Life After an Author’s Mistakes

I recently took a survey that asked me, “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an author?”

Oh. Ouch. All the ouch.

There’s a lot of research, trial and error, learning, and growth that comes along with this authoring and publishing gig, especially for those of us who are in it for the long term. It’s a journey that requires creativity, business know-how, and oftentimes a combination of both.

Yet, my biggest mistake as an author wasn’t exactly a creative one or even all that business-related. It was part of the result of being grievously maltreated for ten years.

I’ll not go into all of those details in this post. But suffice it to say that I published some books in reaction to the constant demands for marketplace productivity from a twisted, abusive manipulator who feigned to care about my success and wellbeing—because my productivity would help the manipulator look good. There’s much more to it, but I’ll leave it at that.

No, those books I published in vain attempts to stave off further abuse weren’t bad books. I’m a good writer, and I didn’t just pick up a pen yesterday. Even so, I often say that writers should know the specific reasons why they, as individuals, write. Further, authors who publish should know the specific reasons why they publish their work. (That is, just because you love to write doesn’t mean you have to seek or desire to get into the business of publishing. Not all writers do, and it’s okay.)

But some time after I got out of that abusive situation and took stock of my work, I found that some of my books didn’t line up with my personal reasons for writing and publishing. They weren’t a reflection of my real passion. They weren’t the kind of books I hoped to be known for, nor were they books I would search for or purchase as a reader.

Why would I want to sell stuff to other people that I wouldn’t even buy myself? Publishing some of those books was a mistake.

Granted, I gained valuable information, skills, and experience in the midst of my mistake-making. Publishing those books taught me how to publish. Still, once I realized that those books (while good for what they were) weren’t produced in the spirit I want for my life and career, and they weren’t what I wanted to provide for readers, I had to stop and change my direction.

That meant doing some revising and reediting, and for one book, doing a thorough rewrite for a new edition. For other books of mine, it meant going through and unpublishing them, taking them off the market altogether. No reworking or rewriting—just removing them and putting a close to that unfortunate chapter of my journey.

Would I be further along than I am now as an author if I hadn’t had that weight on my back for a decade? In some ways, it’s quite likely. Even knowing what I learned at the time, I can see how that weight held me back, to put it mildly.

The important thing, though, is that after making my biggest mistake(s) as an author, I didn’t hang a “Forget It” sign on my door and close up shop. I kept going. I’m still going. And as long as I’ve got more stories to write and to share with the world, I’m going to keep at my life’s work, because no one can do my life’s work but me.

This absolutely doesn’t only apply to authors, but whoever you are, if you’re reading this: there’s life after your mistakes. Find a way to make things right, even if it means changing your direction or taking a totally different path, or going back and making corrections, or “unpublishing” some chapters you’ve written, taking them “off the market,” and letting them go.

Dust yourself off, inhale some fresh air, and keep going. No one can do your life’s work but you.


Publishing Books As a Series: Just a Sales Gimmick?

First, the short answer to this blog post’s title: NO.

And now for an answer with a little more detail.

Sure, some authors and publishers might use cliffhangers or incomplete story arcs to essentially trick or “force” readers into buying an additional book. But a whole lot of book series aren’t about tricks. Not everything that happens in certain characters’ lives, or in certain worlds authors create, can be contained in a single book.

Of course, some book series are linked by a common theme while the books stand completely alone, sharing no characters. The Women of the West series by Janette Oke is a good example. Historical fiction about—you guessed it!—women in the west, and that overall theme is the only link the individual books share.

Then there are series that have some characters in common, but each book is a separate story featuring different main characters taking the lead. The Atlanta Justice series, legal suspense by Rachel Dylan, is the first such series that popped into my head.

Nevertheless, even when a series features the same lead characters in each book, or the different books take on different phases of an overall story arc, it doesn’t mean the series is a trick or a sales gimmick.

Especially for particular genres, rather blatant cliffhanger endings are major suspense builders that, believe it or not, some audiences actually enjoy. They love the thrill of seeing a hero or heroine jump out of an airplane thousands of feet up in the sky, the book skidding to a stop while the character is still in midair, and the audience holds their breath in anticipation of the next book.

Hey. It’s not my favorite thing as a reader, personally. But I can’t knock other readers for thinking it’s fun. It’s like the season finales of a lot of TV shows, when fans wait for the new season to find out what happens next.

A novel based on Dr. Quinn–coming up soon on my TBR list!

I mean, one of my favorite TV cliffhangers ever had a literal cliff, back in the ’90s on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. When Sully and that crooked army Sergeant What’s-His-Name got into hand-to-hand combat and tumbled off that cliff to free fall into a canyon, Dr. Quinn arrived later only to find that Sully had disappeared, and Dr. Quinn, with a mix of fear and uncanny conviction, whispered, “He’s alive. I know he’s alive.” [End of Season Five.] I’ve never enjoyed hanging off a cliff more!

But, *ahem,* back to the present.

There are other book series with returning characters that don’t have cliffhanger endings at all. Each book is a complete story with a natural conclusion, and then the characters come back in a new book with another complete story about new events or another phase in the characters’ lives.

It’s kind of like how we live in real life. Everything doesn’t happen all at once, but we live in different years and seasons. If our lives were novels, too much would happen to many of us to fit in just one book. Life takes time. We’d need additional books to show how our additional seasons unfold.

One series that immediately comes to mind for me is the Seasons of the Heart series, more historical fiction by Janette Oke. The series follows an orphaned boy, Joshua, from childhood to young adulthood to manhood, and each book is a complete story in itself.

I’ve not yet read all the books in a newer, sci-fi series by Steve Rzasa, featuring Captain Vincent Chen. Yes, there are some overarching themes that aren’t tied up in a neat and tidy, “Happily Ever After and That’s All Folks!” bow at the end of each book. Yet, the two books I’ve read so far each contain a complete story, intriguing me to read more about Vincent, even without him dangling off galactic cliffs at the end of the books.

And then, sometimes a series continues simply because an author finds out new stuff about previous characters. Take two of the series I’ve written so far, the Movement of Crowns and When It’s Time. Neither series was a series at first. The Movement of Crowns was one book, Love Unfeigned was one book, and that was that. Done!

Or so I thought.

Months (in one case, years) later, new stuff involving the characters came to my attention. So, I wrote more books.


The two series I’m writing now, the Crowns Legacy and Eubeltic Realm series, have returning characters, too. But it’s not a gimmick to “make” people buy more books. I love the characters, I keep writing as I learn more of what happens to them, and each individual book is a complete story with a natural conclusion.

No tricks. Not a marketing ploy. Just a continuation of characters’ lives, their seasons, and more about the world they live in, revealed in more than one book.

Similar to how my life would be if someone were to write about it.

No, I can’t speak for authors or publishers who may really be trying to bamboozle or essentially force readers into something by publishing books as a series. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that’s what all book series are about. The honest, creative, and useful purposes for series in literature are much bigger than any author’s or publisher’s supposed gimmicks.


Romance IS a Real Matter in Fiction

In my experience, I’ve noticed that when the topic of realistic fiction comes up, romance is often dismissed as something other than real.

Of course, plenty of folks read romance books to escape, to get that guaranteed Happily Ever After ending, and plenty of authors write sweep-me-away, fairy-tale-like tales with stunning heroines and well-muscled heroes falling into each other’s arms to take readers to a blissful place for sighing and swooning.

“Sweep me away…”

I’m not here to discount fairy tales or to pretend that bliss doesn’t matter.

Rather, I mean to knock any notion that all romance and love stories in fiction are meant to be fairy tales and that romance itself isn’t a critical, deep, and very real aspect of life to read and to write about.

Romantic love is a fundamental, far-reaching, universal part of the human experience that involves all manner of implications and that has been impacting countless lives for eons. It would take lifetimes upon lifetimes to describe all the ways that romantic love has and continues to play major roles in people’s lives all over the world—for better, for worse, and for more.

And when it comes to Christian Fiction especially, it sounds strange to me when fellow ChristFic fans say things like, “No, not romance books. Let’s talk about books that deal with real issues.”

Christians and readers of Christian books: doesn’t the Bible itself take very little time before addressing a foundational, distinct kind of relationship between two people, right in the Bible’s first few pages?

“And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone” and “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (from Genesis 2:18 and 24, KJV.) In addition to all the many other chapters and verses in the Bible that involve that distinct kind of relationship (including metaphorical references concerning Christ’s relationship with the church), isn’t there an entire biblical book dedicated solely to the topic of romantic love, called the Song of Solomon?

Doesn’t that give some indication that romantic love must be something real and important, and further, that it’s real and important enough to have a valued place in Christian writing?

I figure that the age-old universality and significance of romantic love isn’t anything most people aren’t familiar with, whether by experience or other basic knowledge. Why, then, is romance often referred to or brushed aside as an issue that is somehow less real than other true-to-life issues in fiction?

Well, I guess fairy tales do play a big part in that, stories where realism simply isn’t the goal. And sure, there’s no telling how many romance stories out there have cookie-cutter characters and fluffy storylines that aren’t the most believable.

Again, I’m not discounting fairy tales or fluff. If fluff is what you enjoy, then by all means, be free to swoon away in your place of bliss! 🙂

Even so, not all romance writers are out to write fairy tales. There’s a whole lot of romantic fiction—from heart-wrenching love stories to layered romantic comedies—that reflect real life, that play out in realistic ways, and that delve into the nuances and complexities of romantic love, often tackling all kinds of other deep, vital, true-to-life topics along the way.

Romantic stories that tackle some real tough stuff.

Naturally, it’s more than okay if you prefer to read realistic fiction that involves little to no romance. Everybody has their preferences, and romantic stories don’t have to be your thing. Still, it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to then say or imply that all romance novels and love stories are about stuff that isn’t real.

Romantic stories can be more than basic and carefree “happily ever after” tales.

Romantic love is critical. Romantic love is profound. Romantic love is mysterious, multifaceted, powerful, and timeless. It’s one of the realest aspects of human life, more than worthy to be read and written about. More than worthy to be regarded as a real and important matter in fiction.


Diversity in Christian Fiction: How Can Readers Help?

I know the topics of racial inequality and privilege make a lot of people uncomfortable. Some even have a mindset that says, “That kind of privilege doesn’t exist,” or “It’s just an exaggerated idea that folks spew around these days when they argue about politics.”

I’m not here to spew or to argue. I don’t have to. For me, an African American woman, and for an untold number of other people, real-life experience makes the issue of privilege (or the lack of it) pretty clear. And as a longtime reader and fan of Christian Fiction, I don’t have to look far to see just one everyday example of the issue.

I go to the bookstore, find the Christian Fiction section, and look at the books that are shelved there. I go to the websites of traditional Christian Fiction publishers I’ve been reading books from for decades, check out their bestsellers and new and upcoming releases, and I look at the faces of the models or illustrated characters on the book covers, especially on novels about modern times. I also check out the author bios and photos there.

No, it’s not fun to say it, but time after time, few to none of those faces I see are people of color.

It certainly isn’t that people of color don’t read Christian Fiction, or that there aren’t any writers of color who write Christian Fiction. Yet, as much as I love keeping up with books from ChristFic publishers, it becomes increasingly disheartening when, year after year, authors and fictional heroes and heroines of color are often missing from the new waves of books rolling in.

I realize that, for a lot of fellow ChristFic fans, it may not be something that crosses your minds that much, if at all. Many times, though, that’s a part of privilege: when you don’t realize a disadvantage exists for others, or you hardly think about it, because you’ve only ever experienced the advantage. 🙂 It may not even seem like an advantage to you if your subconscious assumes, “This is just the way it is,” and it feels so normal.

Well, I trust I’m not the only person who believes this: Christian Fiction is in great need of a new normal in the area of diversity. After all, diverse Christian Fiction is something for (and for the benefit of) all ChristFic readers, not just one color or another.

Now, in no way do I mean to discount traditional Christian Fiction publishers’ awareness of the issue or any steps they’ve taken to address it. Nor do I mean to discount the strides that Christian Fiction has already made in this area, especially through small press and independent publishing.

I mean, hey. I’m an independent author myself. And yes, I write multicultural ChristFic.

Nevertheless, I’m still interested in the releases and relevance of traditional Christian Fiction publishing. In large part, traditional Christian publishers are still seen as the main representatives of Christian books. The world is watching, history is taking note, and traditional publishers have a larger platform and access to certain doors that many independent publishers don’t yet have.

Moreover, I don’t believe readers, authors, and publishers should be okay with any area of Christian Fiction being behind the times where diversity is concerned, no matter the means of publication. Likewise, it wouldn’t be to our benefit to settle for only partial-diversity, in a sense—when more diverse characters may start showing up in books from a Christian publisher, but the publisher’s authors still aren’t that diverse. Or a publisher begins to publish more authors of color, but only when the stories are about white or racially ambiguous main characters.

No, I don’t believe that authors in general can or should only “write their own color.” I myself, as a black female author, don’t only write about black people. (Or only about female people, for that matter.) Even so, I wouldn’t want us to go as far as partial-diversity and leave it at that.

Granted, diversity in Christian Fiction is a longstanding, complex issue with layers of challenges to overcome. But I think there are some practical ways that readers can play a part in bringing more diversity to ChristFic.

  1. We can start letting our favorite Christian Fiction publishers know that we’d like to see them publish more diverse authors and diverse books in the ChristFic genres we read.

Many of us follow and talk with our favorite publishers on social media. Or we comment on their blogs, or sign up for their newsletters, or join their blogger/reviewer programs, or participate in their surveys. Publishers are seeking our engagement and feedback, and we can use social media and other opportunities to let them know what kinds of books we’d like to see.

Publishing is a risky, challenging, expensive business. Even Christian publishers who see their work as a ministry need to concern themselves with the market and their profits if they want to stay in business. Publishers need to feel sure that there’s a reading audience willing and ready to hear from diverse Christian voices, to see more faces of color on Christian Fiction book covers.

  1. Be open to trying Christian Fiction by authors of color with main characters of color, even if the books come from small press publishers or independent/self-published authors.

That doesn’t mean you have to buy diverse ChristFic books just because they’re diverse. 😀 Treat them as you’d treat other books while you’re shopping, or finding books to request your local library to purchase. Read the book blurbs. If it’s your habit to check out some reader reviews, do that. If you’re not sure about the authors, read their bios, Google their websites, look them up on social media and see what they’re about. Read samples of their work on their blogs, and check out the available samples of their books at online retailers to get a little feel for the authors’ works before you buy.

Again, publishers need to know there’s an audience for diverse ChristFic books and authors. And in many cases, newer authors need to prove themselves by independent means first (author blogs or newsletters, self-published book sales, etc.) before traditional publishers will take them on.

  1. Be willing to give more than one or two diverse Christian Fiction books a chance.

I think I’d be pretty safe in saying that most or all of us ChristFic lovers haven’t liked every single ChristFic book we’ve ever tried. But that hasn’t stopped us from moving ahead to try more ChristFic books. Just like any other authors out there, Christian authors of color have different interests, genres, writing styles, messages, levels of content, and more. If you branch out and try a diverse ChristFic book, and for whatever reason, it isn’t for you, don’t think that all other diverse ChristFic books will be just like it. Search around some more, find diverse books you enjoy, and spread the word about them.

Oh, I don’t claim to be an expert or to have all the answers on the issue of diversity in Christian Fiction. And I know some of us are already doing the best we can to bring needed change. But if more ChristFic readers of all colors take some practical steps toward that change, I believe we can get there—that we can reach a new, extraordinary normal.

Not sure where or how to start searching for different ChristFic books? Click here to find some ideas.