Contests can be somewhat fickle and subjective, as well as very competitive. To be the winner of a book award, however, definitely means that the book / author / editorial team stands out in the crowded field of publishing!
Occasionally we enter an award contest (for a book that we believe has wide appeal and is particularly well-written and well-packaged).
And sometimes our authors enter writing contests themselves.
Here are a few winners through the years, of which we think we are justly proud:
When we founded Cladach Publishing, and in our first few years of book publishing, we were located in Northern California. At that time, we were members of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. The first novel we published, and still one of the best stories we ever published, was Katie’s Choice by Tracey Langford. We were thrilled, as a very young, new publisher to win BAIPA’s “Best Inspirational Novel” award for 2004.
By the time we published this book, Cladach had re-located to Colorado. This unique little book was a good choice to publish. It continues to have worldwide appeal and has won multiple awards. The author, Susan Bulanda, a member of the Cat Writers’ Association, Inc. and the Dog Writers Association of America, won these 2012 awards for Faithful Friends:
Alice entered two of her poems in the WrEN Award for Poetry which is sponsored by the Writers and Editors Network. Alice’s poetry was awarded Honorable Mention in Free Verse, and the judges commented: “This poet obviously enjoys playing with words and bringing fresh light to subjects that interest most readers.” We agree!
My father, G.H. Cummings, preaching on the radio as a young man
Practically being raised on a church pew helped set me on a literary path. We sang with gusto the gospel song, “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” During my growing-up years as my father’s daughter, watching him and my mother minister in many churches, I learned:
The potency and potential of words in a book.
In those days in church we were people of two books: the Bible and the hymnal. Every church service began and ended with opening that wondrous, heavy book, often holding it so the person next to you could share it. The hymnal united us as we joined our voices in lilting melodies and straightforward harmonies accompanied by my mother’s lively piano playing, often eliciting “amens” of blessing. All the symbols to help us make music together resided on the pages of that book, all the words to elicit such response, blended in heart-stirring, mind-engaging, and soul-satisfying rhythm, sense and rhyme.
In every meeting the Bible was also opened—and revered. The congregation stood for “the reading of the Word.” With a reverent, sonorous, unctuous voice, the preacher read a passage from the Bible, then exhorted from its inexhaustible storehouse of truth, wisdom, and life application. I saw evangelists hold their big, black, leather Bibles aloft in one large hand while exclaiming something like, “The Word of God is alive! It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing enough to reveal your sin.” And I quaked. But I also learned, quite young, that real comfort could be experienced from those pages. No mere words on paper. But alive! Jumping off the page and into the mind and heart of the reader or the listener. Quickening!
The preacher and his family. I’m the older sister there.
The joy of writing, printing, and disseminating words on paper.
I watched my preacher father as he typed the church bulletin—and perhaps a newsletter—during the week on his old black typewriter (I loved the clicking of the keys and how the little hammers hit the paper, resulting in words appearing and forming themselves into sentences that said something and that people would read and use to plan their week). On Saturday Daddy would crank out maybe two-hundred copies with his mimeograph machine. I can still smell the ink and hear the sheets of paper swoosh round the rollers and shoot out onto the pile of materials ready to be folded and stacked, then handed out and read—to inform and influence—to be published!
The importance of getting the word out.
Twice a year our churches held extended revival services with an itinerant evangelist, and, in preparation, Daddy would mimeograph a flyer about the upcoming week of meetings. I remember a few times when he paid my sister and me 5¢ each per city block to take the flyers door-to-door and invite people to the services (though “city block” doesn’t quite describe neighborhoods in these rural towns surrounded by farms). My sister and I learned the importance of overcoming our trepidation, knocking on doors, and getting out the word (much like the publicity side of book publishing).
The value of reading and sharing books.
We had few toys and TV (which we got when I was about 11) was our only “tech” entertainment. But always there were books. Books lined the shelves in my father’s study. He took my sister and me to the public library regularly, encouraging us to browse and check out books that interested us. My sister read every horse book she could find, especially those by Walter Farley. I read all the Louisa May Alcott books. And when we brought books home from school or library, our mother often read them, too, and we all enjoyed discussing together the stories. In fact, my sister and I always told each other the stories we read. As a result, I felt I’d read the Black Stallion books even though I never did. And she knew the characters and plots in Little Women and Under the Lilacs even though she didn’t read them. She didn’t have to. That ability to vicariously experience the stories really helped, because there were so many more books to discover! (A side note: When I was a girl I’d hear people argue their point in conversation by saying, “I know it’s true. I read it in a book!” Whether people were readers or not, I observed that most had a sort of reverential awe of books.)
G.H. Cummings in 2009
The importance of knowing your readers, your audience, your market.
My father made it a practice to call on his flock in their homes regularly and also to be there whenever trouble hit a family. He would stop by their businesses, farms, and work places for a friendly chat. When he stood in the pulpit to preach on Sunday, he knew those people. He knew their families, their joys and sorrows, the challenges they faced. He also knew their interests, their hobbies, what made them laugh or cry.
How to recruit, train, and encourage workers.
The work and mission of the church needed people of all abilities and ages (and still does). I saw discernment in operation, encouragement expressed, and responsibilities entrusted. Organizing, scheduling, holding meetings were necessary. But loving God and loving people mattered most. Whether or not I heard that expressed in so many words, I definitely “caught” the mindset. As a publisher I want to see sales and increase distribution. I want well-edited and designed books, I want engaged authors, reliable print providers, and enthusiastic book reviewers. I want customers to buy our books. But most of all I want to experience God’s presence in all we do. I want to always remember that, as a Christian publisher, what we publish truly is “glad tidings.”
Publishing is not complete until readers have read, digested, and interacted with the book’s contents. The book may hold something different for each reader. They may even glean meanings of their own. The reader plays an integral role in the whole process/picture/purpose of publishing.
For instance, a “blurb” describing a book may appear on the back cover, on bookseller catalog pages and promo materials. An editor, a marketing person, or the author may write these descriptive blurbs. But we have worked so closely with the book’s content that we may not express its benefits with the same freshness as a reader just discovering the book’s treasures and the author’s unique voice and message.
When readers choose to share their reactions to—and interactions with—a book, and post a review, they often describe the contents and benefits better than we have done. The newest AGATES Book of Poetry release—I Cry Unto You, O Lord by Sarah Suzanne Noble—has prompted readers/ reviewers to articulate their responses in words that I wish I had thought of myself! For example, in these comments recently posted on Amazon:
“I was so fortunate to find this book at a time when I was going through an absolute low. Not only did [Sarah Noble’s] words bring me comfort and healing during this time but it made me feel like I’m not alone in this turmoil. She covers so many of the intricacies within grief, mourning, depression, loss, struggle, and pain. Her words create this powerful imagery that also shows the possibility of something truly beautiful coming from such dark times.”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect while reading this book, particularity because I am not in a time of lamenting in my life. What I discovered, though, was that it helped me realize how fortunate I am right now not be be in a place of despair, but also recognize how friends in my life may be and how this book would be powerful and helpful. Most importantly, this book emphasizes how in all phases of life, Christ is present and living and how His father, and ours, is clinging fervently to us.”
Susan Jenkins writes:
“When I first held this book in my hands, I turned to the table of contents and was immediately engrossed in the extensive scope of its poems. Hard subjects are included in the segment of PAIN, such as Migraines, Suffering, Crush, Wail and Stiff Neck. The author bravely addresses each topic, and in a gentle approach that, I believe, brings a sense of healing to the heart and mind. The other three sections—BEAUTY, CHRIST and WONDER—are all as descriptive, encouraging and even playful at times, speaking to the interior of the reader’s very soul.”
Bethany McKnight-Kamau writes:
“Sarah manages to express the total range of human emotion with a heart that is continually bowed in worship. The images that she creates through her words paint beautiful pictures of pain, disappointment, gratitude and hope. Beautifully written!”
This never fails to bring us great satisfaction: to see a book go full circle from the author’s experience to the reader’s experience. From insights and observations that captured the writer’s imagination, heart and mind—to words presented artfully on the pages of a book, reaching readers and capturing their imaginations, hearts and minds!
Book reviewers and advance readers are one important element in the publishing process. It’s hard for the author and the editors to be objective about the book they’ve been immersed in for months, maybe years. Enter readers and reviewers who usually have little or no personal stake or emotional involvement in the book. We hope they are people who appreciate good literature, who want to share God-glorifying stories with their friends, who recognize authenticity in narrative that “rings true” and offers help and hope.
Ken Canfield PhD., Founder National Center for Fathering; President, National Association for Grandparenting says:
“Nancy Swihart’s On Kitten Creek is an uplifting and thoughtful read. It’s a fresh reminder that we are each living an adventure. At times our adventurous lives, the meaning of certain events, relationships and living spaces are obscure; however when we take time and reflect, as Nancy has done, the richness in living bursts forth in her narrative like a warm sun. Reading On Kitten Creek will minister to your spirit and move you to give thanks for life’s simple gifts. I particularly enjoy the way Nancy inserts her breath of literature, practical wisdom and spiritual insights in each chapter. Her concluding and short review of the “markers” of life’s adventures is worth the price of the book alone. I know you will enjoy On Kitten Creek and hopefully it will cause you to reflect deeply about your life, as it has prompted me.”
Steven Garber, Principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good says:
“’Lots of love, lots of tears, lots of growing.’ I could write on and on about the unusual richness of Nancy Swihart’s On Kitten Creek, but those few words of hers capture the life she has lived “in search of the sacred.” Always hospitable, always inviting, she is also artful and poetic, writing about her family’s life on a small farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas—the hours and days of hard work, the surprising commitment to a common life among neighbors, the celebrations and heartaches over the years. She graces us with eyes to see all of this as born of a longing for God to be present in her life and world. A quiet read for a quiet day or to be read aloud among friends, its gift is to draw us into the truest truths of the universe, sure that we have been looking over-the-shoulder and through-the-heart of someone with much to teach every one of us.”
Kay Bascom, Author, Teacher, Missionary, and Conference Speaker says:
“Strangers driving past the big red barn and outbuildings on Kitten Creek’s gravel road could never guess the magnitude of what has happened on that property in the last thirty years! The open hearts and hands there on the farm have enabled countless revolving college students and community friends to bond, build, create, study, experiment, grow, enjoy, laugh, serve, and fan out over the world, blessed. Let Nancy give you glimpses of His handiwork among us. Be inspired to look for sacred connections and creative opportunities waiting to surprise you within what may seem mundane in your own life.”
Thank you, Ken, Steven, and Kay!
May we all experience “God’s kingdom come”—more and more—on earth, and His will being done (in our lives and influence) as it is in Heaven. And may many readers be blessed by this book you have been willing to endorse with your good name.
In my mind, a publisher distributing books is like a farmer broadcasting seeds. We send them out in every direction, hoping they fall on ready, prepared soil that will receive the message and take it to heart.
This wintry time of year, seeds lie dormant in the ground waiting, sealed. When days grow longer and warmer, the seeds will awaken, sprout and eventually produce leaves and fruit.
Same with books. You may buy a book or be given one, but the season of your life isn’t right yet. The book sits on a shelf, or under a pile of other volumes—or a list of Kindle files—you plan to read sometime. Then one day you pick it up, or click it open, and start reading; and you marvel that these words are exactly what you need at this time of your life.
Casting/sowing seeds or books takes faith. A Christian publisher must believe that these books, which contain kernels of life-giving truth, will be carried by the Wind of the Holy Spirit. And when prepared personal soil opens to them, we pray that their message will be watered by the Living Water. The resulting fruit will be minds and hearts growing and encouraged to flourish in hope, wholeness, spiritual insights, and joy.
So I choose the mindset of an under-gardener. My Father is the Gardener. By his grace I’ll do my part. His is the overall plan, purpose and power. The resulting fruit cannot be fully seen or measured this side of Heaven.
Then, how can we fail? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must lick my finger and hold it to the wind.
If you are a Christian writer, I want to encourage you to attend the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference. This great conference is just two weeks away, but there is still time to register. I will be at this conference and I would love to meet you there. You can come for 1, 2, 3, or 4 days. You can stay in beautiful YMCA of the Rockies or commute. Come if you can! Here’s more information from the conference director, Marlene Bagnull:
Colorado Christian Writers Conference
A note of encouragement from Marlene Bagnull, Director:
Do you ever doubt your abilities as a writer?
Have you almost given up on getting published in today’s competitive market?
Do you hate the “slush pile” and wish you could talk to an editor one-on-one?
Are you secretly terrified of the idea of building a “platform”?
Do you feel like you’re all alone in your writing adventure/struggle?
Is it really worth hanging in there for the long haul?
Is there a desire burning in your heart to write words that will potentially lead others to Christ?
7 Top Reasons You Need to Come to the May 11-14 CCWC
Master the craft of writing. Okay, no one will ever achieve that lofty goal. There’s always more to learn. But as one conferee said, the Colorado Christian Writers Conference is equivalent to a semester college course in writing. A faculty of 56 editors, agents, and authors will provide instruction for wannabe and advanced writers of fiction from Christian speculative to historical, point of view and voice to making a scene. Nonfiction writers will find help for writing Bible studies, memoirs, articles, and much more. With 59 workshops and 8 continuing sessions to choose from, there really is something for everyone.
Learn how to sell your work to potential publishers or explore the how-to of indie publishing. Whether you’ve received more than your share of rejection slips or have yet to get your first, two of CCWC’s eight continuing sessions that will provide the answers you need are: “Indie Publishing Boot Camp” and “Writing a Winning Book Proposal.”
Face to face opportunities to pitch your work to editors and agents. In today’s publishing world the only way to connect with many agents and editors is through meeting them at a conference. Those who register for Thursday through Saturday are entitled to FOUR 15-minute one-on-one appointments with the faculty of their choice. You’ll find lots of helpful info on how to prepare and make the best choices by clicking on One-on-One at http://colorado.writehisanswer.com.
Learn the craft of marketing/promoting your published work. Yes, it’s a craft, and not one that comes naturally to most writers. I’ve often said that the reason I quit Girl Scouts was the stress of trying to sell cookies. Whether or not you enjoy marketing, though, you hold the key to the sales of your book. And the good news is that marketing can be learned. We have a track of six hour-long marketing workshops and a continuing session on “Thriving in Today’s Publishing World.”
Friendships with other writers. Writers connect deeply with one another faster than I ever have in the chit-chat before and after Sunday-morning worship services. A key verse that I’ve sought to follow is 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Encourage each other to build each other up” (TLB). It happens every year at CCWC!
Inspiration and encouragement to keep on keeping on. Louise Looney is well qualified to teach the workshop, “Still Climbing – Not Over the Hill.” Since turning 75, she has written four books. Allen Arnold’s continuing session, “From Overwhelmed to Creative Breakthrough,” will provide a refreshing journey for anyone who feels disheartened. And, of course, we also offer eight inspiring keynote addresses and times of worship.
And the Number 1 Reason to come to the Colorado Christian Writers Conference: Renew your faith and passion to “write His answer.” Each year Father meets us on the mountain and challenges and equips us to write about a God who is real, who is reachable, and who changes lives.
There’s still time to register and to request appointments. Housing is still available at the YMCA – Estes Park Center. Thanks to the Y’s spacious classrooms, none of the workshops or continuing sessions are filled. For much more info and secure online registration go to http://colorado.writehisanswer.com. If you need time payments or scholarship help, please ask. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 484-991-8581.
Think that’s a glamorous hat? Think again. As a “boutique” (small, custom, picky) publisher, I wear this hat often, and at first glance it may seem to give power and appeal. Over time, though, it brings me to my knees.
With my acquisitions editor hat on I must make decisions to enter into contractual agreements with writers based on perceptions and best guesses. First impressions of an author or manuscript are subjective. I may like the person, writing, or idea based on personal preferences and interests or their persuasiveness and ability to engage me with their written expression.
If an author/book idea crosses that first threshold, it must then hold up under business scrutiny. Tough questions should be asked, analysis and forecasting applied. Is there enough demand for a book like this? If so, can we and the author reach the market for this book? Is it well written, engaging, and unique enough to compete with similar books? If it will catch the wind and begin to float, is the author ready and able to sail with it? Is this project financially feasible? Does it really fit in Cladach’s niche of literary waters?
If we answer too many questions “No” or “We don’t know,” and this process shoots too many holes in the potential project, it will sink before it starts with us. What we don’t want is to prepare a book, like a boat, to launch upon a sea of published books only to watch it sink. This has happened.
With some projects we know that we are testing the waters and risking storms at sea, but we believe in an author or project so much that we are willing take the risks. If we do that too often, though, we cannot stay in this business/ministry.
Some book projects we take on with excitement, but the sales peter out. Others catch wind in their sails and continue to sell week after week, month after month, year after year. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that the following factors make a difference:
What other titles has the author published? For instance, if his other titles are poorly-edited self-published books, this author’s reputation may suffer and hinder potential sales of the title we have carefully edited.
How actively connected is the author with the book’s prospective audience—even before she is published?
Is there a waiting audience/demand for this book?
Does the author have an ongoing means of reaching that audience? And is it an audience Cladach reasonably can reach out to?
Is the author’s personal life—including health, relationships, and finances—in order?
In my mind this begs the question: “As a writer, when are you ready to have your book published?”
Writers who feel they have something to say and long to be published authors, tend to become impatient. Your preparations to publish involve much more than finishing a manuscript and writing an effective book proposal. You need also to:
Find/identify/make connections with/get to know the audience for you and your book. (Start this ongoing process, in fact, even before you write the manuscript.)
Get your finances in order. It costs to publish and market effectively, even when you publish with a traditional, (large, small, or micro) royalty publisher.
Resolve, as far as you can, personal issues. Working as a published author takes time, energy, commitment, and the support of people around you.
As my mother used to say, “Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends on God.” And that again brings me to my knees in the uncertain but enticing waters of acquiring book rights and taking publishing risks.
Larry has finished compiling 2014 book sales data from the careful records he keeps throughout the year. He lays before me a stack of neatly-columned reports. Now I take a deep breath, find my Financial Analysis hat, dust it off (most of the time I leave this side of the business to Larry) and sit down to focus on the telling numbers.
Each author will receive a statement (usually accompanied by a check) listing how many of their books sold last year, how many were returned, how many were given away as samples and review copies, the gross and net income we received for those sales, and the amount of the author’s royalties for 2014. I read through each line of these reports before they are sent to our authors.
In addition, Larry has print-outs for me of income, expenses, inventory, etc. I look these over, too, and bring my questions back to him. He patiently provides answers and makes adjustments where needed.
I’ll be glad to get back to the creative side of publishing. But I know that looking at these numbers and columns and net sums, is critical. Trends jump off the page at me and color my thinking about future decisions for Cladach.
First, I thank the Lord for the thousands of copies of Cladach books sold in 2014. They sold through online retailers, wholesalers, events, bookstores, our website, and through the efforts of the authors. From our warehouse we send out varying quantities of paperback books almost every day. We love sending them out to reach buyers and readers, because that means they will minister to people, encourage them, instruct them, inspire them, help them see God at work in our world, help them experience Him more.
Then, I bring to the Lord our successes and our failures, and lay them at His feet. We have prayed over the acquisition, development, production, and marketing of each book. We are human, though, and make mistakes. Some of our titles have kept up regular demand and sales for years. A few have struggled to earn back the money we put into producing them. Most of the latter are excellent works by talented and sincere authors. Somehow, though, a few of those haven’t “grabbed readers.” We will keep trying, because we believe in these titles and these authors.
Next, I acknowledge the trends: For instance, with fiction titles, generally more e-books sell than paperback books. With all our titles, the more the author is active in marketing their books and connecting with readers, the more their books sell. Authors who have a “platform,” ministry, are well-known as an expert in their field, have several books published, and are active daily in some aspect of marketing their books — their books sell the most copies. This has to influence my decisions in acquiring future titles/authors.
It’s interesting to see how different books sell better through different sales channels. Some sell consistently through wholesalers, others simply don’t, but they sell well on Amazon. Some titles we mostly sell directly to the authors, who have ways of selling direct to customers. We give authors a generous discount, so they can actually make a lot more money on these sales than they can make with royalty income from Cladach’s sales. It’s a win-win, and most importantly, hope-giving books reach readers.
Perhaps I’ll share more trends in future posts. For now, I’ll hand the data/reports back to Larry and give attention to things I enjoy more: words, ideas, design, promotions, and the people behind the numbers. … I have a hat for that!
Freshly-printed copies of the newest Cladach book arrived today! We never get over the excitement of opening a carton and holding a new book in our hands. It looks exactly as we planned and hoped it would when we sent the book files to our chosen printer/book manufacturer. Beautiful inside and out.
The new book feels good (smooth cover, touchable pages), smells good (fresh paper and ink), sounds good (leaves rustling), “tastes” good (I haven’t eaten a book yet, but in the story the author mentions food often!).
Larry’s workshop at Colorado Christian Writers Conference yesterday was titled, “The Business Side.” A motivated group of men and women engaged in hands-on learning about setting up a writing or publishing business, including how-tos for tracking sales, invoicing, managing inventory, taxes, choosing accounting software, and much more.
He was definitely wearing Cladach’s BUSINESS EXECUTIVE hat!