Blogger: Wendy Lawton
What do publishers and agents mean when they say they are looking for books that approach the subject in a new way or books that are innovative? We already know that books that are a rehash of material already on the market are the ones that quickly get passed over. Following find a case study. . .
Doug Newton is one of my clients. Many of you knew him as the editor of Light and Life magazine. Currently he and his wife Margie head the extensive prayer ministry for his denomination. If you’ve attended Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference you’ll remember Doug as the pastor who often presented the Palm Sunday message. We’d all sit spellbound as he opened the Bible and gave us brand new insights into old, old stories. But when it comes to an impressive social media platform, that simply was not his strong suite. He connected with people from the pulpit, through the written word and in person. Many would assume his books on parables, sayings from the Bible and miracles would be a hard sell in this platform-hungry industry.
As his agent, I understood Doug’s gift. He presents the stories from the Bible in an entirely new way. As Doug and I brainstormed his “brand,” along with my colleague, Janet, we identified that he was able to help us see God’s word with fresh eyes. That was an innovative approach to a classic subject and when I proposed a Fresh Eyes series to publishers I had a number of them intrigued, social media platform or not.
Another thing Doug had going for him was the ability to teach the very Bible study techniques that allowed him to gain new insight into old passages– using history, chronology and imagination. Certainly an innovative approach to combine teaching techniques (almost curriculum-like) with a book of Bible stories.
And it was not just one book he had in mind, he came up with a list of book possibilities– all based on seeing the Bible with fresh eyes. It might have frightened a more timid publisher than Cook Communications, the publisher that eventually contracted the series.
As the acquisitions editor, Alice Crider, and the publishing team began to talk about this proposal, they quickly recognized the possibilities. They asked Doug and me to come to Colorado Springs to help brainstorm the scope of the project. The conference room fairly crackled with creativity. Cook Communications had long been a curriculum house as well as creating trade books so they began to talk about a two-fold approach. First, of course, would be the books filled with vibrant tellings of the parables, miracles and even those familiar Bible sayings. Great for pleasure reading, for Bible studies and students of the Bible. But Doug suggested that he not only wanted to offer fresh eyes on these stories, he wanted to teach the techniques used in Bible study, so that pastors and teachers could apply them to their own study. This dual target did not frighten the team one bit.
Because this project straddled curriculum and trade books, the team dreamed of an innovative approach to presenting the material. First there would be the books. But at the end of each story, Doug presents a special feature called “20/20 Focus,” where he helps the reader apply the fresh insight to our contemporary experience. Pretty standard fare, right? But then he goes on to give us a “Vision Check” where he challenges the reader to use the Fresh Eyes technique on a different passage. So where does the reader go to find out how he fared? Doug and the publisher created an app with the “answers” explained by video. Chapter by chapter. (The app is free and can be downloaded from iTunes or your App store. I would encourage you to get the app and see the marriage of book and online media. Search for Fresh Eyes by Doug Newton. You can also watch the chapter videos on Doug Newton.com.) Definitely an innovative approach.
Cook Communications decided that to have maximum impact they would release the first three books on the same day. As writers, can you imagine having a tight deadline for three books at once? But they did it, and the books released a couple of weeks ago. On the same day, the app released, and Doug’s new website went live with videos, handouts and all. Phew! It all looked seamless– no one saw the half-bitten fingernails and the prayer that went into the multi-pronged launch. The Android version of the app is still to be finished, but the coordination of all these moving parts is testimony to the vision and hard work of the author and the publishing team. (When you see the number of videos Doug made, I’m guessing you’ll join me in wondering how he wrote the books and created the videos in a little more than a year.)
So Why This Case Study?
If you’ve read our blog for a while, you’ll know we rarely feature our clients’ work. Obviously, we are crazy about their books or we wouldn’t be representing them, but when we do feature a project it’s because there is much for our blog readers to learn from the process, like what it’s like when our books become films or how a specific proposal was a perfect storm. I wanted to share this multi-faceted project to illustrate what we keep saying– think out of the box. And yes, if you have a stunning idea, platform numbers take a back seat.
So what do you think? Innovative? Helpful to see the process? Encouraging to see that an out-of-the-box project, excellent content, and great writing can trump platform?