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Right Writing News, July 28, 2004, Issue #012
July 28, 2004
Welcome to the twelfth issue which highlights a best-selling author's writing life, writing articles and some writing tips. This publication appears bi-monthly. If you are reading this issue forwarded from someone, be sure and use the link below to get your own free subscription.
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Table of Contents1) Writing A Children's Classic--Arleta Richardson By W. Terry Whalin
2) What Every Writer Wants (and Needs) from Writers By Karen O'Connor
3) Making the Most of Writers Conferences By Sandy Brooks
4) Here's an Angle, There An Angle By Dennis E. Hensley
5) Creating Vivid, Memorable, Engaging Characters By Thomas B. Sawyer
6) Questions About Beginnings By Cecil ("Cec") Murphey
7) Why proposals sell
8) Beyond the Book By Marita Littauer
9) What To Do With Your Book Manuscript By Kelly James-Enger
10) Writing Tips
11) New Links to Check
Writing A Children's Classic--Arleta Richardson
By W. Terry WhalinEditor's Note: The writing/ publishing community lost a dear friend on July 25, 2004--when Arleta Richardson, 81, died. I wanted to run this profile to help you learn about this quiet, unassuming author who touched millions of lives with her children's books. wtw
Many writers live with rejection. But Arleta [ar-LEE-ta] Richardson enjoyed consistent success with her books. For almost thirty years, this author of the popular Grandma's Attic series from FaithKidz (Cook Communications Ministries) found ready acceptance for her submissions. With over two million copies of the books in print, titles from the series are regularly on the bestselling children's backlist.
A schoolteacher for almost 20 years, Arleta taught both ends of the educational spectrum--college and elementary. The California Association of Christian Schools named Arleta teacher of the year while she taught kindergarten, first and second grade at a free Methodist Mission school in Los Angeles. But when a mild stroke ended her teaching career in 1969, Richardson turned to writing stories for five to seven year olds. She sent them to Story Trails, a Free Methodist take home Sunday school paper.
Based on true from her grandmother's life, the stories found an enthusiastic audience.
"Do you have more stories?" Editor Vera Bethel asked Richardson.
Arleta remembers her laughing excitedly, "Oh yes, a whole lifetime." She proceeded to write a series of grandma stories.
Several months later, Richardson attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in California and met Charles Van Ness, then vice president of David C. Cook Publishers.
"Have you written anything for us?" Van Ness asked.
"No, just these stories about grandma in Light and Life Press," Richardson said.
"I'd like to see them. Anything that is good enough for Vera Bethel is good enough for me," Van Ness said. Later in 1974, David C. Cook launched their Chariot Book imprint. One of the first titles was Richardson's In Grandma's Attic. Almost every year since, some title from the series has appeared on the backlist of children's bestselling books. These books are extremely popular with readers ages 8-12--an age group known for vivacious reading.
Fifteen years ago, the longstanding Grandma series drew to a close with the publication of Stories From the Growing Years which marked the tenth book. In this book, Grandma, in her nineties, looks back at the significant years of her life. Why halt a bestselling series? Although reluctant to end it, Richardson explains she would rather quit when the readers are asking for more.
But there are other reasons as well. While most series for this age group are fiction, the Grandma books are based on real stories. Arleta doesn't want to bring the story line into the next generation.
"I don't want to write myself into the story because I'm afraid I'd let my own thoughts and emotions show through. It's Grandma's story," Arleta says.
FaithKidz also markets the books in two gift packages of five books. Also they have released the only hardcover grandma book, Christmas Stories from Grandma’s Attic.
Some of the readers have aged as Grandma or Mabel O'Dell Williams has gone from a little girl to marriage. "Each time a new book comes out, I read it from beginning to end," writes one reader.
The real Mabel Williams played an important role in Arleta's life. "Grandma lived with the family and taught me how to read before I went to school," Arleta says. As an only child, grandchild and great grandchild on both sides of the family for many years, Arleta lived in an adult world. In third grade, she could already read at a high school level.
"My mother was a child from the roaring twenties," Arleta says. "Although Mother didn't accept Grandma's standards, she wanted those values passed onto me." A minister's wife, grandma taught Arleta more than a love for books. Grandma passed on her faith in Jesus Christ. Living out her faith has influenced the pages of the Grandma's Attic series and pushes them beyond being light reading for young people.
After Arleta completed her manuscripts, she worked with freelance editor, Laura Beth Norton. Though her books normally require only minor editing, on number eight, Norton requested that Arleta completely reorganize it. This process stretched Richardson as a writer. Much to Richardson's relief, the ninth book came back from Norton with only a few changes. "Either you're getting better, or I'm slacking off," Norton grinned.
"That was a treat," Arleta recalls.
For any writer who wonders about jumping into a second career in publishing, they can look to the success of Arleta Richardson and her bestselling Grandma’s Attic series.
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 55 nonfiction books and his latest is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Teaching the Bible (Alpha Books). See more about his writing at:www.right-writing.com/whalin.html. For more than 12 years Terry has been an ECPA Gold Medallion judge in the fiction category. He has written extensively about Christian fiction and reviewed numerous fiction books in publications such as CBA Marketplace and BookPage. He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Publishing. You can see Terry's new Arizona contact information at: Howard Publishing Writer Guidelines. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
© 2004 W. Terry Whalin
What Every Editor Wants (and Needs) from Writers
By Karen O’Connor"I'm a person, just like you," said Kathy Deering, free-lance. She was one of many editors who were part of a panel at a writers' conference I attended. "I want the same thing you do--a good book."
"I like to work with authors who respect deadlines," said another.
"Approach me," said Denny Boultinghouse, of Howard Publishing. "Don't hang back."
The collective viewpoint seemed to be one of partnership between author and editor. Each member of the panel was as interested in working with dependable writers as the writers were interested in working with willing editors.
I came away from that session recommitted to being as professional (and authentic) as possible when interacting with the editors I work with. They are not people to be feared or revered. They are just like us! They deserve respect and cooperation. Here are three ways we can demonstrate our respect and display our cooperation.
E-mail has made it possible to communicate with editors more frequently and more openly than in years past. Make a point of getting to know the editors you work with. Talk to other writers, as well, to learn all you can about specific individuals, their style, their particular likes and dislikes. Editors also want writers who pay attention to the marketplace. This requires reading book catalogues, studying the editor's magazine, knowing the competition, paying attention to sales and marketing campaigns in the media and in bookstores, attending writers' conferences, preparing professional-looking book proposals and query letters for magazine articles or stories.
One new writer I met at a conference some years ago discussed her children's book proposal with me. It had been turned down by six different publishers the year before. She had received helpful feedback from one editor, however, as well as an invitation to re-submit after the author made the suggested changes. A year had passed since that time. The woman appeared to be so attached to her writing that she couldn't accept any help. Her lack of alertness to the marketplace kept her stuck.
Are you willing to do the work necessary to complete the book or magazine article or story you've proposed? Many writers get excited about the attention they receive from an editor via mail, e-mail, or at a conference, but when the assignment is given and a deadline set, they go to pieces. They make excuses, procrastinate, ignore deadlines. Any one of these behaviors will jeopardize one's career. Editors are looking for people who turn in their work ahead of time, give more than asked for, keep a cheerful attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to apply an editor's suggestions.
Recently an editor asked me to get a photo of my subject (I had written a profile of a prominent woman in Florida) to her within 24 hours. It seemed impossible. But then I remembered that the woman worked with a public relations firm in Miami. I called one of the employees there and told her my need. She said she'd e-mail a photo of the woman directly to the editor that very hour. Later the editor wrote in an e-mail to me, "You're an editor's dream!"
Another writer and friend of mine said an editor once told her that she could count on plenty of work because she had demonstrated true professionalism. "You are more interested in the quality of your work than in your byline," she told my friend, "a refreshing change from many of the writers I work with."
Editors love to be acknowledged. Marita Littauer, author, speaker, and president of CLASS Services in Albuquerque, New Mexico recently compiled a list of birthdays for the editors she works with. Imagine how nice it will be for these men and women to receive a special greeting on their day.
You can also surprise them with a tangible gift of appreciation. Once a year, usually around Thanksgiving, I send each editor I work with a memento and a short note. One year I sent a card with a tiny bag of candy. Another year I sent a small chocolate bar with the words Thank You imprinted on the foil wrapper. One editor told me the chocolate bar had arrived at just the right time. She was having a meltdown that day and my gift had lifted her up!
How about sending a coupon for a movie or an ice cream cone or even a gift certificate to a favorite store--depending on the amount of work you received and the level of relationship you have with the editor.
In other situations a simple note of thanks is sufficient. The important thing is that we acknowledge the relationship and say 'thank you for working with me' in whatever way is comfortable for us.
Give editors what they need and want and they'll give you what you need and want--an assignment or a contract! I've learned that it takes so little to be above average:
1. Know your market.
2. Follow author guidelines.
3. Accept feedback graciously.
4. Check facts for accuracy.
5. Secure permission from experts where necessary.
6. Meet (or beat) deadlines.
7. Say 'thank you.'
8. Nurture relationships with editors.
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 (www.longridgewritersgroup.com) and for the Christian Writers Guild (www.christianwritersguild.com). Karen is known for her wit and wisdom on the platform and in print. Visit Karen on her web site for more information: www.karenoconnor.com.
© 2004 Karen O'Connor. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Making the Most of Writers Conferences
By Sandy BrooksWow! 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.
Here an Angle, There an Angle: How to Multiply Article Ideas from a Single Concept
By Dennis E. HensleyYears ago Bill Thomas, a reporter for Associated Press, was stringing out of The Muncie Star. I was working there as a part-time reporter while completing my doctoral work in English at Ball State University. One October morning Bill went to the tiny town of Selma, Indiana, because there was a pumpkin festival going on there. When he came back two hours later, he spent the rest of the day writing pumpkin stories.
I couldn't believe this guy's range of story ideas: "How to Carve Jack-o-Lanterns"… "How to Plan a Pumpkin Festival"…"Running a Festival Senior Citizens' Booth"…"Eight Ways to Make Spicy Pumpkin Pie"…"Pumpkin Bread for Morning or Evening Meals"…"You, Too, Can Plant and Raise Prize-Winning Pumpkins"…"Pumpkin Seeds: A Nutritional and Tasty Snack," and on and on and on.
I asked him how he could come up with so many article ideas, and that is when he taught me a system called "Two Dozen Angles." Basically, what he would do would be to take one generic news concept, i.e. pumpkin festivals or family vacations or child care, and then run it through a grid of 24 optional ways of analyzing and reporting on the topic. Usually, at least 15 or 16 would "click" as viable things to write about.
I began using Bill's technique and it proved to be a wellspring for generating writing ideas and increasing sales. Here is the grid, along with one sample idea to demonstrate the process.
TOPIC: Attending College
#1 Angle: Regionalism
"Living at Home to Save on College Expenses"
#2 Angle: Humor
"Okay, So It's Only a Scholarship to a Barber College"
#3 Angle: Debriefing and Recalibration
"Freshman Year Finished, but Now What?"
#4 Angle: Gender Differences
"Top Priority—Finding a Mate or Finding a Major?"
#5 Angle: Optional Back Door
"Don't Give Up on College: Become a Provisional Student"
#6 Angle: Generational Differences
"The Kids Are Through with College, Folks, So Now It's Your Turn"
#7 Angle: Poetry, Music or Art
"Extracurricular Activities Are Important Factors, Too"
#8 Angle: Building the Ego
"You Are Never Too Young or Too Old to Attend Night School"
#9 Angle: Contemporary Application
"How to Use Your Computer to Research Colleges"
#10 Angle: Back to Basics
"Simple Facts About Ways to Finance College"
#11 Angle: Defusing the Fear
"Six Ways to Overcome College Homesickness"
#12 Angle: Insider Scoops
"Key Questions to Ask College Admissions Recruiters"
#13 Angle: Promise of Prosperity
"There Are More College Scholarships Than You Can Imagine"
#14 Angle: Spiritual/Religious Aspects
"Finding Time for God Amidst Mountains of Homework"
#15 Angle: New Perspectives
"Trade Schools and Apprenticeships Can Be as Valuable as College"
#16 Angle: Controlling Emotions and Feelings
"Don't Hate Your Roommate Until You've Stayed Together a Month"
#17 Angle: Lifetime Momentum
"You've Got the Degree, So Now Take Some 'Fun' Courses"
#18 Angle: Mental and Physical Aspects
"Intramural Sports Are for Everyone on Campus"
#19 Angle: Facing Personal Traumas
"Your Scholarship Is in Pre-Med, But Your Girlfriend Is Really for Marriage"
#20 Angle: Checklists and Procedures
"Fifteen Steps for Choosing the Right Graduate School"
#21 Angle: Saving Money
"Carpooling to School Adds $50 to Your Monthly Budget"
#22 Angle: Saving Time
"Tape Record Your Class Notes and Review Them While on the Treadmill"
#23 Angle: Altruism and Self-Sacrifice
"The Advantages of Working as a College Mentor"
#24 Angle: In-Depth Analysis
"Three College Counselors Explain How to Prepare for the Freshman Year"
As noted earlier, sometimes you can come up with a full two dozen ideas but other times only half a dozen. Either way, you'll have more than enough ideas to keep you writing for a long time. So, find a topic and start angling for ideas.
Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is director of the professional writing major at Taylor University Fort Wayne (IN) and a professor of English at Taylor University Fort Wayne. He is the author of 41 books including More Than Meets the Eye (Kregel), Surprises and Miracles of the Season (Beacon Hill Press) plus such writing books as How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House) and Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours (Macmillan).
© 2004 Dennis E. Hensley
Creating Vivid, Memorable, Engaging Characters
By Thomas B. SawyerThe good news is there are a number of techniques for designing terrific characters, and endowing them with all kinds of interesting baggage -- baggage that -- when you're doing it right -- will give you many of your scenes and story-moves, because the characters will speak to you. They will tell you what they would or would not do in a given situation. In effect, when your characters are well-conceived, they will help you write their stories.
That's when you're really cooking.
Where to start? Age? Gender? Occupation? Those are okay, certainly necessary, but superficial. External. And occupation or profession, unless it's inherently exciting (a Barbary Pirate, say, or cop or a thief or movie star), can tend to be a yawn. Unless you put it to dramatic use. In any case, your characterizations should go beneath the skin – under that basic "Driver's License" information. To the character's politics, likes, phobias, peeves, tics and hang-ups. And when you've done that, dig another level deeper. And another. All the way to the bone. And the best way to get there? The best place to start?
Start with conflicts. Again, think conflict. Ask yourself where the heat is. Focus on it.
What kind of conflicts?
Certainly, the difficulties your characters will face in achieving their primary goals. Getting there should be fraught with problems. Enemies, doubters, physical or mental limitations (both emotional and capacity-wise), conflicting responsibilities.
What do they need in order to get there? Is it food? A job? Love? To be alone? Education or key-knowledge?
What do they want? Is their desire good for them, bad for them? Is it neurotically motivated, or based upon mistaken or false values?
Who or what is trying to prevent them from achieving that need or goal or want? That's your antagonist or one of your antagonists. It can be a wife, it can be a child, it can be a situation.
Again, drama is people in conflict –characters in conflict – with each other or with their situations or their environment. As in: a person lost, out in the cold, in the wild, trying to survive – not against a bad guy, but against natural enemies. That's conflict.
But along the path, subsidiary to the pursuit of ultimate objectives, there are smaller conflicts, tiny – more immediate – thwarted-aims, such as trying to end a phone call from a long-winded individual so you won't miss the outcome of the Big Game. Or winning an argument, or trying not to burn the toast, or spilling the coffee.
Any size conflict will do, from simple, minor frustration with one's inability to remove the cap from the Tylenol bottle, all the way to deception, mistaken judgment, to idealism, to passions such as hatred, revenge, jealousy, lust, to in-your-face rage, violence, and on and on.
I cannot think of a conflict that is too small to write about – or too big – nor should you. Endow your characters with your own minor irks and aggravations, the little, transient, nit-picky irritations you experience; a pebble in your shoe, stuff that embarrasses you, a non-functioning appliance, forgetting a name, the need to find a toilet. The too-human, self-conscious preoccupation with one's own real or imagined physical flaw, such as fat thighs or receding hairline or large nose. Or one of my faves, difficulty suffering fools. That one's definitely from my experience in the TV business.
Nor should any of your characters be too minor to be involved in, or provide, conflict. Even "walk-ons," such as the doorman or newsstand attendant who may only appear for a moment or two. Give each one something distinctive. Quirks, a disability, a short fuse, make him or her a massively insecure bureaucrat, or a stickler for regulations, or over-sensitive to racial-or-gender slurs. Or they're only at war with themselves.
Only at war with themselves?
That probably describes at least half of the people we know. Internal conflict. There is probably no more fruitful area for discovering the humanity – the identifiable-with facets of your characters – than the battles going on within their own heads. Perhaps one of them is ambivalent about succeeding. Or – plain-old terrified of achieving success. You know someone like that – we all do – the striver who tries and tries and tries – but somehow never quite makes it because events, or other people, always seem to conspire to mess it up. Which incidentally is almost never accidental. Usually, such people are losers because they are for varying reasons determined to lose. At life, in relationships, career.
Richard Nixon's almost textbook pattern from the time he was a child was to achieve, to win his mother's approval – and then screw up. He could not allow himself to simply win. It's why he left the White House in disgrace. That's an interesting trait. And by the way, long before Nixon became President, it was all there in his face – the paranoia – because in his mind the disasters were never his fault, but rather were caused by others – by his enemies.
Abraham Lincoln posited that by the time a man reaches the age of 50, "he's responsible for his face."
Look – I mean really look – at the people you know. Our faces mirror our souls, there for anyone to read – and for the artist to understand.
Yet, for all the information faces yield, they give an incomplete picture of who and/or what we are. There are hang-ups and aberrations – from obsessive-compulsive to serial killer – that are difficult-to-impossible to spot in one's appearance. For those, we need some fundamental understanding of psychology.
The modus operandi for compulsive gamblers, for instance, is that they want to lose. Sure, the rush is a plus, and maybe it even tops the ultimate goal, self-destruction. Isn't that what compulsive behavior is mostly about? Think about the people you've met who are their own worst enemies. Maybe they, like Richard Nixon, don't believe they deserve to win. That's self-conflict, and it is effective because it's so believable. It has universality. Your audience -- a good part of it anyway -- will identify -- will see themselves or people they know in that character. All of it adds life to your writing.
I cannot emphasize too pointedly that, as it has been for me in television, it is vitally, life-or-death important if you wish to succeed as a fiction writer to think in terms of conflict. To frame your ideas in terms of conflict. And -- to create your characters in terms of their conflicts. What do they want, and who or what is in the way of their achieving their goals? Do the biases of those who want to succeed get in the way of winning?
Even if you your first creative impulse is a plot (or, for those who're squeamish about the term, "structure," or "construct"), even if you don't conceive your story as a set of characters, even if from the getgo you know the beginning, middle and end – your next step is casting your show, deciding who the players are, what they're about. Try to think of it as putting together the recipe for your character mix. A pinch of salt, some oregano, a bit of garlic to add bite, etc. Characters with whom your audience can empathize, recognize themselves.
Characters on the verge of, or in mid-crisis – or its aftermath, which is often just as traumatic – the death or near-death of someone close, or in the wake of serious injury, for instance.
But beware of serving up characters who are too similar. To expand on the food-preparation analogy, vary the flavors.
Excerpted from Fiction Writing Demystified: Techniques That Will Make You a More Successful Writer All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Novelist, screenwriter, playwright Thomas B. Sawyer was Head Writer/Producer-Showrunner of the hit series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote 24 episodes. Tom has written 9 network TV pilots, 100 episodes, and has been Writer/Showrunner or Story Editor on 15 network series. He wrote, directed & produced the cult film comedy, Alice Goodbody, is co-librettist/lyricist of Jack, an opera about John F. Kennedy that has been performed to acclaim in the US and Europe. He is co-creator of Storybase software. The bestselling mystery/thriller, The Sixteenth Man, is his first novel. Both his latest book, Fiction Writing Demystified: Techniques That Will Make You a More Successful Writer, and Storybase are Writer's Digest Book Club Selections. His next thriller, No Place To Run, will be published in 2005. Mr. Sawyer has been nominated for an Edgar and an Emmy. Tom, his wife Holly, and cats live in Malibu, California. You can learn more at his website:
www.ThomasBSawyer.com or his site for writers: www.storybase.net.
Questions about Beginnings
By Cecil MurpheyWhen I teach at writers' conferences, I often teach a class on beginnings. Here are the most frequent questions I hear.
What's so important about how we start an article? The major importance is that the article must earn the right to be read. It's that simple; it's also that difficult. For me, the most difficult part of writing any piece is always the first sentence. I rewrite those words more than anything else. For example, I've already rewritten the first sentence of this column five times and I may revise it again before I finish.
What makes a good beginning? I started thinking about the question of beginnings at a writer's conference in 2002. For seventy-five minutes I listened to the instructor teach on first paragraphs for a story or an article. I liked much of what he said; however, he didn't say enough. He emphasized the need for what he called a hook--a grab-me beginning. At thirty minutes into his presentation, he said, "Now you're going to write a first paragraph." He gave them an idea that worked for fiction or nonfiction. They had ten minutes to complete the assignment. When they read their pieces aloud, the instructor grinned often because they had grasped what he meant.
Most of them wrote provocative beginnings, but few of them did more than grab readers' attention.
My biggest objection to his lecture was not what he taught, but what he didn't explain. He implied that if writers had a powerful hook, that gimmick was all it took to get an editor to buy. Even though the lecturer had published four books, he missed the purpose of good beginnings. They are more than just gimmicks to grab attention.
Beginnings serve several purposes. One of them is to grab readers. But that's not enough. Good beginnings need to build in at least two other significant matters--and that's when it gets difficult. They must present or hint at a problem, and they need to make readers care.
Instead of focusing exclusively on snagging attention, we need to incorporate at least those three ideas in the first sentence if possible and certainly by the end of the second paragraph. If we don't, we evoke yawns or rejection slips.
Here are two examples of my own. This is the first sentence of an article I wrote several years ago: "How long do you choose to live?"
In those seven words, I incorporated all three purposes. The sentence grabs readers' attention by causing them to think. It also implies a problem. That is, we have to make choices about the quality and length of our lives (and the next two paragraphs reinforced the idea). Third: Do readers care about how long they live? That's almost insulting to ask.
In my recent book, The Relentless God, I've incorporated all three purposes in my first paragraph: "Some days I wish God would leave me alone. On those occasions, I'm tired of being ‘spiritual,' weary with self-scrutiny, and discouraged over my lack of progress. Those are the days that make me wonder if my faith is any stronger or my commitment any holier than it was last year, or five years ago, or twenty. Is it worth the effort, I ask myself" (p 11, Bethany House, 2003).
I've already mentioned three purposes of the beginning sentences, here are three more.
Fourth, on our first page we make a contract with readers. We're saying, "If you'll invest your time in reading me, I'll make it worth your while. Whatever we promise in the beginning sentences we need to deliver. In my article on health, for instance, I offered 1,200 words on how to make better choices that affect our health and longevity.
Fifth, we show the tone or style of the material--the voice we'll use all through the article or chapter. If it's humor or a light touch, we need to make it clear, or if we want to write with a more somber tone we need to make that clear.
Here are four made-up beginnings that express different styles:
• Eight years and 900 pounds ago I decided to get serious about my weight.
• Prayer is either a problem or a source of power. We can view it with doubt or with quietness.
• Here are behavior patterns of three different individuals on Wednesday of last week. Which one would you call an addict?
• What should we, as Christians, know about the Bible? What information do we consider essential to make us well-read and informed believers?
Sixth, readers are more interested in themselves and their needs than they are in us and what we want to tell them. Thus, we write to answer questions or explain issues.
Are those purposes also true in fiction? If we're writing fiction, we need to remember the same principles. There are other elements we need to insert close to the beginning. We introduce our major character as early as possible. Unconsciously, readers identify with the protagonist--male or female--because reading is a vicarious experience. For ten minutes or ten hours we become another person as we turn pages.
We need to make readers aware of time and place. We assume we're in the present unless writers make it clear that we're not. We also need a sense of place. It's like an anchor. Once I know I'm in Sydney, Australia, or Rye, New York, I can enjoy the words instead of wondering, "Where is this taking place?"
How long should a beginning be? I get that question often. My answer is: As short as possible. Some experts say not more than 100 words (about half a manuscript page). Instead of focusing on length, let's focus on being easy to read and quick to absorb.
Where do I begin? The answer I often hear is, "Start at the beginning," and I disagree. There is no one place to begin, so my advice is this: Start at a high point of interest.
For example, years ago I ghosted a book called Woman on Death Row, about Velma Barfield, who was convicted of murder and died by lethal injection. Where should I start the story? When she was born? Where she committed her first murder? When she became a believer? When they wheeled her on a gurney down for the execution? I thought of those and a dozen other ideas. I chose to begin with the sheriff arresting her. About 100 pages into the book readers learned that Velma had killed people. My reason was simple: I wanted readers to care about Velma before they focused on her heinous crime.
Do you have any final words on first words? There is no one way to write a beginning. Writing a good first sentence is one of the most important steps in learning the craft.
One way to learn is to see how the experts do it. I learned a great deal about beginnings by reading first paragraphs of half a dozen books every day for weeks. This is a method I suggest. If you try this, as you read, ask these questions:
• What makes the opening strong?
• Does this fulfill at least the first three purposes?
• Does this hold my attention? If so, why?
• Could I have made that beginning stronger?
Cecil "Cec" Murphey has written, co-written, or ghostwritten more than 90 books, both fiction and nonfiction. His Gifted Hands, the autobiography of Dr. Ben Carson, has now sold nearly two million copies since its publication in 1990. He ghosted Franklin Graham's autobiography, Rebel With a Cause, which won an ECPA Gold Medallion. Reader's Digest magazine condensed I Choose to Stay: A Black Teacher Refuses to Desert the Inner City (Kensington) and Disney has optioned it for film as"The Mighty Bishops." Kinetic Pictures has optioned 90 Minutes in Heaven, written for Don Piper(Revell). His recent books include When Someone You Love Has Alzheimer's (Beacon Hill) and Committed but Flawed: Finding New Ways to Grow Spiritually (AMG). You can learn more about Cec at his website located at: www.cecilmurphey.com.
© 2004 Cecil Murphey. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Why Proposals Sell Nonfiction Books
According to some estimates there are six million manuscripts and proposals in current circulation in various publishing offices. With the intense competition to get the editor's attention, how can you cut through the publishing noise? If it's a nonfiction book that you want to write, the best way to cut through the noise is with a well-done book proposal. As an editor who has read a lot of this material in circulation, Terry Whalin knows the rarity of finding a well-done book proposal.
Terry Whalin has written more than 60 nonfiction books (all with traditional publishers). He understands what is required to produce a nonfiction book proposal. He has collaborated with a number of different people on nonfiction book projects. Also Terry is an acquisitions editor—often the first person to read these nonfiction book proposals. This book contains his insight and experience regarding book proposals that sell. His stories and insight will show you how to avoid the pitfalls of rejection.
If you want to write a nonfiction book, then you need Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success and you can have this product in a few instant clicks for only $19.95. Besides the ebook, Book Proposals That Sell includes a real nonfiction book proposal that Terry wrote (and an agent sold) for a six-figure advance from a traditional publisher.
Besides several valuable appendices in this ebook, Terry includes several bonuses with each purchase.
Beyond the Book Taking Your Message to the Masses
By Marita LittauerWhen we, as inspirational writers, hear the numbers being touted by the media that have just been awarded as an advance to a best-selling author we often think we must have misunderstood. We pull out our contracts and check our numbers. Not even close.
I find that one of the key differences between inspirational writers and others is our motivation. No, we are not writing for the money, though we do hope to bring in enough to satisfy the IRS and offset our deductions. We write from an inner influence to get our message out there. We believe that we have a calling that we must fulfill. Because we are altruistically motivated, most of us have trouble with marketing. It feels contradictory to humble hearts. Dayle Shockley, Author of Silver Linings, says, "Marketing is the part of writing that most writers don't like. We would much rather our publisher do all the marketing for us, but as we know, that is wishful thinking."
In contrast, if we are writing to fulfill a call, if we are writing because we have a message we feel compelled to share, don't we want to get it into as many people's hands as possible? Marketing is how we do that.
Over and over ad the CLASSeminar, I find people struggling with the whole aspect of self-promotion. I suggest, "You know you are ready when you have something God has done in your life that you are so excited about that you can hardly keep your mouth shut." When you write from this inner drive, do you want the books to sit in your garage? No, they do not help anyone there. You want to get them into as many people's hands as possible—that is where they can make a difference and change lives.
While we wish publishers would do this for us, no one can convey our passion for the subject like we can! Plus, the publishers expect us to be active partners in promotion. If we sit back waiting for them to do something and they are planning on us participating, the book may be pulled from print before it ever has a chance to develop momentum.
"I don't enjoy the whole marketing scene," admits Sharon Jaynes, author of Being a Great Mom, Raising Great Kids. "I have four books coming out within ten months of each other and I've had to learn how to be a little more aggressive with marketing. Publishers do not want to think that one of their writers is struggling with marketing. They are counting on us to do it."
So, we feel called to communicate. We have passion and the publisher expects us to get out there and convey our conviction. How do we do that? What works?
As I have worked with training speakers and authors for the last twenty years, I find that many first-time authors have the misconceived idea that as soon as their book comes off the press, they will no longer be able to go to the grocery store without people crowding around them asking for an autograph. The author pictures himself or herself at a book signing with their local Barnes and Noble. There is a long line of people clamoring to get an autographed copy.
I remember my first book signing twenty years ago. I was one of three authors invited to help a local Christian bookstore celebrate their twentieth anniversary. They had been planning the extravaganza for months. They made up flyers advertising the event that they stuffed into the bag with every purchase. They mailed notices to everyone on their list. The big day came. I got dressed and ready. I arrived at the bookstore expecting a line of people waiting for my colleagues and me. There were no lines. There were no crowds. Not just upon my arrival, but through out the day. One of the author's children broke an arm and he had to take his child to the hospital and was unable to make it. Of the handful of customers that came in that day, one person had come specifically to get an autographed book. She was looking for the author who did not come.
Unless our name is a household name, book signings are usually not the most effective way to market our message. However, if we enter into them with a realistic mindset, they can be beneficial to the overall process. One prong, in a three pronged approach. On one of my most recent books, I set up book signings with several local bookstores within a few days time frame. I then sent a press release to the local papers announcing the various events. Because of the book signings, the papers gave me coverage. One came to my office and wrote a big story about my writing and me. Without the announcement of the book signings, they may not have taken notice. Additionally, each of the bookstores did a display of my books and included a notice about it in their advertising or newsletters. At one store, three people came to see me. At another, one; and no one at the third. I had to tell myself that all people who did not come, assumed that it was a big success. The stores had ordered my books for the signing that they now keep in stock and they now know I am in town, a local author. The advertising, promotion and displays would have never taken place if I have not committed those few hours to be in their stores.
Eva Marie Everson, author of True Love; Engaging Stories of Real Life Proposals, had a similar experience with a book signing at a "big name" bookstore. She tells her story: "I arrived beaming. When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was there was no book signing table draped in linen and sporting a vase of flowers…or something! I found the manager. As soon as he was me, he blanched. The books they had ordered had sold out and they had forgotten to order more! Well, first I was thrilled. My book sold out! My book sold out! Then, it hit me. They hadn't ordered more. Which means I was only a passing though in their minds. Ha! Did that put me in my place, or what? The fact that little ole Eva Marie was coming to their store wasn't the least bit important to them! However, two weeks later, using the same strategies in another big name store. I walked in, saw fifty books gracing the table, people already beginning to gather, and book sold out in no time!"
Book signings are easy to arrange. Just go to your local bookstores with copies of your book in hand. Ask for the person who arranges the book signings and introduce yourself. They are usually happy to set something up as they are looking for ways to bring traffic into the store. Once you set a date, send news releases to all of the media in the area and send an announcement/invitation to everyone on your mailing list.
The next prong in your book's promotion is radio and TV interviews, with radio being the easiest. There are thousands of programs in need of material, particularly talk shows in need of guests. You are the answer to their problem. Like the book signing, the harsh reality is that they do not care who you are or that you wrote a book, per se. They are looking for a topic that will interest their audience. Do not approach them with the attitude of, "Hey, look at me! You'll want to announce to the world that I have written with book." But rather, "I have expertise on this topic that is current and of interest to your audience because…"
I remember many years ago when I was personally writing the promotional copy for all the books promoted through CLASServices' media publicity department, we were assigned to promote a novel dealing the Puritans; yawn. However, within that novel, it contained a very interesting history of how the King James Bible became the standard of the English speaking world which was none too holy. When the author read the copy, he said that was not what the novel was about. I told him it didn't matter; it would get him interviews. And it did.
Look to your book. What is a hook that will interest the talk shows? It may not really be what the book is about, but it will get you on the air!
Media consultant Mark Mathis says that the media are "underpaid, understaffed, and under duress." With that in mind, we authors who hope to get airtime on their programs need to make their job easy. Do not expect them to actually read your book. Give them everything they need to do a good interview with you that will go where you want it to go and cover the points you want to get in. Realizing that they are interested in topic, not book promotion, write an introduction for them to use as they lead into an interview. The first paragraph should be a hook that makes the listener say, "Yes, I've been there. I need to hear this." A questions is a good way to start. In may be one, two, or three sentences. The second paragraph should have some history on the subject, your qualifications, the book's content and how it will help the reader. This paragraph should be several sentences long.
Next, provide them with a series of interview questions that will lead the interview along in a natural progression. Do not start with, "Why did you write this book?" Keep your topic and hook in mind. Be sure that the questions cannot be answered "yes" or "no." Your first questions should be introductory in nature leading to the heart of your book while leaving the listener wanting more.
Once you have done the background work, you are ready to contact the stations in your area to set up an interview. As an inspirational author start with the Christian stations that you know have a talk show. If you topic is appropriate for the mass media outlets, contact them as well. There are directories and services that can help you reach the programs beyond your local area. You can do telephone interviews with programs around the country from the comfort of your home or office.
When you are on the air, keep the key things you want to communicate in mind. If the host asks a question that is not on your list and that takes you in a direction you do not want to go, steer the topic back where you want. Give your answer in a sound-bite format. Take a breath. If the hose does not jump in, continue with a more complete answer. Be sure that you have information handy on how listeners can purchases a copy of your book—your ultimate goal!
Both book signings (and the coverage you get from them) and the media interviews help create some name recognition, which make you more attractive as a speaker—the most effective way to get your book into the hands of readers.
Think about the last time that you heard a speaker who was also an author. When you arrived, there was probably a book table displayed at the back of the room. A few people might walk by slowly, pick up a book or two, turn it over and set it down. Yet, after the speaker is finished, people will be stacked two and three deep, eagerly pushing to purchase a copy. If you do a good job at a speaking engagement people want more, they want to take your message home and share it with their friends. This translates into book sales!
As an inspirational author, you start with a passion for your message, that passion can easily translate into the spoken word as well. To begin establishing your speaking ministry, I suggest you start by creating your promotional materials. These do not need to be glossy brochures with embossed cut outs of you in a dramatic speaking pose. One computer-generated page will suffice in the beginning. Start by selecting a reprinted paper and font that represents your message and style. Include your biographical information focusing on what God has done in your life that qualifies you to be the expert on your topic. List your available topics with clever titles and a blurb explaining the speech. End with your contact information: name, address, phone number, e-mail and website.
Once you have your promotional piece ready, you need to get it into the appropriate person's hands. Start by looking for local groups who bring in speakers. You can find many of these in your newspaper. Look for listings of churches that have upcoming programs that involve speakers. That tells you they need speakers for future events. If your topic will work for general audiences, contact service clubs like the Rotary or Lions Clubs. Call the name and number listed in the paper. Ask for the name and number of the program chairman and contact them, telling that about your presentation. Usually, they will ask you to send them your "stuff" which is why I suggest starting by creating your stuff.
Two other avenues to garner speaking invitations are through your pastor and your friends. Assuming that you are active in your church and pastor is supportive of your message, ask him to send a personal letter on church letterhead (which you will write for him, address and pay for postage) to all his pastor friends. Most ministers have several sets of professional friends: those they went to seminary with, those in the state denominational board, and those in the local evangelistic association. The letter will give a glowing recommendation of your message and abilities, encouraging him to invite you to speak at an appropriate function at his church. Be sure to include your promotional piece in with the letter.
Next, send your stuff to all your friends with your Christmas card. Include an annual letter telling what the different family members have been doing—including you! Let them know that you have written a book and are speaking on the topic. Suggest that if they need a speaker for their church, you might be just the right person. Ask them to pass your promotional materials on to the person in charge of their events.
I can assure you, if you try these three avenues for marketing yourself as a speaker—and that is where God wants you, you will get speaking invitations. If you do a good job, you will sell books and your message will reach the masses!
Talking about marketing her inspirational books, Sharon Jaynes says, "I've sent copies to contacts in other ministries. I've called bookstores. I've advertised it on the radio and called newspapers. Is it easy? Not yet. But, God has been so faithful. I think for me, I see it as not promoting myself, but promoting the message God has given me."
Marita Littauer is the author of 13 books including Journey to Jesus; But Lord, I Was Happy Shallow; Personality Puzzle; & Talking So People Will Listen, and is the President of CLASServices Inc., an organization that provides resources, training and promotion for speakers and authors. She can be reached through her website: http://www.classervices.com.
© 2004 Marita Littauer. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Dear Writer -- Nonfiction Book Proposals
By Kelly James-EngerI have a great idea for a nonfiction book that I want to approach some small publishers about; what do I do next?
It depends on the publisher. Most prefer that you send a query letter that describes your book idea and explains why you're qualified to write it while some like to see a completed book proposal first. Proposals differ in length and format, but the typical one sets out the premise of the book, provides an outline of the material that will be covered, lists competing titles and explains how your book differs from the competition, offers marketing and promotion ideas, describes your relevant background and experience, and includes one or more sample chapters. While it is time-consuming, the purpose of the proposal is to convince the publisher that the book will sell enough copies for it to make a profit. It will also help you research and organize your material before you begin the book itself.
Writing a book proposal can seem like a daunting task, but there are several excellent books to help guide you through the process including Elizabeth Lyon's Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to Get a Contract and Advance before Writing your Book (Blue Heron, 2000) and How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen (Writer's Digest Books, 1997) and Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 Proposals that Sold and Why by Jeff Herman and Deborah Levine Herman (John Wiley and Sons, 2001). Before you start on the proposal itself, research the market to see what other titles are available on your subject; for a speedy search, type in some keywords on www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com to see how many books you find. Also check Books in Print or Books and Videos in Print on CDROM, which your library should have. (If not, you can ask a local bookstore employee to check for you.)
While this will give you a general idea of what's out there, you'll want to read the titles that seem closest to yours. That way you can briefly describe them and explain how your book is better than/different from these titles; this "competition analysis" is important. Another critical part of the proposal is the marketing/promotion section. What will you, as the author, do to promote and publicize the book once it comes out? Think beyond author signings and media interviews--the more creative you are here, the better.
In addition to an outline of the book itself, the proposal should include chapter summaries and at least one complete chapter. The proposal should also have a brief "about the author" section that highlights your relevant experience, and a paragraph describing the format of the book, i.e. number of pages, possible appendixes and the like. If this is your first book, you may also want to attach clips or other samples of your work to the proposal itself.
Finally, prepare a query letter to send to publishers that may be interested, asking if you can send the proposal for their review. When you do so, be sure to enclose a SASE with enough postage to return the entire manuscript to you.
I've finished my nonfiction book. Can I simply send out the manuscript to publishers now?
Once you've finished your book, it can be tempting to simply drop it in the mail. But as mentioned above, most publishers prefer to see a proposal which describes the competition and includes marketing and promotional strategies rather than the completed manuscript itself. There's nothing wrong with mentioning that you've finished the book in your query letter, but expect to have to write a book proposal to help sell it in the meantime.
Freelance journalist Kelly James-Enger is the author of Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003.) She can be reached through her website at: www.kellyjamesenger.com.
© 2004 Kelly James-Enger. Used with Permission.
Writing TipsArleta Richardson began her stories about Grandma later in her life. What active steps can you take with your writing to give it some new life or possibly take it in a new direction. Learn from Arleta's example.
Review the key aspects of Karen O'Connor's article. Can you put one of these priniciples into practice today? Plan some action steps.
Are you headed to a writer's conference in the near future? Underline something you've learned from Sandy Brook's article and make a point to apply it at your next conference.
Do you work all of the angles for your article ideas? What insight do you gain from Doc Hensley's article about angles and apply it into your writing? Will it increase your mileage from a single idea?
How are you beginning your writings? Prolific author Cec Murphey has some great insight for any writer with the openings for a book or a magazine article. Take a second look (or a third look) at his article and apply it to your writing.
Ok. Now you've got a book to be published. How do you promote and market that book? You can gain a lot of information from Marita Littauer's article. Pick out one tip that you plan to apply to your own writing and marketing.
Kelly James-Enger answers a couple of common writer questions. They have written a book and wonder what to do next. Re-examine her article and pick one of the books she mentions and make a point of reading it soon.
New Links to CheckNext month from August 1-5th, you can learn more at the Oregon Summer Coaching Conference
Want to find an audience for your book or any other type of writing? Your best option is to build a theme-based website. Learn more at:
Some people have written that articles are incomplete or broken in the newsletter. If you have this problem, then check the link for the back issues--which is availble to subscribers:
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