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 Leave a comment

How Hannah Coped with Depression in 1 Samuel 1

Happy New Year, everyone! Today is the first day of my new devotional series on coping with mental illness in the church. To be honest, I’ve gotten progressively more nervous about writing these posts the closer it’s gotten to 2020. I take that as proof that this is what I’m meant to be doing. Prayers are appreciated!

When I started thinking about depression, anxiety, and mental illness in the Bible, Hannah’s story was the first that came to mind. I always remember her story with the image of her weeping and praying so desperately that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. I can feel that swallowing hole in my chest that she must have felt. I can feel the sobs that come so hard I believe my eyelids flipped inside out. If anyone knows deep emotional pain, it is Hannah.

The Passage

Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

1 Samuel 1:4-8 NIV

As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.”

“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

1 Samuel 1:12-18 NIV

I imagine Hannah’s husband and rival wife did not help her depression. In fact, verse 7 says that Peninnah would remind Hannah of her barrenness so often that it led to Hannah refusing to eat! She exacerbated Hannah’s negative thinking out of sheer pettiness, as best I can tell. Then, there is Hannah’s husband, Elkanah. Verse 5 says that he loved Hannah, and he did give her a double portion of sacrifice to prove his love and care for her. However, his response to her weeping winds up being pretty selfish. I think if I was unable to have a child and my husband asked me, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” I would be ready to slap him. Hannah’s feelings weren’t about Elkanah. She was struggling with an issue of her identity.

Then, we meet Eli the priest. Eli’s first response to Hannah’s anguish isn’t much better than Elkanah’s. He asks her if she’s drunk. Whether as a cry of indignation or an outpouring of pent up hurt, Hannah tells Eli her story. Eli responds with the first helpful statement in the whole chapter. Eli recognizes Hannah’s strength of character and faith, and he offers her a blessing.

Hannah dealt for many years with a situation of barrenness that no one ever wants to go through. Coupled with undeniable relationship stress at home from Peninnah, it is not surprising that she sometimes feels hopeless and has no appetite. Thankfully for us, the author of 1 Samuel included three ways that Hannah responded to depression that turned her hopelessness into joy and generous obedience when her son finally was born.

Three Ways Hannah Coped with Depression

  1. She reached out for help instead of hiding. If I were Hannah, I would have run away in embarrassment and anger when Eli asked me if I was drunk. Instead, Hannah took the opportunity to reach out for help. She told Eli her story and entered in a brief conversation with him. Likewise, we can reach out to others in our depression and engage in a conversation that reduces our feelings of isolation.
  2. She allowed Eli’s blessing to reshape her view of herself. Before Hannah went to the tabernacle to pray, the identity spoken over her most often was from Peninnah. Peninnah, a petty rival wife, probably forced the idea down Hannah’s throat that she would never bear a child and that she was the lesser wife for being childless. However, when Eli spoke a blessing over Hannah, Hannah allowed herself to view her situation positively. She believed that her situation was not a flaw of her character but one in which God would prove His faithfulness. By listening to Eli, Hannah turned a negative view of her circumstances into a positive one.
  3. She addressed her physical needs. In verse 18, the Bible says that Hannah ate and then her face was not downcast. Praying and talking to Eli did not immediately fix her situation. In fact, verse 20 says that Hannah did not immediately get pregnant after this event, but that bearing a child occurred “in the course of time.” Instead, Hannah addressed the physical needs she had been neglecting by not eating. The combination of food and a changed mindset redirected Hannah’s path from hopelessness to praise.

Hannah’s deep pain of childlessness is exacerbated by a cruel rival wife and slightly clueless husband. Though the Bible does not call her depressed, her symptoms of anguish and not eating indicate that she probably struggled with years of depression just like many of us do today. Thankfully, the Bible shares a few tips we can use to cope with our depression like Hannah does so that we can praise God for His faithfulness in difficult situations.

Posted on Leave a comment

Psalm 32 and Finding Your Voice

When I was in middle school, I quit talking.

This is how I start most conversations when people ask me to tell my story. I became a Christian at five years old, so I don’t have a crazy salvation story to share. I just have a story of hardship and God’s faithfulness, which one day turned into doubt and despair, and which ultimately reminds me that God is in the smallest of details even when I believe, “[God’s] hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer,” (Psalm 32:4).

Verse 3 of David’s psalm struck me as so succinctly encapsulating how it feels to stay silent. He says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long,” (Psalm 32: 3). Based on the rest of the passage, I believe David is speaking of staying silent instead of confessing his sin to God, because once he does, he says he is blessed. That said, I imagine David also had days when he stayed silent to other people because he felt afraid and sought shelter in God. He says, “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance,” (Psalm 32:7). Staying silent from fear feels different from the silence of rebellion.

I spent the first part of eighth grade walking through fluorescent white hallways with my eyes trained on the speckled, white laminate below me. My brain only input as much information about avoid the black backpack, don’t run into the blue sweatshirt, and those guys are really loud as would get me through the halls with as little interpersonal contact as possible. I had refined the method over the span of four years, and I was pretty good at it. For some reason, though, a guy in my choir class couldn’t stand for the silence. He spent three minutes every other day walking me to computer class and alternating between asking me, “Why don’t you talk?” and “Can I wear blue socks with black shoes?” (He knew the second question almost got me to answer.) But at that point, I was so afraid of the words that might come out of my mouth, and that the words might end up hurting someone, that I refused to say anything at all. A dull, constant loneliness seemed less painful than the stabbing throb of knowing my words had cost me a friendship.

Eventually, I did speak to him. Then, I thought we had lost him. I spent a good week of my life thinking every time the phone rang, it would be my best friend’s mom calling to say the boy had killed himself. Thankfully, that call never came.

I didn’t learn to talk again immediately after that week, but I do think that week jolted me awake. That, and another boy in my gym class asking me how I could still smile when the other girls were so mean to me, and I was too shocked to say “Because Jesus” before he ran off to play basketball. I was learning that staying silent could cause as much pain as speaking.

I am thankful for God’s faithfulness during those years. He kept sending these boys I didn’t know to ask me random questions that stunned me speechless. And in the years since then, He has continued to send people who force me to speak, including my husband and some of my dearest friends. As David points out in verse 3, staying silent slowly eats away at your spirit until you feel dead inside. That’s why I’ve learned to pray for courage and speak up. I’ll mess up the words nine times out of ten, but it feels so much better to have the words out in the open instead of eating me up like a disease on the inside.

I’d like to end today’s memory with the praise at the end of the psalm. David gives us such a hopeful exhortation to leave with. I pray over you today, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). Shout for joy so those words don’t get trapped inside you. Someone just might need to hear them.

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

Review: “The Bucketlist Bombshells”

Between a lingering cold and a tummy bug, Christmas week in the Irby household has gotten off to a rocky start. Of course, Jesus came to Earth for our salvation regardless of our current health situation, so there is still plenty to be thankful for.

Since Christmas falls on a Wednesday this year, I thought I would switch up the posts this week and do my review early. That means today we’re looking at “The Bucketlist Bombshells,” two young woman who have started a consulting business for those interested in flexible, online work. I stumbled across their ads on Facebook, where the bright colors depicted scenes of travel and working on laptops in exotic cafes. The webinar promised ideas for starting a service-based online business that would allow the entrepreneur to travel the world.

The Pros

  • The webinar promoted four jobs to apply your existing skills toward. They suggested focusing on web design, social media and content management, virtual assistance, and graphic design. Their webinar promoted courses on technology and design for the virtual world, and depending on your end goal, you could take the course or bundle that worked best for you. Throughout the webinar, the presentation included examples and images that suggested the owners Cassie and Shay did know something about design.
  • The course bundle covered both the background technology and client-facing design for a more well-rounded approach.
  • The promotional emails start with nice encouragement and include more information beyond selling the courses. Most emails include links to travel tips and interviews with their successful students.

The Cons

  • In order to get all of the needed information to create a truly successful business, you would have to buy all three courses and possibly more for the legal and logistical information. However, a lot of the information seemed like it could be figured out with some research or from other people’s courses.
  • The webinar focused heavily on the beginning concept and the end result. It did not discuss the in between process and the ups and downs that accompany building a business. Even the course for sale seemed to follow this beginning and end pattern. The course included mock-up projects to help you build your portfolio, but it didn’t create any client relationships to appeal to when the course was over.

What I Tried

  • Building an online business definitely appeals to me. I enjoy the flexibility to work from home and avoid the congested, unpredictable traffic coming and going from the city. I had already started building a service-based business into my website before taking The Bucketlist Bombshells webinar, but I unfortunately didn’t gain any more ideas from watching the webinar. I was already convinced that knowing web-based technology and design skills would make me more marketable, but I didn’t learn anything from the webinar to affect my business trajectory.

Initial Conclusion

The Bucketlist Bombshells have a very specific voice that appeals to a very specific group of millennial women. I listened to the webinar and kept thinking of pumpkin spice lattes and kale salads. The voice almost felt cliche, or at the least a caricature of their real personalities, but it did make their target market easily identifiable. I was not convinced that the Bucketlist Bombshells’ course would dramatically impact my online business, but if their personality appeals to you, they do at least offer an overview of skills necessary to sell a successful online service.

Posted on Leave a comment

Review: “Click Funnel Design School”

It took almost two years after graduating from college for me to realize why I was struggling so much to find a job in a city where new communications positions cropped up daily. The Friday was cold and gray, so the three of us meeting at the church that afternoon were all bundled up in over-sized sweaters. We piled in to the church office to get some work done while the cleaning lady bustled about changing trash bags and sweeping the floors.

One of the girls was a graphic designer. She was applying for jobs and debating between a part-time job in the printing industry or holding out for a full-time position. I told her about the time I applied for a writing position with a business consulting company. I went through the entire interview process and really liked the company, only for the gentleman from HR to call me and say the team really liked me, but they were looking for someone with graphic design experience, and they hadn’t figured that out when they wrote the job description. You might want to look at communications jobs, I suggested to my friend. A lot of these companies seem to want graphic designers more than writers.

“These companies are looking for unicorns,” she said. “They want a good graphic designer AND a good writer, and they don’t realize that most people aren’t both.”

I shifted in the plastic chair and nodded. I could feel the imaginary lightbulb going off over my head. The reason I struggled so much finding a job was that everyone wanted a unicorn, and no one in the English department knew that was what the companies were looking for. Had I known, I might have used my college electives on graphic design courses instead of business and photography. As it was, I had great editing and tutoring experience, and the jobs available in town either paid very little or required a minimum of five year’s experience. So, when I found this ad on “design hacking” by Click Funnel Design School that required no graphic design or coding experience, I was hooked. This trick could be my break!

The Pros

  • I found the ad for the “design hacking” webinar about 10 minutes before it started. I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs, fired up my laptop, and grabbed a notebook. Thankfully, when the webinar started, it came through as a YouTube recording. This meant that when the cat started demanding his breakfast, I could stop the video without missing any information.
  • Ms. Jones had a really neat concept that seemed to actually work. The concepts seemed simple to implement once you learned how to use ClickFunnels and add in design elements.
  • Perhaps the best thing about Ms. Jones’ course is that building a solid portfolio and attracting clients is built into the course. I got the feeling that Ms. Jones really set her students up for success instead of passing on concepts and leaving it up to the student to figure out implementation.

The Cons

  • While the webinar was very detailed and engaging, Ms. Jones really didn’t give an actionable info in the free “training.” It really was just an introduction to her course and an overview of how the course worked.
  • The information in the course is also specific to Click Funnels and funnel-building software. This focus on Click Funnels limited how the person building the site could use it for their business. The site would really be for sales only and probably wouldn’t have much continued content or community outside of an email list, which again became more sales and promotion.
    • On a semi-side note, I personally dislike that ClickFunnel website domains are 80 miles long and have “clickfunnel” in them. They just don’t look as professional to me as a simple, clean domain.

What I Tried

  • When I upgraded my site to a business page, I changed my theme to “Natural,” and I loved it. It felt so earthy and peaceful to me. Over time, though, I started getting comments on how hard the gray font was to read, and I couldn’t find a place to change that. So, I gave in to the inevitable push for modern minimalism. Following Ms. Jones’ suggestions, I looked at major company’s websites and tried to follow their modern style with my website design.
  • While I didn’t learn any actionable graphic design tips from Ms. Jones’ webinar, I did get more analytical about design. I used her “hacking” idea and started looking at the logos and interfaces of more successful businesses as a source of style inspiration.

Initial Conclusion

Ms. Jones had a great personality and was really entertaining to listen to. I was so excited for this course and thought I had found a shortcut to graphic design, but it was so relegated to ClickFunnels that it really didn’t work for my needs. If you are an entrepreneur who doesn’t want to blog or offer a large variety of products, Click Funnels and Ms. Jones’ Click Funnel Design School could be a great resource for you. However, if you are looking to build community engagement and need two way interaction to grow your brand, this course is not for you. Instead, look at the designs of major, modern corporations and use that as your inspiration for building logos and websites with the resources available to you.

Posted on Leave a comment

Review: “She’s Making an Impact/Pin 2 Purpose”

Somewhere between high school and college I got nearly addicted to Pinterest. I spent hours scrolling through pictures of puppies and elephants, reading about “healthy” recipes, and making a list of projects to knit or crochet at some point in my life. My brother actually requested I quit using Pinterest for food after my third or fourth tasteless attempt at following a Paleo, Keto, or “lightened up” version of a recipe (usually with significant ingredient alterations to accommodate the limited food storage in my college dorm.) Those adventures taught me the power of these two little spices named salt and pepper that I had always believed made food taste bad. Apparently, they were actually necessary for making food taste good.

When I saw the ads for Rachel Ngom’s upcoming webinar about gaining blogging traffic without having to pay for ads (irony noted,) I was intrigued. I had heard of people getting brand deals from Pinterest boards, but I never understood how on earth it happened. So, I signed up and waited to see how all those puppy pictures and beauty tutorials were going to make my blogging dreams come true.

The early days of interest in Pinterest

The Pros

  • Mrs. Ngom definitely convinced me of value of her program in that hour and ten minutes. She demonstrated a thorough knowledge of Pinterest marketing and online media. Based on the information she gave, I thought I could figure the “free advertising” out myself, but I knew it would take time to learn the Tailwind program and make connections. (More on that later.)
  • I genuinely enjoyed her presentation style. Mrs. Ngom was engaging, fast-paced, and genuinely respectful of time.
  • All of Mrs. Ngom’s ads, emails, and worksheets had consistent, pleasing branding. The bold salmon outlines clearly reflected her focus on female entrepreneurs. The branding remained consistent with her pins on Pinterest, so it was easy to remember where I had seen her work.
  • On the email marketing side, Mrs. Ngom sent out new material about once every 10 days. Her frequency is far less than most consultants, so I don’t mind staying on her email list to learn about new promotions and business techniques.

The Cons

  • In covering so much information, Mrs. Ngom hit a lot of high points and left the implementation to be learned. It was a good strategy, as it feeds into her consulting business, but it does detract from the value of the free webinar itself.
  • While Mrs. Ngom’s fast pace was highly engaging, she went too fast to follow the notes on her worksheets. To make it more confusing, the worksheets didn’t exactly match the content she was sharing, so it was often hard to keep up. I might have had more success transcribing my own notes from the webinar than trying to find where the information she gave fit on her outline.
  • While I loved the branding of the worksheets, there was too much shading to print them out. The bold swathes of color would have eaten up all of the ink that I was already running out of.

What I Tried

  • First and foremost, I started pinning my blog posts on Pinterest. I created a business account and spent more time organizing the pins than I had on my personal account.
  • Per Mrs. Ngom’s suggestions, I added text boxes over my featured image so people could tell what the linked blog post was about. I created a consistent style that I could use for all of my pins.
  • The webinar taught me that Pinterest was a search engine, so Mrs. Ngom’s tips introduced me to basic SEO. That knowledge was perhaps the most valuable thing I learned, as I was always terrified of the term SEO and thought optimizing articles required a degree in computer science. Mrs. Ngom made it easy to search for what people want to know by leveraging a tool built into the site itself – the search bar.
  • Mrs. Ngom focused on building what you own rather than relying on outside programs like Facebook or Youtube. So, I added an email list to my site by using Mailchimp, which will allow me to engage more directly with my followers than I could by fighting the Facebook and Instagram algorithms.
  • In researching Pinterest marketing, I learned that Tailwind, Mrs. Ngom’s tool of choice, has a free trial which would allow you to join 5 “tribes” or communities that share each other’s pins. In reading other blogger’s Pinterest strategies, most pin-bloggers use Tailwind or group boards to be successful. However, I also learned that you can get around the Tailwind tribes by manually engaging with group boards to exchange content.

Initial Conclusion

Mrs. Ngom’s Pin 2 Purpose class was the one course I would have purchased were I not resolute against purchasing. While I believed that I could figure the techniques out myself, I knew that having her tips and backing would certainly save time in building my blog. However, I have since found other people’s blog articles through Pinterest where people explained how they were successful using the same basic structure. The tips made the overarching techniques from Mrs. Ngom’s webinar more actionable without having to pay for Tailwind or the Pin 2 Purpose course, which made me glad that I saved my money. If you are a blogger interested in Pinterest marketing, I would research the free articles on Pinterest before deciding to pay for the Pin 2 Purpose course.

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 1 Comment

Faith Music

Today, I drove along curving, green back roads and took the long way home. I just breathe better when I see houses and farmland dotting the horizon instead of various bits of car wreckage remaining on the shoulder of the interstate. Naturally, I wanted to listen to some good, soul-soaring music.

I turned on the local Christian channel and heard a song that, despite having great lyrics, has been played so constantly in church and on the radio that I wanted to punch the “Search” button through the dashboard to get a different song to play.

Boots and BibleThus, I switched to The Legend, a channel from iHeart Radio that plays all of the songs from The Big 98 that were popular around the turn of the century. It’s like a time capsule for music! The station became really invaluable to me as I started to write my book, but I also enjoy hearing the first several chords of a song and still being able to sing every word from twenty years ago.

Country music has its roots in Gospel music, and that connection shows up more often than you’d think. Songs like “That’s What I Love About Sunday” (Craig Morgan), “Where Were You” (Alan Jackson), and “Jesus Take the Wheel” (Carrie Underwood) all talk explicitly about the places where faith and life collide. Even songs that don’t mention God explicitly often have Christian values like love and concern for others at the heart of the lyrics. And that connection to faith hasn’t diminished over time­– Old Dominion’s “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” parallels Matthew 5:38-40 with the command to turn the other cheek. Even John Mayer’s new song In the Blood, played on Sirius’ The Highway, reminds me of the hymn, “There is power, power, wonder working power/ In the blood of the Lamb!” (Lewis E. Jones, 1899).



Regardless, there are enough Country hook-up songs on the radio that I don’t need to listen to the genre all the time. I do feel calmer and generally more even-keel when I listen to only Christian music. But why does it have to be so boring? It shouldn’t be a struggle for me to choose Christian music; I should want to listen to it because it draws me closer to my Savior!

In the meantime, I thank God that He shows up in Country music, too, and reminds me of His grace in the beauty of a pastel sunset over rolling cow pastures.

Posted on Leave a comment

Wasted Time

I guess you could say that I have had two months of ‘bad days of writing.’ It’s not necessarily a fair statement, as I really only had two days of writing total, and both days produced two pages of work each. Problem: two pages are for the start of the book, and two pages are for the last section of the book. But at least I got something done. The rest of the days fell to errands, chores, television, and trying to spend all the time with family that I could. (They love it when I blame my problems on them.)

Today I cannot blame my problems on family, however. I wrote out a schedule on a blue slip of paper for how I was going to work out, run some errands, spend two hours writing, and finish two hours of reading before dinner time. I checked off the morning’s activities and opened Instagram for a quick break before I polished my glasses and got to writing. The last update I saw on Instagram was a friend promoting a new blog post. I decided my blog had kept me accountable for one section of my book, so I might as well post “real quick” before I opened Microsoft Word.

7.5.17 WritingI had been thinking a lot about a section in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird where she references people who write so they don’t go crazy. I figured it could explain why I felt constantly at odds with the people in my life I find most important, and why my self-esteem kept swallowing gallons of dust. I grabbed Bird by Bird from my bookshelf and hopped on the couch. I got my sleepy-fluffball-of-a-dog situated, I started the new post, and I opened the book.

And then I got lost.

I spent a solid 45 minutes looking for that one quote. I reread half of the book just looking! Finally I realized how counterintuitive it was to spend all the time I had allotted for working on my book searching for material for a blog post.

I gave up and wrote this instead.

So, rant over and time successfully wasted, I’m going to try writing fiction now. Let’s hope writing this book goes a little better than trying to write a blog post.