“Cookie Cutter Authors?” You ask. What on earth do you mean by that? Well, let me try to explain. I will admit first off, that my first two books didn’t quite measure up to NYTBS list material. As a matter of fact, there probably aren’t many of us authors whose first books will make that highly coveted list. That doesn’t mean we give up of course. We simply learn from those experiences and become better writers. If yours haven’t done well either, don’t feel bad. Hey, we cut our “writers’ teeth” on those first books, and if we had never written them in the first place, we might never have come to be writers. We have to crawl before we can walk, right? That said, even though we may come from small beginnings, I have now been in this business long enough to know a few things. So, grab some coffee, sit down, and let’s talk about this.
Genre Expectations: Are Readers getting bored?
I have well learned, at least at this point, that there are certain expectations for each genre that readers expect to see. (By the way, for any of you fellow authors still struggling to pin down a genre for your book, or just needing a brush up on the whole genre thing, check this handy Book Genre Finder site out.) Put a book in a wrong genre that’s not the right fit for it, and it will likely result in negative reviews. Thus, my coining the term “Cookie Cutter Authors”, if someone hasn’t already beat me to it. Hey, we can do that, we’re writers. 😉 Too often, this has caused increased pressure on us as authors to put out what our readers want to read. But more and more lately, I am seeing articles and posts with comments from readers saying they have begun to tire of what seems like the same story repeated in numerous books within a given genre, and the same, typical, even stereotyped characters, only the names, places, and scenes have changed. While many readers may continue to expect books they read to fit into those expectations, there are also a good number of them out there who have become bored with the same old scenarios repeated in books by authors trying to fit the old cookie cutter molds. It’s time for us to break the molds of pleasing the world, and write to please Him.
So, What’s Your Point?
So, what’s my point, you ask? My point is this: There are too many Christian authors these days who have failed to “stand out” as Christ called us to do, for fear of “offending” their readers, and losing sales. They fall for the deception of writing what readers expect, to the point of settling for compromising, even sacrificing what our Lord expects of us as the writers He has called us to be. They have chosen to “blend in” rather than stand out for Him. I am at the point, I can no longer settle for just being one of these cookie cutter authors, just spitting out generic stories that “fit” into what the world wants to read. As a Christian author, I must answer the call to stand out and make a difference, to write that one unique story that’s not a “cookie cutter” copy of 800 others, but one that might just inspire its readers to change their lives for the better. We as Christian authors will not do that by “blending in”. There will never be a time that the money, riches, and fame this world has to offer will be worth more to me than what my precious Savior has called me to write.
A Choice to Make: Pleasing the World or Reaching Readers for Christ
So, for most of us who are Christian writers, it looks like we’ve come to a “fork in the road”. Every one of us has a choice to make. I know that for those of us who choose to represent the King, Jesus, our Lord and Savior, in our writing, it will likely mean that we may never see our books rise to popularity by the world’s standards. But then, I am no longer writing to please the world, but my Lord. If even one of my books somehow touches someone’s heart and inspires them to change their life for the better, maybe even accept Him as Lord and Savior, then it will all have been well worth it.
Avoiding the Idolatry of Selfish Ambition
Up until now, I have mainly worked on fiction, and, until now, like many other authors, I had aspirations of making that “NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR” list. That is, until God began to continually lead me to Philippians, chapter 2, verses 3-4, which says (NKJV): “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” The more that began to sink in, the more I have come to realize, through the intense spiritual awakening that has followed, that it is no longer important for me to make that “list”. I no longer subscribe to the covetous, selfish ambitions of worldly fame and recognition, or even the desire to maybe see my books made into movies. Coveting all those things more than the work God wants to do through my writing, and the people He wants to reach through my work falls under something the word of God explicitly warns us against: idolatry. Am I saying that’s a bad thing (Making the NYTBS List)? No, of course not! And if I ever do make it, wonderful! And if you are an author or know one with at least one book on that list, let me be the first to congratulate you, or even the 59th person to do so. Please understand here, that I am not saying that in itself is a bad thing. Not at all. I am just saying that I will no longer covet this above the difference God has called me to make and the plan and purpose that He has for me with the books He has given me to write (see Colossians 3:2 and and 2 Corinthians 4:18).
God has really begun to drive this important truth home to me more than ever before. He recently spoke to me and said, “ANYTHING you put before ME becomes an idol!” He also warned us that idolaters will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 6:10-12). For too long, we have put on the “masks” of tolerance, political correctness, etc, and chosen to “blend in” to society, rather than stand out for Christ. I will no longer blend in, but I choose to stand out for Him, and help people see that what He has done for me, He will do for them. I choose to believe He is faithful and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (see Hebrews 11:6), and my work from this point onward will reflect that.
Oh sure, it would be easy to tailor my stories around “what the world wants to see”, and what will guarantee me a spot on that coveted list, but when I think of the price tag that is attached to that deceptive “selfish ambition”, no thank you! What my Lord and Savior did for me on Calvary is deserving of no less than my all for Him, and the complete surrender of those things I once considered important, for His will for me instead, and the lives He wants to touch through me. In Philippians 3:7-8, Paul says, “ But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” His will, and what He wants to do through it all, and my testimony reaching more readers through my work for Him is much more important now than the selfish ambition I held on to in the past. All of that other stuff is no longer important.
Mark 8:36 says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Indeed, the lure of worldly fame and recognition is the greatest illusion ever perpetrated on humanity by the deceiver we all know as the devil. Even my fiction work is now undergoing a huge “face lift”, as I re-evaluate my projects and seriously seek Him to show me how to write works that line up with the message He wants me to project to my readers. I will still, of course, do all I can to maintain the professional standards expected of any of us as writers, but at the same time, I will not compromise to the world’s standards (see 1 Corinthians 10:21 and Matthew 6:24). I want to be that one that’s different from the others.
God’s Version of Success: Choosing the Hidden Rewards of Writing for Christ
I know that conflict and tension have to be there in order for readers to appreciate the big, powerful, “Wow-I-didn’t-see-that-one-coming” conclusion when it ends. But we as Christian writers can do this without sacrificing our God-given purpose and perspective. There may even be “pre-Christian” characters in my stories, or characters representing the hurting, lonely, and struggling. My soon coming book, “LOGAN – Chain of Grace”, is a good example of this. I feel that most readers will be able to identify with at least one of the characters, especially once they see how their lives are transformed by what happens in the story. Thus, it is my goal that as a result, readers will see how their own lives can be transformed if they are willing to surrender their all to Christ. (It is mainly for this reason that a couple of my current fiction works in progress have been delayed, but they are coming soon, promise!) But if we continue to settle for being “cookie cutter” authors, just writing the same tired old scenarios others have written, we may never see others’ lives touched like this. It is only in breaking free from the “fit-in-to-what-everyone-else-is-doing” mold that we will ever reach this hidden pinnacle of success in God’s eyes, as He sees it. He has gifted each of us with unique talents and insights, and we will never see these gifts come to fruition as long as we are busy trying to please the world instead of Him. But if we are willing to break free of that limited thinking and rise to His definition of “success”, who knows, we might just pen that best seller anyway. After all, you may never know the lives He wants to touch through you until you hand Him the quill, the pen, or these days, the keyboard/typewriter, and let Him write through you…
So, why don’t we stop being so afraid of losing sales, or missing out on the “big ticket”, or offending someone, and start being more concerned with reaching the world with the special, unique, encouraging, faith-building, life-renewing message that He has chosen you, out of all the other writers in the world, to write. Pray and ask Him to show you the bigger picture of what He has for you, and He will. And throw out the old cookie cutter image of yourself, break the mold, and get out there and get your message into the hands of the readers the Great Author Himself has already chosen for you to reach…
...That, you see, is how it works when you write for the King!
Besides, He makes BIGGER “cookies”… and no two are the same. We are all unique, just as He meant it to be. Now, wouldn’t it be a shame if you let the world miss out on that?
“Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; To shew that the Lord is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” – Psalm 92:13-15
In November of 2018, the Eastern North Carolina Church of God Senior Adults (50 and older) gathered at the ENCCOG Campground/gathering center in Kenly, NC for their annual Young at Heart/Senior Talent Convention (<– Click here for info on this year’s event). I entered in the Woodwinds Division, with a solo I played on my clarinet, and in the Creative Writing/Short Story Division. I started not to even bother with the writing part. But then, at the “last minute” I decided, “why not?” So, that evening, with the deadline approaching as of the next morning for the entries to be sent, or emailed in, I started thinking of what to write. Sitting here at the computer, I prayed about it, still thinking of just giving it up and going to bed.
The great, white, blank screen loomed before me…
“Okay, God, You’re writing this, so please just take over. Help me write what you would have me to write,” I prayed.
Before I knew what was happening, the words started to flow onto the page, the keys clacking into the night, as I worked to get it done and send it in to our Pastor’s wife, so she could email it to them.
Even now, as I look back and read it, I can only say that God wrote this, not me. I am only the hands that typed it. Seriously, there is no way I could have ever come up with this on my own. It has all the elements of good fiction I have worked to have in my books, especially the newer projects I am working on, you know, depth, character development, conflict, and tension, and believable dialogue with the characters, all building up to the powerful resolution at the end…an ending that makes us think, makes us take a closer look at ourselves. All of this has to be balanced with not giving too much away early in the story.
When I started writing a few years back, I will admit now, even laughing at myself, that I did not really know what I was doing. I didn’t know then, what all experience has taught me. Things like having the necessary conflict and tension in the story in order for that powerful climax, or resolution at the end to be fully appreciated. I will also admit that even now, at my age, I have often thought of giving up. (Can anybody out there relate? Anybody out there over 50 still writing, or whatever it is you do, shout out to you! 🙂 )
For all my fellow “writing seniors” out there, you may have felt that way yourself at times. So, after much prayer about this, as well as what to do with this thing now, other than let it sit here on my hard drive, collecting “computer dust”, I have felt led to share it with you. You can click this link to download it. I hope you enjoy it and find it encouraging…
Not bragging or anything like that, but I feel led to share it with you, just to show you, what any of us, every single one of us, can achieve if we surrender our all to the Master. All of us have talents, everyone. Some of us are terrible at things others are good at, and vice versa. But that is not a bad thing. That’s just God showing His creative variety. When we put it all together, all of us working together, doing the best we can with whatever He’s given us, it all comes together like a big, beautiful quilt (by the way, we had some nice quilting and needlework entries, including our “first lady”, our Pastor’s wife’s awesome entry of a crochet rendering she did of the missionary couple who were pastoring at the church where she got saved and accepted Christ).
For all those my age and older, it can be too easy at times, to just give up or think that we are too old, tired, sick, or (insert whatever comes to your mind here) or that we’re not really as good at doing things as we “used to be”. It’s easy to get tired, stressed, and overwhelmed with all that is going on in the world around us. I am no exception, thus, my putting this whole idea off till that last night before the Creative Writing entries were due in to the ones who would be judging them. But maybe that is why God gives us our creative gifts, not only for building His Kingdom together, but to encourage others through whatever it is our talent is.
Whether it’s a drawing, painting, an uplifting song written, sang, or played, every little thing we accomplish through Him can encourage and influence someone. Maybe it was just that last little bit of encouragement the Holy Spirit was trying to give me, that last little nudge that made me change my mind. Who knows how many of our greatest inventions might not have come to be if it hadn’t been for that little last minute nudge. And so, on I typed into the night…
Fast forward to this past April 30th – May 2nd, 2019, in Gatlinburg, TN, with my husband, our Pastor, and his wife. (We drove separately of course)…that’s right. My little short story won Runner Up at the Senior Talent Competition/Young at Heart Convention, and several others in our church won in their categories as well. The one who won over me in the Creative Writing Division would not be able to make it, so I was able to go and compete at the Nationals. That adorable little crocheted couple our “first lady” did, and our Pastor, who competed in Percussion, Indefinite Pitch, and my short story, made it to the Nationals Competition in Gatlinburg, at the convention center there. There were others in our church who also won who were unable to make it to the Gatlinburg competition, but we still shared our pictures and everything, and they were still cheering us on. The thing is, all of us in the group of those who entered the 2018 Senior Talent Competition were the ones who listened to that last little nudge…that one more little prompting in our spirits that said, “Aww, come on, you can do it!”
And that’s right. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me.”
We are all in Christ, and together, with all of our talents and gifts He has given us, we make up the Body of Christ as a whole. We can do anything He calls us to do. Whether it’s crocheting, knitting, woodwork and building things, quilting, writing, singing, or playing a musical instrument, we all have something we are good at. But we are not gifted in these areas in and of our own accord, but it is through Him, working in us, that we do these things. We try and fail once, we learn from it, we get up and try it again. Besides, as Seniors, (or soon to be seniors), especially those of us who are grandparents now, or even great grandparents, we have to remember that those precious eyes of our grandchildren, and even our adult children, are still watching us. Like that lighthouse beacon guides the ships at sea, we are that shining light to them.
The greatest inventions would have never come to be if their inventors had given up.
Just the same, we will never know what we are capable of if we don’t try. It doesn’t matter how many times we may have failed before. What matters is that we had the courage to get in there and try again. Perhaps the best thing about it all is, as my husband and I walked through the room where all the entries were displayed on the tables in the various categories, admiring the paintings, drawings, crochet and knitting projects, quilts, etc., we knew it was the same wonderful hands of our Creator who had done it all. Just as He had gifted each of these creators with their talents, He had also gifted all the musicians, singers and instrument players. Together, it is the awesome God we serve, showing His creative variety, knowing that when it all comes together, it completes the greater masterpiece He is painting, a grand design only He can see. We are only the various hands that He has gifted for each of the colors, musical notes, and stories that He chooses as He works to create the legacy we will leave for our children and grandchildren…
So, what about you?
Whether you are young or older, like us, there is something you can do, and little eyes will be looking up at you for their own encouragement. After all, that is what our Master Painter does. We are just the hands He uses to do His work.
So paint that painting. Build that little cabin or church woodwork project. Make the quilt. Write the story (or song). Play the music. Sing the song, because all of it glorifies our wonderful Master, and there is no limit to what we can do if we only yield it all to Him. All He needs is a trusting heart and a set of willing hands.
My short story did not win at the Nationals in Gatlinburg, but then, we weren’t there to “win”, but rather to enjoy the blessing of meeting and shaking hands with other “movers and shakers” who are working, as we all are, to build the Kingdom for our Jesus as we work toward His soon return. That in itself was an encouraging experience for me. “Faith Builders” encouraging one another, knowing that what He has done through one of us, He can do through another. And in that respect, we are all winners from the start, because it is the same great Master hands working through us all. It was an honor and a blessing to me, to have just made it that far, to have had the chance to go. And by the way, our Pastor, Bishop Allen Gupton, won in the Percussion Division, so we did not return home empty handed! In fact, as I told him before we left to return home, I was already shifting gears for what is next. On that note, I have to give a shout out to our graduates in our church family who have just graduated high school, as well as our own graduates, my youngest daughter, who just received her Master’s in Social Work (her B.A. is in Psychology), and my husband’s son, who just received his Bachelor’s in Psychology. His wife and my eldest daughter will finish in their respective degrees in December (2019). We are proud of each and every one of you, and our prayers and best wishes are with you as you each look toward the future. We look forward to seeing what God is going to do through each of you! Congratulations to you all, and all Class of 2019 graduates everywhere!
Nevertheless, we all give Him the glory, not only for what He has done, but for what He is about to do, what He can do, through you, me, and any of us who yield to Him what He needs most to complete His masterpiece…a trusting heart, and willing hands.
I’m glad now that I said yes to that little nudge in my spirit. As the sun rose and began streaming through the windows, I finished my humble little short story entry, including the “tightening” and editing I had to do to get it to be within the allowed word count. Was it worth it? Of course it was! A big, resounding YES on that one! I hope you will say yes too, to whatever it is He is calling you to do. I promise you, it will be more than worth it.
Need some more encouragement? Okay, I promised to share it with you, and here it is. FREE for you to download and read, my short story I entered in our Senior Talent Competition. I hope you enjoy it, and that it gives you encouragement in some way, because what He has done through me, He can do through you. Whatever He has gifted you to do, just remember, it is often just when we feel like giving up, like we are just too tired and worn, or discouraged to go on, that He does His greatest work through us. And even though it did not win in the Nationals, I know that there is no limit to what He can and will do with it, so I have yielded it to Him. After all, it’s His story. Again, I am only the trusting heart and willing hands that He used to write it. You can click the link below to download it and read it…and yes, again, it’s FREE 🙂 .
So, for any of you out there who are in the Eastern North Carolina Church of God region, if you can paint, draw, sing, play, drum, knit, crochet, or you are awesome at woodwork, (or even cook & clean!) why not try and join us this year? Many seniors just do it for the fun (and food!) and fellowship, and worshiping God together, even if they don’t feel they will win. After all, you’ll never know what God can do through you if you don’t try. Remember, it’s all through His hands, not ours! We only have to have a trusting heart and a willing set of hands. And just as the people of the little church in the story, you will never know what beautiful music our Grand Maestro could play through you…