Imagine you’re a 10-year-old boy…

Imagine waking up one morning, putting on a suit and tie (How many 10-year-old boys like that?), taking a seat inside a bullet-proof black SUV, arriving at a mammoth imposing structure amid controlled chaos, walking among tall bulky men in black suits packing guns in their holsters and stoic military personnel. You are the only child among hundreds of strangers, save for a precious few family.

Double doors swing open to a gray, damp day. There before this 10-year-old boy are hundreds of thousands of people. They are yelling, cheering, booing, and waving signs. Their faces and the words on the signs are indistinguishable. Cameras from all over the world zero in on him, some close enough to see the strands of his hair. A deep-voiced MC booms announcements and introductions. It’s dawning on him that he’s not just witnessing history, he’s a part of that history. And he probably knows—or will soon learn—that history often isn’t kind.

Wouldn’t you be a little out of your element? Wouldn’t you refrain from looking out over that throng? Wouldn’t you just hunker down around your family and try to blend into the staging like a chameleon?

Like this boy, I’m an introvert. At age 55 you’d think I’d have outgrown it. Nope. I don’t like to be the center of attention of more than 20 people. I hate public speaking. The idea of even one camera focused on me freaks me out! Heck, I got nerved up doing a phone interview with a young neighborhood newspaper reporter for an article on my novel. I worry about how the article will turn out and what people will think of me. I’m even a little nervous about my book-signings, but most likely I’ll relax and enjoy them and the people I’ll interact with.

That 10-year-old boy relaxed just a smidgen once he adjusted to the overwhelming spectacle. He played peek-a-boo with his baby nephew as cameras rolled and clicked. He smiled a genuine smile and waved as he walked along a parade route. And, being a boy, he seemed particularly pleased with a dozen gargantuan tractors that lumbered slowly past him.

The name of that 10-year is not needed here. As so many people have pleaded, let that kid be a kid and leave him alone. Let him grow up in as much peace and encouragement as possible so he can determine who he wants to be. And accept the fact that he may always be an introvert.





Author’s photo: Awkward but necessary

They warned me about this. I’ve heard the mantra repeatedly: Marketing your book is as much work as writing it. Gulp. They said it’s a full-time job, but not the 9-5, M-F type. Oh, great. They said it’s a foreign experience to writers, usually introverts, who shiver at the thought of putting themselves “out there.” Ya think? They said if you don’t know sales: LEARN. Heavy sigh.

Who are “they” making all these declarations? Authors who are neck-deep in marketing and have learned the cold hard truth, that’s who. I actually have a wee bit of experience in the overwhelming world of marketing: I worked in the industry for a few years. But marketing my novel is a lot different than pitching higher education or parks and rec. And the big difference, at least for me, is my photo.

Last fall, a good friend and professional photographer put me in front of a sophisticated digital camera at local park. I felt awkward (OK, stupid) being the focus of the camera lens in such a public space. I wasn’t a high school senior, gorgeous bride, or dressed for the prom. It wasn’t a family Christmas photo with adorable kids. My picture was for the back cover of the book, and marketing online and in print.

Now my photo (which turned out pretty good thanks to photog Brian Tanning and make-up tips from my cousin Denise Studer) is spreading across the internet. On one hand, good. It’s all part of the marketing dance—my brand. But on the other hand, ug. I’ve been featured in several blogs in recent weeks and I’m getting tired of seeing me smiling at me from the monitor. And the photo is usually so big! Why can’t it be the size of the thumbnail in the high school yearbook? Why can’t it be at the bottom of the blog?low-res-author-photo

But it could be so much worse: The photo isn’t a selfie, from my driver’s license, or a mug shot.

My Titanic Obsession

Those people who know me won’t be surprised by this blog. I’ve had a fascination with the Titanic since news broke in the 1980s that the ill-fated unsinkable ship had been found in pieces at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Over the next 30 years, I’ve amassed books, articles, magazines, and even replica china from the First Class dining room. I’ve watched movies and documentaries—including the one with Kate and Leo. I’ve seen three exhibits and been a witness to the sounding of the ship’s whistle when it stopped in St. Paul in 1999.

Naturally, when I heard the news this week that a fire may have contributed to the ship’s demise I was intrigued. I surfed online articles for more details; there are dozens, some reputable news sources, some anything but.

I landed on an article dated January 5, 2017, in the Smithsonian Magazine so I figured this must be a legit claim. The hypothesis is a fire in the coal bunkers—a three-story-tall room that stored much of the coal that fueled the ship’s engines—may have been burning for three weeks prior to setting out on its maiden voyage. The fire was ignored for fear of bad press and the desire to keep the ship on schedule. Such a fire could have weakened the steel so that when the ship hit the iceberg on the starboard side, the steel crumpled.

titanic_leavingI looked closely at a vintage photo that for a telltale 30-foot-long black streak on the side of the ship. Yes, there’s a black streak.

Oh, oh. I feel it: The rebirth of my obsession! Time to get out my books to revisit and research the tragedy. Time to view the movies again. Time to surf the Web about this latest claim and the rebuttals that are already emerging. Time to mark my calendar for the Jan. 21 documentary, “Titanic: The New Evidence” on the Smithsonian Channel.

In other words, don’t disturb me that night!

The speed of time

2017-artThis is the cliché blog of all cliché blogs: A salute to the New Year!

In my office are a stack of 2017 calendars with empty squares. They’re freebies from businesses: an insurance company, a truck dealership, our accounting firm. My new day-planner has clean crisp pages. I have a list of birthdays, standing deadlines, and memory joggers to populate the pages.

But what memory jogger is there for writing the current year on checks? And I don’t mean just during those first weeks of a new year. Heck, just the other day I dated a check for 2014!

I figure those memory burps are because the older you get the faster the years fly by so it’s difficult to keep track of them. I’ve begun grouping the years into decades because I’m not sure of thea specific years of events, such as when two of my cousins got married (mid-80s), when I went to the Black Hills (early ‘90s) or when the U of M men’s hockey team won back-to-back NCAA titles (early 2000s).

My dad pointed out once that the 13 years we spend in school drag on and on, but after that the decades fly by. The flight began during college. One minute I was a home-sick freshman and the next I was graduating. A decade as a newspaper editor in Iowa whizzed by. I spent almost 12 years working at Northwestern College; I’ve been gone another 12 years. Now, as Frank and I near our 24th wedding anniversary in April, those years have become a blur on the timeline.

Speaking of timelines, Facebook recently pulled up a “Years Ago” post highlighting a photo from 2000. I teared up seeing my granddaughters with their baby faces and pigtails. So, TCF Bank, if one of my checks for 2017 is dated 2015, blame it on the speed of time.

The Discern Products Approach to Publishing

NOTE: This is the publisher of “Embracing Hope.”

The primary goal of Discern Products is to spread the gospel through service to authors promoting the message of Jesus. This traditional publishing service relieves authors of most of the business-related burdens of publishing, freeing them to concentrate on writing and promoting their work.

Authors face several problems when dealing with traditional publishers. These include difficulties in getting a manuscript evaluated and accepted, the time involved in getting their book to market, the loss of control over the final product and the publisher keeping most of the revenue. The Discern Products model addresses these issues, while still producing a professional product.

Problems with traditional publishing lead many authors to self-publish. In doing so, they face a complex maze of service providers. And there are legal issues to be considered as outlined in attorney Helen Sedwick’s 202-page book, The Self-Publishers Legal Handbook. The industry keeps changing and so a self-publishing author needs to keep up with the changes. Finally, it is more difficult to promote your work if it is self-published.

A third alternative is hybrid publishing, whereby the author pays some or all the costs and the publisher still receives a share of the sales revenue. Often, the author ends up paying hidden costs. The largest hybrid publishers spend heavily on sales and marketing and these costs flow to the author. Further, the quality of the work is of concern with some hybrid publishers. There are many hybrid publishers, both large and small. Any generalization does not apply to all of them. The time an author should spend in evaluating which hybrid publisher to use is not trivial.

To address the publishing problems that Christian authors face, here is the Discern Products approach:

Manuscript Evaluation
Authors put considerable time into submitting their work. Discern Products recognizes this and is committed to a proper evaluation, a prompt reply and giving the reasons in the event of declining to publish. This approach is contrary to industry practice. Discern Products will work with agents, but does not require authors to have one.

Advance Payments
As a traditional publisher, Discern Products pays a modest advance to authors. It does not follow the business model of paying a large advance and then keeping most of the revenue from book sales.

It is now the industry standard that copyright is retained by the author. An author should consider it a red flag when a publisher markets copyright retention as a significant reason to sign with them. Further, copyright is automatic and there is no need to submit a government filing for copyright protection.

While Amazon/Createspace will provide a free International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for self-published authors, this approach limits the sale of books through other companies. Discern Products issues their own ISBN’s for both print and e-books to maintain flexibility. The cost for a US self-publishing author to purchase a single ISBN is $100 and it is less expensive if multiple ISBNs are purchased at one time.

Cataloguing-in-publication is the complex information found on the copyright page of some books. It is a government-operated program that requires a publisher to send in details about the book and the author. Discern Products includes cataloguing-in-publication data so that libraries can purchase the book, with the added advantage that it makes the book look more professional.

Editorial Review
All authors require an editor. If extensive editing is needed, Discern Products will generally encourage the author to find a third-party editor. All books that it publishes will also have an in-house editorial review to ensure quality standards are met. As well, books will be reviewed to confirm that they are consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

Interior Book Design
Discern Products designs the interior of the book to ensure professional quality. This includes details such as fonts, margins, spacing, gutter margins, widows and orphans, headers and front matter. The author will have options regarding interior design as long as it is in keeping with professional standards.

Front Cover
Discern Products is associated with international experts to design a cover that presents that important first impression. It breaks with most traditional and hybrid publishers by allowing the author to be actively involved in decisions regarding the front cover design.

Back Cover
The back cover offers key information for marketing and sales. Discern Products works with the author to make this an effective platform, as well as ensuring a professional layout that is integrated with the front cover.

Preparation of Cover Files
Book printers vary in their cover file requirements in areas such as spine width, bleed and trim marks. Discern Products will use the print-on-demand services of Amazon and Ingram as well as a traditional printer for a successful book, which requires producing more than one cover file.

While e-book sales have shown a small decline over the past two years, they remain an important part of the industry. A June 17, 2016 report in Publishers Weekly stated 32.4% of book sales are e-books.

It is easy to create an e-book using online tools, but a simple conversion produces many quality issues. Items that play an important role in the interior design of a print book, such as drop caps, line spacing and section breaks will not translate well for some e-book reading devices. A professionally designed e-book requires the same level of care and effort as a professionally designed print book.

The industry standard for e-books is the EPUB format, but Amazon uses MOBI files instead. There are differences in the e-book creation. For instance, MOBI generates a table of contents from the Microsoft Word table of contents links while EPUB requires the creation of hyperlinks. Discern Products creates professionally designed e-books in both formats and lists e-books through Barnes & Noble, iStore and Kobo as well as Amazon Kindle.

Review Copies
Discern Products wants to ensure that the author is fully satisfied with its work before the book is released. Both print and electronic versions of the book are sent to the author for final review.

Author Copies for Sale
The mark-up on author copies is the largest hidden cost in the publishing industry. Some publishers even require authors to purchase a large number of books to increase their revenue. It is fair for a publisher to charge something for their work when author copies are ordered, especially for a traditional publisher that is paying all the costs. Authors should consider this cost in their decision on whether to hire a publisher or to self-publish.

For a self-published author, the cost to print a quality 150-page 6 by 9 book through Amazon Createspace is $2.65. In comparison, the website of hybrid publisher Dog Ear Publishing discusses how their charge for the 150-page book of $4.28 is much lower than their competition. They claim their major hybrid competitors charge: Outskirts Press $6.37, Infinity $6.45, Trafford Publishing $6.74, Wheatmark Book Publishers $6.78, Wordclay $7.31, Lulu $7.41, iUniverse $7.67, Author House $7.82, Book Surge $7.98, Xulon Press $8.39, Xlibris $13.99 and Publish America $15.16. And sometimes the quality of the printing that is delivered is questionable.

Discern Products charges 10% of the retail price plus printing costs for author copies. In the above example, if the book retails for $9.99, Discern products would charge $3.65 per book. This is substantially less than the cost charged by both traditional and hybrid publishers.

Set-up and Promotion with Online Booksellers
Amazon is the dominate player in online bookselling so preparing the Amazon individual book page is an important part of the publishing process. This includes technical aspects such as keywords and BISAC codes plus submitting editorial reviews for special Amazon approval. Discern Products also makes sure the e-books are listed on Barnes and Noble, iStore and Kobo.

Distribution to Bookstores
The big five major publishers along with most other publishers use Ingram for distribution to the traditional bookstores. Their distribution arm for Christian books is Spring Arbor. So, it is somewhat misleading for a publisher to claim access to 25,000 or 40,000 booksellers when it is actually one account.

Distribution to bookstores and getting on the shelves are quite different. Bookstores are simply unwilling to stock most books because of the limited shelf space. Further, when a bookstore takes a book it is on consignment and there is a cost for books that are returned.

Government Regulations
Discern Products ensures the legal requirements of publishing are met such as legal deposit.

Revenue Sharing from Booksellers
Discern Products pays significantly higher royalties than industry standards. This is intended to help spread the gospel message and provide more resources for authors to do so.

Sales Tracking and Royalty Payments
Authors are frustrated by the standard industry delay in getting paid for books that have been sold. Most of this delay comes from the booksellers, but some publishers are also slow. Discern Products reports monthly sales within 20 days from month end and sends quarterly payments.

Marketing Support
Publishers sometimes promise or imply significant marketing support, but the industry no longer works that way. To be successful in selling books, authors must develop their own brands. Hybrid publishers who charge extra for marketing services often do not deliver good value for the money spent.

Discern Products has been successful in helping authors through general advice and by making connections for authors. However, it does not create false expectations.

Provision of Files
Discern Products breaks with industry standards by providing the final software files to the author for both the print and e-book versions. It does so in a spirit of trust that the author will not attempt to undercut Discern Products’ share of the revenue.

The author may terminate the publishing agreement without cause with 10 days written notice without penalty. Discern Products simply trusts that the author will be fair. Upon termination, the author may not use the Discern Products name, logo or the ISBN number issued in its name. If Discern Products wished to terminate an agreement, 60 days notice is provided to allow the author time to make other arrangements.

Allison reflects on Christmas in Mayberry

My mother and her parents live in Mayberry USA. Well, it’s not really Mayberry. But Prairie Ridge, Iowa, is close. The sheriff’s deputy, who resembles a sober Otis, lives down the block from my grandparents. Miss Lucille Appleton, a church secretary, is the town’s version of Aunt Bea. And the school is full of little Opies.

The light poles along the two-block main street in Prairie Ridge are adorned with giant old-fashioned—or just plain old—ornaments. Despite their age all the lights work, so I credit city employees for making sure there are no burned out or broken bulbs. The windows of the stores and businesses are adorned with coordinated displays featuring icicle lights in the windows and overhangs, wreaths on the doors and a Christmas tree with multi-colored lights in the windows. Christmas music is piped ovnativityer loudspeakers hanging on a few light poles.

Central Park displays the nativity built, rebuilt, re-rebuilt and re-re-rebuilt over the years from plywood and anchored by bales of hay. On Christmas Eve, the life-size plastic Mary and Joseph are replaced with the real thing, a young couple who volunteers to withstand whatever weather Iowa throws at them. They’re surrounded by sheep, a docile dairy cow and a donkey provided by neighboring farmers. Choirs from the school and four churches in town take turns performing from noon to 6 p.m.

My grandma’s routine at Christmas hasn’t changed in 50 years. We bake dozens of sugar cookies for the church’s Christmas caroling party the Saturday before Christmas. How I manage to not nibble on the cookies is a Christmas miracle. The frosting, however, is a different story. Grandma hangs Christmas cards on the refrigerator with tiny ornament magnets that must be 100 years old. The tree—a real one from the Boy Scout tree farm—sits in front of the small picture window in the living room. The ornaments, like the magnets on the fridge, are vintage, right down to the large bulbs. Grandma says the little twinkle lights everyone else uses are too ordinary. No tinsel, no garland—they’re too garish, she says.

After driving by the park’s nativity scene on Christmas Eve, we go to church for the candlelight service. It’s a quiet yet joyful service; about 75 people attend, most over age 50. The half dozen kids sing their off-key rendition of “Silent Night”, but it’s still special and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. At the end of the service everyone gets a small brown paper bag filled with an apple, orange, in-the-shell peanuts, Hershey Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and red and green spice gumdrops. When we took this tradition to our country church in Morris, Nebraska, when Dad was alive, he’d eat more Kisses than what he would put in the bags.

Grandma lets us open one Christmas present—which she picks out—before going to bed that night. Every year since we moved there after my dad died, the gift to both Mom and me has been matching flannel pajamas that Grandpa insists we wear to bed that night. He says the house is always too cold at night, but Grandma doesn’t want to run up the heating bill.

Christmas Day begins around 7 a.m. when Grandma puts on the coffee pot. I lounge around in bed until I smell the bacon. While Grandma usually serves just one thin strip of bacon, at Christmas she serves two. What indulgence! What bacon bliss! After the simple, sensible, yet thoughtful gifts have been opened, the women gather in the kitchen to work on Christmas dinner while Grandpa naps or reads the Prairie Ridge newspaper—again. Ham, scalloped potatoes, acorn squash soup, homemade yeast rolls, cherry pie and chocolate ice cream have become the standard menu, but that’s fine with me. I just gained 10 pounds thinking about that!

The rest of the day is a mix or chatter, eating and watching holiday-themed TV. That night, with all of us in our pajamas, Grandpa reads the Christmas story from Luke. I know most people think that’s a Christmas Eve tradition. But Grandpa says there’s too much “noise” on Christmas Eve to really hear the story. And he’s right. When all the presents are unwrapped and put away, the dishes are done (no dishwasher in this house!), and quiet has descended on us, the words of Luke 2 seep into our hearts.


May I have your autograph?

No one told me how arduous and exasperating signing autographs could be. If they had, I might have given second thought to writing a novel. Am I making a big deal out of nothing? In the big scheme of things, no.

But last night, as I sat on the couch with “The Andy Griffith Show” humming in the background, it was a big deal. My task was to sign three books—the first I have ever autographed. I had asked my cousin Denise earlier if I could use a name stamp, and she had simply replied. “Nope!” Shucks.

Obviously, my full name won’t do—I’d run out of ink and eventually misspell my last name. (I’ve done that a few times.) I found a helpful article online that said it’s wise to come up with a short and unique author’s name and signature that does not resemble your official signature.

Short is good. Janellwoj is my email and website, but my novel uses my maiden name as well so that may be confusing. JBW? Nope, there’s a JBW British racing car, a watch brand, and a needlework designer. How about JanellBW? Nothing on the internet. We have a winner!

Then came the sticky point: the signature. My handwriting is AWFUL. I write half cursive, half block, and, like snowflakes, all are different—and nowhere near the beauty of snowflakes. The signature flow is halting and uneven. I blame it on weakened hand and finger muscles caused by the “hunt and peck” of fingertip keyboarding. I have a touch screen laptop and phone, so I just lightly tap with my index finger. There’s no quick fix to this problem. I’ll just have to take my time because I can’t erase and start over, or throw it away and get a fresh book.

Also troublesome was a tagline: such as “Best wishes”, “God bless”, “Thanks for taking pity on a new author and buying my book”, etc. It, too should be short, yet I wanted it somewhat meaningful. I scribbled—literally—a few taglines onto paper, crossed most of them out; searched online for ideas, closed the browsers. Then it struck me! My book is about hope. I can integrate that and still keep it brief. So that’s where I stand. If you want to know what I settled on, buy the book and I’ll autograph it for you. Just don’t expect calligraphy.