Friday, September 26, 2014

Off Center: When God Meets Marketing

It was over a month ago when I first launched Stasis (popularly stylized STASIS), my first short story anthology and my first Kindle release in two years. I got pretty hyped up about it; hired a professional cover artist and did as much as I could to promote the release.

At first it seemed like things would go well. I had more likes on the Will Vullerman Facebook page than I did for The War Horn, and more followers on my blog. And it was a good thing, too! I needed to make some money, to put it bluntly. Not only did I have college and the surrounding stress looming on next year's horizon, but I wanted to attend a writing workshop this winter, and I had my eye on Stasis for providing the funds.

It didn't happen quite as I wanted it to. While the anthology sold well initially, within a week sales had dropped off to nothing. Compared to The War Horn, Stasis made little more than half in sales, even though I invested twice as much money into the cover art.

It told on the Amazon page, too. It currently has two reviews, compared to The War Horn's eight – four or five of which had been posted in the first month. So I was disappointed, and a little frustrated. What was up? All my logical senses told me that it should have worked better. I had a pretty good platform, I had a great cover; it should have done great. In the back of my head, I had a little inkling of conviction, but I shoved it aside and simply promoted the book more.

Then I read an excellent post by a friend of mine, and that inkling grew into a conviction. My focus was in the wrong place. But it wasn't until I read Phil Vischer's series of articles about the bankruptcy of VeggieTales, nearly ten years ago, that it really clicked.

Vischer explained, front-to-back, what had happened to VeggieTales and how it ended up in bankruptcy. But in the end, he said that it wasn't the lawsuit or the marketers or the bank that had led to this downfall; it was his own ambition, getting him off-center from the real message of his stories. Risky decisions and high budgets were all part of it, but when money rather than faith became the real gamble, VeggieTales crumbled.

And I really connected with that. Not only on the business side, but on the faith side. I had gotten off-center. Stasis had become about making some money, expanding my platform, and hoping that people got to read a story I thought was good.

Not bad things, and they're certainly necessary things for releasing a book. But they had become my main focus, and that was what was wrong. I had separated faith and marketing, making promotion an entirely secular thing. I had replaced the ultimate glory of God with the glory of self, narrowing in on my own petty problems and what I thought would solve them.

The real idea of the thing is letting my story glorify God in its own way, to prayerfully and consciously give it to the world, rather than selling it to the world. What really matters about Stasis is that people enjoy it, process it, find in it little gems of truth and larger echoes of that which is eternal. Money is a secondary thing.

Keep this as a reminder, both for you and for me; let it keep us on the straight and narrow. I love the writing process, and I revel in the joy I get from drawing a story, coloring in the characters and plots as richly as I can. I've learned how to keep first things first during the writing process. But all of the dazzling bewilderment of numbers and charts and profits threw my direction off, at first by just a decimal. But every rift grows over time.

Writing's not about money. Really, no job we love doing is really about money. It's about the glory of God—that two-way thing, where we get the greatest satisfaction and joy by making something for God's satisfaction and joy.

Am I still going to market Stasis? Sure. I'm even planning a promotional giveaway, and I've already acquired one of the books necessary. But that's not my focus. Focusing on marketing makes you stale, like a house shut up for too long, and long strings of numbers make you too impersonal. My focus is to let people enjoy...not to push or harass them into clicking the “Buy” button, but by honestly putting my work before them as it is, with as much warmth and humanity as I can muster.

I'm not a great big author on his great big author website. I'm a writer, like all the rest of you, grasping after stars of glory, wrought by the great Star-Maker.

Let's keep each other focused on the Center. That's where the real glory's at, after all.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Of Titles, Reviews, and Shrines of Bacon

Hello, hello!  It's been some time before I've had a really thorough update; and so the time has come ("the Walrus said") to talk of many things.

The first point I have to share is that a lot of things have happened behind the scenes.  The most notable of those things is that I have thoroughly revised "Tornado C"—in time to submit it to the OYAN Novel Contest.  But you had to have a name for the novel to submit.

It was a long, agonizing process.  It involved ridiculous names—I considered "That Ending Though" for a while—and almost-fitting names.  Finally, while brainstorming with a friend, I came up with something, several hours before my deadline.

I'm actually immensely pleased with the title.  It's sort of poetic, and it fits the novel well—as a story of monologues and deep thoughts, and high-emotion points where I tried to write the prose in such a way as to evoke poetry.  And while it still has rough spots, the novel has been significantly reworked for the contest, landing somewhere north of 100,000 words.

After I receive the results of the novel contest—that's several months out—I'm hoping to use A Swiftly Moving River to break into the traditional publishing world.  STASIS and The War Horn were my experiments, a way to expand my platform and get some work out there.

But I think A Swiftly Moving River is my first really good novel.  I've never had a novel that affected me this emotionally before, and I think that's a good indicator of how powerful it will be for the reader.  It's the sort of novel that might actually get published.

Next up on my list is the fact that I'm writing an exclusive Will Vullerman story, called "White-Out".  I'm two thousand words in and loving it so far.  It may be available to read soon, as part of a giveaway.  I'm planning on using it for marketing—I have a couple tricks up my sleeve to try and get the word out about STASIS.

Which brings me to my next point.  While the sales are doing well for STASIS, the Amazon page is lonely.  See for yourself:

If you've read the book already, I encourage you to be the FIRST to write a review—and even if you aren't the first, consider taking a few minutes to write one anyway.  Reviews are huge when it comes to marketing, and an honest review will help my marketing more than all the banners in the world.

It's a good cause, too!  I'm using the funds to try and apply for a writing workshop this winter.  Every sale I makes contributes two dollars towards a week of intensive writing development.

And finally, I'm in the States.  It's a long story of how I got here (I was evacuated due to the severity of the Ebola outbreak), but I'm happy to be in Kansas again.  I continually think of all those still in Liberia, however, and any prayers you have for them would be appreciated.  The outbreak continues to worsen, and that hits close to home.

Being back in the States has certain comforts, however.  Bacon, for instance; and whole milk.  While America tends to enshrine bacon, I do love it.  It is a beautiful thing.  (Whole milk is even better though.)  Kansas being the best place in the world, I am terribly grateful to be back again, to see my homeland after nearly a year of being apart from it.

That about sums it up.  How is YOUR writing going - if you have a current writing project?  If not, what are you reading?  (I'm reading the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, and I'm pleasantly surprised by how good it is.)

Till next time,