With the unfortunate demise of my publisher, Misanthrope Press, I have found myself dropped into the world of self-publishing in order to keep my book ShadowLight available. As an author … I hate it. I would much rather write and have someone else worry about selling, publicizing, and all of the other “stuff” that goes along with it. But, here I am regardless.
So to help with this transition, I picked up a copy of Shelley Hitz’s ebook , Marketing Your Book on Amazon for two reasons. First: I’ve been following her online for sometime and find her advice to authors is amazingly helpful. Second: judging from the title, it seemed like a good book to learn about marketing my book on Amazon.
A quick read through showed me that this is truly the case. Shelley walks the reader through everything from the anatomy of an Amazon page to all the behind the scenes things that go on through the marketplace giant.
One of the best things I learned from this book is about finding reviews. Thus, to return the favor, I’m writing a review about writing reviews. It has been frustrating for me to receive great feedback on my book from people, but to see two reviews on my Amazon page. I’ve had people recommend Shadowlight to others and I just want to be able to ask them, “Can you pleeeeeease put that on Amazon?”
To me, a book sales page looked a bit “naked” without any customer reviews (Hitz, 2012, loc 991)
She is so right. So I’m going to follow her advice
- Ask – if you have read ShadowLight and enjoyed it, would you please go to my page and leave some review type feedback for me? Just tell other what you felt about the book. I particularly enjoyed one reader who just simply posted to has Facebook page that ShadowLight was a “d##m good book.”
- Give Away Free Copies – with ShadowLight being back in my control now, we might just see some giveaways soon
- Contact Amazon’s Top Reviewers – I didn’t even know I could do this
- Start an E-mail List of Readers – check
- Ask Book Bloggers to Review – oooohhhh
Well, here goes nothing
Thanks to all my faithful readers… and hang on … the sequel is still coming.
I remember when I was learning stage fighting, holding my gigantic sword for excruciatingly long times before I would start a wild lopping, chop that a three-year old could have parried. During our practices, the fencing club at Ohio State would watch us and laugh. I didn’t blame them. To a fencer, who fights tight and fast, stage fighting looks ridiculous. As Inara (Morena Baccarin) so beautifully elucidated on Firefly, “It takes less than a pound of pressure to cut skin.”
I’ve been feeling the same about theology lately. With all the controversy over the Chick-fil-a press flooding, there have been so many amateur theologians running around spouting their “great” understanding about the Bible and all of its mysteries.
Having now studied the Bible, teaching it, studying it some more, parsing Greek and Hebrew, I can’t say that I have it all figured out. But I’d like to think that I have at least a bigger picture than someone who is repeating the latest argument that some guy put on a picture on Facebook.
For some reason now, everyone now seems to be able to quote from Leviticus. There are all sorts of goodies in there, from slavery to personal hygiene to dietary laws. I can see why they pick on it. It’s like reading the beginning of Les Miserables and showing what a jerk Valjean is. I mean, this guy stole from a priest! What a hoser! Who writes this crap? But no one – I hope – closes Hugo’s massive book there and says, “The end.” They read onward and see how this even changes his life.
What can’t these Bible critics do the same with the Bible and read Leviticus in context?
Leviticus follows Exodus, the book in which God takes an million and a half people (est) who have grown up in Egyptian slavery and moves them to another country – no small undertaking. As a professor of mine once said, “It took God a day to get the Israelites out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites.” The captive Israelites were living contrary to the God’s established order and had picked up some nasty habits from their pantheistic brothers and sisters. Think of how hard it is to break a habit. The Israelites had lived in a culture that espoused religion and family values contrary to the ones God had created. It’s no wonder there needed to be so many rules. Israel had just entered the most intensive 12-step program ever.
Let’s run with that analogy – picture a 12-step program – “whatever” anonymous. These programs are intense when they first start because people are working at reversing their ingrained habits. After a while, the test of the success of the program is to see if the individual can live outside of the controlled environment. In the New Testament, the council of Jerusalem set aside the Levitical laws – including circumcision – with the exception of abstaining from sexual immorality, food sacrificed to idols, eating the meat of strangled animals, and drinking blood (Acts 15).
Yet this is still not sufficient for Christian living. Please read this thought in its entirety. All those laws had one goal – to teach the people to love God with everything they had, and to love their neighbor as themselves. This is the law that Christ fulfilled in the New Testament. Following all the laws and rules of the Bible does not make one a Christian, otherwise Christ would not have needed to come. Following Jesus, understanding the God that authored the Bible and seeing His story – His metanarrative about the creation, fall, redemption, and perfection of humankind is the only way to process the Bible, otherwise we fall back into blind legalism.
I don’t know how many – if any will read this. But I wanted to respond to all the jabs that are thrown in the mess that creation has become. If you want to quote from the Bible, please read it first. Explore it – ask questions of God while you do. I would encourage you to start in the Gospel of John and just see what happens.
Most of us have read “Footprints in the Sand.” If not, take a moment and do so here. It’s sweet and meaningful.
I looked back at my footprints after a week-long intensive counseling class at Liberty University. There is one steady path and one that looks like someone was chased by a bee. The second set was mine.
In 2002, I completed my bachelor’s degree in Theology and Pastoral Ministries while youth pastoring and working in my college IT Office (Starcraft and Mountain Dew!!!). I received my credentials from the Assemblies of God – despite “failing” the personality test. I did great on my theology section, but apparently INFJ / INFP’s do not make good pastors – they do, however, make good writers and counselors.
My footprints curved again. After fighting a long and expensive illness – what turned out to be a fairly serious case of histoplasmosis – I moved back to Ohio and found work in logistics, technology, and audio video. That job was not a good fit.
In 2006 I quit and pursued a calling to be a teacher – despite having tried for years to teach and reaching only dead ends because I didn’t have experience. I determined that I was going to substitute teach as long as it took – sending footprints off towards the ocean.
It took a week.
Gahanna Christian hired me on as an IT teacher. Since then, I have taught IT, Bible, career planning, apologetics and worldviews, and soon-to-be Survey of College Math.
I went back to school for theology at Asbury Seminary and could not complete my degree due to logistics of the program. My footprints stopped abruptly on something sharp. I transferred to Liberty University online – and found I hated upper level theology. I love God – don’t get me wrong – I just found that there are too many hurting people in the world who really don’t care if a Greek preposition might mean “for” or “to”.
I was sitting in a teacher-in-service about ADHD students, drinking my coffee, reading a book, texting my wife, and checking stuff on the web (yes, while listening to the instructor) and realized I understand those issues well. It hit me that I wanted to be a counselor. I transferred programs and am now working on a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.
So now, here I am – about a year from completion – degree imminent, with little hardcore counseling experience, a background in IT, theology, counseling, and education. I have a heart for marriages and families – I want to see them succeed, give them hope and the skills they need to thrive. I want to work with families with ADHD children and let them know things are okay – they can work through problems.
Those are my footprints. I don’t know where they lead next. God does. He’s still walking with me. I think of the Biblical example of Joseph – a hot-headed dreamer who had to walk a long path to get to where God needed him to be. It wasn’t the goal that defined Joseph; it was his path. If God had delivered him straight to Pharaoh, then Joseph would have missed out on the character building God had for him.
Time to take another step – I just don’t know which direction to go.
The cliche “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” certainly has been stretched lately. Twitter seems to have no shortage of these moments. Young Adult lit is under constant fire (I will attempt to address that tomorrow). The book “Go the ____ (expletive) to sleep” is being discussed. And one certainly cannot miss the latest saga in the “Harry Potter has made me rich” threads.
Now – personally – I think young adult lit has some positive and negatives. I do not believe in using profanity in my writing and would never consider reading that book to my son. And quite frankly the whole Harry Potter line bores me – I read the first book and found it to be dull at best.
So – I don’t buy those books.
I know! It’s a ridiculously simple solution and it probably isn’t controversial enough to garner any followers. But here’s my take on it. If I demonize them – as many people I know do, it makes them more popular. The succes de scandale approach just gains momentum, polarizes people, and gets nothing accomplished.
What do we do then?
Put your money where your values are. I see very few movies in theaters. As one who is hard of hearing, I find them to be frustrating venues (as one who is short of money, I find them expensive). But when a movie seems particularly good – such as The Chronicles of Narnia series – I make a point to support them. We need to spend less time fighting what is controversial and more time supporting what is good. As a Biblical example, there’s a reason Paul tells his young pastor “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Tim 2:23).
So – as a matter of shameless self-promotion – if you don’t like swearing and sex in young adult lit, if you want something that shows Biblical values in an exciting urban fantasy – complete with supernatural swashbuckling – try to find someone who writes such a monster and would love to have your support. (Hint: it’s called ShadowLight).
But if that’s not your thing, don’t buy it. That’s the brilliance of having so many books from which to choose.
Life isn’t always perfect. With all due respect to Ed Harris’s character in Apollo 11 … failure is always an option.
As a central Ohioan and a former Ohio State student (albeit for only a year), I am a die hard Buckeye fan … particularly when it comes to football. I did say die hard – not die impossible. The last several years have been marked by notable problems on and off the field. On it, they playing has been adequate, led by a man who can throw and run with the best of them, but who fails miserably when it comes to leading that team. He has left the field early on more than one occasion and can often be seen seen sitting by himself rather than cheering on his teammates. Now I’m not a Terrelle Pryor “hater” (as I have often been accused), but I do believe that his quarterback skills leave much to be desired.
This has recently been displayed in the news as a series of NCAA violations, a 5 game suspension of many major players, and the resignation of Coach Jim Tressel have unfolded. What OSU needed during this dark time was a leader – someone who would take command, own the mistakes, and push forward, rallying the troops along the way. What they received was someone who ran away.
I’m not here to debate these events or the merits thereof. I simply want to draw a parallel for my writing friends. We have to allow our characters to fail. If there’s no failure, there’s no story – nothing at stake. But here are some hints to failing well.
1) Failure reaches far: grace is often too cheap in literature. Just as Pryor’s (and the other players) failing affected many other people – coaches, players, and the university, our characters failures can affect more than just themselves.
2) Failure hurts deep: While they are great entertainment, the days of the impervious hero are far gone. Failures hurt. Ask yourself how you would react to your characters failures. One of the greatest examples I have seen is one from the Bible. In the book of Acts, the first Christian martyr is a man named Stephen who is stoned to death at the approval of a young zealous religious ruler named Saul. Saul later converts to Christianity and is known by the name Paul, but one can only imagine that his warnings against having zeal without knowledge is directed towards a younger him.
3) Failure demands action: people react to their failure. They face it and become stronger or they run from it and it pursues them. Don’t let a character fail just to fail. Let it drive them. Paul wrote to the Romans: “We rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope (Romans 5:3-5).
Take stock of your characters. Let them fail – and fail big.
Those who have arrived here from Twitter have no doubt seen the flood of responses at Meghan Cox Gordon’s controversial editorial rant in the Wall Street Journal. If you have not read it for yourself, please do so here before proceeding.
All done? Thoughts? Opinions? There’s a lot of them floating around
Ms. Gordon’s multipronged attack is enough to send any reader’s head spinning. Censorship. Freedom. Social issues.
My thought as a teacher, writer, and parent is that this is an indictment against bad – or lacking – parenting skills. I have seen over and over again that my students who read are my best ones. I do the entrance testing for my school and EVERY time a student has brought a book to the test, that student does well.
The question stands, what should students read? My answer is anything a parent reads. There’s a balance that needs to take place – certainly children do not need to see violence and horror glorified, but neither do they need to think that the world is rainbows and butterflies. The root of the problems address in Ms. Gordon’s article is that we have set up a youth subculture that is totally removed from any guiding principles. There are those who attempt to guide – school boards, librarians, and book sellers (by the way, capitalism is still alive and well - if people quit purchasing objectionable literature, then authors will quit making it)
So do parents need to read everything a teenager does? That’s up to the parents. If they trust in their own skills and can keep open dialogue, teens can be trusted to make good decisions. When a parent needs helps, I highly recommend some of the following resources:
Don’t forget to find writers that you can trust to agree with your beliefs as well. On my spirituality page, I share some of my worldview so that my readers know what to expect.
And … if you want a book that shows some of the dark side of humanity in conjunction with the brightness of love and sacrifice, then may I suggesting taking a trip through my novel, ShadowLight.
Today I had the honor of delivering the benediction and sending 32 seniors from Gahanna Christian Academy on their way. In trying to find the right words, I borrowed some from St. Francis of Assisi.
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
I may have claimed that St. Francis was a classmate of mine. The rest of the jokes I held to myself. He was a huge football fan – always rooted for New Orleans. He had a dog – big old one with a barrel on his collar. We called him the St. Bernard of Assisi. The man loved all you can eat pizza – wasn’t uncommon to find St. Francis of a Cici’s.
You might think that I’m digressing from the topic of my post … I am.
In the Bible, Jesus gives a commission to His followers – to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). It takes some time and preparation for the disciples to embark on this quest. When they begin in Acts 1, they are surrounded by 120 men and women ready to see them succeed.
For you writers out there, remember that characters do not exist in a vacuum. They have siblings, parents, and friends … usually. My earlier writings suffered from a lack of this knowledge. Nearly every character had deceased parents – my own parents wondered if I suffered some repressed anger. Nonsesnse … mostly.
How do other ancillary characters react to your main character’s journey. Happy? Sad? Both? As an infinitely wise man (*cough* my boss) said today, “every mother bird has to kick her baby out of the nest … some just kick a little harder.” Setting the journey against this backdrop will emphasize the hero’s journey and help the reader identify with him more.
In ShadowLight, the main character, Jonah, must take on a call to fight back a vindictive warlord, Angel. In trying to do that right thing, he puts his brother in harm’s way.
This is a great lesson to learn. I hope that my earlier-mentioned friend would be impressed. I remember him before he did all that great stuff … back when he was just St. Frank of Assisi.
Last Saturday, the half of the Creative Minds Collective not at MARCon, gathered at Java‘s Cafe in Gahanna in the name of discussing our writing craft
We discussed the Bones series finale (sucked hard boiled eggs through a twisty straw), books we’ve read (previewing a novel for a Tweep), and … oh yeah … some writing stuff too. We talked about “proper critiques.” One of our visitors mentioned that reviewers of her work often gave her the cursory “that’s nice” critique – a word that is as useful as a paper mache jock strap. The converse, which I have had the joy of receiving, is basically the critique that say “you suck, stop writing, and focus on breathing so you don’t accidentally stop.”
The internet is full of good critique advice, but I wanted to focus on one aspect of it – using the truth to help and not to harm. I have partially blame this phenomena on the like of Simon Cowell -a man who has perfected the snide insult. This is great entertainment for millions of viewers and usually hurts only one. It’s a fair trade from anyone’s perspective – except the recipient.
In the Bible, Paul writes a letter to the believers in Ephesus and states they are to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Its a great reminder that we must do both aspects. We cannot blow proverbial smoke and give cursory “that’s nice” remarks. If something needs attention, call it out. Give constructive feed back .. “If you fix this…” or “I think I’m misunderstanding this.” Truth is important. However, love is important as well. Offer hope whenever you can. Give praise where it is due. Every writer – or every artist – has things that he or she does well – and things that need attention. Fair and honest reviews help this.
And in retrospect, I should probably change the “Bones” review I mentioned at the outset to “great surprise ending … but the plot seemed to drag after the previous episode’s excitement.” That would have been nice.
Probably the worst thing anyone has said about “ShadowLight” is that they didn’t expect the ending. Now, I don’t want to give away the ending, but a huge theme of the novel is “sacrifice.”
Sacrifice: To forfeit (one thing) for another thing considered to be of greater value.
Our lives are marked by sacrifice. Students sacrifice their time for a better education. Parents sacrifice money, effort, sleep, time, comfort, etc. for their children. And, on this Memorial Day, we honor those who sacrificed their lives for a greater freedom. While I cannot serve in our military, I appreciate those who do. And I honor them the best way I know how – with my words.Two soldiers have touched my lives, amongst the myriad who have served and died – many of which I will never know their names.
John Landis Morgan, Jr. 1926-2010
The first is an old man – the son of a preacher who joined the U.S. Navy, fought and survived through WWII, came home married and had a family. He worked for Rockwell International. And most importantly, he’s my grandfather.
He loved us kids every day. He teased us without mercy. He stuck out his false teeth to make us smile. He called us little girls. We will never forget the endless string of Camptown Ladies couplets – most of which are not fit to print. And I will forever know why everyone calls me Matthew … because that’s my name. Oh and I almost forgot – he also taught me that the belly button is the screw that holds my butt on.
Grandpa lived to see his three children grow. He got to meet his seven grandchildren. And he met four great-grandchidren. He never had the chance to see my son born – but he knew that he was on the way. We found out my grandfather passed away from a stroke just a few days before we found out we were having a boy. We named our son “Michael Landis” – the middle name an homage to his grandfather.
Grandpa’s life affected me profoundly and I will always be grateful to him.
Marine Cpl. Jacob A. Tate, 1990-1/2/2011
The second soldier that affected my life is a former student. Marine Cpl. Jacob Tate. He was just Jacob when I had him as a junior and senior in high school … though I more often than not referred to him as “darnit Jacob.” He was a wild child and could always be found making mischief wherever he went. But that was who he was. He knew it and embraced it. He married his teenage sweetheart and fathered a son. He served his country bravely and died during operations in Afghanistan.
Jacob’s funeral affected me far greater than I expected. As a teacher, we are not supposed to go to student’s funerals – it should be the other way. But as a new father, I couldn’t imagine the loss his parents felt. The worst feeling was when I saw his son and realized all of what Jacob and Jax would miss out on. Jacob and his family sacrificed much.
I remember coming home from the funeral and hugging Michael, knowing that I should never take that for granted. None of us should.
On this memorial day, let us say thank you to Jacob, Grandpa, and countless others who have sacrificed much for our good. Thank you all.
Don’t Press the Button: it seems to be a fitting lesson for my first blog. Having spent the last 3 days trying to redo my website from scratch following a complete and total catastrophic destruction of the old one. I blame it on someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing playing around with the various buttons in the cpanel. He pressed the wrong one, rewrote the site, and whoop – there it went.
So – I began my quest to rebuild. With an appreciation of ease and flexibility, I explored the world of WordPress and found it to get some favorable reviews. And the best part is that my webhost, Hostgator, has a button that I can press that automates the install.
Oh crap. Another button.
It’s always scary to repeat the same situation in which one has failed. I thought of the Biblical example of Caleb in Joshua 14. He had failed to lead the Israelites into the promised land 45 years earlier. Now, having lost an entire generation in the wilderness, he’s faced with the same challenge. He’s just as ready to undertake the challenge – and is successful.
After arguing with myself on the merits of pressing another button, I took the plunge. A few seconds later, the installation was complete and I was up and rolling. The process was simple and painless – and quite intuitive (read: I didn’t have to read the instructions). I’m sure there’s still more I can learn, but for now, it’s nice to have a functional site. Feel free to cruise around it and tell me what you think. Just … try not to press any buttons.
Hmm.. I wonder what this button does.
Postscript Note: I have to give mad kudos to the tech support at Hostgator – they were fast, friendly, and not at all condescending (to my face) about the problems. I’ve been quite impressed by them.