Posted on 1 Comment

Christian Fiction? Three Ways to Market Your Book of Faith

As we started discussing last week, there are multiple ways to write, publish, and market your book of Christian faith. We are going to focus on traditionally published fiction, as the rules for nonfiction and self-publishing are different in this instance. So, let’s dive in!

1. The Christian Fiction Genre

The Christian Fiction genre has separated itself from other traditional publishing genres in order to promote Christian values and beliefs. The content is intended to be appropriate for all ages. Though in theory these books extend the Gospel by teaching nonbelievers about Jesus, the books published at Christian publishing houses tend to be geared specifically towards conservative females of the Evangelical faith. Janette Oke’s novels from the 80s are perhaps the most enduring of the genre, and the genre has now spawned subgenres ranging from Karen Kingsbury’s contemporary novels to Beverly Lewis’ Amish romances.

In researching the genre, I learned that the CBA (formerly the Christian Booksellers Association and now in some sort of transition stage) determines what is acceptable for the Christian Fiction genre and what is not. The debate about the CBA’s control of Christian Fiction publishing has been going on for years – see this article from 2014 for a brief overview. Even traditionally published authors wish to see the quality of writing published by the Christian Fiction market improve, but they don’t see that happening when the current business model is still successful.

That’s where option number 2 comes in.

2. Explicitly Christian Books in the Secular Market

It is possible for books with explicitly Christian themes to be published under the secular banner of simply “Fiction.” While they may not be the most prominent books on the shelf, these authors have to fight ten times harder to compete in a saturated market, so the books tend to have higher quality writing and more complex themes than their Christian-classified counterparts. Because the CBA doesn’t determine what bookstores carrying simply “contemporary fiction” or “literary fiction” sell, these books can also delve into deep issues and toy with more than one perspective.

To be honest, these books tend to be the only adult fiction books I am passionate about. My favorites are the sweetly humorous Mitford series by Jan Karon, but I also love the slightly darker, literary-focused Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The main characters in both are preachers, one Episcopalian and one Congregationalist. The books tastefully wrestle with issues like poverty, broken family relationships, and addictions. In Gilead, the preacher even pulls from atheist texts to show a well-rounded and deeply considered view of the world. All in all, there is much more freedom of content in the secular market, but the writing also must be top-notch to compete for a spot in publication against all other fictional creations.

That leads us to option number 3, a different take on the same genre.

3. Implicitly Christian Books in the Secular Market

These books perhaps have the richest literary history of all the genres. They pull from centuries of themes, conventions, and imagery to create texts with layered meaning. On the surface, these books have a storyline pleasurable in and of itself. However, a deeper reading unveils allusions to Christ’s miraculous work, His parabolic teachings, and His redemptive death. These texts are why we all got mad in high school and thought the teacher was just making it up. In fact, these authors do deep thought work to create richly complex stories that slow readers down and make them think, although the transaction does require a reader who is willing to put in the work.

The beauty of this type of writing is that it allows the spread of God’s word to people antagonist to Christianity. It can plant seeds of faith by promoting the Christian values of justice, benevolence, and love. The downfall comes in that many people may still miss the message. Without doing a lot of digging and coming to the text with a background knowledge of the Bible and perhaps even Protestant or Catholic theology, the main point of the message is hidden under less intense themes and the plot itself. In some ways, these books are magic – how else would Christian texts be taught in public schools these days as they are in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? In others, they can be so convoluted or grotesque, like Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, that finding the Christian message can give the reader a headache.


There’s more to say for and against each of these genres. As with anything, each genre has shining stars and bad apples. Next week, we’ll start looking at the pros and cons of books published in each of these styles.

Advertisements
Posted on 7 Comments

Are Christian Fiction Books Worth Writing?

It’s a question I thought was obvious in high school. Why, of course I should write Christian Fiction books! The books would let me tell others about Jesus. The stories would provide an escape for those enduring suffering. The content would be appropriate for all ages from middle school girls to aging women. What could be wrong with the stack of pastel books with scrawling fonts that I brought home from the library every summer?

Then I started college. I walked up the steep, creaking floors of the English department and dropped my book bag next to the small metal desk. I took out my notebook, colored pens, and planner. And I overheard the most shocking thing.

The sophomores hated Christian Fiction. They didn’t just mildly dislike certain authors or maintain a respect for the genre but dislike reading it for themselves. They held a passionate distaste for the characters, plots, and writers. My brain was spinning, and I felt like a fool. I believed my life’s work was to write Christian Fiction, and here, at a Christian college, I heard more backlash on the genre than I had heard in my public high school back home.

It took several weeks before I got to reopen a Christian Fiction book and analyze what the other students were talking about. I was shocked to find that they were right. The plot was boring; the characters sniveled; the setting was so nondescript that the book could have taken place anywhere. What had happened to the great books of faith that got me through the hardest times of my life? Now, books where characters grappled with the question of good and evil ended with the character magically getting a dose of faith without an answer. That didn’t help me when I wasn’t sure I believed God’s promises were for me anymore.

I spent the rest of my college career debating if Christian Fiction books are worth writing. Both my capstone and thesis projects centered on the topic. I studied critics’ analyses, the rules of the genre, and commonalities in the stories. The issue of Christian genres became a topic very close to my heart.

In that spirit, I’m going to use my Friday blog posts to do a deep dive on the topic. Next week, we’ll discuss if books of faith must be written under the banner of Christian Fiction. What are your experiences with the Christian Fiction genre? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Are you a writer with a background in the Christian faith? Join our Facebook group for weekly encouragement, exercises, and community!

Posted on 6 Comments

Review: "Follower to Fan Society"

2020 is nearly upon us! Much like everyone else, I’ve got some changes coming to the blog with the new year. Here’s a sneak peek of two major changes coming in less than a week!

  1. I’ve been debating about my niche, which is generally accepted as one of the most important aspects of a blog. As I debated, I looked back over my previous posts. A Letter to the Church on Anxiety and Depression seemed to strike a cord. So many people reached out to me about this post and shared stories of how their lives had been affected by the church’s misunderstanding of mental illness. I wanted to explore a different interpretation of mental illness for the church, so starting in January, I’m going to look at stories in the Bible that could reflect instances of mental illnesses and see how the Bible treats those stories in context.
  2. Books are also near and dear to my heart as an aspiring author, so on Fridays, we’ll be discussing the Christian Fiction genre. I wrote a little about my experience with the genre a few years ago in Why English Majors Can’t Read, and I think there is more to say about writing quality books that reflect Christian faith.

To finish up the self-help review series, we’re talking about Tyler J. McCall’s “Follower to Fan Society.” Instagram has been my favorite social media application for years, so I was very interested to hear Mr. McCall’s thoughts on expanding my social media engagement. Let’s dive into the last self-help review of 2019!

The Pros

  • Mr. McCall definitely knows his way around engagement. He had one of my favorite personalities of all the coaches I researched, and he wasn’t afraid to use it to make his potential clients feel connected. Mr. McCall practiced what he preached about being open and having a real identity to engage with the online community.
  • The free action guides and roadmaps look great and are very visually appealing.
  • Mr. McCall had some great insights on how community works now on Instagram, especially around hashtags. He noted how Instagram users shared on their personal accounts and applied that information to the business realm.
  • The membership Mr. McCall sold from the free webinar had a lot of content beyond simply posting to Instagram. For example, the Follower to Fan Society held masterclasses with leading entrepreneurs on business tactics, strategies, and legalities. This extra content added a lot of value to what would otherwise be a very simple program.

The Cons

  • Mr. McCall’s product is a yearly membership instead of a one-time purchase, which makes him much more expensive than most of the other coaches I researched. Because you are purchasing a subscription with his program, you lose access at the end of the year if you don’t renew your membership.
  • Membership to the Follower to Fan Society is only available to purchase at certain times of year. The Society is currently closed, so interested Instagramers have to go on a “waitlist,” which really just seems to be signing up for their promotional email list.
  • Mr. McCall had a great insight that Instagram users want to stay within the app, so they won’t leave their current stream of content to find your site through a link. While keeping people on Instagram’s site is a great idea, it’s hard to implement if you’re a small account. For instance, Instagram has a “swipe up” link in Stories to post content within the app, but Instagram requires you to have 10,000 followers before you can use the tool.

What I Tried

  • After listening to Mr. McCall’s webinar, I got braver about posting content on Instagram. I wasn’t as concerned with appearing perfectly polished and curated, so I let a little more of my real personality come through my posts.
  • Mr. McCall emphasized using Stories as the new way users were engaging with content creators on Instagram, so I started using the add-ons in Stories to encourage interaction. This was another aspect that didn’t work too well for very small accounts, but the tools would be very helpful for larger accounts. Regardless, the tools in Stories allow me to post more interactive content without having to take extra pictures or send people away from the app.

Initial Conclusion

Mr. McCall was super funny, very pleasant, and really engaging! (I mean, he made up the term “full time Comparidashian.”) While his program definitely fell on the expensive side because of the subscription aspect, he did have great information about Instagram and offered extra business content to members that rounded out the program. Mr. McCall’s strength is in his personality, so check out his Instagram to see if you click with his terminology before you consider spending money on his program.

Posted on Leave a comment

Psalm 31, Christmas, and Luke 23

I opened to the Psalm for today and was struck by the title, “Into Your Hand I Commit My Spirit.” For some reason, the words echoed in my head in the voice of my college Bible professor. I could picture him standing at the front of the room, looking mildly uncomfortable in his jet black blazer, and shaking his hand in deep concentration as he repeated the words. But, I remembered him quoting Jesus when he said the words, and I was currently reading a psalm of David. Thankfully, Google can be a pretty quick concordance.

Luke 23:46 says, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” It’s a unique version of Jesus’s last words. Mark and Matthew both quote Jesus as saying, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” and reflects the opening lines of Psalm 22 (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46). In John, Jesus’ last words are, “It is finished,” (John 19:30). So, what does Luke 23 have to do with Psalm 31?

Psalm 31 shows David beseeching God for rescue from his enemies. Regardless of the outcome, David praises God and trusts that He will not let David be overtaken by his enemies. David expresses deep pain from the rejection of his neighbors. He then requests that God will have justice on the wicked and thanks God for His goodness to the faithful. The last two verses of Psalm 31 exhort believers to “Love the LORD, all you his saints!” and stay faithful to the One who maintains justice.

It makes sense that Jesus would reflect this psalm in His sacrifice on the cross. He endured horrible physical pain, the mocking of the crowds, and intense mental stress. In spite of this, He remained obedient to God’s will and sacrificed His perfect life in the place of our sinful ones.

As we spend today remembering the sweet baby lying in a manger and celebrating His humble entry to this world, we also want to remember the reason He came. We focus on love at Christmas time, and if we look at Luke 23 and Psalm 31, we’ll see that Jesus’ love for us goes even deeper than we could possibly understand. Merry Christmas, everyone, and may we all feel His love surrounding us tonight.

Posted on 2 Comments

Psalm 27 and Making People Feel Seen

I have devoted most of my recent podcast listening to the Don’t Keep Your Day Job podcast by Cathy Heller. I just love her emphasis on making people feel seen and using that idea as the motivation for our work. Some of the most heart-filling moments of my life have been when friends or family make a comment that lets me know they were listening and that they understood. I think that’s why I so greatly enjoy making people cry with my writing. (Happy tears, of course.) It means by God’s grace I wrote something to make someone feel noticed and cared for. David seems to speak of this in Psalm 27:10 – “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.” How beautiful that God gives us the gift of caring for and noticing others as a reflection of how He cares for and notices us!

We spent last weekend in the mountains with a couple of the dearest people on the face of the planet. It was one of those weekends when my dominating inner introvert didn’t mind interacting with people for three days straight. We drove from Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg to walk the Skybridge that my suitemate and I were so excited about trying while our husbands cautiously agreed to join us. We meandered the strip and ran in and out of shops looking for Christmas presents for our families. We ate lunch at 3, had dinner at 8, and didn’t mind if we spent an hour waiting in the Skybridge line a second time to see what Gatlinburg looked like covered in Christmas lights. It was one of those weekends where everyone laughed and took turns DJing music and could just enjoy being.

We went to see the Hatfield and McCoy dinner show. We sat down at checkered-covered tables, and a thick-accented waiter in overalls and a denim ball cap came to ask what we wanted to drink. “Crick water” was an option, he said, “but don’t worry, I took the fish out.” We ate fried chicken and “squirrel brain” barbecue. The waiter poured soup out of a pitcher and asked if we wanted “naner or chocolate” pudding. He disappeared as soon as his five or so tables were cleared of all but drinks and pudding.

My suitemate started wondering how many of the servers were also acting in the show. One pre-show singer bounced off the front of the stage, tied on an apron, and started making rounds. Sure enough, when the show started and the stage turned into a swimming pool, my suitemate called to the table, “Look, that’s our waiter!” I scanned the group diving into the pool and could hardly tell who was who until the dogs started diving and swimming to the ladder at the edge.

It was an impressive show, and as soon as the main actors bowed and the lights came up, our waiter was back to clean off the table and reset for the next show in thirty minutes. “Well, I thought he was one of the divers, but his hair is dry,” my suitemate said. Her husband dared her to ask the waiter if he was in the show. When my husband stopped the waiter to pass him our tip, she asked him.

“Yes, ma’am,” he was a diver. She asked how his hair was already dry. “Oh, it’s not. I’ve just got a hat on.” He took his hat off and ran his hands through his hair to show us. We thanked him for his hard work and filed out of the theater with the rest of the diners.

It amazed me how easily she could talk to strangers. I was in awe of how naturally she could ask questions and reach out to people in a way that made them feel seen. I wanted to be like that, but oh, I thought, having to talk to people, having to go up to them instead of the other way around! My inner introvert shrunk back towards the shadow in the corner.

The whole concept has been nagging at me for the past week. I went to a women’s event at church where I spent half of the night awkwardly standing at the edge of circles until one of my friends came up to talk to me. I kept thinking about my suitemate’s bravery and wished I had the social grace to do the same thing. When I read Psalm 27 today, the first verse struck me – “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

I long for that kind of courage, so Psalm 27 became my prayer for today. When I doubt my social aptitude, I pray verse 11 – “Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” When I shrink in general fear, I pray verse 14 – “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” Lord willing, one day I’ll have that courage to ask a question of total strangers that lets them know I see their hard work or their suffering, and I care.

Posted on 2 Comments

Review: "Success with Tyson"

I cling pretty strongly to my introvert status. Even with my nearest and dearest friends, if I’m going to spend several days in constant social interaction, I allot a few more hours for sleep and allow myself a few extra minutes putting on makeup so that at the end of the day, I don’t wind up crying in the floor for no reason. (It has happened… many times.)

When I scrolled through Facebook the day I decided to research self-help ads, I froze at one titled “How Smart Introverts Are Succeeding in Network Marketing” by Tyson Zahner. What a thought! There was hope beyond the infernal it’s all in who you know concept that plagued me!

Or, so I thought. I hopped on my first webinar with a composition notebook and my colored pens. I laid everything out like it was my first day of college again. I logged in to the webinar, and the wait screen flashed “3 Simple Steps to Attract High Quality Leads in 30 Days.” Well, that wasn’t exactly about introverts, but it would all come together, right?

The Pros

  • The first 40 minutes of the webinar had some really good information. After the initial round of testimonials and self-promotion, Mr. Zahner defined some common marketing terms and explained a three step sales strategy. The strategy felt pretty textbook, but he did do a great job of breaking down concepts and making definitions accessible.
  • Mr. Zahner had an interesting take on using Facebook messenger to drive engagement. As I saw it crop up on other coach’s websites, I started to understand this concept as “automation,” which could allow an entrepreneur to be more productive by reducing the amount of tasks he or she had.

The Cons

  • Since this was my first webinar, Mr. Zahner introduced me to the purpose of all of these free webinars and ads. After consuming the coach’s content, you could sign up for continued training! By the way, the offer would only be good for the next two days or two weeks, so, “don’t ask yourself, ‘Can I afford it?’ Ask yourself, ‘How can I afford it?'” Some coaches do this sales pitch in a really natural way. If I hadn’t had a firm freebies only rule, there were a few coaches who almost convinced me to purchase their courses. Mr. Zahner was not one of those coaches.
  • I was feeling rather snarky as the one hour webinar turned into a two hour sales pitch. In fact, after so much selling and promotion, I forgot all the good information he gave in the beginning. Had I not taken notes, I would have left the webinar very angry with how I had spent two hours of my life. Reviewing my notes now, I can see the value he did provide in the first forty minutes.
  • One of my greatest frustrations with Mr. Zahner was that he promoted the concept of 80% marketing and 20% selling, but he didn’t abide by his advice. By the end of the webinar, I calculated that he accomplished at best 50/50 marketing and selling, and I was not adding in the time that he spent on promotion at the beginning of the webinar. He may have had good information on creating successful Facebook ads and automating your processes for productivity, but I left the webinar with the feeling that I had just tried to buy a used car from a dingy lot built in the ’80s and never remodeled.
  • Lastly, Mr. Zahner sent a vast amount of follow-up emails in the 3 days after the webinar. I received an email about every 6 hours until the offer expired, and when my watch was buzzing in the middle of teaching preschoolers at church, my patience left me. Thankfully, after the offer ended, I have not received any more emails from his company, so the buzzing on my watch while trying to herd 3 year olds comes from 15 other businesses and not his.

What I Tried

  • Mr. Zahner’s theories required a great deal of up front cost to pay for Facebook ads and the Facebook messenger bot automation, so I haven’t used any of his suggestions yet. If I post an ad on social media for future ventures, I most likely will follow his free Facebook ad lead generation template since the concepts seem to work consistently for other entrepreneurs.

Initial Conclusion

As the first webinar I researched, I was pretty disappointed. I didn’t realize at the time that the common purpose for all these free webinars was to push the sale of a very expensive online course. Once I started watching other webinars and researching other email courses, I realized that there were several other coaches covering the same topics in much less pushy ways. If you are looking for someone to help you with your Facebook Ads, I would recommend trying the Marketing Academy for Small Businesses. Her information seemed to be more up-to-date for Facebook’s current policies, and she was much less pushy about selling her services.

Posted on 13 Comments

A Letter to the Church about Anxiety and Depression

Dear Church,

I prayed before I wrote this letter today. I read Psalm 23 and asked God what He would have me say about one of my favorite passages. When the thought of anxiety and depression came to mind, I said an extra prayer. I know only a fraction of all there is to know about mental illness – the causes, the symptoms, the treatments. I can only speak from my own experiences, but God gives us our story for a reason, and I’m doing my best to use it for good.

Psalm 23:1 – “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Growing up in evangelical culture and attending a contemporary Southern Baptist church, I heard plenty of exhortations to read my Bible, pray as much as I could, and go to church every week. When we spoke of sadness, we always ended with God is our joy! When we spoke of worry, we quoted Philipians 4:6-7 to “not worry about anything.” In fact, some said, it is a SIN to worry and not be content with God’s provision!

I was first introduced to the idea of anxiety and depression as a physical condition in my AP Psychology class senior year of high school. Synapses, neurotransmitters, hormones… I never knew so much of the body was controlled by the release of specific chemicals. What I did know was how it felt to struggle for breath and white-knuckle a steering wheel as I started driving over a small mountain I had not intended to cross in the pitch dark. I knew what tired felt like when I got home from a band-trip-turned sour and all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and snooze. I knew how it felt to toss and turn and pray for hours at night but not fall asleep, and to do so for weeks or months at a time.

Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

I can’t say whether David ever struggled with anxiety and depression, but I think many people who have experienced mental illness could relate that heavy darkness to the “valley of the shadow of death.” Even so, David points to God as his hope in a horrible situation. God is not necessarily the almighty fixer in this passage. He is more than that. He is the reason David keeps fighting the darkness, the reason that David can lift his head when he really doesn’t want to. God doesn’t just take the problem away; He gets David through it.

To those in the church who would say that people struggling with mental illness should pray or read their Bible more, I ask that you consider 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul says,

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Anxiety and depression is not deserved or a consequence of not being faithful enough. Mental illness is a shard of brokenness in this fallen world, just like painful childbirth and weak bodies (Genesis 3:16-20.) Instead of piling more rules and guilt on those struggling with mental illness, we should embrace them and guide them to a wholistic approach to coping. We do not deny cancer patients medical treatment; we pray that God will extend the efficacy of the treatments and wait on Him to do a miracle. If the cancer does not go away, we do not blame the patient for being unfaithful; we learn to accept God’s goodness even if the healing miracle never comes.

Why don’t we do the same for mental illness?

Sincerely,

Ashton

Posted on Leave a comment

Writing for Granna

We spent Thanksgiving lunch at my grandparents’ house for the first time I could remember since I was a child. For whatever reason, the holidays got celebrated in the days before or after the day marked on the calendar, or my grandparents would stop at our house on the way to see other family, or someone had moved or changed schools and it was easier not to leave town. This year, my mom and I really wanted to spend it further south, so we packed up our respective families (minus the cat) and drove two hours to the Quad Cities.

When I walked in my grandparents’ house, I didn’t remember the narrow galley kitchen being blue. I recognized the blue living room and den, but my mind expected the darker colors from twenty years ago. Both my mom and grandfather tilted their heads when I asked how long the kitchen had been blue. “It was all painted at the same time,” they said. “Granna turned on a light under the cabinet to make it brighter.”

I washed my hands in the kitchen sink and tilted my head to look through the window into the added-on sunroom. I remembered sitting on the couch with my brother and grandfather playing Spyro or Ratchet & Clank on the Playstation. Granna would be fixing sandwiches in the kitchen, or washing dishes, or frying chicken for our picnic supper, and she would lean through the window to tell us we were doing a great job or that food was ready. We would lean forward and wave, and sometimes I ran to the sink to imagine what the window looked like from Granna’s view.

Despite feeling like I was straddled two decades in a single moment, my brother and I laughed at the ceiling fan chain hitting us in our foreheads. We had been so proud to grow tall enough to reach it with the tops of our heads, and now we had to pay serious attention not to whack it when we walked through the middle of the room.

We finally all settled in front of the tv to drift off in a turkey-induced dream or zone out to the random and somewhat confusing movie on the screen. Granna sat at the dining room table and asked me across the room how my writing was going. I told her about my blog and how I was working on my book.

Granna smiled and nodded. “There’s a woman at church who writes books,” she said. I told her I remembered hearing about the author. “What I like about her books is the same thing I like about your writing. Your books aren’t over complicated or deep; I can relax when I read them. I can’t keep up with all those multiple storylines like I used to. I just want books I can relax to.”

Granna then told me the story of her struggles to learn to read in 1st grade and her transformation to a teacher when reading clicked. I nodded; I had heard the story before. More than this story, her earlier comment was circling in my head. I just want to read to relax. I had spent so many hours in college studying literature and feeling sheepish for writing simply that I never realized the reason I wrote that way in the first place. I wrote because I wanted to help people relax, to give them an escape where they could process emotions through catharsis and feel a little more hopeful when they finished.

Before we left, my grandfather ran to a shoe box and pulled out a handmade star ornament. “I want you to have this, an ornament for your first Christmas tree.” I held the slim piece of glass in my hands and felt my heart swell. I knew my grandfather had spent a lot of time choosing the best pieces of glasses and soldering the pieces together. I also knew I would be putting it at the top of my tree when I decorated the day after Thanksgiving.

As I held the ornament in my hands on the drive home, I decided I would no longer feel guilty for not writing complicated literature. I would write well, yes, and use all I knew to make the words true and round and engaging. But my Granna needed stories she could relax to, and so did someone else’s Granna or Meemaw or Grandma. I couldn’t fail these ladies who poured their hearts into teaching children to love reading, who still devoured books to cope, who read to keep their minds sharp. I love them too much not to write for them.

Posted on 1 Comment

Review: “Marketing Academy for Small Business”

At the beginning of 2019, I almost deleted my writer Instagram account. I halted because of the little warning that popped up: If you delete this account, the username will never be available again.

Well, what if I changed my mind three years down the road? I closed out of the browser and left my little writer account a desolate, post-less place with only a headshot and a link to my blog in the description.

Then, I quit my job in November. My blog and its empty little Instagram were suddenly the only writing content I had to “sell.” I found Don’t Keep Your Day Job, made a plan, and converted my empty little Instagram to a business account. I created a business Facebook page, posted a link on my personal accounts, and waited with hands tightly gripping my phone.

Followers! Mainly family and a few friends from high school. My mom and mother-in-law shared the page, and a few of their friends started following, too. I was on cloud nine! I was going somewhere!

And then my Facebook posts only got 3 likes… 6 likes… all from the same family members and high school friends who liked the page in the first place. What was going on?

I attended Mrs. Samantha English’s Fall 2019 Facebook and Instagram Update webinar, and the information she imparted blew my mind. This was why everyone complained about “the algorithm!” This was why I only saw posts from a handful of my Facebook friends and never saw posts from others! This was why I hated Facebook!

And it was only going to get worse.

The Pros

  • Mrs. English’s webinar contained so much detail and actionable info on the recent and upcoming Facebook and Instagram changes. She especially helped me understand “organic reach,” or how posts are sent out to those who choose to follow us, and why my page performs like it does.
    • Key takeaway in case the webinar doesn’t come back around: Facebook only allows your post to go to a handful of your followers. If that handful of followers engages with the post, then Facebook will send the post out to another handful of followers, and so on. However, your post may never reach your entire follower list if the first groups don’t engage. To make matters worse, likes don’t count anymore. Facebook prefers comments and “hearts” or “sad faces” to judge engagement. Instagram follows suit, but only comments can be used to judge engagement on that platform.
  • Mrs. English was personable and maintained good pacing that kept me engaged in her webinar. She didn’t have me groaning or rolling my eyes after an hour.
  • The webinar came with a nice workbook for taking notes, and there was plenty of margin space for me to fill. She also specified which pages to skip printing to save ink, which I appreciated as I’m hoping for a new printer for Christmas and don’t want to buy ink one month out.
  • The Marketing Academy for Small Business Instagram page is aesthetically pleasing. A quick scroll shows they recently rebranded their content, and the posts maintain a consistent structure so the pictures in the feed align.
  • I have to give Mrs. English an extra bonus point for going to my husband’s alma mater. Go Racers!

The Cons

  • As aesthetically pleasing as the MAFSB accounts are, neither the Facebook nor the Instagram page had much engagement. The pages had between 100,000-200,000 followers, but posts only showed three or four likes and maybe one comment. As knowledgeable as Mrs. English was about the inner workings of Facebook and Instagram, I wondered why her pages weren’t performing better.
  • At the end of the content of her presentation, Mrs. English explained that the changes she had described did not apply to ads. After spending an hour studying “organic reach” and “targeting,” the comment felt a bit like a whirlwind change. However, Mrs. English acknowledged that ads led to the success of her business, and the course she sold is built around that premise.

What I Tried

  • After this webinar, I prioritized replying to every comment on my social media posts. I also mustered up some courage to start commenting on other bloggers’ posts. If we’re going to beat this big bad Facebook algorithm, we’re going to have to work together!
  • This webinar showed me that I needed to direct posts to promote engagement. I started adding more questions to my posts in hopes that people would respond.
  • I haven’t tried Mrs. English’s suggestions for “organic targeting” yet, but specifying which demographic of followers to show a post to was a great tip in light of Facebook’s new algorithm.

Initial Conclusion

I highly recommend following the Marketing Academy for Small Business and attending one of Mrs. English’s webinars if you can. While the course she sells at the end of her webinar seems to follow traditional marketing strategies like you might learn at a college or university, the information she imparts in the meat of the webinar contains actionable steps and important terms you might not know otherwise.

Posted on 3 Comments

6 Ways to Praise God’s Power

Psalm 21:13 ESV – “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.”

The phrase “in your strength” sticks out to me in this passage. So often, my strength fails me. For instance, I helped with childcare for a prospective church member meeting last week, and I’m pretty sure that wiping the snot off of one sweet four-year-old’s face is the cause of the sinus headache I’ve had the past three days. (I even washed my hands… c’est la vie.) But it is the LORD’s strength that we exalt, not our own. We sing and praise HIS power.

I’m definitely not the best at praising God’s power. David spends a whole psalm giving examples of God’s justice and faithfulness for which “the king rejoices” (Psalm 21:1.) If I don’t sit down with a pen and paper or with this laptop, I will most likely get distracted after praising God for one singular thing He has done. So, if you are like me and need some ideas for ways to praise God, here’s a list of six ideas below.

1.) Make a Mind Map.

I’m pretty sure we called these “thinking webs” when I was in 2nd grade, but the principle is the same. Start with a central bubble that lists the topic you are thinking about. In this instance, God will go in your central bubble. Then, for every trait you recall, write it in a bubble shooting off of the central bubble. I love making these really complicated and extending long chains of bubbles.

Extra credit: For each trait you recall about God, write down a corresponding event where you saw God fulfill that trait in your life.

2.) Make a list.

This one is the more obvious cousin of Mind Mapping. If circles aren’t your thing, just make a straight list of traits about God. Listing out the things I knew to be true of God really helped me through a season of doubt.

3.) Draw sketches of God’s character.

Maybe you see God in a child’s laugh or a caterpillar’s stripes more than you see God in abstract terms. If so, that’s great! You probably recognize God’s creative, humorous side more than the theologians stuck in rounds of Biblical hermeneutics. Use this gift to your advantage! Sketch or photograph those things that best reflect God’s character to you.

4.) Play music that reflects God’s character.

Music can magically reflect so many different emotions in the world around us. If creating music is your thing, then play the bright, major keys that remind you of God’s playful, loving side! Try playing minor swells that reflect verses like Psalm 21:9, “You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.” Use the music lilting inside of you to tease out those complex aspects of God’s character we humans have difficulty understanding.

5.) Study science.

If you look at the veins on a leathery leaf falling from a tree, you will most likely wind up with a feeling of awe at something greater than yourself. At least, I usually have that reaction when I stop to study the minute workings of life more closely. Maybe you need something more tangible than letters and emotion to recognize God’s character. Look around and see how many tiny miracles are causing life to function that most of us don’t even notice. On the rare instances I stop to recognize this, I’m usually left with, “Wow, God!” That’s all the prayer I need in that moment.

6.) Study numbers in Scripture.

Numbers in the Bible often come with symbolic meaning. If counting makes you happy, try counting generations in genealogies and comparing it to where that number is used elsewhere in the Bible. See how many 7’s and 12’s you can find. Research other important numbers in the Bible and see if you can find them in your everyday life.

Do you have other ways of praising God’s power? Let me know in the comments below!