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Right Writing News, April 11, 2007, Issue #26
April 11, 2007

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Table of Contents

1) Be On The Move
By W. Terry Whalin

2) Become An Irresistable Author
By Karen O'Connor

3) A Block By Any Other Name
By Kristi Holl

4) Making The Most of Writers Conferences
By Sandy Brooks

5) Do What You Can By W. Terry Whalin 5) Secrets of Thinking Like a Kid
By Laura Backes

Be On the Move

By W. Terry Whalin

I’ve got a book on my shelf of writing books which I purchased several years ago,  but haven’t read.  Before I tell you about this particular book, you should know that for the last twenty years, I’ve purchased many how-to writing books—and read them.  Usually I read a writing book each month.

When I read these books, I use my yellow hi-lighter for sentences that catch my attention. I make notes of ideas and concepts which I carry into my writing life.  I’m actively reading these types of books. Then I follow the advice in these books. Whenever I teach and speak at conferences (like next month), I recommend these books to other writers and I encourage them to get the books.  Also I’m an advocate for the Writer’s Digest Book Club and have purchased many books from this source.

Whenever I attend a writer’s conference, I make a point to go to their bookstore and look over the various offerings.  Often I will purchase books in this setting, then get these books on my reading schedule. Writers are readers.

Yet one of these books I never read. I’m always trying to figure out why I didn’t read a particular book. Often that choice has to do with the title, the back cover or the general contents.  I purchased Confessions Of Shameless Self Promoters by Debbie Allen because I was intrigued with the content about marketing and networking. The book includes stories from 68 Marketing Gurus (according to the cover).

It was the word “shameless” which put off my reading. Self-promotion is a part of the writing life.  I love what Jenna Glatzer writes in her article, “I’m Not Shameless” saying: “If you're going to be a professional writer, you have to believe that self-promotion is not a controversial, emotional act that you must approach with embarrassment or with egotistical bravado. It's just a simple job requirement. Plumbers learn how to unclog drains. You learn how to get people to read what you write.”

To get published, you have to be out there with your writing.  First, you have to learn your craft (then keep learning your craft) and try different types of writing. If you are stuck writing a long novel (fiction), then I suggest you try some shorter magazine articles. If you are mired in a nonfiction book proposal, then balance with some shorter magazine articles where you can find some success (publication) while you continue to move ahead with your longer project. Or maybe you need to put some of your writing energy toward a children’s book.  Find some people to critique your work before you get it out to editors and agents. Freelance writing can be learned—but you have to work at it.

Often I meet writers who have been writing for years. They have a drawer full of attempts but haven’t put their work out to an agent or a publishing house.  Your material will never be published if it remains in your file drawer. You have to be on the move in this business. It means meeting editors and other writers. Learn in the craft, then faithfully submitting your best possible effort.

Years ago, I heard the late Paul Little speak about finding direction for life—and it applies to writers as well. He said, “God can’t steer a parked car.” We have to be on the move.


W. Terry Whalin has written more than 60 nonfiction books and has also worked as an acquisitions editor for Cook Communications and Howard Books. He is the creator of a website to encourage writers at: A popular speaker at conferences, Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.

© 2007 W. Terry Whalin.

Become An Irresistable Author

By Karen O'Connor

1. Know Your Topic and Target Your Audience

Before you proceed with your book or magazine piece, state your purpose for writing, your expertise, and the audience you intend to write for. This may require some preliminary research, interviewing, reading, etc. It's absolutely essential. Don't skip this important step. You must be able to show the editor what you want to say, why you want to say it, and why you're the one to say it.

2. Become a "Temporary Expert"

Commit to learning everything you can on the topic you wish to write about, the approach you wish to take in writing the book, and the accepted method for reaching a publisher. Avoid guessing! Take the process seriously and you will be miles ahead of most people who think they can dash something off in their spare time and hit the best seller list. Read books on writing and talk with published authors.

3. Study Publishers' Catalogues, Sample Magazines, and Writers' Guidelines

Send for these materials directly from the publisher or publication. You can locate specific names and addresses by checking the Book Publishers section of Writer's Market published by Writer's Digest Books.

4. Know Your Competition

Use the Subject Guide to Books in Print (in reference section of public library) to see what books have been published in your subject area. Check back issues of magazines for published articles and stories.

5. Read Publications for Writers

Monthly magazines such as Writer's Digest, The Writer, and Publisher's Weekly, provide ongoing marketing tips, leads and ideas about where to submit your work and what editors are looking for. (Available at libraries, through subscription, and on newsstands and in bookstores. Some have on-line forums and services, as well.)

6. Invest in Professional Help

Join a local critique or writers' support group or consult with a professional before submitting your work. You can save many hours of time and effort by investing in this help before you spoil a market by submitting prematurely or incorrectly. Look into writers' conferences, as well. Over 300 are offered annually throughout the U.S.

7. Prepare a Professional-Looking Query Letter, Book Proposal or Completed Manuscript

Consult Writer's Market or other books for writers, for samples of the accepted format, and for submission guidelines. You have only three seconds to grab an editor's attention. Make them count. Present yourself and your writing as professionally as possible.

8. Query Potential Magazine Editors, Book Publishers, and/or Agents

Send a brief letter describing your project, mention your credentials, and ask if editor or agent would be interested in seeing the complete proposal (for a book) and sample chapters. OR send a cover letter summarizing your project along with a one-page (overview) proposal. For magazine submissions, send a query letter by postal or e-mail. Sample queries are available in most books on writing. If you get a positive response, then forward the completed material.

9. Become Familiar with Publishing Terms, Contracts, and Rights

Articles on these topics appear each year in the current edition of Writer's Market and other books for writers. The U.S. Government Printing Office publishes a comprehensive guide to copyright laws. Check the Internet for more information.

10. Hang in There!

A rejection does not necessarily mean the project is invalid or poorly-conceived. If you believe in what you are writing and you have followed the steps above, continue to scout the marketplace and/or engage a literary representative. The Left Behind series was turned down by many major publishing houses until it landed at Tyndale House. The rest is history!

Karen O'Connor is a sought-after speaker and award-winning author of more than 45 books for adults and children, including the best-selling Help, Lord! I'm Having a Senior Moment (Regal Books), Getting Old Ain't For Wimps, (Harvest House) and In Step With Your Step-children (Beacon Hill). She is a wife, mother, grandmother and writing mentor for the Long Ridge Writers Group ( and for the Christian Writers Guild ( Karen is known for her wit and wisdom on the platform and in print. Visit Karen on her web site for more information:

© 2007 Karen O'Connor. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

A Block By Any Other Name

Kristi Holl

If you've been writing any length of time at all, you've experienced writer's block. You may have read articles about it, following different authors' recommendations to blast through your block. Did the solution you tried do the trick? If not, the reason could be that you applied the wrong answer to your problem.

Aspirin or Band-Aid?

If you go to a physician, he doesn't doctor you with a one-medicine-fits-all or one-treatment-fits-all solution. Instead, there are specific treatments for specific ailments: the broken arm gets a cast, the cut gets stitched, the infection gets an antibiotic. Only when you identify the specific ailment can the right treatment be given, or a cure found. The same is true for writer's block.

A Multitude of Sources

Reading an article on writer's block might help you if you happen to stumble across a suggestion that truly corresponds to your problem. But 20 years of writing and 15 years of teaching the craft of writing have led me to believe that there is no single type of writer's block.

If you can't identify the origin of your block, treating it is impossible. Have you stopped writing because you can't face any more rejection slips, or your spouse (or a parent) is/was overly critical, or you're disillusioned with having to shape your writing for the market? Are you blocked because you eat or drink too much, sleep too late, or are just plain exhausted from trying to combine writing with earning a living for your family?

Possible Causes of Writer's Block

1. Critical childhood voices: those voices from the past that tell you you're not good enough, you're not creative, you're untalented, or lazy. They might have originated with parents, grandparents, caretakers, teachers, or siblings. While you may no longer hear actual voices in your head, you've incorporated their views of you somewhere along the way, and they crop up at the worst times for your writing. The resulting feelings of anger and self-doubt produce confusion, sap your motivation, and make you wonder if you should just throw in the towel.

2. Personality style: passive or aggressive, outgoing or shy, rigid or flexible, courageous or fearful. An outgoing person may be great a book signings and marketing his work, yet block when it's time to sit down--alone--and write for three hours. The flexible person may have numerous ideas that flow effortlessly and may be able to juggle a number of different projects, yet he may block when it's time to choose just one idea and get to work. The insecure person may write fluently and happily alone, yet block when nearing the end of her story because she's too afraid of rejection to submit a finished product.

3. Self-criticism: harsh and self-punishing judgments on our work and marketing efforts. Even when our self-criticism is well founded and accurate, it can defeat and block us before we get started. Self-esteem plummets, courage fails, and we shut off the computer and head for the refrigerator. We're afraid we're deluding ourselves both about the viability of the project we're working on and about our ability to pull it off. This can certainly stop our writing in its tracks.

4. Marketplace blues: delays and rejections. After a few months or years of nothing but rejection slips, it can become harder and harder to keep pouring your heart into your work. Sometimes, after numerous near misses and “almost” sales, writers can come to mistrust editors, agents, even the writers in their critique group, wondering if they have hidden agendas. After being rejected enough, the writer may feel unable to face another editorial comment, bad review, or misplaced manuscript, not to mention payment that never arrives and stories that never get scheduled for publication. It's not surprising if he's blocked.

5. Regular life: finding time and energy to write while attending to the ongoing demands of life. All the pressures we human beings face--family and financial needs, inner compulsions, leaky faucets, illnesses, difficult bosses--make us feel sometimes that we can't have both a writing life and a regular life, one that includes time for play as well as work. When we're busy writing, we feel guilty about neglecting friends and other interests; yet when we're playing or socializing, we can feel guilty for not writing. This inner push/pull can eventually cause us to block.

6. Fatigue: physically worn out. Each step in the creative process requires energy. If you're working a day job to put food on the table, coaching soccer on the weekend, and hosting a dinner party for a friend's anniversary, there may simply be no energy left. You may still want to write, truly want to, but be blocked because for the moment your tank is running on empty.

7. Environmental blocks: too much noise and chaos in your surroundings. Writers who can't write at home--who swear they're totally blocked--have been able to write easily and prolifically when transported to a cabin in the mountains or an isolated seaside retreat. Why? They were removed from the noise of city streets, roommates' stereos, toddlers crying, other people's phones, or whatever was keeping them too distracted and on edge to write. Freed from the noise and chaos, surrounded by peace and quiet, these blocked writers often find they're not blocked at all.

8. Information-specific blocks: when you can't answer or solve a particular question in your writing. Perhaps it's your first mystery novel, a private eye whodunit. You realize you don't know how it should differ from a police procedural, nor are you sure of the legal limits on a private eye's operations. Or perhaps the 12-year-old hero of your children's book aspires to be an Eagle Scout someday and you don't know just what activities that will entail. You're blocked because you lack specific knowledge. These types of blocks can be taken care of easily, as soon as you identify what it is you need to know.

9. Skill deficiency block: when you don't have the practical skill needed to proceed with your work. Perhaps you're blocked in finishing your biography of the first African-American astronaut because you don't know how to acquire permission for the photos you'd like to use. Or maybe you've planned to take your own photos for an article about a local nature reserve; you have the writing all done, yet you're blocked from finishing because you realize you don't really know enough about cameras and lighting and film speeds. These are practical skills you need to acquire before you can unblock.

10. Anxiety and/or depression blocks: nerves, doubts, worries, fears, and panic. This may be the first sign of any kind of block, and the foremost symptom to deal with. Sometimes our worries are realistic. Can we afford to spend time writing stories that might never sell? On the other hand, if we sell a book, will our insecure partner sulk or even walk away? If we write that “coming-of-age” novel, will our parents or siblings recognize themselves in our work and be upset or angry? Anxiety can produce a restless energy that keeps us from being able to sit still long enough to write. On the other hand, depression can leave us too lethargic to get up off the couch and make it to the desk.

A Tailor-Made Solution

Different blocks require different solutions. A few days of peace at a seaside cottage wouldn't help the blocked writer who didn't know how private eyes operate--but it could work wonders for the parent of twins. Taking an assertiveness training/confidence building course won't help the weary postal worker moonlighting to write a historical novel--but it could work miracles for the shy, retiring writer with a drawer full of manuscripts he's afraid to submit.

So take the time to get to know yourself. If you're blocked, find out why. Then outline and implement a step-by-step plan for blasting through your block. Read excellent books on the subject, like If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel Saltzman, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont, Deep Writing by Eric Maisel, and The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. Help is available if you want to break through your personal blocks and create the writing life of your dreams.
Kristi Holl is the author of 24 middle-grade novels, two nonfiction middle-grade books, and a book for writers, Writer's First Aid. You can read more about Kristi and her work at

Excerpted from Writer's First Aid All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

Making the Most of Writers Conferences

By Sandy Brooks

Wow! Writers conferences have certainly become a hot topic over the last few weeks. Suddenly everything I pick up to read — many conversations I overhear — involve the why's and how's of writers conferences. No wonder. During these days of publishing house mergers and downsizings, it's a great way to quickly get your manuscript in front of an editor's eyes. That's why it's so important to know how to take full advantage of the opportunity. Whether you're approaching an editor or an agent, here are some suggestions to help you present yourself as a professional.

Do Your Homework

If studying the marketplace isn't your forte, attending a writers conference is a good way to ease yourself into market waters. Just choose a conference with a wide selection of editors and study the needs and requirements of those houses. Request and study their writers guidelines along with the current volumes of Christian Writers' Market Guide and Writer's Market.

Prepare Your Manuscript
Conferences which allow you to send manuscripts in advance offer the best opportunities. Editors have a chance to look closely at your manuscript before meeting with you one-on-one.

In preparing the manuscript for the conference, be careful not to overdo your presentation. Just stick with proper manuscript form as described in "Part 1" of this series: no graphics, fancy fonts, illustrations, colored paper or ink, or anything else intended to impress the editor. Color slides or color and black & white (b&w) photographs to complement magazine articles are an exception. Be sure they're clear, professional quality images. No snapshots.

If you're submitting a book, don't send the whole manuscript. A cover letter (1 1/2 pages max.), a book proposal sheet (2 pages max.), one to three sample chapters, and a synopsis (1 1/2 pages max.) are plenty for the editor to decide whether to request the rest. Instead of a synopsis, you can send a chapter outline (1 to 3 sentences describing the content of each chapter). Make sure all the questions you raised in preceding chapters are answered satisfactorily by the final chapter.

Know Your Manuscript

This subheading may sound simplistic, but you need to know how to answer these questions from editors: What is your book (or article) is about? Why did you write on this topic, and what do you hope to accomplish by writing it? How does your book (or article) differ from what is already in the marketplace on this subject? How will our readers benefit from reading it?


After you've submitted the manuscripts to the conference along with your selection of editors, relax. No phone calls to editors to check on manuscripts before or after the conference. If the editor suggests changes to improve the manuscript, don't defend yourself by explaining why you wrote it that way. Just have a pen and pad handy to take down suggestions to consider after you get home.

Resist the temptation to pull out other manuscripts during an editorial appointment. Asking editors to comment on manuscripts they haven't had a chance to study isn't fair to them or to your manuscript. Also, don't try to influence an editor's opinion by telling one editor that another editor — or well-known author — thinks your manuscript is top notch. Namedropping often hurts more than it helps. It doesn't really matter what another editor thinks. It only matters what this editor thinks.

Rest in Him

Before arriving at the conference, ask Him for providential appointments. Ask others to pray as well. Trust Him to connect you with exactly those individuals and ideas He wants to use in your calling. As I have told writers so often through the years, if the Lord has called you to write this article or book, absolutely no one or nothing can stand in the way of it fulfilling its purpose.

Enjoy the Conference

Don't panic if you'd rather not take a manuscript with you. Writers go to conferences for many reasons: tooling or retooling their craft, the camaraderie of other writers, to recharge creative batteries, to experience the total package of both learning and selling. Whatever your motive for going, be assured you'll mingle with a distinguished group of individuals who understand your longing to write. A few of them will become life-long friends. Don't forget to take a handful of business cards with you to pass out to writers and editors.

Oh, one more thought. Trust the Lord to accomplish His purposes while you're there and enjoy every minute of it!

Sandy Brooks has been writing professionally since 1980 and has served as CWFI director since 1993. Part of that role includes serving as editor and publisher of Cross & Quill, The Christian Writers Newsletter. A frequent faculty member at some of the nation's largest writers conferences, she specializes in nonfiction. She wrote the nonfiction units of At-Home Writers Workshops, a correspondence course for Christian writers. Recently, she has begun serving as a consultant on layout and design of children's books for a major Midwestern publishing house. The author of 12 childrens books and co-author of Religious Writers Marketplace, Fourth Edition, she's sold thousands of articles, devotionals, curriculum, poems, and columns to almost every denominational and non-denominational house in the Christian marketplace.

Do What You Can

By W. Terry Whalin

“How do you get it all done?” It’ a common question which writers, editors and others in this business of publishing.  The real answer is something rarely discussed.  Whether you are new to the business of writing or have been here a long time,  you may feel overwhelmed about the possibilities and unsure which way to jump. Welcome to our world.

The possibilities for a writer are endless: fiction, nonfiction, magazine articles, children’s books, thank you letters, resume writing, etc. It’s a matter of selecting which type of writing is best for you. Then you focus on that writing area and produce the best possible material. It will take time, skill and talent along with developing relationships with editors before you work at it long enough and hard enough that you get published. It’s the journey that I’ve taken and many others before me (and after me). You can do it. It’s a matter of keeping at it.

No one gets it all done. At one time, I thought I could get it done working more hours in the editorial offices. I discovered that such effort was rewarded with more responsibility and more work. The long hours cut short my family time and exercise time and anything else that should have been in my life for balance.  My weight ballooned 40 pounds and my waist and pants size grew. 

Several years ago, I was sitting in the publication board meeting. I was prepared to present a number of book projects for the various members of the board to consider. Several of these projects has been pushed back to later meetings and I was determined to get my shot at the presentations. Yet I didn’t feel good. I was sweating (more than usual) and felt a bit flush. I had tightness in my chest. In general, I ignored everything and managed to present my books.

On the way home, I called my wife and she encouraged me to drive to the doctor’s office—which I did. They wouldn’t let me drive to the hospital but they took me in an ambulance.  The doctors believed I was having a heart attack and treated me for one. I spent the night in the intensive care unit and was released the next day.

Thankfully I didn’t have a heart attack but I had an inflammation around the sack of my heart.  More than anything I think my immune system had worn down and I was too stressed and pressured. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I made some changes since that experience. I’ve lost those 40 pounds. I’ve continued to watch my diet and regularly devote time to exercise.

Most of all, I try to be realistic with myself—and understand that I’m doing all I can do. Each day when I leave my office there is a lot that doesn’t happen. Emails unanswered.  Manuscripts unread. Mail unanswered. Phone calls not made. Paperwork unfiled. Manuscripts not written. (You get the idea—lots of things not done).

My focus is moving forward. Am I moving forward? Is my writing growing? Am I continuing to learn more about the business of writing and the craft of writing? Am I taking a bit of time for my wife and family? Am I taking care of myself through diet and exercise and regular spiritual nourishment? Normally I can answer yes to these questions and walk out of my office with that certainty.

Each of us have to do what we can do—and let the rest go until another day.

In his amazing Sermon on the Mount, Jesus captured these thoughts. Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

W. Terry Whalin has written more than 60 nonfiction books and has also worked as an acquisitions editor for Cook Communications and Howard Books. He is the creator of a website to encourage writers at: A popular speaker at conferences, Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.

© 2007 W. Terry Whalin.

How to Get a Six Figure Book Advance Without Even Writing Your Book - Susan Harrow - with Plug n' Play Book Proposal Template

Secrets of Thinking Like a Kid

By Laura Backes

One of the toughest tasks for writers is to get inside the brain of a child. Sure, we all have our own childhood memories, but those can be spotty at best. And even accurate recollections reflect a different time and a different mindset.

The standard advice is to observe and interact with children. Being around kids can give a window into the language and interpersonal dynamics of today's kids. But even this is far from foolproof. Youngsters are thoroughly aware of an adult's presence and may simply be trying hard to be on their best behavior. There is another way, however, that is remarkably efficient and is a surefire way to get an accurate picture of the likes, dislikes and passions of kids: read some magazines.

As the periodical market has become more niche-oriented, editors and publishers have become--by necessity--geniuses in understanding their slice of the audience. The people who put out Boys' Life, for example, spend a great deal of time and money working to master the mindset of the grade school boys in whose life Scouting and outdoor adventure play a vital part. Page after page of the magazine reflects this understanding. The vocabulary, pacing, subject matter, article length and design are all tailored specifically to suit this audience. If you hope to write for this niche, becoming familiar with Boy's Life is as valuable as attending a dozen Scout Pack meetings--and probably a lot more peaceful.

So here's the plan--for whatever age, gender or special interest group you hope to write for, find their magazines and read them, cover to cover. When you do, consider these points:

* Note how the magazines target a narrow age group and sometimes just one gender. Compare a magazine for early elementary readers to one for ages 9-12, and see how the tone, humor and attitude of the writing changes.

* Some magazines have an educational focus, and others are for entertainment. Notice how the educational publications still capture readers' interest by using jokes or making the topics relevant to kids' lives. On the other hand, the entertainment magazines also strive to profile people who are good role models, to showcase activities that are worthwhile, and to work within age-appropriate boundaries of good taste.

* Notice how the slant of magazines for girls is different from that for boys. Girls' publications often feature more fiction and poetry; boy's magazines might contain jokes or comic strips. As an exercise, read some "boy" magazines and "girl" magazines for the same age group, and pinpoint their differences. This will help you in creating boy and girl characters for your fiction.

* Peruse some of the actual articles in recent issues. Many magazines have excerpts on their web sites, so you can easily get a sense of what kids are reading (look in the magazine market section of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market published by Writer's Digest books for lists of magazines and their web sites), though there's no substitute for thumbing through a hard copy of each publication. This will help you understand not only what kids care about, but what they're learning at school. Educational magazines in particular want articles that can be applied to what children are reading in class. And if you're writing fiction that centers around a character's school experience, you want to get the teacher's lesson plans right.

As a fiction writer, reading children's magazines can help you zero in on what your characters care about, what's going on in their world, and even what they find funny. If you're writing nonfiction, magazines will show you the breadth of interests enjoyed by your target audience, and perhaps point you toward a niche you can fill. So visit your local newsstand and start your research. You may get some funny looks when you're reading Jack and Jill at Starbucks, but the publishing contracts will be worth it.

About the Author: Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For more information about writing children's books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children's Book Insider's home on the web at

Copyright 2007, Children's Book Insider, LLC.
Reprinted with permission.

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