, ,

Why I wrote “Jesus Crushes Sin”

crushserpent

My book, Jesus Crushes Sin, is described as “a down-to-earth, Jesus-centred holiness for those who keep losing.” This tag-line explains why I wrote the book, and why I think I had to write it.

For many years I suffered with a particular sin issue in my life. The reason why I don’t really go into the details of what it was, either here or in the book, is because I want the book to encourage people with all sorts of issues with sin. Some might think, “Well, his struggle is different to mine.” I don’t think that’s true. I really think that the book helps anyone with any sin issue to rethink the way we approach God, and see Christianity. In fact, I think that even those people who are “winning” against sin ought to read it, especially if they are preachers or teachers or pastors or some kind of leader in the church.

This is because, by and large, we’ve made Christianity for winners, when in fact it’s for the poor and the weak and the weary. But it’s also for the winners, because the winners might not realise just how badly steeped in sin they actually are: the much more subtle, and much more dangerous, sin of self-righteousness.

To break the tag-line down, this book essentially tries to uncover:

  1. A down-to-earth approach to holiness. A lot of writing and preaching on this topic overly idealistic, exhorting us to be this or that, to do this or that, and to basically pull up our bootstraps. The goal of holiness, as it were, is put so far away for most of us that we despair when, after many years, we realise we’re just not getting there. Is there a there, anyway? We might begin to question that there is! But instead, what we need is a theology of holiness that tells it like it is (down-to-earth) without leaving it as it is (focusing us on Jesus).
  2. A Jesus-centred holiness. Much writing and preaching on this topic is about you. How well are you doing? Have you put your holiness programme into place? Don’t you realise that you need to clean up before the Holy Spirit pours out on you? Don’t you know that God won’t fellowship with an unholy vessel? So you better sort yourself out! These sorts of approaches make holiness into some sort of self-improvement human programme and take our eyes off of Jesus, fully God and fully man, who is more down to earth with this topic than most of us are.
  3. An approach for those who keep losing. If you’ve found the holiness programmes, the theories and the formulas and the disciplines and all that stuff is something you just keep sucking at, welcome to the club. If, like me, you find you keep losing at the Christian (supposed) life and the good news just isn’t so good anymore, then it may be that the “good news” you’ve been hearing isn’t actually the “good news” at all! What we have today is a sanitized Christianity, not a sanctified one – which is why it so often feels like it runs out of power. But the scriptures and Christian theology, when you dig deep, tell a different story.

And that’s why I wrote the book. It’s releasing on 3 Feb. Check out Jesus Crushes Sin here.

Ask me other questions on the book, or other books, at my questions & answers page.

, , ,

Why “Jesus Crushes Sin” will be free – and available for purchase

9780986996542_ebook_Cover

9780986996542_ebook_Cover

Here’s some news for those who might not know: my newest foray into the non-fiction, Christian living / theology territory, releases next week Wednesday, 3 February. It’s called Jesus Crushes Sin: A down-to-earth, Jesus-centred holiness for those who keep losing.

It’s a book for the losers in Christian living. Those of us who know what God expects of us, but find we just can’t do it. We never quite seem to reach the place where we know we’re supposed to be. And the “good news” doesn’t seem to be so good anymore.

When I started writing I wanted to release my Christian-specific books for free to the public, and print versions at cost. I just think that kind of stuff should be free. But, of course, a writer has to also make a living. Plus, many people have told me that they actually want to support me financially, but if I keep doing everything for free they can’t really do that, unless I take donations (which I’ll feel a bit weird about, to be honest).

Over the years I’ve never quite known what to do.  But now I think I’ve finally found a way to do both, and why on earth I never realised it at first, I don’t know.

  1. I’ll be offering up the ebook and PDF versions of Jesus Crushes Sin at my website for free download from 3 Feb.
  2. The paperback version (I’m still busy with the printers) will be made available at just above cost, to give me some margin for calculation errors (I’ve learned that there are all sorts of sneaky costs that come in with print at various stages of getting it to people). It’ll be available directly from a distributor’s website. The link will be made available here when it’s all ready. ** UPDATE ** – it’s now available for preorder.
  3. Those who want to support me financially and want the ebook can purchase it from their favourite platforms. All the main distributor links will be on my site. ** UPDATE ** now available for preorder.

I think that’s a great compromise.

** UPDATE ** The book can now be preordered.

From February 3rd, you can download the free ebook here at my website.

I’m really excited about this book as I’ve been working on it for about three years, on and off! It’s finally ready, and I think what it has inside is going to be super helpful for people who struggle to live the Christian calling.

,

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Review)

cover

The Old Man and the SeaThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What’s interesting about this book, and Hemingway’s style, is you find yourself at first thinking, “Hmmm. Seems a bit boring and too plain.” But yet you find yourself still reading and reading, and actually quite enjoying it.

I love the Old Man in this book. I think Hemingway manages to encapsulate the way a man feels when he is lonely and desperate. I felt the angst of this man. I’m not a fan of stoicism, unlike Hemingway, but nevertheless I enjoyed the way in which he looked to represent it. I loved the ending as it wasn’t Hollywood but it was just real – it dealt with life as it is, rather than as it should be, with a tinge of hope – or rather, a tinge of looking beyond just the obvious.

Something about it hooks you (no pun intended). I actually really enjoyed it. Perhaps men enjoy this more than woman (looking at some of the reviews, that seems true). It’s not a long read, so you really can pick it up and give it a try without having to wade through it at all.

View all my reviews

, ,

Key take-aways from SAIR this weekend

SAIR

This weekend I attended the SA Indies Rock (SAIR) book festival, which I wrote about and was quite keen for. I quite enjoyed it.

SAIR is about indie authors. It’s the first time I’ve seen something that’s purely about indies, which was really cool. It was great meeting new people who do what I do – and completely understand the challenges! Here are the key take-aways from the event for me, which are relevant for any writer in South Africa.

1. You can do this thing

After meeting several authors and publishers at the event, who have been quite successful (a relative term, I admit, but we’ll explore that in more detail below) I was left thinking: Well, I really can do this. And I don’t have to do it alone anymore. There’s something about being around pros in the field that rubs off on you. Overall, I was left encouraged.

But I was also left challenged. Authors need to support each other in this country. We can’t complain that readers don’t support us as much as they actually could if we’re not even keen to support each other! A vibe around local authors starts with the authors themselves.

2. It’s not about the money

This came up again and again, but there needs to be clarity as to what this means. When people say, “Don’t get into this writing thing if you’re keen to make money,” I suspect they mean that you generally won’t make tons and tons of money. Well, making tons of money is different to making a sensible living. This isn’t mentioned often enough when this discussion comes up, even on blogs and so forth. One is generally left with the impression that anyone can make some serious cash in this business (usually you see lots of that on the Internet) or that one is going to live their life in the gutter forever (so you should only ‘write for love’). I don’t think either of these are true, generally speaking.

I’m not really about making tons of money, but I am keen to make a sensible living, and after this weekend I’m sure one can, especially after asking Rachel Morgan, (Creepy Hollow, Trouble series) an author who manages her entire writing business from end to end, how things are looking financially for her. Writing your own books for a living is a long-term career plan. It doesn’t happen over night. I’m convinced that it takes persistence and growth and a sensible goal, not a goal with shining lights and money like dust. When we have a sensible goal we can enjoy a sensible living, and have a real career in writing.

3. We’re on the cusp of something new

I enjoyed David Robbins‘ opinion on the future of publishing. Robbins is a veteran in this field, and hearing him speak of how excited he is about the opportunities writers have today with self-publishing and Kindle and the printing opportunities and social media, etc., was very encouraging. That – coupled with the success of Carlyle Labuschagne and a discussion with traditionally published (and very successful) author, Gareth Crocker (Journey from Darkness, King) – left me very amped.

4. Get on Kindle

I took my books off Amazon for a while as there was an issue with the royalties (South Africans could only get 30% royalties). I figured, after Paypal fees and FNB fees, I was really getting nothing, and it was better selling directly from my website. But David Henderson of myebook.co.za showed me where I was going wrong on the platform, and I’ve set it up and now get the proper 70 percent royalties. Stoked about that. Check out Henderson’s post: South African Authors – Should we give a damn about self-publishing on Amazon.com?

Thanks to Carlyle and the organisers. Looking forward to it being even better and bigger next year!

,

Keen for the SA Indies Rock Book Festival this weekend

SAIR

Being an indie author in South Africa is really tough work. You spend your life hearing a lot of, “Yeah, I still need to read your book. I’m just busy finishing this new James Patterson novel,” from your friends and a lot of, “Your book doesn’t fit our marketing plans,” from publishers. (Well, the reason why is because it’s far more lucrative for the publisher to be marketing James Patterson!)

I think the real reason for the lack of support, however, is due to the lack of a decent community and vibe around indie authors. That sort of thing has to start with the authors themselves, I’ve realised. Which is why I’m so grateful that author, Carlyle Labuschagne (author of The Broken Trilogy, and others) has started the SA Indies Rock (SAIR) Book Festival, which kicks off for the first time this Saturday. The festival includes a bunch of workshops with some very interesting guest speakers, and an awards ceremony in the evening. From 2pm it’s open to the public where you can come meet some fantastic local indie authors (details below).

And all that is just fantastic.

I’m excited to be there. Janet Wallace from the U.S. is one of the guest speakers and she will be speaking on “Thoroughbred Marketing & Branding in a Hybrid World”. Wallace is the owner of Social Deviants, which specialises in social marketing for authors and entrepreneurs. Other speakers include filmmaker and successful writer, Gareth Crocker; award winning author and publisher, David Robbins; and David Henderson, founder of myebook.co.za.

I’m also going to pitching my sci-fi ghost story thriller, The Butcher’s Shadow, to a panel of six publishers. I’m nervous and excited about that and am very keen to hear some honest, professional input.

Best of all, the SAIR Book Festival is all happening in Johannesburg. When I first heard of it I thought, “It’s probably happening in Cape Town.” That’s where all this cool sort of stuff happens. So what a great surprise!

Where: Modjadji House
Florida Hills Roodepoort
Johannesburg Area – South Africa

28 March 2015 from 9am – 9pm

Here’s who you can meet from 2pm:

Carlyle Labuschagne
Jo Watson
Rachel Morgan
Annette Kinnear
Dave de Burgh
Lea Cherry
Addriene Woods
Joan de la Haye
Dave Robbins
Monique Snyman

I’m not on the official list, but I’ll be there. So if you want to meet me too, well just look out for me :)

Tweet about it. Use #SAIR.

, ,

Crying at the back of a bus

Below is an excerpt from my book about singleness, Your Single Happiness. Can we be happy when we’re single? How much is marriage our decision and our effort, and how much do we leave up to God to decide? And what the heck do we do about staying pure? Your Single Happiness looks to answer these questions and more.


There I was, ten years old, crying at the back of the bus as our school tour to the small town of Oudsthoorn ended. For months I liked this girl, you see, and plucked up the courage to buy her a necklace in the gift store. What girl wouldn’t like jewellery?

“What’s this?” she asked.

“I- I got it for you.”

“Why?”

“Cause. Cause I like you.”

She frowns and looks at me as if I’ve just told her the worst news she’s ever heard.

“You take that back,” she says, shoving it in my hands. “Don’t give it to me. I don’t like you and never will!”

By now a few people had gathered. I can hear their whispers. One laughs outright – her friend.

“You thought she would like you?” she cackles. “You? Of all people?”

A few minutes later I climb into the bus, trying my best to pull my heart together. Just my luck – there’s only a seat left towards the back. I’ve now got to walk past everyone. As I walk there I can hear the murmuring and giggling. And it’s about to get worse, because I can feel I’m about to burst.

Why? Why again? Why do girls just never like me?

That unanswered question of worthiness once again hits me like an oil tanker. Once again, I wasn’t worthy enough. I didn’t have the looks. I was a geek. I didn’t play the sports. I wasn’t funny enough.

I was just not good enough.

It sends me over the edge and I’m already sobbing before I sit down. My teacher doesn’t exactly make it easier when she gets on the bus and says loudly,

“Ryan, are you okay?”

Everyone turns. More snickering and giggling. The shame of it all! But I don’t care anymore – I’ve lost all dignity anyway. I might as well just carry on crying.

See, I always had a problem with girls. Since I was even four or five, I really liked girls. I wanted a girlfriend from as young as I can remember. I cherished girls and thought that nothing in the world could be more pure and innocent and desirable as a girl.

The problem was girls never liked me. Ever. I tried everything. One of the most popular guys in my school had a fringe that curled and I tried to get mine to curl in the same way one day. All I got were laughs and questions. I mean, I know in retrospect it was a weird thing to do, but I just wanted to be accepted. We all do, don’t we?

You see, shy guys finish last.

But I could never quite give up on these strange creatures called girls. I just liked them too much. I adored them. I loved the idea of having one one day; my very own girl. I loved the idea of romance and slow dancing and saying all the perfect things at the perfect time to my perfect girl who thinks I’m the perfect guy. I had ideals. But I could never live up to them – not in my eyes or anyone else’s. My self-worth issues only ever got worse as I grew up.

We tend to think that only those who have gone through relationship after relationship are those who have a problem with the opposite sex. Not true. Self-esteem was my problem.

Then something happened in my Christian life. In my church it suddenly became godly not to date! Unless you were verysure that the person you wanted to date was the One. When I say sure it was basically that God had to have told you.

Well, I could do this I thought. I could hear from God and if He’s going to tell me who the One is then I don’t have to worry about rejection anymore! Because it’ll be a done deal! What a liberating concept!

And there were enough testimonies to validate it. People came to our church and preached their story to show how well this worked. Youth conferences always had a slot to address dating. There were ways and means in which you could check if it was God’s will – for example, speak to the dad first and tell her you want to date her. If he gives the go-ahead, it’s God confirming it. Then speak to your elders. If they think it’s okay, God is giving the go-ahead. But you need three confirmations – speak to your parents; or see if He gives you a verse; or something along those lines. Then ask her out!

I followed the rules but so many didn’t. And guess what? They even got to date the girls I really liked! Even if they dumped her a few times she would still go back. Why? I’m following the rules! I got all the confirmations! What is going on? Why does she still not like me?

My cellphone rings.

“I can’t believe you would do that to me,” says a voice from the other side. It’s a girl I really, really like. I’m actually in love with her, although she actually doesn’t know.

“Do- do what?”

“Speak to my dad without speaking to me!”

“What?”

“Yes! My dad says you asked him if we could go out! And you didn’t even respect me enough to speak to me before my dad? I can’t believe it. I would never go out with you!”

But, I’m thinking to myself, I followed all the rules! I was Mr. followed-it-all and-done-it-all-right, but I end with nothing. And my friends – well, they do it all wrong and they end with something!

And why doesn’t she like me? What’s wrong with me?

Most of the books I’ve read about this subject of singleness or the subject of dating come from people who have done the dating thing to death. I am the complete opposite. When I first wrote this book (2004) the total amount of official girlfriends I had had in my whole life was… two. Oh there was a girl I really liked in High School and she liked me, but I was too darn shy and too slow and too darn blinded by then to believe a girl could actually like me that she got over me. I only found out years later she really did like me. But we never officially went out (although we spent lots of time together and I used to phone her a lot).

God does not work like a textbook. You can’t follow the rules and then expect results. Life is a journey not a bullet-point document. Maybe you’re looking for the secret for singleness or the top five keys for finding your partner. You won’t find that here. If God was about formulas the scriptures would be written in bullet point. This thing is all about relationship.

Can you enjoy your singleness and be content where you’re at? Can you find purpose in it? Is there such a thing as lifelong singleness, and is that a good thing? Is marriage better than singleness? Are married people better than single people? How can I find someone? How can I feel get rid of my self-esteem issues? How can I stop dating? How much of this is all about what I choose and how much is in God’s hands? Am I supposed to know what I want in life and a spouse? Why does this seem to take so much effort and heartache but for others it seems so easy? Why are some people blessed so much with this and others not? How do I stay pure?

There are a lot of questions and many times our married friends forget all too quickly just how difficult this can be to navigate through. I hope I manage to lead you to God through this book in a way where you can hear what He says about your singleness. There is a way. The Bible does address this, and very practically. My prayer is that you will see that God has a special place in his heart for you, and that you will truly find He is the greatest treasure you could ever want.

Keen for the book?
Get it from Amazon at $4.49

,

Your Single Happiness is here!

YourSingleHappinessheader

Your Single Happiness, a new book of an old book of mine, has released! I’m very excited to be releasing this book!

So what do I mean by “a new book of an old book”? In 2004 I was tired of “having tried everything” and still being single. For most of my life I battled with self-worth issues, while being absolutely fascinated with girls and romance. But my dreams and hopes of being married at the age of 24 had, by now, been shattered too many times, and I was over it.

This was augmented by a very popular but over-idealistic view of dating, which had influenced large parts of the church, including my own church. It’s still around today. The idea goes like this: that you shouldn’t date unless you know you’re going to marry that person. You can find this sort of thinking in various guises and forms today, and I had bought into it completely.

But in the end I only found myself more confused about God and his love for me, since none of the legalistic methods of dating, despite a plethora of promises, actually worked.

God had to take me on a very personal journey that changed my approach to my relationship with Him and my life, and it was in this journey that I found a love for theology. After much study and seeing what I believe the Bible really says about singleness, I realised there wasn’t a book on the subject that provided a comprehensive theology. This has not changed. All the Christian books I’ve encountered on singleness only cover principles and guidelines for dating, or use the Bible loosely to prove a particular teaching. There’s very little that goes to the heart of the matter, dealing only with outward behaviour instead of really asking hard questions about God, ourselves, and romance itself!

After a long time of struggle and searching I eventually wrote a book, to chronicle all that I discovered. I called it Single and published it in 2005. One couple I know actually attribute the book for being the catalyst for them getting married! But some years later I stopped producing it because it needed major editing.

I still receive many requests for it, though, and finally decided in 2014, as a kind-of ten year anniversary for the book, to finish the editing. The result is Your Single Happiness. Even though I’m now married, I didn’t change the original thoughts in the book, because I still think they were valid, and too many books about singleness are written from the vantage point of someone who is married! But I’ve edited the verboseness of the book – in ten years, I’ve learned to write things better.

Can we be happy when we’re single? How much is marriage our decision and our effort, and how much do we leave up to God to decide? And what the heck do we do about staying pure during the wait? Your Single Happiness looks to answer these questions and more.

I feel the book is highly relevant for single people today, especially because of the very positive feedback I receive from people who have read it. Your Single Happiness is the book I was looking for when I was single, and I believe it is the book many others are also looking for today.

Keen? Well,
get it from Amazon at $4.49

Lauren Beukes on getting a literary agent in South Africa

Lauren_Beukes

Yesterday I managed to get to ask Lauren Beukes, South African author of The Shining Girls (The BFS August Derleth Best Horror, The Strand Magazine Critics Choice Award, and the University of Johannesburg Prize), Zoo City (won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2011) and her latest, Broken Monsters, a question which I’ve been meaning to ask someone like her for ages: How do you get a good literary agent in South Africa?

Especially as an author of speculative fiction / supernatural thrillers etc. This is because these aren’t genres local publishers care about. The market is too small for them, apparently. Even Beukes’ local publisher doesn’t accept manuscripts in these genres.

Her answer? Pretty much what I expected:

“Phew, that’s a big question. You need an overseas agent who is based in London or New York where publishing lives. You need a finished book that you’ve polished and polished and polished to send out to agents. There are lots of online resources on how to get an agent and how to query an agent. If this is something you really want, keep at it. Make it happen. Going to international cons is amazing for networking and I’d highly recommend it (that’s how I got my first comics gig from a chance encounter with Bill Willingham and he only came to my reading cos he felt sorry for me cos I was so nervous) and it’s possible to do on a severe budget by sharing accommodation, nicking muffins from the hotel breakfast buffet for later (bad etiquette, I know, but I was crazy super broke) or eating instant noodles, but getting an agent is about amazing writing and a great story, well told. In the end, that’s what really matters.

In other words: you don’t. I don’t know if that’s anyone’s fault, but what I do know is that it’s always made me feel very frustrated. But at any rate, one thing’s for sure, she’s right about polishing and polishing your book. Self-publishing is great, but in my opinion, you can’t do this alone forever.

Beukes also answered several other questions on her work at a Reddit AMA.

, , ,

My writing goals for the next twelve months

Treasure_Island-Scribner's-1911

Hitting deadlines as a writer isn’t always easy. I was supposed to finish my supernatural thriller The Butcher’s Shadow by June this year, after which I was going to pick up writing the sequel to my fantasy book When Twins War. Neither of those happened, because we writers tend to get easily distracted. I picked up the work on my forthcoming book on sin and holiness, Holy Sin, which I’ve managed to finish but still need to edit. I also got distracted with revising my first proper book, Single (which I wrote in 2004) after someone asked me for a copy and I was a bit embarrassed to give them the original!

But those of you who were enjoying the weekly updates of The Butcher’s Shadow serial are asking (and wondering) “What happened? Are we ever going to see what the heck happens?” The answer is yes. With renewed vigour and inspiration, here are my plans for the next twelve months in writing:

1. Finish The Butcher’s Shadow (due the end of this year)

There’s still a killer on the loose! And things are starting to look weirder and weirder for Shakes. So let’s wrap this case up by year-end, shall we? Read the first nine chapters if you haven’t!

2. Finish my complete revision of my book Single within the next month.

I’m almost there. I’ve thus far managed to edit down the original manuscript from 90,000 words to 58,000 words! My goal is to edit it down to 50,000 or less words. It’s amazing how I’ve learned, since 2004, to say things more clearly! The original work is ultra-verbose.

As its title suggest, Single (I might give it a new title) is about how to enjoy your singleness as a Christian. Marriage isn’t the be-all and end-all of our existence! I’m also going to look for a publisher for this book.

3. Finish my book Holy Sin within the next three months

“Holiness for losers, washouts, and other people who don’t cut it.” That’s the subtitle for this book and it pretty much sums it up. All that’s left for this one is an edit and then a perusal by pastors and those I respect to give me honest feedback and their theological concerns. I’m also going to look for a publisher for this one.

4. Begin writing my next instalment in The Rise of the Kings (and finish next year)

It’s high-time I write the sequel to When Twins War and get busy with my five-book fantasy series. This is a series I’ve been working on since I was a kid – and it needs to come to life!


When Twins War - The First Prelude to The Rise of the Kings

With a rich and layered fantasy world akin to the classics, When Twins War mingles traditional Western fantasy with middle-eastern adventure and African folklore. It’s something of a mix between The Lord of the Rings and Arabian Nights, with an African edge.


Buy this on Selz
Sell digital downloads on Selz


5. Begin planning for a sequel to Treasure Island (still in concept stages)

Yes, that’s right – a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island. Since I became a fan of Monkey Island when I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to write a piratey tale. I’m thinking of bringing a supernatural twist to it. That might make some fans of the original upset, but it might make some others interested! We’ll see. One thing that Stevenson’s tale always lacked, in my opinion, was a good ole ghost ship!

Will I manage?

Well, it’s good to set goals. These aren’t impossible. When I consider how much writing I’ve actually done this year (ghostwriting for clients; collaborative writing for Cornerstone Church’s resources) this is possible. But motivation is always another story – especially during Winter! Now that it’s Summer, things are rather different!

,

Why I closed my Elance profile and you should too

elance

Yesterday I finally closed my Elance account and asked them to delete my profile. They say they’ll close it in the next billing cycle, so it’ll take a month for it to be deleted from the Internet – hopefully for good.

For writers like me, online bidding sites like Elance are a waste of time. In June last year I wrote about my experience with Elance and why the system just doesn’t work for me. I know I’m not the only one. Almost a year later, the company has bought out oDesk, arguably its biggest competition, and this makes them huge – but the market there is one where bargain-bin hunters hound professionals to provide them Pulitzer Prize quality work for the same price as a couple of cokes and a packet of chips.

I’m not even exaggerating. I was once invited to bid on a job where the client wanted to pay $20 for a 50,000 word novel. What shocked me was people actually bid on the job! What are they doing?

I left my profile open for a while because I did garner a few clients. Only one paid me a decent price for several articles. The others didn’t pay well at all (but admittedly were better than most of the work there) but I did the work for them to test a theory I often hear about Elance – that if you build a good profile and get good reviews, the decent paying clients will come.

Frankly, I don’t believe this for a second. The amount of time you spend doing the cheap jobs so that you can move into some bracket of decent-paying jobs can be better spent marketing yourself the old school way and actually writing and querying publications. Furthermore, I don’t think there really is a decent paying market on Elance – at least not a consistent one. Practically every job I bid on was badly priced, with only a few exceptions. The highest paying ghostwriting project I did bid on – and almost won – was offered at just a little lower than a decent ghostwriting rate. I lost the bid because the guy who won underbid me (surprise, surprise) and claimed that he was a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter. I checked out his profile and his stuff was pretty good. But I couldn’t help but wonder why, if this was the case, he was bidding on jobs at Elance – and for the price he undercut me for, too.

Decently priced jobs are honestly so few and far between that the time you invest to find them and bid on them (and then often re-bid when the client asks you to provide some speculative work) is not worth it. Why bother building a decent Elance profile if you can rather build a good profile with real people in your own city, through relationships, word-of-mouth, cold calling and a decent website?

The Elance online freelance model, despite the hype, actually doesn’t work near as well as it (a) could or (b) claims to work. Your time is better spent getting business the old school way. My suggestion to any writer these days is avoid Elance. If you’re starting out, rather build a portfolio through volunteer work – say, the local newspaper or your dad’s company. Real relationships and real people. Freelancing through online sites seems like an easy way to get things done but it’s more of a pain in the butt – one that will always be a pain to you if you invest in it – than the old way of getting things done.

My opinion of the site is so bad that I am going to insist that every trace of me on that site will not be found by search engines because being there just makes me look cheap and desperate. I think a writer ought to think about that. Don’t waste your time or ruin your reputation.

, ,

The Harbinger: Really?

the-harbinger

the-harbinger-book Recently I was checking out some books at Amazon.com under “Christianity” and I saw that The Harbinger from Jonathan Cahn is selling extremely well. Having seen an advert from somewhere on it before, I thought I’d check out what the fuss was all about. It’s getting great reviews on Amazon as well.

After reading the blurb of the book I was left dumbfounded. All I could say was, “Really?” Here’s what it’s about:

“Before its end as a nation, there appeared in ancient Israel nine specific warnings and omens of national destruction – These same nine Harbingers are now manifesting in America with profound ramifications for America’s future and end-time prophecy.

“Hidden in an ancient biblical prophecy from Isaiah, the mysteries revealed in The Harbinger are so precise that they foretell recent American events down to the exact days… the 3,000-year-old mystery that revealed the exact date of the stock market collapse of 2008… the ancient prophecy that was proclaimed from the floor of the US Senate and then came true…and more. The revelations are so specific that even the most hardened skeptic will find it hard to put down. Though it sounds like the plot of a Hollywood thriller – IT’S REAL.”

I wondered – is this actually fiction and listed in the wrong area? No, it’s not fiction. It’s even got a study guide.

Now I’ve been around and I’m quite aware that many Christians believe that America is some chosen nation of God.  This dates back to some of the Puritan founders. I’m also aware that this sort of thing is nothing new. But what strikes me as dumbfounding is the sheer “mainstreaminess” of it all. Are there really so many Christians out there who have no clue about the Bible that they’ll believe this sort of thing? Why on earth is a book that’s so blatantly non-Biblical so popular and why are so many people in the review section praising it and calling it a good interpretation of scripture?

Here’s what one reviewer said:

“The word of God is faultless,as this book proves… who other than our Father could bring it to pass. Out of the mouths of mere men… amazing download direct from the Spirit.”

That shows me that way too many Christians have lost their way and, rather than really reading the Bible, they’re just going with whatever is popular and whatever is being marketed well. I have no doubt that local publishers will market this book as well and local magazines will give it coverage. I’ve no doubt that many South African Christians will believe it, too. I think that the rest of us, however, can’t ignore this sort of thing – we have to at least make sure that we’re open about why we think this is nonsense and we need to educate our people in our churches about why they shouldn’t believe this sort of thing. Because otherwise the media will educate them and all the media are really about, and I mean the Christian media here too, is making some bucks out of this kind of thing. Truth is unfortunately not on the forefront of why they publish anything.

, ,

Why I’ve Set up a Donation / Subscriber Paywall on my Blog

handstypewriter

You might notice that I now have set up a donation / subscriber “paywall” on my blog. If you visit regularly enough, a message will pop up from time to time asking you to donate and subscribe. If you do, the messages won’t pop up again for your subscription’s time-frame.

This is a ‘donation’ paywall, meaning I’m not restricting you to any content in any way, I’m just asking you to subscribe at a cost if you want. By subscribing you will also receive a weekly Kindle periodical (delivered to your Kindle direct or to any other email you choose) that includes all my content for the week and free eBooks from time to time as they are made available, plus various other goodies when they become available.

So why have I done this?

1. I want to write more

Simply put, I want to write more on my blog, but I’m finding it hard to do that when the blog isn’t bringing in any liveable income. I started blogging in 2007 when I was still single and beginning my full-time writing career. I’m now in my 30’s with a family and have all the usual pressures that come with that. I don’t want to post only now and then, or lay it down entirely, because I know it’s been a very fruitful platform for many people. (I’ve received many emails from people who enjoy it and are encouraged through it).

I want to write more and there is, quite frankly, no support at all for Christian writers in South Africa. Publishers aren’t interested in investing in anyone who doesn’t have a large platform. Local publishers will rather distribute overseas writers – and even then, on a global scale, publishers are more keen on publishing writers with a public speaking ministry or who pastor big churches. Our local publications (magazines etc.), of which I can count on one hand, are not only unable to pay for content (and they insist on exclusive content, besides not being able to pay) but I generally don’t fit into their editorial needs. To put it bluntly, I find most of them shallow.

2. Someone has to do it

Moving from the point of payment above, writing has become a rather cheap trade these days, and this is not a good thing. This is because people believe that content should be free, in many cases, and on the other end, content has become – from a business perspective – nothing more than a way to get a good ranking on search engines. The actual content of content doesn’t matter, what matters is clicks to your website. So quality is no longer important, quantity has become important.

This is why, since I’ve put my writing business back into the market (after I quit my editorial job at Do Gaming), I’ve had a lot of potential clients offering to pay me anything from $1 to $5 per 500 words. I don’t just mean at places like Elance, but I’ve even received Facebook messages and emails from clients offering to pay those rates.

These are what we call “content mills” – they’re simply cluttering the Internet full of content, using search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques (this is about getting you a good ranking with search engines) to get you to visit their website, and as a result they can sell advertising or something else on the site. Advertising on the Internet isn’t very big business (at least, not most of the time) but it does present residual income opportunities, which is why content mills do what they do. An example of this kind of company is Demand Media, and this form of business is not sustainable for writers or for buyers. I believe its days can be numbered if writers stop working for nothing.

SEO firms are sometimes, but not always, a little better with their payment. If the SEO company is selling to bigger corporations, that is. Here they will hire you to write interviews or articles about a given topic, and often that content will go on their various partner websites, providing links to their client. (The more links you have to your website, the better ranking you get on Google.)

When writers started cottoning onto the Internet there was a lot of opportunity – companies needed our skills to create websites and blog for them, and publications needed to up the amount of content they could publish. But the need for quantity has now gone too far. Many businesses will just hire cheap overseas writers because they actually don’t know what good content looks like (and what good content can do) and frankly don’t care, because the numbers are what’s important. Writers and journalists are increasingly under pressure to sustain themselves through churnalism and hack writing. When you’re young and starting out, you can do that under the banner of “you’ve got to start somewhere.” But it’s not a sustainable career and when you get to my age, you can’t do that anymore.

As a writer I need to make a stand that I hope other writers will follow suite. Indeed, since thinking about this and doing research, I’ve found many bloggers are starting to institute hard paywalls on their sites. Andrew Sullivan is one such blogger. (I don’t follow Sullivan, I’m just pointing it out.) In July, he had over 27,000 subscribers, which means many people aren’t convinced that writers should do what they do with no real compensation.

3. Good writing has never been free

The Internet has made many things free and we all generally feel that it should be free. When the New York Times began experimenting with paywalls, many criticised their reasons for doing so. The reality is, all that journalism comes at a cost and you either sacrifice quality and move into churnalism (just basically publishing press releases), or you downgrade your whole operation, or you ask people to pay.

Paying for good writing has never been a contentious issue before. I know people like Martin Luther and John Wesley handed out free tracts for the Gospel in their day (blogging in the old days, essentially) but that would all be sponsored by some or other benefactor(s). Insisting that publications and writers constantly give out what they do for free is certainly a kind of abuse. I think that this needs to change and writers need to start saying, “Guys, this is honestly abusive.”

I don’t pirate music or movies for the same reason that I think we should all begin to pay for more on the Internet. I don’t mean to say I think anyone is deliberately abusing others (except in the case of those who try and circumvent paywalls at websites – that’s abuse no matter how you look at it). But I do think that if this culture is not challenged then abuses will continue.

4. I don’t want to advertise

Advertising ruins a website, creates noise, and takes time to get right. Sure, I can put up Google Adwords and that is easy enough (I’ve done this before) and then you have to be subjected to Madame Crystal offering you a free tarot reading every time you visit. Otherwise, I can approach local advertisers and I’ll be forced to often put up adverts of events / books etc. that I would never recommend. Plus, finding advertisers and keeping them happy (with stats reporting etc.) takes time – time I want to give to writing.

The future of publishing

Jeff_Bezos_iconic_laugh

Jeff Bezos

Recently, Jeff Bezos (who owns Amazon.com) bought The Washington Post and this says, to me, that he has something up his sleeve when it comes to the Kindle as a news device. He has mentioned in several places that people will pay for “packaged” content. I think he’s right. As the Internet becomes more noisy and the distribution platforms increase even more (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest… the list continues) I find myself wanting to simplify my content consumption. I’m picking just a few platforms I like and picking mediums that take me away from distractions, like my Kindle. Websites with thousands of comments, adverts everywhere, and other news items begging for me to click them is starting to take needed hours from my day and, quite frankly, tiring me out. I want to read informative news and opinion on my Kindle more and more, because at least here there are less distractions. (I like the Kindle over a newspaper because I don’t have to struggle with all that folding!)

That’s why I’m offering a weekly delivery of my blog posts on Kindle.

It’s also why I’m starting a new project

All the above is why I’m starting a new project where I want to create opportunities for bloggers – particularly local bloggers – as best as I can. I’ll be releasing details of this soon, but in the meantime,  I’d love to hear what you think of all the above. So drop a comment or two below.

Oh, and don’t forget, you can subscribe here.

,

Freelancing as a Writer in South Africa

Another_typewriter

Another_typewriter

Recently, I interviewed a business owner in America who does pretty much what I do – ghostwriting, copywriting, journalism, SEO and so on. She was surprised to hear I was from South Africa and I was equally surprised to hear her mention that she had several great clients from South Africa. It made me wonder, why did those clients not look for a freelance writer in South Africa? Why did they choose an overseas service provider instead?

She’s very good at what she does and those clients have made a great choice by hiring her. But I couldn’t somehow feel that the reason why they didn’t hire someone locally is because they couldn’t actually find them. Or, at least, they couldn’t find someone who actually knew what they were doing.

Then I thought about my own business. Most of my freelance writing clients, at the moment, are from the U.S. These clients are in the media and communications industries, and I wonder if I’m sometimes writing for clients of theirs who are actually based in South Africa! It seems strange for the work to go out of the country only to come back in, but this is very possible.

This has made me think about the way South Africans use the Internet and, even more, how ineffectively businesses are using it. One of my U.S. clients are an SEO content company who have an SEO strategy for clients that really, really works. As a result, they’ve got some pretty big clients! Sitting in meetings with them over Skype I’ve realised that the difference between how the U.S. makes the Internet work for business compared to South Africa is huge!

As a result, even when you do a Google search on google.co.za, you often find overseas businesses popping up first (unless you search for a business or individual’s name). I don’t know how much google.co.za is supposed to find local business, but it certainly does present more local results than google.com. The only time you really get a completely local result, however, is if you tell it to only search for pages in South Africa – but most people don’t know how to do this.

I’ve often looked for writing jobs on the Internet at South African sites but there’s not much to choose from. A site like Gumtree occasionally has work but it always leads to a dead end – you email the client through the system but only get silence in return. As a result, freelance writing in South Africa is more about competing with overseas writers than local writers. That’s the global market, but I think there’s lots of South African talent who can really help South African companies with their Internet presence; or truly help South African individuals with writing their book. We’re just more about networking the old fashioned way than the new way, perhaps.

,

What is Copywriting?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Copywriting” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days and many times people are a little confused about what it is they’re actually looking for when they’re looking for a copywriter. They may be looking for someone who works in advertising or they may actually be looking for a content writer for their website or marketing needs. The term ghostwriter has also become quite broad these days, especially with the emergence of the web.

All “copywriting” really refers to is the act of writing copy (text) for the express purpose of advertising and marketing a product. It’s “copy” because it’s not something that gets attributed to anyone. You don’t get a brochure and then see a little author bio at the bottom! Or “by Ryan Peter” at the top! It’s not journalism!

Copywriters work in different fields, however, and as a result do different things. A copywriter at an advertising agency is usually involved in coming up with clever slogans or taglines, or perhaps even the lyrics for a jingle. Copywriters in marketing, however, may be tasked to create content for the web (a company’s website) or for promotions (emails, radio or TV commercial scripts, sales letters, media pages and so on). The line here gets a bit blurred between public relations (PR) agencies who usually do the same sort of thing, although PR’s roots are in journalism. The basic idea with PR was that a PR agency would use a journalist to interview their client or come up with a story angle that would be fed to the press and therefore get the company into the newspapers or magazines. This is a press release. The press can use the copy outright or just use the info in the copy, it’s entirely at the liberty of the publication.

But these days PR is now heavily involved in social media and online marketing, meaning it writes copy for companies for their websites, campaigns and so on. It’s not just writing news pieces but doing the whole shebang. This is why copywriters have become something of a mixed bag. Your copywriter is now creating Facebook posts and Tweets and is also hired to manage those social media pages, which means they now interact with the company’s clientèle, something which would probably have never happened before. Copywriters are also now being used to write PR and blog posts for a client, to increase their search engine optimisation (SEO) on the Internet. (This means that people can find a company more easily on the Internet.)

Because a great deal of online marketing is also now about writing good content with blogs and so on, ghostwriting has become a bit blurred with copywriting. Many popular blogs are actually written and run by ghostwriters, even though the blog claims to be the work of a particular individual. Experts in their field find they don’t always have the time to write, so they’ll hire ghostwriters to do that for them. (It’s still the expert’s thoughts and insights, it’s just that someone else is spending the time doing the actual writing). Ghostwriters in this field need to have some journalism skills so they can understand what the expert is about and the expert’s topic, which may be quite technical.

And there we have it. My core business is ghostwriting, but I call myself a copywriter as well because that’s where I started and I still do a lot of that – writing content for clients’ websites and so on. Along the way, however, I’ve been heavily involved in journalism and PR. As you can see it’s all so mixed now that a writer needs to be able to do pretty much everything. The Internet has changed things in a big way! But, in many ways, we’ve actually just gone back to the way of the scribe, who in ancient times even used to do accounting for their clients!

,

Writing a Book Step Two: Brainstorming

Flipping_through_book

Flipping_through_book

I’ve had many people recently ask for help writing a book, so I’ve started this little blog series to outline the process. We’ve covered the first step. Here’s the second step for book writing.

Brainstorming

Sit down with a piece of paper or your iPad, or whatever it is you like to use to make notes, and start putting down everything that you know around the book’s topic and everything you would like to have in your book. Because you would have already established why you’re writing your book, you would have established a theme, purpose or the book’s main topic.

I mean everything. This doesn’t have to be ordered, it just needs to be recorded somewhere. If you’re writing fiction, begin putting down some ideas you have for characters, some scene ideas (more on this below), anything that pops into your head. Maybe you know what your main character is going to look like? Well, begin to put that on paper. Does he have a scar on his cheek? Well, add that. Then start thinking why he has this scar. Maybe his evil nemesis cut his cheek in a row when they were kids? Well, we’re starting to build this character and even a plot line for your book.

If you’re writing a non-fiction book, put down everything you know and every reference you can think of. You might have read a book that influenced you greatly in the topic. Write it down. Write down the chapter or passages that influenced you. Write down everything you know or would like to know – so everything you’re going to research. Put every insight, thought or question down that you can think of.

Questions are a big deal. With non-fiction books, you’re usually looking to answer someone’s questions in the topic you’re handling. Write down every question you have (or had) and every question someone might ask you. These questions (perhaps not all, but most of them) are the questions you’re going to be answering in your book.

Some people get frustrated here because they’ll say to themselves, “But how am I going to put these thoughts and ideas together?” or “How am I going to put all these scenes together?” Don’t worry about that now, all you’re doing is brainstorming your book and the sky is the limit at this stage.

For fiction

If you’re writing a fiction book, you want to brainstorm these specific ideas:

  •  Setting (A fantasy world? Chicago, 1938? An island? World War II?)
  • Main characters (What do they look like? What accent do they have? Are they married? Will they never get married? Etc.)
  • Scenes

Maybe you’ve got a vivid scene in your head where your main character is fighting a giant goat-headed eel that’s just appeared out of a sewer in New York. Well, jot this one down. But maybe it doesn’t relate to another scene you have where your hero is kissing his girl slo-mo on the edge of a building and in the background the whole city is tumbling to pieces. So what? Put them both down. There are two awesome ideas right there.

  • BASIC plot

You want some ideas as to your plot, but you don’t have to have everything sorted just yet. If all you have is, “A guy walks into a bar and is able to blow up bottles just by looking at them and frowning,” and you’ve got a couple of cool scenes where he’s going to be doing this, then just get your scenes down. We can start building the plot in more detail in the next phase.

Forget about what anyone else would think

The idea is to get as much down as possible. We can start to build bridges between your scenes and ideas once we get into the next step. But for now, write, write, write. You may even want to write a scene in detail. You want to feed the muse, as it were, and just go for it. It doesn’t matter what it sounds like. Don’t get bogged down with it sounding ‘stupid’ or ‘lame’! No one else is reading it! Get it down so you can understand it. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming, they say, and you’re brainstorming with yourself so who cares what anyone else thinks?

So, step one: Why are you writing a book?

Step two: Brainstorm your book.