writing

Everybody Has a Story to Tell. Help Me Tell Mine.

I recently read the following: Writing a book is hard. Editing a book is even harder. Selling a book is the hardest.

I started writing Fundamorphosis: How I Left Fundamentalism But Didn’t Lose My Faith over two years ago. I had had the idea for the book for a while – telling the story of my own theological transformation. Leaving fundamentalism and starting a new church required that I reevaluate everything I believed. I needed to sift through it all, getting rid of the chaff and keeping only what truly resonated with me. Vintage Fellowship and, ultimately, Fundamorphosis is the result of that process. 
I’ve had some people ask me for more information about the book. So that you know what to expect, here’s a description of Fundamorphosis:
The first section tells about the emotional struggle of leaving fundamentalism. What would it be like to leave behind the belief system and network with which I had grown up? Why was it imperative that I find some new way of having faith?
The second section deals with what I would keep from fundamentalism and what would have to be jettisoned. It’s a section about theological method – not so much what I believe but how I believe.
The third section discusses the shape my theology now takes. It has four loci: 
  • Community – I believe that God is a community of Father, Son, and Spirit
  • Story – I believe that God is found in the narrative of Jesus revealed in the Bible
  • Transformation – I believe that God ought to make a difference in my life
  • Hope – I believe that God is up to something in my life and in the world.

I finished the manuscript in May and then spent the summer in the editing and rewriting process. That was a surprisingly difficult process through which I learned a great deal of humility. The book is better because of it. The book is now in the production and publication stage. My publisher, Civitas Press, is a small, independent Christian publisher without the market departments of the big boys. Much of the selling of the book will be up to me. 
And since that’s the hardest part, I’m now looking for help.

With than in mind, I’ve started an Indiegogo campaign to help raise money for the marketing and selling of Fundamorphosis. Indiegogo is a crowd-sourced fundraising website. You can donate securely and receive some really cool perks as a thank you. Of course, they get a small cut, but the donations go straight to me. They will enable me to do some important things to help get my story out into the ongoing conversation about the future of Christianity in America. If the Indiegogo campaign is successful, here’s some of the things I’ve got planned:

  • A full-blown website devoted to Fundamorphosis
  • A Fundamorphosis podcast in which I interview people about their own theological transformations
  • Speaking engagements to tell my story
  • A launch party to celebrate with my friends who have been such a help and encouragement to me during this whole process
So, I want to put the big ask on you: Will you help me get the word out about Fundamorphosis? I’m not going to say no for you. Please, check out the Indiegogo campaign and donate what you can. Follow this link and learn all about it:
Everybody has a story to tell. Help me tell mine. 
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I Wouldn’t Change a Word: writing with self-doubt

Two weeks ago, I put the finishing touches on the manuscript of my book, attached it to an email, and sent it off to my publisher with a profound sense of accomplishment. I smiled – internally and externally – and exuded an “I did it” kind of confidence. I have had this book idea for years and have worked on it off and on for two years. And suddenly it was done. And it felt good.
After writing, the next step in the process is editing. I joked with a couple of friends that I was hoping that the editor would read the manuscript and declare, “I wouldn’t change a word.” I joked, knowing that this wouldn’t be the case. But secretly I hoped.
I am not a writer. I am a preacher. These are different things that require different skills. I have written a few magazine articles over the years and have been edited then. But for the most part, I don’t get edited very much. I blog without an editor. I preach without an editor. I live without an editor. Editing feels to me like a strange and unwelcome intrusion into my life.
On Mother’s Day, in the evening, I got an email from my editor asking me to call him. The kids were getting ready for bed at the time, so I let Vanessa handle them while I nervously found his contact information in my phone. 
He didn’t say, “I wouldn’t change a word.”
Instead, he said things I didn’t want to hear but needed to nonetheless. He said that I write with a lot of logic and not a lot of emotion. He said that I describe situations up to the point of conflict and tension, and then I run away from the tension. He said that I don’t let the reader in to how I feel about the conflict. He said that I tend to substitute sermonizing for emotional content. He said that for us to continue, much of what I’ve written needs to be reworked to be more than data and facts. I have to describe not just what happened but how I feel about what happened.
Gulp.
So here is the task I have before me: I have to rewrite my book, improving the flow of it, better defining the conflicts, and exposing my feelings about those conflicts.
This is my conflict and tension. Would you like to know how I feel about this? Would like me to let you in?
I am scared to death. I often use humor to mask my fear. I joked with my friends about how I expected to hear “I wouldn’t change a word” because I was scared that none of the words I had chosen were right. I’ve joked about how the editing process would be humbling, mostly because I don’t really want to be humbled. I joked with my editor on the phone that when he said I don’t let people in, he sounded like my wife. He didn’t laugh. That was unsettling. And humbling. And scary.
I am scared that I won’t be able to access and express my feelings in a way that will satisfy him. I’m afraid that the process of rewriting will take me far longer than I imagine and that I will disappoint both my editor and the people expecting the book to be published this fall. I’m petrified that if it’s not the book he wants to publish, he’ll pull out, and I’ll be back to square one … and publicly humiliated to boot. 
This fear has sent me spiraling into a pretty bad funk this week. I have felt emotionally exhausted and full of self-doubt. Even though I’ve made some progress on the rewrite, I feel disheartened by the process, no longer confident that I can tell my own story adequately.
Self-doubt has been my demon this week.
But like we all have to do from time to time, I need to talk back to my self-doubt and tell myself the truth. Here is the truth of what I know. I know that my story is valuable. I know that if I tell it well, it will be a source of help, encouragement, and inspiration to many others. I know that my editor is right and I will be a better writer for heeding his counsel. And I know that if I can write with emotion, my story will be better for it.  
So tomorrow I am going back to the drawing board with renewed energy and vigor. I can’t not write this book. It has to emerge from me. I feel like I have no choice. If rewriting with emotional vulnerability is what will make it the best story possible, then that is what I will do.
Gulp.

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Is Digital Self-Publishing the Wave of the Future?

It’s not a secret that I am currently searching for a literary agent for my book Butterfly Theology. I’ve sent out a half-dozen query letters, gotten two rejections, and am now just waiting. Waiting sucks, by the way.

While I wait, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the different options that exist out there. Publishing seems like such an impenetrable fortress. I feel like I need as much information as possible.

Yesterday, I was forwarded the Wall Street Journal article below about self-publishing electronically. At first blush, self-publishing seems like the route I’d want to take only if everything else is a dead end. However, there do seem to be some advantages: not having to deal with the waiting game for agents and publishers, more editorial control, and greater earning potential. Honestly, after playing around with Al Gore’s new book/app Our Choice, I’ve been much more open to going the digital self-publishing route. This article just makes that option even more interesting.

Cheapest E-Books Upend the Charts by Jeffrey Trachtenberg

The nation’s largest book publishers are facing increasing pricing pressure on the digital front as the number of cheap, self-published digital titles gain popularity with readers seeking budget-minded entertainment.

Amazon.com Inc.’s top 50 digital best-seller list featured 15 books priced at $5 or less on Wednesday afternoon. Louisville businessman John Locke, for example, a part-time thriller writer whose signature series features a former CIA assassin, claimed seven of those titles, all priced at 99 cents.

“They’re training their customers away from brand name authors and are instead creating visibility for self-published titles,” one senior publishing executive who asked not to be identified, says of Amazon.

As digital sales surge, publishers are casting a worried eye towards the previously scorned self-published market. Unlike five years ago, when self-published writers rarely saw their works on the same shelf as the industry’s biggest names, the low cost of digital publishing, coupled with Twitter and other social-networking tools, has enabled previously unknown writers to make a splash.

The issue of pricing has been paramount since Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader in November 2007. The device exploded, driven by the wide appeal of $9.99 digital best-sellers that were available on the same day as the hardcover edition.

Initially publishers sold their e-books at wholesale prices to Amazon, which then offered the e-book at the discounted price. The country’s six largest publishers, increasingly concerned that e-book discounting would erode their traditional business, subsequently embraced the so-called agency model in which they set the retail prices of their e-books. On Wednesday, many of the Kindle best-sellers offered by these major firms cost between $11.99 and $14.99.

Amazon says its studies have shown that digital titles sold by publishers using agency pricing aren’t showing the same rate of unit growth as books that Amazon can discount. “The publishers showing the fastest growth are the ones where we set the prices,” says Russell Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president for Kindle content.

Books are facing competition from a wide array of cheap digital entertainment—from Netflix Inc.’s streaming-video service to Apple Inc.’s iTunes store—easily accessed via tablets, options that don’t exist on dedicated e-reading devices.

All of which has helped boost the sales of Mr. Locke, the self-published thriller writer. Mr. Locke, who published his first paperback two years ago at age 58, says he decided to jump into digital publishing in March 2010 after studying e-book pricing.

“When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I’m as good as them,” says Mr. Locke. “Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me.”

Mr. Locke earns 35 cents for every title he sells at 99 cents. Altogether, he says his publishing revenue amounted to $126,000 from Amazon in March alone. It costs him about $1,000 to have his book published digitally, complete with an original dust jacket image. He also hires an editor to work with him at additional expense.

In March, he sold 369,000 downloads on Amazon, up from about 75,000 in January and just 1,300 in November. His titles are also sold by digital bookstores operated by Kobo Inc., Barnes & Noble Inc., and Apple.

Mr. Locke has more than 20,000 Twitter followers, uses a blog to promote his books, and personally answers hundreds of emails each week. “It’s all about marketing, but they have to like your stuff,” he says.

Amazon pays all authors who use Kindle Direct Publishing, the retailer’s independent publishing service, a royalty rate of 35% on digital titles priced below $2.99, and 70% on e-books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.

Mr. Locke could raise his prices to $2.99, a level that would earn him $2 for each title sold. However, he says he’s not interested in such a jump. “This is the price that brought me to the dance,” he says.

Mr. Locke says he isn’t interested in doing business with New York publishing houses. “It wouldn’t be fun for me,” he says. “I don’t want to be told when to publish, I don’t want to soften my character, and I don’t want to be told what stories to write.”
He has, however, hired Jane Dystel, a literary agent, to field movie offers and deal with foreign publishers interested in releasing his books overseas. Ms. Dystel says her agency is negotiating several such deals. “This is a Wild West of a world,” she says.

Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at jeffrey.trachtenberg@wsj.com

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052748703838004576274813963609784-lMyQjAxMTAxMDAwNDEwNDQyWj.html#ixzz1LU3Z81jt

What do you think? Is digital self-publishing the wave of the future? Is the book dead? Do I really need an agent and a publisher?

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