Treasure Hunts

eggsHiding Easter eggs well is an art form. Hiding spots must be chosen carefully, keeping several factors in mind. First is the location of the hunt. If it is rainy or cold, an indoor hunt may have to replace the traditional outdoor hunt. Age is also important. Hiding an egg in the branches of a tree is fine for an older child, but a toddler will never see it. The toddler sometimes misses the egg sitting in the open on the sidewalk. Another important factor is whether the hunt is for an individual child or a group. If it’s a group, you have to take care to hide the eggs evenly between the age appropriate hiding places and make sure older children know which ones to leave for little ones who move a slower and may not even understand the concept of hunting the eggs.

But once they get the concept, it’s so much fun to watch a child’s enthusiasm over the Easter egg hunt. You’d think someone hid gold rather than candy and hard boiled eggs! Of course, to a child, opening a plastic egg to find a favorite candy is a real treasure hunt worthy of all their excitement.

Kat Williams, from Callum’s Compass by Sara Foust, knows the feeling. When her friend Clayton passes away, he leaves her clues that start her on her own treasure hunt. Unlike egg hunts of childhood, this treasure hunt promises a big reward and lands Kat in more danger than she imagined possible. But she’s not alone in her hunt. Ryan Jenkins, a wildlife officer, reluctantly accepts his duty to help Kat in her position as a biologist doing research in the area. As they spend time together, Kat tells him of the treasure hunt, and he finds himself going along on the adventure.  All they have to do to find more rewarding treasures than they’d hoped is figure out each riddle of a clue and avoid dangers from both nature and the criminals who want to stop their treasure hunt permanently.

Most of us have outgrown Easter egg hunts, and hopefully, we won’t face a life or death treasure hunt like Kat any time soon.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t treasure for us to seek out. Colossians 2:3 tells us godly wisdom and knowledge are treasures. Several verses in Proverbs reinforce this idea. 2 Timothy tells us the gospel of Jesus is a treasure we are to guard through the Holy Spirit.  These are just some of the treasures God gives His children, and they are treasures that cannot be taken or destroyed.

By the Book: Scripture tells us what we treasure in our hearts is what comes out in our lives. Is your life showing the treasures of God or the treasures of this world?

For Every Action

Actions have consequences. It sounds like a “no duh” statement, but think about how much time we spend trying to convince ourselves they don’t. Hard lives and hours in the sun leave us wrinkled, but there’s always Botox. We like to eat what we want, when we want it, but we don’t like being fat. Enter the next miracle weight loss pill requiring no changes in diet or exercise. Maybe you’ll even have some liposuction. Got a quickie wedding when you were too wasted to realize what was going on? Get a quickie annulment and make it go away.  Break the law? Get yourself an expensive lawyer and get off scot-free.

Even our children are subjected to the mindset that says I can do what I want and not have to pay the price. Some young athletes don’t put the effort into their education that’s necessary to stay eligible to play. But if you’re a good enough athlete, that’s okay. You’ll miraculously pass anyway. A child misbehaves in class, and we let it slide because discipline is taboo. Instead, we reward behavior that should be seen as fundamentally right and then wonder why things go south when the rewards are cut off. Parents buy their children out of trouble instead of letting them feel the pain of their actions. We’ve even divorced them from damage to their reputations due to their choices. A person who cheats on things isn’t a cheater. The habit of lying doesn’t make you a liar, and a life of stealing doesn’t make you a thief. Those are just things we do. They don’t make us who we are, and it’s wrong to insinuate otherwise. We’re teaching them what we’ve been taught; what you do doesn’t matter because there are no lasting consequences.

Only there are consequences.  And those consequences can be far reaching. Psychologist Taylor Martin, the main character from Shadows of the Past by Patricia Bradley understands this well. Taylor not only teaches psychology, she puts it into practice as she helps law enforcement solve crimes through profiling. Taylor looks at the cause and effect relationship to determine how victims and perpetrators are related. What actions spurred on which reactions which in turn led to the crimes committed? Taylor puts the pieces together to find the unknown criminal.

The process becomes a matter of life and death for Taylor when a stalker’s obsession turns violent. Unmasking the criminal and making sense of how everything weaves into the history of her family is made harder when suspects’ actions muddy the waters. Scott, a former student, seems harmless enough, but early life choices led to alcoholism which in turn left him in vulnerable positions. He soon finds himself suspect number one in not only Taylor’s stalking case but murder as well.  Is Taylor’s gut reaction true or is it a set up? And if it is a set up where is the true danger hiding and why? Taylor struggles with lining up the correct actions and consequences in time to catch a killer and keep from becoming the victim of a murder herself.

A failure to correlate our actions to our consequences may not invite a murderer into our circle of acquaintances like it did for Taylor, but it can take us into places we don’t want to be both physically and spiritually. The Psalms and Proverbs are packed with warnings to make godly choices, and neither book shies away from the idea that choices have consequences. In fact, many times, David and Solomon were very firm and descriptive in their explanations of the results that follow poor choices.

One of results is the damage of our witness. We become associated with the choices we make.  In kindergarten at my children’s school, they had to memorize a verse that I hope has stuck with them as much as it has me. Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” It’s a truth even children can understand, but we can use it as a tool to measure our own grasp of actions and consequences. It’s as simple as asking ourselves one question. What did my actions today say about who I am?

By the Book: Think about some of the choices you’ve made in life. What were the consequences of those choices? What do your daily choices say about you? Is this what you want the world to see when they look at you?

MCM: Heroes and Villains Edition

Usually on Main Character Monday I feature the main protagonist, the hero, from one of the books I’ve reviewed. We love our main characters. They give us something to aspire to. They remind us of us. We connect to their stories, and we are firmly in their corners. We learn with them, hurt with them, and laugh with them. Their lives, the growth they go through during the time of the story, encourage and challenge us in our own lives.

But what would a main character be without their antagonist, their villain? These are the characters created to receive our dislike. They are the ones challenging the characters we love. Sometimes they act in deplorable ways. Even the less vile ones exhibit characteristics that simply rub us the wrong way. Their methods, their driving forces, are not things we aspire to. We don’t want to see ourselves in these characters. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t as necessary to the story, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons we can take from them as well.

Often, the antagonist of a story isn’t what you would term a true villain. They aren’t pure evil. They aren’t psychopaths. These certainly exist in stories, but what about the others? Some of the most strongly written antagonists have stories that are just as compelling as their heroic counterparts. They are stories of hurt, pain, disillusionment, disappointment, and torment that twist the hearts and minds of the antagonist.

Kristen Heitzmann is an expert at creating this type of character. Her antagonists are so complex that to use them as an example would give away too much of the stories she’s written. I found only one of these characters that I feel I can share anything about in the novel The Edge of Recall. He is a young man with a more than troubled past. Hidden since childhood from a world that is less than understanding and far from kind, Donny knows to survive he has to stay invisible. However, when developers threaten to unearth the only home, the only safe place he has ever known, Donny realizes the only way to protect himself is to get rid of them. Donny has spent years honing the skills he needs to survive, including breaking into houses and stealing what he needs. He puts these skills to use as he terrorizes those he believes wants to rip his home away from him.

Donny is far from being the only antagonist in the story, but his part in the novel is equally terrible and heartbreaking. He does some horrible things in his attempts to keep himself safe. And we realize actions have consequences no matter their motivation. But at the same time, Heitzmann gives us a clear picture of the pain that molded him into the man he became. This is where we find our challenge.

Donny didn’t set out to be the bad guy. People rarely do. Hurt and fear can push people to things they never would have imagined possible. Again, I don’t say that as an excuse to justify wrong actions. There are plenty of people that find something to hold onto, to encourage them to rise above the sad tales of their pasts. Even for those who don’t there is still accountability. But there is a level of accountability for believers as well.

Scripture tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The New Testament tells us in many different ways to bear with each other in patience and love. Our battle cry when we are faced with the topics of abortion or euthanasia is “God made us all. We’re all loved by Him. We all have a purpose and deserve a chance at life.” It may be right, but what about when we’re faced with someone different than us? Do we cringe and pass to the other side of the street when we see the literally dirty, smelly old man coming? Do we make a moment’s stilted conversation and excuse ourselves as quickly as possible when we come in contact with someone who has a mental challenge, physical defect, or is just plain socially awkward? What about that annoying person who always seems to want to be around us? How do we treat him?

How many have suffered mentally and emotionally at our own hands because we were too uncomfortable to deal with them in love and patience? How many have internalized the pain and poured it out on others, when a simple act of kindness could have given them something to hold onto, could have given them hope? Please understand, I am not saying we are responsible for their actions. Everyone has choices. But we are responsible for our actions, and those actions can cut deeper than we realize.

James 1:27 gives us the definition of pure religion according to God. In addition to living a life that is undefiled, he says it is “to visit widows and orphans in their distress”. How often are we guilty of brushing off the cranky old widow or needy little kid? Of looking only at our own needs and the needs of those in our immediate circle? Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” When we as believers start doing justly and loving mercy, when we act in patience and in love, we can become God’s hope for someone who’s hurting. We can’t make them choose the hero’s life over the villain’s life, but we can show them there is a better way. Isn’t it time we did our part to ease and heal the hurts of those God has brought into our lives?

Waiting for the Other Shoe

Have you ever found yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop? If not, count yourself blessed. If you have, count yourself blessed anyway. No, I mean it. Do you know how many scriptures there are pointing to the ways God uses problems and pains in our lives to make us more like Him? To better equip us for the purpose He has for us?

We live in a sin filled world. We live with sinful people, just like they live with us. Because sin runs rampant all around us, bad things happen. Because the world is not the perfect garden God originally created for us, bad things happen. Hard things happen too. Unfair things happen. Things we can’t even begin understand happen all the time. It’s simply a fact of life on earth.

But our merciful, loving Father chooses to use those things. When we let Him do His work, God redeems those horrible things. The pain and confusion may not subside. We may not ever even understand the whys, but God will use those situations in our lives.

Temperance Tucker from A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz understands hard times. Life would be full of trials for anyone living in unsettled Kentucky in the late 1700s, but Tempe has been dealt a pretty bad hand. Her father is on the run after killing a man leaving her, her mother, her brother, and Paige to run the Moonbow Inn by themselves. Her fiancé has been killed, and Tempe struggles to find reason not to join him in death. War with England has stretched the already strained relationship between colonists and Native Americans. Danger lurks everywhere Temp turns. It couldn’t get any worse for Tempe, but then it does at the whim of her own father. He sends her to act as scout for a group of surveyors. A woman alone with a group of strange men in hostile territory. If she manages to live through the adventure, will she be able to salvage her reputation? Will she be able to forgive her father for making this demand of her? Though the author doesn’t put it this way, Tempe must learn to embrace the lesson of Joseph.

Joseph knew about hardship. He went from favored son to hated brother to slave to prisoner to pharaoh’s right hand man to the means of salvation for his people from drought. Unjustly sold into slavery. Unjustly accused of trying to rape his owner’s wife. Left to rot in a jail cell. A lot was done to Joseph that wasn’t only out of his control, it was unfair and cruel. Just one of the things that happened to him would cause some people to throw in the towel. But not Joseph. At the end of it all, Joseph was able to look at everything that happened to him and say, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”(Genesis 50:20) Our own situations may not preserve life for a nation, but we can still adjust our attitudes and be able to say God used each situation for good in our lives.

By the Book: Adopting the attitude that sees everything in our lives as something God can use for good is not easy. It doesn’t change the situations. It doesn’t erase the pain. But it can change the way we pray during and handle those times. Read the story of Joseph in Genesis and Philippians 4. Ask God to use the negative situations you face to bring about something good, and ask Him to help you keep a godly attitude while you are going through it.

Seeing the Unseen

At some point, you’ve probably experienced the feeling that someone or something is behind you. I feel that way after watching creepy movies or television shows, which is why I don’t knowingly watch them. But that’s not really what I’m talking about. That’s rooted in fear of something that isn’t really there. It’s transferred fear from what I just watched.

The feeling doesn’t have to be born of something sinister. Today at work, I was having a conversation with a co-worker when that feeling struck. I work in a doctor’s office. Danger doesn’t lurk around every corner waiting to pounce. So, as this feeling of being watched came over me, it did so without inspiring fear. However, as I turned and realized another co-worker was standing directly behind me, just inches away, staring intently at me, I have to admit I jumped a little. How in the world did she invade my space without me realizing it? I have a pretty impenetrable personal bubble. How did she weasel her way inside to surprise me?

I wasn’t in tune with my surroundings. I was so focused on the conversation I was having with my other co-worker that I had blocked out everything else. Being caught unaware didn’t hurt anything in this situation, but that isn’t always the case. Dark parking lots, empty nature trails, and secluded alleys are all areas where being aware of your surroundings can be the difference between life and death.

For Thea, the main character in the fantasy novel The Seer by Erin Howard, being in tune with what’s going on around you takes a different twist. Thea doesn’t know it, but she’s a seer, a person with the unique ability to see what’s going on in the spiritual realm alongside our physical realm. Seers are protected by angels and hunted by demons because of their gifts. As Thea first awakens to her gift and realizes the battle raging around her, her gift doesn’t seem like such a gift. When learning to master her ability requires partnerships with not only her protecting angel but also the demon sent to kill her, Thea wants nothing more than to return to normal life. But once a seer has awakened to happenings in the spiritual realm, normal is over.

Particulars of faith aren’t spelled out in The Seer, but the idea of spiritual battles raging around us is scriptural. The Bible doesn’t spell out exactly how angel and demon interaction weaves into our physical lives, but the reality of spiritual and physical lives working in tandem is undeniable. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” That’s not to say I think every bad thing that happens, every illness or failure is the result of demons at work. We live in a world marred by sin. Bad happens naturally as a result.

But with scripture stating it so clearly, we as believers need to be aware there are things happening beyond our line of sight. There are battles going on every day that we don’t see, but we can see the results of them. And like Thea, we have been given a gift. We may not physically be able to see angels and demons, but we’ve been given the Holy Spirit. Part of His job is to give us discernment. When we’re in tune with God and scripture, the Holy Spirit can help us sense when something is not right spiritually. We can feel God’s Spirit moving in a service. We can also feel it when we’re listening to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That unsettled, sometimes sickening, feeling can be God giving us insight into what’s going on in the spiritual realm. It warns us to proceed with caution or flat out run from a situation. This gift of discernment can lead us to the people God wants us to help or away from those who seek to destroy.

And like Thea found, the gift comes with a responsibility. We don’t get to choose when to use the gift. We need to be ready to move in the direction the Holy Spirit leads us. If God moves in us to help someone, we need to be ready to answer that call no matter the outcome. If God tells us a situation or person is not right, we need to get away from it. Sometimes, we need to do it while warning others of the dangers. We find that out through discernment as well.

And once we’re awakened to this gift of discernment, life will never be normal again.

By the Book: Have you experienced discernment from the Holy Spirit in your life before? Have you felt the Spirit giving approval to a service or action before? What about Him warning you? What are you doing to stay close in your relationship with God so that you are better able to use the gift of discernment?

Main Character Monday 11 Plus Giveaway

Main ChaGuilt by Association FB sizeracter Monday is a little different than my regular blog posts, but interviewing the characters of the books I review is a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy them too!

If you stopped by yesterday and read the Guilt By Association book review, you’ll be happy to hear today’s guest is none other than Tess Spencer  from  Guilt by Association by Heather Day Gilbert. And in addition to a great interview, Tess (and her author, Heather) are giving away an e-book copy of Guilt By Association to one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter is comment below. 

Thank you for joining me, Tess.

 

 

Is there a person from the Bible that you most relate to?

I’d probably have to say Ruth, because I live right next to my mother-in-law, and I hope I never move away from her. Nikki Jo Spencer is one of a kind, and she’s been more of a mother to me than my own mom. Bad mother-in-law jokes actually make me cringe.

That sounds like a great mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship and a great blessing for you. Thinking back what has been the most difficult lesson God has taught you?

I think one lesson God has to keep teaching me is to consult Him before I charge into things alone. I’ve always been the one to take care of myself in life (until I got married), and it’s my tendency to rush to people’s rescue, whether I’m fully prepared to do it or not. I know God gave me this protective personality, but I won’t help anyone unless I have the power of the Lord on my side before I’m face to face with evil.

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Is there one of these characteristics you find easier to show than the others?

I don’t know—that feels kind of like bragging, and I don’t like braggarts. 🙂 But I am very faithful to those I love, I will say that.

Okay, let’s look at it from the other direction. Which one is the most challenging for you?

I’m sure my beloved husband, Thomas, would say it’s self-control. When we first married, I had more of a temper (ask him about the red velvet cupcake incident), and I’ve had to work on that. But I still have trouble reining myself in when mysterious things start happening to my friends or when people act like bullies.

I definitely need to find out more about that cupcake incident sometime. However, we are getting close to wrapping things up. If you could give one message to those reading this interview, what would you tell them?

Don’t be afraid to stand up for the weak and for what’s right. Things might not work out the way you’d hoped, but we know “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33)

Just for Fun:

Dark or Milk Chocolate? Milk, because added sugar is always fun.

Beach or Mountains? Mountains, because I live in the mountains and they comfort me.

Sweet Tea or Lemonade? Sweet tea, although Nikki Jo’s lemonade is amazing.

How would you describe Heather Day Gilbert in three words?

What a funny question! I kind of know that gal…let’s see. How about protective, genuine, and relentless? She doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would back down…kind of like me in that way, I suppose.

Thank you Tess for joining me tonight. I’m sure readers will want to find out more about you and your mystery solving adventures. All three books in the A Murder in the Mountains series can be purchased from Amazon. HeatherDayGilbert smaller

HEATHER DAY GILBERT, a Grace Award winner and bestselling author, writes contemporary mystery/suspense and Viking historicals. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, generational story-telling runs in her blood. Find out more at heatherdaygilbert.com.

Guilt by Association

I apologize this post is a day late. I try very hard to be consistent, but I was at a writing conference yesterday and didn’t get home in time to post.

My junior high  pride was definitely offended. The principal called my mother. About me. Me. A pretty much straight A student who consistently did her work and did it well. A student who had never had a detention or even the threat of one. A student who didn’t have a bad relationship with any of her teachers and had never seen the inside of the principal’s office.

So why did the principal decide to chat with my mom about me? Because I was hanging out with what he considered the wrong kids. Though it made no difference to me at the time, he was trying to protect me from making the mistake of following in their footsteps. They made choices that did occasionally land them in trouble. I was hanging out with the only group that didn’t mind me hanging out with them. I was not amused. The only reason he called was because of who I associated with.

Our associations with people or with our past decisions can cloud people’s perceptions of us in the present. Tess Spencer wrestles with this idea in a very personal way in the book, Guilt By Association by Heather Day Gilbert.  The childhood memories she carries of life with her mother are less than stellar. Of course, if your mother had been imprisoned for dealing drugs to neighborhood kids, you might not have a lot of pleasant memories to cling to either.

Now that her mother is out and claiming to be living clean, Tess is giving her a tentative chance at forging a new relationship. But the past comes back to haunt them when a teenage boy is found murdered on her mom’s lawn. Everything, including her mother running from the law, points to Tess’ mom as the murderer. Coupled with her past, it’s easy to draw that conclusion. But it simply doesn’t sit right with Tess who puts her amateur sleuthing skills into practice to try to clear her mother’s name. But even she has doubts about her mom’s innocence as damaging clues are associated with the sins in her mother’s past.

As much as we may not like it, there is danger in associating with the wrong things or people. The first Psalm tells us “blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” And Proverbs 13:20 warns that “the companion of fools will suffer harm”. Even the New Testament in 1 Corinthians warns believers to avoid companionship with those who claim to be believers but are living an unrepentant lifestyle of sin.

The warnings are clear. When we align ourselves with the wrong people, that association can cause us harm physically. It can also harm our witness. Even if we aren’t doing the things they’re doing, it becomes associated with us. Scripture points out another danger too. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 we learn “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Constant exposure to immoral behavior first desensitizes us to it and then begs us to participate in it. Guilt by association gradually turns into guilt by action.

I can already hear some of the arguments. “How can we reach people with God’s message of salvation if we won’t go where they go?” “Even Jesus hung out with sinners.” But I think you misunderstand me. I’m not saying we shun those who are living sinful lives. We are called to love them, and love requires action. To know the best actions, we have to know the person.

However, Jesus didn’t spend time with sinners in the place and time of their sin. He didn’t stand next to them while it was happening leaving his silence to be interpreted as acceptance of the sin. He confronted the sin as wrong and encouraged them to “go and sin no more”. He was accepted and sought out by those in sin not because he overlooked their sin but because he loved them despite their sin. And when he chose people to confide in, trust, and go to for encouragement and support, Jesus chose his friends carefully. His confidants were far from perfect, but when confronted with their sin, they repented. They actively pursued a lifestyle that glorified God, not one that glorified self or sin.

It may seem like a small difference, but it is a little difference that makes a huge difference. Choosing the right friends can keep us from both future sin and guilt by association.

By the Book: It’s not enough to choose the right friends. We have to be the right kind of friend. Think about your own life. What would keep you from being a godly friend to those in your life? Are you holding onto a sinful habit or sinful attitude even though you know it goes against God’s will?

Cover to Cover – Beyond the Cover

I didn’t make this one part five, because the step in the process takes place before, beside, and after the publishing of your book. It is marketing. And it isn’t as easy as one might think. To find out more, I turned to a person who has taught me a lot in the last few months, Linda Fulkerson. The most recent lesson she’s taught me? It’s that when you ask her for an interview be prepared for a thorough interview! Her interview follows, and though it is longer than my usual posts, I think you’ll come away with a new appreciation of marketing and maybe even some good ideas for marketing your own book!

Thank you for interviewing me!

Can you tell us little about how you got into offering marketing services and the services your company offers to authors?

It’s kind of a long story, lol.

 Back in 2002, my then-agent had been shopping my manuscript for The Prodigal Daughter: Hope for Runaway Christians and Those Who Await Their Return (my first book – a nonfiction memoir-style self-help book). Editors liked it, but wouldn’t offer a contract because I wasn’t well known, and unless you’re a celebrity, memoirs don’t sell. My agent’s advice was, “Go get famous. Then resubmit.” Because I was naïve, I asked him, “How does one get famous?” He told me to start a speaking ministry and start blogging. Very few people were blogging back in 2002. I didn’t know much about it, so I started taking online courses from professional bloggers and learned a lot.

 Fast forward a few years to 2009. By this point, blogging had become a big deal for authors, but still, not many had a blog or knew what to do with it if they did have one. Word got out among my author friends – Linda knows how to blog! I was literally spending at least an hour (sometimes more) on the phone, explaining to different authors how to blog and use digital marketing, (including SEO, social media, email marketing, etc.) effectively. My husband suggested to save time, I should start a blog about blogging. (I married a wise man.) I don’t update it anymore, but all the content is still available online at OnBloggingWell.com, named after the old book, On Writing Well. During this time, I was conducting a popular workshop in several states titled, “Marketing with a Blog.” (Although some things have changed, most of those same principles I taught then still work today.)

 In 2011, I moved to Texas and was hired as the online editor for a daily newspaper. The day after I started, the general manager called me into his office. He told me after reviewing my résumé further, he wanted me to move out of editorial and launch a digital services company for area small businesses. So, after being an editor-for-a-day, I became the Director of Digital Services. We conducted small business training seminars and sold website/digital marketing packages that included print advertising options (it was a newspaper, after all, lol). It was a fast-paced, exciting job, and our client base grew quickly. Plus, I learned SO much!

 I moved back to Arkansas in late 2013. My husband suggested that, instead of getting a job, I begin my own digital marketing company, which I did. I started off by doing cold calls to local mom & pop brick and mortar companies, but quickly the word got out among my author friends that I was building websites now and offering marketing services/consulting. God has blessed my business tremendously. For well over three years, all my clients have come to me via referral. No more begging for business! I still have most of my original small business clients, but today, I offer my services exclusively to authors and speakers. I’m so blessed. J

Why is it important for authors to have access to these kinds of services?

When an author pitches a book idea to an editor or agent, one of the first questions asked will be, “How big is your platform?” Just like a physical platform enables a speaker to be seen by a crowd, an author’s platform gives him or her “visibility” in a crowded marketplace. An author’s platform includes a variety of elements – blog subscribers, email list subscribers, social media followers, author networks, friends & family, local community, and “marketing evangelists,” such as a street team or even reader-fans the author may not even know. Growing such a platform takes a lot of work – persistency and consistency. Like anything, it all starts with a solid foundation – a properly structured website. I call it the author’s “Marketing Machine.”

 The problem is, many authors either (a) don’t have the technical skillset to develop such a platform, or (b) don’t have the time to do so. That’s where people like me can help. Many times, someone will hire me short-term, just to get everything set up, structured properly, and offer training on how to use the system effectively. Then, they take it from there. Others hire me to do ongoing marketing tasks, such as search engine optimization and/or social media management.

 Which service that your company provides is the most enjoyable for you?

I enjoy making video book trailers. The turnaround time is quicker than websites, plus, most authors get super excited when they see their book premise in video form.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

That little four-letter-word: TIME. Sometimes my to-do list can be overwhelming. I have a lot of clients, and frankly, I do my best to spoil them. But sometimes I get bogged down Somedays, when I check my email, every subject line has the word “HELP!” in it, lol. I am blessed in the fact that my kids are grown, so I no longer have the day-to-day duties of a mom thrown in with work. I would like to write more, but I put my paying clients’ work ahead of my personal writing goals.

 At first, that really bothered me. I feel God has given me the gift of words, and I should share them. Today I try to look at it like this – God has also given my clients words to share, and by helping them spread their words, I’m perhaps in a small way helping spread His. (But I still want to write, lol!)

 Another challenge is sometime the technology itself. Things change so rapidly in the digital world. It can be frustrating at times. For instance, there may be a WordPress plugin I’ve used to enhance a website’s functionality that worked fine for months (or even longer), but if the developer doesn’t keep it updated, a new WordPress version may render the plugin useless, or worse, crash a website. Some of these issues are unforeseeable, but can be hard to explain to clients. My motto is, “Technology is great – when it works.” (This is why it’s vital to have a website backup system in place!)

Do you have a project that stands out as a favorite?

I really enjoy book cover design. I’ve done a few for clients, but I haven’t really put myself out there as far as a graphic designer yet. Most people think of me as a website builder or marketing consultant, which is fine. It may be selfish, but so far, my favorite thing I’ve created is the cover for my own book, DEAD BROKE. I’ve had so many compliments on that cover – mostly from people who didn’t even realize I’d designed it. Now I wish I’d entered it in some cover-design contests, but it’s been out for two years now, so probably a little late for that.

 If you could give authors one piece of advice what would it be?

Okay, but I have to share two. Sorry.

 First, realize that marketing is not about you. It’s about the audience. What they want. What they need. The sad truth is, other than your close friends and family, people don’t care about you or your books. People are selfish. Human nature is “what’s in it for me?” If you can (1) discover the dreads/desires of your audience (through effective market research) and (2) help them avoid those dreads/attain those desires, you will become a best-seller. (See the last paragraph for how to do this.)

 Second, understand the various components of marketing and the purpose each one serves. I teach relationship marketing – it’s called the “Know-Like-Trust” system. Basically, it goes like this: If people feel they know you, they will like you. If they like you, they will begin to trust you. Once they trust you, they will buy from you.

 A lot of people attempt to use social media to sell books. That rarely works. The best use of social media is to build brand awareness (name recognition) and develop relationships. Social media is included in the “KNOW” and “LIKE” part of the KNOW-LIKE-TRUST principle.

 Blogging is a great way to improve upon your audience’s like for you, plus, it builds trust. When people see you are knowledgeable about a topic, they believe you are an “author”ity on that topic. Blogging is one of the best ways to set yourself apart from the crowd. There’s a trend now in the publishing industry where agents and editors are telling authors that blogging isn’t important for fiction writers. I’m not sure where they got that information, but I disagree. I study blogging trends from professional bloggers, not from editors or agents. They know the publishing industry, but pro bloggers know digital marketing. That’s where I’ve learned most of what I know. Those who are most well-known and respected in the blogosphere say blogging is not dead. But, most people just don’t know how to blog effectively, so they’ve made an assumption it doesn’t work. From my experience, blogging can be one of your best marketing tools.

 One of the most vital elements in your marketing toolbox is your email list. The value of an effective lead capture/email marketing system can’t be stressed enough. Most authors don’t know how to build an email list and if they have one, they don’t know how to use it properly. An email list is hands-down your NUMBER ONE sales tool.

 Summing it up: Use social media to build that KNOW/LIKE – getting your name out there. Use blogging and/or podcasting to build LIKE/gain TRUST. Learn how to build and email list effectively as a sales tool.

 Here’s a practical system on how put it all together:

  • Use your blog to provide solutions to your readers’ problems. First, know who your audience is. Then, do some market research and make a list of 20-25 fears/problems your audiences faces. Make a list of 20-25 dreams/desires they long to attain.
  • Write one blog post per fear/problem and one blog post per dream/desire. Now you’ve got about a year’s worth of blog content. Do keyword research so you’ll know what exact-match phrases to optimize for in each post, then optimize your post content for search.
  • Include a call-to-action within each post to join your email list. When someone joins your list, give them something valuable to entice them to join. Then nurture those leads by providing even more useful, relevant information. Useful and relevant are two of the most important words in marketing. Finally, pitch your books via email. But be sure to provide more useful content than pitches. So, every email won’t include a book pitch. A good ratio is somewhere between 4:1 and 7:1, depending upon your audience.
  • Use social media as teasers to lead people to your blog posts.

Thank you Linda for participating in this interview! You can find Linda at lindafulkerson.com. And to see a little bit of what she does, you can click below to watch the book trailer Linda created for Faith’s Journey.

 

Main Character Monday #10

seer

Usually, I review the book before I interview the character. However, since I don’t want to interrupt the Cover to Cover series, I’m going to switch things up today. My review of The Seer by Erin Howard will be posted as soon as the Cover to Cover series is wrapped up.

Today’s Guest is Thea Elliot from The Seer by Erin R. Howard.

Thank you for joining me.

 

What is your favorite book of the Bible from both the Old and New Testament?

The book of Psalms is my favorite, probably because I could always find my dad reading it.

 If you could meet anyone from scripture, not including Jesus, who would it be?

I’ve always wanted to meet the angel, Gabriel. But now Matthias has shown up, so he might be able to schedule a meeting.

Jesus had twelve disciples. Which one do you feel you are most like? 

Perhaps Thomas would be closest. He had to see the scars on Jesus’s hands and side for himself. I’m sort of the same way. It’s not that I doubt everything, but I like to see things myself.

Jesus says we are to be His light in the world. What does this mean to you?

It probably means to help people or show them the way to go, but I’m not exactly a social butterfly and that would require me to talk to people. Do I have to know what I’m supposed to do to help someone else out?

If you could give one message to those reading this interview, what would you tell them?

Only when we are faced with the impossible, do we find out what we can truly do.

Just for Fun:

Dark or Milk Chocolate? Milk Chocolate, dark chocolate, I’m not picky, I love it all.

Roses or Daisies? Roses

Salad or Soup? Salad

If you could describe Erin Howard in three words, what would those words be? 

Busy. Crafty. Loyal.

I want to thank Thea and Erin for letting my do this interview. If you enjoy the fantasy genre, head over to Amazon to get your copy of The Seer. It is available in e-book and paperback formats. Though Thea alluded to meeting an angel in the interview, stay tuned for the book review. You’ll be introduced to an unlikely group of heroes made up of a couple humans, an angel, and even a demon. 

Cover to Cover – Part Four

Your novel has been accepted, and the contract has been signed. The cover designer is hard at work putting together the images that will entice readers to pick your book off the shelf and at least read the back cover copy. You can breathe easy. The work is done.

Not by a long shot.

To make your book the best it can be, it will go through at least another round or two of editing. What is there to edit? I interviewed Erin Howard and Pam Harris, editors for Mantle Rock Publishing to find out what they do to help Mantle Rock authors prepare their books for launch.

Erin Howard – Developmental Editor

What exactly does a developmental editor do?

I look at the big picture of the book and then narrow in on the structure of that book. I look at the plot, themes, characterization, POV/voice, pacing/flow, dialogue, landscapes, and style. Not only do I look at the manuscript through an editor’s eyes, but I also get to look at it through a reader’s eyes.  No matter what stage you are in your writing career, everyone needs and can benefit from developmental editing.

What is your favorite part of this job?

I love getting to know my authors, and help them match their vision to a ready manuscript for editing. Think of it like a director in a movie.  They get to work with the cast and crew from the planning stages, to costumes, to the final editing in the studio.  I work with my authors, asking them questions about their thought process, where they envision the story going, and then make sure they are getting to that end goal. It’s very exciting for me. I love watching all the pieces fall into place.

Have there been times when an author is resistant to the changes you suggest? How do or would you deal with situations like this?

Everyone at MRP has been wonderful to work with. I can’t force anyone to take my suggestions, (we are talking about story content) but I look at this like a partnership and not someone dictating what has to be changed. I’m here to help and to look for areas that can be improved on. While there may be things that need to be changed, I expect my authors to ask me questions.  I truly want to know what they were thinking and their goals for that particular section of the book or scene.  I’m here to help them present the best version of their manuscript.

Has going through the publishing process with your own book given you any new insights for your job as developmental editor?

No matter how much you’ve studied or practiced, everyone needs an extra set of eyes editing their manuscript. As authors, we get too close to our “baby” and we are not always objective when it comes to our stories. It’s so much easier to see things in other people’s stories. We all benefit from each stage of the editing process, they are all crucial to the success of the book.

If you could create one class that all writers had to take before writing their manuscripts, what would you call that class?

That’s a hard one, Heather! I would probably call it “The Big Picture”. Every writer needs to know about all of the elements that I talked about earlier and how they are woven together in the story.

Pam Harris – Line Editor

Can you explain what a line editor does in the publication process?

My role is to check for grammar and spelling errors. I prefer to edit in sections. For instance, if a book contains 240 pages, I may edit the first 60, send to the author for corrections or revisions, and continue with the next 60 pages once I receive the edited pages back from the author. I think this makes it easier for the author and for me. Once the author and I have finished our edits, I do a spelling and grammar check on Word. It doesn’t always catch everything, but hopefully between the author, Word, and me, we catch most errors if not all of them.

What pushes you to be the best line editor you can be?

Two things: the desire to have a really good product and my reputation. Unfortunately, some things do get by me, but that’s why the author and I together can find what needs to be corrected. I am a certified English teacher, but there are still things I must research to see how Chicago Manual of Style recommends certain things be handled.  It is a time-consuming process.

Do you ever start to get lost in the story and struggle to keep your focus on the editing process? Do you have any tricks to keep this from happening?

At first, this was a real challenge, because as we read we often read what we expect to see instead of what is actually there. I have learned, however, to read with a critical eye, and unfortunately, that’s the way I read everything now — even cereal boxes!

What is the best part of being a line editor?

Getting to read so many really good books and working with the authors. I feel as though I get to know them through their writing and our communications.

I’ll ask you the same question I did Erin. If you could create one class that all writers had to take before writing their manuscripts, what would you call it?

The title that comes to mind is a session I once did at a writers’ retreat: “Caution, grammar bumps ahead!” The greatest problems I see with writers are the overuse and punctuation errors with “then” and the misuse of commas, colons, em dashes, and ellipses. Those punctuation errors interfere with the flow of the story. A better understanding of them would help writers produce a better book.

I want to thank Erin and Pam for telling us a little bit more about the editing processes that go into getting a book ready for publication. Erin and Pam have had experience from the editor and author side of publication. You can find both Erin’s fantasy book, The Seer, and Pam’s historical fiction, Aimee (as well as her other books) on Amazon in both paperback and e-book formats.