Writing for the Inspirational Market w/Frank Ball
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When it comes to writing for the inspirational market, no one knows it better than Frank Ball. The director of the North Texas Christian Writers Conference and founder of Story Help Groups, Frank has an extensive career as a ghostwriter, copy editor, graphic designer, and self-publisher.
Today, Chris and Gena welcome Frank to give us insights into why you might want to write for the Inspirational market, and how to navigate your way successfully.
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- Frank Ball
Episode 32 Transcription:
[00:00:15].180] - Gena Welcome to the Writing Momentum podcast. I'm Gena Maselli, and I'm here with my husband, Christopher Maselli, and we are kind of excited to bring you one of our first interviews that we're going to be doing. So, Chris, tell me, who are we interviewing today? [00:00:31].060] - Chris We are here today with Frank Ball. How are you doing today, Frank? How are you? [00:00:35].250] - Frank I'm doing great. [00:00:37].070] - Chris Awesome. Frank, he has been the director of the North Texas Christian Writers Conference. He founded story help groups. He works with Roaring Lambs. Ministering. You've done that for several years now. Have you been? With Roaring Lambs. Yes, and he's written his own books. He's done a lot of self publishing. He's done ghost writing. He does copy editing, graphic design. Frank is one of the first people that brought me a book that he had designed and self published and said, I self published this. And I looked at it and I thought, that doesn't look self published. That looks like it was created by traditional publisher. And it just floored me how the quality that you were able to get together is before I'd ever seen many self published books that really look good. And you kind of introduced me to that field. I don't know if you know that, but that got me excited, and I dove into it after seeing how great the stuff was that you put together. And Frank is also he's a pastor of biblical research and writing, and so he's got a lot of experience in the ministry world, but also in the writing world. [00:01:49].500] - Chris And so that's part of the reason we brought Frank on today, was to not only talk about some of the great writing and self publishing stuff he's done, but also to really dive into this whole side of writing for the inspirational market and the Christian market, because it's changed a lot over the years. I remember when I first started writing stuff in the Christian inspirational market, there were Christian bookstores everywhere, and now there's none. Right. Except for maybe at a church once in a while. [00:02:17].810] - Gena Well, and I would say a lot of what Frank has done over the years also is to mentor other writers, which we hear that through the writing conferences that he's been a part of. But I know different writers I've talked to in the past who have been very open about the fact that Frank has been a great inspiration to them and has really poured into them. [00:02:40].020] - Chris That's a recurring theme. [00:02:41].350] - Gena That is a recurring theme, definitely. But like you were saying, Chris, the inspirational market, I think sometimes when people are on the outside of it, maybe they're not familiar with it, they don't realize how large it is. But the inspirational market is a very large and what I think makes it such an important market is because the people are very loyal to it. The readers are very loyal to, they are constantly reading. They're constantly growing in their faith, and so they're reading everything from biographies to devotions to teaching books to biblical thesis. They're just really diving in. So we're looking forward to talking to Frank today and just hearing his perspective because he has been in this market a long time. [00:03:33].830] - Frank You're right. It is a huge market, and this all changed significantly. So I'm going to guess somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years ago, in one year in the Christian market, a Christian book took number one in the fiction market and number one in the nonfiction market. It was the Left Behind series as fiction, and in nonfiction, it was A Prayer of Jabez. Never before had a Christian book been that popular. And all of a sudden, the traditional publishers woke up and said, hey, this is a huge market. We need to get into this. And so that's what has happened since then. So now if you want a Christian book, you can go to the religious section in Barnes and Noble, right? Yeah. That's where you buy books now. It used to be you had to go to the Christian bookstore. So the market has changed drastically. It has also grown exponentially in the last 20 years, even in its own area. [00:04:34].670] - Chris Yeah. So what is it that you would say makes the inspirational market unique for writers today? If you're going to write for this market, what makes it really its own thing? [00:04:48].470] - Frank Well, for one thing, there's a huge market for short pieces and for articles. You don't have to write a whole book to get into it. You can spend a year or two writing a whole book, and then maybe a traditional publisher will pick you up and maybe they won't. But you can make a little money and see some significant success just in writing articles. And really, that's the best way in the world to break into this market. [00:05:14].130] - Chris You mean articles for, like, magazines? [00:05:17].150] - Frank You can do that. Really? Devotions is huge. Online devotions. There's the Upper Room. There's A Secret Place by Judson Press. I used to write devotions for Judson Press. They're short anywhere from 150 to 250 words. If I wrote those all the time, I could write one in 15-20 minutes. Well, they pay $20 per devotion. That's $60 an hour. [00:05:47].590] - Chris That's not bad. [00:05:48].670] - Frank That's not too bad for part time work. Right now, obviously, you have to gain experience in it. There are some different things that you want to get into to understand how to make it work. I think one of the crucial things that's probably much more important in inspirational work than it is in, say, book publishing or general market articles, you've really got to know your audience. And what that means is you can't just write to the Christian people that you are familiar with, that believe like you do. The market is so much broader than that. So you need some understanding of the variances and the differences in belief. So you don't step on a bunch of people's toes because those arguments just don't profit you at all. So you're best off telling short stories, just a paragraph or two that shows something that was learned, some experience. Now, I read devotions that are theological exposition. I don't like them. I want something that tells me a story because the story delivers an experience and we all learn from experience. And I don't like to just be told what the truth is. I want to see it in action. [00:07:17].310] - Chris Those books that you mentioned in that year, they hit the number one in the fiction and nonfiction market. Were those focused more on stories? Because they must have transcended all kinds of lines because you're not talking about just a fiction and nonfiction. Inspirational books. [00:07:34].450] - Frank That's right. [00:07:35].220] - Chris Booklets. This is the mainstream booklet that covered. Right. [00:07:38].140] - Frank Well, Jerry Jenkins wrote the Left Behind series. I think Tim Lahey was the celebrity that made it sell across the world. [00:07:45].460] - Chris Right. [00:07:46].270] - Frank Because celebrity will sell books better than what content will. Content is the reason why people read. They'll buy a book from celebrity. They'll read it because of the content. So it's not that the content is not important. My understanding was that the original Left Behind series was a four book contract, and I think it ran out to twelve because it was so unbelievably successful. [00:08:16].830] - Chris Children's books on that same line? Absolutely. [00:08:19].680] - Frank There's all kinds of spin offs. And then on the nonfiction side, The Prayer Jabez, that followed up with The Secrets of the Mind that just created all kinds of momentum in the inspirational market. [00:08:33].930] - Chris Then, of course, there's Guideposts, which are still very popular. They're going to be at WriterCon. We're going to see Frank at WriterCon here just in a few weeks from when we're recording this. WriterCon is a conference in the Midwest. You can find out about it at writercon.com. And I believe Guideposts is going to be there. Jim Hinch is going to be there. He's going to show how to pitch for Guideposts. If you're wanting to get into this market, like, those would be some great talks to go to, wouldn't you say? [00:09:05].110] - Gena Absolutely. [00:09:07].350] - Frank I'll get to meet him. I'm really looking forward to that. From what I understand about Guideposts, they are interested in your story. And if your story is really good, they have writers who can make that story fit their style. [00:09:26].790] - Gena Right. And they are very particular. They're very particular about their style. They definitely require you to learn. If you're wanting to be the writer for them, that's definitely something you've got to learn. But like Frank said, they do have writers that help with that. [00:09:44].860] - Frank Right. [00:09:46].230] - Gena So what are some mistakes? Frank that you see writers who are wanting to write for the inspirational market. What are some mistakes that you see them making pretty regularly? [00:09:56].730] - Frank Number one, I have writers who write an inspirational piece, and they want me to tell them where they can sell it. That's backwards. You need to find who you want to write for and write to their guidelines, treating their rules like biblical Ten Commandments following that. Another factor, I run into writers who will say, well, I'm going to write for a publisher, but they've never read the publication. Years ago, I was teaching a class at a school, and I did some interviews with a student, and she had been published three times already. She was a high school senior, and she'd already been published with a publisher that I'd already been in contact with, and I knew they had a two year backlog, and she'd been published three times. So I'm doing the math here, trying to figure out, okay, what's the secret of her success? It's quite simple. What she told me is, well, I just read that magazine all the time, and I thought, well, I've had experiences like that. I could write a story like that. So she wrote one, sent it in, and they bought it, and then she wrote another one, and they sent it in and they bought it, and then she wrote another one and said it in and they bought it. [00:11:24].600] - Frank The bottom line is, publishers buy what they want, right? So your challenge is find a way to give your publisher what they want. [00:11:36].250] - Chris There's no excuse nowadays, is there, either with the Internet, because you can go to any publishers website usually, and find the guidelines on that website and download them, and you're ready to go. [00:11:46].480] - Frank You absolutely can. Now, one thing to break into this that I think is really important and cost virtually nothing is to subscribe to the online Christian Writers Market Guide. [00:12:00].970] - Chris Yes. [00:12:01].760] - Frank It costs $10 a year. [00:12:04].450] - Chris Is that it? They used to sell that book for $30 a year. [00:12:07].910] - Frank Oh, they still do. [00:12:10].630] - Chris If you want a really thick book, you could pay $30. [00:12:14].200] - Frank And the problem is, because of publishing timeframe, as soon as it is on the bookstore shelf, it's out of date. The online publication is updated all the time. [00:12:26].200] - Chris Yeah. Plus, you can search online and ask, can't you? [00:12:28].770] - Frank You can search online and you can find all the different publishers, who they are, what they pay, what they're interested in. Then you can go to their website, get their guidelines, look at their publication, all that's available now online. It takes time, but it's never been easier than it is now. [00:12:48].910] - Chris That's really good. Yeah. I think anyone who wants to get into this market like they could if they just do a little research. And actually, in some ways, it's not that hard if you just want to try some short pieces out there. But I like the idea of storytelling. You got me when you started talking about storytelling, and we're going to have you on again soon, and we're going to be talking about storytelling because you are the storytelling master. I want to get deeper into that. [00:13:15].990] - Frank Okay, well, we'll do that. It's all about effective communication with your audience. But the inspirational market, that's just really crucial. What you can't do in the inspirational market is right from the perspective of bringing your reader to meet you. You have to meet them where they are. And so that means you have to know them. You have to know how to reach out to them. It's like you got to build a bridge between author and reader. Obviously, think of it in terms of building the bridge from where they are to you, rather than say, well, here's who I am, they can just learn from me because I've got the story, you've got to be more sensitive in the inspirational world to understand what people are really interested in, what touches their hearts. [00:14:14].570] - Chris So if you write something and send it in and you get a rejection back and you're thinking, okay, they didn't like it, is that because it didn't follow the theological guidelines? Is it because if you were too heavy handed? Is it because it wasn't pointed enough? How do you approach that kind of thing when you get a rejection? [00:14:37].290] - Frank Okay, let me be bluntly honest. I'll say about 80% of the rejections is because the writing is just not that good. At WriterCon, I'm teaching a class on know the reasons, not just the rules, because there are principles of communication that are more important than knowing where to place commas. [00:14:59].910] - Chris The rule is where to place your comma, but you have to know the reason. [00:15:02].600] - Frank Reason of why you're this way. What makes the communication most effective. Now for success, beyond that, let's just suppose your writing is excellent. There's no problem with your writing. You can put together good sentences. You can begin a story with a bit of suspense or drama because you've got a character who wants something, they're facing obstacles. So now you've got a story where your character is going to learn something wonderful. So then it's a short piece, 250 words. You send it into, let's say, The Secret Place. The last that I worked with them, they wanted, I think, six submissions at a time. This was back in the old snail mail days. You just mail them six of them, and if you get some of them back, they didn't want it. But the success here comes from just keeping that pipeline full of devotional articles. You just keep sending them because what I found is you don't know which ones they're going to want for different reasons. Maybe they've already got a devotion that covers the topic in one area, and it was real good, but they don't need another one. But the one that they really liked was maybe the one you liked the least, which has happened to me. [00:16:23].390] - Frank I was just amazed. And then once in a while, three months later, I get a check in the mail. Why am I getting this check? I forgot all about sending the devotion in, but then I got a check. So you just keep sending them out and then wait indefinitely to see what happens. Another way to break into this, too, it's really important to post blogs and grow an audience. [00:16:51].270] - Chris On your own website? [00:16:53].350] - Frank Anywhere that you want to do it. You can do it on Facebook, you can do it on different blogging sites, you can do it on your own website, but somewhere you've got to develop an audience. And it's really nice if you can do that on your own email list. [00:17:08].660] - Chris Yes, for sure. [00:17:09].460] - Frank So that you can touch people directly and let people know what you're doing. I got canceled on Facebook, sorry. But it just happened. They just decided, I don't meet community standards anymore. We're done, and that's it. [00:17:25].270] - Chris We're also often talking about how when you're sending emails back and forth to your list, that is really building a relationship. Right. It's not just marketing. [00:17:38].090] - Frank Right. [00:17:38].280] - Chris It's not just using that list just to try and sell them books. It's building a relationship over time. And that's why it's so important to be building up your own audience, so that you have people who raise their hand and say, yes, I want to hear what you have to say, and I like it and I want to stay connected. [00:17:55].270] - Gena Well, and there's also the element that you own that list versus on Facebook or Twitter or on any of those others where you could get suspended for some reason, or they may just change the rules. Maybe it's not you who's doing something they didn't like. Maybe it was somebody else, but you just kind of got lassoed in. Owning that list. You keep control over that list. So that's an important, very important element. Chris and I always say that the money is in the banana stand, is the email list. And we say that we're joking. But what it is, is that the value is in that list of people who have raised their hand and said that they want to be a part of they want to be in a relationship, just an email relationship. [00:18:48].510] - Frank If you have a banana stand, by all means, find people who like bananas. That's right, because meat lovers and people who only want veggies. The point here is, in the inspirational market, they're not interested unless you're giving them something they want. [00:19:09].090] - Gena Right. [00:19:09].680] - Frank And so they're looking for education or they're looking for insight, inspiration, less entertainment, I think. It's not that entertainment is not important, but I don't think it's a priority. [00:19:28].540] - Gena Right. [00:19:29].360] - Chris Especially in shorter pieces like that. [00:19:31].220] - Frank Right. [00:19:32].430] - Chris There's not much opportunity to develop a lengthy plot in a two paragraph. [00:19:38].620] - Frank Exactly. But I found out it is possible to write just 100 words and solicit some tears. I've written a few short pieces that I posted, and I get feedback saying that brought tears to my eyes. [00:19:57].250] - Gena That's a great exercise, too, to be able to force yourself to hold to a short word count, that is a great practice exercise, whether you admit that or whatever. I know from one of the devotions books that I did was 240 words. Each devotion was 240 words, and you got to get in and make your point and get out. And there's not a lot of room for fluff. You got to use your words and really trust your words to do their jobs. And it takes work and it takes skill to try to do that. Well. [00:20:39].130] - Chris If people do want to connect with your banana stand and get to know you more, how should they find you online? [00:20:48].010] - Frank The website is frankball.org. Not com., but.org. You can go to my website. My email is just Frank@frankball.org. [00:20:59].530] - Chris Excellent. [00:21:00].160] - Frank So you can email me directly. You can go to my website. There's a page on writing services. There's information on some of the things I do. I'm all about helping writers. I really am. [00:21:11].830] - Chris I can echo that. Frank is all about helping writers. You have a question I know he's always happy to answer. And then also be sure to check out if you're in the Midwest and you're able to make it to WriterCon here over Labor Day. Frank is going to be their teaching, and so are Gena and I. We would just love to see you there and meet you. Let us know you heard about it on the podcast, and we'll be sure to say hello and we can answer questions there too, and just have some fun together. [00:21:38].450] - Gena Yeah, definitely. Thank you for joining us, Frank. We really appreciate that. [00:21:44].810] - Frank It's been my great delight. I just love doing this. That's it. [00:21:48].330] - Chris Good. [00:21:48].780] - Gena Well, we look forward. We said we're going to have you back. We're going to talk about storytelling next time. But everybody please go ahead and let's see rate. Help me out here. Chris. [00:22:01].160] - Chris Rate, review, subscribe, and share. [00:22:04].480] - Gena I always get those words mixed up. This has to write them out for me. Rate review, subscribe and share the Writing Momentum podcast. We're so glad you joined us today, and we'll catch you next week. [00:22:17].340] - Chris Together we have Writing Momentum. Bye bye.
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