Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Succulent Scent of Success

November has been an incredible month for me as an author.

Aside from the occasional post about what’s new, I don’t usually focus too much on my own books in the blog posts themselves around here. I like to talk about the spiritual themes found in movies, TV shows, books, and video games, and I like to spotlight other Christian authors you may not have heard of yet (and, in this way, I’ve stumbled upon a lot of great books that I’m so glad I got a chance to read!). That’s not going to change.

But I had a great month last month and I wanted to share and it’s my blog so I’m going to.

Both of my novels that are currently available, The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living and Emaline’s Gift, were chosen to be featured as bargain books on the popular Kindle book site Ereader News Today. I had heard about other authors (most notably, Cynthia P. Willow, whom you might recall I interviewed way back in January) having a great experience with running a 99 cent sale in conjunction with being featured on the website, and was very excited to learn that two of my books would be featured!

How does the bestseller badge
look in this shot? Too subtle?
It was a great month, both through the promotion and simply for book sales in general. It was such a great month for me, in fact, that both Emaline’s Gift and The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living became bestsellers! Emaline’s Gift became the #1 bestselling Kindle book in Religious Sci-Fi and Fantasy on Amazon, and hit #2 in both Christian Fantasy for Kindle and Religious Sci-Fi and Fantasy for all books on Amazon (including Kindle and print copies). Savvy Demon also broke into the top ten, becoming the #6 bestselling Satire book on Amazon (the top ten list in that category is pretty much dominated by Kurt Vonnegut, an incredible writer whose prose absolutely sings on the page [or Kindle], for what it’s worth). For an indie writer like myself, who isn’t backed by any major publisher and whose advertising budget usually sits right around zero, it was very exciting. I’m still excited by it! I thank God that He’s taken my books to bestselling status every time they’ve come to mind!

“So what’s this, then?” you may well be asking. “You’ve decided to write a whole blog post just tooting your own horn?”

Yes, yes, that’s it exactly.

What? Oh, no, I mean to say no. Sorry about that. I got confused.

What I’m looking to do here, actually, is to take this opportunity to talk about the reason that I write. Obviously, the vast majority of writers write because they want to be read. Yes, God has made us to be creative beings so writers write, actors act, painters paint, and musicians play because there is something in
And synchronized swimmers synchronized
swim because they must!
the act of creativity that calls to us and compels us, but most also feel that we have something to share with the world. I absolutely believe that our world is a richer place because of the arts, that there is something shared between the creator and the appreciator at a soul level that can probably never be fully explained. God Himself is wonderfully creative and part of being made in His image, I believe, is to be creative beings. We may not all create (or, at least, not to the same level or extent) but rare indeed is the human who can claim to never have been touched by art of any type.

So, yes, I write and I self-publish to share my work with the world. I love the freedom of being an indie author, and I believe we’re seeing this medium come into its own, much as independent film has come into its own in the past few decades (and it has; I made the point to someone just recently that one primary reason that the number of Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards was opened up to ten candidates in recent years is that almost all the nominees otherwise were independent films that the average moviegoer probably didn’t see, so ratings of the Oscar telecast suffered as a result). As an indie author, I get to write whatever is in my heart, or whatever I feel God wants from me. A publishing house, simply because of the realities of business, needs to be more concerned about making a profit than about the quality of the work. I’m not trying to say that quality work is not being produced through these channels, although it is pretty well documented that the publishing world is changing and the houses need to take much fewer risks. I spoke with some agents and was told by one that the quality of my work was very good, but that it was much harder than it used to be to be an unknown author because marketability is valued as much or more than quality. We’re seeing bestselling books coming out now by people famous for other stuff, like Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck, because they have name recognition even if they are new as authors.

"I'm only doing this so I have some
chance of getting published."
Multiple people have commented to me that they didn’t think my latest novel, The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living, would ever be considered by a Christian publisher for a variety of reasons. I think they’re probably right, but I strongly believe that I wrote the book God wanted me to write. I have been very humbled by reviewers who have called the “deeply convicting,” and even saying, “This book will change you!” But a publisher isn’t asking if people are going to be changed by a book, but rather whether they will turn a profit. I’d admit fully that Savvy Demon would be a risk! But then I’ve also been trumpeting high praise for The Beloved Daughter, an award-winning indie book by debut novelist Alana Terry (whom I interviewed on this blog). Unlike Savvy Demon, Alana’s is precisely the sort of book that anyone might pick up in their local Christian bookstore, and I think mainstream Christian readers would love it! And, if she gets famous as a Fox News pundit, maybe that’ll happen someday...

Has anyone ever noticed that I tend to get off on a fair number of tangents? Sorry about that.

I believe that I was saying that I write because I want my work to be read. “So why not,” you might ask, “make your books available for free?” It’s a good question. Well, it’s a good question if we’re talking ebooks. Obviously, there’s a fair amount of overhead when it comes to paperbacks so indie authors don’t get nearly as much pricing freedom as they do with ebooks. Could I make my books free in electronic form? I could, yeah.

This chart pretty much explains the whole concept.
Maybe. I don't really know.
But I release this stuff to be read. Not just to be downloaded. To be read.

I might be doing a bit of projecting here, but I have downloaded way too many free books. If I’m browsing my Kindle library, I couldn’t tell you if a number of them were titles I saw and picked up, or if it was my wife who wanted it, or what. I’ve read some of them. The vast majority I haven’t. But books I’ve purchased? The vast majority of those I’ve already read. Otherwise, I’ve picked them up too recently and haven’t gotten around to them yet. Most of the people who buy my books will read them. And that’s the point.

Because, you see, I write and I want to share that work with others, but I don’t simply write to entertain or for art’s sake. I’ve already made it clear that I very much appreciate art for art’s sake, and I do think there is value in it, but I am also driven by a greater purpose. Writing is one way for me to share my love for Jesus Christ with others. For me, it’s a ministry as well as a creative outlet and an art to be passionate about. Some Christian authors are happy writing secular books without too many cuss words (and some write secular books full of profanity), and I’m not trying to criticize them. That’s between them and their readers and between them and God. But for me? The number one purpose I have in this life is to be used to build the Kingdom of God. Life is short and, when God says that those who do not follow Jesus will go to hell for eternity, I believe Him. So I want to do everything I can to change that, and that includes writing. For me, I believe that I can both share the Gospel in my books but also help inspire and challenge believers to also be passionate about reaching others for Christ.

And the Holy Spirit's all like, "Yeeaah? You wanna
sleep? Get up and do what I want you to and THEN
maybe I'll let you sleep!"
And that’s precisely what my short story, The Book of the Harvest, aims to do. I still believe strongly that the Holy Spirit personally gave me the inspiration for the story. In the middle of the night. When I was trying to sleep. It concerns a man in heaven who begins to wonder what happened to his old next door neighbor while on earth. He begins searching for answers and discovers that the Holy Spirit had prompted him on numerous occasions to share his faith with her, but the man ignored the promptings. It’s a tale about making the most of such opportunities while we still have them, and, honestly, the message probably trumps the actual story in every way. Hey, I love telling stories, and I do strive to tell good ones to the best of my ability. And maybe I’m selling the story short, since I have heard from countless readers that the tale has brought them to tears. But that’s all God. I just tried to put it on the page and not screw it up too much.

Googling "Christian Harry Potter"
isn't terribly helpful.
I’ve spoken before about the reason I started writing my Christian fantasy series, The Magi Chronicles, of which Emaline’s Gift is the first book (God willing, Book 2 will come out in 2014). The origin for this one is dramatically removed from the Holy Spirit waking me up in the middle of the night with an idea! My family and I are big fans of Harry Potter and, to a lesser extent, Percy Jackson. I like Tolkienesque “high fantasy,” but I probably prefer urban or contemporary fantasy like those examples, personally. I looked to see what was available in the Christian bookstore and, while I saw plenty of high fantasy, I saw very little that was similar to what I was looking for. In fact, I saw one book. I bought it and I read it and I thought it was awful. Didn’t even read it to my kids. This was before I was really introduced to the world of Christian indie fiction, I should point out. In any case, I wanted to write in the genre I loved so much. I wanted to write a novel for fans of contemporary fantasy that would also glorify God and strengthen Christian faith. The Magi Chronicles was the result.

To be fair, she thought this guy was "waaaay too preachy."
To date, the most scathing review I’ve received for any of my books was a 2-star review of Emaline’s Gift. I sent an ebook copy to a Christian blogger who does reviews. I found out when she posted the review that there was a rare encoding problem with the file and it broke at about the 60% mark. She, um, didn’t tell me until she posted the review. She didn’t want another copy because she hated it so much. Her biggest beef? “Too preachy,” is
what she named her review.

I accept that criticism. I’m sure there will be more (and I’m sure there’ll be some negative reviews of Savvy Demon too, as it’s bound to be a polarizing book for some). I may someday weave stories where the Christian messages are a bit more subtle, a bit less explicit...or I may not. I don’t know. But my dad has complained about some books he’s gotten at the Christian bookstore and the only thing that makes them Christian is that the characters don’t swear, and maybe it’s casually mentioned that someone goes to church or offers up a prayer. My books won’t be like that. The hour’s too short, the need’s too great. I want to do what I can, and I honestly do not recommend my books if you don’t like strong Christian themes.

Inspiration for The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living felt similar, but not identical, to when I got the idea for The Book of the Harvest. The books share some themes, but are very different. Savvy Demon actually tells a lengthy story—I like to think of it as epic—that begins with a purple demon named Melchior getting drunk in a New Jersey bar. Melchior’s getting drunk because he’s bored out of his mind at work and he’s looking for a way to alleviate his boredom. He’s assigned to tempt, harass, and distract the people of Compton Baptist Church, but they make absolutely no impact in their world for Christ, so he’s got nothing to do but twiddle his purple thumbs. You can tell he’s truly wasted when he makes the decision to visit the church’s pastor and tell him exactly what he’s doing wrong. Focus shifts to the pastor, then, as he realizes
Oh, and that blogger also thought that
Every Breath You Take was "too creepy."
No pleasing some people.
that Melchior is actually right. He determines from that point on that he is going to truly follow Christ with all that he is and make the biggest impact on this world he can, and the book follows him and those he touches on their new journey. It’s a satirical novel and uses plenty of humor, sarcasm, and exaggeration in its telling. Once again, it is written to glorify God. My aim is to do that with every breath I take, every move I make, every bond I break, every step I take...oh. Sorry.

Hitting bestseller status probably means I’ll get more negative reviews. But it also means that more people will read these stories, and I have already been very blessed to see God use them for His glory. And you know what? By that measure—and I say this with all humility, because it’s really got very little to do with me—I was a successful author long before any of my books broke into the top ten lists. God knows my heart and He knows that the number one reason I write is to bring Him glory, and He has been good enough to use these simple stories to impact hearts and lives for Him. Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Stephenie Meyer probably make more money on book sales any given month than I will make in my lifetime as an author. Heck, Richard Castle and Jessica Fletcher probably have me beat too and they don’t even exist! But, while I would love to provide a comfortable living for my family as an author, I have my eyes on a higher goal. I want to hear, “Well done,
Sorry, ladies. He's just a sexy figment of your imagination.
Captain Mal Reynolds on the other hand? Totally real.
my good and faithful servant.” Somehow, I think that’ll mean more than the largest royalty check I can imagine.

For the record, when it comes to money, if you or someone you know would like a copy of one of my books but cannot afford it, please let me know. Almost every indie author I know is willing to provide “review copies,” a free book in exchange for an honest review. If you want one of my books and cannot or do not want to provide a review, that’s okay too. I can give you an ebook copy at no cost to me. If that’s not an option for you, I’ll be able to provide a paperback at some point (although you might have to wait until payday for me to order it). I recently had the opportunity to send a copy of Savvy Demon’s Guide to a reader in Romania, and he reviewed it on his blog. Shipping costs weren’t even nearly as bad as I feared they might be!

Now everyone in Romania’s going to want a free copy of my books, huh? Wikipedia lists the population at 20,121,641. That might take a few paydays, actually. Any chance some of you can share?

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