COVID-19 and Missions: What I’ve learned so Far

As a freelance author, I’ve felt led to tackle the issue of COVID-19’s effect on missionary work overseas, particularly in Japan, Italy, and Spain. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to write about missionary work and glad for the editors who are taking a chance on this subject.

I will say that I’m surprised that Christianity Today is not writing more about this (I’m available, if you’re curious, Andy Olsen). CT is the go-to resource for Christian news and this is a topic that is severely underserved. I hope that gets rectified.

At any rate, I want to share a few things that I’ve learned so far in my research:

  1. In many ways, missionaries are facing the same issues we’re facing in North America. I know a college teacher in South Korea and another in Lithuania. Both have had to move online and some courses are just not available right now. This is the same thing facing San Diego State University, UCSD, and just about every other school in America.
  2. In some countries, it really is that bad. Near Madrid, Spain, they really are using a mall ice skating rink for body storage, and the missionaries I’ve met there really are locked down in ways that we haven’t seen in the USA, even in California where I live.
  3. One of the biggest areas where missionaries are being impacted is in funding. Because they had to shutter their English classes at a local café (that they manage), Dale and Karen Viljoen have had to turn to other funding sources (supporters) to keep the ministry alive until the classes can resume. Another family, hoping to start a ministry in Italy this summer, now finds themselves stuck at 80% funding because they can’t travel to churches to find new supporters.
  4. Glimmers of hope abound, but it might be awhile before we hear about them in the hardest hit areas of the globe. People are really struggling in Italy and Spain. These are places that don’t have evangelical churches to serve as a reference point, not that they can do that at the moment at any rate. Still, in Japan, Dale and Karen have found reasons to be hopeful, and we should look for those reasons too, whatever our situation. I just saw a post from some missionary friends in Lithuania that was full of gratitude despite a recent decision to extend that country’s lockdown until at least Easter Monday.
  5. Everyone overseas right now needs our prayer. I know…you need prayer for your family’s well-being too. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Even still, we are blessed beyond comprehension as believers by the sheer fact of our belief. People are dying in neighborhoods that have no evangelical gospel witness, and I hope that breaks your heart like it’s breaking mine. Pray.

As I get word that my articles are being published in the various news outlets, I’ll share them out on Facebook, Twitter, etc. In the meantime, please pray, and if you give, try to continue doing so if at all possible. Give more if you can. Keep overseas work going.

You can read more about why I chose this topic on THIS BLOG POST.

Until the next update…

 

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Why I choose to write about COVID-19

I am commissioned to write two articles on COVID-19 and missionary work in Asia and Europe. As I write those articles and others, I wanted to give you an idea about why I chose this topic.

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Beautiful little stream near our hotel in Su’ao, Taiwan.

Around the first of March 2020, as the world was learning just how bad COVID-19 was getting, I was struggling to find a vision for my writing. I had a great nonfiction project going with my church’s teaching pastor (still going, actually), but my fiction writing was dying on the vine and I hadn’t written an article that sold since May 2018. I’d lost my original focus somewhere.

Which led to my first reason for writing about COVID-19. I needed to calm down, get back to writing what I love, and find people to serve. While the world is awash in competing claims about the virus, I felt that maybe missionaries were not being written about as much as they should be, so I focused on that. That has led to two article projects as of this writing, and I have plans for more (hopefully).

Another reason is that the writer in me is still skeptical that we’re getting the whole picture. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, and I’m certainly not going to be the person who breaks it open. I don’t know if it’s the “liberal media” stirring things up, or the Chinese Communist Party trying to keep their economy intact while blowing it out of proportion to drive competing western economies down, or what it is, but I just feel something in my gut that isn’t square.

Again, I don’t expect to be the person who will figure it all out. Nevertheless, it’s spurred me to do what I can in a situation like this, which is to look for stories to tell that might help people understand the overall situation better. That’s one of the reasons I picked to specifically talk about missionary work in light of COVID-19.

Finally, but certainly not least, I need to be humbled about my writing. I keep having grand visions for my work, and I keep having to be reminded that God gives success and failure, and that I need to just do the next indicated step. I’m his servant, so I need to focus on being that. COVID-19 reporting will not make me famous. Plenty of bigger names are already covering that. But it is a way for me to serve.

I look forward to what I will learn as I write about this interesting situation as it continues to unfold.

If you want to stay up to date with my writing as I focus on COVID-19, you can sign up for my newsletter HERE.

 

Fussy Librarian Ad Campaign

This is a special post for other small-time writers like me who are trying to figure out ad campaigns. In this post, I focus on Fussy Librarian with a note on Bookbub. 

I’m intrigued by the name Fussy Librarian alone, so of course I wanted to test the service. Since Saving Ebenezer isn’t ready yet, I ran my test case on The Dirty Campaign, which I use as a sort of reader magnet, in that I keep it in KDP Select so that I can make it free periodically.

First of all, Fussy Librarian is really easy to use. Since it’s a smaller-scale service, setup is easy and you’ll likely find your book one of only a few books being recommended on a particular day. It still goes out to several thousand potential readers, so don’t let the smallness affect your decision-making. Fussy Librarian charged me $22 for the freebie ad, which looked like this:

Screen Shot 2019-07-28 at 4.18.19 PM

When I ran this test campaign on the 25th of June, I was on business travel to Belgium, so I got home from work just as my target audience was getting started on their day. When I saw 150 downloads, I freaked out. I was already calling Fussy a success. I went to dinner and came back and it was at around 450, and I nearly started crying. After waking up in the morning (when America was headed to bed), I crested 716 downloads and #2 in the Christian Suspense category on Amazon. Fussy Librarian did so much more than I planned for it to do.

I was able to track the effects of Fussy Librarian over the few days after the ad. The following day, 138 people downloaded the novelette. That was almost certainly due to being in the top five in its category since no advertising went out that day. Some downloads might have been folks going back to the previous day’s Fussy Librarian ad, but I suspect most were from being #2 on the list. These additional downloads helped The Dirty Campaignto make it to #1 in its category on the 26thof June.

It also led directly to my first review on Amazon (a 4-star) and an additional ranking on Goodreads. I also got 106 total KNEP pages read, so that was nice as well.

On the 27th, an additional 42 people downloaded my story. The novelette had slipped outside the top 5 by now, but it was still nice. My BookBub ad started showing this day.

Turns out that BookBub is harder to figure out than I’d first thought. Fussy was easy because I was the only email out that day. Not so with Bookbub.

Despite editing the ad during the time it was alive, and allowing for a higher bid (I went above the average bid in the evening of the first day), BookBub was a disappointment. I only had 974 impressions resulting in 0 clicks. This means that BB was not responsible for any of the 920 The Dirty Campaign downloads.

I didn’t even get enough impressions to be charged for my ad (I allowed for up to $22 to match what I did with The Fussy Librarian). Guess that’s nice, but I was willing to bid enough for each click that it would have quickly spent my money if they’d shown it more.

At first, I was upset. It shouldn’t be this hard when I’m offering to throw money at the problem. Then, after thinking it through, I realized that this is a learning opportunity. I’m trying to build a future in writing. To do so, I need to learn the ins and outs of marketing, which just happened to be easier this time with Fussy Librarian.

Having said all of that, the Fussy Librarian ad for the day it wasn’t free, I got zero purchases (Ad for a non-freebie cost $14). So what that means for me is that Fussy Librarian was really, really good as a freebie, but not as good for a non-discount/free day. I’ll test it again when my next KDP Select day opens up for The Dirty Campaign.

In contrast, while I still didn’t get in front of nearly as many people with my Bookbub ad (again, matching the $14 ad cost for The Fussy Librarian) on a non-freebie day, I did get one download. It’s all part of the learning process!

A real Trope of a Character

I’m currently listening to a podcast called Writing Excuses. I’m doing that because Thomas Umstattd Jr. and James L. Rubart told me to, in order to become a best selling author in the next 5 years. Since I have a resolution of having an agent by the end of this year, having a 5 year goal to being a best seller is a good range I think.

Anyway, my first podcast from the folks behind Writing Excuses is about cliches and tropes. They suggest I go through my writing and seek out these cliches and tropes to make sure I’m not using them without originality. I hadn’t thought about it too much, but after listening to the podcast, I realize that I do have a couple of these as characters in my stories.

For example, in The Dirty Campaign, I have two characters that would be considered tropes. The first is Mildred, who is the town gossip. She hangs around, gathering bits and pieces of a story, and then tells it as gospel truth. She is a trope, bordering on the cliche. Yet, Mildred also plays an important part of the story by forcing the reader to consider the damage gossip causes in our churches. This is something I’ll explore more in future stories with her as well.

In the current WIP (Work in Progress), J. William Seymour, the intrepid young reporter for the Sunset Sentinel that you met in The Dirty Campaign, also serves in the trope/cliche role. He dreams of being the big city investigative reporter who breaks the big case, and Sunset just isn’t big enough for him. Because of that, he over-attacked the situation in The Dirty Campaign and, not to spoil things, causes issues in Tragedy in Sunset as well. Whereas Mildred served to move the story along and sound the warning, however, I need to work more on Will Seymour. Truth be told, right now, he’s too canned.

While I wish I had great examples to share with you in addition to Mildred above, the truth is, I have a long way to go before I’m where I want to be as an author. I’ll get there, though, and I’d love to have you along for this ride of a lifetime! Sign up HERE to get on the mailing list and join me on this adventure!

KingSumo Campaign Results

Like I did with my Bookfunnel Campaign, I want to give back to the greater writing community by sharing with everyone how my KingSumo Campaign went and what it accomplished.

I actually ran two campaigns. The first one was for my Christian fiction newsletter list and the second one was to kick-start a science fiction mailing list. I’m moderately pleased with how both turned out. I’ll break down each one in turn.

1.  Christian Mailing List:

Goal: Increase readership in order to provide future agent/editor/publisher hard stats on my ability to build a platform for my writing. This mailing list needs to be able to make an impact by the middle of 2019, so a shorter event horizon, if you will.

Method: Set up a KingSumo contest with a free book giveaway advertised on my personal facebook page and my writing Facebook page.

Cost: Book ($8.79) Facebook ads: ($18.19) Total: ($26.98)

New email addresses: 55

New likes on Facebook page: 30

Engagements on New Subscriber Email #1 (17 opens, 2 clicks, 2 unsubscribes: 30% opens)

Engagements on New Subscriber Email #2 (10 opens, 0 clicks, 0 unsubscribes: 18.9% opens)

When I added the 53 email addresses to my main Christian fiction newsletter, I got the following responses from my drip campaign:

Drip 1: 53 sends, 11 opens, 3 clicks. I believe, based on what I can see, that my free Bookfunnel novelette was downloaded twice off of this campaign.

Drip 2: 53 sends, 7 opens, 0 clicks.

Drip 3: 53 sends, 7 opens, 0 clicks.

I’ve sent one monthly email since then, and my preliminary data suggests 9 opens.

Commentary: Overall, I’m happy with this campaign. It cost me less than $30 and it got me 53 subscribers, of which 18 are 3-star and above after my drip newsletter and one monthly newsletter. I’ll try to reengage the rest of them before purging my list in mid-January. I suspect I’ll be able to capture a few more, but most of the rest will be dropped. Again, for such little overall investment, picking up this number of new subscribers was worth it.

I plan to run another KingSumo campaign in the early spring to coincide with my next short story release.

My biggest takeaway is that I need to write better engagement emails for my drip campaign, and to incorporate those new subscribers sooner into my larger mailing list. I kept them quarantined too long.

Special shout out to James L. Rubart, who’s book The Man He Never Was* had just earned him his 5th Christy award right before I started the contest. I’m sure that helped, and I’m grateful for his dedication to the craft. Jim and I did not correspond before I ran the contest and, aside from hopefully gaining some new fans through my promotions, was not given any monetary reward.

2.  Science Fiction Mailing List:

Goal: Long term prospect of slowly building a list to introduce people to my writing while building relationships that will, someday, lead to sales of future projects. Maturity horizon for this list is approximately 5 years out.

Method: Set up a KingSumo contest with a free short story value pack giveaway advertised on my Sci-Fi Facebook page.

Cost: Asimov’s Science Fiction Value Pack ($11.70) Facebook ads: ($20) Total: ($31.70)

New email addresses: 49

New likes on Facebook: 21

Engagements on New Subscriber Email #1 (11 opens, 0 clicks, 2 unsubscribes/bounce: 22.9% opens)

Engagements on New Subscriber Email #2 (11 opens, 0 clicks, 0 unsubscribes: 23.4% opens)

I’ve sent one monthly newsletter since gaining these subscribers. The newsletter resulted in 9 opens (19.1%) out of 47 sends, with 1 unsubscribe.

Commentary: I bought a value pack from Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine* in late 2017 and loved it, so I enjoyed using this as the prize for my sci-fi contest. While the number of bounces and unsubscribes is higher with this campaign, I’m still happy with the results in an overall fashion. All said, 14 subscribers have a 3-star and above Mailchimp rating on the date of this post. Like with my Christian newsletter, I plan to attempt to engage the 2-star subscribers to beef that number a little before purging the inactive subscribers by the end of January.

Oh, and the guy who one the contest? Already signed up to be beta reader for my short fiction!

Overall Verdict

Ok, now for my overall verdict. Would I do KingSumo again? Yes! It took very little cash to reach real potential readers that I probably wouldn’t have reached before. Now I’m doing the hard work of building relationships with them. Several email addresses were probably just spam traps, which bounced as they expected, and some realized they didn’t win and don’t care about my writing, which led to the unsubscribes. Others probably just have an email address they don’t check often and don’t care about me either. They’ll get removed if I can’t engage them.

Overall, though, this was a better campaign than the Bookfunnel free giveaway, and I expect to run it again at least for my Christian fiction brand, if not for my sci-fi list.

* Affiliate Marketing Link

2018 and 2019: A look Behind and Forward

When gauging 2018, I have to be careful. I typed an amazing number of words for me (just over 200,000 total), but failed to get more than two sales. I didn’t get my sci-fi sale, despite submitting to various sci-fi publications a total of nine times. I failed to get an article published in a national Christian magazine as well, despite eight queries. My novel, Tragedy in Sunset, failed to garner any attention, despite submission to three publishers (this is in addition to submission to four agencies in 2017). Kind of a disappointing year in certain terms.

frontLooking at the positive, however, there were some key points to celebrate. First, my novelette, The Dirty Campaign, went live and has met several positive reviews. I also sold 41 more copies of Gluttony, my perennial best seller (total sold: 254). Of the 200,000 words written, I published 33 blog posts (2013 views on my website), four short stories, the novelette, a published article, a published short story, and 26 newsletter-based email campaigns. BTW, not on my mailing list? Why aren’t you on my mailing list!!! Click HERE!

I also made more money this year than ever before, though not by all that much. In total, I made $315 from articles and short stories. I estimate another $20 or so from Amazon and Smashwords, though the final tally hasn’t come in on that yet.

Overall, a mediocre year, but mostly that is because I set the wrong goals for this year. I wanted too many things. Sci-fi credits, major Christian publications (a la Christianity Today), and a book deal. Just too many balls to juggle.

Which leads me to 2019:

First, I only have one goal this year: By December 31, 2019, I will sign a contract for representation with a literary agent in the Christian fiction industry. If I sell articles, great. If I sell short stories, also great. I’ll continue writing my monthly newsletters as well. All of that is still in play, but the only goal that matters this year is signing a contract with a Christian literary agent.

What will that mean? It will mean that I’ll have a representative to help manage my writing career, at least at the novel-writing level, so I can focus on churning out books. It doesn’t guarantee a publisher for Tragedy in Sunset, or the follow-on novel, Redemption in Sunset, but it does guarantee I’ll have someone with business acumen in my corner.

I’ll still deal with articles and short stories directly with the various editors and their respective magazines. Agents make 15% from my sales, and book-length projects are the only things that bring in enough money for both the author and agent.

If I had my druthers, I’d like to see six bylines and 250,000 words typed this year. Those are great goals to have. However, they are secondary to the only one that matters: That I have an agent to represent me in 2020 and into the future.

My work on the proposal for Tragedy (first fifty pages or so and a proposal package), is progressing along nicely. I’d like to start submitting by the end of February, the same month I plan to launch my next Sunset short story.

Speaking of the first 50 pages, I bought a new resource I want to share with you. It’s literally called The First 50 Pages,* and it comes with a recommendation from Donald Maass, the famous lit agent who wrote, Writing the Breakout Novel.* I can’t wait to learn more about preparing my manuscript for publication!

Anyway, I can’t wait to share with you how 2019 goes! I hope you have some solid goals for your life. By the by, if you want to beat gluttony this year, may I suggest my short nonfiction work called Gluttony: A Study of Overeating in the Bible? You can get it HERE.*

So, that’s my plan for the New Year! If you want to get monthly updates on my progress, and the progress of my characters, sign up HERE and you’ll get all the details!

The Bookfunnel Campaign Post 2

frontIn the previous email about my Bookfunnel campaign, I laid out the business framework for the release of The Dirty Campaign, my reader magnet. In this email, I want to show you the unadulterated data from the campaign.

I’ll admit, I messed up a couple of things when I started this campaign, despite reading as many posts and FAQs as I could. One of the things I did was accidentally put in motion one of my Facebook ads early, which forced me to actually publish the story on Bookfunnel a few days before I’d intended to. That wasn’t too serious an issue, but it wasn’t the way I would have wanted to do it.

Another thing I did wrong was not pay for a good cover from the get-go. Unfortunately, the numbers indicate that it didn’t help much in the end, but most of my sign ups did come after I had a better cover on the front of the novelette (Pictured above is the better cover).

So…here are the numbers:

For my (then) current subscribers to my mailing list:

  • 25 views on my Bookfunnel page
  • 9 downloads

For a general release page, which got shared on my blog, through email, and on FB, I got the following data:

  • 57 views on my Bookfunnel page
  • 1 download

For my fiction FB Page, I got the following data:

  • 457 views on my Bookfunnel page
  • 1 download

For my political commentary FB Page, I got the following data:

  • 237 views on my Bookfunnel page
  • 2 downloads

I also created a “Personal For” message, which I targeted to friends and family that I wanted to specifically invite to take part. This also included my beta readers. I got the following data:

  • 6 views on my Bookfunnel page
  • 4 downloads

In all, I got the following data:

  • 782 views on my Bookfunnel page
  • 17 downloads

As you can see, this was far from a success for me. I’m not saying Bookfunnel isn’t a success for many authors, or that maybe it’s more of a success for authors who already have a following, but for getting started essentially from scratch, it’s rough. The bottom line was that, out of 782 views, and over a thousand on Facebook, I only gained 8 (!) new subscribers to my list.

Speaking of Facebook, I wanted to break down some numbers there too. This is a broad stroke look at the keywords and numbers. I’m honestly too busy to be able to dig much deeper at this time.

Keywords: Baptist, Southern Baptist, Politics (Conservative), Politics (Moderate), Likely to Engage in Politics, Christian Fiction.

  • Fiction FB Page, using the a mix of the above keywords, garnered 3,396 reach, with the aforementioned 457 views on my Bookfunnel page, resulting in 1 download and signup. Paid: $33.39.
  • Political Commentary FB Page, using a mix of the above keywords, garnered 1,478 reach, with the aforementioned 237 views on Bookfunnel, resulting in 2 downloads and signups. Paid: $17.23
  • Unfortunately, I can’t know exactly how my personal Facebook page helped or hurt, but suffice to say, not many of my friends signed up either, except through the “Personal For” message.

I actually had more success getting the signups first, and then offering the book later. Of 14 page views from 5 new subscribers, all five downloaded the book. If anything, my Bookfunnel campaign suggested that I would have done better by getting signups through a different style of campaign and then offer the book. This is still a strategy I’m employing.

If I learned anything, it’s that I went into a Bookfunnel campaign thinking that it was the magic bullet for building a mailing list. It’s not even close to that. I have a couple of things I’m working on now to make Bookfunnel part of a larger strategy for building a list, but alone, Bookfunnel just isn’t enough, at least for me, writing for my intended audience.

For those who’ve used Bookfunnel, how did your numbers work out? Better? Worse?