Friday, March 28, 2008

Lessons Learned at "The Shack"

Wow! I recently finished one of the best pieces of Christian fiction I've read in a long time..."The Shack" by William P. Young. I'm not a big fiction reader, but this book is one of those rare life-changing gems.

I guarantee that this book will give you a new perspective about God, your relationship with Him, and provide answers to that ever-gnawing question, "If God is so loving, then why do bad things still happen?" Here's a brief glimpse at a few other lessons "The Shack" brought home:

1. God loves you more than you think...way more than you think. If we can get this concept through our thick heads, then life takes on a whole new meaning. It's hard to think sometimes that God really loves a screwup like me, but it's true. This book gave me a picture of that truth like nothing I've ever seen.

2. Life is about relationship – period. As Americans, we tend to strive too much to achieve goals, find success, and accumulate wealth. But, without relationship, none of that stuff matters. I was challenged to examine everything I do in the context of relationship. And, not just people, but seeing God more in my everyday relationship with Him.

3. Any pain you’ve experienced can always be redeemed. No if's, and's, or but's about it. Even if you've been victimized, abused, or rejected, there is redemption and healing available to you - if you want it. Actually, I've watched this principle come true throughout my life, but it's still hard to remember sometimes.

Alright, most of you know that this a marketing blog to help authors and speakers sell more books. So, besides the incredible spiritual lessons that I learned at "The Shack," let me also share some interesting publishing lessons as well:

1. Get your message out - even if other people (or publishers) reject it. Here's the amazing part - "The Shack" is self-published, and it's already sold over 300,000 copies in the first 9 months! (It's Amazon ranking is at #9 at the time of this blog post, and #44 on the CBA retail bestseller list!) Unbelievably, two Christian publishers turned this book down! Bet they're smacking their heads 'bout right now. So, what's the lesson? If you know you've written a message that makes people respond positively, don't let rejection stop you from moving forward.

I experienced this battle with my first book seven years ago. I knew I had something to say that would help people, but I was a "no-name." So, I had to do it myself and start by self-publishing. (I don't recommend self-publishing for everyone, but it's better than a dream dying.) Later on, I got picked up by a great publisher, and the rest is history. But, there were many days early on when I felt like quitting. When you hit those tough spots, don't let the passion for your message die out. God still makes miracles happen.

2. Write something unique that truly helps people. There seems to be too many books these days, especially fiction, that are just an outlet for someone's vain ego, or an attempt to heal their past pain by writing about it. I'm sorry, but that's selfish. If you don't have something to say that really makes people's lives better, then keep it to yourself.

There must be real value in your message in order for it to be marketable. Sure, entertainment provides value. But, go deeper than that, and show your readers redemption, wisdom, inspiration, or advice that improves the condition of their lives. This leads me to my next point...

3. Word-of-mouth is the Key. If you want to sell a lot of books someday, then you've got to create a message good enough to generate strong word-of-mouth. For example, I had two friends urge me to read "The Shack," and I've already bought 5 copies to give away to family and friends.

Word-of-mouth only happens if readers feel like you made their life better. What's a great way to determine if your message has word-of-mouth power? Create several focus groups of people who are willing to give you their honest feedback. I'm not talking about friends and relatives who will tickle your ears. I'm talking about people who've got nothing to lose if they tell you the hard truth. Find those kinds of folks, and give your message a real test.

According to the author, "The Shack" was never intended to be a book. He just wanted to create a good story for his kids. But, when he let a few people view the manuscript, they couldn't keep it to themselves.

If you can't generate serious "buzz" among your focus groups, then you've got to go back to the drawing board. However, if you can get people who barely know you to voluntarily express a desire to tell others about your message, then you're on to something good. Find out what makes your focus group readers excited, and really build on those points.

So, I'm back from "The Shack," and thankful for the lessons learned. I hope they encouraged you as much as me. If you need your own visit to "The Shack", click here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is Your Speaking Career Feeling Sickly?

If you’re a speaker, can you tell when your speeches are getting sick? By “sick,” I mean that your message is feeling flat, and you’re losing motivation for your presentations. Some speakers wait until it’s too late before they assess the health of their message. So, here’s a list of symptoms to help you discern if your speeches are losing vitality:

  • You rarely get repeat bookings.
  • You haven’t raised your speaking fees in the last 2 years.
  • You get less than 2 new bookings per month.
  • You’re calendar is rarely booked over a year out.
  • You struggle to get endorsements from leaders.
  • You haven’t developed a new speech in the last 12 months.
  • Deep down, you feel mad at God.
Ask yourself is you’re avoiding the reality that your career could be in the doldrums. As a professional, you owe it to your audience to keep your message alive and growing. Don’t wallow in excuses and negativity, such as:
  • It’s not my fault…the economy is bad.
  • Churches and businesses are cutting their speaker budgets.
  • I don’t need help…my message is fine.
Just because you’ve had speaker training doesn’t mean your work is over. You need to continually improve your speaking skills, or you’ll get stale – and your audience will notice. So, consider taking a refresher course, reading books on speaking, joining ToastMasters, or work with a professional speech coach.

Don’t judge the success of your speeches by superficial criteria, such as standing ovations or feedback from friends. Judge yourself by leader responses, booking dates, and your willingness to take on tougher speaking challenges.

If you’re not constantly growing, then you’re stagnant. And, society never stops changing. So, if your message stays idle, then you will get left behind by new styles, new speakers, or new audience formats. For instance, if you’re still relying on PowerPoint, then you're stuck in the dark ages. Modern speakers use powerful video clips, striking visual aids, and interaction to engage the audience.

As a side note: If you’re a Christian speaker, remember that the spread of the Gospel is at stake. You can’t afford to be flippant about your message. So, look yourself in the mirror and decide why you speak. Is it just for the money and attention? Or, is it to truly changes lives and point people to Jesus Christ?

Take this blog post as a friendly “wake-up call” to examine the health of your message. The desire to teach is a noble calling, and public speaking has the power to reach multitudes. But, your message can’t spread like wildfire if it’s become a dying ember.