Category Archives: On the Christian Booksellers Association

On Editors: Find the Best Before You Invest

How do you find the right editor and what’s a fair cost?

greatbooksEditors have different systems of working and what they charge. Cost varies depending on their experience, the type of work needed and other factors. 

As an editor, the most difficult part for me is striking a balance between giving writers what they want and determining what they actually need. 

The Editorial Freelancers Association (the-EFA.org) provides a helpful approximate rate sheet of the range of fees for types of editing:

Heavy copyediting                       2-5 pgs/hr       $40-50/hr

Developmental/content editing    1-5 pgs/hr       $45-55/hr

So for a 300-page book (75,000 words), heavy editing is $3700 average, while developmental editing–what I do–is $5000 average.

Some editors will try to do both types of editing at once, but this is unprofessional and produces shoddy results. Many editors will provide whatever service you ask for, even if you need more extensive help, which obviously cripples your book in the marketplace. Self-publishers are notorious for this kind of cursory “editing.”

Can a new author’s book compete in today’s market? If it has any chance, it needs the careful insight and refinement professional editing provides, especially developmental editing. Such in-depth development is simply required to ensure it can reach a wide audience.

So while most new writers want basic editing, they actually need developmental editing or coaching. Obviously, such work is expensive. 

Many authors can’t imagine paying $5000 or more to ensure their book can compete. Is it worth that expense? It depends. Everyone has a story–but will you be patient and invest more and work harder than your competition?

That’s the all-important question. And I’ll only work with authors who understand that.

So when hiring an editor, first consider the experience and time he or she puts in, and consider what traditional, royalty-paying publishers put into editing their books (more on that here: The Cost of a Good Book by Brian McClellan). 

Years of editing experience matter, but so does an editor’s list of successful titles. The cost of a professional editor is made up for in how they prepare your book to stand up against all the others currently out there. Like any consultant, their market knowledge and expertise is a large part of what you’re paying for.

Also, what’s their specialty? A professional knows their market and has many successful books under his or her belt because it’s their special place of interest. 

fear quote
Roosevelt said that. I think.

You’re investing in yourself and your skill first and foremost. Your book, your readers, and your future self depend on how you respond. 

Do they conduct themselves professionally and what’s their workload like? Ask for an estimate and expect to pay for quality. Finally, set a budget and get the best editor you can afford.

So consider: 

  • Experience (years spent at publishers doing what?)
  • Helpfulness (read testimonials and endorsements, ask other authors)
  • Genre & specialty market interest
  • Professionalism
  • Work load

You can afford the most qualified editor. Believe in your book, create your budget, and your investment will pay off.

The best advice I can give you? The market for books is saturated. But the market for great books is inexhaustible. Commit yourself as unto the Lord and you will rise to the top. It’s a promise with a question: 

How bad do you want it?

If you invest wisely and patiently, a successful book is an inevitability. 

Remember, highly qualified editors are not after your business because they don’t have to be. Your book began as inspiration from God. If he gave it to you, he will give you everything you need to complete it. Does that mean easy sailing all the way? Or might it mean learning through the challenges  and growing in character? Could this journey be used to make you into the best possible spokesperson for your message? Might it refine and sharpen and prepare you to meet that hungry, hurting audience of readers who are eager for what only you know?

A pro edit is your uncontested best chance of not only selling well, but of gaining the experience required to produce top-notch books. And the lessons you’ll learn in the process are far and away the best training you will receive for your career.

The spoils will go to those willing to work.


Ready for editing or coaching? Browse my editing rates and begin to determine what sort of editing you might need. An evaluation might be best if you’d like advice or to know whether coaching or waiting might be a better option for you. I look forward to seeing if I can help.

Pick a Fight You’re Willing to Lose

Dear Strong Christian,

How much I’d like to fight with you.

Charlotte fighting

But I suppose the truth is, I’m not that concerned. I know you’ll be fine in time, when life does its work and then God does his. I don’t need you to agree with me, and I don’t care about disagreement. I’m not sure what happened, but when did we start to think Christians all have to agree in order to love and find common ground?

I know there are more important matters than this. I’m not very high on the list of people whose opinions matter and sway others. Nor do I wish to be. I have a quiet life and a simple story to share. I don’t want that to change. I have enjoyable, behind-the-scenes book work to do.

Trying to convince people–even publishers, agents and writers in CBA–of my point is pointless. I do enjoy discussion, though often debates don’t appeal because competition implies a winner and a loser and that opposes my gospel.

It’s my gospel because who can say if it’s yours, however great our hope may be? Real life is not so cut and dry.

This post pretty much states my “position,” if I have one. And the blogosphere could do well to remember it:

http://www.thechurchofnopeople.com/2013/04/everyones-orthodoxy-is-someone-elses-heresy/

Striving for answers is foolishness beyond the one Jesus offered. There are many things he didn’t talk about that get a lot of people upset. They wish so much he’d said more, but they’re missing the ones he did say. Make peace and you’re blessed. Accept suffering for another’s sake. When we’re focused on being right, too often we’re wrong. So many of his “answers” focused us on the bigger questions—it’s as though he’s saying, “I know it’s impossible, so what will you do with what I did say about trusting me?” Is that putting words into his mouth?

He wasn’t merely evasive; he was patient and unrelenting. But he knew answers too often barricade the high and the low, the insiders and the outsiders, and his work was leveling all of that out. He was okay appearing wrong. Appearing weak.

Who will be that hero?

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

Crossing Over: Writing to the “Spiritually Interested”

"Spiritually interested" is the rather obtuse designation Cathy Grossman borrowed for her article in USA Today speaking about the audience of The Shack. The term comes from Wayne Jacobsen, one of the publishers of the book, attempting to define the larger market for Christian books that Christian publishing is not serving. Since one of my stated goals for this website is to bridge that gap, I think it might be instructive to discuss whether Christian publishing should appeal to more than Christians. After all, like faith without works, or a church that doesn't evangelize, the situation seems unnecessarily restrictive at best, at worst unbiblical.

 

So our question from last time was, How does one capture the tone, approach, and appeal in this blossoming category of books for the spiritually interested? Some primary distinctives are that these books:

 

  • Do not identify with the Christian subculture or the Christian product and media industries.
  • Focus on experiential faith over propositional truth: Not arguments or lessons, but immersion in a direct, story-driven experience.
  • Show supernatural experience not “evidence” (natural or biblical): The transcendence of God intervening in everyday life through “dispatches from the other side.”
  • Are mysterious over convincing, allowing an experience that’s open-ended, unexplained, and even inconclusive.
  • Are timely and timeless, revealing the here-and-now God unbound to traditionalism, and intimately involved in our uncertainty about the present and near-future.
  • Reveal love triumphing over law, in relationship-affirming and life-honoring freedom from formal religious dogma, judgment, or mediation.

Before hurrying on, we should talk more about that first bullet. Those looking for books outside the strict confines of popular Christianity generally don’t seem to spend much time looking in places the gatekeepers control, namely Christian bookstores. And though there are several exceptions, the obvious limiting factor in getting these books read is that they are not “Christian” enough for Evangelical Christian readers, and up until recently, were too spiritual for most NY houses.

 

But now you see, that’s changing. These books for the spiritually interested are not coersive, they don't pound principles, which is a major reason they fit better in the general market than the Christian subculture. They aren’t closed to including what doesn’t currently fit modern Christianity. These books are redemptive, but their redemption comes in the jouney, not the destination. The “take-away” is of becoming engaged in an exploration, not to fix something, convert skeptics, or even evoke a quatifiable change, but to enjoy a satisfying read. The Shack, while not high literature, provides an example of book-as-interpretive-experience that causes readers to explore. That exploration attracts many “recovering Christians,” but the transcendent experience is broader and more profound than simple affirmation. The Shack challenges stereotypes about God to present him as a generous, fun-loving, approachable mother/father, with a single agenda of bringing unconditional, sacrificial love into the world. In religion and in larger society, that's an easy reality to miss. And what I find so exciting about this example is that despite its initial rejection by CBA and ABA publishers, it's revealed a huge desire for discussion about this God who doesn't necessarily begin and end in our established categories.

 

So why did Christian or NY editors believe their houses shouldn't publish it? Several possibilities, but "too risky" and "not up to snuff" seem likely to this editor.

 

The Shack proves there's an audience of spiritually interested folks who are not being served either by the so-called Christian ghetto or the ivory towers.

 

Some take issue with the idea of designating books as Christian at all. One result of The Shack's success is that readers now recognize there's something more to God and maybe even this word "Christian" than they realized. Maybe David Sessions wasn't just being bombastic when he said that the divide between Christian and mainstream designations has been the single most damaging idea to Christianity in the modern world.

 

Of course, here are the sticky swamplands. If it's not Christian, how do we know it’s wholesome? Can we really let people be their own judges of that? Many rely on labels in today’s hyper-marketed culture, myself included. Where do we redraw the lines of this demographic? And I don't want to waste time arguing about the morality of blurring this line–hoping for a greater reach isn't a failure of faith. I don't question those who still feel called to be Christian writers, and never anything less. But the challenge remains. There's a big underserved audience out there. How are we going to reach them?

 

The good news is, reaching this spiritually interested audience isn't only possible, it's profitable. So next time we'll take a closer look at some comparative books and content characteristics that should reveal a bit more about how we define this emerging category.

Christian Products’ Industry Future is “Bleak”

Demonstrating once again the failure to distinguish between Christian products and Christian books, Christian Retailing reports that former marketing exec for Nelson and Zondervan, Greg Stielstra, foresees a bleak future for the Christian "products industry" (CR):

"Brick-and-mortar operations haven't lost all their business, but they've lost the business that will allow them to stay in business, whether they know it or not," says Stielstra.

Interviewed for World Magazine’s annual books issue (ironically releasing Independence Day, and just one week before the International Christian Retail Show), Stielstra says: "There's a lot of lip service to online retailing and to e-books, but there's still too much allegiance to old ways of doing business. Surges in Christian fiction, or in sub-niches, are just disguising the fundamental problems."

Stielstra adds that the music industry showed the way ahead for the book business. "It's no accident that it took a computer company–Apple–to figure out the new music model. They had nothing invested in the old model, nothing to protect."

(Incidentally, in the same upcoming issue, a World report highlights self-publishing as "the bright spot in a gloomy book-selling environment.")

Many thoughts ricocheting around my head over this, but one question stands out: Could it be that some Christians don't consider books just another product among the "miscellaneous retail" taking over Christian stores? Okay, another: Could it be that the Christian retail channel has focused too narrowly on certain segments of their potential market?Or maybe it's just that Wal-Mart or Amazon is cheaper.

The International Christian Retail Show changed its name from the Christian Bookseller's Convention recently after many years of books losing floor space to other products. Now books are also losing to a retail industry that sees no connection between their recent downturn and the surge in popularity of the "spiritual-but-not-religious" description of faith.

We can ignore or decry the situation all we want. But I wonder, 

Is there a connection between current rejection of establishment restrictions (about which the established powers–religious, corporate, and governing–are typically very concerned), and these entities' declining health?

Because whether YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are creating or following this social revolution, it doesn't seem many in the established powers (save Obama, maybe) are really paying much attention. 

Well, I haven't read the article yet. Maybe that's part of what Stielstra is saying about Christian retail. His coauthored book, Faith-Based Marketing probably deserves a fair read.