Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Threshold of Another Year

It's New Year's Eve. Most of us, according to a recent survey, will celebrate the passing of 2013 in our homes, a few at various gatherings, some in a bar or restaurant. I've always considered tonight "amateur night," and avoided the roadways at all costs.

But however you spend it, please realize that, although you and I stand on the threshold of another year, what we're guaranteed is this minute, these sixty seconds--not another year, not another month, not even another day.

This is a lesson I learned when my wife of forty years died suddenly over fourteen years ago. After the initial shock subsided, I started each day thanking God for giving me one more day, determined to live it as though it would be my last...because one day, that will be the case.

Happy New Year. I'll see you on Friday, God willing.

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas


"Do we go to your parents' house or mine?" "Where did you put the extra string of Christmas lights?" "Which stuffing recipe are you going to use?" "What can we give him/her?" "Where is my Christmas tie?" "Why doesn't this sweater fit anymore?"

Have these become the sounds of Christmas at your house? I hope not. As the blessed day sneaks up on us, I've wondered what to say to those of you who read my random jottings from time to time. What can I say that's new and inspirational? Finally, it dawned on me...I don't have to find something new. Better to stick with something written about 2700 years ago by the prophet, Isaiah. The words bring as much hope now as they did then. May it be ever so.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned....For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Writing: "It Must Be Nice"


When someone says, “It must be nice to be a writer,” I can almost hear what they’re really thinking: “You work from home. You set your own hours. You’re a celebrity. You have a publisher standing by to print everything you write. All you have to do is knock out a few words from time to time, and for that you make a ton of money.” We’ll now pause for all the actual authors out there to stop laughing.

True, I do enjoy a few advantages that I didn’t have when I practiced medicine. I can work at home, wearing my pajamas if I want to. To a certain degree, I set my own schedule. If I encounter any life-or-death situations, they’re of my own making, and I control how they’re resolved. And a few people actually are impressed when they learn that I’m a writer. But there’s a lot that goes with it—stuff I never thought about when I started writing.

I once thought that when I completed a book, I could dust my hands and go to the next one. Nope. Not so fast. Once I turn in a completed manuscript I can look forward to at least three edits before the finished product is ready for print. Then I have to complete the author questionnaires for cover design and marketing. There’s the matter of approaching other authors for endorsements and lining up a group to be influencers when the book is actually published. And although the publisher does a good deal of marketing (some more, some less), I have to take an active part in that activity.

As for job security, most people don’t realize that, with a few notable exceptions, writers don’t have lifetime contracts. Authors know that, as in professional sports, the most important question at contract time is, “What have you done for me lately?” The same way that batting average or yards per carry are meaningful for athletes, book reviews and sales carry a great deal of weight when it comes time to pitch your next book to your publisher. And if they haven’t been good, there are other authors out there anxious to take your spot, just as Lou Gehrig was ready to play when the Yankee manager benched Wally Pipp.

How about the “fortune” part of fame and fortune? I’ll stipulate that some authors make quite a comfortable living from their writing. Stephen King and John Grisham come to mind. And it’s true that some other authors write well enough and produce enough books to earn a decent living that way. But for most of us, the old adage, “Don’t quit your day job” applies. Further, the general public fails to recognize that the advance paid by a publishing house stands for advance against royalties, and the author won’t get a penny more until the book sells enough copies to earn out the advance—if it does that. This, among other factors, is the reason many authors have turned to self-publishing (which is a subject for another day).

So am I happy to be a published author? You bet. Why? Not because of the working conditions, not because of the fame, and certainly not because of the money. I write for the same reason I’ve heard many writers cite—I can’t not write. I’m fortunate enough to have someone willing to publish my words, but whether or not that happens, I’m still going to string words and thoughts together. It fulfills me.

If that’s your motivation too, I applaud you. I hope that when people say, “You’re a writer? Must be nice,” you’re able to smile and simply reply, “Yes. It is.”

(In photo are two other writers of medical fiction: Candace Calvert and Jordyn Redwood. We've dubbed ourselves the "Medical Musketeers.")

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Celebrating The Season

I hadn't thought of the book in years, but recently I was reminded of Charles Sheldon's novel, In His Steps. It must have been when I was in my late teens or early twenties when I read this novel, one that begins with a homeless man asking the congregation of a church why they aren't taking the teachings of Jesus to heart. Their responses form the basis for the rest of the book.

About sixty years after the publication of the novel, the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement was popular. Wristbands with those letters were popular. Books were written, sermons preached. Then, like so many other initiatives, the movement lost traction.

I thought of this when I sat down to write a few checks to organizations that minister to the less fortunate. I didn't do it so I could check off a few items from a list of Christian duties. Rather, it seemed natural to do this as an appropriate way to celebrate the birth of God's greatest gift to mankind. I guess I was thinking to myself, "What would Jesus do?"

As we celebrate the season, I hope each of you takes a moment to consider the magnitude of the event whose anniversary we celebrate. The greatest gift isn't Santa, or presents, or choirs, or parties. Remember that.

Merry Christmas, all.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Writing Life: How I Got My Agent

A recent post by an acquaintance on how she felt when she was signed by an agent led me to reflect on the circumstances of my own signing. Some of you may be unfamiliar with the story, others might need some encouragement if your own road to writing isn't moving the way you'd like.

The post has been brought up to date since Chuck Sambuchino posted it back in April, 2010, and I appreciate his permission to share it with you now.

HOW I GOT MY AGENT
A FRUSTRATING START
I got my agent shortly after I quit writing. Sound unusual? Welcome to my world. I started writing fiction in 2003. At that time, writers could approach editors without going through an agent, so access wasn’t a problem. The problem was that no publisher was interested in my novels. Finally, one editor told me that, if I’d revise two of my books with the help of an independent editor he recommended, I’d probably get a multi-book contract. Shortly after that, I approached an agent with this news, and she agreed to take me on. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. I spent a ton of money with the independent editor. Then the editor told me the publisher had decided my work still wasn’t good enough for them. My agent concluded that there didn’t seem to be a market for what I was writing. It’s an understatement to say we were both frustrated.
I kept at it, but after about forty rejections, including a time when I tried to write in different genres (including a cozy mystery), I decided to give up. The agent and I parted amiably, and I put aside my pen (figuratively at least). I was through writing.
A SECOND CHANCE
I’d met Rachelle Gardner at one of my first writers’ conferences, when she was an editor. Later, I reconnected with her through her blog, and continued to follow her even after I gave up writing. Rachelle was now an agent, and she ran a contest offering a critique of the first 20 pages of a novel to the person coming up with the best first line. On a whim, I dashed off an entry. Doggoned if I didn’t win with the line: “Everything was going along fine until the miracle fouled things up.” (By the way, the first chapter of that unfinished work is still on my hard drive).
Having nothing fresh to send for critique, I sent Rachelle the first chapter of my latest book–the one that had been turned down more times than a Holiday Inn bedspread. Rachelle’s response was: “Send me something that needs editing.” I didn’t know what to think. Someone in the industry actually thought my writing was pretty good. Maybe I should give it another try. With a great deal of trepidation, I sent off an e-mail query asking Rachelle to consider representation. I anticipated the usual slow process, hoping to get back a request for a proposal, then a partial, maybe a full manuscript. Instead, I got a return e-mail: “Of course I’ll represent you.” I’m not sure my heart has stopped racing even now.

A NICE ENDING
Rachelle made some excellent suggestions for improving my novel, and working together we produced something she thought she could sell. At the ICRS meeting, she pitched the proposal to Barbara Scott, who was starting the Christian fiction line at Abingdon Press. Barbara asked for Rachelle’s hard copy of the proposal to read on the plane. Shortly after she arrived home Barbara called to ask for the full manuscript. Eventually she bought the book.
Now the happy ending. Code Blue was published in 2010. Even better, Abingdon published three more novels after that, and now I’m under contract with Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing. My seventh novel of medical suspense, Critical Condition, will be released on April 15, 2014.
You know how there are times when you hunt and hunt for something, only to find it after you give up? Well, that’s what happened to me in my quest for an agent and publication. It’s nice to be good. It’s even better to be lucky. It's best to depend on God's timing. I think that's what happened here.

Announcement: Congratulations to Connie Brown, whose entry was picked by Rafflecopter as the winner of my Holiday Giveaway. An email is on its way to Connie right now, and I'll be sending her a signed copy of Heart Failure. If you aren't a subscriber to my newsletter, I'd encourage you to use the link in the right margin to sign up for it. My next surprise for subscribers will be a sneak peek at my next novel, Critical Condition.


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Christmas:Sometimes It's Tough

Thanksgiving is over, and all of a sudden Christmas is just a few days away! I had intended to devote this blog post to some of our own Christmas preparations, but the recent death of a dear friend combined with the unexpected passing of an author friend, made me realize that perhaps there are others out there who would benefit from reading this short article that I originally wrote for our hometown newspaper after the death of my first wife.

 THE FIRST CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THEM

    After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year.

    After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.

    Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season.

    The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.

    For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Take a name from an Angel Tree at one of the malls and shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.

    When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and WalMart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even when you celebrate it alone, this is the true meaning of Christmas.


If you have a friend who has suffered the recent loss of a spouse or loved one, I'll suggest the book I wrote after Cynthia's death. The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse was published over seven years ago, and continues to minister to thousands who have suffered the same loss as I did. And if you'd like to personalize it for your friend, drop me an email using the tab in the right margin, include your address, and I'll send a signed bookplate to put inside it.

Meanwhile, as we approach this season, let's not forget the greatest gift of all, one that God provided for us, not wrapped with a bow but rather clad in human flesh. 
  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving is coming up. The day means different things to different people. To some people, it means turkey, dressing, and Mom's sweet potato casserole. For others it's a day spent in front of the TV set watching football. To many, it's a day to be with family.

Unfortunately, for some it's another day of wondering where they'll sleep, what they'll eat, how they'll stay warm and dry. We are blessed people. Give thanks, but also plan to do something for someone less fortunate. Pay it forward. You'll be glad you did.

May I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving. I'll be back next week with my usual blog post.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What Sells Books: The Responses

Last week I posted a link to a simple survey that asked respondents to indicate what factor(s) influenced them to buy a particular book. After three days and a representative number of votes, here's what you told me.

Past experience with an author's books was the most important factor in your decision to buy another book by that author. This was followed closely by the recommendation of a friend. The author's blog was important about half the time. Book reviews on Goodreads and the author's Facebook posts were helpful to about a third of you. And Twitter and Pinterest posts got the vote of 1% of the respondents.

So, this tells me that: 1) I have to write the best books I can, 2) I need to encourage my fans to recommend my books (assuming they like them), and 3) I should keep blogging...at least, for now.

I'll remind those of you who received my last newsletter of a contest described in that issue, ending next week. One of the entrants will be randomly selected to receive a signed copy of my latest novel, Heart Failure. If you haven't entered, dig that newsletter out of your trash folder, click the link, and enter now.

One last reminder that if you'd like to give a personalized copy of one of my novels as a Christmas gift, you can email me (see the link in the right margin) with your name, the name of the recipient, and your snail mail address. Put the name of the book you're giving in the subject line. I'll send a signed bookplate that you can put inside the book.

Back tomorrow with my a pre-Thanksgiving message.

(picture via freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Writing: What Sells Books?

Every once in a while, like my colleagues, I get discouraged by the amount of time required for social media interaction by an author. I keep wondering how many things really count with readers. So now it's your turn. Here's a link to a quick survey--just one question, click every button that seems applicable to you. I won't even ask you to rank the factors, but if you have specific comments, please do leave them here.

I'll post the answers to the survey next week on this blog. Thanks for your help.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Dark Clouds of Getting Older

Kay and I attended a 155th Birthday Party over the weekend. I repeat, a 155th Birthday Party. My good friend and golf partner, Jerry, will be 80 soon, and his wife, Janie, will be 75. They decided that, rather than ignoring the occasion, they'd celebrate it. And, along with a bunch of their friends, that's exactly what they did.

I don't like the idea of getting old. None of us do. Nevertheless, I am doing just that--along with everyone else. It happens. But, as I'm fond of saying when people ask how I'm doing, "I'm able to dress myself and take nourishment." There are some folks who can't make that statement. So I feel blessed.

What's your take on getting older? Are you young enough that you don't worry about it? Is there a "magic age" when you think you might begin to be concerned? Are you at the stage where you consider every new day a blessing? Have you even thought about it? Well, now maybe you will. Let me know.

Blatant Commercial: If you're stumped for a Christmas gift, consider a book, personalized to the recipient. If you want a signed bookplate to insert in any of my books, send me an email at Dr R L Mabry at yahoo dot com with the name of one of my books in the subject line (to avoid the spam filter. Include your snail mail address, the name of the person receiving the book(s) and how many bookplates you need. My books (and those of many other authors) are available from your favorite major online and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Writing: Book Signings

Every author must face the question of book signings--should we strive to schedule them, avoid them like the plague, ignore them? We can get all kinds of advice from fellow authors, but rarely do we hear from the bookstore staff about these events. I've asked my friend, Ben Zajdel, to speak from his experience working in bookstores for eight years.
Here's a surprising observation: book signings aren't about selling books. Having worked in bookstores for years, I've found that signings are about marketing. They’re about developing relationships with your readers and especially the bookstore employees. It’s important not to judge the event based on the amount of books sold, but on the depth of the relationships forged during it.

With that in mind, here are some ways you can make your book signing successful:

Be prepared. Whether it’s your personal assistant, agent, or yourself doing the planning, schedule the signing at least a month in advance, if not two. Check with the bookstore periodically to make sure they have ordered books for the signing. Let them know how to reach you if they have any questions. Bring your own copies in case there is some sort of shipping error or other mistake.

Don’t sign books unless you’re asked to do so. I’ve heard some authors advise others to sign as many books as possible so that bookstores aren’t able to return those books to the publisher. Not only is this tantamount to vandalism, it’s also not true. I’ve often returned signed books to publishers with no problem. Whenever an author has signed multiple books without asking, all it did was sour my relationship with the author.

Be friendly and engaging with the staff. Treat bookstore employees as partners. Employees are often asked by shoppers for recommendations, so make sure your book is one that gets mentioned. Explain to the employees the unique selling points of your book, which authors are similar, and who your intended audience is. If you’re polite, informative, and friendly, it can go a long way to selling your books.

Don’t just sit there. The most successful signings I’ve seen have been with authors who got up and talked with shoppers. You don’t have to be pushy, but just let them know about your book and why they might be interested in buying it. This is the perfect time for your elevator speech, a short description of your book and why it’s special. If your book isn’t for them, just thank them for listening and let them shop around.

Bring candy. I know it sounds simple and childish, but having a bowl of chocolate at your signing table at least gives people an incentive to wander over and see what you’re all about. Offer some to the bookstore employees, and you’ll win them over, too.

Bottom line: Book signings aren’t meant to sell books. They are essentially guerrilla marketing. They give your readers a chance to interact with you in person rather than on paper. They help you develop relationships with bookstore employees, who can become some of your best sales partners. If you approach them as a chance to deepen relationships, it can always be a success.

Ben Zajdel is the author of Leaving Darkness, a novel about love, violence, and redemption.
Using his experience, Ben focuses on helping authors develop relationships with local bookstores and explaining how those relationships can help improve authors' sales.
He is also the host of the Studio 29 Podcast, where he interviews interesting people from all walks of life.
Ben graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a degree in Historical Studies. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, two kids, and a lazy dog named Willie. You can keep up with him at his website or on Twitter @benzajdel.

Thanks, Ben. Folks, do you agree with what's been said? Anything to add from your experience from either side of the table? 
Important Announcements: Let me remind my readers once more that subscribers to my newsletter will be able to enter a contest to win a signed copy of any one of my novels, to give as a Christmas present or for their own use. If you've not already signed up to receive the newsletter, please go here to do so before it goes out on November 17.

There's another chance to win a copy of Heart Failure at the blog of Sue Harrison. I urge you to go there and leave a comment.

Later today, author David Kentner in the UK will post an interview with me on his blog. Hope you'll drop by.

And finally, I'm honored that Romantic Times Book Reviews has nominated my novel, Stress Test, for the Reader's Choice Award in inspirational mystery/suspense. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Special Announcement!

Today, Romantic Times Book Reviews released the names of the nominees (finalists) for their various Book of the Year novels. In the Inspirational Mystery/Thriller category, my novel, Stress Test was nominated alongside four excellent books by talented novelists. Congratulations to my co-nominees. I'm honored to be included.

You may now resume your regular midweek activities. But before I sign off, as I pointed out in my previous post, if you're not a subscriber to my newsletter, I'd encourage you to go to the right margin, scroll down, and sign up. You need to do this by this coming Saturday so you get the issue that gives you details on how to win a signed copy of any novel of mine you choose. In addition, signed bookplates are yours for the asking.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Holiday Contest Coming

Recently a man asked me to sign and personalize one of my novels which he'd purchased as a Christmas gift. That gave me an idea. I'm always looking for unusual Christmas gifts. Why not books? And if I have that thought, I suspect others will as well.

So, I've decided to run a "before-the-holiday giveaway." Like my last contest, this one will only be for subscribers to my newsletter, so if you aren't already on the list, go to this link and sign up. The newsletter will go out on November 17, and the contest starts the next day, ending on December 9. There are three simple ways to enter. The winner will receive a signed copy of any book I've written, personalized to them or to whomever they choose.

But, as the late night infomercials say, there's more. Even if you don't win, you can still give a personalized copy of one or more of my books as a gift. All my novels are available via your favorite online bookseller or independent dealer. Once you've bought one (or more--there are a total of six available) just send me an email at this address -- Dr R L Mabry at yahoo dot com --
 with "bookplate request" in the subject line (to avoid my spam filter). Give me your mailing address, the name of the book(s) you have, how many signed bookplates you need, plus the name of the recipient if it's for a gift. I'll be happy to oblige. I can include locations in the US in this offer, but have to draw the line there because of postage costs.

That's it. Nothing to it. If you're already a newsletter subscriber, just watch your inbox. If not, sign up. And if you're not sure, try signing up--they'll tell you if you're on the list already.

Any questions?




Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

Today is Veterans Day, a holiday once celebrated as Armistice Day, the anniversary of declaration of a cease-fire on the Western Front in World War I. Now it's a day set aside to honor those who have served or are currently serving our nation in the uniformed services.

I'm proud to say that I am a veteran, having served three years in the US Air Force. I salute my fellow veterans, and give special thanks to those currently serving. Sometimes that sacrifice seems so little. Sometimes it's the ultimate sacrifice.

Today I'm going to do three things:
1) Fly the American flag
2) Thank a serviceman for his or her service
3) Pray for our nation

I hope you'll do the same. God bless America.

(photo via Photobucket)

Friday, November 08, 2013

Writing: Publishing Is Not For Sissies (Guest Post by Daisy Hutton)

Some time ago, I asked Brandilyn Collins to detail the thought process she went through in deciding to publish some of her books in the "indie" market, rather than with a "traditional"publisher. Brandilyn was careful to indicate that this is a matter of choice for each author. 

Today I've asked the publisher of Harper Collins Christian Fiction, Daisy Hutton, to present her view of publishing in the modern marketplace. 

Publishing these days is not for sissies. It never has been, but for the past three years, publishing has felt like the Wild West.  The revolution in on-line selling and digital reading has created unprecedented opportunity for both authors and publishers to engage directly with readers, and the will of the reader has been unleashed. Authors now have more choices than ever before in how they go about reaching their audience with their stories.

We’re all familiar with the current conversation around self-publishing. We’ve been in the midst of a heady moment. The walls have come tumbling down and the possibilities have felt limitless for both authors and readers, and smart publishers have tried to respond in kind with behavior, policies, and practices that are more author-centric. There is no question that the revolution in self-publishing has not only opened alternative publishing routes for authors; it has also made traditional publishers more author-friendly places to publish.

Alongside of this moment of incredible opportunity for authors, publishers, and readers alike, immense challenges have also emerged. The great question now in publishing is this: how do stories and readers find each other in our new world? Authors, publishers, and retailers are spending a great deal of time, energy, and money trying to get their books read amidst the plethora of self-published content that has flooded the marketplace. Self-publishing has tended to be most successful for authors who have an already established brand-awareness; success through self-publishing has tended to be more elusive for emerging authors who are still finding their audience amidst the tidal wave of inexpensive and readily available content that is available to readers.

Protecting the value of carefully curated, beautifully crafted, and expertly packaged content has never been more critical than at this moment. We can talk about any number of practical reasons why an author would chose to publish with a traditional house – broader distribution, marketing support, editorial and design expertise, expert pricing analytics and consumer analysis. But in my mind, the real reason that traditional publishers are still relevant today is because of the value they place on helping make each piece of content they publish as beautiful, as meaningful, and as powerful as it can possibly be. And such a value is particularly important to publishers and authors who are publishing and writing from a perspective of faith, where we aspire towards content that is genuinely transformative. This is the reason that I get out of bed each day to do my job- because I still believe that stories can change people’s lives and because I want to be a part of helping our authors make their stories as powerful and persuasive as they can be.

Thanks, Daisy. I'm sure readers of this blog will want to voice their opinions on this matter. I agree with Daisy about the value of seeking traditional publication. There are definitely things the "trad" publisher brings to the table. I also agree with Daisy's statement that authors with established brand-awareness do best in the self-publication market. Now let's hear what you have to say.

I look forward to reading your comments. Thanks for dropping by. 

(And come back Tuesday for news of a special offer--hint: if you don't already subscribe to my newsletter, you may wish to go to the margin at the right and sign up now).