Category Archives: Conversations at the personality-splitting Bunn-o-matic

Editor to Author: Letter to a Memoir Writer

Dearest Author,

I've been thinking about worth lately.

What's your story worth?

At a recent writers conference I taught a workshop on how I saw publishing changing. Modern publishing, the only time in history when we've had separate "markets" for books, has begun to fracture and redistribute. I've shared several times about how The Shack has shifted things. It isn't just a book, of course, it's a bridge. And those bridges are inevitable because it isn't only spiritual people or Christians who recognize God as creator.  

Blue Like Jazz came well before it and created connections between the Christian and secular markets. Lauren Winner's memoir Girl Meets God made some connection points before that, similar to how Eat, Pray, Love did more recently, from the other side of the spiritual divide. Several spiritual/worldly, secular/sacred books have become best-sellers as bridges in the long history of such books since the beginning of print, and some people have traced this line back to the best-selling book of all time: The Bible.

The Secret. The Purpose-Driven Life. The Alchemist. The Celestine Prophesy. The Late Great Planet Earth. Pilgrim's Progress. Books you've never heard of have sold over 30 million copies: Steps to Christ by Ellen White, In His Steps by Charles Sheldon, late-19th century Congregational minister and advocate of the ever-intriguing idea of "Christian socialism." Even Nikolai Tesla wrote about his life a true spiritual man and world-renouned scientist in My Inventions. The Canterbury Tales, The Odyssey, and The Divine Comedy by Dante, written in 1304, has "sold" more than anyone knows and we have no idea how it or any of these books have changed readers and the history of spiritual thought, becoming seeds for the trees of countless theologies.

But of course, we know this is what books are–seeds. And this is what they do: define life and defy death.

"So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

So this story that's a part of you, that is you, that defines your work and all of your effort and sacrifices to share it completely (or as completely as possible) for others to use–what's it really worth?

Don't answer. You can't. Simply try to see the fullness of the question clearly. Continue on…

Do you know where your worth is really found?

Yes, in God's ownership of the life and love he's created you to embody (1 John 4:7-12). His ownership, creating, protecting, guiding and infusing of his great, unchanging spirit into us. He dies that we might live (parents always understand this principle). And we die that others might live through our sacrifices. This is the daily work of writing.

Do you know what that is really worth?

Intimately known and held, seen and heard and helped in every way, this knowledge is invaluable, isn't it? We can talk of worth and value, and shift our understanding of that from copies sold to readers influenced, but it's the knowledge a reader will have by the end of your story that makes what you're doing truly valuable. And this understanding of how God fills us and dies for us is the greatest wisdom, the most valuable in the world. And if you are practicing that, that makes what you're doing invaluable.

I want to give you, as a witness of your discovery of that unchanging love, my invaluable opinion on it, my affirmation that you've been seen and heard and that what you've written down is completely worthy. And with your assurance that it's been well established and others will see it and respond, you can continue, knowing it's incredible and invaluable. 

So do you see what your story is really worth?

Because there's no true price tag you can put on it. There's no proper estimating the value of my work, my seeing it, or others' receiving it either. It's in-valuable. We have to simply trust together that whatever comes of it is just a small piece of its fullest value as a seed for God to use, and not at all connected to the worth of what you've written, or what I've done to help. I know you've sacrificed and given for your story, and I've been brought into the processing of it, but regardless of how it will be published and the realities of our modern marketplace, you must know:

What's your story really worth?

I remain your solid co-laborer in the process of delivering these invaluable words. Never assign its worth to money, public perception, publication, or anything else. Your heart is here, and that's established and it's something you have written definitively, and just as we have agreed together at the outset here, others will when they read it.

We don't know how it will all play out. But I'm on your side and not looking for specific outcomes big or small. Don't think in terms of what's "fair," but decide you will pay with your life what's necessary to give to this project. What you give is directly proportional to what that seed will be able to produce in readers. And in terms of return and profit, I believe Cohelo is right: the universe will conspire in our favor.

So what's your story really worth?

 

Your Loving Editor,

Mick

How Authors Get Everything They Really Want: The Death of Traditional Publishing “Success”

What is “success” as an author?

This question has more answers than Carter has pills. (My grandpa liked to say this, which always made me feel badly for whoever Carter was. Who is Carter and why does he have so many pills?)

Ah, this is great. I'm munching some popcorn Charlotte, my 5 year old, just brought me from her mid-morning snack. She’s home today for teacher’s conferences, and this is way more information than you need, but I want to set this up first, to say how glorious it is working from home, and appreciate that beauty with me, but second, how instructive it is to have a kid around who comes downstairs with her big bowl and quietly sets it near you, careful not to interrupt the typing, and say, “You can have some of my snack, if you want.”

I mean, this isn’t the way I imagined it. I had no idea. But I take a handful and she smiles and tells me to get lots of work done and leaves.

And I will. With this popcorn, I will work like a factory-assembly-line maniac. Like Carter without his pills.

Now I don’t work for her affection. She gives it to me freely. I don’t do a thing. I could even deny my affection, work so I never see her and miss out completely on a relationship with her and she’d still bring me her own food to share.

Because this is how it is with love.

And this question of how we define success has so many different answers because so many people don't feel loved. Underneath what we say we believe, "success" always has to do with whatever we're seeking most. These are words I've treasured: When you first seek to give yourself to God's way, his higher purpose, you'll be given everything you desire.

I used to think this was a cheap trick because when you do this, your desires "magically" change—and how easy is it to give me what I want when he just changes what that is first? Come on! But there's a deeper principle at work that says when you seek the higher purpose beyond yourself, you get what you really wanted all along.

It’s not different from your original desires, it's just deeper, more real. And hense, more lasting when it's fulfilled. It's always better to give than receive. It’s always better to do for another what you’d want done for you.

And I believe it. But do I? Would I act differently if I really believed? Do I give my popcorn, or do I eat it myself? What’s success: having the biggest handful or giving the most away?

Affirmation and validation are big traps for authors. Most realize it’s a fool’s errand, but the exploiters still sell it: “Are you desperate to feel appreciated and worthy? Sign with PAI-YUP Publishing today!” So many authors say they know where ultimate love is, but they don’t seem convinced. If they felt it, they’d know, and they’d figure out it’s probably dumb to try and squeeze love out of a book contract. But they don’t want to look deeper.

That’s not me. I mean, I know you can’t derive your value from a car or a job or even others’ opinions.

But we all still do it. And we close our eyes, rationalize it and make it “all right.”

Why do so many books get printed? Why do so many people work so hard when the only pay off is more attention and more work? Ask anyone “important”: more importance = more problems.

I know what I want to say with my work, and it is a way to give back, but I think I need to look harder at how what I’m writing is directly pouring into who is receiving it. This is a critical step in the process for anyone looking to share a book of true lasting value. I need to spend some more time picturing those outstretched bowls and me pouring from mine that’s been so generously filled…

So what's "success" to you, that is, what do you think is most important? Are you writing to “give back” or is it more about what you want to say?

Becoming an Introvert-Extrovert Author, Part II

Thanks for coming back. Last time I left off asking if we should be better introvert-extrovert authors, balanced between the extremes.

I thought some more over the weekend about classic books that survive as good reads. I still think most seem to be by introverted authors. Have times changed? I think so. There are probably some exceptional extroverted "classic authors," but maybe they're rare simply because just like today, extroverts by nature would rather be out having fun than sit in the house alone reading and writing books. I don’t doubt this could offend someone, but with the possible exception of Ernest Hemmingway (who arguably was a pretty well balanced introvert-extrovert), I can’t think of any who fit the classic extrovert author category.

Is this a new thought? I don't know, but it was for me recently. And how with all the books in that classic cannon, are some of them not by extroverts? Please share some if you have any.

But my bigger point is, today more than ever we need well-balanced introvert-extrovert authors, those rare people who can be 50/50. And I’m trying not to be stereotypical or protect my identity as an introvert (thanks Jon Acuff). Secure introvert-extroverts who can compete as wordsmiths and promoters are pretty rare, but they are the truly successful authors these days. There is a time for listening and a time for speaking. And no matter how good I am at one side of the game, I still have to join the other game, at some point. Even with books, loud still wins over quiet, hard over soft, big personality over reserved. Some people are born this way, others need to learn to appreciate the other side.

Not surprisingly, well-known, successful authors are able to be more extroverted, and whether that translates into being more dominant in the public sphere is a matter of perspective. What’s attractive in an author isn’t necessarily the same as what’s attractive in other famous folks. But media and publishing, tends to favor the extroverts, which feels so unfair to introverts who see this side of the business as invasive. It’s easy to begin feeling packaged, processed and reduced by marketing and the sales necessities that require evangelizing about books as competitive products.

There’s food for thought on how writers might be better developed today by Bill James at Slate. “I believe that there is a Shakespeare in Topeka today, that there is a Ben Jonson, that there is a Marlowe and a Bacon, most likely, but that we are unlikely ever to know who these people are because our society does not encourage excellence in lit­erature.”

Couple that with Ray Bradbury’s thoughts on his deeper motivation for writing: Looking over his life, he said his most important decision came when he was 9. “I was collecting Buck Rogers comic strips, 1929, when my 5th grade classmates made fun of me. I tore up the strips. A week later, broke into tears. Why was I crying? I wondered. Who died? Me, was the answer. I have torn up the future. What to do about it? Start collecting Buck Rogers again. Fall in love with the future! I did just that. And after that never listened to one damn fool idiot classmate who doubted me! What did I learn? To be myself and never let others, prejudiced, interfere with my life. Kids, do the same. Be your own self. Love what YOU love.”

Bradbury who wrote Farenheit 451 and sold over 100 million copies of his books, and said every writer has to write 1 million crappy words before he’s any good, said that the most important decision of his life was to reject what some extrovert said to him. How do I know it was an extrovert? I don’t. But because introverts don’t often assert dominance, it seems likely. I’m afraid far too many extroverts can’t understand this real social difficulty, and introverts can relate all too well. The good news is, even our deepest wounds can be gifts and we can use them to craft great work.

And if we can accept these disparate pieces of ourselves, and the different people in our lives, maybe we can become better balanced as authors of substance and successful.

I’ll talk more about the assumptions in being “successful” authors in a future post…

Why We Need Introvert and Extrovert Authors

You probably saw the headline and thought I was talking about two different types of authors, right? Ah, but this is an entirely new and different kind of post. This is how to draw on your hidden abilities as an extrovert and an introvert. 

Obviously, it's becoming ever more important for a good writer to use both. Story is king and only becoming more so as advertising and big media lose its dominance. We want writers who get themselves, who know how to tap into their heart message and share it with deep meaning (introverts). But in this new maket of noise and confusion, we also need authors who are dynamic and demand our eyeballs and can speak with authority, wit, and passion (extroverts). 

And this deep writer and engaging author need to live in the same person. 

I have to admit I'm biased. Prejudiced. Like most people, I tend toward one type over the other. Two guesses which it is.

It isn't my fault extroverts aren't as intelligent as introverts. It's why everyone wants to say they're an introvert but be an extrovert. If a respected news outlet reported that extroverts score an average of 10-20 points lower on IQ tests that introverts, who among us wouldn't believe it?

The extroverts. That's right.

I'm only teasing extroverts because they're tougher than the sensitive introverts. Never tease an introvert. Believe me, they carry that stuff around for life (Actually extroverts do too, so you see? There's more similarity than you think).

Now before I get into any more trouble, let me point out that God would not have made the majority of the world extroverts and then go on to make an entire species of animal–dogs–in their image if extroverts didn't make the world go around. Some of my best friends and favorite family members are extroverts, but if you're a dog-lover and a noise-maker who ramps up at parties and sometimes steps on people's toes in conversation, and just can't contain all that bubbly personality sometimes…if you're a bit wild and often messy and don't really get those quiet people and why they can't just lighten up and enjoy themselves…you have the making of a great celebrity author.

But God made cats too (and I know some of you extroverts are cat haters and you know what I'm talking about) and it's thanks to introverts that we even understand personality types to begin with. Jung (introvert) pointed out that introversion and extroversion actually come from differences in the brain and that typically, everyone has some of each in them (this explains why introverts with 1% extroversion need Paxil and extroverts with 1% introversion are commonly illiterate and lack abstract thought capabilities. I'm kidding, again.) 

Honestly, as a dominant introvert, I have many deficiencies if I want to be an author someday. So I'm encouraged because while I need my "introvert" part to produce a deep and meaningful subject and to craft it meticulously, I can draw on my passionate "extrovert" part for that great writing to connect (in quotes b/c it's generalizing). I've never heard this mentioned at a writers conference before, but I think this bears some deeper investigation. If the goal of life is finding greater balance between parts, this seems a good opportunity to blend our dreams for celebrated authorhood and the disparate parts of our personalities into a satisfying whole. 

I do wish history was more of a guide here. Most classic books and even those from several years ago could come from introvert writers and they did just fine. Today, headliner extroverts hire introverts and give them a "with" byline. Though obscure extroverts are probably in the same boat (it's rumored they exist), authors have to tap into both parts of themselves to get a publisher.

I'm just coming to this as another thing to consider in pursuing this writing/publishing business. I'll think on it some more and share my thoughts when I'm back on Monday.

Postscript: I recognize the peril of intentionally generalizing about the actual characteristics of extroverts and introverts. So don't take my word for it, Reading Rainbow-ers! Read for yourself: Please Understand Me

To be continued…

Interview with Mick Silva

This morning I had breakfast with an agent friend and when I got back, I realized I genuinely enjoyed Christian publishing, strange as that may sound. But I hadn’t had nearly enough coffee yet so I made my way over to the ol’ Bunn-o-matic…

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Oh boy. Here we go. Another chance to second-guess your happiness and remember everything that’s wrong with Christian publishing.

Would you stop? We’re not asking for your analysis.

Yes, that’s right. I’m misguided. Look, why don’t you just get out all your compelling arguments about why Christians aren’t producing the sort of innovative books you’d expect from those who have a corner on the source.

Do I do that? I don’t know. Maybe I used to. But you can’t really say any of those things without putting a big red target on your chest. And maybe that’s what some people want, but I think that is just ignorant.

You do. Well that’s refreshing.

I mean, what people want to hear is what makes Christian culture unique. And it isn’t that it’s better or cleaner or nicer than “secular” culture. It’s just that Christians are more aware how common, low, dirty, and nasty they really are and knowing that makes them somehow better, cleaner, and nicer. It’s really a sort of a lucky paradoxical thing how that works. The worse they think they are, the better they seem.

But you don’t accept that.

What I don’t accept is this category of “Christian” that can be reduced, labeled, packaged, and sold.

So you’re saying you make your living doing something you don’t really believe in?

No. I thank God for the opportunity. I just don’t think too hard about it. The key is to enjoy the better parts and ignore the fundamental problems. Look too close at anything and your eyes start blurring.

So just ignore it? That’s your big answer? Doesn’t seem like you.

No, I just think that we don’t need ask if making “Christian” books is truly a Christian thing to do anymore. It’s really just a fuzzy little navel-gazing thought.

I can’t believe we’re actually agreeing here.

Maybe you should get used to it. Pretty soon, we might be the same person.

God forbid.

I mean, you’d really rather not have this mushy little whiner stuck to your shoe any more than he does, right?

Your words, not mine. But, yeah. It doesn’t pay to puzzle too long about anything. The world was made for action. You have to get on the road before you get sidetracked by potholes.

Good point. Really, “Christian” books aren’t so bad. And praise Jehova they are here to stay. They have a purpose, at least an ideal one anyway, despite the unfortunate realities. And instead of “making the best of it,” we might as well accept that we have a tremendous opportunity here.

Yeah! Nevermind that ABA publishers are all now clamoring for CBA imprints seeking profit. We can use this interest to serve the kingdom! Like Jabez! Let’s use our power to expand our territory for God!

Whoa. Okay. Hang on.

What?

No. I can’t accept that. Sorry. Prosperity is man’s devising. God’s is forgotten stables, rotted limbs, and blind man’s spit. Shepherd boys and donkey’s tongues, remember?

…Where do you get that? How can you be in Christian business and make Christian books unless you’re looking for profit?

No. Don’t ask. I’m not thinking about it.

Man, you’re still dreaming. Ignore it. Move on. But you’re still the one who thinks being friendly is phony, bristling at all the rules for everything, who thinks the simplest, most rational parameters are evil restrictions designed to ruin your life. You’re headed nowhere.

Maybe so. But why have a blog about Christian books unless you intended to talk about the real issues?

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Maybe I need to switch to decaf.