Avoiding a House-of-Cards Kind of Faith

A personal reflection on what it means to “have faith”

David Hershey writes a blog that I like to follow. Some time ago he posted a blog in which he talked about a house-of-cards kind of faith. [Link] Below is a picture that this metaphor brings to mind.

Attribution:
By Merzperson at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2570936

The concept is quite simple: pull any card out of the house-of-cards and the whole structure will collapse.

A house-of-cards faith then is a long list of assertions one has to affirm as a Christ-Follower. If one becomes convinced that even one assertion is wrong, then all of the items in the list are wrong and confidence collapses like the house of cards in the image.

So How Does that Apply to Me?

I think there are two extremes underlying this discussion, both of which must be avoided. On the one hand is the view that no truths are important, but rather it is the sentiment or intention of faith that matters. A version of this would assert that even if everything I believe as a Christ-Follower is utterly false, but if I believe it, it calms my anxiety and improves my quality of life, then everything is okay. I believe this view is utterly false and it is always better to be on the side of truth even if the truth is unpleasant or even abhorrent. Truth is connected to reality.

The other extreme is the view that Christian Faith means believing the many, many things about Jesus, the Bible, theology, one’s denomination, and perhaps, even christian history. If even one of these elements of this affirmation list is proven wrong in the believer’s eyes, then the whole faith-edifice collapses.

I believe the reality of genuine Christian Faith is intermediate between these two extremes. There are critical, foundational assertions about Jesus (such as the fact of His resurrection, His incarnate nature, and His redeeming work), that if false, undermine our whole faith. These are the things that C. S. Lewis called “Mere Christianity.”

 

On top of these foundational truths, there is a whole superstructure of theology, that although important, is passionately debated by theologians and lay members of various denominations. Many disagree on these details and they cannot all be right. It is important to think through these assertions, but they do not carry the same weight as the foundational truths.

Some Final thoughts

So what are my personal take-aways from this discussion?

  1. In 2 Timothy 2:15, the Apostle Paul admonishes Timothy to be “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (ESV). The answer is not less study and discussion of the Bible but more. But I have to do the hard work to get it right.
  2. Ultimately I have to have the attitude of a Truth-Seeker.
  3. I need to be humble and understand that I can be wrong about things and change my mind.
  4. Finally, learn to distinguish foundational truths, from the theological superstructure.

The Saddest Thing I Ever Read …

I belong to an Indie Publishing Group on Goodreads. One topic of discussion focuses on writers that are ready to quit. Of course some comments on this thread are encouragements to go on. Others reinforce the idea of “hanging up your quill.” I like to interact with some of the comments. I’m going to respectfully disagree with some of the points made by the author of the quote below, but I want to disagree with the ideas and assertions but not in any way pillory the person, so I propose to call her Cacia. Here is the quote:

Unless you have an independent income and treat writing as an amusement (you can afford) the outlook is very grim. And generally without appeal.

The average earnings for ‘published’ writers with book deals, but no big publicity behind their print books is $12,000 pa

Want to feel really depressed? Go to ebook tracker on kindle nation daily and set up to track so-called all time ‘best sellers’. It will take you months to build up the stats but you will be sickened by how FEW sales are made on Amazon of print and/or ebooks

In the last 10 years the world is awash with so much ebook trash the authors can’t even give away.

As for freebies – people who buy free books ONLY buy free books. With the amount available on any given day you’d need ten lifetimes to read them all

Shysters will tell you building a following on social media will sell books. Total BS. All you do is cater to time wasters INSTEAD of writing

You need a reputable agent with years of industry contacts to get to publishers. With a ‘product’ those publishers will make the real money on – selling the ‘rights’ to Hollywood.

Your agent and publisher need to be convinced you have a few more books where the first came from. And you are ‘presentable’ to the media and public for publicity stunts and promotion.
And won’t become suicidal with ‘writer’s block’.

Stick with your day job.

The saddest thing I ever read was some hopeful saying she had 400 copies of her book sitting in her garage.

Don’t let that be you

Cacia begins with the statement:

Unless you have an independent income and treat writing as an amusement (you can afford) the outlook is very grim. And generally without appeal.

I don’t think the situation is nearly so binary. It’s true that starting out is difficult. Indeed, building any independent small business is tough and success is not guaranteed. Certainly making a fortune in writing is not guaranteed and not even probable, but that is not the point. As a writer one has to have a story or message to get out. Like all small businesses, one has to build the business, and for a time, one has to augment one’s income with other activities as one publishes books. Perhaps the books will never sell in sufficient quantities, but you are following a dream and, perhaps like me, you are writing books you had wished to read, but no one had bothered to write them yet.

To me the key question I ask is not “Am I making lots of money?” but rather: whatever method I am using to publish my books, I ask: “Is my publishing method scale-able?” In other words, if I wrote a book so exciting, so deeply moving, so beautiful that readers just had to share it with their friends (it hasn’t happened to me yet), could the publisher supply 100,000 books if the demand were there? If the answer is ‘no,’ and I only have the hard copy books that I have purchased and can sell personally, then I humbly suggest you, as a writer, have some work to do, since I think you can do better.

Cacia then goes on to say:

In the last 10 years the world is awash with so much ebook trash the authors can’t even give away.

This I think is true, since e-books are easy to publish. However, trash has always been out there going back to the “penny dreadfuls” (not the television series but the small, serialized books that sold for one penny in the 1800’s). Readers have always had to discern where to spend there money. It may be worse now, but one can scan the titles so much more quickly too. Just make sure what you’re writing is well-edited and is of high quality.

Another quote from Cacia:

As for freebies – people who buy free books ONLY buy free books. With the amount available on any given day you’d need ten lifetimes to read them all

This is not true of me. I have downloaded freebies to check out an author I’m not sure about, but I then go on to buy their books if I like them.

My final quote from Cacia:

The saddest thing I ever read was some hopeful saying she had 400 copies of her book sitting in her garage.

There are many, many sad things in life. As far as writing goes, the saddest thing that I have encountered is an aspiring writer who has spent ten years perfecting a manuscript, spent another two years writing to publisher after publisher to get the manuscript accepted, only to face rejection after rejection. The aspiring author then gives up without ever getting the manuscript into the hands of the people who matter most – the reader. He will never count as a failed author. In the publishing world, he will not count at all because his book has never been published and never read. This, to me, is the fate that one ought to avoid. The woman with four hundred books is a published author.

A Personal Note

I’m grateful to Cacia for sharing her own experience. We are both authors and her comment has made me rethink the question that frequently pops up: Why do I keep writing? Why not stop?

I have written four fictional works. Three of the novels, the books in The Halcyon Cycle, are Science Fiction that reads like Fantasy. Why do I write? I don’t write for amusement. Nor do I expect to become rich because of my writing. I believe I write for two main reasons:

  1. I have been so blessed by reading the fictional works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, and Lucy Maud Montgomery (among many, many others). In writing their stories, they not only enthralled me, strengthened my faith, and imbued me with hope and a sense of beauty and wonder, but they left a great deal of themselves in their books. So much so, that I think I know them as friends even though I never met them in person. I want to give a bit of that back. I don’t write as well as they did, but I want to give something back.
  2. The second reason is more personal. No one in my family tree has ever written a book before (as far as I can tell). If some Kazmaier had written a book in ages past, I would get to know them in a personal way that goes far beyond even letters and correspondence that might be extant. I want my grandchildren to have that kind of a chance to know me through my books.

Disclaimer

I do not offer publishing, small business, or other financial advice. I offer my own history, observations, and comments up in the hope they will stimulate thinking and discussion.

Link to the comment thread on Goodreads.

If you’re thinking of giving one of my novels a try … follow this link.

Is There Survivor Bias in Analyzing Publishing Success in Today’s Print-On-Demand World?

I belong to an Indie Publishing Group on Goodreads. A frequent topic of discussion focuses on the benefits/challenges of having one’s work published using a traditional publisher versus publishing independently .

A traditional publisher, in this sense, is a company who essentially buys your work, usually paying the author an advance and a royalty on each book sold). The publisher then controls and funds the finalization of the book and manages placement of the book (and e-book) for purchase. Below is a comment by a colleague and group contributor on the relative merits of traditional versus independent publishing.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when the number of living published authors totaled hundreds of thousands. Today, anyone with access to a personal computer and the internet can become a published author; so the exclusive club of hundreds of thousands now numbers in the millions. A highly competitive field became ridiculously competitive.

Literary agents and traditional publishers are literally swamped with queries from aspiring authors. Most are discarded immediately. Only a bare fraction are given serious consideration. The market is saturated to the point that there are almost as many published authors as there are avid readers.

The vast majority of self-published authors will never land a contract with a traditional publisher or become commercially successful. That said; some do. The important thing is to accept the facts and face reality.

The complete comment and the thread associated with it can be found at this Link.

The analysis is probably correct in the facts or trends that it presents, but I think it misses an important point. I have lived through the transition from offset printed books to print-on-demand books and wide acceptance of e-books.

In the days “not so long ago” when “the number of living published authors totaled hundreds of thousands” there were many aspiring authors who worked on manuscripts (perhaps for years), sent them in for acceptance to acquisition editors only to find their manuscripts rejected. Since the gatekeepers completely controlled who became an author and who didn’t, these unsuccessful individuals never became official authors and never were able to get their books to the people who matter most, that is their readers.

In summary I contend that the writers who now are termed independent authors, have always been there, but because there was no avenue for them to take control of their publishing, they languished in obscurity, and through no fault of their own were never considered authors because they never published a book. They do not show up in the publishing statistics of their era (this is what I mean by survivor bias–you have to publish a book to be considered a successful (or unsuccessful author). Writing and not being able to publish doesn’t count in the older statistics even though they could be considered as authors who sold zero books).

Quoting once again:

Literary agents and traditional publishers are literally swamped with queries from aspiring authors. Most are discarded immediately. Only a bare fraction are given serious consideration. The market is saturated to the point that there are almost as many published authors as there are avid readers.

These points are very interesting to me. Particularly: “The market is saturated to the point that there are almost as many published authors as there are avid readers.

As an independent author, I am an avid reader. I was an avid reader long before I wrote my first novel. However, several things have changed for me as independent authors have made their presence felt in the book market place. I interact with other independent authors and find that I read many more independently authored books than before because I know the authors. The loss of my reading time is most severe for the big traditional publishers. As independent authors we have our own reading community.

Quoting once again:

The vast majority of self-published authors will never land a contract with a traditional publisher or become commercially successful. That said; some do. The important thing is to accept the facts and face reality.

I think this statement may well be true. Becoming an independent author or Micro-Publishing as I prefer to call it, is really a small business venture and as such must be considered carefully. From my own experience, a simple calculation I have used has helped me: consider clearing $1.50 per book sold. How many books would you have to sell to make the business viable for you in the long term? Authors, with different family situations, living in different parts of the country, and with different lifestyle requirements may have quite different answers to this question. Still, I contend the real comparison ought to be between independent authors and those many predecessors who wrote books, but never had them published. They spen their time and money with zero return.

In summary, I am grateful to my colleague in the Goodreads Independent author group for commenting on this topic. I hope my contributions to the discussion were helpful. I am glad to have the opportunity to be an independent author and get my books into the hands of my readers, a possibility which would not likely have occurred twenty years ago.

Disclaimer

I do not offer publishing, small business, or other financial advice. I offer my own history, observations, and comments up in the hope they will stimulate thinking and discussion.

For the previous post in this Micro-Publishing follow this link.

Five Star Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL on Amazon-UK

Link to the original posting
Re-printed below in a more readable font

The main difficulty for me with the Halcyon Cycle has been the interval between books! On this occasion, (having previously written to ask when this was coming out) Peter kindly sent me a free review copy, which I found waiting for me on my return from a trip away. I was tired from my travels; so that made a perfect excuse to put my feet up and read – and I devoured over a third of the book in one day! After that, I decided I had better catch up on my other work and rationed myself quite severely. One tip: if, like me, it’s about 2 years since you read the last book I’d recommend re-reading that first. Maybe even re-read both. I found that I had become pretty hazy over some of the details: but I was so intent on following the story that I failed to notice the helpful glossary and maps at the back until I’d almost finished.

The book is very fast-paced, as Al and his friends engage in an increasingly desperate search to trace his wife and adopted son before they are lost forever in the terrifying abyss called Sheol. This leaves them less time for philosophical debate than in previous books. Nevertheless, the philosophical element is still present, covering such issues as the social bankruptcy of [tyranny], duty in the face of despair and whether the goodies are always good or the baddies irredeemably bad.

The book ends on a high note: but this is very evidently the calm before the storm. Key questions remain unanswered; and the eventual outcome is far from certain. Will good ultimately triumph over the evils that may arise from the depths of Sheol, from within the ranks of the Ancient Ones, or from Earth itself? Is there going to be another trilogy? I won’t be satisfied until I see the next series.

Authors, Shadow-Banning and Big Data

I follow the blogs of Steve Laube and his associates. Steve is a well-established agent and he and his associates represent many christian writers. As a service he and his associates frequently publish posts of interest to the writing community in general.

Last month, Thomas Umstattd, Jr. published a post entitled How to Protect Your Author Platform from Big Tech Censorship [link]. It’s an article well-worth reading and I wanted to talk about it.

Before I talk about big tech censorship, an apology, or perhaps, a disclaimer is necessary. On PeterKazmaier.com, I blog about writing, reading, topics that affect writers, and personal reflections on my own faith journey. I scrupulously avoid politics. The topic today, although it strongly affects writers, gets fairly close to the political line. I do not intend to comment on what makes people take offense at various writing points of view, I merely want to make writers aware of the danger for their own work and the social media platforms they use to publicize it.

So what is shadow-banning? Shadow-banning is the social media practice or condition in which the author of a post on a social media platform posts some information, assuming that it will be faithfully disseminated to the friends, followers, or others who have indicated they want to receive the authors content. However, usually unknown to the author, some kind of a filter has been interposed so the content does not reach some or all who have indicated they want to receive it.

A related problem can occur with free search engines or search commands on social media. One assumes the results are faithful to the search request, but it is possible to eliminate or downgrade priority on certain search results. This kind of search filter has a similar effect to shadow-banning in that search results that directly relate to the search request, are either eliminated or moved to say page 27 in the list of search results.

So what can I do to safe guard myself against this kind of censorship?

For my part, my core content is always located in my WordPress websites. I will refer to them using social media, but I will likely never know when those links are censored or why. Still if the core content is there, interested readers can still find it and often some social media pathways will still stay open.

As a reader, when I want to receive someone’s content, I keep a link to their blog, RSS their podcasts, and/or sign up for an email when new content appears. Several of the sites I follow have had their accounts frozen, deleted or have been shadow-banned. I had to go their website to see the content the social media provider wanted to keep me from seeing.

What do you do to protect yourself against big data censorship?

Kazmaier Summer 2019 Update

Kathy and I had a chance to spend thirteen glorious days at our cottage near Seeley’s Bay, Ontario. The days were mostly sunny and the weather was warm. Here are some of our highlights.

It’s a time to disconnect from the internet, enjoy God’s wonderful creation, and see the beauty of the natural world.

Swan at Evening

We’ve had our cottage since 1989 and never before have we seen swans in our bay. I have seen them elsewhere on the Rideau, but never in our bay. Here is a picture of one with the evening reflection of the trees coloring the water,

Blanding Turtle

We often see turtles in the water, but this is the first time one was wandering across our front lawn. My best guess, after looking at the eight turtle species of Ontario, is that it was a Blanding Turtle, although I didn’t handle it to check for a yellow neck and characteristic markings on the plastron.

Porcupine in Elm Just Off Porch

We have a small elm on the front lawn just ten feet from the porch. To our surprise we had a large porcupine in it. Thankfully it left at the first opportunity. I don’t know if our dog knows the danger of porcupines and they can damage buildings if they set their mind to it.

Morning Kayak on the Rideau

One morning I was up before dawn and took my kayak up the channel. It was beautiful seeing the first glimmer of sunrise from the water. It reminded me of Proverbs 4:18

“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” [ESV]

As I thought about it, most people would say this metaphor has it backwards: our lives begin with the dawn, progress through the noon day of young adulthood and then fade into night as we grow old and die. But I think Proverbs has it right. As Christ-followers, old-age is like the darkness before the dawn, but we have a great hope and look forward to a glorious sunrise. I find that a very cheerful thought.

Finally, one of the things I am able to do consistently at the cottage is write. I had set as my objective to complete the first draft of my next book: Coventry 2091. I didn’t quite achieve it, but I came close. My first drafts are very crude and really show up the defects in my story, but even so it’s a major milestone for me.

Now Something I had Intended to Add

Othello, our dog, often watches to make sure that everything is okay at the cottage. If it is not, you can be sure he goes out to investigate.

http://bit.ly/2YRduRP_Othello-Door

My Copies of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL Have Arrived

When I finally received my copies of The Dragons of Sheol yesterday, it seems like the long process of writing this book has come to an end and I can concentrate on the next one, Coventry 2091.

As a novelist who is trying to build his reputation, I realize many readers take a chance to spend their time and money reading one of my books because they have come to know me personally and so have become interested in what I write. Indeed, as a writer, one pours so much of oneself into one’s book you can probably get to know how I think and look at life much more clearly through my writing than simply by speaking with me.
When I first started out, personal sales, including sales where I mailed my books to readers was a big part of getting the word out. In those early days, I could mail my books to readers in Canada for $7-$8 postage (from a mailing perspective, unfortunately none of my books except Questioning Your Way to Faith is small enough to be sent as a letter-sized package). Now, there are so many surcharges that even with a small business discount, it can cost me $17.50 to mail one book to a small town in Ontario (I could drive it there for that). There is no point in giving my readers a $6-$10 discount when they buy a trade paperback from me if the postage costs $17.50. If you buy from Amazon®, you can often get free shipping if you are willing to aggregate orders. For Chapter/Indigo® one can avoid shipping cost all together if one is will to drive to the nearest store for pickup.

So where does that leave me? I had discussed this change in the dynamics Indie book publishing in a previous post. For me it means personal sales that avoid postage charges are very important. I always carry a few carefully bubble-wrapped copies of my books in a satchel in my van. If people express an interest in my writing when they meet me, I can let them buy a book from me directly and avoid the postage charges. So if you see me, and want one of my books at a discount, be sure to ask.

Launch Special: 99-Cent Sale (USD) on THE HALCYON CYCLE Books 1 and 2

Wolfsburg Imprints has never run a sale on The Battle for Halcyon, but they are running a 99-cent sale now on this e-book for a limited time as launch-bonus for book 3, The Dragons of Sheol. If you haven’t yet tried books 1 and 2 in The Halcyon Cycle or, if you’re like me, and wish to have an e-book copy for reading after “lights out,” now is the time to take advantage of this special value. You’ll need a free Kindle® app on your smart phone or tablet to read these e-books.

Download the e-books from my Amazon® author page.

For my Canadian readers, even though my publisher (Word Alive Press) is based in Winnipeg, the Amazon sale listing in is USD. That currently translates approximately to $1.32 CAD.

Barnes and Noble® has been the First to List THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

The first listing of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

Barnes and Noble® were the first to list The Dragons of Sheol. If you would like to check it out, here is the link.

I’m often asked: “Can you make money as an indie author?”

When people ask me this question, they are usually asking because they or someone they know is active or will be active in writing a book, and they are wondering what to expect. Others ask it because they are skeptical that it is even possible to make money without going through a traditional publisher.

My answer is usually a qualified “yes” it is possible (but certainly not guaranteed) to make money through an indie or as I prefer to call it, a micro-publishing endeavor.

Why the qualification? There are three basic reasons.

Indie or Micro-Publishing is a Small Business Endeavor

The first thing that one has to remember: Micro-Publishing is a small business. Like other small businesses, this means you will likely not be making money out of the starting gate. Rather, like other small business start-ups, you will have to put in long hours with little remuneration, and finally there is significant risk that you will run out of money, patience, or interest before the business begins to pay off. This comes with the territory of starting something you own.

A case in point, many writers that try to find a traditional publisher also spend a great deal of time writing with no remuneration and then attempting to convince a publisher to take on their manuscript (also with no remuneration). This start-up time when taking the traditional route is often excluded from pay-back calculations. The writers who run out of money, patience, or interest choosing this route are ignored leading to a “survivor bias” when comparing traditionally published authors with indie authors.

Many writers augment their early cash flow with writing-related income, for example, editing, free-lance magazine submissions, contract writing for trade journal or instruction manuals. In my own case, since I write Science Fiction, I tutor in physics and chemistry, as well as provide chemistry consulting as a way of staying connected to science.

Indie or Micro-Publishing is an Annuity Business

Secondly, Micro-Publishing is an annuity-driven small business. When you publish your first book, there will be an initial flurry of interest and then slower sales over the long term. Long-term sales depend on how many people hear about your book and hear enough good things to take a chance to buy it. You may also get copyright remuneration or some remuneration for library usage. These long-term sales are your annuity.

The key point: as you write more books, this annuity stream will grow, but often in the initial stages, the up-front costs of writing and publishing more books will grow faster than the annuity stream.

Most Writers Care About the Art as Much or More than They Care About the Business

Finally, writers are artists as well as business-owners. They have a message or art they wish to develop which is often more important to them than the money. I’ve often been told, “If you wrote Science Fiction more like mainstream SF, you would sell more books.” I think that’s true, but I wanted to write Science Fiction that I would like to read but no one else has bothered to write. For me that means I explore worldview, spiritual, and philosophic questions as well as maintaining a strong science component in my novels. Not optimizing only for the money, probably puts one on a slower growth trajectory, but through it I hope to connect with kindred spirits who long for the same kind of story that I seek.

So What Should I Worry About as an Indie Writer?

1. Scalability

First, ask yourself what happens if my next book goes viral and hundreds, even thousands of readers want it at once? Can your distribution system handle it? If you only sell personal copies or mail them yourself, the answer is probably “no.” If some other organization handles the sales, then the answer is likely “yes.” In other words, make sure your distribution channel is scalable in case the breakthrough you hope for happens.

2. Marketing

Writers are often taught to market aggressively. I won’t do that for two reasons: (1) I don’t want to approach anyone in a way that I would not want to be approached. I don’t like aggressive tactics so I won’t use them. (2) I started to realize that when friends would see me, they would immediately think “I haven’t bought Peter’s book yet.” I don’t want that either. Their friendship is much more important to me than a sale. They need to know that they don’t have to like or buy my books to be my friend. That thought should not even come up.

As a consequence, most of my “advertising” or marketing is low-key on social media, by email signatures, or by magnetic signs on my vehicle. Word of mouth, without my intervention, is still the best form of advertising. Improving my writing craft so that readers will enjoy my books so much that they will give them as gifts or recommend them to friends and family is my long term objective.

3. Things Change Unexpectedly

When I published my first book, it was still possible to use Canada Post to mail books to customers at a reasonable shipping charge. Now so many surcharges, special charges have been added that even with a small-business discount, it can cost me $17.50 to ship one book to a nearby small town. Who can afford to pay that much on a book worth $20-30? the answer is “no one.”

This unexpected change has shut down one potential channel for reaching readers. These kinds of changes that are beyond a writer’s control have a major impact on the business. Like all small businesses, one has to adapt and make sure there are several ways to get your books to your readers.

Final Thoughts

Above all, keep writing, connect with like-minded readers, and connect with other writers who share your passion to communicate with others and bring a little beauty and inspiration into their lives.



Disclaimer

I do not offer publishing, small business, or other financial advice. I offer my own history, observations, and comments up in the hope they will stimulate thinking and discussion.