The Best Gift for a Writer

by Liz Johnson, @lizjohnsonbooks

At this time of year, the internet is abuzz with suggested shopping lists. Don’t know what to get your favorite gadget lover? There’s a list for that. Not sure how to surprise the decorator on your list? There’s a list for that. Looking for something for the reader in your life? Oh, there are endless lists for them. And pretty good ones, at that.

There are even lists with gift suggestions for writers. They include lots of pretty pens, vivid notebooks, and even new laptops. And I don’t know any writer who doesn’t love those things.

But as I was thinking about what items I’d put on a gift list for writers, I realized that the best gift a writer can get isn’t one that can be purchased. And it can’t be given to them. It’s one they have to give themselves.

Patience.

I wish it was agent agreements and book deals and bestseller lists, but the truth is that none of those come without a whole lot of patience first.

When we first get started, we dream of all of the things that overnight success brings. Fame, fortune, and a recliner life. And we think that our first efforts must be worthy. After all, we know good work, right?

I love how Ira Glass, from This American Life, puts it. “All of us who do creative work get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap. That for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s trying to be good. It has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, that thing that got you into the game—your taste is still killer.”

That disparity between what you’re creating and your taste leads to disappointment. We’ve all be there, where what we create isn’t up to the standard of what we want it to be. And some of us quit. We just give up on ever reaching the point where our art matches our taste.

And what a loss that is for the world. We have important stories to tell. So how does giving up help? But how do we get from where we are to where we want to be?

“The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work,” Glass says. “Do a huge volume of work. It’s only by doing a huge volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap.”

And do you know what that requires? Patience.

It means writing story after story, manuscript after manuscript knowing that it might not have that special thing just yet. But also knowing that every practice, every word on a page is getting you one step closer to being the writer you want to be.

Marathon runners don’t begin by running 26.2 miles in record time. Why should writers be different? Why should we be able to create a bestselling work on our first try? It’s normal to take time to let your talents grow and strengthen. So take the time. Put in the work. Write the books. Take the classes. Study the craft.

And give yourself the gift of an unhurried, unrushed journey.

Maybe you’re already there. Maybe your book is stellar, and you can’t wait to indie publish. Would waiting until the second and third books are done be better for your marketing strategy?

Maybe you’re dreaming of traditional publishing, but the doors keep closing. Don’t give up. Keep practicing—both your writing and your patience.

Wherever you’re at in the writing journey, give yourself the best gift you can. Give yourself the patience to grow into a writer whose talent matches your taste. Give yourself the gift of a well-planned launch strategy. Give yourself the gift of pitching to that dream publisher one more time.

Patience is the gift that keeps on giving, so be generous with it all year long.

Have you given yourself the gift of patience? What did that mean for you?


On Love’s Gentle Shore

Fifteen years after she left Prince Edward Island, Natalie O’Ryan had no plans to return. But when her fiancé, music producer Russell Jacobs, books their wedding in her hometown and schedules a summer at Rose’s Red Door Inn, she sets out to put the finishing touches on the perfect wedding. But she can’t possibly prepare for a run-in with Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay.

Justin’s never forgotten Natalie or the music career he always dreamed of pursuing. He’d been prepared to follow her off the island until his dad died and he was left to run the family dairy farm. He’s done the best he can with the life that was thrust upon him–but with Natalie back in the picture, he begins to realize just how much joy he’s been missing.

After Natalie’s reception venue falls through, she must scramble to find an alternative, and the only option seems to be a barn on Justin’s property. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them.

By day Liz Johnson is the director of marketing for a Christian radio network. She makes time to write late at night—that’s when she thinks best anyway. Liz is the author of more than a dozen novels, a New York Times bestselling novella, and a handful of short stories. Her book The Red Door Inn was a Christy Award finalist, and she’s also a two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist. She makes her home in Tucson, Arizona, where she enjoys exploring local theater and doting on her nieces and nephews. She writes stories of true love filled with heart, humor, and happily ever afters. You can find her online at lizjohnsonbooks.com or on her Facebook page at Facebook.com/lizjohnsonbooks.

Moving On

by Liz Johnson, @lizjohnsonbooks

After six years on Prince Edward Island, in a little town that I know like the back of my hand, I had to move on. And it’s so much harder than I thought it would be.

In 2011 I came up with an idea for a book set on the north shore of PEI, a place I’d been to once and fallen in love with every time I looked at pictures. During the next three years, I wrote a few drafts of that story, the characters and setting becoming more and more real with every passing day. It wasn’t until 2014 that I received a contract offer from Revell, and it was another two years before the first book in the series, The Red Door Inn, released.
Now, more than a year since that first book released, I’m only five weeks away from the release of the third and final book in the series. I have to say goodbye to North Rustico—my fictional version—and the characters that have made it more real to me than the actual town.

And I want to cry.

I have to start a new series—one I’m very excited about. But it’s a little bit like being told that I have to make a new friend but have to give up one that I’ve had for years.

At some point, every author is going to have to let go of a book world and begin a new one. But that can be a difficult transition, especially when you’ve poured so much of yourself into a book you love.

Maybe you, too, have completed a series and are facing down the release of the final book. Perhaps you’ve completed a single book, queried it to numerous agents and publishers, and received just as many rejection letters. It could be that you’ve spent the last four years perfecting the same manuscript, afraid to send it out for consideration and afraid to let it go.

If you’re having a hard time moving on, allow me to offer a few suggestions.

  1. Give yourself a break. Literally. Take a break. Give yourself time off. I was scared to do that after writing six books in less than three years. I’d been writing, editing, and promoting nearly nonstop, and the idea of taking a month off was both wonderful and terrifying. What if I forgot how to write a book? Or worse, what if I liked it so much I didn’t want to start again? But I knew that I needed a moment—or more accurately, 30 days—to let go. What I discovered was that my break provided me an opportunity to refresh my creative well, focus on relationships that had suffered, and let my mind wander to ridiculous possibilities.

    There’s no magic length for your break. Maybe you need a few days or a few months. Only you know the stress you’ve felt, the renewal you need, and the love you still carry for your last book.

  2. Celebrate the victories. If you’ve been offered a contract, signed with an agent or decided to go indie with your book, you know what to celebrate. But maybe your victories look a little smaller. Maybe it’s that you completed a book. (NOT a small feat, by the way.) Or maybe your victory is that you wrote every day for a month or hit the word count you were shooting for or edited your book down to your target word count.

    It can be easy to overlook these successes because they may not be the big one you’re aiming for, but celebrating victories is crucial to letting go and moving on. A victory doesn’t necessarily mean you’re completely done with your book, but it’s an indicator that you you’ve reached a natural change point. 

  3. Use the ideas you couldn’t in your last book. Have you ever had an utterly fantastic idea, so brilliant you can hardly believe you came up with it—only to discover that it can in no way, possibly fit into your current work in progress? Ever have a Texas cowboy from the Old West demand to be included in a contemporary thriller?(I’m glad I’m not alone.) Well, now that you’re letting go of the old book and moving on to the new, you’re free to use every crazy, wild, wonderful idea that you couldn’t before.Use your passion for that idea or character and run in a brand new direction.

    Remember that moving on can be temporary. It’s not goodbye forever. And if you give yourself a chance, you may find that your new friend is as funny, smart, and fabulous as your old one.

How do you let go of a book that you’ve grown to love?

TWEETABLES
Moving On by Liz Johnson (Click to Tweet)

It’s a little bit like being told that I have to give up an old friend.~ Liz Johnson (Click to Tweet)
Three Things I Did Before Starting a New Series~ Liz Johnson (Click to Tweet)

On Love’s Gentle Shore

Fifteen years after she left Prince Edward Island, Natalie O’Ryan had no plans to return. But when her fiancé, music producer Russell Jacobs, books their wedding in her hometown and schedules a summer at Rose’s Red Door Inn, she sets out to put the finishing touches on the perfect wedding. But she can’t possibly prepare for a run-in with Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay.

Justin’s never forgotten Natalie or the music career he always dreamed of pursuing. He’d been prepared to follow her off the island until his dad died and he was left to run the family dairy farm. He’s done the best he can with the life that was thrust upon him–but with Natalie back in the picture, he begins to realize just how much joy he’s been missing.

After Natalie’s reception venue falls through, she must scramble to find an alternative, and the only option seems to be a barn on Justin’s property. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them. (Find it here)

Liz Johnson fell in love with Prince Edward Island the first time she set foot on it. When she’s not plotting her next trip to the island, she works in marketing. She is the author of more than a dozen novels, including The Red Door Inn, Where Two Hearts Meet, and the forthcoming On Love’s Gentle Shore. She makes her home in Tucson, Arizona. www.lizjohnsonbooks.com www.facebook.com/lizjohnsonbooks

Writing Lessons

By day, Liz Johnson works as a
marketing manager, and she makes time to write late at night. Liz is the author
of nine novels—including her latest, The Red Door Inn (Prince Edward Island Dreams, book 1)—and a New York Times bestselling novella. She makes her home
in Nashville, where she enjoys exploring local music, theater, and making
frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nieces and nephews. She writes stories
of true love filled with heart, humor, and happily ever afters. Connect with
her at www.LizJohnsonBooks.com or www.Facebook.com/LizJohnsonBooks.

Writing Lessons
I was standing in line for coffee
(well, in line with others in line for coffee—I prefer the near milkshake
version) at a writers conference several years ago. The woman behind me was
also alone and also wearing a nametag identifying her as part of the same
conference. Feeling a little more extroverted than usual, I asked, “What
do you write?”
I expected a quippy response—the kind
of single-line identifier writers spend years perfecting. What I got instead was
a tirade on the ills of Christian publishing and the narrow-mindedness of some editors not interested in books
about missionaries in Africa.
After five full minutes, she
harrumphed. “I just don’t understand why God would call me to write this
book, when no one seems to be interested.”
I thought that probably translated
into, “I had a couple painful editor appointments,” but I didn’t say as
much. Instead I gently—I hope I was gentle, anyway—suggested that perhaps God
had called her to write the book so He could teach her something new.
To which she snapped, “I’ve
already learned the lessons I wrote about in my book.”
Thank goodness it was then my turn to
order. Double that whip cream, please.
I wonder about that exchange every
now and then. It was years ago, and I probably wouldn’t recognize the woman
again if she introduced herself. But I think about what I really meant to say,
and if I’m listening to my own advice. You see, I think God uses the very
process of writing and editing and pitching books to teach us amazing things. Even
on the surface level, I’ve learned some incredible lessons, like perseverance
pays off, flexibility is important, and big computer screens can hide bad hair
days.
But there’s more to this whole
putting thoughts to paper thing. Here are three lessons God has taught me
through the course of writing my books.
1.
My worth isn’t in sales or how many books have my name on the cover.
Who I am is not how many people
recognize me on the street (none, by the way) or what conference I’m asked (or
not asked) to speak at. Doing the hard work of writing a book isn’t about
making a name for myself or being told I’m a wonderful writer (although that’s
nice to hear every now and then). Because in the darkness (I write best at
night) it’s just me and my computer and God. That time alone is 95% of my
writing life. And in that time, when the enemy whispers lies into my ear (like
I’ll never amount to anything or I’m not worthy), I cling to the reminder that
my worth is wrapped up in one thing. I am a child of God. And I do what I do
because it’s the call He’s given me. I’m called to use my talents and not bury
them in the ground. The process of writing reminds me whose I am and whose
voice I heed.
2.
God’s good gifts don’t always come in the form of five-star reviews.
Matthew 7 talks about how God is a
good Father, who wants to give His children good gifts. It’s easy to think that
those gifts always come wrapped in red ribbons and blazing with stars. But
sometimes the sweetest gifts come in a spurt of writing or an unexpected inspiration.
My favorite of his gifts are epiphanies that fill in gaping plot holes I
couldn’t fill on my own.
The passage I mentioned in Matthew
follows the familiar “ask and it shall be given to you” line. I’ve discovered a
joy in asking God for help and waiting to see how He’ll show up. Sometimes it’s
through a kind word from a reader. Other times it’s in a brainstorming session
with a fellow writer. And then there are the times when it’s a meal made by a
friend who knows I’m on deadline and just need real food. When my eyes are open
to them, I see His gifts everywhere.
3.
I don’t have to fear rejection.
Writers know the acute pain of
dismissal better than most. We wrack up rejection letters with a butterfly net
and wear them like a badge of honor. But that doesn’t mean they stop stinging.
We pitch to our dream editors and agents, hold our breaths, and let out loud sighs
when we hear back. “It’s not right for me.” “Your manuscript isn’t quite
ready.” “It doesn’t fit into the market right now.” Or a reviewer plants a
one-star review on your work, their words harsh and overly critical.
Industry experts tell us these aren’t
personal rejections, but how could they not feel that way when we’ve poured our
hearts into these stories? They hurt. Even after the 12th and 25th
and 99th. (And they don’t hurt any less after you’ve published a
book or six.)  What I’ve come to learn is
that a rejection may burn, but it’s not lethal. It may leave a bruise, but
it’ll heal. And in the midst of that pain, I continue to turn to one truth. God
has promised never to leave me or forsake me. No matter what pain this life
brings, His love is everlasting. I don’t have to fear rejection because He’ll
never reject me.
Join
the conversation. What have you
learned through the process of writing, editing, and pitching your work?
The Red Door Inn
Marie Carrington is broke, desperate,
and hoping to find sanctuary on Prince Edward Island while decorating a
renovated bed-and-breakfast. Seth Sloane moved three thousand miles to help
restore his uncle’s Victorian B and B–and to forget about the fiancée who
broke his heart. He wasn’t expecting to have to babysit a woman with a taste
for expensive antiques and a bewildering habit of jumping every time he brushes
past her.
The only thing Marie and Seth agree
on is that getting the Red Door Inn ready to open in just two months will take
everything they’ve got—and they have to find a way to work together. In the
process, they may find something infinitely sweeter than they ever imagined on
this island of dreams.

Impressions vs. Connections

Liz Johnson
graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public
relations and works as an editorial and marketing manager at a Christian
publisher. She is a two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist, and A Promise to Protect is her fourth novel
with Love Inspired Suspense. Liz makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she
enjoys theater, exploring the local music scene, and making frequent trips to
Arizona to dote on her two nephews and three nieces. She loves stories of true
love with happy endings. Keep up with Liz’s adventures in writing at www.lizjohnsonbooks.com, Twitter
@LizJohnsonBooks, or Facebook.com/LizJohnsonBooks.

NR: Leave a comment for Liz and be entered in a drawing for her book. Continental U.S. residents only, please.

Impressions vs. Connections
I applied for my
first job in Christian publishing when I was twenty-one, just about to graduate
from college. I didn’t get that job. Or the next one. Or the next. But about
the time I turned twenty-five I was offered my first gig in my dream industry
as a publicist. I accepted it in a heartbeat.
Never mind that
I didn’t really know what a book publicist did.
During my first
week at that job, someone explained to me the difference between marketing and
publicity. In the simplest terms marketing was paid for and publicity wasn’t.
At that time, at that publisher, marketing equated to paid advertising and
publicity was any other coverage that a book might get—interviews, reviews,
etc.
Publicity and
marketing had clearly defined parameters, easily stated goals, and measurable
results. Separating them was clean and simple. And as such, many publishers
were set up with publicity teams separate from their marketing teams. Sure,
they were often referred to together. “Let’s hear from marketing and
publicity.” But the teams mostly worked independent of one another.
Seven years later,
I’m still in Christian publishing, now as a marketing manager for a nonfiction
group. And, boy howdy, how the times have changed!
In early 2006
blogs were the new thing, Facebook was still only available to limited
colleges, and Twitter hadn’t even been launched. Tumblr wouldn’t show up for
more than a year and the initial closed beta launch of Pinterest wouldn’t
happen until March 2010.
The digital
explosion has changed the way that publishers and authors reach out to readers
in more ways than I could cover in one blog post. So let’s just talk about a
new definition of marketing and publicity specifically for novels and what
those definitions mean for novelists.
At a recent ACFW
conference, someone (and I can’t remember who, so please forgive me if I’m
stealing this from you) said, “Marketing
is about impressions. Publicity is about connections.”
That may be the most
succinct and accurate definition I’ve heard in this new era of publishing.
Let’s unpack
this for a second. Impressions—if you’re not familiar with advertising
lingo—are the number of people exposed to the product you’re trying to sell or
the brand you’re communicating. Classic print, television, online, and radio
advertising fall into this category. So every time I see an ad in my Entertainment Weekly, I’m an impression
to their marketing team. Regardless of my choice to buy the product, I count as
a pair of eyes that have seen a book cover or new dvd.
Connections—well,
that seems pretty self-explanatory.
But is it? Are
you talking at your audience? Or with them? Are you opening a dialogue or
sending a message?
Connections are
opportunities for readers to hear from the heart of an author. That may not
always be a two-way conversation, but it’s deeper than a book sale or jacket
copy. It’s a chance for writers to express why they feel so strongly about
their topic or why stories and struggles mean so much to them. It’s an
opportunity to build a rapport with readers that isn’t easily broken.
As I’ve
considered the idea of connecting with readers, I’ve pondered promotions that
could be either an impression or a connection. Take a blog post for example. In
the early days of blogs, an author’s posts were considered publicity. Without
question. But what about posts that are clearly sales copy and sent out to the
ether without any follow up? Aren’t those just gaining impressions? How do they
differ from posts where the author responds to every comment? Those
conversations are building connections.
What about a
booksigning? Historically they’ve been considered publicity and usually
organized by a publicist. For the authors who stop and talk with each person
who comes through the line, connections are formed. But what about the
best-selling author who doesn’t even look up as the line moves along.
Katie, a friend
of mine, was planning a trip to Mississippi several months back. She heard that
a famous author would be in the area while she was there, so Katie stood in
line at a small bookstore to meet the author and get a book signed. Imagine
Katie’s dismay when the author never acknowledged her or even stopped talking
with a personal friend. Katie walked away with a scribbled signature and a bad
taste in her mouth. Is that a connection?
What about
bookmarks? Marketing teams are usually responsible for these. And if they’re
left on a table somewhere with no follow up from the author, they’re collecting
impressions. But what if a simple bookmark was used to open a dialogue? If a
scrap of cardstock has both the cover of Nicole Quigley’s Like Moonlight at Low Tide and an invitation to join an online
conversation with the author about bullying, has it become publicity?
If readers are
discovering our books, it doesn’t really matter whether a promotion is labeled as marketing or publicity. And
publishers are realizing this. Some are even integrating their teams to the
point that one team member is responsible for both publicity and marketing for
an author.
So what does
this mean for us as novelists?
1. Both
impressions and connections are important. They go hand in hand. Some readers
will buy a book just based on a cover and concept they like. Others want to
really know the author before spending their hard-earned money. Great
promotions often include both.
2. Connections
aren’t a guarantee. They take effort and planning.
3. How you
choose to connect with readers should fit your strengths. If you’re a visual
person, maybe you’re pinning on Pinterest. Maybe you love to keep it short and
sweet. Try twitter. If you’re long-winded like me, blog posts may be your
wheelhouse. You don’t have to do it all. Figure out what works for you and
connect that way.
4. Connecting
doesn’t always mean starting the conversation. If you can add value to a
discussion already going, don’t miss the chance just because you didn’t
initiate it.
5. Be open to
connections that can become impressions and vice versa. I recently took a
handful of my newest book to my dentist’s office. I was there for a regular
visit and planned to leave a few on the table in the waiting room for other
office visitors. But when I showed the books to the staff, their eyes lit up. I
ended up giving every copy I had with me to the hygienists and front desk team
and chatting with them about reading, writing, and books in general. I hoped
for impressions and instead got four connections and a promise that they’d look
up my previous titles, too.
6. Gaining
impressions isn’t just up to publishers anymore. Years ago publishers may have
been responsible for gaining all of a book’s impressions through advertising,
but that’s no longer the case. Authors have the opportunity to offer giveaways
on GoodReads.com or swap book ads on blogs with friends. And that’s just a
couple ideas.
As always, I
recommend working with your publisher’s team. Every publisher has its own
strategy, so ask how you can be involved and bring your own ideas to the table.
If you’re not
yet published, it’s never too early to begin making connections, discovering
the outlets that you feel most comfortable with, and building your network.
Then when it’s time to bring your book into the discussion, you’ve got a head
start.
Do you struggle
with consistently making connections and impressions? Which do you find easier?
Are you more apt to be swayed by an impression or a connection? What’s worked
best for you to reach readers?
A
Promise to Protect
Navy SEAL Matt
Waterstone knows about keeping people safe. When his best friend’s sister is
attacked, Matt promises no harm will come to Ashley Sawyer-not on his watch.
But Matt’s not the only protective one. Ashley will do anything to safeguard
the residents of the battered women’s shelter she runs. She’s sure she can
handle the threats she gets in return. What she can’t handle is the way Matt
scales the walls around her heart. Yet when she falls prey to a crime web more
sinister than she’d realized, trusting Matt could be the only way to survive.