look at all this people who’ve submitted and been able to see the dramatic increase in quality. In just a year.

The first year I found it quite difficult but the second year it was a real struggle to pick people because the quality was so high across the board. So I think this quality kind of mission is getting out there as people are realizing. And while you were talking I was also thinking that what you’re basically saying about libraries book stores, organizations is the author has to put their mind in the mind of the recipient. These are like classic marketing. You have to think like a book seller. What is easiest for the bookseller? Or think like the organization. So you have to switch your head around and stop thinking. . .

Debbie: Yeah absolutely.

Joanna: About me the author and think about them.

Debbie: Yes the more they can do that the easier they will find it I’m sure.

Joanna: I was also laughing because I’ve accepted to speak at the Stratford Literary Festival, which as you know, the home of Shakespeare. I was fully expecting this to be the final bastion of tomato throwing at indies. So that will be interesting. That’s later this year, and I think if Stratford Literary Festival has opened up to Indies we possibly won the open up campaign.

Debbie: Yes splendid

Joanna: Which is cool?

Debbi: It doesn’t get better than that.

Joanna: Yeah, so I also wanted to ask you about the alliance. What are some of the benefits that you get from the organization and that you see coming?

Particularly around this book I know there’s some things we are doing with this book as well as other things.

Debbie: Lots of benefits. I’d say the biggest single one that everybody would find it there who joined it is the companionship and the moral support, and the feeling they are not alone in their quest. It’s a very warm, supportive environment not all of their members are on the Facebook forum. But the Facebook forum which has about 700 people engaged with it now all over the world. I think that just by being part of that forum alone justifies the membership because whatever question or problem that you have with your book or even just if you’re being a little bit discouraged, you can go on that forum any time of the day or night. There will be some indie author somewhere in the world, who’s on there, and you could put your question or share a view, and do surveys, poll people about whether they like your book cover, or your blurb, whatever. And you will always get passionate, but honest and kind responses. Some people will be different degrees of frankness …

Joanna: Tough love too.

Debbie: Yes but everybody has the same basic ideals really.

Everybody wants each other to succeed, and for the sector to succeed, and that’s very helpful for everybody who is going through what is still a challenging process.

So that’s sort of more kind of emotional benefit in a way but there are lots and lots of practical benefits. You get discounts for all sorts of services and events. You can get free eBook copies of the guide books that we offer. There is an affiliate marketing scheme whereby if you have your membership logo on your membership badge on your website or on your email photo or whatever and somebody clicks becomes a member through your affiliated code then you earn what seems to me to be a very generous affiliate fee.

A minor benefit compared to the advantages if the companion shared best practice. Meeting also new friends, bonding with people who are writing in the same genre as you are. Sometimes you can feel very isolated or just have a really interesting contribution to the blog this week by somebody who is writing magical realism. And suddenly there’s a whole cluster of people saying, “Oh, yes I write that, too. Do you know about this person?” And it is lovely. It’s really embracing. You do feel part of the community. But it also because we have lots of professional high achieving advisors like yourself who are contributing to the level of knowledge, and the standards of practice within the group. were trailblazing best practice and showing people really how it should be done. So you feel as part of the group, you feel like you are at the cutting edge, and there is just so much you can learn from the more experienced and even if you join it as somebody who is still writing a book. You can do that. You can join as an associate member. You can just absorb knowledge almost by osmosis, so much knowledge on there. Hard to imagine how it’s all there.

Joanna: There’s a number of free eBooks once you are inside the member thing. I think what we are saying we can ALLi any question you like about being an indie author. And there will be something that will answer your question or someone. And we have monthly Q and A me and Orna do that, Google hangouts. We just had one last– was it last night on the EU VAT law

Debbie: Yes huge issue. Nobody wants to fight that one alone.

Joanna: Yeah exactly so we’re trying to educate as well as have the community side of things. We agree with you it’s brilliant. Tell us what is happening with the book breaking in terms of breaking into smaller pieces.

Debbie: It is available free of charge to members. Non Members can buy it for a reasonable charge through the usual sources. But we’re going to split it down into individual chapters, and then build up each chapter into sort of a mini eBook like Kindle Single type book, which will also have specific sort of added bonus features. So with the little book on how to get onto book sellers into bookstores, there will be things like templates of producing a book information sheet. And so bits and pieces there will be more material that we’ve assembled since the book was written, the latest blog post, links to the latest blog post that will expand on the information that’s in there.

Because the eBook has a number of different chapters about very specific niches, people will pick and choose which piece they want according to what their current goal is. So somebody so having a campaign if they feel they’ve got bookstores and libraries sorted. But they really want a home and they are getting places speaking of literal festivals and they can just buy the bit with the Literary Festival information, and with sort of an expanded version of each chapter. Well the mini book, and that would also have obvious advantages and making it more discoverable for anybody outside of the organization who has not gotten involved with ALLi, hasn’t heard of ALLi yet then they will still go to find it through search engine.

Joanna: I think it’s like a brain trust you guys and what’s so great I find it brilliant is I totally admit to you not being particularly even interested in print books with bookstores, and libraries and stuff. That’s not where my interest is, but then there’s people like yourself and Piers and Karen and Orna, people who are doing this and are experts in different areas so it kind of brilliant that there are people who are doing all kinds of different things.

So whatever you are interested in there will be other people who want to do that too. And people who’re writing all kinds of books and it is a really diverse genres, and I also wanted to make sure people understand you and I are British but this is an international organization. So I don’t know if you know how many countries we have members in?

Debbie: I don’t know from the top of my head how many countries there are. We have Orna and other team members who drive. We have a meeting every fortnight. And I’m always very pleased to feel that I’m a part of a global organization and because those meeting really bring it alive because we have people joining the conversation Berlin, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, everywhere. Through the miracle that is Skype, we can do these things. But we do have growing membership in Australia, India all over Europe well everywhere really. We ought to actually have a little map. That would be fun.

Joanna: Yeah we should have a map and I think that’s what’s also exciting because it demonstrates that this is a global movement.

The indie movement really is one and for music, and film and other creative arts as well as books, really is a global thing across industry.

I think even the startup culture, the fact that millennials would much rather start their own business than work in a big corporate. I think this movement will continue and both of us hopefully be in the forefront with ALLi and in fact anyone listening as well. Since we are talking about ALLi, I will point people out to thecreativepenn.com/alliance which is my link. First of all, tell us briefly if people are interested in your flash fiction or short stories and your writing, where can people find you and your books online and your blog?

Debbie: Everything essentially on my author website about me and all this I do with links going off all directions, which is authordebbieyoung.com. And I’ve recently, it’s only just last month started a book blog as well which is separate, which is debbieyoungbook.com, a very obvious title. I like a simple life, and people can also find me on the ALLi website because I write probably one or two blog posts a month on there. But I’m no there every day looking at comments just wanting to comment and posting out new posts. We have a new information post guest post every single day. I’m on Twitter @debbieyoungbn. The bn is for by name because my blog is called Young By Name and that’s a subset on my author website.

Joanna: All right Debbie it’s been fantastic to speak with you and you are a fountain of knowledge about many of these things. So I urge people to check out your website, and that book and the Alliance of Independent Authors. So thanks for your time.

Debbie: Well thank you very much it’s been a privilege and a pleasure to be part of your podcast, thank you.

 

Recommended Books For Writing, Self-Publishing, Book Marketing And Creative Entrepreneurship

These are some of the books I love and recommend for authors. I know there are gazillion more, but these have been the most useful to me on my own writing journey.

Books on Writing and Creativity

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen KingStephen King - On Writing. Insights about writing that will make you feel better about where you are. Even the uber-mega-stars have a difficult time! Includes timeless advice on ‘butt in chair.’

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamottbirdbybird. Includes life-changing opinions on first drafts and how bad they really are meant to be.

The Successful Novelist: A lifetime of lessons about writing and publishing – David Morrellsuccessful novelist. From the creator of Rambo, this book has some great comments on fame and money, as well as what really matters as a writer and in life. Here’s my interview with David Morrell about the book and his writing life.

Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the writer within – Natalie Goldberg.bones I love Natalie’s vulnerability and this book continues to help me when I feel like self-censoring.

STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting – Robert McKeestory. Incredible for authors as well as screenwriters as the principles of storytelling are universal. I’ve learned so much from this book, and more from seeing him live. It’s also worth getting on audiobook as McKee is an incredible performer.

Story Engineering: Mastering the six core competencies of successful writing – Larry BrooksStory Engineering. This was the book that helped me write my first novel. Once the concept of ‘scene’ dropped for me, I was able to structure a story. Here’s my interview with Larry Brooks on the topic.

The War of Art: Break through the blocks and win your creative battles – Steven Pressfieldwar of art. Will make you feel better about the struggles of being an artist and will give you hope that you can make it through to a finished product. Here’s my interview with Steven Pressfield.

Turning Pro: Tap your inner power and create your life’s work – Steven Pressfield.Turning Pro Steven Pressfield Probably the book I re-read the most. I have it in ebook, print and audio format and revisit every new year. If you want to be a professional writer, this book will kick your ass!

The Pursuit of Perfection and how it harms writers – Kristine Kathryn Ruschperfection. If you struggle to write, finish a project or with doubt in general, this book will help. Something for every writer.

Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys To Creativity – Hugh McLeodignoreverybody. If you think it’s crazy to consider making money from something you love, look at how Hugh has transitioned from cartoons on the back of business cards to a huge online business. But first, you need to tap into your creativity …

Self-publishing

Let’s Get Digital: How to self-publish and why you should – David Gaughranlets get digital. The most comprehensive book on self-publishing. David is a campaigner for indie rights, so this book is completely transparent with no hidden agenda.

Write. Publish. Repeat. The No-Luck Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success – Johnny B. Truant & Sean Plattwrite-publish-repeat. A comprehensive look at the business model of high-output fiction writers. Includes how to write fast, publish quickly and get your book to customers. They also have a video course on Udemy that goes through the aspects of the book. Here’s my interview with Sean Platt and separately with Johnny B Truant.

Choosing a Self Publishing Service – The Alliance of Independent Authorschoosing a self publishing service. Written by authors, for authors with no bias towards any service, this goes through how you can evaluate premium self-publishing companies and how to do it yourself.

Self-Publishers Legal Handbook – Helen Sedwicklegalhandbook. Contains information on using images as an indie, what to watch out for in contracts with self-publishing services, working with collaborators and much more.

Book Marketing

How to Market a Book – Joanna Penn.how to market a book second edition Yes, this is my book (!) but I wrote it because I couldn’t find one single book that offered everything for authors in one. I’ve been studying marketing for years now and this is everything I have learned along the way. Updated Oct 2014.

Platform: Get noticed in a noisy world. A step-by-step guide for anyone with something to say or sell – Michael Hyattplatform. This is for any small business and does a great job of going through all the aspects of reaching an audience through a platform.

Let’s Get Visible: How to get noticed and sell more books – David Gaughranvisible300px. Focuses specifically on aspects of book selling online regarding Amazon algorithms, categories and optimizing your sales page.

Discoverability: Help readers find you in today’s world of publishing – Kristine Kathryn Ruschdiscoverability. With 30 years of experience in publishing and now a mentor for indie authors, Kris brings immense experience with all kinds of marketing to this book. Insights on what really works online and off.

1001 ways to market your books – John Kremer1001 ways. A fascinating resource with tons of offline marketing tips as well as online ones to help you get your book noticed.

Author Entrepreneur

Business for Authors: How to be an author entrepreneur – Joanna Pennbusiness for authors. Yes, it’s my book again! But after 13 years as a consultant, I bring my business head to the creative world and share how you can make a living as a writer.

Make Art, Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on fueling your creative career – Elizabeth Hyde Stevensmakeartmakemoney. Jim Henson was a puppeteer and a multi-millionaire and this book explores how he ‘played’ with both art and money, becoming incredibly successful in both.

success principlesThe Success Principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be – Jack Canfield. The book that changed my life and helped me to escape the day job and become an entrepreneur. Lesson 1: Take responsibility for 100% of everything in your life. You are where you are because of your choices. From the day I read that page, I started to make different choices.

The Compound Effect – Darren Hardycompound effect. Writing a few hundred words a day doesn’t seem like much. Saving a few hundred dollars a month doesn’t seem like much. Drinking water instead of soda doesn’t seem like much. But all these little things make a huge difference over time. This book will help you see the magic of compounding – and I have seen this in my own life. In 2007, I had no books, no website, no online audience, no podcast, no twitter – just a day job I hated. Little steps every day since then have changed my life.

The Four Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich – Tim Ferriss.four hour work week Helped me with the inspiration and education to leave my day job for the entrepreneurial life. It was the impetus to start this site and realistically consider a lifestyle change. Tim also has a brilliant podcast with some of the most interesting guests around.

$100 Startup – Chris Guillebeau: Reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love and create a new future100 startup. A more recent take on lifestyle design, opting out of traditional employment and how you can start an entrepreneurial venture for less than $100 – with LOTS of inspiring examples.

The Icarus Deception – Seth Godinicarus deception. Art isn’t a result. It’s a journey. Pick yourself and fly closer to the sun. I want everyone who has self-doubt about the creative process to read this book. It’s super inspiring – you can read some of my highlights from the book here.

Choose Yourself – James Altucherchoose yourself. A manifesto to ignore the middlemen and choose yourself in this age of opportunity. The corporate ‘work’ world is broken, the education system is a bubble waiting to burst – you need to take control of your life.

Manage your day-to-day. Build your routine, find your focus and sharpen your creative mindmanage day to day. From 99U. Creatives need time to play and dream, but also to knuckle down and sort out a production routine, a workspace and schedule. This has lots of small chapters on all things productivity related.

Just writing this list down has made me want to start reading them all over again!

What are your recommended books for writers in these categories? Please leave them in the comments below.

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide With Joel Friedlander

When I first started this blog back in Dec 2008, one of the first people I met online was Joel Friedlander.

joel friedlander

Joel Friedlander, TheBookDesigner.com

We did the same course on how to start blogging, but Joel was already way ahead of me in self-publishing as he had started years before and was (and still is) an expert on the topic.

He has tons of useful info at TheBookDesigner.com and fantastic book design templates for you to make your own print interiors.

Plus, I’ve had Joel on the blog and podcast before – check out our discussion on how to make a professional standard print book interior here.

Today, I am pleased to share his latest book, The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, with you along with an interview with him and co-author Betty Sargent. 

SPURG-Cover-frontHow did you two decide to team up on the creation of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide?

It’s an idea Betty had been kicking around for a long time. When she and her staff created a Resource Guide for www.BookWorks.com, it quickly proved to be one of the most popular offerings on the site.

It also became apparent that probably what every self-publisher needs most—whether just starting out or a seasoned pro—is a reliable, curated guide to the resources needed to publish a professional looking book.

We’ve divided the Resource Guide into three main sections: Prepare, Publish, and Promote.

This gave us a framework that every author, whether they’ve already been through the process or not can easily understand. This was important to us because the Resource Guide was designed to be helpful to all authors, no matter how much experience they have had.

In the Prepare section we list everything from how to find a Developmental Editor, a Cover or Interior Book Designer, or a Translator, to where to look for Grants and Funding for Writers.

Lists in the Publish section include where to find eBook Conversion, POD and Distribution Services, Book Production Software and Short Run Printers.

Then in the Promote section we list Book Review Services, Social Media Consultants, Website Designers, Marketing and Publicity and Writing Contests, Fellowships and Prizes to name just a few. We have 33 categories in all and will continue to expand on those in our quarterly updates.

You call The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide a “Living Book.” Could you explain that?

Because everything changes so quickly in the self-publishing world—some companies go out of business and new services pop up all the time—we’ve committed to updating the Resource Guide four times a year. Otherwise the book would quickly become dated due to the constant waves of change we experience on pretty much a non-stop basis.

This also allows us to respond to our readers in a timely fashion. When a reader knows about a valuable resource we haven’t listed, we can check out their suggestions and, if appropriate, add those that meet our guidelines. This will keep the Resource Guide constantly current.

The same goes for our 33 categories. Even though we just published a few weeks ago, we’ve already discovered categories that need to be added to the book, and we welcome suggestions on others as well. That’s why we feel this is a living document. It morphs, it changes, it grows, and the resources are always right up to date.

(By the way, if any of your readers have a suggestion to make or a site, service, product, or vendor they would like us to include, they can use the form we’ve set up at http://www.spresourceguide.com/contact and we’ll be happy to check them out.)

I see that the Resource Guide launched as the #1 bestseller in its category on Amazon. Through your long experience in both traditional publishing (Betty) and indie publishing (Joel) you’ve both launched many many books.

What’s the secret to getting off to such an impressive start?

Three things really:

  • Filling a genuine need— Although there are some excellent short lists of services for authors on blogs and websites around the web, as far as we know there is no central, one-place-to-go to access a comprehensive list of the best of everything available for self-publishing authors. There was an urgent need for such a resource and we decided to try to fill that need.
  • The quality of the book that we created—Of course, as with any self-published book (or traditionally published book for that matter) the content has to be fresh, original and well organized, and the package has to look professional in every way. Betty took on the responsibility for creating the content, deciding on the 33 categories, researching the self-publishing universe to bring together the best of the best in every category, and writing introductions to each section to help the reader expand her understanding of self-publishing in general. Joel added to the content and then turned his talents to designing a smart, attention-getting cover, designing the interior of the book, overseeing the copyediting and book production to ensure the “package” was professional in every way.
  • Targeted marketing— As for the marketing, that was Joel’s baby. He pulled out all the stops and combined his years of experience as a leading blogger in the self-publishing world (TheBookDesigner.com) with his sophisticated knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work when trying to reach a specific market. The result speaks for itself.The initial marketing of the book was driven by two main factors that are both the result of Joel’s years as an influential blogger in this field. First was the work he’s put into building a responsive email list of people who have been “pre-qualified” as interested in the topic and, second, on the extensive network of thought leaders, writers, and other bloggers Joel and Betty have developed over the years. These two elements cannot be discounted, and they are the reason we started off with a bunch of positive reviews right on publication day, and the reason people like Mark Coker, Michael Hyatt, Dan Poynter, and yourself have helped promote the book from the beginning.

Here’s my own quote about the book:

“Independent authors need a team to help create a fantastic finished product, and finding the right people can be a challenge when you first start out. This book will help authors to locate professionals to edit, publish and market their work – helping them to stand out in the crowded marketplace.” Joanna Penn, www.TheCreativePenn.com

What do you think the future holds for self-publishers?

We agree that the future is bright for self-publishers but the landscape is changing fast and it is important for every indie author to be aware of this. Here are three trends to keep in mind.

  • Quality. The professional content, look and feel of your book is more important than ever. If you want to stand out in this increasingly crowded marketplace you must make your book the best it can be. We suggest you use the The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide to find the services you’ll need to make this happen.
  • Collaboration. Indie authors are starting to work together on publishing and marketing their books and it is starting to pay off. By pooling their energy and knowledge they get more done, faster, and are able to reach even more readers than they ever could by working on their own. This includes discounted boxed sets of books that appeal to the same readers, collaborative websites and even collaborative publishing teams where authors can share in the work of publishing each others’ books with the skills they already have.
  • Tech Smarts. New services, products and marketing strategies are springing up all the time. Savvy indie authors need to pay attention to these new developments, especially the growing interest in mobile computing, and adapt these to their own publishing platform. For example, more and more authors are becoming aware that if they want to maximize sales of their books, they really need to start learning about internet marketing and all the technology behind it. While lots of authors remain averse to marketing their own books, the new technological tools available give us more reach, greater selectivity in who we address, and the ability to “soft market” our books without coming across as nagging shills.

Any final thoughts?

Lots of people have written about how easy it is to publish these days, and more and more authors are taking the leap into publishing their own books. But with a complex endeavor like book publishing, you really need to rely on proven professionals to help you reach your goals. The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide is going to make that faster, easier, and more satisfying than ever before for thousands of authors, and that’s why we put the months of work in to make it a reality.

You can find The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide here on Amazon or at TheBookDesigner.com.

The Christian Publishing Market With Jeremy Bouma

I have a degree in Theology and my interest in religion is enmeshed in my fiction.

I write books that can be described as religious thrillers, and yet I’m not a Christian, although I do describe myself as spiritual. In today’s show, I interview Jeremy Bouma about the complexities of the Christian publishing market, and you’ll learn a lot about the sub-niche as well as customer targeting and much more, even if you’re not a Christian author.

In the introduction I mention my personal writing updates, as well as the Goodreads event on Nov 15th when you can join me and other authors for chat and giveaways, plus the Christmas mystery/thriller giveaway when you can win 12 print books (let us buy your Christmas presents for you!)

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna

Jeremy BoumaJeremy Bouma is the author of non-fiction and fiction books, as well as an entrepreneur. Jeremy was previously an evangelical Christian pastor and writes for HarperCollins Christian Publishers, as well as dealing with the questions of faith in his books and on his blog. Today we’re talking about aspects of the Christian publishing market.

You can watch the video here on YouTube, and listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the show notes below.

  • Jeremy talks about his background in politics and religion, starting in Washington DC working with a Senator and then became a pastor for politicians. After a crisis of faith, Jeremy found himself getting deeper into his Christianity. He began blogging and did post-grad studies in Theology and then started writing books. His first being ‘The Unoffensive Gospel of Jesus.’ He now does content marketing with Harper Collins Christian publishers.
  • On how writing helps us work out what we believe. I work this out in my fiction, and Jeremy talks about how his non-fiction books have helped him. We discuss the academic side of writing vs the kind of thing that appeals to the wider public. It’s important to consider who your audience is and how to connect with them.

unoffensive gospel of jesusThe spectrum of the Christian publishing market.

  • The Christian market is a $1.2 billion market, around 10% of the broader US publishing market. Christians buy more books and spend more money on books than the average reader. This explains why the big publishers have bought out many of the independent presses in this area.
  • When we talk of the Christian market, it is usually catered towards the Evangelical side of things and they often purchase from Christian stores. Those type of bookstores may not purchase from indie authors, as they are not necessarily known entities whose work has been checked as doctrinally sound.
  • The sub-genres reflect the mainstream e.g. Christian romance, Christian suspense, Christian sci-fi etc. We talk about Amish fiction, often a kind of historical romance. We talk about some more edgy genres as well. I mention Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series in particular, which has sold over 63 million books and is post-apocalyptic with a lot of violence and an edge of horror.
  • We talk about the wider global Christian market, and I talk about the Catholic markets of Spain, Brazil and the Latino, Spanish speaking market in the US which is more Catholic. We talk about the growth of Christianity in Africa, South America and Asia and how the change in demographics will impact publishing.

Is there a mainstream renaissance in biblical stories? (or big stories?)

  • With Noah out earlier this year, and Exodus coming out before Christmas, we talk about a longing for ‘bigger’ stories, and how Hollywood have also woken up to the hungry market for these types of films. We talk about the awesome stories that are in the Bible and how many of them are being adapted.
  • I talk about the gap that my books fall through, as well as others – I write religious fiction, but not Christian fiction. Jeremy mentions the peer acceptance that is needed for books appealing to Christians, they need to be doctrinally sound to be acceptable in that market. Or, books can just be great stories that tangentially talk about religion or spirituality.
  • If you are a Christian writing books for the Christian market, there is an entire eco-system of blogs and review sites etc.

Having an endorsement from a known Christian personality is important.

  • thereandbackagainIt shortcuts the alignment with spiritual convictions. We talk about the changing nature of self-publishing within the evangelical market.
  • We discuss branding around yourself when you’re encouraged not to make it about yourself as a Christian. But a personality is important to build know, like and trust and Jeremy’s discusses how he did this, and how uncomfortable it was at the beginning.
  • Jeremy talks about his coming of age novel, From There and Back Again which will be out early 2015. You can preorder the book and I’ll be interviewing Jeremy about the novel on my JFPenn.com fiction site :) We also talk about resonance in titling books and how strong words can evoke themes in people’s minds.

You can find Jeremy and his books at JeremyBouma.com and also on Twitter @bouma

Transcription of the interview with Jeremy Bouma

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I’m here with Jeremy Bouma. Welcome, Jeremy.

Jeremy: Hey, Joanna. Thanks a ton for having me on. I really appreciate it.

Joanna: No worries. So just a little introduction. Jeremy is the author of non-fiction and fiction books, as well as an entrepreneur. He was previously an evangelical Christian pastor and writes for HarperCollins Christian Publishers, as well as dealing with aspects of faith in his books and on his blog. And today, we’re talking about aspects of the Christian publishing market, which I have a lot of questions about. And Jeremy and I have known each other online for, goodness, I would say, for a couple of years now, don’t you think?

Jeremy: Yeah, I think it’s been, like, two years, for sure.

Joanna: Yeah, like two years. And also, you’ve read some of my fiction, haven’t you?

Jeremy: I’ve read all of your fiction. So I’m a major fan boy over here. If you start to see me sweating or stuttering, it’s because I’m swooning. That’s why.

Joanna: That’s so sweet. But, why, and I guess for anyone who’s wondering, I mean, I’m not a Christian. You are a Christian. Today, we’re talking about the Christian market. And I’m very respectful, as you know, of matters of faith. And I have a degree in theology and so do you. So I feel like we share a lot in common even though we have one quite big thing not in common.

Jeremy: Sure.

Joanna: We still think a lot. Let’s just start by, you know, after all, we both have degrees in theology. Your career took a very different turn to mine.

So tell us about you and your background in your faith and in writing.

Jeremy: Yeah, sure. So my background is basically in politics and religion. So you can imagine I’m not all that popular at parties because I have nothing else to talk about. The two things you’re never supposed to talk about, right? So yeah, post-college, graduated with a degree in political science, fled my hometown to Washington D.C., and found a job working for a United States senator for about a year. It was during that gig, which was pretty exciting… And like a lot of Christians who up and move to big centers of cultural power, I was heading out to make my mark and to sort of win Capitol Hill for Jesus, right?

And I didn’t so much do that on the inside, but ended up finding myself into a ministry called the Center for Christian Statesmanship, in which we’re kind of pastors to politicians. So I met with members of Congress for prayer, delivered bibles to new ones, but mostly met with their staff for prayer, spiritual encouragement, bible study, spiritual mentoring. Kind of came alongside them in their journey, both spiritually and in their life.

And yeah, pretty amazing experience and opportunity. And it was in the context of that, in the midst of that, in the ministry experience, that I began to have sort of a crisis of faith for myself. You know, having grown up in the Christian bubble of West Michigan… Grand Rapids is like the promised land of this hub of Christianity, given the colleges and publishers, and the amount of churches we have. So between that and going to a Christian college, I did not know how to handle the contents and environment of the city, with the myriad of competing world views and perspectives.

And then, in the minister context, my friends were asking me questions about faith, life, and everything in between that I really didn’t have answers for, that my faith hadn’t prepared me for. And so I began asking those questions myself about, what does it mean to even be a Christian? What is the Gospel, the story of Christ? How does that fit with these other faiths around the world?

Yeah, that was 2004, 2005. And found that writing really helped me work through those questions. And so like a lot of people a decade ago, launched my own little plot in the digital landscape, NovusLumen.net was my blog site where I began working through those questions, answering those questions for me as well as my friends and other people. I became pretty heavily involved with an online evangelical and kind of progressive evangelical blog scene and began sort of working through this crisis through writing and blogging.

And from there, I began to sort of sense a greater calling, if you will, to kind of a broader pastoral ministry. So I went back home, spent five years getting a Master of Divinity as well as a postgraduate Master of Theology and Historical Theology, and helped pastor a church for a bit, pastored another church a bit, and in the midst, published my first book. It was actually six years ago, 2008, Reformation Day, October 31st. I felt that this was of like my own mini-version of Martin Luther nailing up his 95 theses with my book, “The (Un)offensive Gospel of Jesus,” and released that out there through P.O.B., Lightning Source, and then later as a Kindle book.

I caught the bug for publishing and writing in sort of a broader, vocational sense. And so since then, I’ve published nine other books. And I have, hopefully, three fiction books coming out next year. And then now, have transitioned into full-time writing, with an author-entrepreneurial career, thanks to you, Joanna Penn. Thank you for that. We’re now, yeah, I write and do content marketing for HarperCollins Christian Publishers, as well as help a small publisher launch a new translation of the Bible. That’s been kind of my journey, a kind of circuitous route to this space I’m in now of trying to just bring life change and touch our world through the vehicle of writing and publishing.

Joanna: You know, it’s really fascinating because you talk there about, you know, your writing has helped you work through what you think, and that’s how I feel about my fiction. Like I feel like I write about supernatural things because these questions of stuff that goes beyond what you can physically see, however, whatever you want to call that, whatever people feel is spiritual, or supernatural or whatever, that is difficult.

And so by writing, whether it’s through a blog about religion and theology, or about writing fiction, it’s kind of the same thing. Like it’s you’re working out what you believe, don’t you?

Jeremy: Oh, for sure.

Joanna: So do you find…? I mean, I noticed and I’ve said to you before, you’re a very smart man with a lot of degrees. Do you find…? And I’ve said to you before, I think the language that you use can be very, what’s the word? Academic, I guess.

Jeremy: Sure. Sure.

Joanna: Have you found that your writing has changed from when you first kind of did the academic side of theology, to the kind of reaching readers side?

Jeremy: Yes, absolutely. And I think that shifted when I became a pastor. Because people who are mechanics, or bakers, or house moms, they don’t connect with the upper academic language and discourse. And so yeah, I think, like any writer, you evolve your craft as much as you evolve it for the audience in which you’re writing for. And so as I’ve stepped into the stories of people who lost their husbands to cancer at 34, and came alongside people who are struggling in their marriages or whatever, I began to just, I think, connect at a deeper level in a way that people can kind of understand in a language sense. And that’s my heart for writing anyway. It’s not the academy. I mean, I had thought of going on to get a PhD. But really, my heart is writing for the church, and especially this kind of “average Christians,” rather than the scholar or the pastor.

Joanna: Right. So I wanted to kind of move into… And I’ve mentioned this to you before, I feel like I write religious thrillers. You know, thrillers that are based around religion. And I want to write something around, like a Hindu thriller, which will be clearly religious, but not Christian, and I don’t feel I can put my books in Christian fiction because they’re not kind of edifying of Jesus. And so this is something I struggle with all the time.

So I wonder if you could explain the spectrum of what you see in the Christian publishing industry? What are the different sub-genres that are out there right now within the Christian publishing realm?

Jeremy: Yeah. Let me sort of talk about the broader sort of Christian publishing market, because I think that will to give context a bit more. Because the first thing is I feel as though that the Christian publishing world is sort of the sleeping giant that most people really don’t understand or consider. What’s interesting is that the Christian market is a $1.2 billion market. Almost like, I think it’s 10% or so of the broader, sort of consumer publishing market. In America at least, I think it’s 73% or so identifying as Christians buy more books than the average person, as well as spend more money on books than the average person.

So lots of money, revenue to be had within the market, which makes sense why the big New York houses have all sort of bought up and purchased the previously independent publishing imprints and companies. The largest one of course is HarperCollins, which bought up Zondervan in the 90s, as well as Thomas Nelson a few years ago. Those are the top two, and that consolidated to, I think, 50% of so of the Christian publishing market. And then Simon & Schuster has Howard Books, Hachette, Faith Works, Center Street, Jericho Books, Random House, Waterbrook Press, and Elmer.

What’s fascinating about the Christian market, though, is that the big five don’t dominate outside of HarperCollins Christian, the marketplace as independent publishing units do. So next to Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, you have Broadman and Holman, which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. You have Tyndale, Crossway, InterVarsity Press, David C. Cook, so a number of smaller independent presses, which kind of make up the rest of the independent market, excuse me, the Christian market.

And what’s interesting is you have to kind of realize, and we’ll get to your question about how do you market for, how do you approach the Christian market, specifically within the broader religious, is realizing that when we’re talking about the Christian market, we’re usually and mostly talking about the evangelical market. Not all Christians who buy books are evangelicals, but the majority of the Christian market is catered toward evangelicals, given that they have the publishing houses, the retail outlets like Family Christian Stores, Mardel, Lifeway, as well as the big sort of evangelical personalities that are putting out the books and standing behind the books.

So I like to call it the evangelical industrial complex as sort what… Because it’s this massive unit that is within the publishing realm, and it’s kind of a tough market to crack, because evangelicals typically purchase from the evangelical specialty stores, Family Christian, Lifeway, and those stores are not generally going to include a book by an independent author or an independent press if they don’t know that they meet sort of the spiritual criteria, and are doctrinally sound, doctrinally correct, which is why they typically go back to these known entities.

And mostly U.S., even abroad into the U.K. and Canadian, English Christian market, and then within them, we have the genres, which of course, are sort of Christianized versions of the major genres. You have Christian romance, Christian sci-fi, Christian suspense and thriller, Christian detective and thriller. And the dominant genres within the Christian market are Amish books, the bonnet books, as a friend of mine likes to say. Think “50 Shades of Grey” for ladies, sweet ladies in the church, is what Amish fiction is. My mom loves Amish fiction, which are typically like historical romance, as how we would categorize those. And yeah, so that’s kind of how that works. Christianized versions of the big genres that you would think of.

Joanna: Yeah. And so you mentioned the Amish thing, which I’ve heard about as well. But there’s also Amish erotica. I mean, what are your opinions on the more extreme version? See, we’ve got Amish erotica and then you’ve got things like Ted Dekker, who is a Christian, right, and writes in the Christian market. He writes horror. I mean, one could argue that it’s horror. So you’ve got some extremes at the end of, I mean… I don’t know whether LaHaye and “The Left Behind” series, you know.

Jeremy: Jenkins, yeah.

Joanna: Yeah, Jenkins, “The Left Behind Series.” I mean, that’s post-apocalyptic. I mean, it’s based on the rapture.

Jeremy: Sure.

Joanna: Which, however you argue it, hasn’t happened yet, if you believe it’s going to happen.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Joanna: So it could be post-apocalyptic fantasy. So what do think of these, kind of the more of the edgy things? Where does that sit on the spectrum?

Jeremy: It is a bit fascinating to see how some of these sort of compare with the sort of mainstream titles. I hadn’t heard of the Amish erotica yet. That’s an interesting one for me. But even if you take something like Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind,” it’s like horror-light. I mean, people are dying, people are blowing up, I guess. But compared to some of the other, you know, Stephen King, for instance, the Christian version of it is going to accommodate an evangelical market. And you’re not going to have an evangelical publisher who’s going to publish things that aren’t palatable to the evangelical market. And what’s fascinating though is that evangelicals, and Christians more broadly, but especially evangelicals, are more tolerant of violence than they are of…

Joanna: Swearing.

Jeremy: …of swearing or sex. An interesting story, there was a Christian writer, Rachel Held Evans, who didn’t do a fiction book. She published a non-fiction book with Thomas Nelson, “The Year of Living…”

Joanna: “The Year of Living Biblically.”

Jeremy: Yeah. “The Year of Living Biblically” or “Biblical Womanhood” or something like that. I don’t know if you heard, but there was a big sort of hubbub around her desired use of using the word “vagina” in her book. In a way, that was totally appropriate and not weird. Nut the publisher didn’t allow her to use that word in her book because they knew that one of the major Christian outlets would refuse to stock her book because of using that word, which is sort of like, really? I mean, come on. This is not like Amish erotica here. This is talking about Biblical principles of womanhood. And she was using that word in a way that was contextual and appropriate to the book.

But yeah, there’s this interesting tolerance when it comes to different themes. Violence is okay, whether it’s in this post-apocalyptic kind of setting, whether Tim LaHaye’s, some of the crime novels. But when it comes to sex, or swearing, or even like drug and alcohol use… Actually my fiction book, I have quite a lot of, quite a lot of the spiritual conversations happen at the pub.

Joanna: Yeah. They do. You know, Jesus turned water into wine, right? I mean, when Jesus turned a vat of water into wine, he clearly approves of some drinking.

Jeremy: Absolutely. That’s pretty deep.

Joanna: That’s clearly biblical.

Jeremy: It’s funny. Because I mean, that gets to understanding the evangelical market when you want to understand the Christian market, and some of those tolerances, and some of those idiosyncratic and peculiarities of the culture, as much as some of the theology that you’re writing for, for sure.

Joanna: And the Mormons. Do they have a separate publishing area, I guess?

Jeremy: Yeah. I believe that the L.D.S. sort of like headquarters in Utah has their own sort of like denominational imprint that publishes curriculum books, their own, I guess, second testament of Joseph Smith. Separate then, yeah. I mean, you know, the major Christian publishers wouldn’t touch those titles for sure.

Joanna: Do you know Michael Wallace and his series, which is a kind of Mormon thriller?

Jeremy: I don’t think so.

Joanna: Yeah, really interesting.

Jeremy: I don’t know about that.

Joanna: Yeah, Michael Wallace. It’s brilliant. I love it. Again, to me, religious fiction, based around a religion, you know, a breakaway kind of polygamist group, and really fascinating. And it has sort of turned post-apocalyptic, but very much reminds me of these type of books, and I love the series. But definitely, ex-Mormon and writes fiction in that.

Jeremy: Ah, sure.

Joanna: So it’s not, again, not in that market, but outside that market, kind of looking in. But in just talking about the wider market. So for example, I have a Spanish version of “Pentecost,” which is out now, and I’ve got a Portuguese one coming out in Brazil bought by a publisher who wants to appeal to a Christian Catholic market because, you know, “Pentecost” has a lot of the Christian stuff, and it fits with the Catholic market. So what do you see, I mean, obviously there’s the Philippines, which is very Christian, religious country.

What do you see in kind of global appeal and the global market for these types of books?

Jeremy: Yeah, you know, I would say that the global Christian market isn’t as developed as the U.S. one, perhaps with the exception of South America or Latin American countries, given how, to your story, how closely the Catholic faith defines their culture. So you have plenty more imprints and companies set up to cater to those Spanish-speaking markets, and I would imagine within like Africa or Asia. Harvard College Christian has their own imprint catering towards them called Vita, for instance. But I actually think that the future of Christian publishing globally is bright considering how the church is growing, mostly in the global south, in Africa and Asia, and in South America.

I think within 10 to 20 years, 1 in 5 Christians are going to be non-Hispanic whites, as the sort of picture that paints a typical Christian, it’ll be a woman in a village in Nigeria or Brazil. I mean, that’s going to be the Christian market, broadly, dominantly speaking. And so I think you see some of that reflected in Latin American countries, especially Brazil, as that market economically and technologically has sort of ballooned. You also have the evangelical population ballooning alongside them. I think it’s within the last 10 years, they have doubled to around 55 million or so. So that’s like a quarter of the evangelical population within the U.S. And so, yeah, I think it’s bright. I think it’s a bright future.

And I mean you’re leading the charge with translating all those books, and giving us inspiration for how I think that should look as Christians or religious people, to think about these markets that are emerging. And as the church begins to grow mostly in non-English speaking countries in the global south, I think that presents opportunities for us to grow alongside them as authors, for sure.

Joanna: I agree. And I’m particularly fascinated, because a lot of the… So my sister-in-law is Nigerian, and we had a half-Catholic wedding with Nigerians singing and they brought a lot… It was a classic case, in a cathedral, a Catholic cathedral in Edinburgh. Half the church was Nigerian. And my sister-in-law said, “We’re going to have a Nigerian section.” So it was just so funny in this very uptight, white, middle-class Catholic church. We had a load of Nigerians singing what they sing in their church in Lagos. And it was a very different vibe and the kind that the priest didn’t quite know what to do with it, I think. But what I find interesting about that is that I think maybe the type of books that appeal to Christians in other countries will have a different flavor because often they…

Jeremy: Oh I hope so. Sure.

Joanna: …they’ve incorporated a lot of local traditions into their faith. And you know, South American Christian Catholicism is quite different to the type we practice in England, for example.

Jeremy: Absolutely. I would hope that, frankly, I would hope that some of us, sort of speaking as a Christian to my Christian brethren and sister-en, would actually help raise up authors within those countries natively, to write for their context, rather than sort of importing our own Americanized stories. Not that that’s a bad thing necessarily. To provide, whether it’s non-fiction sort of Christian living books, books on church growth or whatever.

Joanna: Yeah, I have got a book coming next year, which going to be based in India and have a Hindu kind of religious aspect with Shiva and Nataraja, which again is religious fiction. It’s not Christian fiction. It’s clearly Hindu. And when I was in India, I found the kind of Dan Brown equivalent. An Indian author who’s the Dan Brown equivalent, writing these religious, action-adventure thrillers. No one would have heard of him here because we don’t have an Indian writer who does that kind of thing. We have Americans.

But what’s happened now, of course, is Amazon K.D.P. has opened up to Indian authors so we should start seeing an influx of other nationalities. What’s sad is that I’ve had several e-mails from Indian authors saying, should I use a Westernized name to publish under? And also from Portugal, from Brazil same thing, should I Westernize my name because the main market is American, and they won’t buy a book from someone with a different name. What do you reckon there? That’s a tough one.

Jeremy: Man, that’s fascinating. It’s sad. You know, it shows how ethnocentric we are as Westerners, as Americans.

Joanna: But it’s probably true. Isn’t it?

Jeremy: Whether inside or outside the church, I’m sure, I mean, I would imagine the same would hold true, unfortunately, for my people, you know, Christians in America.

Joanna: Oh yeah. I’m not talking about Christians here.

Jeremy: No, no. Sure. Yeah, right. But it’s exciting thought that there are these models set up, whether is Kobo or Kindle reaching out into these emerging markets that will empower people in their own countries to write for their own countries. And that’s, I guess, my hope for the global south, or anywhere outside of the Western nations, when it comes to Christians, especially writing for their own people, is to be able to leverage these technologies to serve their countries, their communities in a way that makes sense to them, rather than simply importing our junk and our strategies.

Joanna: No, I agree. Okay. So coming back to the religious stuff. So this year, I’ve been excited about “Noah,” the film “Noah,” and “Exodus,” coming next month, and Tim LaHaye’s, as we mentioned, “Left Behind” movie coming out next year. Isn’t Nicholas Cage in that? It’s like a big, I think, it’s going to be a big movie. Anyway, my point is, is there a mainstream renaissance interest in these biblical stories? Because I mean, “The Da Vinci Code,” which wasn’t Christian, right, but it was about the church… It was pretty much 10 years ago.

Do you think we’re coming into a phase where people are more interested in religion?

Jeremy: You know, I think there’s a couple of things there. I would say there’s a renaissance, as you put it, renaissance, maybe not necessarily biblical stories, but big stories. Which I would say it began, perhaps, with Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” being resurrected and put on the big screen. Because here’s this guy, I mean it wasn’t an obviously Christian or religious movie, but he was a Christian who wrote out his Christian convictions, talking about the big stuff of life, the big questions.

I think the same thing, perhaps, would hold true with “Lost.” My wife and I just watched through the six seasons again and I was just fascinated to see how much they deal with the big existential, metaphysical questions of life, nature of good and evil, faith versus free will, nature of the afterlife. And I think that people are hungry for that kind of engagement. When the big stories, and of course bible stories kind of fit into that because they do connect to that bigger story that I think all of us are trying to connect to ourselves with our own life.

So yeah, I think that’s part of it. There is this deep longing for bigger stories. But I would also say that, let’s be frank, the Christian market is sort of a cash cow at some level, and Hollywood woke up to that fact with, perhaps, “The Passion of the Christ,” woke up to this reality that there’s this very hungry market for bible films. And especially with, again, the evangelical industrial complex, gets behind one of those films, it can go through the roof. So I think there’s an aspect where Hollywood sees that there’s a big market obviously in a viewing sense, but also in a financial sense.

I was reading some things about “Noah” before that came out that they hired some evangelical consultants to make sure that it would be, you know, theologically appropriate and approved by some of the gatekeepers and influencers within the evangelical community. And then they ended up editing it to take some things out, to massage, and to shift, to make it more palatable even though…

Joanna: It definitely wasn’t.

Jeremy: …there were some leaders who kind of just went bonkers about it. I thought it was great actually. There were some things that I was like, okay.

Joanna: It wasn’t biblical. There was a lot that wasn’t biblical.

Jeremy: I was relying on Jewish Midrash and some other extra biblical things. But I mean, frankly, as evangelicals, we do that with the Noah story anyway. We like sanitize it and make it about like rainbows and bunnies, and you know, little doves floating around. And frankly I thought that, man, the best depiction was that movie about the kind of, not only destruction, but also the psychological internal tension that Noah would have felt, you know, hearing all these people dying, you know, children and bodies thumping against the ark. Yeah, I think he depicted in perfectly. And it’s too bad that others didn’t see it my way.

Joanna: You never please everyone, especially with religion or politics, as you said, as you would know.

Jeremy: Yeah, for sure.

Joanna: But you know, it’s funny because with this book, “Gates of Hell,” I’ve ended up, and I don’t even know why this has happened, but I’ve ended up looking for Sodom and Gomorrah. And reading those stories again, and you know, similar destruction, right? You know, people are really behaving badly, we’re just going to destroy everything now, you know. And even the poor wife turns around and gets turned into the pillar of salt, just because she looked behind her. These stories are kind of awesome. So I am writing about that area of Israel where Sodom and Gomorrah supposedly were. Really fascinating stuff. But anyway… We could talk about religious things forever.

Jeremy: Yeah. Next show.

Joanna: But you have mentioned… Yeah we should start like a theology podcast. We’d have a really small audience, but…

Jeremy: Hey, sign me up. I’m there. I’m there.

Joanna: That would be quite funny.

Jeremy: Collaborate on a podcast, collaborate on a fiction series. It’d be interesting.

Joanna: It would be cool.

Jeremy: The sky’s the limit.

Joanna: It is. Well, let’s talk about how the sky’s the limit and the cash cow thing. Because clearly this is my struggle, right, and part of the reason we’re talking about this, I know that. And my agent basically said, when I had a New York agent, and had pitched her “Pentecost, Prophecy, and Exodus.” Of course you know, you can’t get much more Christian in my book titles. And she said, “These books are too Christian to be mainstream. But you’re not a Christian so we can’t sell them to the Christian market.”

So what’s happened to me, and a number of other authors who I’ve talked with have is you kind of fall through a gap, where most of my audience are Christians, ranging from, I have a Greek Orthodox priest who’s a reader, you’re a reader. I have a lot of other Christians who read my books. And so my issue is I can’t lie and say I’m a Christian, and therefore I can’t be acceptable in one way.

But what do you think about books that deal with, you know, books like mine, of which there are quite a lot. What should one do with these books in approaching the Christian market?

Jeremy: Yeah, those are good questions. And I think that there’s a couple of things that play into understanding the market in a theological sense and a cultural sense that both, I think, Christians as well as non-Christians writing for that, or have books that are religious like yours or spiritual that touch on the big questions and the big story. And the first one is theological adherence, it’s recognizing that there are theological convictions that Christians care deeply about, especially evangelicals, who I would imagine have read a lot of your books. I think you even said you’ve gotten some e-mails from others who’ve said, “Hey, “Pentecost” is down this way. That’s not in my Bible. What’s up with that?” Right?

And that comes back to the doctrine of Revelation. You know, this belief that God stepped into our world and communicated to us about Himself and us and our creation in this thing called the Bible, His book, using human authors, inspiring them with doctrinal inspiration in a way that communicated what he wanted to communicate without error. Again, inerrancy, another doctrine.

And so when you introduce these themes, these spiritual themes, or especially religion themes that kind of scrape the surface of Christian doctrine, or the Christian faith, or the Bible itself, you’re going to get some push back because they grade against the theological sensibilities of the audience. Does that make sense?

Joanna: So there will be people listening who are Christians who are writing Christian books or books that will appeal to Christians. So how would you suggest they market Christian books specifically?

Is there an ecosystem of blogs, and book bloggers, and podcasts, and all of that?

Jeremy: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s what’s really important to keep in mind is, first of all, having an endorsement from a known Christian personality is pretty required because part of what the evangelical, gain, I’m going back to the evangelicalism because it dominates the Christian market, is sort of tribal in how we invite or un-invite those who are on the inside or outside. And we mark insiders versus outsiders based on the brands of known personalities. And so if you have a book that’s endorsed by XYZ, then okay, I can trust that that is going to align with my theological and spiritual convictions. And so that would probably be marketing tip #1, is trying to connect with some of those known personalities and getting an endorsement.

And then forwarding them along to those influencers in the first place, the book bloggers, the Christian magazines, the Christian radio shows, the Christian T.V. shows. We have our own Christian subculture that loves to get Christian stuff. And so reaching those influencers will reach their readers and will influence them to hopefully, you know, buy your stuff, or purchase your books, or engage your content, and engage your book. Yeah, so those two things, I think are crucial for Christians, even non-Christians. Like for you to get an endorsement from an evangelical pastor or someone would be really helpful, I think, probably, for entering into that market, and building that coveted know, like, and trust. I mean, that’s Marketing 101, right? And so to build that know, like, and trust, you need the endorsement, you need the influencers to get on board.

Joanna: And you did say earlier that…

Jeremy: I would add to that also. Oh, go ahead.

Joanna: No, I was just going to say the trust aspect, you’ve mentioned that self-publishers are not necessarily going to be so accepted. Do you see, because, they haven’t been vetted in some way, is that changing?

Is self-publishing becoming more accepted?

Jeremy: Yeah, good question. You know, I think that the evangelical market and a lot of ways the Christian market has usually been behind the times, three to five years, you know. And I find that now there is this growing acceptance. I mean, there has been in print, WestBow, which is part of Thomas Nelson, which is an author solution outfit.

Joanna: We wouldn’t necessarily go there.

Jeremy: They wouldn’t necessarily advocate and offer author solution, stuff. But yeah, so there is sort of that route to gain that imprint and that know, like, and trust. For my own story, I was able to connect with a pretty prominent evangelical, Scott McKnight. He’s a New Testament scholar who has written a number of things. He wrote the foreword to my first book, “The (Un)offensive Gospel of Jesus”. So that was super-duper helpful in building the know, like, and trust with people. I also got some endorsements from a seminary professor, another pastor, and another Christian author. So yeah, I did that. I just sort of done that from the beginning. And I would certainly encourage Christians to do that.

But I do sense that there is this growing interest in receiving and trusting independent voices outside sort of the mainstream. But it’s going to take time. And it’s a tough nut to crack. And I think that potential authors and interested writers should just try to be patient and do the work that they need to get those endorsements and to influence those influencers.

And I think the author’s issue of branding is super important for Christians to wrestle with.

It’s one of the things that I wrestled with. I remember when I was in your little course on turning ideas into cash, you think, critiqued my former website, NovusLumen.net. And you were like, you need to scrap that and go with your own personal name. You need to brand your ideas. Brand your stuff on yourself. And as a Christian, that was super uncomfortable because we’re sort of bred to make it not about us. It’s not about us and our story. It’s about Christ and his story, right?

And yeah, that’s true. But when it comes to the marketplace, and with selling ideas and engaging with people, building know, like, and trust, you got to engage in a way that people demand and require you to do so. And that means focusing on building your brand, whether it’s through blogging, tweeting, writing your bio in a way that incorporates, let’s call it your Christian credentials, your ministry credentials, or maybe you’re a youth group, you can put that in your bio to signal to people that, hey, yeah, I’m a Christian who does Christian things.

A Christian publishing friend of mine encouraged me to put in my bio that, not only was I a pastor, but a pastor within the Evangelical Covenant Church because that signals, hey, he’s part of this known denomination. He’s an evangelical. It’s building know, like, and trust. So I think that branding issue is one of those things that’s going to be interesting for Christian authors to navigate, but it’s a tension that has to be done. And I would encourage people to be okay with it for the sake of not building yourself up, but for the sake of Christ and his story, and hopefully bringing life transformation.

Joanna: Yeah, well you mentioned Rick Warren. He’s a well-known personality. You know, I’ve read “The Purpose Driven Life,” you know. I think lots of non-Christians may well have read some of his stuff. And I think a personality can help all of us. And you write non-fiction as well, right?

Jeremy: Yes.

Joanna: So it’s interesting you say that because I would’ve thought that Christian publishers, in the same way as other publishers, would want the author to build up their own brand so that they are a known entity, so that people will say, “I want Jeremy’s next book.”

Jeremy: Well, yes, I think you’re for sure right. Especially with evangelicalism, there is definitely this fascination with personalities, and churches are personality-driven. Unfortunately we’ve had some recent examples of the downside of personality-driven prophets as well as churches.

Joanna: That happens everywhere.

Jeremy: What’s that?

Joanna: That happens everywhere. That’s not a Christian thing.

Jeremy: It happens everywhere, for sure. And that’s, I think, the tension. Obviously publishers are going to want to know your Twitter stats and know what your brand is and whatever. But I think as an online author, it’s awkward to figure out how to be okay with that, and to navigate, building that, not for the sake of myself or even the publisher, but for leveraging my experiences…

So for instance, for me I think I should. And you’ve helped me and my wife has helped me, who’s a marketer, helped me to grow into it and be okay with is being okay with letting people know that I was a pastor to politicians, that I was part of an evangelical progressive organization, and that I have degrees in Divinity and Theology. And so I can leverage those parts of my story and my own experiences with having a crisis of faith in order to talk about my next book, which is sort of a spiritual coming-of-age story, which helps people navigate their own crises, crises of the faith, or however you say it.

So, the point is not to build myself but to help, hopefully, build Christ and his story as well as encourage other people. So I guess that’s just a mindset shift that Christian authors need to make when it comes to branding, is leveraging their experience and their story for the sake of the message that they want to communicate.

Joanna: Which you did very well there. And brings us onto asking about your novel. So you’re moving into fiction and you mentioned the coming-of-age story there.

Tell us a bit more about that and how you have balanced that truth versus fiction aspect, which I think is a real line that will be difficult to walk through, right?

Jeremy: Sure. Well, my interest in fiction or in writing fiction really grew out of pastoring. The conversation at the beginning about pursuing the academy versus pursuing the church, yeah, it really crystallized when I started pastoring and realizing people engage ideas not in like some theological tract or… My best sermons, to be frank, were the ones that were story-driven. Those are the ones that people engaged with, not where I was just droning on about some theological idea. And so I began to realize, Matt, if I want to influence or help people in their own spiritual journey, the way to do that, I think, is through story.

And so I thought back and just try it. And so I never wrote a thing of fiction in my life. Signed up to NaNoWriMo two years ago. Of course, right? That’s where it all starts. And churned out this story that sort of fictionalizes my own spiritual journey and to, in a way, that I hope will help others who have sort of grown up in a similar, well, it’s called, fundamentalist environment, and wonder if that faith still connects to their modern world.

And so I follow this protagonist, Peter Daniel Young, who returns back home to go train to be a pastor, and takes his sort of new progressive faith with him, and is challenged to reconnect to the historic Christian faith. And I kind of use that as a way to teach. Because it’s definitely a teaching book. It’s definitely a book where, I’m still kind of unpacking my own thoughts and answering and asking my own questions. But it’s definitely more interested in encouraging people to kind of, in some ways, do what I did, to not let go of the vintage Christian faith, as I put it, but to realize that that does still connect. So it is kind of more of a teaching book. But it’s meant to help people who have grown up in the church and might have left and wonder if this whole Christian thing still makes sense.

Joanna: And what’s the title and when is out?

Jeremy: Yeah, “From There and Back Again,” releasing, actually, pre-orders start in like a week, releasing the end of January. Yeah, I’m excited to see how this works with communicating and kind of fleshing out ideas in a fictional form rather than a non-fictional way that I’ve done it before.

Joanna: And is that title influenced by “The Hobbit”?

Jeremy: Embarrassingly, I didn’t even realize that. “The Hobbit’s” little book was “There and Back Again.” But no, I can’t say that. It just was what was in my head when I was thinking about my story, and the story that I wanted to tell.

Joanna: Well, that kind of resonance. It’s funny because when I wrote “Pentecost,” I had an original title, which was “Mandala.” and I chose the title “Pentecost” in order to resonate in people’s minds with people who would know what Pentecost means. And what’s funny is when people read it who don’t know what Pentecost means, they get the word wrong. So I’ll get e-mails where people just mangle the word because they didn’t know what it was. And so it’s interesting. As soon as you say that title, a lot of people will get a resonance, which isn’t a bad thing. However, you know, “The Hobbit,” which you know is not…

Jeremy: It’s similar about journey, and conquest, and coming-of-age, and those are the themes of the book. So I guess that’s a good thing.

Joanna: It is. No, I think the resonance thing for me… You know, I love one-word titles. I’m only just moving off them at the moment. But I think these strong words, like “Desecration” for me was, I mean, it’s a very violent word, which I think…

Jeremy: Kind of slaps you in the face, doesn’t it?

Joanna: Yeah.

Jeremy: And that’s okay because as people want to try and flesh out ideas, that’s what we want to do, as authors, is kind of slap you right in the face.

Joanna: We do. But it’s interesting, with the Christian side, I think the words, the title and words, they do make a big difference because they do bring up, like you say, these stories. The film is called “Noah” because everybody knows what Noah is, and it immediately brings up the resonance of all of that history. Even if you’re not a Christian, you still have it in your school background, or your whatever background, if you’re white and Western, you know generally. That’s what you would get. So anyway, that was just a comment on marketing through titles. You know, these words are so important, aren’t they?

Jeremy: Absolutely. They’re pregnant with meaning, especially for people who grew up in the church or in Western context, yeah, their mind’s going to jump to something immediately. That’s a great marketing tip, for sure.

Joanna: Yeah. Okay. So where can people find you, and your books, and your blog online?

Jeremy: Sure. Thanks to you. JeremyBouma.com is where people can find my stuff. And then Amazon has it all, as well as Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Joanna: Yeah. I hope you don’t… Well, I always hate doing critiques. But a lot of people wouldn’t know what “Novus Lumen” means.

Jeremy: Absolutely no. It was the best, best thing to happen to my writing career. Thank you, Ms. Penn.

Joanna: Oh, no, not at all, no. And I really appreciate your time, Jeremy, and your honesty. I love discussing this stuff and I hope we can continue to have these types of conversations because I continue to wrestle with these questions and many people do. We often don’t talk about it because it’s difficult. But I think, like you said, the big questions are so important to people, and become part of our lives, and part of our writing. And I’m just re-reading Stephen King’s “It” at the moment. Do you read Stephen King at all or not your thing?

Jeremy: I do. I do.

Joanna: You’ve read “It”?

Jeremy: Not “It,” no.

Joanna: Well, I’m reading it at the moment, and what’s so fascinating is it is just a good versus evil story, you know. And as it progresses, I’m like, this is just good, this is evil. It’s like “The Stand” and “The Shining” and so many of his books are good versus evil, and good triumphs, generally, after a lot of gore. So you know, this is what a lot of people want in their books, regardless of religious persuasion. You know, it’s fascinating. Anyway, enough. So brilliant. Thank you so much for your time, Jeremy. That was fantastic.

Jeremy: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. And let me know when you want to do it again.

How To Get A Unique Illustration For Your Book Cover

With the explosion of creativity that is the indie publishing revolution, you may have noticed the array of book covers that use similar stock photos in their designs.

99DesignsKeys1

Selection of the initial key designs submitted. All copyright belongs to the designers.

Some authors these days have private photo shoots to ensure their cover images are unique, but what about if you have a smaller budget, or you want something uniquely special in terms of an illustration?

This type of approach can also work for art that relates to your book, e.g. world building and maps, or artwork for marketing purposes

Using 99 Designs to get a custom illustration

Full disclosure here. 99 Designs now sponsor 50% of my podcast, so I was encouraged to try them out. After hearing great things from other authors, I thought I would do something a little different.

99Designs_vandamme99

FINALIST: Copyright 99 Designs designer lucky bast(art), previously vandamme99

I already have a book cover designer in the wonderful Derek Murphy from Creativindie, so I decided to get an image done for my next book, Gates of Hell. I’m just heading towards the end of the first draft and the book features a hunt for the Key to the Gates of Hell. It should be out before Christmas if you’re interested!

My original brief: Create a key to the Gates of Hell. Let your creative darkness loose!

99Designs_BelleIllumina

FINALIST: Copyright: 99Designs BelleIllumina

I wanted to be quite open with the brief, as at that point I hadn’t decided what the key would look like. Here’s what I wrote:

I want an illustration of a key to the Gates of Hell – with the aim that the image is used on the book cover of the book, titled “Gates of Hell,” and also in promotional material.

And also that I can use the illustration to get a pattern made to actually 3D print the key.

I have visions of screaming open mouths and mis-shapen deformities and demons and oozing blackness – but basically, I want a creative image that is still recognizably a key and I want you to use any images that conjure up hell. I am using a group called the Misshapen in the book, so that word may also help. The book is a thriller with a supernatural edge, so dark/scary is good – edge of horror is fine. I don’t mind black & white or color.

Changing my mind based on the designs

Copyright 99Designs designer josephnovi

FINALIST: Copyright 99Designs designer josephnovi

As the designs started to come in, I realized that I was confusing the issue by saying I wanted to turn the image into a 3D printed design as well as a book cover. The two are quite different, and the book cover was always the most important thing, so I narrowed down the requirements as the competition progressed. I also created a Gates of Hell pinboard on Pinterest for the book to give another flavor to the design.

99Designs_MadMaxx

FINALIST: Copyright 99Designs MadMaxx

I had 125 entries from 48 designers in the end, ranging from some really amazing elaborate designs to some striking images.

You get to rate the images as they come in, and that helps the designers consider another iteration. You can also engage in private or public conversations which helps everyone move closer to the desired result.

With 99 Designs, you only pay if you are happy with the design, so there is no risk. Of course, guaranteeing the payment may make the competition more attractive :)

You can also do Polls by selecting the images and then enabling a shareable link for email and social media so people can vote on the designs. I sent the link out to my J.F.Penn fiction newsletter subscribers, as well as sharing on social media and had several hundred votes on the final Poll.

key to the gates of hell

WINNER! Thanks D.C – Danniel Soares

The Key to the Gates of Hell

And here’s the final design, which I love!

It looks like a real key but also captures the desperation of a soul in Hell (in my mind at least) and it came out top of the final poll as well.

Next, I need to finish the book and we’ll work on the full cover design. Since it will be ARKANE Book 6, there are elements of the cover that are fixed. This illustration will just add another dimension, and in fact, provided a story twist that I’m currently writing!

It was an added bonus to have other creative minds that jump-started my own thoughts as I wrote! I just LOVE collaboration with other artists – it’s so rewarding.

I asked the fantastic designer of the winning illustration, Danniel Soares, a couple of questions:

How did you come up with the design based on the (very loose) brief?

I particularly like this sort of brief, giving enough direction ideas, while not being strictly defined. The downside is that you’ll probably need to narrow down on one or two ideas relatively fast, in this contest scheme, so you can present something that already have a reasonably good rendering. Other important consideration is the time it will take to develop it.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to do a 3D sculpture in the foreseeable time (I’m not really “fluent” with the 3D software I have, and I’m not sure my current hardware would be powerful enough for this sort of thing as the 3D mesh grows in complexity), even though this consideration also had some influence on that particular idea, which is relatively simpler, while still at least just as good. The other idea, actually came first, and morphed more or less gradually into the final one.

What are your tips for authors who want to get designs for their books?

An important thing to have in mind before anything are the different sub-domains of graphic artists. In an ideal world people wouldn’t take jobs they don’t really feel ready to do, but that can happen, and the final product will probably suffer as a result.

The main distinctions among professionals who would do the final work are perhaps “illustrator” and “designer” (who will often have their sub-specialties, based on genre, technique, and intended use). The latter deals more with the overall layout and structure of the whole, while the former is more concerned with “isolated” details, even though it’s helpful to have a notion of the planned design, to make it match appropriately — but perhaps some designers would prefer to have the illustrations roughs to see how to layout things around it! The specialty of one will tend to be the weakness of the other, even though there will be some people who do both equally well.

The best way to proceed then is to take some time to look through several artists’ portfolios, trying to find a few who work in styles that match the book.

Maybe while still writing the book, perhaps it could turn out to be a form of inspiration. And make some inquiries along the way, or at some allotted time.

Established professionals, whether they’re solo, a team, or subcontractors of an agency, will likely have a well defined process, describing their obligations and conditions in a more or less standardized contract. With people who are just starting out things can be probably be somewhat more complicated and insecure, due to inexperience, and a natural lack of expertise in the business and administrative side. But that probably can be dealt with some precautions from the author, like coming up with a reasonable contract beforehand, to be filled in eventually. That’s definitely somewhat more complicated, but may worth the extra work.

Services like 99designs can be seen as an intermediate way, since they’re literally being the intermediaries between the artists and the client, offering some aspects of “insurance”, even though I’m not totally sure about the details. I hope it didn’t sound too much like some sort of infomercial, because I’m not being paid to make this sort of advertisement. But even with this sort of backing it’s perhaps interesting to study how to do a briefing that is specific enough and clear in scope, in order to avoid misunderstandings and frustrations from both sides.

What else can you use 99 Designs for?

99designsIf you need visual work done, then there are lots of options for what the designers on 99 Designs can do for you. The services include:

  • Book cover design and custom artwork and illustrations
  • Logos and business cards
  • Web page and mobile apps as well as banner ads
  • T-shirts (I am seriously considering this at some point!)

You can get a PowerPack upgrade if you use my sponsorship link: 99Designs.com/joanna which will supercharge your contest by highlighting your listing, bolding its font, and bumping it to the top of the page. Basically, you can get more entries from better designers.

I found the whole process pretty addictive and since I love collaboration, it’s definitely on my list to do again.

OK, I’d love to know what you think of 99 Designs, or if you have used custom designs/illustrations from other designers.Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.