Giving away free copies, tribes and sovereignty

On Sunday I listened to some amazing podcasts about the music industry and how it had to morph and change in light of Napster and the digital sharing age. I’d recommend you listen to it, seeking parallels in the publishing industry. You can access them here: http://www.onthemedia.org/ Of particular interest was this podcast about musician Amanda Palmer: http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2010/03/12/05 She typifies the savvy marketer in today’s crazy world. She is creating a following, something Seth Godin calls a tribe.

I tend to gravitate toward the idea of tribes, of creating a unique community. That takes time, but what happens is that you gain fans gathered around a cause, folks who are zealous to promote your books for you. To me, it typifies this verse: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (see Proverbs 27:2).

Giving things away free, in light of creating a tribe, then, makes sense. You are offering a bit of yourself, your heart, for a potential tribe member.

Another strategy to consider is this: the kingdom of God. I love what Randy Alcorn says. He gives away his books as God leads. He keeps several with him when he travels, giving books away to clerks, hotel employees, cab drivers, housekeepers. He sees it as his way of expanding God’s message to a hurting world.

In light of all that, I’ve navigated “free” by praying, asking God to situationally guide me as I give away books. Sometimes He says not to do it. Sometimes He prompts me to give sacrificially. I am learning to let the pieces rest in His sovereign hands.

Aside: My novel, Daisy Chain (like several other authors on this loop) was offered free on the Kindle store last month. The result is hard to measure, though I have seen a spike in actual book sales. The negative is that folks who get the book for free aren’t thinking as they read it that it will have a Christian worldview, so I got some pretty awful, mean-spirited reviews out of the deal. But, on the whole, I think the experiment did give me exposure to a wider audience. I’ve had correspondence with new fans who found me that way.

In this marketing world, I tend to think in terms of one little decision at a time, and that those little decisions, though they take forever, add up to something bigger over time. The key is to continue to be faithful in little things, not get discouraged, hold everything loosely, and rest in God’s sovereignty.

How to Deepen Your Stories

May this piece be a blessing to those of you who want to deepen your stories:

While I prefer to have a life like a maple tree in spring—full of promise, growth, and branches that reach for the sky in greening prayer—I realize I’m a better writer when I’m an autumn oak, bereft of leaves, dried out, my arms brittle from the reach. On my run today, I see why. When trees begin their shedding, when the promise of life floats away on a crisp breeze, you see more of the sky. More sun, more blue, more clouds peek-a-boo through barren branches. What is hidden is revealed. I’d never see the curiosity of bird nests had the camouflaging leaves not fallen.

That’s the secret of great writing.

Naked lives letting the sun poke through, revealing snatches of life not otherwise seen.

That all sounds breathtakingly ethereal, but really, it’s pragmatism at its best. Because I’m at my best, literarily speaking, when I embrace my frailty. And I think you are, too. The best novels out there are populated with characters who fail, struggle, reach for heights but miss the mark, lose loved ones, rail at the heavens at the unfairness of it all. How can we possibly give our characters such beautiful angst if we’re not willing to experience life ourselves?

The best novel chapter I wrote came after an excruciating conversation with a loved one. Such hollowness poured over me, I asked the question, “What if my character had these same feelings? But toward another person?” With all the raw energy of my fragile emotions, I scratched out that scene, let it sit, then sent it to my good friend who’s an excellent novelist. She deemed it my best writing. I wept. I thanked God for the scarred circumstance that brought it about, how He made beauty from the ashes of a painful conversation.

In life we long to have things tied up neatly with a velvet bow; but life, in all its wild tumbles, wrestles the bow away, flinging the box wide open. It is that way with our stories. I’m guilty writing first drafts full of black and white characters and plots that tie up neatly and happily. I’m thankful for editors who point this out and make me go back, adding wayward flesh to my characters and twists of reality to my plot.

In that exercise, I only have to look at my own life to see that the most beautiful parts of my life were birthed in the cauldron of bitterness and unmet expectations—in the autumns and winters of my life. Why would I deprive my characters of that same experience by making everything springtime and summer? And why would I deprive my reader? They’ve experienced their own share of worry and heartache. They’re looking for storytellers who understand, who dare to tell their stories because that it what readers relate to.

It’s not easy to go there. It’s never easy. But how can you expect to mine the depths of human depravity and grace in your stories if you’re unwilling to mine them in yourself? Someday, if God opens the door, I’m going to teach novel writing. It will be unlike any other workshop I’ve attended. Of course I will delve into story structure and passivity and point of view, but before I begin any of that, I want to inspire writers to understand how we deepen our stories beyond mechanical constructs. I want writers to see that great stories grab you by the throat because of their terrible humanity, because readers feel the story is theirs somehow. And that can only happen when we’re willing to live in the pain and joy of our own stories. It’s my firm belief that great writing flows from the pen of self-aware writers.

Here’s your assignment. I give you permission right now to write something from a place of emptiness or angst or bitterness or bewilderment or nakedness. You know what I’m referring to. Take those emotions, feel them, pray about them, go to Jesus with them. Then, write like the wind. See your story not as a tree in cacophonic bloom, but as a shrub awaiting winter, leaves gone, glory faded. Let the sun glory through the spindly branches.

Sometimes I’m asked how I write deep, relate-able stories. It’s because I do what I assigned above. I recognize those autumn places, walk through them (not always graciously either), and translate those emotions into the landscape of my stories. This is something you can do. It’s something you must do. Embrace your frailty today, and venture forth. The world needs your story.

Marketing Madness

Marketing Schmarketing! It’s the portion of my writing life that I estimate will take a little bit of time, when in reality, it takes quite a bit. Mark B., you’ll understand soon enough, and I know Deb has walked the marketing path. And I’m fully confident all you MA-ers will be grappling with the marketing beast soon enough.

When my friends were raising support, they heard an interesting illustration. “Raising support is like hunting for the thirty or so pieces of gravel that have been painted red on the backside. Your job? Start at the beginning of a gravel driveway, and start turning over rocks until you find them all.”

That feels like marketing to me. Or at least it did.

Last summer God provided a surprising way for me to hire a marketing mentor to help me sift through my marketing efforts. It’s been enlightening. Instead of turning over thousands of rocks, he’s helping me locate the red rocks strategically, thus saving me time. And a little sanity.

Here are some things he’s helped me do:

  • Develop two brands: Turning Trials to Triumph, and Build the Christian Family You Never Had (ripped from the headlines of my second book). This covers fiction and nonfiction. The second one is conducive to speaking, which I am working on beefing up.
  • Encourage me to do a redesign on my website. Today it’s up. Hop on over to www.marydemuth.com and tell me what you think.
  • Help me develop two new products to sell on my site. One: a fifty-page tutorial on writing nonfiction book proposals, including two annotated sample proposals. Two: 150 conversation starters you can use around your table with your kids. You can find both products here. (Note: They are the last two boxed options. You don’t need a paypal account to purchase them. We’re still working out the kinks on the store. Ah, the beauty of a new website!)
  • Help me strategize places I can send articles to for free, in order to generate buzz.
  • Encourage me to send out a snail mail newsletter to potential speaking venues. I’m working on my second newsletter, slated to go out to 350 people around the United States. (If you’d like to be included, let me know).
  • Inspire me to add to my email database. I added another email newsletter, Inside Renewal, which you can sign up for on the first page of my website. This one’s about going deep with Jesus, and so far the feedback has been great. Click here for a sample of Inside reNEWal. Click here for a sample of my existing RelevantProse ezine.
  • Help me form strategic alliances with ministries who might need my books. (Missions organizations in Europe for Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture, Counseling entities for my novels, and several moms ministries for my conversation starters).
  • For speaking: he’s helped me hone the way I speak, offering painful, but helpful critique on one of my speeches. I’m a much better speaker now, and hope to have a high quality recording of my speaking soon to give to potential speaking gigs. In the meantime, I have a snippet of my Family Life interview on my site here.
  • Coach me on effective radio techniques, including learning the beauty of sound bites, and tying in my topic to a giveaway on my website.
  • Remind me to put my book cover and contact information on any free article I send out. You can view samples here (10 Ways to Create a Haven in Your Home) and here (7 Insider Tips for Pioneer Parents).
  • Show me the importance of selling my books on my website. Before my new site was up, I created a paypal page on my blog to sell Authentic Parenting while the blog tour was going on. This gave us tangible numbers on the success of the tour, whereas, if we had relied on Amazon rankings, we wouldn’t really know how many we sold as a result of the tour.
  • Probably the most important thing he did was help me come up with value statements; in other words, what kind of value do I bring to my listeners and readers. Here are a few to help you wrap your mind around what I mean. (And, hey, this took me a month to get my mind around it. Not easy at all.) I help people so fully heal from tragedy that others would never know the trauma had occurred. I help parents create a haven in their home so their kids are wildly enthusiastic about coming home every day. I help people approach God in such a way that they know His reality and His direct dealings every single day.

So I’m more strategic about my gravel turning these days. All this stuff has taken me months to accomplish, and I still feel like a neophyte. Two cool things happened in the midst of all this:

  1. As I discovered what God had made me to do, and the life message He had given me, revival blew through my heart. I never thought I’d find more of Jesus in the midst of marketing. Wow.
  2. Even though I’m working hard at finding those red rocks, I see God’s sovereign hand often in the way He finds rocks for me. I may be strategic now, but He is the Great Helper when it comes to marketing. Speaking gigs only He could orchestrate have fallen into my lap. Writing opportunities, too. I have found that trying to market myself on my own would be a futile, silly endeavor. Oh how I need Jesus! And even in all of my strategies and His sovereignty, I rest in the fact that He holds my career and ministry in His hands.

This is a long post, I know. But my prayer is that something inside it will be a help to you as you market yourself or your books and articles.

***

Mary E. DeMuth helps people to turn their trials into triumphs. An expert in Pioneer Parenting, Mary enables Christian parents to navigate our changing culture when their families left no good faith examples to follow. Her parenting books include Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture (Harvest House, 2007), Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook, 2006), and Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House, 2005). Mary also inspires people to face their trials through her real-to-life novels, including Watching the Tree Limbs (nominated for a Christy Award) and Wishing on Dandelions (NavPress, 2006). A pioneer parent herself, Mary and her husband, Patrick, reside in Texas with their three children. They recently returned from breaking new spiritual ground in Southern France, where they planted a church. You can find Mary at her website: www.marydemuth.com or her blogs: www.relevantblog.blogspot.com and www.pioneerparenting.blogspot.com

Publishing is Subjective

In the land of fairytimes, in the anon time before I understood the publishing biz, I held this cherished belief that publishers knew everything, were perfectly consistent, and had universal opinions about each work that flew across an editor’s desk. Now I’m not so sure. I just received my edits from a publisher. The editor did a terrific job, although I must say all the red ink made my eyes hurt a bit. I appreciate his kind attentiveness to the book, his eye for detail, his ability to discern when a reader would be confused.

As I read through his comments and edits, I remembered that he was not initially my editor. This caused my mind to walk an entire journey . . . What would the other editor have said? What red lines would he have made? What verbs would he deem weak? Where would he add clarification? This is just one book in the pipeline of thousands of books. I realized how different the book might turn out with a different editor or with a different publisher for that matter.

Then I remembered the rejections of this particular book. A couple houses passed on the manuscript, but what if they hadn’t? (At this time, my crazy-awful mind had visions of advance-wars, spiraling my fledgling advance to more digits.)

At this point, I realized that a book has to be held like water running through hands–it is a fluid endeavor, spilled out by some, consumed by others, edited by one. Sure, the book is “my baby,” but in a sense it belongs to many more spheres–the publishing house, small CBA bookstores, megaplex bookstores, the reading public, the gift-giving public.

Suddenly, this kernel of an idea God breathed into my heart has taken on a life of its own. I’m thankful for that in one sense. It means that the book is out of my hands, in the capable Hands of the One who holds all things together. On the other hand (to continue my poorly wrought metaphor), I feel loss–like my baby has grown up with a mind of her own and is ready to explore the world without me. All this to say this profound truth (drumroll, please):

PUBLISHING IS SUBJECTIVE. While one house may love your prose, another may be riled by it. One editor may slash and burn, another may gently lead. Sometimes I view it like the surprising ending to St. Elsewhere, where what we really thought was a hospital drama was actually a snowglobe manipulated by an autistic boy who dreamed the entire plot of the series in his head. Publishing is a snow globe, manipulated by . . . well, who knows . . . Snowflakes are whirring around at the tip of a whimsical hand.

That being said, the subjective madness doesn’t crush me, nor does it disillusion me. I’m just so flat-out happy that I actually sold some books, that publishers thought my ruminations worthy of the printed page!

And I am keenly aware of the true Promoter of all things. Jesus is the One who sees it all. He simply asks me to take the last seat, the seat of humility, allowing His promotion. Not mine. So, yeah, it’s subjective. But, God is here. He is present all around. He sees my words. He sees your words. He weathers the rejections with us. He works in and through editors. He is an Author, after all.

Platform and The Force

I have all the answers you seek, young Padawan. (Advanced apologies for those of you who don’t like Star Wars)

Platform:

  • You need to speak to as many people as you can (the clone wars come to mind . . . Millions is preferable.)
  • Your website has to have the firepower of the Death Star
  • As wise as Yoda your blog posts must be, but also as pretty as Princess Leia (and all the storm troopers must secretly read it. Your blog hits should hover around one million.)
  • Your books should wield as much power and elegance as a light saber, and they should have enough strength to thwart the forces of evil. (This is hard to put a number on, though).
  • You should create your own hologram which says, “Help me Obiwan Oprah. You’re my only hope . . . For book sales.”
  • Your fan site on Facebook should include every species: ewoks, wookies, jedis, icky darth spikey people, naboo, JarJar binks (don’t know how to spell that), and every creature represented by the bar scene in the original movie. Let’s just hope Harrison Ford is your fan too. That will help.
  • Platform is greatly improved when you dress the part: http://shop.starwars.com/?rid=CPC. Although for me, it would be hard to be Daisy from my next novel, because she’s a missing girl.

And lest you think I’ve lost my midi-chlorians, you can salve all your platform woes as you watch this brilliant piece of cinematography:

Mary Skywalker, Platform Jedi of the First Order

The Writer’s Baggage

Maryfrance The baggage I’ll write about today isn’t that negative psychological baggage we all carry with us: regrets, guilt, shame, and the like. I’m referring to the things we actually need to lug with us if we are to succeed on this publishing journey. So, pack your bags, writers, and don’t forget to strap on some humor as you do.


The Ten Pieces of Baggage Every Writer Needs:

  1. Chocolate. Preferably dark. I keep mine in the lower right hand drawer of my desk. The current picking? Trader Joe’s dark chocolate goodness. Keeps my mind clear. Makes me smile even after reading my “royalty” statements (which feel more like pauper statements!).
  2. Grit-spitting tenacity. The kind a cowboy would have after wrestling cows, wrangling snakes, and eating Hormel chili over an open, smoky fire. You have to come at this business like a spider monkey (wearing chaps, to keep the cowboy metaphor alive). When rejection slaps you upside the face, you gotta prepare for more rodeo, more bucking, more angry bulls. The trick to cowboy grit? Keep getting back in the saddle. Every day. Write those words as your act of defiance! Each word written is like a notch in your belt.
  3. Another hobby just as successful as writing: Hummingbird training. With hummingbird training, you experience the same sort of whiplash, the same frenetic activity. The same flying feathers. Succeed at Hummingbird training (particularly two birds performing a synchronized dance) and you’ll succeed at writing. Besides, you may need to fall back on it in your later years.
  4. Cheerleaders. I don’t mean this metaphorically. Actual high school cheerleaders clad in orange and purple, your name blazed like an alma mater across their fronts. Have at least five show up at your desk every day to say this cheer: “A-W-E-S-O-M-E, Awesome, are Thee!” (Mixing a cheer with King James English will accomplish two things: The Shakespearean rhythm will inform your prose, and the cheering will lighten your rejected spirit.)
  5. Stickers. Steal these from your kids’ teachers in a clandestine overthrow of the sticker drawer. Stickers like 100% A+, or “Great Job!” or “You’re a great kid” (which you are!). Print off your latest piece, the one you think is drivel personified, and adhere one of these babies on it. Suddenly, you’re terrific! Wonderful! Unbelievably talented!
  6. A dog, not a cat. A dog will lay (oh shoot, or is it lie?) by your feet as you compose deeply significant words that will impact the planet. When you’re drained, feeling blue, old Rover will roll over, loll his eyes your way, and slobber a smile. Such unconditional love is hard to find in this business, so securing a dog is essential. A cat, however, doesn’t shower you with fuzzy love. She types gibberish on your keyboard when you’re not looking and spills tea on your computer. If you can’t afford a dog, buy a hamster in a habitrail. His constant spinning on that “wheel of life” will be the impetus you need to keep going. Make it a point to write when he wheels, and you’ll be guaranteed to be prolific.
  7. A snuggie.Everyone needs one, but writers especially do. Because our income doesn’t bring in enough to pay our heat bills! And of course, our hands and can’t be bothered or inconvenienced by a mere blanket that wrestles our fingers into blind submission.
  8. And for that matter, a Huggie. Not the diapering kind, the real embracing hug from a fellow author who understands your plight. You receive and impart these “huggies” at conferences, where other writers parade around in designer snuggies.
  9. A New Christmas List. To maintain proper sanity, every author needs to update his/her Christmas list with certain items emphatically CROSSED OUT. No more JOURNALS! We have thousands of them. No more PENS! Or PLAQUES with catchy slogans about writing being like opening up a vein (ew). Replace said list with: A MAC COMPUTER (Sorry PC fans). A TRIP TO A REMOTE SPA ISLAND. THE GENES OF J.K. ROWLING. And a JET SKI.
  10. A weird disguise. Preferably a toupe, some ugly thick glasses, a mustache, and a hood. Why? To shield you from all that paparazzi when you become famously famous, bigger than Hannah Montana when she breaks up or adds a boyfriend. And while you’re at it, add some Peeps. Not an entourage that follows you around and tells you how cool you are (that’s what your family is for, right?) But actual marshmallow peeps. They will cheer you on when your fame fades and no one thinks you’re the it girl/guy. A peep is eternal. Just look at the shelf life.

So, there you have it. A writer’s necessary baggage. I’d love to know if I’ve possibly missed anything. If I have, please enlighten me in the comments section. I will say that Night Vision Goggles did vie for the number ten spot. So you can’t say those.

Write Naked

I’m reading one of those stark books (like Kite Runner) where the author writes pretty darned nekkid. What I mean by that is spare, harsh, in-your-face prose, the kind that evokes emotion and curiosity. The book? A recommendation by Mark Bertrand called The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Hear some of his prose:”For the most part they carried themselves with poise, a kind of dignity. Now and then, however, there were times of panic, when they squealed or wanted to squeal but couldn’t, when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said Dear Jesus and flopped around on the earth and fired their weapons blindly and cringed and sobbed and begged for the noise to stop and went wild and make stupid promises to themselves and to God and to their mothers and fathers, hoping not to die.” (p. 19).

Beautiful, ain’t it?

When I first started writing, I resembled young Anne of Green Gables (which my young daughter mispronounced and called Anne with Green Bagels). Full of pomp and circumstance, my writing flowered its way through sentences and paragraphs. Adjectives and adverbs were my trusted friends. But worse than that was a weird pompousness that came through, like I was touting my English major, thank you very much. It reminded me of that poetry you read and go “huh?” afterward. Great, effusive words strung together that had very little meaning.

I balked at editorial correction too, thinking myself high and mighty, a wielder of words.

But, as the years wore on, I realized great writing isn’t the stuff of prettification. It’s not full of bright lipstick and rouge. It’s natural, stark, raw. I started concocting sentences that evoked emotion, that kept rich in its description of place, but spare in its contrivance of human emotion.

Ew. Now I just read that last paragraph and it sounds a bit hoity toity. Maybe I’ll always have Anne and her green New York rolls lurking inside.

Even so, I want to write nekkid. To grab my reader and thrust her into the lives of my characters. I want my prose to serve the story, not detract from it. I think it’s working. To prove it, I’ll paste two snippets, one from my first novel (not published) and another from a newer novel (not published). See if you can tell the difference:

Sample one:

When Augusta finished washing the last jelly jar, the sun burst through the mist, and the lake water danced as it did every time the fog dissipated. To call its lifting a miracle might be an exaggeration, but she called it that anyway. Sometimes the house stayed shrouded until suppertime, other days it evaporated all at once. Sometimes it dissipated in tendrils, wild and inconsistent, leaving the valley resembling Grandma Ellsworth’s silvered hair. Today the retreating curtain of fog revealed the fields beyond the lake, their softness in stark contrast to the lake’s prismatic dance.

Sample two:

“We can go up,” he said. “Let’s take the stairs.”

“Why not the elevator?”

“Don’t you remember?”

“Refresh my memory.”

“We kissed there once . . . in our pajamas.”

My memories hung on a broken charm bracelet. Some charms suffered from inefficient clasps, dropping along the streets of life, never to be returned. Some broke apart, like the tiny hind leg of a horse that’d never trot again. Some blackened thanks to time’s tarnish. Yet others remained pristine, happy silver clasped securely to the chain. This memory was like none of those. This was a forgotten charm, one so crammed in between broken and happy charms that I’d forgotten it. Rediscovered, its brilliance startled me.

***

How about you? Can you see transformation in your writing? Are you moving from flowery to nekkid? Or the other way? As you’ve matured, how has your prose altered? Are your stories simpler or more complex? I’m curious.

****

Mary DeMuth is a writer and speaker who is writing this in the third person because she likes to think of herself that way. At this very moment, she is writing next to her smelly dog Pippin who is wet and sleeping. You can find Mary here, here and here.

What you can control: Meeting your deadlines

I enjoyed lunch with a new writer friend. As we progressed in the lunch, I asked her what her goals for her writing were, especially since she quit her job to freelance full time. She had some goals, but I could tell the question had piqued her interest.

If you want to go anywhere in the business of writing, it is imperative you set goals and then meet them, particularly when you’re starting out. If you’re one of the readers who took the poll last week that were worried about deadlines, here’s a handy-dandy way to prepare yourself now. Think of it as strength and endurance training for an upcoming race. Set some goals. Here are some examples of types of goals you can set:

1. A weekly (daily, monthly) word count goal. Or it could be a chapter goal. When I’m writing NF, my goal is 6000 words a week, fiction 10000.

2. A financial goal (usually monthly). Pretend your goal is 1000 a month. If you set this, you’ll have to logically think through how you will make that. If you write books, this is a difficult goal because the book writing business is sporadic. You might get a 7000 dollar advance one month, then make nothing for a year. So if you would like consistent income, you need to flesh out the goal more. How many magazine or newspaper or online articles will it take to make that amount of money? This will force you to go after new options, and if they arise as a result, will give you the opportunity to meet a deadline. Yesterday I sent in four queries because I could see I wasn’t making enough money in January.

3. A production goal. If you want to make consistent income, you must set a production goal, particularly in the query department. Make a goal to write 5 queries a week (one a day). Whenever you get a rejection, recycle that query to another publication. If you don’t query, you won’t land assignments. If you don’t land assignments, how can you practice meeting deadlines?

4. Make an integrity or hard work goal. For instance, because I am concentrating on making more consistent income this year, I am working hard on developing my relationships with periodical editors. Last spring an editor had to scrap one of her stories. She asked if I could turn around an article in one day (1000 words). I said yes because I knew one of my goals was to develop positive relationships with editors. I worked hard, gave her the article. We have a good working relationship now and she asks me for stories (instead of me asking her through a query). This entire relationship began with one query that eventually sold. I proved myself consistent over time.

5. Make a professional goal: go to the conference you’ve been pining after. This will force you to create that book proposal you’ve been postponing. Or decide to take a risk and attend a critique group, and ask them to hold you accountable to your own deadlines.

6. Make a project goal. Finish that novel. Write that proposal. Really learn how to make stunning query letters. Start a blog or website. Give yourself a date you MUST complete this. That’ll strengthen your deadline muscle.

So, don’t be shy. Set a writing goal for February, and then leave it in black and white in the comment section. THEN MEET THAT DEADLINE! I mean it! Let’s hear from you, writers-who-wanna-be-published!

What about Discouraging Critiques?

I’ve told this story before, but not in the context that I’ll tell it today. What do you do when you’ve received a harsh critique? Give up? Take it to heart? Weigh it? Figure it out? Keep plugging away? Here’s what happened to me at the genesis of my writing career:

I went to my first writing conference, a small regional affair, after I’d completed several chapters of my first novel. I rode with my friend Sandra Glahn who is a professor at Dallas Seminary, my good friend, and at that time, my mentor. I selected two people to meet with about my piece. The first one, a nonfiction author, ripped my piece to shreds. Hers was not constructive criticism, it was downright mean. And most of what she said didn’t make sense to me. (I should’ve realized that a nonfiction author might not be the best person to offer critique).

The second person was a man who also a professor at the seminary, Reg Grant. I am totally embarrassed to write this, but I showed him a short one-act play I’d written. And when we were done, I slid it across the table to him. “You can have it,” I said, secretly nursing some painful hope that Reg would see my genius and recommend me to a screenplay agent. Ha!

But on the way home, all I could do was concentrate on the woman’s harsh criticism. I was naïve and easily crushed. I nearly gave up writing. But Sandra pep-talked me back to reality. She listened. Told me to keep at it. I asked her some for some plotting advice. During that time, I was so green, I felt you always had to have a villain to write a good story. “No,” she told me. “The story arc can be a character’s growth. It doesn’t necessitate a villain.” The AHA went off in my head. I’d created a villain in my Depression-era story, worse than Hitler. And he was taking over everything. Once I eliminated Hitler, the story took off. My story arc became my heroine’s lack of emotional connection with her children after her husband’s death and her subsequent journey to come back to the hearts of her children. In three months, I finished the book, attended Mount Hermon, and met my agent.

Had I listened to the snarky woman and not the voice of Sandra, who knows what would’ve happened. Isn’t God good to put folks like that in our paths?

The MAD marketing strategy

I’m an expert. I have six books under my writerly belt, and can throw my marketing girth out there for all to see and admire. Why can I say this? Because I received my first royalty check—which I promptly spent on socks at Wal Mart. Which is why I am starting a new marketing endeavor aimed at those illustrious folks who proudly call themselves Midlist Authors. It’s called MAD: Midlist Author Dictators.

Here’s how MAD works. We midlisters have tired of every conceivable marketing method known to computer-huggers everywhere:

  • We’ve shouted on Shoutlife.
  • We’ve given and received ridiculous gifts on FaceBook (hugs, gardens, little cyber-bits of foof).
  • We’ve blogged ‘til the cows came home, and then we took movies of the cows and hoped to start a viral revolution on You Tube.
  • We dusted off our amateur movie skills and made B-level book trailers.
  • We’ve spoken to book clubs, fielding questions about that pesky scene (that we don’t remember writing) on page 154.
  • We’ve paid handsomely for a website whose visitors consist of our grandmothers, four stalkers, and ourselves (which counts for most of our hits).
  • We’ve paid printing companies mucho bucks for business cards, bookmarks, t-shirts, auto decals, and mugs. (And we’ve cleared out a closet and a garage to hold these items.)
  • We’ve spoken to groups large (12) and small (1), and solicited email addresses for our gem of a monthly newsletter—only to have our subscribers rebel by unsubscribing and vowing to never read any of our books.
  • We’ve twittered away entire days, telling our seven followers the intricacies of our days, how much we’re writing, what we had for breakfast, and what exactly the dog ate to make him throw up those colors.
  • We’ve given away free books to people in Nigeria in exchange for 540,000 dollars. (Well, a book and also all our account information).
  • We paid handsomely for a professional picture only to discover the picture actually looks like us. (We opt for a picture taken in high school when sags and wrinkles didn’t exist). So we’ve worked hard, we midlisters. And what has all this toil brought us? Nothing. So we’re starting a revolution. We are now MAD! (Midlist Author Dictators, in case you forgot the acronym.) Here’s how MAD program works:
  • We read books about dictators (benevolent and not so benevolent) and figure out what made them tick. We take notes. We puff ourselves up. We practice on our dog, trying to make him do new tricks. Once we’ve perfected that, we go to the next step.
  • We take what we’ve learned and create an empire where we are our own dictators, forcing the general populace to buy every one of our books. This includes backlists and the books we bought for 25 cents from our publisher because they were destined for the fiery furnaces of destruction.
  • We rule benevolently (hopefully . . . There is that thing about absolute power corrupting absolutely.) And then we retire in the Cayman Islands off all those meaty royalty checks. (But we have to hire someone to decipher them because, for the life of us dictators, we can’t figure those puppies out!)

So there you have it. A new marketing method for a new generation! Midlist authors unite! Get MAD! Dust off your dormant dictator and have at it! Your very future depends on it. If you can’t sell books the old fashioned way, you may as well dictate. And if you fail? I hear Wal Mart is hiring greeters—their own micro-version of crowd-control-cart-distribution monarchy.

Bio: Mary DeMuth gets a little crazy sometimes with publishing-itis. So she writes pieces like the above to keep her sane and away from the men in white jackets. In between, she writes parenting books and novels. Her recent novel released last month: A Slow Burn. Everyone MUST buy it because she says so. She will end her bio by saying she enjoys writing about herself in the third person. You can find her Royal Craziness here: http://www.marydemuth.com. Or if you dare, you can choose to be mentored through the publishing journey at The Writing Spa: http://www.thewritingspa.com.