Meet Our Traveling “Physician”

Like a doctor who pays house calls to patients upon request in many parts of the world, our “Dr.” Ramon Rocha treks the globe to offer a confidential listening ear and advice for various publishing ailments. Since 2012, he has extended MAI’s consulting services to Christian publishing leaders and writers in 25 countries as Director of Publisher Development. In many cases, no other professional help is available. We asked Ramon to give you a sneak-peek at his itinerant consulting.

Ramon enjoys a break with Ukranian publisher Andrew Kravchenko of Ezdra Publishing at LittWorld 2015. Photo courtesy of Karen Crespo.

Ramon enjoys a break with Ukranian publisher Andrew Kravchenko of Ezdra Publishing at LittWorld 2015. Photo courtesy of Karen Crespo.

What does your consulting visit look like?
I try to come more as a friend than an expert. My ideal three- or four-day visit allows me time to listen to the publisher’s challenges and issues, brainstorm solutions with the team, identify possible action steps, and pray with the team. I check in afterward by email and at times video calls. A follow-up consulting visit may be as short as a day. Occasionally I lead brief trainings for local writers upon the publisher’s request.

Sometimes I have the privilege of sharing a meal or staying with the publisher’s family. I’ve been touched many times by the love and care of my hosts and their generous hospitality.

Consulting with the marketing and sales team of Editions PBA, an IFES-related publisher, in Benin.

Consulting with the marketing and sales team of Editions PBA, an IFES-related publisher, in Benin.

What do you carry in your “medical kit”?
I try to assess the publisher’s situation before my arrival so I have an idea if the need is marketing, finance, editorial or publishing leadership. I create a presentation and come ready with templates, Word or Excel files and links to helpful websites.

Sometimes I have to respond to an issue that surfaces during the consultation. Then I refer back to my “medical kit” of previous Powerpoints, charts and my Evernote files to find the appropriate tools. The publishers have appreciated stories from my business background and/or helpful steps other publishers have taken.

Have you ever found it particularly hard to help a publisher? If so, what did you do?
Publishers struggle with a relatively small reading public in some countries. Others face political, economic and social conditions that make it hard to achieve a healthier financial standing. Or a publisher may be involved in a long legal battle or a soured relationship with a problematic staff or director.

I urge them to refocus on their vision of how Christian materials can impact peoples’ hearts and minds. I also propose ideas to challenge publishers to look beyond their problems.

A magazine publisher in Bangladesh shares his concerns.

A magazine publisher in Bangladesh shares his concerns.

What is the most common publisher’s ailment that requires a clear solution?
Pricing with a profit is a major concern especially where people expect Christian books to be either free or very cheap. Sometimes the healthy tension between being a ministry and a business is evident, especially in determining the right price. How to reach a broader audience beyond the Church is another struggle.

A publisher has to be willing to change paradigms and do more than the status quo. I’d like to see more publishers become goal-oriented and disciplined to measure outcomes, and make adjustments quickly.

Tell us about a recent highlight on one of your visits.
On one return visit, I was so encouraged to find a publisher reporting higher sales and showing a net profit, plus soliciting feedback intentionally from readers. In another instance, I applauded a publisher’s success in moving books from its former inventory “cemetery” by slashing prices and donating.

What results have you seen?
One Asian publisher emailed me, “After you left, we tried to implement your recommendations to gradually increase our price to help our cash flow, to produce quarterly sales reports to monitor our bestsellers and slow-movers….We even renovated our showroom as you suggested. We are now seeing improved operational results.”

On one sad occasion the action steps we identified during my first visit were not implemented. I tried my best to be extra tactful not to scold, and to be even more encouraging. I knew I could only make suggestions; the actual work is with the publishing team.

Enjoying a boat ride with Georges Late, manager of Editions PBA, in Benin.

Enjoying a boat ride with Georges Late, manager of Editions PBA, in Benin.

How would you advise publishers to stay healthy?
Keep an eye on maintaining high quality editorial standards while remaining passionate about your mission and vision. Ingredients for long-term publishing success include: quality writing by reader-sensitive local authors, polishing by skilled editors, creative marketing strategies and effective distribution.

How does your own faith play into your work? How can friends pray for you?

I need to be consistent in drawing strength and encouragement from God’s Word myself. Please pray that I will not be too technical as a consultant or teacher but serve more as a caring friend.

Please pray for publishers to persevere, especially amidst a lack of peace and order, and political and economic tensions. Pray they will be courageous in publishing God’s truth in creative ways, build bridges to unbelievers and strengthen the national Church. Pray that these publishers will be financially sustainable, profitable and growing.

Christian publishers and writers “on the front lines” are being equipped and encouraged because of your partnership with MAI.

Gems in the Making: How to find and cultivate local authors

Manuscripts by local authors are considered “gems in the making” by Joy Solina, editorial manager of CSM Publishing in the Philippines. Since its founding, CSM has aimed to feature Filipino authors. This year’s line-up includes 27 original titles by Filipinos. We asked Joy to tell us about their vision. Watch her 3-minute video and read the extended interview below.

Tell us about CSM’s aims to publish local writers.
CSM is a firm believer in the Filipino Christian as the best writer for Filipinos. Who would know our culture, our heart language, our way of thinking and our diverse interests better? Therefore, manuscripts by Filipino Christians are considered gems in the making. Thus, we learned to develop the discipline and to understand the dynamics of publishing local writers.

How do you cultivate authors?
A good local author is someone who communicates well with his audience, either originally as a speaker/preacher or as a writer. When an author is both, that is a great find. Know the author’s strengths and uniqueness as a communicator so you can study how to draw out the best in his or her writing. Local authors usually are not familiar with the publishing process, so take great care and effort in explaining and guiding them as they write.

What is your 2016 line-up of locally authored books like?
This year our line-up of locally authored books caters to believers with various roles in life and ministries: relationships (love, marriage, parenting), inspirational, devotions for adults and for children, ministry resources (strategic planning, Bible teaching, worship), and personal finance. Twelve out of the 27 original titles to be launched at the Manila book fair this September are in conversational Tagalog, the local language.

It can be faster and more lucrative to get rights and publish books from abroad. How do you juxtapose that reality with your vision?
Republishing the many, many available best-selling books from overseas is always tempting.  Why go through all the trouble of developing new authors when you can publish big name authors more easily by simply obtaining a license to reprint their popular titles? But the vision of developing local authors directs your priorities. The process of publishing a work of a local author may be more tedious and expensive, but if its message communicates to your target audience better, you end up more successful. It goes without saying that local authors know the context of your target audience far better than foreign authors. This, of course, is just one aspect in the whole mix of producing a great product. Some of the other “ingredients” include book design, the kind of language used, and the price that suits your target market.

Tell us about a Filipino author you’re publishing this year.
One of our best-selling authors, Ed Lapiz, is the senior pastor of a large network of churches that started in the Middle East when he was working there years ago. His books cover relevant issues facing the average Filipino family that has a loved one working abroad—every Filipino family!…His five mini-books this year are entitled: Because of Life’s Uncertainties (facing the unknown), You Shall Not Murder Time (dealing with regret, unforgiveness), When the Floods Rise (the importance of a good foundation), The Great Ministry of Companionship (ministering to the lonely), and You Are Not…You Are (identity in Christ).

How would you advise publishers who want to develop more local authors?
Be open to changing the way you do things, such as how you recruit authors and work with them. Personalize the way you treat each author. When they like the way you handle them as authors and the way you take care of their titles, they will recommend you to other would-be authors. Be selective, flexible and committed to blessing your readers.

Study how to get the price your target market prefers, never give up, think out of the box, offer a helping hand, bend the rules every once in a while, and never lose sight of your goal—developing more local authors!

Three messages for nurturing local writers

Kara Lassen Oliver shares three key messages for nurturing local writers in the 2-minute video below. As a published author and a former missionary in Malawi, she is passionate about equipping and empowering writers in Africa to write and publish the materials they need to strengthen the Church.

Developing local writers is about encouraging them and helping them embrace the gift God has given them. Three key messages for writers:

1. Writing is a calling. Look for where God is at work in your life and ministry. God has called you to write that story; it’s important to the world. Embrace your calling.

2. Writing is a ministry. People in the church need to hear your story. Keep in mind your readership. Don’t write too high of an academic level, but write to reach a person in the church. Watch your language; don’t be preachy. Consider your writing as an offering to the Church that can be used and shared again and again.

3. Writing is hard work. MAI Trainer Lawrence Darmani said, “When we go to heaven God will ask us if we left behind the books that God put inside us on earth–because they’re not needed in heaven.” Give yourself permission to dedicate time to the writing God has given you. It’s tempting to get distracted, but the work of writing is to finish the project before you.

You are gifted and called to write.

Kara Lassen Oliver serves as Director of Discipleship Resources International (DRI) Publishing Initiatives for The United Methodist Church. As a published author and a former missionary in Malawi, she is passionate about equipping and empowering writers in Africa to write and publish the materials they need to strengthen the church. She is also the acquisitions editor for the Africa Ministry Series, written by African pastors and lecturers, offering quality ministry resources for strengthening the church in the 21st century.

This video was taken by TeamDavid at MAI’s international publishing conference, LittWorld 2015, in Singapore.

Stewarding Novel Ideas

Jon Hirst GMI new book

GMI President Jon Hirst

MAI President John Maust was featured in the new book, The Calling of the Knowledge Steward, authored by Jon Hirst, GMI President and a former MAI Board member. We’re delighted to share this excerpt with you. 

If I were looking for an exciting one-on-one study opportunity in Wheaton today, I would love to learn from John Maust, the president of MAI (Media Associates International), an organization that trains Christian authors and publishers around the globe.

“We get to steward knowledge that helps others steward their knowledge, insights, and experiences,” says John. “Specifically, we equip and encourage Christian publishers and writers located in hard places of the world to create excellent content that enriches the church and influences society.”

John and book award

MAI President John Maust (left) congratulates Nicholas Villanueva of Ediciones Certeza Argentina on its award-winning book “Mujeres Jefas de Familia” by author Samuel Tapia.

I’ve known John for years, and he’s become a good friend. John has a servant’s heart. When we talk, he is always concerned first and foremost with the needs of the people he is serving—never his own issues or challenges.

John is a knowledge steward who has changed the world. Here’s how he does it. Working with MAI authors, John helped create a devotional book for global Christian writers, Light for the Writer’s Soul (co-published by Armour Publishing, Singapore), featuring articles by 80 contributors from 27 nations. The book offers a wealth of spiritual wisdom and encouragement for writers.

John has created a culture of service at MAI that is impacting the world for Christ. When I asked him about his role models, he cited Timothy, the associate of the Apostle Paul. “A Timothy-like focus on others is vital,” he says. “I often think of Paul’s description of Timothy, ‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare'” (Philippians 2:20).

But there’s a challenge. Knowledge stewards love to help people, particularly when they have a passionate servant’s heart. But no one can serve everyone. That’s where discernment comes in. As we saw in the previous chapter, discernment helps stewards determine not only what to share, but also who to share it with, and how.

“One needs a kind of discernment to identify which people in whom to invest knowledge,” John says. “You can’t invest equal time and attention in everybody. Discernment helps determine which students possess the potential and commitment to apply the knowledge they have received. Sometimes these are the quiet people in the background, and one must listen and observe carefully to identify them.”

>>Check out the book and read a sample chapter online. 

Chile: Writers Gain Strong Foundation

Omar Cisneros had been a skeptic from an anti-Christian background.  But now he serves in his first pastorate, shepherding a small Baptist church. Pastor Omar  dreams of writing his own story to reach skeptics. (See front row in photo below.)

In January he joined six other new writers for MAI’s creative writing workshop in creative-writing-seminar-santiago-chile-participantes-patricia-adrianzen-david-rogers-editorial-crece-pres-croppedSantiago, Chile, led by Peruvian author and publisher Patricia Adrianzén de Vergara (front left in photo). Participants included four pastors, an American missionary and two women working in children’s ministry.

“It was four days full of teaching, thinking, encouraging and sharing,” said David Rogers (back right) of Editorial Crece, the Baptist publishing house that organized the workshop. This year the publisher aims to produce seven to eight new titles for teens, young adults and family. Thus, the workshop focused on writing for youth and creating books from Biblical characters.

The seven writers dreamed, set writing goals and wrote, despite an inadequate AC unit on the stuffy third floor of a church. On several afternoons the fledgling writers moved to the basement parking garage to escape the heat.

writing-participants-at-tables-cropClaudia Mondaca (front right in top photo) oversees her church’s children’s ministry. She hopes to write materials for special education children to benefit multiple churches.

The other young woman, Cinthya Veloso (front, 2nd from left in top photo), had recently completed a draft of her first Sunday School teacher’s manual for primary children. During the workshop she gained practical methods for enriching her writing.

Editorial Crece plans to build on the foundation laid by the workshop. David wants to organize a writer’s club and invite each writer to complete a publishable article or book manuscript. He hopes to meet with and encourage each one at least once in the next three months.

Please pray that amidst many ministry demands these seven new writers will complete their writing goals. Pray for MAI’s increased training efforts in Latin America in 2016, including a writer workshop in Mexico and a training conference for the region’s Christian publishers and editors.

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