Beware of these blunders in writing for children

Avoid these common misconceptions when writing children’s books. Award-winning children’s author Emily Lim shared these points in her recent MAI webinar, “Writing for Children: Commandments to follow & sins to avoid.”

1. Writing for children is easier than writing for adults.ID-10057976
This is very far from the truth. Adults may be willing to stay with you through many chapters before they stop reading. Children lose interest easily. If you don’t grab their attention from the first few pages, you have lost them.

2. You need to include a moral lesson in your story.
Don’t write a book to teach a moral lesson. Children get a lot of that already – in school and from their parents. Write a story that entertains them and pulls them in. Weave in what you believe – hope, second chances and God’s redemptive love. But don’t tell them what to do. Don’t shove the message in their face. Show it through your characters and let them arrive at that conclusion themselves.

3. Children can think abstractly.
Young children take things literally. You may have a story idea about a lonely girl and a magic man appears and takes her on a fantastic adventure. Your young reader may take it that it’s ok to go on an adventure with a stranger. So be mindful, especially when writing for younger children.

4. Children are simple thinkers.
Children may be literal but they more sophisticated thinkers than we sometimes realize. So, don’t underestimate them when you write.

Emily LimWhat other lessons have you learned? Tell us.

Photo above courtesy Freedigitalphotos

Dan Balow’s 5 Steps to Begin Publishing for a Digital Market

By Joanne Kim, MAI intern

1. Learn… about digital trends
First, learn and be aware of what kinds of digital trends are working in your region/country.Smiling girl with books and tablet Freedigitalphotos Different countries are on different tracks. For instance, has Amazon moved into your area yet? If so, take note that it is a major turning point in the region’s digital market.

2. Focus… on the principle of 80/20
The principle of 80/20 refers to how most publishers gain 80 percent of their sales from about 20 percent of their products. Focus your efforts on this 20 percent.

3. Prioritize… make best products available first
Consider these beginning steps to digital publishing as a gradual process. Try not to worry too much about turning everything digital at once. Instead, most importantly, get started today.

4. Publish… two current and important products
A short product only takes about 1 to 2 months in an aggressive approach to be created and distributed. Take risks and try your hand at publishing a short product or two. This experience will help you gain perspective on how to change your processes in your company.

5. Look ahead… 1-2 years
Reflect and consider how you can create more short, topical titles to address specific needs. Continue to publish more books on a regular basis.

portraits of Dan Balow taken April 9, 2010This article was excerpted from Dan Balow and Carlo Carrenho’s webinar for MAI, “Thinking and Doing Digital Publishing.” Listen to the webinar archive.

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Photo above courtesy of Freedigitalphotos

Challenges in publishing in West Africa

By Ramon Rocha

The Economist recently described Africa as “a hopeful continent.” I had the joy of visiting Ghana and Nigeria in August. Dan Balow and I led a publishing training with 28 participants from 20 publishers in Accra, Ghana. I also enjoyed a consultation visit with Africa Christian Textbooks (ACTS) in Jos, Nigeria.

Customers browse the book table in front of a church in Jos, Nigeria.

Customers browse the book table in front of a church in Jos, Nigeria.

In both African countries, Christians are a majority. I saw churches with congregations as small as 50 people next door to mega churches. Christianity pervades their cultures with store names like “Anointed Cold Store” and “Kingdom Books and Office Supplies”  as common sights. A significant market for Christian books exists, yet Christian publishers are struggling.

Why? One reason is that piracy is a huge problem. If your title is experiencing brisk sales, most likely it will be copied illegally and sold at lower prices. Pirates use the same local printing presses as publishers. They also print in India and China (sometimes with the same companies that are printing the legal copies), then ship the pirated titles in container loads and distribute them freely. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same problem occurs elsewhere in Africa.

Obviously, some government authorities are turning a blind eye either for monetary gain and/or to avoid endangering themselves. And readers are buying the lower-priced books! To fight piracy, many publishers have agreed to: strengthen their ranks by approaching government as an association rather than individually, narrow the price gap between legal and pirated copies, educate consumers, and encourage pastors to preach that buying pirated books is a serious sin.

While these economies are steadily improving, low wages dictate low selling prices for books. Bookstores are trying hard to make both ends meet with a meager 20 percent margin. Several have closed. As elsewhere in the world, publishers are increasingly marketing and selling directly to consumers.

To improve margins, most publishers in Ghana and Nigeria are now printing in India. The unit cost of printing in India, even if you add shipping, is half of that locally. Over printing and poor scheduling challenges remain. But at least publishers have found a way to increase their margins and hopefully offer more discounts to booksellers.

I also heard about a proliferation of poorly edited or entirely unedited self-published books. Pastors of some big congregations are emboldened to self-publish because they see guaranteed sales of 2,000 copies from a 2,000-member church.

A bookstore in Ghana carries multiple titles for youth written by African authors.

A bookstore in Ghana carries multiple titles for youth written by African authors.

In Ghana, publishers whose books become  textbook curriculum are thriving. Most publishers want to publish school textbooks. Schools have replaced bookstores as distribution centers. Unfortunately, the 
ongoing strike of teachers in Nigerian state colleges and universities since June has severely affected the sales of publishers like ACTS.

In Nigeria, publishers are finding it difficult to hire qualified and competent staff due to the “civil servant mentality.” Because of the oil boom dependency, people just show up to work and get paid. There is no “pursuit of excellence” attitude. In many cases, new hires don’t get past the probationary period. Or good employees leave the company quickly because of higher pay elsewhere doing less work.

Despite these problems, Christian publishing in West Africa is poised for growth. God’s word bearing hope planted in the hearts of African people will grow and eventually bear fruit.

What other challenges do Christian publishers face in Africa? And what steps do you suggest to overcome them?

Ramon Rocha is director of publisher development for MAI.

How to Collect on Unpaid Accounts

By Ramon Rocha

The bottom line for accounts receivable is: “Books sold on credit are fictitious until the amount due is collected!” I used to preach this at the publishing house I led.

While traveling this past year for MAI, I heard several Christian publishers cry out that they are facing the problem of rising uncollected accounts receivable. What are the steps publishers can take to manage this important balance sheet item?

MAI President John Maust remembers a publisher in Asia having to fire one of FreeDigitalPhotos by David Castillo Dominicihis staff, after overhearing her telephone a deadbeat customer and saying in total exasperation, “If you don’t pay, you’ll be in danger of hell!” Angry statements like this one are commonly heard by debt collectors, but within the Christian community it’s important to approach the situation in a Christ-like manner.

1.   Develop a carefully drawn set of credit policies and practices:
If you already have created policies, review your existing ones. What type of clients qualify for credit?  What is your process for screening customers that are applying for credit? How disciplined are you in enforcing your credit policies?

2.  Age your receivables:
In a spreadsheet, name your credit customers, itemize each invoice amount and  how long the invoice has been past due.  Monitor this report regularly.

3. Make phone calls:
Assign a staff person to  make a friendly phone call to each customer reminding them of debts that are due. Problematic customers get the pleasure of receiving more frequent phone calls. If you are silent and don’t do any follow up calls, the money usually goes just to the “noisier” supplier.

4. The CEO should visit important customers:
There’s nothing like formal, yet friendly visits. Visiting customers makes them feel appreciated, and they will hopefully give priority to paying off your invoices. As a general rule, good customer relations contribute to a good cash flow.

5. Keep money reserves for rough times:
During good years, build up allowances for bad debts. Some customers with unpaid accounts simply vanish. They are Christians, but perhaps their hearts have hardened despite reading Zacchaeus’ story. Pray for them.

In all financial circumstances, may we look to the Lord for provision and wisdom to handle our finances well. Remember to ask: What am I doing to make sure my credit sales are managed properly to ensure I have enough cash to pay my bills on time?  

Find more helpful pointers from Michael Hess’ article at CBS Moneywatch entitled The best way to handle customers who don’t pay.

Do you have any other suggestions? Tell us here.

Photo above courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos, David Castillo Dominici

Win over Your Reader in Your First Chapter

Your opening chapter is your most important one because that is where you strike your deal with the reader—his or her reading time in exchange for what you’re offering. The cover, title, back cover and table of contents are all selling opportunities to bring the reader to this decision point. By the end of the first chapter, the reader will have decided whether and why to continue reading.

To win over your reader, the opening chapter should generally address five Ps:Man-Reading-Kindle-by-Tina-

1. Problem—What’s really wrong and why it really matters to the reader. The best problem is one the reader is highly motivated to address in a reading experience, or would be if he or she knew what the author knows.

2. Premise—How this book will approach and resolve the problem in a unique and promising way. Describes the insight(s), principle or strategy that could solve the problem. The best premise feels fresh, powerful and promising—the reader should, for example, have an “aha!” response on first hearing of it.

3. Personal angle—Why the reader can trust this author to deliver a credible, helpful reading experience. Personal angle may be rooted in experience, education, observation, access to data, or a combination of these. The best angle is the one that shows that the author is not only the best source for help, but understands and respects the reader’s experience, and sincerely wants to help.

4. Promise—“Here’s a preview of what you’ll learn/how you’ll change by the end of the book….” Describes the take-away benefit for the reader. The best promise strikes the reader as credible, likely to be life-changing if applied, and worth paying for.

5. Plan—“In the pages ahead, here’s what will happen…here’s what you’ll think and feel….” Describes the reading experience ahead. The best plan is simple, intuitively sound and strongly motivating.

Alice Crider photo copyAlice Crider is an editor, an author, and an author coach. Since 2011, she has combined her life coaching skills with her writing and 15 years of publishing experience. Alice shared these ideas at LittWorld 2012, gathering many of them from Steps to “Bring about Life Change” by David Kopp.

Photo above by Tina Phillips, courtesy Freedigitalphotos