Monday, July 21, 2014

Are You Wasting Your Platform?

          Platform. That's what the publishing world calls an author's combination of connections with other human beings who might be interested in buying his book. If you write a regular newspaper column, host a radio show, or happen to be a TV celebrity, you've got a fantastic platform!
          Lesser mortals construct their platforms in other ways. For instance, building a following through tweeting on Twitter works for some. Others attempt to build a Facebook family of connections. However you do it, the underlying idea is that publishers look for authors with a tribe of followers. Those followers represent potential sales, so the bigger the platform, the greater the number of possible book sales.
          But is the goal of selling books the ultimate goal of one's platform?
          I know a missionary couple in Western Asia. These Christians living among Muslims constantly look for ways to meet new people in their city. To this end, they get involved in civic organizations as well as frequent social gatherings right in their neighborhood. In a sense, these missionaries are doing what authors do: They are building their platform. They are broadening their base of contacts.
          However, my missionary friends aren't authors, and they aren't trying to sell books. They simply realize that if they expect anyone to listen to their message about Jesus, then they must first meet them. Getting to know people one on one then opens doors for conversation about THE Book, the Bible.
          Each time I read a monthly update in which my friends express joy that they "got to meet new people," I smile and rejoice with them. They seek to make acquaintances and friendships, not in hopes that those people will buy something they wrote, but in order to give those people what they  need most -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Seems to me that the Apostle Paul's journeys in the Book of Acts served that same goal.
          Friend, let me ask you the same question I ask myself: Why are you enlarging your personal "platform"? So that people will buy your books or in some other way benefit you? Or do you seek to connect with others in order to help and bless them? If Option #1 is your primary goal, you just might be wasting the platform God is giving you!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Are Goblins Spamming Your Blog Posts?

For months I experienced a daily nuisance. Maybe you have, too--spam comments on blog posts. And not the more recent posts. The goblins' comments always targeted my first couple of  posts of 2014.  But how to block them?

The spam messages might have been less irksome if they at least stated something connected to my post. Instead, I received pointless comments stating, for instance:

When most gamers found out about the i – OS App Store (along with the various other stores for mobile devices), many of them thought the games on the store would never amount to anything substantial.

Other comments arrived in horrendous English:

"Hi mates, how is everything, and what you wish for to say concerning this article, in my view its actually remarkable designed for me. Here is my blog post...."

Yes, I had taken security precautions, and Blogger never actually allowed these junk messages to appear. Yet, it sent me daily email copies of each new message, giving me the option of manually moderating and permitting the message, if I so chose.

Friends offered suggestions. One said her solution is passive resignation, which wasn't good enough for me. Another author explained that she chose to moderate ALL comments, which an additional chore for her, and which slowed the posting of comments by readers.

But my kudos go to author Sarah Sundin for sharing a simple solution. Sarah said, "Blogger actually makes it easy. If they're targeting one particular post, edit that post and click on the box to not allow comments." I had forgotten that Blogger offers that option right on the page where you compose blog posts. Here's what it looks like for an existing post:

Reader comments

So, I clicked the option to keep the previous comments but to block all further comments on my two targeted victims. Sure enough, no more spam.

If you have a blog and have been receiving spam, maybe this option will work for you, too. If the goblins have not noticed your blog yet, beware! You could need these solutions sooner than you think.

Perhaps you have additional insights on blog spam? If so, please share below. I promise not to block you!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Could Getting Published Be Your Idol?

As a Christian author, I occasionally have to ask myself a question that I will now ask you: "Is getting published becoming your idol?"

Sure, the typical image of an idol is a solid object carved from stone, or clay, or even wood. It might be painted, and it might be adorned with gold or gemstones. In our mind's eye we picture uneducated pagans bowing down, making their petitions to this object. However, an idol isn't necessarily a solid object. An idol can literally be anything for which you live, or which gives your life meaning, or which would cause you serious depression if you could not have it. With that broader description, an idol could be almost anything. For instance, a certain type of physical body. The goal of being considered intelligent or helpful. Even success at getting published.

"But wait!" you object. "I want to get published for good reasons. My manuscripts glorify God. They contain important messages people need."

However, explanations make no difference. We can rationalize our "need" for any idol, including weight loss, education, productivity, and even getting published with with good, God-glorifying material.

I will not suggest for one second that all writers over-emphasize getting published and idolize that goal. I don't believe that at all. Yet, when I see the deep pools of depression that some sink into when they can't reach that goal--or can't re-acquire it after some initial success--I can't help but wonder whether they are elevating the goal to too-lofty a pedestal in their lives? Rejection slips serve to keep me humble and to remind me that--no matter how many manuscripts I've had published--I should never live for getting published.

Dear friend, getting published will not give your life meaning. It will not affirm your reason for existence. It will not grant you new respectability. It will not add a glistening halo above your head. It won't make you special in any way. So, if you knew right now that you would never be published (or never again), would you slump into depression? If so, perhaps this publishing goal has grown into an idol in your life. Perform a heart check. Better yet, ask God to examine your heart. If your goal of writing for God has grown even larger than your love for God Himself, that would be a vital lesson to learn!

May the Lord bless you!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

You Can Write Short Stories (Part 3)

by Rick Barry

(If you're interested in writing and selling short fiction, I suggest you begin with my first post in this series:

          Let's jump back into the exciting topic of writing short stories for publication. At this stage, you have some possible target publications in mind for your stories. You have studied them. Next, based on what you learned about the publications (magazines, journals, Sunday school papers, whatever), you have brainstormed some ideas that pump your creative juices.

          Even before typing your title into a blank document, you need to decide a few things. What genre is your story going to be? Horror? Humorous? Sci-fi? Fantasy? Western? Contemporary? You get the idea. Deciding this in advance will steer you in the creative process.

Recognize the target audience 
          Equally important is the question, "Who is my target audience?" Your short story, no matter how wonderful, cannot target everybody from pre-schoolers to senior citizens. True, some adults will read fiction geared for teens. Some junior high girls will read romances intended for adults. Still, the majority of your readers will fall into some particular segment of society. Decide up front who those people most likely will be. Your choice of publication should give guidance here.
          When I penned "Ronnie Right's Wrong Day," I targeted lower-elementary students and added humor appropriate to the age level. Clubhouse Jr. bought that piece. Could I have sold the same story to Saturday Evening Post? Not likely. The fiction I've seen in the Post aims at adult readers.
          Some years ago I volunteered to lead a critique session at a Write to Publish conference. When I asked who would like to read a few pages for us to discuss, one young lady shot her hand up.
          "Okay," I said, "but before you start, let us know who your target audience is."
          She went blank. "I have no idea who my target audience is."
          If you release an arrow without aiming at any particular target, you have an excellent chance of hitting nothing in particular. The same is true in writing. At least target one portion of society for readability and appropriate interest level. Then the editor can tell whether your work is likely to appeal to his typical readers.

Remember: this is not a novel
           A novel provides much greater opportunity for imbuing your creation with back story, with gradual character arcs that encompass an inner journey and an outer journey, detailed descriptions, etc. Short stories? Forget it. As I've stated before, short stories are the SWAT teams of literature. You jump into the situation, locate the problem, handle it, then pull back out. You're done. Short stories simply can't offer luxurious time and space to accomplish all that novels accomplish.
          A writing student once asked if he could examine a short-story manuscript I had just sold. I was happy to oblige. What he noticed is worth mentioning:
          "You didn't say anything about where these people were before the story started or how they got here. You just jumped into the action. It's almost as if this were one chapter pulled out of a whole novel."
          He was correct. With short stories, you can simply hop into the situation, present the key characters, and run with it. The implication is always that these people were alive and doing something before the reader happened along. However, you don't necessarily have to provide the history undergirding the story. In fact, you might not even need a full resolution to the problem, if you can pull it off.
          With short stories, your characters might not change as they do in a novel. I once sold a story called "Jacob's Cell." In it, teenage Jacob languishes in a dreary prison cell. His grandfather from Moscow had warned him about communists and the extent to which such cold-hearted people could hate and persecute those who sincerely love God. As the story unfolds, the reader assumes this is a historical tale that takes place in the old Soviet Union. At the end, though, Jacob rallies his strength to look out the window, and in the distance he sees a pale-green statue of a woman lifting a torch to the sky. Does Jacob change or grow in my short story? Not much. The real change I aimed for happens in the reader who suddenly realizes it's a futuristic story about the United States, not historical Russia.

Your turn! I've shared a lot of tips concerning short stories. Now I hope at least some of you will give them a try.

To be continued...

Rick Barry has freelanced hundreds of articles and short stories, had two novels published, and has more projects in the works.