Self-publishing: What I Will Do Differently Next Time

I loved my experience with self-publishing, from start to finish.¬†I enjoyed seeing all of the different pieces, knowing what I did and didn’t do, and being able to look back and make things better. My 46 day break-neck pace was a great learning experience, but not something I will shoot for in the future.

I’ve been enjoying bullet point lists lately, so please excuse my indulgence in this post. ūüôā

Things I will do differently next time:

  • Write a much longer rough draft. When panning for gold you have better chances with more raw material.
  • Do more rigorous self-editing. I heard this just recently from someone: “First, edit for yourself – it has to be fun for you. Next, edit for your audience in order to provide them something of value. Last, edit for your critics. What might they say to pick apart your argument? How can you preempt them?”
  • A/B test book titles and covers. I plan on doing some Google AdWords campaigns and looking into some testing sites.
  • Marketing.¬†The best book in the world doesn’t benefit anyone if they don’t hear about it and feel compelled to pick it up.

Other thoughts:

  • I don’t think I will do an e-book again. As an author, I know that when people purchase a book, they are buying ideas, insights and wisdom. The form those things take shouldn’t matter. But it does.¬†The most popular price for e-books on Amazon is $3.99. Much like Walmart, Amazon subscribes to a volume-based approach to sales. They wants a plethora of cheap products and make money by moving large amounts. This doesn’t help out authors, however. Amazon also forces you into certain programs in order to get the highest tier royalty package. While great for Amazon customers, this undermines sales for authors.
  • I’m still not going to build an email list. It seems like all of my Facebook advertisements now are for how to build an email list in order to distribute products. I didn’t do one for my first launch, and I am hesitant to ever do one. I have a junk email I use for all of the websites that ask for my email before they give me the things they promised. This, along with drip marketing campaigns, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So after thinking about it for awhile, I ultimately rejected the idea.

I think self-publishing is valuable. I’m even working on another book. However, I’ve become much more interested in Amazon’s¬†Create Space company rather than¬†Kindle Direct Publishing. Create Space allows for a wide range of art to be produced. I’m looking forward to exploring it more.

Thanks for reading,

Ben

Making Time to Write

It is impossible to find time to write. As with any meaningful activity, you must make time. If I live in a passive or reactive mode, my time will always be filled with the needs of other people or my own base desires. It is only when I choose to proactively assert myself that I can get anything done.

I choose to write from the time I put my son to bed until I go to bed. This gives me 1.5 to 3 hours every evening to think and write. I will occasionally have meetings or other social engagements that take up that time, but I can generally count on being in my study at least 3 nights a week. ¬†I’ve found that 2 to 3 hours is about my max for really intense and focused concentration.

I’m also finding that I must steward my attention better if I’m going to be a productive writer. Time is meaningless without attention. I’ve saved myself a lot of distraction by not having the internet in my home, but I’m also finding that I need to be better about protecting my attention during the day. I recently watched a TED Talk by Dr. Cal Newport called¬†Quit Social Media¬†and have been inspired to guard my attention more carefully.

I also find that writing is more appealing when I know what I’m going to write about. Sitting down at my desk with a blank piece of paper and an internal void is a recipe for disaster. So whether it is the Snowflake method¬†or Self Publishing School’s¬†Mind Map –> Organize –> Write¬† method, I always try to know what I’m going to write about and what I want to say about it. This isn’t always the case. In fact, sometimes I plan out one writing session and end up writing about something totally unrelated, but I don’t mind. The plan is there for next time.

Discipline is the seed bed of inspiration. I don’t always feel like writing, but once I start I can almost always get excited about it. If I’m still not excited after 20 minutes of writing then I give myself permission to quit. I grabbed this idea from my weightlifting career. Sometimes your body feels tired and is lying. Sometimes your body feels tired and really does need rest. But the only way to know for sure is to show up and start working. Some of my greatest workouts were the ones I wanted to skip because of feeling “tired.” Sometimes “tired” is just a fear of greatness, a self-defense mechanism designed to keep us in line with the¬†status quo. Showing up and doing the work is the cure.

For the aspiring writers out there, here are my takeaways:

  • Make time to write. You will never find it.
  • Creative work is best done in 2-3 hour chunks. It can’t be cobbled together in spare moments.
  • Discipline is critical to your success. Make writing a habit.
  • No matter how you feel, show up and do the work.
  • Know what you are going to write about in advance.
  • Guard your attention zealously.
  • Writing and editing are two very different experiences and shouldn’t be combined.

Self Publishing School

I’ve¬†wanted to be an author¬†since my mom first read me¬†The Chronicles of Narnia when I was in third or fourth grade. I marveled at how words could conjure up images and emotions and communicate ideas. When we first got an in-home computer, one of the first things I learned to do was use the word processor. I’m pretty sure my first book idea was a series called¬†The Unicorn Chronicles. I don’t think that is ever going to make it to print…

Since that time, the idea of being a writer has always bubbled in the back of my mind. Starting this blog was one attempt to satisfy that desire, but it didn’t quite hit the spot. Then I stumbled across¬†Self Publishing School¬†on Facebook.

For the price of my email address, I received an ebook called Book Launch and a four-part video teaching series designed to help me write and self-publish an ebook. I listened to the first video and read the book in an afternoon. I was so fired up afterwards that I started typing that same evening.

Chandler Bolt, the founder of Self Publishing School, made writing and publishing simple and clear. He broke down the different phases into the perfect size Рnot too small as to seem tedious, and not so large as to discourage execution. He made the whole process seem entirely doable. And it was.

I wrote the rough draft for Doing Good While Doing Well: Where Faith and Finance Meet in 10 days, from Nov. 17 through Nov. 27, 2016. Start to finish, from blank page to available in the Amazon store, the whole process took 46 days. Now, I will be the first to admit that my book is not the most amazing book you will ever read. But it is short, actionable, and filled with information that has been transformative for me.

My goal in writing DGWDW was to build my writing chops and demystify the whole self-publishing process. Chandler’s book was a great help with that. The quote that stuck with me and helped push me through such a blistering pace was “Done is better than perfect.” As someone who has dreamed of becoming an author for a long time, this was the perfect set up for me to succeed. Going through the process has only increased my desire to write because I now know how easy it is to get books out and in circulation.

For anyone who dreams of becoming a published author, Self Publishing School is the way to go. While I did not pay to go through the 90 course, I think it would be valuable if you feel like you need someone to help you clarify your ideas and hold your hand through the process. If you have a pretty clear idea of what you want to write about, and have the self-discipline to make yourself do it, the ebook Book Launch is enough.

I loved the process and am eager for more.

I look forward to reading your work soon.

Ben

Doing Good While Doing Well

Hello everyone! Happy New Year!

I’m kicking things off with a bang this year and announcing my first book,¬†Doing Good While Doing Well: Where Faith and Finance Meet. It is FREE in the Kindle Bookstore until Thursday, January 5 at 6:00pm CST. I’ve been working on this for the last month and a half and it has been a whirlwind. Today, I’m going to focus on explaining the book a little bit, and the next couple days I will focus on my process. My goal is to inspire anyone out there who has a goal of writing a book to do it,¬†this year.

What the book is about

This book started as a compilation of notes for my congregation’s financial sermon series, which we do every January. It then morphed into an ebook after a friend of mine turned me on to the Self Publishing School¬†(more on them later). I was so inspired by their material I decided to give it a go.

DGWDW is comprised of two parts: Theology and Praxis. In the Theology section I explore some of Jesus’ teachings about money. It was really important to me to cover both the positive and negative teachings on money because it seems that, all too often, we gravitate towards one¬†side or the other. I chose to follow in the Vineyard tradition of pursuing “the radical middle,” so¬†both viewpoints in tension throughout the book.

The Theology section can be summed up in the following sentences. Money is a form of power. How we use and think about money reveals our character. The best use of money is to help those that are in need. Large amounts of money threaten to distort our view of ourselves, other people, and other people’s motives. Therefore, we must always strive to find our security, significance, and self-worth in God rather than money. Handling money well grows in us certain skill sets and mind sets that are valuable and necessary in God’s Kingdom.

The Praxis section is where we get into the gritty details of money management. We begin with an overview of cash flow adapted from Robert Kiyosaki’s book¬†Rich Dad, Poor Dad and then build upon that framework. I offer some financial goals to pursue as well as a plan for getting there. The section called¬†“Clarity” helps you explore your reasons for pursuing wealth and clarify your actual goals and desires. I end with a step-by-step guide to putting the whole book into practice.

What I hope will happen

As a pastor, the number one thing I see holding people back from extravagant devotion to God is money. People can’t go into missions because of student loans. People can’t start a business because they don’t have the resources. People don’t give to the causes they care about because they don’t have any money leftover.

My hope is that, by putting the ideas expressed in my book into practice, those limiting factors will go away. My hope is that people will get a firm hold on their finances and be able to quickly divorce their income from their labor so that they can do the things God has called them to do. But, ultimately, my hope is that people will embrace the call to discipleship I articulate in the book.

I almost named this book The Crucible of Wealth because I am so enamored with how God uses money to refine and reveal our character. Becoming wealthy is a challenge and it often reveals our prejudices and insecurities. When we are able to address those facets of sin head on, in partnership with Holy Spirit, wonderful things take place. In the grand scheme of things, money is insignificant. However, the things we do with money are eternally significant. Every time a dollar comes into our possession we have an opportunity to grow and mature. I find that endlessly exciting.

I hope you benefit from reading my book. If you do, would you please let me know? I’d love to compile your thoughts and comments so that I can continue to refine my message and help people in the future.

As always, thanks for reading.

Ben

P.S. In case you missed the bolded words above, my book is FREE until Thursday, January 5 @ 6:oopm CST. Grab your free copy here.

“The Richest Man in Babylon”

A few months back, my dad gave me a huge crate of books that he had cleaned out of the house in preparation for reitrement. Sitting on top of that crate was the book “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason. He said, “I want you to read this book. I read it when I was your age and it changed my life.” I’d heard about the book from various places and it sounded interesting – now was my chance to check it out.

I didn’t realize that the book was a compilation of stories/parables that G. S. Clason had made up. Initially, the cheesy old english dialogue was distracting, now I find it endearing. Anyhow, the book the amazing. I read through it quickly when I first got it and am now rereading it more slowly, trying to digest its truths. While the book is primarily about personal finance (it was the original ‘Dave Ramsey’ course), there are a lot of life lessons too.

As I was reading last night, there was a passage that struck me. I want to recount it here.

The story is about a man named Dabasir who bought too much on credit and found himself with debts he was unable to pay. His wife left him and he was forced to flee the city of Babylon in shame. He tried to make a living as a bandit, but eventually found himself captured and sold into slavery.

Dabasir ends up telling his story to one of his master’s wives, Sira. Dabasir protests his life as a slave, proclaiming that he was born a free man. Sira’s response is amazing. “How can you call yourself a free man when your weakness has brought you to this? If a man has in himself the soul of a slave, will he not become one no matter what his birth, even as water seeks its level? If a man has within him the soul of a free man, will he not become respected and honored in his own city in spite of his misfortune?”

I don’t know George Clason’s religious beliefs, but that is truth right there.

I find myself wondering ‘Do I have the soul, the interior bent, of a slave or a free man?’ If I evaluate my actions fairly, what do they reveal about my character? Do I find myself enslaved to my circumstances, feeling powerless to change them and raging against the world or do I embrace my lot, realizing I have the power to shape my inner (and therefore outer) world? Will I press on through hardship and misfortune to pursue freedom and virtue? Or will I cave to the sensuality and pressures of the moment?

Those were questions I wasn’t expecting to wrestle with while doing some light reading before bed, but they are questions I need to ask and answer. If you’ve never read “The Richest Man in Babylon,” I highly recommend it – especially if you are someone who learns through stories.

P.S.
“The Richest Man in Babylon” is primarily a book about personal finance and building wealth. For the record, I think those are noble pursuits. I want to be someone who helps to finance the expansion of the Kingdom of God and that requires money. Money is helpful as a tool and a means to an end, but a terrible tyrant if it is made an end in and of itself. Be wise, keep the first things first, and start building that fat purse!

Compelled By Love: Introduction, Part 1

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I’ve been wanting to read this book for some time now. I love Heidi Baker and how she lives life. And the title of her book, “Compelled by LOVE” reaches out and grabs my heart. I am so excited to read this!

My plan is to examine small chunks of the book and reflect on them. So far I’ve read the Introduction and Chapter One and they have rocked me. There is so much good stuff here. Hopefully you will enjoy reading this series as much as I enjoy writing it.

Compelled By Love: Introduction, Part One. Written by Heidi Baker

One-third of our lives is spent traveling around the world speaking to groups and churches and calling the bride of Christ to come in. The other two-thirds of our lives, we live in Mozambique among the poor and needy, the hungry and thirsty, and those who are desperate and starving for love and attention. So we have come to understand that people who live in the Western world do not have what we have in Mozambique. Believe it or not, our lives are much easier than yours.

You see, where I live, the poor know they are poor; they know they are sick and hurting; and so they come and give their lives to Jesus by the hundreds every week around the country. But in your nation, your poor do not know they are poor, and your sick do not know they are sick unless they are dying of a disease and no one can help them. They look confident, and they appear as if they are together. But maybe they are not. So your job is a lot harder than ours…

I know people who are very wealthy, but they are poor in spirit. And I know people who are very poor who aren’t poor in spirit. It doesn’t matter what you have or don’t have; what matters is the attitude of your heart. The poor are not arrogant. The poor are needy — are you?

Are you needy? Are you thirsty? Are you hungry? Are you desperate for Jesus? Are you someone who feels as if you may just die unless God shows up? Or do you have a mind-set like many in the Western world — having a middle class kind of heart? Are you someone who thinks, “Yeah, whatever. God will either do it or He won’t, so it doesn’t matter?”

We can’t live in whatever. We have to see the kingdom of God break out in our cities, in our nations, in our lives…

That is possibly the most loving smack in the face I’ve ever had. “Are you needy? Are you thirsty? Are you desperate for Jesus… or do you have a middle class kind of heart?” When I read those words yesterday I burst into tears. Seriously. I had to put the book down and pray.

I know the kind of ache she is describing here. I know that kind of longing and desperation. I feel it more days than not and it colors the way I look at the world. I had a self-sufficient, middle class kind of heart for a long time. In some ways I still do. But I’ve prayed for at least three years now for God to wake me up, make me hungry, make me dependent and make me discontent with “status quo Christianity.” It seems He has answered those prayers.

I feel foolish pretty much all the time when I speak in front of the congregation I serve. I cry, I exhort, I go off script and can never seem to articulate things the way I want to. Maybe that is why I like Heidi so much – you should check out one of her teachings on youtube sometime, it will bless you even if it is initially uncomfortable to watch/listen to. But what else can I do? I’m trying to live and teach way of living and loving that I’ve never seen modeled before in real life; all I have are the Scriptures and the stories of passionate men and women who have gone before.

I don’t really mind looking silly. I don’t really mind sacrificing my reputation in order to be faithful to say and do what Jesus wants me to do. Sure, I wish I could look respectable while also being obedient (maybe I can some day), but I’d rather bear stigma for zeal than be accepted because I refused to rock the boat.

I can’t live in “whatever” any more. I know some people believe that God’s Sovereignty demands such a response. I believe it was God’s Sovereignty that provided us with free will and the means of spiritual violence through fasting and prayer. Humanity was created to take the Kingdom into the wild, to transform the untouched wilderness and make it like the Garden. That is what we are doing when we heal for the sick, raise the dead, drive out demons and cleanse lepers – we are setting up God’s government in the wild places of the spirit. We are creating an environment where God and man can dwell together in peace.

How amazing would it be to be part of a community compelled by love to take the Gospel of peace to the people around us? How glorious would it be to see an entire city put the Sermon on the Mount into practice? Believe it or not, there are numerous stories of God’s manifest Presence resting in certain regions and over certain cities with the result of total life transformation for those involved. Take the Moravians, who worshipped night and day for 110 years and even sold themselves into slavery in order the take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I believe it was John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, when he saw the zeal and dedication of the Moravian movement who declared “When will this Christianity fill the earth!”

If that can happen among German peasants in the 1700’s why couldn’t it happen among middle class Iowans in the 2000’s? I believe it can. I believe that God is searching the earth, looking for friends willing to listen to Him, looking to share the burdens of His heart, looking for a place to rest with His people. I think He has several of those places already, but I also think He desires more.

I am captivated by this kind of Christianity. It seems that this is what is modeled in the Scriptures. Lord, give us the grace we need to carry on. We let go of everything else in order to lay hold of all that you offer. Amen.

Thanks for reading friends.