Janet's Jargon

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It Pays to be Ignorant

For those of you who aren't old enough to remember it, "It Pays to Be Ignorant" was a radio program, and then it moved to TV. It was a game show. The questions were so simple that the contestants probably felt stupid by giving the answers. But that was the whole idea of the program. Too many people, too many times try to make things complicated.

Success comes in simplicity!

I have gone through my life having people tell me (not always, but often enough that I have given it a lot of thought) that I am "simple."

I think it started back when I was in high school. I spent my entire summers teaching Vacation Bible School and counseling at youth camps with the American Sunday School Union in places that were too small to have a church building, so we often met in town halls.

On the weekends, the Bible college students from Minneapolis who were there for two weeks and I would go with the ASSU missionary to the church services in many of these little holes in the wall. I remember, vividly, one such Sunday when the missionary introduced the others with a bit of pomp and circumstance as they sang special songs, preached, etc. And then he said, "And now we have just plain Janet, who will give us a word of testimony. She's just one of us--a simple local girl." I didn't know if he meant it as an insult, or a compliment, or just plain didn't stop to think.

Quite a few years later, after having been in Venezuela as a missionary for 9 years, I was living in North Dakota. I had written my first book, Dunnottar, and while I waited (for 25 years) to get it published, I began to do magazine writing. It worked quite well. I have over 5,000 articles to my credit. Those magazines have all gone by the wayside, a result of technology, higher costs of printing, and the economy in general.

One of the magazines where I became a contributing editor was Heritage Quest Magazine. It was on genealogy. I had found my niche--or at least one of them. Over the 15+ years I wrote for them, I became good friends with the editor, Leland Meitzler. One day he called me, and I could hear the panic in his voice as he asked, "Have you seen the new magazine Writers' Digest is putting out? It is called Family Tree."

I told him I had just bought a copy of it but hadn't had a chance to look at it yet.

He told me why he was so worried. "Our articles are full of meat and they teach people a lot. The articles are so simple, we are going to lose a lot of our readers to them, especially those who are just starting out."

I asked him, "What do you intend to do about it?"

Without a second's hesitation, he replied, "We have to dumb down our articles."

"So I should take the articles I just sent in and dumb them down and send them back in?"

"No!" he exclaimed. "Your articles are already dumb enough." He hurried to explain what he meant, but it's a remark I've not let him forget.

When my first book came out, I was at home caring for my disabled husband. There was no way I could go out on book tours, speaking engagements, etc. I had just gotten a computer, so I was pretty computer illiterate. I had no training or experience in marketing. I just knew that I was dead set on making that book succeed! So, I began to experiment. The things I tried were so simple (by force, not by choice), but they worked. Before long, Dunnottar was the No. 1 best-selling Scottish book on Amazon.com (out of over 8,000 competing titles). I didn't even know what Amazon.com was. All I knew about it was that I had once been on a boat on the Amazon when I was in Venezuela, and I was pretty sure my book wasn't there.

Eventually, I had other books published. They now number 23, including a book on marketing (Promo Paks: Nearly Free Marketing for Authors).

The same thing has carried into my publishing experience. I have great admiration for those authors who adhere to the DIY (Do It Yourself) principle, but I don't know how to format a book, how to order ISBNs, create a cover, etc. I really have no desire to learn how to do that. I have found what works for me. After having a couple of disaster self-publishing companies take me to the cleaners, I discovered Star Publish LLC. Actually, they discovered me. I had gotten to know Kristie Leigh Maguire, who started Star Publish. She had approached me about working with them to help market their books. When my then publisher began to show signs of dishonesty, I decided it was time to join Star Publish as one of their authors. The experience has been wonderful. I am so glad they are there for me, to do what I need, so I can continue writing and marketing my books, editing books for other people, and let them do the things I can't and don't want to do.

Yup, sometimes, it just plain pays to be ignorant!