Do you struggle with anxiety? Perhaps even in the areas you’re most gifted in or feel called to? Learn to navigate the highs and lows of the industry as Sweet Magnolias showrunner, Sheryl J. Anderson, gives insight to real connection with God and true influence. When your career, family or future feels unstable, you can find joy in the steadiness of God.
Sheryl J. Anderson is the creator and showrunner of Sweet Magnolias, a romantic drama for Netflix whose third season drops in July 2023; she also has a variety of projects in development. Sheryl began her writing journey as a playwriting major at The College of William & Mary in Virginia. Lured to Los Angeles by the intrigue of television and the promise of 300 sunny days a year, she worked as a television studio executive, screenwriter, and half-hour series writer (Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Dave’s World). She then moved to writing and producing hour-long series, working on a wide range of series (Charmed, Flash Gordon, When Calls the Heart). She created Ties That Bind, UPtv’s first scripted series. She has sold pilots to Netflix, SyFy, NBC, Lifetime, and Disney and has written movies for Hallmark, UPtv, and Lifetime. Sheryl is also a novelist and teaches and mentors through a variety of universities and organizations.
Kathleen Cooke – What’s the one thing you’d like to share with women that God has recently taught you?
Sheryl J. Anderson – In the last several years, God has taught me – is still teaching me – that I am not in control; He is. I was impatient from childhood, always sure I had the answer, I could solve the problem, I could lead the way. There were triumphs, but there were also plenty of failures. Now, after a series of painful, heartbreaking events – the deaths of my parents, my divorce, the betrayal of friends – I finally understand. I do what I can to the best of my abilities, but there are situations – and people – that I must entrust to His care because I am not able to fix them. This applies to my relationships and my work. While hard-won, patience has become a source of peace and power, a constant reminder that He walks beside me. And when I walk with Him, rather than racing ahead, it is easier to stay on the path He would have me walk.
When you’re impatient, it is all too easy to overreach: “This one moment will solve everything.” Which all too quickly turns into “This one moment will ruin everything.” But impatience is a form of fear: “If it doesn’t happen now, it will never happen!” And, as we know, fear is the absence of faith, the denial of faith. When we root ourselves in faith, we know that God is holding us up, just as Jesus lifted Peter out of the stormy sea, and we will find our footing again – as long as we walk with Him.
Kathleen – The industry is a roller-coaster of highs and lows. One day, you have a job, and then it may be a while before the next one comes. How do you find hope when things fall apart? Do you have a scriptural promise you find comforting?
Sheryl – Anxiety is my chief antagonist. It blocks my path when I’m striving to do my best. It whispers in my ear when I’m considering an uncertain future. It wakes me up at night. And it fuels my constant struggle to set aside my will and embrace God’s will. (more…)
Alaina is an LA-based wardrobe stylist with more than five years of experience in personal, commercial, and editorial styling. Passionate about turning concepts into reality, Alaina specializes in putting together essential pieces that elevate her clients’ personal brand and tell a visual story. She is currently a stylist for Nordstrom at The Grove. As a freelance stylist and consultant, Alaina is happiest when she is bringing ideas scribbled on paper and images posted on a vision board to life for others to experience – her version of art.
Kathleen Cooke: Fear. It is saturating our lives with wars, strikes, and ongoing uncertainties. What has God taught you about dealing with fear?
Alaina Griffin: One thing that God has recently taught me came from a dream. In the dream, it was dark, and I was walking to my vehicle. An overwhelming sense of fear and of being lost swept over me. Suddenly, all the lights around me went out. I fell on the ground in crippling fear, unable to move. After some time, I realized that an electrical outage did not cause the darkness around me and in front of me, but because my eyes were closed. I started praying to God that my eyes would be opened. This struggle caused me to wake up from my dream.
What was God revealing? To move forward, we must pray, as Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:18, that God opens our Spiritual Eyes so that we can confidently know and understand God’s WORD and God’s WILL. This enlightenment will transform our walk with God and change how we navigate waiting seasons, tough decisions, life lessons, trials, and triumphs to get to the blessings and promises of the Lord. Finally, spiritual sight causes us to seek God in order to capture in the Spirit what is not yet manifested on Earth. Spiritual sight activates us to speak by faith into existence what is seen, not by the natural eye. The Word God gave me to share is: See it so that you can seize it (even by force if necessary). With this, we are powerful, and all things become possible.
Kathleen: We are living in an increasingly competitive world. Our ambition to succeed can often overpower us, and we can make bad choices. How have you learned to wait on God’s perfect timing and will?
Alaina: Ambition is a topic that is definitely an issue in the town we live and work in – Hollywood. As believers of Christ, we can get swept up in chasing ambition and dreams if we’re not mindful and rooted in God. We must remember that we are IN the world and not OF this world. We are called to infuse and push God’s culture into this world. To do this, we must do as it says in Matthew 6:33: see first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (ways of doing things). The ways of the Lord are and will always be contrary to the way of the world, which measures success in riches and the number of followers, titles, and degrees a person has. When we seek God daily and trust Him, He will help us to navigate through each day in our professional careers. Sometimes it is a waiting season, and sometimes it is a “go now moment!” God must be the One speaking and leading, not ambition, society, vanity, or cultural pressures.
Kathleen: Many women today are struggling with an identity crisis. What has God taught you about being unique and finding peace in who He says you are, not what the world wants to define you as?
Alaina: I have found that people in this town suffer particularly from identity crises. I have encountered people who are always “ON”- in character, preparing for the next role. As children of God, the Bible makes it clear that we are special – a royal priesthood, 1 Peter 2:9. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, Psalms 139:14, and set apart, Deuteronomy 14:2. God invested time in creating and forming each person to fulfill the plan He has laid out at the beginning of time for Kingdom advancement. How do we find peace and come to know who God called us to be? One way is through our proximity to others- community. Groups like Influence Women, with other like-minded women on similar journeys, will help God’s calling for our lives to become clearer. The other way is through our proximity to God – intimacy. As we grow closer to God, He shows us how to love. How to love Him, ourselves, and others. In loving ourselves, we see ourselves and value ourselves as God sees and values us.
Kathleen: God tells us to Go. To be an influence in all the world. Why is that essential?
Alaina: When Jesus left His disciples, He gave a mandate that echoed throughout the generations, and it was to make disciples of men. As believers, we all have been given a mandate to lead others to Christ and into a deeper relationship. We were created and called to be leaders in this world- influencers. Matthew 5:13 tells us that we are the salt of the earth. It then goes on to say in the next verse that you are the light of the world. As believers, we were created and formed to function as salt and as a light in the world. By its design- light cannot be hidden, and salt cannot not be salty. It is just not possible. We are called to be a light at our jobs, at home, on the subway, in line at the grocery store, and in neighborhoods.
Thanks to technology, we can go and be influencers around the world without leaving our homes. As God has freely given us life, purpose, identity, giftings, spiritual blessings, healing, deliverance, His Word, and so much more, how could we possibly not share the good news and our testimonies with others? Not operating as God’s light or salt causes us to have an identity crisis and creates frustration and feelings of hopelessness, meaninglessness, and restlessness in us. It creates God-size issues that only God can correct. Answering the mandate to go simply means allowing God to navigate our next move and to work through us so that we can become the answers God called us to be on earth.
Connect with Alaina:
Find out more about her work at: arashedastyling.com
Facebook and Instagram: @arashedaconsulting
People come into their callings and spheres of influence through many ways; it’s often not a direct path, and that’s definitely true for screenwriter and social worker Andrea M. Polnaszek. Read this month’s Inner View as she encourages you through the twists and turns, highs and lows.
BIO: Andrea M. Polnaszek has written many books and is the co-creator of multiple films alongside her sister, Alexandra Boylan, as part of The Boylan Sisters Entertainment company. Andrea’s most recent movie, The Greatest Inheritance, with her accompanying book by the same title, is a study of Ecclesiastes. The film wrestles with the theme, “There is a time for everything and a season for everything under Heaven.”
Andrea is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has spent her clinical career helping children and their families communicate their feelings. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at Gordon College, a Master’s in Social Work, and a Certificate in Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kathleen: As a filmmaker and writer, you come from a unique position as a licensed clinical social worker with an understanding of the human mind and our choices. What has God revealed to you on how we can make better choices that will sustain our careers and lives, especially during the disruptions of a pandemic?
Andrea Polnaszek: I had the opportunity to write a book and devotional about Ecclesiastes and specifically spent much time meditating on Ecclesiastes 3. During an unappreciated time of the global pandemic, I felt like folks around me, including myself, were asking questions like: “Why?” “What do we do?” “I don’t like this new life?” While exploring the idea of what season this is and what God is teaching me in this season…
God brought a surprising insight. I was invited to perform a funeral service for the first time. The woman who had passed had struggled with mental illness for many years before her death. Her family felt they had lost her many years before she died. The process of preparing for the funeral provided an opportunity to remember. Looking through pictures and reminiscing reminded everyone of beautiful memories. This insight caused me to ask: Why do we wait for funerals to share a eulogy? So, I have begun to tell people what I appreciate about them in real time. I have spent some time thinking about happy memories and sharing those with others. The experience has brought me new insight into what the Joy of the Lord looks like. I believe that joy is born in gratitude. And a heart of thanksgiving is a gift from God alone.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” God has brought me to a place of hard-fought contentment – accepting that there is good and bad in every season and that He is over it all! I would say that when I look at all that the last few years have thrown at me – the joy of the Lord was my strength. God revealed to me the importance of disciplining myself to put Him first.
Kathleen: It’s not the normal screenwriter’s path to come into the film business from a clinical social worker background. Many might struggle with their career goals and identity and lose their way. Yet God seems to carve us uniquely into His plan and purpose. Why is knowing who you are in Him the essential choice?
Andrea: Boylan Sisters Entertainment just finished principal photography on a movie called: Identity Crisis. I have done a lot of thinking, meditating, and studying on this issue. Our culture seems to be telling us that uniqueness needs to be named and that our core identity, or “created in the image of God,” can or should change. I struggle with this conversation because when I talk to people wrestling with gender euphoria and questioning their sexuality, I see genuine concern, discomfort, and a deep sense of longing to feel whole.
I was one of those teenagers and young adults who always wanted to be in a different stage than where I found myself. I wanted to be grown, married, and have children. I was convinced that when I became a wife and mother, those feelings of longing would be fulfilled. My life experience has taught me that every new stage of life comes with new questions and the opportunity to have even more longing. Different is more than OK. God has created us with an array of personalities, gifts, and various appearances.
I struggle with staying at peace with whom God made me. Ten years ago, when I wrote a book about rest and openly wrestled with being disappointed with God, I took the next step toward being at peace in my skin. I don’t always stay at peace, but I do find that if I am disciplined to be vulnerable and stay real with others and myself, I find the peace that passes understanding.
Kathleen: To sustain ourselves in our 24/7 world, we must have boundaries. But often, we don’t draw the right boundary lines. What’s a boundary you struggle with within your work and life?
Andrea: I am a recovering people pleaser. I find that when my boundaries go down, my people-pleasing increases. I am a lifelong student of John Townsend and Henry Cloud’s book: Boundaries. I discovered the book when I was at a very low point as a pastor’s wife. I found myself sad, lonely, and resentful. This book taught me the difference between walling myself off and having a fence with a gate. The key was that I had control of the gate; I could open it or close it. The Boundaries book reviews each of the main areas of your life – family, marriage, kids, work, church, and family of origin. I often use the book as a reference going back to it to read just one chapter on whatever area of my life I am struggling in.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that when I let my guard down and allow what I think other people want to overtake me, I need to pause and adjust my boundaries. In the past, I would think: “If she would just do this, then I could feel this.” Learning how to hold healthy boundaries has freed me from the thought that someone else can make me feel a certain way. It has caused me to focus on what I can control and what I am responsible for.
I am currently watching the TV series, The Chosen for the third time. One of the things that I am struck with by Jesus’ example in that depiction is that He spent time with God and followed what God wanted, not what others wanted. He paused regularly to seek what His Father had for Him. I wish I could say I do this all the time. I don’t. But I’m a work in progress, always striving to notice how I feel and how I am behaving and stopping to invite God to inform me who I am!
Kathleen: God tells us to GO and be an influence in the world. Why is this important?
Seven years ago, I had a wild experience. It was following our movie Catching Faith which featured a Bible Study I had written called The Elijah Project. I’ll never forget the Saturday morning. My husband was making pancakes, our family was all home, and the kitchen was full of life and noise. My phone rang with a number from Florida. I don’t usually answer numbers I don’t know, but this time I did. It was almost like I had lost myself in the excitement of our home and just spontaneously answered. The voice on the other end of the phone spoke to me in broken English. I removed myself from the crazy family breakfast and sat on our landing while the words poured out. Ingrid Duarte had been brought back to spiritual life through the Bible Study I had written. She was asking permission to translate the workbook into Spanish and take it on her next trip to Cuba. Two months later, this woman, who I still had not met, texted me a picture of her luggage with the Elijah Project workbooks stacked inside. That day, I shared the news with my husband, and he said: “They are going to ask you to go to Cuba.” To which I responded: “No, I don’t speak Spanish.” A little later that same week, Ingrid sent me another text message; this one was a video of thirty women holding up their Elijah Project workbooks and saying: “Gracias, Andrea.” When Ingrid returned from her trip, she invited me to go to Cuba. Three months later, I met Ingrid and her husband at Fort Lauderdale airport, and we flew together to the nation of Cuba. A 45-minute flight from the United States, where we were met by true physical poverty and rich spiritual health. I told my story to hundreds of people who literally sat on windowsills and rows deep outside the doors. God has been so faithful, and we now have over 500 Elijah Project mentors teaching the Bible study across the country. This story is one of the times in my life when I said YES and then God said GO, and I can’t describe the blessing that has come from this ministry.
Kathleen: I am excited that the Elijah Project Bible Study will be what we will be studying online in our Influence Women’s INtogether Bible Study. I know it will be life changing for those who participate.
Finally…We all impact others’ lives. What’s the one thing you’ve learned about influence?
Andrea: Influence is a BIG word. With the rise of social media, becoming an “influencer” is sought after. For me, I feel it is a heavy weight. As soon as “people” are watching, whether online or off, I immediately get cocky and say something I don’t really believe. The thing I have learned about influence is that it is very important to be wise. My heart’s desire is to use my influence to give God glory, and I don’t mean that in a cheesy or churchy way. I mean that I struggle with a form of pride that relates to “getting credit” for what I do.
When I find myself caught up in getting what’s due to me, I have taken my eyes completely off of God and how He has intended to honor me and chosen to focus on how I want to be seen. Influence is something that should be guarded and treated with great respect. For me, I must put my eyes on Jesus so that He is influencing me first before I am influencing others.
Kathleen Cooke recently caught up with one of our Influence Women leaders, Ayanna Anene, and had a conversation on why she stays active in Influence Women and how the INtogether Bible study has been particularly important in supporting her life as she works in the industry.
Ayanna Anene is an event and film producer. Passionate about collaborating with creatives to develop and produce their work, she works as a script consultant with Stage32 and independently to shoot proof of concepts. Starting her entertainment career at The Walt Disney Company, she later joined an LA-based TV and film production company. A multi-faceted creative entrepreneur, Ayanna launched and established an artist residency based in Southern California and formed the core leadership team of a traveling performing arts ministry based in Orange County for several years, producing over 40 original musicals and plays during her term. Ayanna is a Wharton School of Business graduate and a passionate member of The Influence Women Hollywood Chapter.
Kathleen Cooke: Thanks for joining us on this INNER VIEW, Ayanna! Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you’ve been up to?
Ayanna Anene: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with the women of Influence Women. I am a film and event producer. I collaborate with writers to improve and produce their scripts. I also consult with artists and creatives of all kinds to develop a strategy for their creative careers. I’ve also launched an artist residency based in Southern California. I have facilitated the Bible study for the West Coast, Central, and East Coast time zones for the past three sessions. It has afforded me opportunities to connect with people in the industry, not only in my city of Los Angeles, but from all over the world. It’s been amazing!
Kathleen: What is the single most important thing you learned from the recent study on Nehemiah? How did it affect your perspective on career and life?
Ayanna: What struck me the most about the Bible study you wrote was how we each have a part to play in the Kingdom of God. In Nehemiah’s day, God gave him a vision to see the walls of the city of Jerusalem rebuilt and restored. Each person was assigned a task. No task was too great, or too small. Some were laying bricks while others were standing guard with swords drawn, staying alert for attack or sabotage from their enemies. Some were working on the east gate, while others were on the west gate. The assignments were different and unique to each clan and family. But each is vitally important.
The entertainment and media space is vast. Some are inspired to be make-up artists, and others are stylists, while there are others who are passionate about editing, acting, animation, writing, composing music, set design, publishing, etc. There are now more channels than ever to reach audiences with a message— from TV channels to streamers, to personal websites, podcast platforms, social media outlets like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and the list goes on. The opportunities are vast; just like in Nehemiah’s day, no one’s role is too small or too large. We are each playing a part in a much larger movement in God’s Kingdom.
It reminds me that what is a desire in my heart is not too large for God to fulfill or too small to be worth pursuing. And neither is the desire in yours. Whatever we do, we do as unto the Lord, and it is an important piece in the rebuilding of His Kingdom on earth.
Kathleen: What makes this online bible study unique to women in the industry and why do they need to join the 6-week series starting Sept 5th?
Ayanna: I think the Bible study is an opportunity to connect with other women who know the unique challenges and opportunities of working in the media and entertainment spaces. It is an opportunity to build connections and relationships and learn from the experiences of women in different facets of the entertainment industry. I am also excited about the new Elijah study this year. We are to be women of fire and discernment, and I believe Elijah has a lot to teach us about that.
Connect with Ayanna:
Don’t miss out on an opportunity to grow in your faith and career! The INtogether Bible series begins on September 5th at 7 pm for six weeks – one hour in your time zone, or you can join another time zone group if it better fits into your schedule. Dive into scripture and find great connections with other women in the industry who also want to align their work and faith!
Free Registrations open August 1st on the website!
Are you trusting God through the process? The ins and outs of life can take unexpected turns, but read this month’s INNER VIEW with Jodie Swee as she encourages us to grow, view failure through a different lens, and earn our place of influence with others.
Jodie Swee is a spiritual director, dating coach, and founder of Topanga Social, a dating service for imperfect Christians. Jodie has authored four Bible study series and shared her joy and authenticity with audiences for over 20 years. She lives in the South Bay of Los Angeles with her husband of 16 years and their 2 daughters.
Kathleen Cooke: What’s the one thing you’d like to share with women that God has recently taught you?
Jodie Swee: Trust the process! Growth and accomplishment don’t usually happen overnight. If you spend quality time with Jesus regularly, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and do your best with what you have, then trust that the Lord will take care of you and lead you to where you need to be.
When you trust the process, you discover an invitation to experience things differently. Failure becomes an opportunity to learn, detours become adventures, and the lack of control over external circumstances becomes a chance to surrender your internal perspective to the Lord.
I recently had a conversation with my best friend, and at that moment, I wasn’t trusting the process. Let me share with you what she told me.
She said, “Babies have to grow.” And she’s right. Our babies…our hopes, dreams, and expectations for the future… need to grow. They need to grow so that the Lord can teach us how to take care of them before they become unruly teenagers with their own ideas!
So, my dear friends, trust the process and enjoy the adventure it brings.
Kathleen: Failure today often dismantles us. How have you dealt with failures in your life?
Jodie: I hate failure. I loathe it. It makes me feel all squishy and small inside, and for many years I used to hide from it behind excuses. But not anymore. Instead of running and hiding from my failure, the Lord has taught me to turn and face it. Don’t get me wrong, I still HATE it, and it makes me feel icky inside. My initial instinct is still to run and hide, but the Lord has granted me the ability to pause before doing so (or before getting too far) and embrace my failure.I don’t embrace it for long, but rather than run from my failure, I receive it…and then bring it to the Lord and yield it. When I do that, he transforms it into something else…something beautiful and beneficial to me and/or others.
Twenty years ago, I was speaking at a young adult event in a church. I completely bombed. After I finished, someone in the crowd actually shouted, “That’s it?” I thought I would be consumed by shame. I blamed it on my lack of talent/skill and ended up quitting speaking for a decade. Until the Lord invited me to try again (which is a sweet, sweet story for another time).
Last year, I was speaking at another church event, and once again, I completely bombed. I experienced all the familiar feelings, but then I laughed (a little) and brought it to the Lord. In doing so, I discovered an opportunity to deepen my spiritual practices before and after speaking. The failure became a gift that will serve me and others for the rest of my life.
For a long time, I thought that someday I would be so wise and experienced that I wouldn’t fail anymore. Bless my naive little heart! Now, I am indeed wiser and more experienced…and I know I’ll never outgrow failure (this side of eternity). It’s not something to outgrow or run away from. It’s something to embrace, even with its uncomfortable feelings, and surrender so we can experience more of God’s transformative love in our lives.
Kathleen: You have a deep passion to help others with growing strong, meaningful relationships. What have you learned about developing relationships that last and can be trusted?
Jodie: I have a deep and fierce love for people, and I pastor many. It is my purpose and passion. However, personally, I tend to be somewhat of a loner. Surprisingly, my inner circle is quite small, not by choice but by some intentional design, I believe. Throughout my adult life, I have consistently sought out a steady mentor, but I have never had one. Nevertheless, I have been fortunate to receive bits of wisdom from older friends who have come and gone throughout my journey.
I have ADHD, and I’m not awesome at keeping up with people who live far away. (Out of sight, out of mind is LEGIT for us neurodivergent homies.) I didn’t meet my best friend until I was 42. She was leading worship; I was giving the message…and we bonded for life over the realization that we both experienced the love of Jesus through the TV series Outlander. (That’s weird, I know…but that’s why she’s my bestie.)
My relational experience over the years has taught me to enjoy and delight in what I have, grieve and release what has been lost as a natural part of life, and always be on the lookout for my next kindred spirit to pop up in an unexpected place.
Kathleen: What’s the one thing you’ve learned about how we can influence others?
Jodie: Honestly? I’ve learned that influence can be a sneaky and destructive beast, and it is important for us to be mindful of how we wield it and the individuals we permit to influence us.
Influence should not be won; it should be earned.
I believe that it is earned by faithfully pursuing our calling with our whole lives (public and private), being honest and saying “I don’t have an answer to that” when we don’t, and being intentional about sitting under the authority and influence of God. Any influence we have not supported by a firm foundation in Jesus is just an invitation for that sneaky Satan to twist and misuse. Influence shouldn’t puff us up or make us strong; it should keep us humble and desperately in need of the Lord’s guidance.
Connect with Jodie:
Book a free intro session at: JodieSwee.com
Instagram: @jodieswee and @topangasocial
As a follow-up to our incredibly successful Influence Women Webinar, How to Publish a Book: What You Need to Know to Write and Launch Your Book Successfully, we are revisiting some questions that we ran out of time to answer!
If you haven’t been joining our monthly Influence Women webinars, you need to! Each month we chat with a leading woman of influence who can inspire and bring clarity to your career path. Beyond the webinars, we also offer 6-week mentorships with many of these professional women to help grow your career and life. We encourage you to keep an eye on our website as new webinars and mentorships are being offered regularly each month. Take advantage of the resources and knowledge these women can give you!
Hope Lyda is an author, writing coach and companion, spiritual director, and senior development editor. She’s worked in faith-based publishing for more than 25 years and has accompanied more than 120 writers through the process of finding their voices and expressing their hearts on the page.
Hope considers it an honor to help writers shape their messages with engaging structure, tone, and pace. She also companions them with spiritual insight and inquiry, so they draw from their experiences and beliefs to deepen those messages. She has authored more than 35 books (combined sales of over 1.5 million copies), including the bestselling One-Minute Prayers® for Women and more than 15 other books in the One-Minute Prayers® series. Hope has penned a few novels as well as several devotionals such as What Do You Need Today? and Life as a Prayer. Her book My Unedited Writing Year—a gathering of 365 prompts—combines her passions for writing and spiritual direction to invite others to explore life, faith, and creativity.
Hope lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband, Marc, and dog, Bodie (his breed is Attention Hound). When not writing or guiding another writer, she’s taking walks, going to independent films, brainstorming, listening to podcasts, buying MORE books, or planning her next retreat to the coast or desert. She is delighted and grateful when she can take in the gifts of a landscape to feed her spirit and refresh her creativity.
Kathleen Cooke: Devotionals are everywhere. Will people buy them? What’s the secret to writing one that will be chosen by a publisher and purchased by shoppers?
Hope Lyda: Devotionals are everywhere. Even after having several published, I am pausing as I craft some new proposals because I want to think through a few things:
1. Does the devo topic meet a heart need that might not be addressed in the market right now?
2. I ask myself the same questions I ask writers I companion: Why me and why this book? Follow-up questions for this…Can I bring wisdom and depth and offer the right tone for this particular devotional? And do I, as a reader, see and feel the lack of books embracing and exploring this topic in the marketplace?
3. Is there a special structure, format, and voice that gives this devo concept an edge for a publisher who might be interested in the topic but also unsure about one more devotional? The way a message is presented can become the star quality that shines brighter than other factors and give a publisher a reason to look twice at a concept.
Kathleen: If your manuscript is 35 pages, would you publish it as a short story, novella, or essay?
Hope: A short 35-page fiction manuscript could be a novella. That is probably at the long end for parameters, but doable. If you had an interest in a novella publisher or an online marketplace, or e-zine that publishes them, that could work. If this is a topical exploration…non-fiction, then it could be used as a supplemental resource or an online book offering that you use as part of a course you create, a bonus offering for sign-ups, or simply as a short book you are selling yourself from your site.
Before any of those decisions, however, sit with the material. If fiction, is this actually a story arc you would love to dig into for a full-length book? If non-fiction, is there a lot more you’d have to offer on this topic or aspects of it that could be fleshed out to create a 12+ chapter manuscript of 176 pages or more?
If you keep it as a novella, you might watch for contests or calls for submissions from groups online or publishers that are focusing on this category. See what their word/page count requirements are. This could help you to see what the “norm” is or at least what the most sought-after format is. There are lots of flash fiction contests and challenges. Those are much shorter (typically 300-1000 words!) and are great as writing exercises to work those story creation muscles! You might end up with a concept for a full length novel from doing those.
Kathleen: Lots of books today have quotes in them. Are they needed? Do they help in keeping the readers’ attention? Are they good to have them highlighted in the middle of the pages as a creative insert?
Hope: Quotes! I personally love them. They can be very useful to create a structure/design that has standout appeal. They do draw readers in and help highlight the heart of a message one is presenting in a typical Christian living book or a devotional/prayer book. There are different ways quotes are used.
1. A quote from another resource (other than your own brilliant mind) can be used as an epigraph (kicks off a chapter/section at the top). If you are using quotes in this way, be sure you are accurately quoting the original material and crediting the writer. Also, there are copyright rules to follow. A joke where I work is that for gift books and some other project, we are always looking for great quotes by long-dead people. Material that is in the public domain allows your usage without concern for copyright restrictions. I get way too excited when I find a book of quotes at an estate sale or a fabulous topical read that is based on writings from the 1800s or early 1900s. Anyway, contrary to popular practices on social media…you need to credit the source and do it properly. And if the quote is used in the flow of content and is over a certain length, then permission from the source publisher is also required. Keep in mind, all the writers who have gone before (or who published a great article last week) worked hard to craft the lines we find worth sharing and repeating…they deserve the recognition legally and ethically. This may require endnotes to cite sources, so keep that in mind. I will say that I like the idea of honoring the voices that have impacted my faith and writing journey and promoting those when it serves the book concept as a whole and the end reader.
2. Quotes FROM your genius mind that are IN the flow of your book’s content can be duplicated and echoed in the design. This is a call-out and may be what the webinar inquiry is related to. These are very popular, and I do think they have value. Choose quotes that are easily read and absorbed. Those a-ha thoughts are the best. They also reinforce the message of that particular chapter and can become those stepping stones (or breadcrumbs) I love so much that help to gently guide a reader through the arc of the message.
3. Quotes that come from your amazing mind but are NOT in the flow of content can be designed and placed in the book as enhancements to the message. Some call these sticky statements, I believe. I think of them as a sort of friendly “Hey, get this…” to point the reader to an insight or maybe even a question/prompt that deepens their engagement with the content. It isn’t in the chapter or offering and is only in that set-apart form.
For both of these last two kinds of quotes, there is value on the marketing end. For example, if these are full-page designs or easy to capture, readers will take a pic and post them. You can encourage that in your book’s intro and suggest a hashtag even. The publisher may also want to use them for A+ pages on Amazon (these are publishers paid for more elaborate descriptions and photos for a book) or for their promotional posts. We have even created bonus offerings for a few books using such quotes and printing them on frame-worthy cardstock.
Don’t overuse call-outs or set-apart quotes. They can become a distraction and not an enhancement. Choose wisely. As you write, think about crafting short, powerful lines that could be good for such highlighting.
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