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Introducing the Writer’s Chat and Devotionals

When I first started taking workshops and reading online about the craft of writing, I was struck by how little I knew. Hooray, more learning! Like any good librarian (my career prior to children), I started researching, devouring, and testing out different methods. Librarians also loathe to keep information to themselves.

Much of the advice about the craft of writing online is “Do what is right for you” and “Follow the rules” which is closely followed by “There are no rules.” The advice usually ends with a list of books to read on craft. I longed for something grittier and practical. I want a discussion about some of the stuff I am learning. And by discussion, I mean I need to write some of this out so I can understand it better. I am a writer. It is what I do. I write to understand.

Starting tomorrow, I am going to post every other week (that is my goal, hold me to it!) on a writing topic covering something I have learned about the craft or the industry or something I have found that works for me.

On alternating weeks, I am going to continue a series I started on my family blog of devotionals for writers. They are small devotionals whirch pose questions both to you personally and to your characters. They are an alternative to understanding different aspects of your characters’ personalities outside of a standard GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict) chart.

I hope you will come on this journey with me and share some things along the way.

Bouquets of Books

I overheard a man in front of me at the store on Thursday telling the cashier he had spent $80 on flowers for his girlfriend. He was purchasing a gigantic box of chocolate candy and bemoaning the money he would also be spending on dinner the next night.

I realize some women must love overpriced flowers and mediocre chocolates because Valentine’s continues to get crazier every year. I am just not one of them. I spent the evening on Friday, flower and chocolate candy free. I went to the Lego movie with all the boys in my house (it was adorable and hilarious) and then we had milkshakes (I got chocolate). It was a perfect evening out and everyone had fun. No pressure.

I could not help thinking as I watched the man being checked out that if Mr. Rochester came home with $80 flowers for me, I would be furious.

Eighty dollars would buy a lot of books.

Discussing Indie Publishing

I have spent the last few weeks pondering indie publishing in a practical sense: what the prospects are, what kinds of things to budget for, and reading basic-how tos. Recently, there have been some reports and discussions on indie/self publishing that I have found interesting and encouraging, but not terribly surprising.

Beverly Kendall’s Self-Publishing Survey 2013 (link goes to pdf) polled 822 self-published authors about their earnings, price points, and release schedules. The overall conclusion Kendall draws from the results is that authors who spent time and money on professional presentation (graphics and editing), who wrote series instead of singles, and offered one of the series for free are out-performing what is generally reported in the press.

While success is not assured no matter the method of publishing you choose, 48.05% of self published authors earned more than $10,000 last year. In this survey, many self published authors were also published traditionally or digital first. Almost a majority of the traditionally published authors who responded (47.06%) earned more self publishing. The traditionally published authors who earned more with that route had twelve or more books out under a traditional press.

The  incomparable Chuck Wendig has a set of posts about getting self publishing to the right place. Not surprisingly, his comments are controversial to some, but I think he is bloody brilliant. The first is a call to be awesome.

The culture will need to start asking tougher questions. If we’re going to admit that self-publishing is an equal choice, then it’s time to step up and act like it. It’s time to stop acting like the little brother trailing behind big sister. Time to be practical. And professional.

Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.

You should just go read the both posts. The follow-up explains, in true Wendig style, what readers should and should not be to an author, indies in particular.

Asking readers to be your gatekeepers is putting a lot of responsibility on the people who are paying you. Stop saying you’re going to let the readers figure it out when it comes to sorting through what’s crap and what’s not. You need to figure that out. That’s on you.

Both posts are a call to writers to hone their craft and put forth the best product possible for readers. The best product means a professional, well-produced product. We are, after all, asking readers to pay us money for stuff we made up in our heads. Wendig’s premise is held up by Kendall’s survey results. Authors who spend time and money on editing and design make more money in the long run.

Jeremy Greenfield and Dana Beth Weinburg from Digital Book World published What Advantages Do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors? A Comparison of Traditional and Indie Publishing From the Authors’ Perspective. You can read a brief summary with some charts on the blog here.

The categories in which all types of authors (aspiring, self-published, hybrid, and traditionally published) agreed traditional publishing has an advantage is a wider audience, better marketing, and the opportunity to be a bestseller. Otherwise, the categories seemed to favor self-publishing.

The most telling responses were from the hybrid authors. These authors, with a foot in both worlds, have a perspective to give a better picture of what is possible in both scenarios. They were the ones most likely to say that quality is the same regardless of being indie or traditionally published. Hybrid authors also thought their earnings potential was greater with indie publishing. I would be curious to know how many of the hybrid authors spent money on editing and graphic design.

One more note on the responses of the hybrid authors. They were more likely to think that marketing opportunities for traditional and indie publishing would be similar. I would like to know how many of them write in sub-genres which receive little or no marketing backing from their publisher.

I do disagree in part with the conclusion drawn by the authors of the survey. They list stardom as one of the motivations for going with a traditional publisher. While I would agree that some people striving for a traditional contract want to be bestsellers, the vast majority of authors just want to write compelling stories people want to read and pay a bit of money for. I do not want to make a million dollars and be on the NYT Lists. Would that be nice? Yes, but that is not my end goal. I just want to create something worth people’s time and money that they will love.

These things, and others, have led me to the same conclusion. I am saving up money to start self publishing the current series I am writing. It will take me some time to save what I think I need, but writing takes time and creating a great book takes even longer. The end result will be worth the time and effort.

–Jane, learning to be great

 

Books Read in 2013

Here is the annual list.

I have to admit, the number of books I read this year disappoints me. It is the lowest since I started tracking my numbers. I went back to work part-time this year and I think that made an impact. I also spent more time writing and researching for the new series I started in September.

Along with the lower numbers, almost all the books are some sort of romance genre. I did not stray far this year from my first love. In 2014, I am going to try to branch out a bit. I would like to have more scifi/fantasy on the next list.

Books Read – 34

Least books in a month: April and July with 1 each
Most books in a month: October and December with 5 each

Best books: The first two books on this list are auto-buy authors for me. Not only do I adore their stories, but they are lovely ladies online as well. I wish I could tell you how much I adore them. If I ever meet either of them in person, my head might explode.

How Beauty Loved the Beast by Jax Garren (May) – A wonderful culmination to a trilogy that has captivated me. By captivated, I mean this series is like the best kind of drug. I have no will to resist. (See Best Rereads below)

Bewitched by Sandra Schwab (August) – Bewitched is a touching tale of magic, love, and the miracles love can work in our lives. Schwab has a way with words that reminds me of Austen and she makes me swoon. She is a wonderfully smart lady who throws references to literature, history, and culture into her books. Fabulous.

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourne (December) – Every once in awhile you find that book whose words drip from the page into your pores. This is one of those books. The way Raybourne paints Africa you can feel the heat of the sun and hear the animals hidden in the grass. Raybourne uses complicated, but beautiful characters, to draw you into a timeless story. It is perfect.

Best reread: The Jax Garren Beauty and Beast books. They are irresistible to me. I go to read one and then have to read them all. It’s a sickness, but I don’t want the cure. In fact, just writing about them makes me want to read them again.

Unexpected find: Stone Guardian by Danielle Monsch – Sexy. Gargoyles. I don’t really think I have to say more.

Hottest read: Takhini Wolves series (Black Gold, Silver Mine, Diamond Dust) by Vivian Arend – No one, I think, does shifters like Arend.

Books By Month
January – 2
Lady X’s Cowboy by Zoe Archer
All He Ever Dreamed by Shannon Stacey

February – 4
Firelight by Kristen Callihan
How Beauty Met the Beast by Jax Garren
How Beauty Saved the Beast by Jax Garren
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

March – 2
Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

April – 1
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

May – 3
The Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory
How Beauty Saved the Beast by J. C. Garren
*How Beauty Loved the Beast by Jax Garren

June – 3
Ten Days by Olivia Mayfield
Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow
Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow

July – 1
Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis ed. JuliAnna Avila and Jessica Zacher Pandya

August – 4
*Bewitched by Sandra Schwab
Betrayal by Sandra Schwab
Black Gold by Vivian Arend
Harry Potter and the Half -Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

September – 1
Silver Mine by Vivian Arend

October – 5
Diamond Dust by Vivian Arend
Stone Guardian by Danielle Monsch
Simply Love by Mary Balogh
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

November – 3
Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison

December – 5
*A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourne
All She Wanted by Nicole Deese
Far in the Wilds by Deanna Raybourne
Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
Love A Little Sideways by Shannon Stacey

Retreating

Retreat: v. - (of an army) withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat.

Retreat: n. – 1. an act of moving back or withdrawing. 2. withdraw to a quiet or secluded place.

I have always wanted to go on a writer’s retreat. It sounds romantic, to be able to move away from the world and surround oneself with the creation of words and nothing else. A writer’s retreat is something real writers do, the kind of writers with books on the shelf and a room of their own in which to write.

Hogwash, all of it.

This past weekend, I went to my family’s lake house with four other women who write. Three of them write Christian genre fiction and one of them is working on a Christian nonfiction. I was the odd woman out, writing fantasy romance, but we had an amazing time.

For me, the weekend was a withdrawal from enemy forces. My enemies being two large dogs, two small boys, and one wonderful husband.

They allow me to write often enough, sometimes every day, but their demands are many. Even now, I am writing at the table with one boy eating a meal I prepared and one demanding to sit in my lap. Previous to this paragraph, I was interrupted by poop (not mine), an argument (in which I was called in to referee), and a consultation about clothing choices for the day. It gets wearisome.

I am not a part of a f2f writer’s circle. I have friends online to which I pose questions on craft or business, but I have never shared my work in real time. It was eye-opening.

Humans are, at our base, social creatures who desire community. Though writers create in isolation, is was nice to create in a shared space for a short time.

We would work on our own, then come together to read paragraphs, read openings, work out sticky plot points, and discuss the publishing industry. During meals, we shared our lives and got to know each other.

My goal for the retreat, which was only about 26 hours long, was 10,000 words. I was a couple hundred words shy, but I ended in a great spot.

The retreat reinforced that we all feel inadequate, we all juggle complicated lives, and a room of one’s own may look more like a corner of the couch or family table and less like a writer’s hut. Of course, if anyone would like to re-purpose an old Airstream, cabin, or train car into office for me, please, feel free to do so.

–Jane, writer of magical things

 

A Classified Ad for a Publisher

I am taking a class on query and synopsis writing. Most of the class is basic marketing with a publishing spin. The package sent to a publisher is, in its essence, the author marketing themselves and their work to an editor or publisher. We all know this, but it is nice to hear an editor’s POV when they are reading the stuff we send them.

Thinking about how I sell myself and my work has forced me to think about what I want from a publisher. A query is like any job hunt and any interview is just as much about how much they like you as how much you like them.

There are many flavors of publishers out there, from the big behemoths to tiny e-presses. There are benefits to the different choices and disadvantages to others, as there is with all things. Going through this process, I have created a list of things I want and look for when searching out places to market my work.

Here is the general list:

I want a publisher who emphasizes ebooks. I know electronic format is the future and I want to be somewhere this idea is valued. I like and read print books, but they are not the future of the industry.

I want a place I can grow as an author. I am not looking for an opportunity to publish the next blockbuster, though I would not turn that down. I have more realistic goals. I want a place to stretch my wings and I want an editor who can guide me on that path. Behind every great writer, is a brilliant editor. Developing a cooperative, trusting relationship with an editor is one of the things I am looking forward to the most in this process.

I am halfway through a cross genre series, a traditional fantasy with strong romantic elements, and my next series will probably be a scfi/space opera with strong romantic elements. I need a publishing company that is not afraid of cross genre work.

I want to be a marketing partner with my publishing company and I evaluate their webpages accordingly. No matter what size or prestige of a company, if their social media links are hard to find or contain terrible content, that is a huge red flag for me. In fact, this is a red flag for any company with which I want to do business.

That is my list. Short. Sweet. Not too complicated, I think.

Jane, searching

 

Why I Write

After my post about my mixed thoughts on both traditional and self-publishing, I have continued to think about the purpose of what I do and yesterday, I had a big thought.

When I wrote Mob Rule Learning, I did so because the topic is important to me. I believe strongly in the power of a group to do amazing, revolutionary things. Our country was created by a group of passionate people who came together and made something new, a mob passionate for freedom.

I wrote that book because the idea has power. When people tell me they like Mob Rule Learning, I smile and am happy knowing that they understand the power of people too. I thought if anyone ever read my fiction and liked it, I would have the same kind of happiness. It is the happiness like-minded people find in a good conversation.

I think I vastly underestimated my own feelings about fiction and how that would tie into my feelings about my writing.

Something happens to me when I read fiction that does not happen when I read non-fiction. Every once in awhile you read one of those books. You know the ones. The ones where you fall down the rabbit hole and you never want out. The ones where you are afraid to get to the end because you will miss the characters. The ones that make your heart beat faster. The books that make you fall in love and you want to read over and over and over. The ones you stay up all night reading and then have troubling going to sleep because the whole thing is there in your head.

Those books.

Perhaps some of you feel that way about non-fiction, but for me, it is fiction.

One day, I want someone to fall down the rabbit hole into a world I made. I want them to fall in love with the characters from my head. I want to give that to someone. Even if this only ever happens once and even if I never know, that is the reason I write fiction.

It is not the only reason. The characters in my head never leave me alone until I write them down and I am a much happier person when I have a little time to write, but those are not the secret-wish-in-my-heart reason.

I want to give back to the world once what I have been given many, many times over. I am, after all, just a bibliophile.

–Jane, always reading

 

 

What the Golden Ticket Really Costs

I am in the process of querying the first novel in my fantasy romance series. I decided to directly query publishers, without an agent, because most of the publishers I wanted were epubs who took unagented submissions. I feel good about that decision, most days anyway, but I still have very mixed feelings about traditional publishing in general.

Disclaimer: I love books. I love reading books. Print books. Ebooks. As long as it has words in it and is a genre I like, I will read it so I am not snobby about format. I also buy my books and ebooks from a variety of sources: Amazon, used book sales, brick and mortar book stores, direct from publishers, and places like Smashwords, so I am not snobby about where the book comes from either.

The trouble comes when I start looking at numbers comparing traditional publishing to self publishing. Courtney Milan wrote an honest discussion with Ask A Mermaid recently where she discussed how to do a Profit and Loss (P&L) analysis for a book. Milan is a very successful romance author with an established author platform. She started doing P&L comparisons for books when she received an offer from Harlequin for a book she was also considering for self-publishing.

So if I only looked at the first year of my P&L, I would have said to go with Harlequin’s offer. But year two was where I thought I would get ahead: I projected about half the sales from year 1 in year 2, making the worst case scenario $12,568, the best guess scenario $39,000, and the best case scenario $77,775.

Doing the P&L this way forced me to accept that I was taking a risk—that there was a real chance that I would lose money by turning down Harlequin’s offer—but that the upside potential for the book was much, much larger by choosing to self-publish.

Milan’s established platform has allowed her to be successful publishing both traditional and self-published books. The catch here is that she had a very well established author platform.

Recently, Mike Corker, founder of Smashwords, shared a long post which analyzed the indie book market using data from Smashwords. Smashwords enables authors to publish their work and easily distribute it to all major eretailers while allowing them to retain their rights and keep 85% of the net profit. The standard net for authors from traditional publishers is 25-40% for ebooks and range from 10-20% for print.

The analysis of the data from Smashwords is fascinating in terms of title length, price points, and word count. Where it really drives home, though, is author profit:

Allow me to break it down this way.  An indie ebook author earns about $2.00 from the sale of a $2.99 book.  That book, on average, will sell four times as many units as a book priced over $10.00.  In order for a traditionally published author to earn $2.00 on an ebook sale, the book must be priced at  $11.42 (if the publisher has agency terms, as Smashwords does) or $16.00 (if it’s a wholesale publisher).  Remember, traditionally published authors earn only 25% of the net, whereas Smashwords authors earn 85% net.  If your book is traditionally published, and your publisher sells under the wholesale pricing model, you earn only about $1.25 for a book priced at $9.99, whereas an indie ebook author would earn $6.00-$8.00 at that price.

If a reader has the choice to purchase one of two books of equal quality, and one is priced at $2.99 and the other is priced at $12.99, which will they choose?

The numbers are staggering, but Corker’s last question is an important one and too often overlooked. There are buckets full of arguments for or against self-publishing. Some of those arguments have merit and some are just people being ugly to the wild child threatening the marble halls of the publishing industry.

As a reader, I choose, almost always, to buy the cheaper, equal quality book because I can only buy so many and I would rather have more for my money. If I am going to spend over $10 on an ebook, I spend a long time thinking about it. Sometimes, I spend so long considering the purchase, I forget to buy it, even for authors I love. It is the main reason why there are some very popular series on my TBR list where I am more than one book behind. I love them, but I do not $10 love them.

Not only are books and ebooks from traditional publishers often more expensive, less of that price goes back to the author. Now, I know all about overhead costs with traditional publishing. I know why publishers price their books the way they do, but there will come a day, and that day might be now, when the way we do publishing changes and those price points will change too.

I did not decide to start writing for the money. No person with any bit of sanity and self-preservation does this for the money, but that does not mean I do not compare the number 85% and 40% and see the difference between them. I may not be great at Math but I can do addition and subtraction well enough.

There are costs to self-publishing, if you do it well. Editors, book covers, and marketing take both money and time. A P&L, as Milan pointed out, is essential to understanding the business behind your book. Even with these costs, if an author intends to build a platform over the course of a lifetime, self-publishing seems to be a better deal.

Recently, an author behaved badly and ranted about how good books do not earn money but popular trash, in this case erotic romance, sells well. (The original post was deleted by the author, but Heidi Cullinan’s response is brilliant.) Writers hear advice all the time about not writing to the market and writing the story they want to tell. That is good advice, but I am realistic. I know romantic epic fantasy is not a high selling genre. I have seen editors share frankly on Twitter that people say they want fantasy and sci-fi romance, but the sales numbers do not support it.

Sadly, if you go on almost any sci-fi/fantasy blog or website which reviews or lists books, there are very few by women and even fewer with romantic elements. Without some romance, the stories always feel flat to me. I want romance in the books I read and I want to write those books. I have done enough reading on the industry now, though, to know my audience is probably going to be small. I am fine with that, but a publisher may not be fine with the smaller earning potential.

Controlling my copyright is also important to me. It is hard to imagine signing over a significant portion of copyright for a small share of the profits. It breaks my librarian heart. I have done it for non-fiction in the past and it was hard to sign that line. I did it because I knew I had to sign to get what I wanted: a pretty print book in my hands. That is not to say I did not love my non-fiction publishers and editors, I did. They were wonderful to me.

When I started talking to Mr. Rochester seriously about writing fiction, he suggested I self-publish. I shook my head. I wanted a contract with a publisher, the golden ticket of affirmation in my hand. When I told my friend Jason Griffey I was writing fiction two years ago, he immediately laid out all of the reasons I should self-publish, most of which I have discussed in this post. I told him I would think about it, but what I was really thinking was that was not for me.

I have learned in two years things I did not know then, about writing and about the industry. My opinion is still evolving, but indie publishing has grown from a squalling infant to a college graduate, eager to please and show what it can do. I think the potential for indie/self-publishing is enormous  I think the way traditional publishing stands at this moment there is no growth potential. Traditional publishing is having growth and change pains. They will figure it out eventually, but it is going to be a messy, rocky road.

I have been querying publishers for almost a year now. I am waiting on four more responses. If they all come back negative, I am going to make a detailed P&L for self-publishing, draft a plan for editing and marketing, and then move forward. If I receive an offer from one of the publishers, I am still going to do a P&L and I am going to think very long and hard about saying yes.

I want a better share of the profits. I want more control over my copyright. I also want that golden ticket of affirmation from the industry, but I want to build a platform over the course of my career more than I need a publisher’s approval.

–Jane, happy to be writing

Book Review: Tales of the Underlight series by Jax Garren

This review is for the first two books of the Tales of the Underlight series by Jax Garren. The third book comes out today, so guess what I am doing for the rest of the day. You can read a mini review of the first book, How Beauty Met the Beast in my Books read in 2012 post.

Here is the blurb from the publisher for the first and second books:

How Beauty Met the Beast: Book 1

The Beast

Scarred. Damaged. Living with a terrible secret. Agent of the Underlight Wesley “Hauk” Haukon has nothing left but the fight for liberty against the oppressive Order of Ananke. He’s starting to lose hope…and then he sees her.

The Beauty

Despite her night job as a burlesque dancer, grad student Jolie Benoit has always played the mostly good girl. That all changes following a scorching sexual encounter with a stranger whose face she doesn’t see. After she’s kidnapped by thugs and rescued by a man with a very familiar voice, Jolie becomes a pawn in a struggle she never knew existed.

Hauk knows he cannot have her, and resolves to protect his heart and his secrets. But as they work together and grow closer, he finds new reason to keep fighting. Dare he risk hope in a new life, one where Jolie can see past his ravaged face and where their friendship can grow into something more?

 

 How Beauty Saved the Beast: Book 2

Jolie Benoit left her old life behind to become an agent of the Underlight. Training under Sergeant Wesley Haukon, she’s honing her combat skills, all the while coping with the intense sexual attraction she feels for Hauk. She keeps their friendship casual, but when his high school sweetheart transfers into their division, Jolie finds herself grappling with jealousy.

The Underlight gave Hauk a purpose, but he can’t escape his past completely. The physical and emotional scars from the fire that killed seven fellow Army Rangers will mark him forever. Jolie sends his protective instincts into overdrive, but he’s convinced he’ll never be worthy of her love.

Hauk is determined to keep Jolie from harm. But when the Order of Ananke ambushes them with a new weapon that neutralizes Hauk, making him vulnerable, it’s Jolie who must tap into her hidden strengths to rescue him–or risk losing him forever…

 

A tortured hero makes me swoon. A tortured hero who is a gentleman and does not use his baggage as an excuse to be an overbearing idiot is even better. A tortured hero who is also not conventionally handsome hits all my spots, the good ones.

Hauk is isolated physically and emotionally from others, even his friends, and this distance makes his growing relationship with Jolie nail biting. The way they gravitate towards each other, only to fling themselves away, builds the tension between them. Garren crafts Hauk and Jolie perfectly so their relationship woes are never forced or irritating to the reader. On the contrary, the reasons, especially on Hauk’s side, were heart wrenching.

Jolie has had all of the advantages of a privileged upbringing but has retained a decent moral character. Unfortunately, this has isolated her from most of her family and leaves few she trusts. Unlike Hauk, who is isolated because of his appearance (and that pesky thing about being suspected of murder), Jolie is isolated by her last name and her money. Both of these characters have some serious baggage dragging along behind them.

The pages are fairly smoking from the chemistry between Hauk and Jolie. The first novel starts off with an encounter that could set a sheet aflame (ahem) and the tension never drops from there. Hauk and Jolie, after the initial encounter, do not touch often but the reader keenly knows every time they do. By the time I finished reading the second book, the book was scorching my hands.

The romance is great, but the plot is not too shabby either. There are pagan, excuse me, heathen gods, good guys fighting evil power hungry men, magical mysteries, and people trying to build a better world. There are subtle, and not so subtle, references to steampunk, anarchy, fairy tales, science, burlesque, and Austin culture in the story line. It is a wild mix that Garren weaves together fluidly for a very fun ride.

These are books that I frequently recommend, and by recommend I mean beat over the head with, to people, and by people I mean anyone unfortunate enough to admit they read books. There are three books in this series, all increasing in length, and all very reasonably priced from the wonderful Carina Press. The third book, How Beauty Loved the Beast, comes out TODAY.

Do yourself a favor and make a very nice lady (Jax Garren) happy. Go. Buy. Read. And fall in love.

P.S. I will admit without coercion that I have read Met three times and Saved twice and all the bits around the web as well. I am head over burlesque heels.

Jane, has received nothing for this review except perhaps the right to stalk Jax Garren at the next conference we both attend.

 

Creating Value Statements in 60 Minutes or Less

In February, I helped the women’s ministry at my church come up with value statements to go with our new mission and vision statements. I had less than 60 minutes to get a room full of opinionated women to agree to seven or less short statements of value. Here is how I did it.

Before you start planning, I suggest you watch the Digital Strategist’s videos on Mission, Vision, and Value statements. She has an excellent way of explaining the purpose of each and simple ways to craft them. They are very short.

For this exercise, you will need:

  • Post-its, regular size, one stack for each participant
  • one flip chart post it
  • pens for everyone
  • a room of passionate people
  • a good facilitator
  • one hour

The women in the room had already discussed the new mission and vision statements so they were familiar with them and had already bought into them as a group. How we created group buy-in is another topic for another post, but your group needs to believe in what they do for this to work. The individuals do not need to be the same (personality, training, etc.) just passionate about what your group is doing.

I began by explaining that value statements tell others what you believe in and hold to be true. They do not express individual beliefs. They are not one word, but a phrase or statement. They are designed to bring our actions into alignment with the words of our mission and vision statements. This explanation and question time took less than 10 minutes.

On one of the large post it pages, I wrote the following question and posted it for the room to see: What are the guiding principles that dictate how we treat each other and how we treat our women? (or others?)

Each woman was asked to answer that question on their sticky notes. One answer per note. They had to write at least one and could write as many as they wanted. They created a pile in front of them or kept their notes in a stack. I gave them 10 minutes to do this.

While they were writing, I posted six flip chart post-its in a cluster.

When they were done, I instructed them to come and place their sticky notes on one of the six flip chart pages and to cluster their own that were similar together. After everyone had posted their notes, the group was then instructed to arrange the statements into categories. Things that fell outside of the six groups could be placed off to the side.

The area in front of the emerging categories was crowded, so we did it in groups. Half the ladies went and then after a few minutes, I made them rotate. I did that a couple times to let the groups rearrange and move things. They could make no more than seven category groupings. They had 10-15 minutes to do this.

If you are keeping track, we are about 30-35 minutes through the process.

Everyone then sat down. Our group had four distinct groups and only a few outlying sticky notes. We focused on the four groups and for each one I asked: How would you describe these statements with only a few words. What word ties them all together?

I labeled each groups with the words they chose. This took less than 5 minutes.

Next, I pointed to the first category and asked them to make a phrase with those words (the labels they had created). I warned them that this was not word smithing, but more like brainstorming. On the flip chart, I wrote what they said. The group came up with three or four statements for each category and I helped them reduce it to a single short statement. We did that for each of our four categories. This took us about 15 minutes, but allow for at least 20 when planning in the event your group creates more categories.

We had enough time to create final value statements so we did word smith a tiny bit.

Viola! That is it.

Bonus: If you have time, do something fun at the end. Ask them to write on a sticky note what they loved most about the day, exercise, retreat and post them on the wall for others to read. We were behind schedule that day, so I actually had less than 60 minutes for my section and we did not get to the extra fun stuff.

You can see my original notes here.

This works because the power of a group is huge when they are all passionate about something and you push them to think big.

If you are curious, and I know you are, the values my women’s ministry crafted that day are: We pursue and love others. We are growing in Christ and reflecting God’s love to others. We encourage one another with love, grace, and mercy. We strive towards being transparent and humble.

Is there something different you have done to make mission, vision, and value statements more collaborative?

–Jane, loves a motivated crowd