When Is a Book a Success?


My first two novels, Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams, both came out in 2011. They were Barbour Publishing’s first venture into Young Adult literature, and I’m sure the  advance I received for each of them reflected their confidence in my books’ success.

Although I didn’t have a contract for a third book, I was already 30,000 words into writing one when Barbour informed me that they were doing away with their young adult line. Consequently my books would be going out-of-print and they had no need for the third book.

What had happened? 5,000 copies of the 10,000 print copies of Found in Translation had sold, and 2,500 of the 5,000 print copies of Lost in Dreams. Not enough, apparently.

Although I hadn’t gotten much feedback from teens, what I’d received was encouraging. An upper teen I met in a restaurant said, “You wrote Found in Translation? Wow! I loved it!” Even better, however, was an email from one young lady who said she’d been inspired to start reading her Bible and going to church again.

A number of adults loved those two books as well. Even just a year-and-a-half ago, my surgeon’s nurse emailed me, asking if I was the author of the Altered Hearts books. A reading group she was in had just read them, and she wanted to know when would the next book would be coming out. I hated to tell her it wouldn’t be.

The Devil and Pastor Gus came out in 2015. Although its fifty-four Amazon reviews have a 4.1 star average, Pastor Gus hasn’t sold large numbers.

I revised Rosa No-Name, which has always been my wife’s favorite, paid for editing and a professional cover, and self-published it. Despite its fourteen Amazon reviews and 4.9 star average, it’s not a best seller, either.

I finished writing the third Altered Hearts book, Overshadowed, uncertain what to do with it. But then Barbour gave me the rights to the first two books, and small publisher Winged Publications was happy to release all three. (We changed the name of Lost in Dreams to A Season of Pebbles.) Winged Publications has also published three of my quirky romantic novels. We’re struggling to boost sales.

Going from a big-name publisher like Barbour and reaching so many readers initially and then going to a small publisher and a questionable sales record might make the average person say, “You’re not a very successful author, are you?”

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that way, too. I never hoped to become a New York Times bestselling author, but I’ve never given up the hope of being “successful.”

After all, God gave me whatever writing ability I have, and He’s inspired all of those novels. I don’t mean to say He dictated them to me, but He’s certainly helped me to write each book to the best of my ability, always striving to do better than the one before.

I consider Him my most critical reader…and my biggest fan. If I’m pleasing Him with my writing, what greater success could I ask for?

Still, I do want my books to sell. Not because I care about making money from them–I would like for my publisher to earn something, though–but because I believe they have something important to say and they say it in an entertaining way. That’s why I like to sign books, “May this both bless and entertain you.”

I’m learning. Too slowly at times, it seems. The success of a book–one of mine, anyhow–won’t be determined by the numbers sold, but by the souls touched. And I will probably never know the extent to which a book has done that until I arrive in Heaven.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

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Why I Wrote: Rosa No-Name

Last week I shared with you why I wrote The Devil and Pastor Gus. Today I’ll give you the background on Rosa No-Name, which will release sometime in late April. Pictured above is a proof copy, used for catching final mistakes before it’s too late.

My daughter, Kristi, went on a short term mission trip to Mexico after graduating from high school. When she returned, certain facts about her trip struck my imagination:

  • She was eighteen at the time. Maybe not really spoiled, but in need of doing some more growing up.
  • She failed to pay attention to the directions she’d been sent about what to bring and not bring. Consequently, she paid for extra luggage to bring a number of things she didn’t need and failed to bring some of the important things she did need. Like a sleeping bag!
  • She was part of a house-building project.
  • That area had a lot of trash on the ground.

Struck my imagination? Ha! Fired it up!

One evening I sat down and roughed out the idea of a story involving all of those elements. That short story was the original “Found in the Translation.” You may read it here. I entered the final version in an online contest, and it placed within the top ten of seventy or eighty entries. That was encouraging!

Even while writing the short story, I knew it would ultimately become a full-length novel. The short story was just the warm up.

You wouldn’t believe the changes I made to the short story in writing the novel, but I was pleased with the outcome. Nobody seemed to want to publish Found in the Translation, though, no matter how my wife and I believed in its merit.

At a Christian writers conference I showed the first couple of pages to writing teacher and overall writing guru James Scott Bell. He advised me that I didn’t have a proper start.

So I cut the first fifty pages and wrote a new beginning. I shared a sample with an editor friend who then asked to see the whole thing and subsequently landed me an agent. Within a year Found in Translation–Barbour Publishing dropped the “the”–and its sequel, Lost in Dreams, were under contract. I was on my way!

But there were a number of things I hadn’t brought out in Found in Translation. I was especially fond of Rosa, the mother of the little girl whose right arm ended at the elbow. Why had Anjelita been born that way? And who was her father? Those are just some of the things the protagonist, Kim Hartlinger, didn’t learn during her time in Santa Maria because of the language barrier.

Consequently, I wrote Rosa No-Name as a prequel. But because it dealt partially with adult situations, I never considered it a teen novel. (I’d never considered the previous two to be Young Adult, either, but because the characters were eighteen, that was the only way my publisher could market them.)

Potential publishers weren’t interested in Rosa No-Name. So just as I’d done with the little play The Devil and Pastor Gus was based on, I stuck Rosa No-Name in a drawer and tried to forget about it. That was ten years ago.

But my wife and my daughter have always been especially fond of Rosa No-Name–they like it better than any of my other published novels and unpublished manuscripts–and five or six months ago I decided to reread it. I fell in love with it all over again, and I felt led to ignore the objections traditional publishers had expressed and go the independent route.

Amazon has a couple of amazing free book publishing facilities–the books aren’t free, just the ability to publish them–and soon I was on my way.

God didn’t whisper in my ear and tell me to publish Rosa No-Name, yet I believe this is what He wanted me to do. My prayers are for its success in blessing and entertaining a number of readers.

Do you think you have a book in you, waiting to be written? It may not be one the general public will be interested in, but perhaps one your children and grandchildren would benefit from being able to read. Is that you? How about leaving a comment?

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Best regards,
Roger

On Judging a Book by its Cover

There’s something to be said for the old cliche, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” It would be impossible to determine or even just  guess how many excellent books have the least appealing covers or how many of the absolutely worst books have covers that not only gain a potential purchaser’s second look, but are largely responsible for their ultimate purchase.

I suspect we’ve all avoided at least one excellent book and settled for one of the worst instead. Not that we’re apt to admit it, of course.

The longer I’m in my post-retirement career as a novelist, the more I’ve come to appreciate how important the cover is. And I’ve changed a lot in how I evaluate a cover.

I admit it. I want to see some kind of resemblance between the cover and what the book is about. But it doesn’t always work that way.

I was allowed to give input for my three traditionally published novels, and I had very specific ideas. What I didn’t realize at the time is that publishers have various sources they check for stock photos and use a model only as a last reserve. Undoubtedly a more expensive move for them.

My wife and I really liked the covers Barbour Publishing came up with for Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams. The Kim Hartlinger depicted on the first book is appropriately shown with a suitcase.  But Kim in the book was petite and looked almost Latina. Not so on the cover. It was still a good cover, though. One readers could connect with it, and that was the important thing.

Barbour very intelligently used the same girl on the cover of Lost in Dreams.  That in and of itself was appealing, and it helped to tie those two books together. Kim’s wistful look was perfect for a story that started out extremely seriously.

Although the way LPC depicted Gus on the original cover of The Devil and Pastor Gus was whimsical and clever–I can just hear Gus thinking, “Is this plan to defeat the Devil going to work?”–the cartoon-ish depiction of a stereotypical devil on the upper right not only didn’t fit the book’s depiction of B.L.ZeBubb, we know of people who were afraid to buy the book because of the cover. Not good.

LPC realized the need to try again, and the new cover is immensely more satisfactory. Although I’m not sure exactly what this night-time view of the church represents, it’s intriguing without being scary,  and I’m satisfied. I think the addition of those two lines of text at the top helps.

For Rosa No-Name, the prequel to Found in Translation, a novel I’m independently publishing, I knew I would need a professional cover. Not something I could do myself. So I got in touch with graphic artist Ken Raney, who’s done a number of excellent book covers, including some of his wife’s (popular women’s lit novelist Deb Raney).

My wife and I sent him a list of very specific suggestions. Although Ken couldn’t fit those ideas to any stock photos he could find, he sent us four or five photos to consider. We fell in love with two of them. Picking the right one was tough.

But since Rosa No-Name is a fictitious memoir about Rosa from age sixteen to twenty-nine, we thought the more mature Rosa would be the better choice. She looks like she’s actually thinking about her past, and we love that.

Everyone we’ve talked to loves Ken’s cover . We hope it will make people take a second look and hopefully read the description. And then buy it if it appeals to them. We want them to judge Rosa No-Name–initially at least–by its cover.

How do you feel about book covers? Do they make a difference in your buying…or at least in your considering buying? How about leaving a comment?

By the way, please note the form below you can use to sign up for my quarterly newsletters. I’d love to have you as a subscriber.

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Best regards,
Roger

The First Seven Years of Retirement

ThreeBooks

When I retired seven years ago at the age of sixty-two, my intention was to become a full-time novelist. By that time I’d already written two or three novels. I hadn’t found an agent yet, however, and I hadn’t succeeded at getting anything published by a traditional publisher. The self-publishing of my first novel several years earlier had proven a good way to spend money, but not a good way to make a name for myself.

But at least I had time to read writing books by the dozen, attend writing conferences, and–most important–I had time to write. Although I kept cranking out more manuscripts, I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Two things changed that. James Scott Bell, a fine novelist in his own right and one of the best writing teachers around, looked at the first page or two of Found in Translation. “Roger,” he said, “this doesn’t even begin with a scene.” That led me to scrap the first fifty pages and write a new beginning. Had that not happened, who knows whether that manuscript would ever have been considered publishable.

And then Kimberly Shumate, who at that time was an editor at Harvest House, not only gave me a great deal of encouragement in spite of the fact that Harvest House couldn’t use any of my manuscripts but believed so strongly in Found in Translation that she went out and found an agent for me. Mr. Terry Burns, who has since retired, served nobly in that role until recently. And he got me the contracts with Barbour Publishing for my first two books.

I’ve since learned that even some of the most popular authors struggle to find publishers for the next book. Especially as a newbie, I found that to be true. Especially when Barbour discontinued their Young Adult line when I was 30,000 words into writing the third book in the series.

Thanks to friendships made at writing conferences, I was able to pitch The Devil and Pastor Gus to Eddie Jones of LPC (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). I agreed to make one basic change to my manuscript and to work with a wonderful editor to reduce it from 100,000 words to 80,000.

That was important because LPC uses POD (Print on Demand), which is a more expensive way to print, but prevents a publisher from having to make a gigantic outlay of money to print and house a certain number of copies that might or might not ever sell. My other option would have been to go with only an electronic book (Kindle, Nook, etc.).

The Devil and Pastor Gus came out in November of 2014.

I have completed nine yet-unpublished manuscripts. One spent two years under contract to a small publisher who failed to carry through with getting it published. Fortunately, a friend and editor at LPC loves that book and will do whatever she can to help.

But even if she succeeds, that would leave eight unpublished novel manuscripts–approximately 800,000 total words.

I’m working on another novel now, but it’s hard to keep going at times, knowing that only three out of a dozen novels have been published. I keep praying that God will either relight that spark or give me another idea–for something He would prefer for me to be writing.

When I started this post, I didn’t intend for it to be only about writing. Sorry about that. I’ll try to do a Part Two on the subject of my retirement next time, and I promise not to mention writing except in passing.

Are you retired? How do you spend your time productively? If you’re not retired, what do you hope to do for fulfillment once you do retire? Please leave a comment.

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger