Category Archives: Marketing

Is Christian Art Useless?

Fellow Christian writers and artists, do you consider this a challenge?

“Christian art is a knock-off.”

Maybe? Maybe it depends on what we consider Christian art.

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How do we define Christian art? Are the rules different than for regular art? Probably they are, and that’s fair since “Christian” should involve some specific differences about what’s artistic and what’s not.

So what does “Christian art” mean?

Is it art when it portrays some aspect of the glory of God? And are the qualities of the work less important, more important, or as important as the content, the message? Are the specific qualities merely the wrapping paper for the gift inside? Or is the packaging of the message the more important part?

Should “Christian art” mean what pleases God rather than what pleases man? Should it entertain or only be serious? Should it seek to convert its viewers by providing an alternative to unwholesome art? Should it be less interested in depicting the real world and more interested in what is pure, true, good, et cetera? Should it provide specific takeaways?

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And does this really matter? After 4 decades in the Christian subculture, I can finally say I don’t have the faintest clue. I stopped being able to judge Christian art somewhere around age 30. I can probably make a pretty fair argument for both sides, from “everything has to literally spell out the gospel in order to be Christian art” to “only organically Christian art is truly a witness.”

But the recent “film debate” between Fifty Shades of Gray and the Christian alternative “Old Fashioned” revived some of the unanswerable questions.

“This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.”

Is that true? Is Old Fashioned art for Christians? And is it really incapable of reaching beyond that? Why? And who really knows?

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And should we really spend time debating this?

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Every Christian industry–film, music, books and all those giftable products–exists for Christians. The art they sell is for people who want a message and aren’t as interested (though they still are) in the wrapping. Should we debate whether the message of Christian art is getting seen by regular folk?

Or should we be making art?

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My opinion? We should be making art. If the appeal of “50 Shades” proves anything, it’s that the wrapping of the message matters–a lot. Maybe more than the message, in many ways. (As Marshall McLuhan said back in 1964). So if you’re a Christian inclined to making beautiful art, you should probably spend more time working on making the package work, and not worrying so much whether the message is clear.

But my point is, whether Christian art is or isn’t largely miserable, useless and derivative, who cares? What if instead of debating we just got to work and focused more on making art than the distractions of others’ opinions?

Maybe that would be a more productive use of our gifts and time?

I’m reminding myself here. And now leaving to write.

Feeling better already…

The Story Uses You

I'm a PK (pastor's kid). So for many years I resisted anything that smacked of churchy Christianity.

But stories could always circumnavigate my barriers.

Jesus knew this too–the story was everything. When he asked which man did the right thing, everyone knew it was the Samaritan. Story sticks in the brain and causes the hearer to rethink their ideas in light of what their minds can no longer deny.

That's because fiction or nonfiction, a story is its own proof. It either works or it doesn't. And when it works, that's something no other method (business, campaign, powerpoint, one-sheet) can match.

Without a story, nothing gets done. Good grief. Case studies abound. If you don't believe the best stories create an unstoppable force by now, it's time to get studying, my friend. For example–check out the video here too ("Unstoppable") Or here: poetry is apparently rocket fuel for brains (think poetry isn't story? think again) Or check out the power of "case studies," i.e. stories.

Your work may be many things. But when we all get home at the end of the day and tell our spouses about it, it's always a story.

Feel free (as I did for many years) to avoid the unbeatable power of story and go for something "better." Technology. Ads. SEO. Fun activities. A bunch of bullet points. A convincing blog post. Plenty of things can assist story. But there is nothing better than story.

It's always inevitably about the story.

As an editor, I urge people not to try to "use" a story as subservient illustration. It may work for some pastors and already-well-known business gurus. But you need to know a good story uses you. Defines you. Creates you. Show you accept this and your readers will respect you. If you don't have an unstoppable story of your own yet (and you probably don't), try to tell others' as best you can. Just be careful: be a user and try to profit from story and you will fail. The new rules favor a new sincerity.

We'll be learning more on the power of story all year with Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook at YourWritersGroup.com.

There are many ways to learn about story, so even if you can't commit to reading this book with us, do yourself a favor and engage your brain in a good story today.

See what you learn…

Writers Conference “Dos and Don’ts”

From an editor's perspective, writers conferences can be a mixed bag. For those of you planning to attend one in the near future, or wondering whether you should, let me offer some dos and don'ts that apply to any writer's conference you might attend as an aspiring author…

Do know your genre. Everything may be expanding into new genres and sub-genres, but there will always be a line of books that precede yours in content and style, both informing it and categorizing it for a quick comparison. You may not like that others have written books like yours, but the fact is, it's your duty to know them and how you're improving the mold. Categories help us know what we're getting, even as barriers are breaking down between CBA (Christian Book Association) and ABA (American Book Association). Some people may not like categories, but they help readers. Some people may not like books that push the boundaries, but they're a sign of health and vigor.

Do get a publishing professional to sit on a panel and use you as an example of a fresh, and engaging voice. It was at the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal conference (in 2008 or 9?) that I was introduced to Ann Voskamp. She asked me to help her edit, and went on to publish an amazing book called One Thousand Gifts. Her distinctive, individual voice is what makes that book work, a voice she developed for years of writing and blogging and seeking out gifts for which she was thankful. So many things go into making a book a best seller, but her experience in writing and reading developed her voice and that was absolutely a factor in getting her published, not to mention talked about. Don’t be conniving and crafty, but do be a crafter of unmistakably unique work.

Don’t simply go to the conference to be fed. I hear this often: “The singer / food / accommodations / teaching is so wonderful!” Well yes, but these are compliments for the organizers, and they need to hear them. When you’re with a pro, don’t gush. They're not interested in your experience of the trappings. Would you be here if it was the worst, backwoods conference on the planet, just to deliver my the book that’s going to make me fall out of my chair? (more on this in a bit) Which leads me to,

Don’t be a sycophant. If you don’t have the definition memorized, please go do so now.

Don’t miss the point. IN 2005, on a panel at ACFW, I recommended The Time Traveler's Wife as the best book I’d read that year. In a rare moment of foresight, I included a warning that it might be offensive to some, but for months after that, I still heard about grumbling: “I can’t believe a Christian editor would recommend that book.” Dear ones, you have a responsibility to know what’s being written and read currently. Professional editors, agents and writers are readers. If you aren’t, that’s a serious handicap. Yes, do skip the sex/language/violence, but don’t misunderstand: you need to find out why an editor is recommending a book. Understand what that author did and that’s your ticket into his stable.

Do pay attention. Much of the benefit, if not all, of a writers conference is what you learn while there. Authors' and editors' names, literary terms, methods of writing, clarifying, editing, working, thinking, appealing to the muse. Don't waste your time worrying about your pitch, selling your idea, trying to force your way up from the place you need to be to learn. It's not about getting published. It's about being in a place where you are being courted because you've acquired so much knowledge, and your book begs to be published. While many bad books do get published, publishing the good ones is inevitable. 

Don’t listen to amateurs. There is more slippery sludge thrown around by well-meaning Christian newbies than any of us can shake our fingers at. The blogging world has made this bad advice proliferate, and there’s far too much posturing and speculating that goes on in absence of good data and some honest humility. Pride and ego can get the best of anyone—so be smart and listen to those who know.

Don’t tell me your entire story. Just stick to the P’s: Pitch, Package, Platform. PITCH: Give me the essence in as few words as possible. (caveat: “Aliens meets Blue Like Jazz” is not helpful. “Philip K. Dick meets Don Miller” is better, but explain that genre with a more specific comparison like, “Dean Koontz meets Graham Greene.” (I've actually heard this one. And that gave me a great picture.) PACKAGE: Tell me about series potential, what else you've written, what your "brand" is, any foreword or endorsements you’ve got, good-sized* publicity and promo opportunities, which leads right into PLATFORM: How big and how wide is your network? Are you bringing any guaranteed pre-sales through your blog, business, website, contacts in ministry, media, or miscellany (schools, churches, professional organizations, etc.) *total network of 1000 or more is fairly baseline for mid-size Christian publishers. That won't get you in the door a big of NY publishers.

Do know something about what publishing houses publish. Know the catalog and general sales figures (CBA top 50 titles, at least), especially for books like your own. You can find info on sales figures by asking questions: an author/agent/editor or clerk at a larger bookstore.

Do get in a crit group with real writers. When you say you’re in a crit group with a promising author or authors I recognize, it’s a big indication you’ll be an author I want to take more seriously. This is an alternative to getting a respected agent’s highest regard, though having both would probably make me fall out of my chair.

Do make me fall out of my chair. I really am a nice guy. But I have to be efficient as an acquisitions editor making pitches against the competition of other editors and publishers. A vast majority of the pitches I hear at conferences are not good. Learn what you're doing. Read this blog, have a professional help you, and if you’re pitching know the person, their house, and publishing guidelines. Even better, know their publishing goals. Follow what they've published and read their blog! The professional in the chair across from you is looking to see that you get it, you understand the situation, and you’re well-prepared. Do that, and you won’t have to quiver and freak out. Learn the criteria of a good proposal. Read the publishing trades (mainly PW & GalleyCat for ABA, CBA Marketplace and Christian Retailing for CBA market) and relevant editorial (Christian Communicator, Books and Culture) so you know what’s happening in the business you’re hoping to join. And remember, it's a business.

So go to writers conferences and soak up the knowledge and the community of like-minded individuals, and help someone grow! When you do that, you win. You get noticed. You get inspired. And those around you will remember or realize for the first time how great it is to be in a place like this, doing work they love, with people who are making a difference.

I mean, that's what I hope for…

 

A repost from the archives as I head out to the OCCWF conference this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there!

Ice Cream, Writers Websites, & Making Your Calories Count

Tillamook ice cream is one of the true pleasures of our moving to Portland. Images

I know I risk outing myself as a closet ice-cream freak, but I don't care. The way they pack so much lactocine goodness into every delicious spoonful is enough to make me want to move here all over again, just to have the pleasure of realizing I now, once again, have access to the greatest ice cream in the universe.

I am not proud of this. But I refuse to be ashamed of my obsession any longer.

Yeah, okay, there's Haagen Dazs. But that's not really ice cream. It's frozen butter. Of course that's going to be good. Dip a cold stick of butter in vanilla and sugar and go to town. It's tasty. It's also going to deposit you in coronary junction.

You think I'm kidding. Go ahead. Have your Haagen Dazs. We'll see who dies first.

But to bring this just a little bit nearer to my actual point, as I was preparing to indulge in my shopping day rendevous with a blissed-out ice cream coma, I came across a new ad printed along the plastic safety collar. You're familiar with these, and the same lawyers' work from tamper-evident seals on vitamin jars and baby toys. These same demons clearly made these evil little wrappers indestructible because they derive pleasure not from ice cream, but from making you convulse in frustration while slicing your hands on their cleverly-designed razor bands.

I could get scissors, but now it's too much like letting them win, so I decide teeth would be best and I bring the carton to my face to gnaw the daylights out of some shrunk-wrapped landfill.

And that's when I saw it. Little white printing in a playful serif font: "More ice cream per container." Well, I'll be chocolate-swirled.

That's it, I thought. Though even then, I wasn't quite sure what "it" was.

But something grabbed me in that claim that sounded vaguely similar to what I'm pulling together in my little corner of the information superflyway. Sure, you can go for those other writers sites and publishing packages that promise "editing" and thorough quality controls. But you'll get more ice cream per container with this site. And you don't even have to chew your way through uncertain danger to get to it.

I'm not big on self-promotion, so it can be tough to feel competitive against so many big guys who pump their ice cream full of air and diglycerides, just to make sure you think what you're getting is the good stuff. I also know I've been less than gracious about the end product of such. But "frozen dairy dessert" is not what I want for all my sacrifices in the supermarket of inspired dreams. Writers work hard for their visions. And no flashy ads or deep discounts from the other guys can supply the fullest experience my mouth and stomach deserve.

So I'm continuing on writing and designing the new site, hoping someone will notice the fact that there's more actual of the real good stuff shoved in here and that's what they really want. It's not going to catch everyone, but at least those who appreciate such things will know their calories are doggone gonna count.

A Selling Networking Marketing Post! (I know!)

I know. I feel the same way about marketing as you do. Even saying the word makes the sunshine in my soul go out just a little bit.

But if it's actually time for you to "increase your network," I think I may have found something that I can actually recommend. And it doesn't involve you being forced to start using such phrases as "increasing your network."

I've been asked several times if I'd write on marketing, networking, advertising, promoting, publicity and selling. I've resisted the subject for so long, hoping it would go away, but like a bad boil (yes, exactly, there isn't any other kind) it keeps popping up.

So being the helpful, considerate person I am, I've decided to lance this subject once and for all by deferring to a great case study which is the best way I know to help people out, pay it forward and still get out of having to actually do something myself.

So, check out Tony Hsieh, author of the New York Times bestseller Delivering Happiness and CEO of Zappos.com, Inc. and his guest review of Peter Guber's new book, Tell to Win.

And you're welcome.