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Right Writing News, August 24, 2004, Issue #013
August 24, 2004
Welcome to the thirteenth 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) Celebrating Another Bonus Day--John R. W. Stott By W. Terry Whalin
2) Create Effective Promotional Materials By Marita Littauer
3) The Black Bird and the Chicago Kid By Thomas B. Sawyer
4) Writing Micro Fiction By Dennis E. Hensley
5) How to Add Story to Your Writing and Speaking By Clint Kelly
6) What If: Slow Receiving Payments and Have Little Writing Experience By Kelly James-Enger
7) Why Nonfiction Books Sell with Book Proposals
8) The Nitty-Gritty of Writing for Magazines By Karen O'Connor
9) The Call To Write By Sandy Brooks
10) Why Publishing Is Slow In August By W. Terry Whalin
11) Writing Tips
12) New Links to Check
Celebrating Another Bonus Day--John R.W. Stott
By W. Terry Whalin5:00 a.m. Most of us are sound asleep but John R.W. Stott swings his legs over the side of his bed and starts the day in prayer:
"Good morning, heavenly Father; good morning, Lord Jesus; good morning, Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I worship you as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship you, Sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.
Stott has begun each day with a version of this Trinitarian prayer for decades.
For over 40 years, Stott hasn't taken a daily newspaper. Instead he turns on his radio to the BBC World Service and catches their half hour news and commentary as he shaves and showers. Then at 5:30, John begins an hour-long devotional time at his desk. "It's my time to read, pray and study the Scriptures," says John Stott, who is now in his eighties. "Every day is fresh and I try to thank God for another bonus day."
After devotions, Stott turns to his latest writing or reading project and spends another hour at work before breakfast. One of his major projects has been a series of commentaries called The Bible Speaks Today series from InterVarsity Press where he was the New Testament editor. This series aims to explain the biblical text and to relate it to the contemporary world. “Commentaries are not readable, but this series is meant to be read," Stott says. Contributing himself to the expositions of the Sermon on the Mount, the Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, Thessalonians and II Timothy, Romans, 1st Timothy and Titus, Stott complted the twenty-four volume series in 1995.
The final book in the series was The Message Of 1 Timothy & Titus. In this Bible Speaks Today volume (previously released as a hardcover book with the title Guard the Truth), John Stott finds in 1 Timothy and Titus a dynamic truth that orders Christian life in the church, the family and the world. Here is the lucid commentary we have come to expect from Stott, ever faithful to the text and time of Paul's letters. But in a manner unique to Stott's role as a distinguished Christian statesman, this work's interpretive and pastoral voice remarkably echoes Paul for our own day. One generation speaks to another: "Guard the truth."
Dr. Stott is best known for his Basic Christianity (InterVarsity Press) which received a Gold Book award for reaching the two million sales figure (now over 2.5 million in print). Basic Christianity continues its popularity because it presents the intellectual basis for the gospel. In 1992, the ECPA honored Dr. Stott with its International Award for"his tireless efforts to encourage thoughtful biblical exposition and preaching throughout the world." While the majority of his over 40 books have been published by InterVarsity Press, other publishers include Zondervan, Tyndale, Moody Press, Eerdman's, Baker Books and Fleming Revell.
Last January, InterVarsity Press released the latest Stott title, Why I Am A Christian which provides a compelling, persuasive case for considering the Christian faith.
Although he has traveled to over 100 countries throughout his ministry, Stott has always sought the simple life. He lives in a two room apartment in Central London. In 1971, he had published several titles, and his royalties were increasing beyond his personal needs. "After thinking and praying about how to use them, I believe God led me to form the Evangelical Literature Trust," Stott says. About 95% of his royalties are donated to ELT. Dr. Stott has no idea how much he's given through the years, but according to David Spence, who chairs the U.S. Board of ELT, it has accumulated to more than half a million dollars. ELT is administered by volunteers, consequently almost all the contributions go directly to providing books to thousands of third-world and East European pastors, seminary professors, libraries and students.
The Bishop of London installed Stott at age 29, to the prestigious Anglican church as its Rector in 1950. The Bishop commissioned a different book each year for his flock to use for Lent devotions. A couple of years later, the Bishop asked Stott to write that year's Lent book--originally published in England as Men with a Message, later titled A Basic Introduction to the New Testament (Eerdmans). Stott received his royalty for this book in a lump sum of 750 pounds and then invested it in purchasing a retreat called"The Hookses" in West Wales.
"It was a ruin and had been unoccupied for several years," Stott says of the slate-roofed Welsh farmhouse cottage located a mile from the nearest neighbor, and without telephone, electricity or television. On the Pembrokeshire cliffs, it commands a superb coastal view. Gradually Stott has put the buildings into order, and most of his books since 1954 have been written there.
For sessions of two or three week, John Stott will go to The Hookses and write. "I'm rather Victorian in that I don't use a typewriter or a dictating machine, let alone a word processor, to write," he says. "After 50 years, I've got into my own rhythm for writing." Using plain bond paper and pen, John will study and write six hours without a break. Then after some exercise, he will return to his desk and continue for another four hours or so.
Now the Rector Emeritus for All Soul's Church, Stott splits his time each year between the church and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (six months), at which he lectures, traveling (three months) and study and writing (three months).
As he considers publishing, Stott sees the production of literature as a precious partnership between author, publisher, distributor and retailer. "The Bible tells us that it is good to be dependent on each other," Stott says. "As John Donne says, 'no man is an island.'" The inter-dependent relationship is biblical and precious to John R.W. Stott.
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. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
© 2004 W. Terry Whalin
Create Effective Promotional Materials
By Marita LittauerFor someone who is a professional speaker, speaking to a business and other secular groups, creating a brochure-presents only one dilemma: money. When I attend the National Speakers Association conventions and other meetings, I am amazed at the elaborate promotional materials the other speakers are handing out. Almost all of them are four-color, meaning they have photographs of the speaker reproduced in full color. They have, not only the standard head and should shot of the speaker, but also several "action" type shots that may include photos with important people and an audience. The front of the brochure will usually have the speaker's name and often in a gold or silver foil. In addition to the flash of the foil, the name is frequently embossed. Once inside the multi-paged pack, I have seen tissue pages separating the actual thick glossy-papered pages of copy. Others have pages of varying heights. One I saw had a die-cut photo of the speaker holding the other pages in place. It is not uncommon for a speaker's promotional package to cost upwards of ten dollars a piece.
As if the slick kit wasn't enough, most professional speakers now have what is called a "video brochure." These so-called brochures require a professional production company to combine several "clips" of the speaker in the action at a variety of locations and often include endorsements by previously satisfied clients. Music, graphics, and a resonating narrator are needed to tie the whole thing together. The video brochure quotes start at about ten thousand dollars.
For either promotional package, you are bound to want to update it every couple of years. Hopefully, we all continue to grow and improve. We'd hate to send out an impressive video that presented our ability in a lesser light than it may be two years down the road. Now these speakers, assuming they are talented, are getting fees starting at a couple of thousand dollars per presentation, so they must feel the glitz is worth the investment.
So where does this leave the Christian speaker who may be compensated for their time a fifty to five hundred dollar honorarium? Fortunately for most of us, the previous scenario, while very real for the "professional speaker," doesn't work too well within the Christian community. Rather than be impressed with your fancy packaging, most Christian groups would rather see that type of money sent to missions than to designers and printers.
In the seven years I have been functioning as a speaker trainer's booking agent, and a Christian speaker myself, I have come up with the following formula for creating what I call an "Information Sheet." I used to call it a promo sheet, but I found that within the Christian community, we need to be careful in our word choices. "Promo" seems a bit commercial; "Information" is simply what it is. The "Information Sheet" gives the meeting planner or program chairman everything they need to know in a concise and professional manner without being ostentatious or showing poor stewardship. In comparison, the "Information Sheet" shouldn't cost you more than $200 including design, typesetting, and printing, which should be a big relief to speakers who are just starting out!
Your information sheet should contain these five areas: Your name, photo, biographical data, a listing of topics including a description of each topic, a time frame for that presentation and suggestions for its use, and at the end, an address and phone number for scheduling or for more information.
First, your "Information Sheet" should have your name at the top. I know that sounds obvious, but put a little thought into it. Your name should be in a dark, large-type style. Pick one that represents you! If you are a feminine, delicate type of person, you might choose a flowery font. If you are more of a straightforward type, a bold style might represent you more accurately.
Next you need at least one picture of yourself. It should be a traditional head and shoulders shot. You may want to add a photo of yourself and your family on the back if your topics are highly connected to family issues, or you may have a picture of you and your spouse, if you minister together in addition to your personal speaking ministry. The pictures should be done by a professional photographer or at least someone with professional grade equipment. You want to have a clear picture of without a lot of flowers or clutter in the background and there should be no shadow showing behind you caused by a single flash set up. Avoid having a friend stand you up against a brick wall and shoot your photo with an instant-type camera.
When you dress for your picture, wear traditional clothes that will still look current in a few years. Stay away from anything that is extremely fashionable at the moment. By the time you get the "Information Sheet" complete, it may be totally out of fashion and date your photo.
Start out your biographical information with a short paragraph about your style and your effect on audiences. Write these glowing comments in third person. It is difficult to write things about ourselves that are extremely flattering and write as if we were saying them ourselves. Plus, it tends to go against our Christian humility. Be honest about your ability but let the meeting planner get a sense for what type of speaker you are from the start. You may be a gifted Bible teacher, a humorous speaker—fast paced and witty, or a speaker with a moving, touching style. This would be a good place to use a quotation if you have one that describes who you are.
Next, describe your life and qualifications, continuing in third person. This does not need to be an endless list of schools attended and degrees attained. Fortunately for most of us, these things mean little in the Christian community. If you do have an education, feel free to include it, but what qualifies you to minister as a Christian is what God has done in your life, your testimony. This is the area to mention where you live, your occupation, marital status, and information on children. These items only need to be briefly mentioned. They aren't thinking of hiring your children.
Close this section with a short paragraph that says something like, "Having Mary as a part of your program is sure to add energy and excitement to your meetings while being educational and enlightening. Mary is available to speak to Women's Retreats, Mother/Daughter banquets, and other functions. Some of her most popular topics are ____________."
This leads you into the presentations you have available, or could have if anyone wanted you to speak on them. List all of the subjects you would like to speak on, even if you haven't spoken on them yet. When people ask you to come and speak for them, you usually have several months of lead time. This will give you plenty of time to prepare the message and try it out on a few friends before the real engagement arrives.
Rather than simply listing topics, try to come up with a clever title that will look and sound good on a brochure, promoting the event of which you will be a part. In addition to the title, each topic needs a description. I suggest a three-part formula to writing the topic descriptions. Start with a catchy opening line or lines. It may be a question that will get the reader's attention. Next, tell what will be covered in that session using one to three sentences. Close that topic with a statement regarding how the listeners' lives will be changed if they do what you are suggesting in the session. Here is an example, using that format for one of my mother, Florence Littauer's, presentations, "HOW TO GET ALONG WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE. Are there difficult people in your life? Perhaps you live, work, or carpool with them. In this session, based on the book of Philemon, Florence will give you practical guidelines for showing concern, giving compliments, and other strategies that can turn relationships around. You can be the light that turns them from difficult to delightful!"
Your "Information Sheet" may have as few as one to three topics listed, or it may have as many as thirteen. Ideally, the finished combination of your name, photo, biographical information, topic listing, and description should be able to fit on one page, front and back. The rough draft may be as many as four single-spaced typed pages since once the "Information Sheet" is typeset, it will take half as much space as the standard typewritten page.
In the years I have been working with meeting planners and program chairmen for church groups, I have found them to be a delightful group of people. However, in general, they are very nice people volunteered to run this year's program. Most of them have little or no experience in organizing a program. Therefore, it will be best if as the speaker you can give them as much help in placing you correctly as possible. To do this, I recommend that with each topic listing, you also include a note as to which type of group or event will be best suited by that topic. A general session on relationships would be a good luncheon or opening session of a retreat, where a topic dealing with marriage relationships for sexual abuse victims would be better suited towards a special seminar for victims or as a workshop. You will look better as the speaker if the meeting planner places you and your topic where you belong. I had a group call on me one time who wanted Jan Frank to speak at their Mother/Daughter Luncheon. Jan does have an excellent presentation for such an event, but the program chairman was an incest victim herself and she wanted Jan to come and give her talk on incest as the Mother/Daughter event. I was able to change her mind and Jan did go and present her Mother/Daughter message. Everything went well.
Think about what would have happened if Jan did give her incest talk to that group. There were little children and grandmothers in the audience. While the program chairman may have been initially happy with a presentation on incest, as she got comments from the others regarding the inappropriateness, her pleasure would have faded, and the otehrs would have thought Jan was a bad speaker.
In addition to adding a comment on the appropriate place for that topic, I also suggest that you list the time needed for each presentation. I have on topic, THE PERSONALITY PUZZLE, on my "Information Sheet" that is listed as "1-3 hours" and another that is "20-60 minutes." Again, help the meeting planner place you correctly. I can't do my presentation on THE PERSONALITY PUZZLE in 20 minutes. If the program chairman asked for that presentation and then only gave me twenty minutes, I could only breeze over the subject and be of little help to those in attendance. In short, I'd look bad. If the audience perceives me as inadequate or inappropriate, the program chairman looks bad too. She's the one who invited me! Help the meeting planner look good by helping her use you where you will be your best.
Once you have completed the topic listing, you will need some closing comments that include whether or not you have audio or video tapes available for preview and the address and phone number where you can be contacted for further information, such as fees or to schedule a speaking engagement. When working with a speakers bureau or service such as CLASS, the "Information Sheet" must have their address and phone number as the only contact source. If you wish to be represented by CLASS, you must have attended the seminar and we require that you send a copy of your "Information Sheet" for approval before having it typeset and then again before it is printed. Please contact CLASS for more information regarding the prerequisites of representation.
Print your "Information Sheet" on a nice grade paper with colorful ink, using a font that you feel represents you. Ideally, your letterhead, envelopes, and business cards should all have a similar paper, color scheme, and type style. A professional designer will be helpful at this stage.
These tips will give you a professional look, while providing program chairmen with all the information they need to schedule you to speak for their group with looking so flashy that the group thinks they can't afford you. An "Information Sheet" provides the right level of professionalism without the large investment a speaker in the secular world has to make for promotional materials. For the Christian speaker, the "Information Sheet" is the right promotional tool.
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.
The Black Bird and the Chicago Kid
Some Thoughts on Mystery Writing, Originality, and Other Matters
By Thomas B. SawyerFunny how stuff can sneak up on you. When I first read Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, I was a youth and didn't really understand it's significant place in American literature. Nor did I have any notion of how deeply and pervasively it would affect my life and my professional career. Only now, upon reflection, am I becoming fully aware of this last.
On one level, I simply enjoyed the book. But some things about the story grabbed me in a special way – not least Hammett's account of the Black Bird's history, part fact, part fiction, that greatly heightened the romance of the fictional story – the possibility that the maguffin everyone in the book was pursuing still existed somewhere in the real world. The mixing of a dollop (or maybe more?) of fact with fiction. Exciting stuff for a thirteen year-old, growing up in Chicago's not-very-exciting South Side. How much was real, and how much was Hammett's creation?
That question, plus Hammett's vivid cast of characters and his terse, unembellished style hooked me enough that I re-read the novel. Over and over, at yearly or semi-yearly intervals. By age 20, I had read it at least eight times. And discovered something new each time. It never disappointed.
Along the way, I read a lot of other books, including Hammett's competition in the mystery genre, both old and new. And it gradually hit me that in many ways, Falcon differed from virtually all the mystery and detective fiction that had gone before – dramatically breaking the patterns set by Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Agatha Christie (Miss Marple & Hercule Poirot, among others). It also became apparent that most of the mystery fiction written since was largely derivative-if-not-downright-imitative of The Maltese Falcon, with very very little even close to equaling it. Of course there has been, and continues to be, some terrific writing done in the genre, but for me, while Raymond Chandler's wonderful, literate Philip Marlowe novels came nearest, Falcon has never been surpassed.
One of the ways Hammett's paradigm novel was so singular was that while it contained a murder mystery – Who killed Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer? (three murders, actually, the others being those of Captain Jacoby of the SS La Paloma, and tough guy Floyd Thursby) – it was surprisingly, for its time – and even today, a detective story that was not about clues. Another difference was that the tale took the reader on such a fascinating, entertaining journey through rascal-and-double-cross country that one almost forgot the murder mystery part of it.
In the end, Hammett delivered satisfying closure in the matter of Archer's killer (and Jacoby's and Thursby's), but in truth we almost didn't care, the rest of it being so thoroughly gripping, introducing us to such a variety of wonderful, skewed characters – especially his enigmatic hero, private eye Sam Spade, and the lying, seductive Brigid O'Shaughnessy, who was to become the model female antagonist of novels and films noir for decades. The superb, classic movie version of The Maltese Falcon (Scr. & Dir. John Huston) is, by the way, almost scene-for-scene and word-for-word, Hammett's book.
When I began writing for the Murder, She Wrote TV series (Cr. William Link & Richard Levinson and Peter Fischer), before it went on the air, Peter Fischer explained to me that he envisioned the show in the mold of traditional Agatha Christie puzzle mysteries (most of which predated Hammett). I pointed out to Peter that as a boy I had read a few Christies, plus a couple of locked-room mysteries by others, and they had bored the hell out of me. I added that I wouldn't write that sort of thing for him.Peter asked what I would write. I said I'd write The Maltese Falcon. Peter's reply – without missing a beat – was “That'll be fine.”
And that's what I wrote for the next twelve years.
Without my ever being entirely conscious of it, Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon have profoundly influenced all of my writing, both pre-Murder, She Wrote, and since. Has my storytelling been shaped by other writers, other books? Of course. But I love having come to a full understanding of The Black Bird's place in my life. It has always been for me, and still is, the Gold Standard.
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.
© 2004 Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Writing Micro Fiction
By Dennis E. HensleyI have had more than 100 short stories published in everything from popular slicks to prestigious literary quarterlies. That sounds impressive until you learn that I've been at it for 30 years, averaging only three or four short stories sales per year. Meanwhile, I've also written seven novels, 26 nonfiction books, and more than 3,000 newspaper and magazine articles. Do you see a pattern here?
I've never found writing short fiction to be easy. Developing a plot, establishing a setting, creating believable characters, infusing realistic dialogue, and presenting a logical resolution to the story's crisis -- all within 2,000 to 5,000 words -- is a challenge. But, if that's bad, an even greater challenge is trying to write the "micro" short story (750 – 1,250 words), currently popular in Sunday school take-home papers, literary digests, and regional periodicals.
My first micro was called "Could Beethoven Have Made It in Nashville?" (Stereo, Spring, 1973). It was a 1,000 word comedy with a simple premise: if Ludwig van Beethoven were alive today and tried to get a job as a musician in Nashville, Tennessee, would anyone hire him?
What made the story work was its simplicity. There was one setting (a country music recording studio), only two characters (Beethoven and the studio engineer), and one basic joke (a talented man is out of his element). The comedy came from the fact that Beethoven had long hair like modern musicians, and he wore long, black coat-tails like Johnny Cash. He looked the part. Yet, he couldn't deliver the goods. The comedic format was formed around the dialogue between the two men, both talented artists but neither one having a clue as to what the other one was talking about. Very little author narrative was required.
The micro story is wedged within very strict framing . The setting usually is limited to one spot (a classroom, a library alcove, the backseat of a taxi). Walk-on characters may be needed, but the central characters are usually limited to just two people (dad with son, boss and new employee, doctor seeing patient). The plot must be confined to one problem or crisis that can be resolved without extenuating circumstances or plot complications.
Writing micro fiction is like playing with a toy telescope. If you look into the small aperture, you see a wide panorama of distant scenes brought into close view (the novel, the traditional short story). However, if you turn the telescope around and look into the wide aperture, you see very small images and a very limited field of vision (the micro story).
Ideas for micro plots are often derived from "scenes" or "snatches of conversation" or "real life lessons" heard or witnessed on the run. The idea for my 950 word story "The Competition" (Challenge, Feb. 15, 1976) came from two overlapping events at my church.
Our church custodian had retired that year. At his farewell dinner he said that in his youth he had planned to be a preacher. He received a scholarship to a Bible college but had a farm accident and broke his hip. He had to forfeit the scholarship and remain bedridden. He felt it was the worst thing that could ever have happened to him. However, he fell in love with the nurse who came by to check on him each afternoon. They married, raised a family and had a marvelous life together. He said his accident turned out to be the best "break" he'd ever had.
About this same time, our church sponsored a statewide youth talent rally, with prizes ranging from savings bonds to college scholarships. A young trumpet player from our church took second place in the instrumental performance category. He was devastated. Someone else received the scholarship he so desperately wanted. I heard him say, "This is the worst thing that could ever have happened to me" . . . and, with that, I had the basis of my micro story.
I opened the story at the competition with the old custodian wishing the young musician good luck. The boy then performed well, but finished second. He couldn't face his friends or family, so he retreated to the church basement. The old man followed him, told him his own "worse thing ever" story and how it became his "best thing ever" story. They took a moment to pray together for the boy to have a right attitude toward competition. The story ended with the old man reminding the boy that he was only a junior and he still had next year in which to compete for a scholarship. The boy lifted the trumpet, gave it a practice toot, and the story was over.
Again, we see one setting (a church), two characters (the boy and the custodian) and one plot lesson (learning to see defeat in a broader context). This micro story must be that concise. Its dialogue must be crisp, to the point, and must always provide necessary information or move the plot forward. Adjectives and adverbs must be eliminated through the use of visual nouns ("mansion" or "shack" rather than "house") and action verbs ("slapped" or "tapped" rather than "touched"). The plot conflict must be created at the onset of the story. The ending must evoke a reader response (a laugh, a nod of agreement, a wince of surprise).
Interestingly enough, although I find short fiction very challenging, I continue to write it. It is the best practice I know for learning how to make each word count. That discipline carries over into everything else I write. The scenes in my novels are more plot intensive if I think "micro." The dialogue in my interviews is more distilled and pertinent if I think "micro." Even my feature reporting is better if I think in a micro mentality – keep to the facts, limit the scope, get to the crux of the problem immediately, and don't leave the reader baffled at the end.
And…that's the short of it, friends!
Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is a professor of English at Taylor University Fort Wayne, where he directs the professional writing major. His 40 books include such titles 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. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
How to Add Story to Your Writing and Speaking
By Clint KellyDo you fall asleep at the sound of your own voice? Have you caught people – including your spouse – calling you "Dr. Drone" behind your back?
These are not good things. You must seize the initiative and turn this around. What those within the reach of your written words and the sound of your voice want and need is a storyteller. Stories have been teaching truth, and delivering the Good News of the gospel, since before Cain and Abel were pups. The most effective writers and speakers are those with a nose for "Once upon a time…"
People will sit still for stories. They will receive a nugget of truth when wrapped in a story that helps them understand the truth's practical application. They will stay with you to the end when riveted by a story.
Does this mean you have to be as poetic as David, as spellbinding as Jesus or as imaginative as John the Revelator? Well, no. It does mean you need to understand how story can pump fresh blood into your words and ensure the pinpoint landing of your prayerfully considered message.
Here are five ways to use stories to hold your audience:
1. Try the Tried and True, But Make It New. What if a number of Bible heroes were among the pastoral candidates for a hypothetical church's pastoral search committee? Jews for Jesus Newsletter used this premise effectively in an article titled "Unlikely Pastoral Candidates From the Bible." Sounds like a good sermon title, a sermon on how easy it is to find fault with almost anyone if we consider only the negative. "Take Noah for instance. After 120 years of preaching, he has not a single convert. Major credibility gap! And what about the drinking problem he's rumored to have? And then there's Moses. The man struggles with anger management and tends to stammer a lot. Can't we do better?" Try taking the familiar stories of scripture and giving them a fresh new unfamiliarity.
2. Use Humor to Make Your Point. "Remember when you were a kid and your mother told you God hears every prayer? And when you prayed real hard for something you wanted real bad and nothing happened, she'd say, ‘Sometimes God's answer is no.' Well, what if God doesn't answer every prayer at the moment you pray it? Then one day you're 42, your needs have changed, you look out in your yard one morning, and there's a Shetland pony!" Comedienne Mary Armstrong told that story, and gave new meaning to waiting upon the Lord, in The Joyful Noiseletter, a monthly collection of clean jokes, cartoons, church humor and articles on joy and humor in the church. It is produced by the Fellowship of Merry Christians (FMC) and the newsletter is chock full of great illustrations and will generate a lot of divine laughter in your audience. For more information on the newsletter, call 1-800-877-2757, or go to www.joyfulnoiseletter.com. FMC members are invited to use the material free of charge as long as proper credit is given.
3. Shake Up the Status Quo. Bring your writing and speaking alive in innovative ways to increase attention span. Glen Proechel of St. John's Lutheran Church in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, told the wonderful stories of the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed speaking only in the Klingon language from Star Trek. What an ingenious way to wake up the audience and demonstrate how Jesus and the early church ministered cross-culturally to some very alien audiences indeed. And it could also apply to a speech on prejudice and how Jesus himself was born into a foreign culture. A Baptist minister I know wore his "leathers" and rode a motorcycle down the center aisle of the church one Sunday to preach a sermon on showing Christ's love for all people, including the Christian bikers in that particular congregation. Too radical? So were the tales that Jesus told, the object lessons he drew in the sand. He baffled his own disciples on a regular basis with challenging illustrations from ordinary life. And you'll never outdo the raising of Lazarus for sheer dramatic effect!
4. Let Puppets Do Your Talking. Fred Zoeller, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Everett, Washington, doubles his impact every Sunday morning with a five-minute "children's" story sermon delivered in partnership with a puppet. Fred has quite the puppet menagerie, but always either he or the puppet is the foil for the lesson being taught. It helps him let his hair down and "loosen up" for the preaching ahead. The same would apply to your speaking and teaching. Often, Fred's sermons are drawn straight from the children's catechism. The adults eat it up as much as the kids and it allows for an informal lead-in to the more formal "adult" sermon. Fred's a modest ventriloquist and his lips quite obviously move plus his puppet voice is much the same for the whole cast of characters. No matter. The points are well made and everyone has a good chuckle. And when you're preaching a series from the Minor Prophets, you're grateful for all the help you can get.
5. Reveal a Bit of Yourself. An effective illustration is one that utilizes glimpses into the writer's or speaker's own life. Talk about the grace received from a spouse, a child, an acquaintance. Share the blunders, the faux pas, the misunderstandings from your camping trips, your deferred home maintenance, your more humbling moments. Don't hide your life, but tell stories on yourself that reveal your humanity so that we may see ours all the more clearly. Our pastor has four children and a forbearing wife. It is touching, and comforting, to hear of their struggles and triumphs. It is our pastor at his most vulnerable and more than once I have seen tears in his eyes as he tells on himself and of the unmerited favor that he regularly experiences at the hand of God. Readers, too, will hear that humility in your words.
Once upon a time, there was a Bible teacher in Africa who drove his 120-mile village circuit in a decrepit VW van. One morning he awoke to head off on his usual evangelistic rounds when what did he discover but that the trusty rusty bus no longer had forward gear. "Why me, Lord?" he moaned at first, his eyes fixed on a glass half empty. "I labor for you in one of the most remote and deprived places on earth and this is the thanks I get? The people are waiting for me. What can I do?" He sensed that what he needed to do was to fix his eyes on the glass half full. He needed to consider not what he did not have, but what, in fact, by God's grace he did have. After a few minutes of thought and prayerful reflection, he remembered that the faithful old bus still had reverse gear. And so it was that God's man in the upper Nile and Zulu regions of Africa that day drove his 120-mile circuit with the rear of the bus leading the way.
Moral of the story: To give your writing and speaking the power of story, you may need to approach your message in reverse. After all, it wouldn't be the first time a servant of God came at a challenge from the least expected direction.
Novelist and humorist Clint Kelly is a communications specialist for Seattle Pacific University and director of the SPU Christian Writers Renewal. He teaches writing for Discover U and at writers conferences coast-to-coast. In 2000, his historical novel set in eastern Turkey, The Power and the Glory, was a finalist in the Christy Awards for fiction excellence. He is the author of Escape Underground, #7 in the KidWitness series from Bethany House/Focus on the Family. Clint, currently under contract with Zondervan for a new contemporary fiction series, sometimes collaborates on storylines with his wife, Cheryll. Their finest collaboration to date has been their four adult children. The Kellys make their home in Everett, Washington.
© 2004 Clint Kelly. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
What If: Slow Receiving Payments and Have Little Writing Experience
By Kelly James-EngerQuestion: I wrote an article for a magazine and sent an invoice per the editor's request, but it's been two months and I haven't been paid yet. What should I do?
Answer: Writing an article is one thing. Unfortunately, actually getting paid for it is sometimes another. The first question to ask is whether the magazine pays on acceptance or on publication. In the former case, you should expect your check within about four weeks of the editor accepting the story (in other words, she's happy with it and doesn't require any more revising on your part). If the magazine pays on publication, however, you probably won't see your check until around the time the story actually runs.
© 2004 Kelly James-Enger. Used with Permission.
Why Nonfiction Books Sell with Book Proposals
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.
The Nitty-Gritty of Writing for Magazines
By Karen O'Connor"I sold it! I sold my first article," I called into the bright morning sky from the balcony overlooking the backyard of our family home. "I am now a professional writer! And I can prove it," I added waving the publisher's check with giddy abandon.
Three birds perched on the telephone line overhead flapped their wings in a sudden flurry. "Thank you. Thank you," I joked and bowed from the waist. The ‘applause' died down and my feathered friends rested at attention. "It's all up from here," I shouted, and off they flew, self-appointed messengers of my glad tidings.
What I didn't know at the time, however, was that to go up requires a lot more than simply hitching your dream to a shooting star. Though it felt good to have my head in the clouds for a moment or two of celebration, I would soon discover that to earn a steady income from my budding career, I would need to plant my feet firmly on the ground. Even to go underground for a time--to learn my craft, to unearth the thoughts and ideas that are worth writing about.
I sold twelve articles that first year. I also received enough rejection slips to wallpaper my guest bathroom! It seemed to be a test of my resolve--and an opportunity to dig a little deeper. Would I give up or would I remain committed?
I chose to commit, and here's what I learned over the past twenty-five years about the nitty-gritty of writing for magazines:
LIST general topics that interest you, such as: family, money, time, gratitude, prayer. Narrow your focus. Then start with one or two subjects.
LIVE with them for awhile. Don't rush the process. Be sure you're really interested in following through with what you've listed. Then allow yourself time to develop ways to be creative with your topics. For example, the following titles resulted from some of my brainstorming: Are You a Shopoholic, How to Study Less And Learn More, The Secret of a Grateful Heart, Teach Us To Pray. All have been published.
LISTEN for guidance. Really good ideas are heart-felt, not simply generated by our minds. What are you feeling guided to write? And for what purpose? After having a powerful experience regarding forgiveness, I felt a strong tug to put what I learned into writing. The Healing Power of Forgiveness was published in ten different publications and picked up by a therapist to use as a handout for her clients. I find that my best writing comes through my heart.
LOOSE your creativity. What comes to mind when you think of the items on your list? Make some notes about what you'd like to say about these topics--and to whom you wish to say it. Finish the following phrases.
• This is what I want to say....
• This is why I want to say it...
• The point of my article or story is...
• The audience for my article/story is...
Repeat these steps as new ideas or spin-offs occur to you.
LOOK for appropriate markets. Use the marketing guides available to you, such as Writer's Market. Who's publishing the kinds of things you wish to write about? How will your articles and stories be different yet suitable for a particular publication? Send for samples. Study web sites. Request guidelines for writers. Editors like to work with writers who do their marketing homework.
LOWER your expectations. Everyone would like to crack Reader's Digest or Ladies' Home Journal or Christianity Today. But it may be that you can reach more people and still make good money by selling your articles and stories to multiple markets that do not overlap. Many editors of smaller publications are eager to work with committed and creative writers. $50 times ten = $500. Sometimes this is an easier way to earn $500 than writing one long article for a bigger market for $500. For example, my article on forgiveness earned me over $1000. It continues to sell as I discover and submit to new markets.
LINK ideas with markets. Give editors what they want and need and find ways to reuse the material you have on hand to create new articles and stories. Spend less time, make more money. For example, a children's magazine may be interested in a way kids can earn their summer fun with neighborhood money-making projects. A parenting publication may respond favorably to an article on how parents can encourage their children to earn some of their own spending money. A Christian family magazine may want an interview with a couple who has successfully rid themselves of debt. Same topic--three angles, three markets.
LAUNCH the article or story. Create your story or article, using all the tools you have at your disposal for plotting fiction or structuring a nonfiction piece. When it's ready, send it off, following the accepted guidelines for submission and include an SASE, your e-mail address, or a post card for a response. If you don't want the material back (in the event it's rejected) give the editor permission to discard it.
LATCH onto something else and keep going! Start this process again with a new list of ideas--or a list of new angles on the topics that are already on your list.
LOG this info onto your computer or write or type it and keep in a notebook along with writers' guidelines. Keep track of sales and earnings so you'll know what to repeat and what to reject.
LEAVE your desk and go for a brisk walk--at least once a day!
Today, twenty-five years after my first sale I continue to write--despite the rejections and the revisions--even despite the awards and the acclaim. For I have learned something important in all of this. I am a writer.
And so are you!
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.
The Call To Write
By Sandy BrooksThe year was 1980. The place was YMCA Blue Ridge Center near Black Mountain, North Carolina. The occasion was the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. It was the first plenary session of the day, and the speaker was Dr. Victor Oliver, who was in his third year as an editor with Fleming Revell Publishers. In that beautiful Welsh dialect, his words were direct and clear. "Some of you here are probably not called to be writers. You will do much better spending your time doing other things. Some of you here have a talent that can be developed, and you will do things -- great things -- as a result of this conference. You will be writing and publishing -- stories -- maybe even books -- in the future. Some one here may have what I identify as a gift. There are not very many of those. They sit down and words flow on paper easily and effortlessly -- as though born of God. It's just there."
That moment you could almost hear the prayers rising from that room of almost 200 attendees. "Lord, please let me fit into one of those last two categories."
One of the great joys of being and editor and sitting on this side of the desk is that we have the thrill of meeting and ministering to each of these categories: those exploring the call to write; and those confirmed and gifted in the call to write. The CWFI Family runs the gamut in writing interests, skills, experience levels, and careers within the Christian publishing industry. Our mission is to come alongside these individuals and facilitate their exploration and calling.
Are You Called to Write?
For those among us trying to wade through the process of discovering whether you are truly called to write for publication, I'd like to offer you these filters:
Do you love to read? Do you often think you could have written something as good -- or better -- than some of the things you have read?
Do you enjoy browsing libraries and bookstores? Do you like the fragrance of a new book and the crack of the spine the first time you open it?
Do you enjoy browsing office supply stores and looking at paper and the variety other writing supplies?
Do you mind spending hours of time alone?
Do people often tell you that your letters are interesting or that you have a flair for words?
Are you good at prioritizing your time and disciplining yourself to get jobs done without someone constantly reminding you?
Do you have perspectives, opinions, and experiences on important issues and topics that you consider valuable, encouraging, timely, or needful? Do you feel frustrated that there is only a limited forum (or no forum) in which to express them?
Are you aware that writing is a learning process like any other profession? Do you mind investing time in the study of your craft and the industry?
Do you like studying and researching topics?
Do you have a deep longing inside to share with others what you've learned about life?
Do you have daily prayer and Bible study? Is there a deep longing inside you to share what you've learned. Are you careful to interpret the Scriptures with foundation and accuracy?
Do you have a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Have there been occasions when you strongly sensed His presence and guidance concerning a call to write?
Has the Lord provided one or more opportunities for you to explore the possibilities of a call to write?
Why do you want to write: income, to feel significant, to help reform today's societal and political mores, to minister to and meet the needs of readers?
Here is a word of encouragement to those who discover their call is not to the fast-lane of Christian publishing. You can provide enormous ministry and service to Christ's Kingdom through letter writing, editing newsletters, and writing church or family histories. That may be your call.
You Are Called to Write!
For those among us who have been affirmed in the call to write and have achieved the dream of publication, year's end is an excellent time to revisit those early days in your career. Retrace your steps and allow the Lord the chance to reaffirm -- or redirect -- your call. Here are some filters to facilitate the process.
Do you have the same passion and excitement about writing that you did in the beginning? Are you writing for the same reasons as when you started? Have you felt God's pleasure in the things you've written and sold this year? Do you need to get alone with God and seek Him for direction about future projects? Has time alone with Him in prayer and Bible study taken a back seat to your writing?
One final thought. At that 1980 conference where Dr. Oliver spoke, I was one of the 200 attendees praying to fit into one of the last two categories.
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.
© 2004 Sandy Brooks. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Why Publishing is Slow in August
By W. Terry WhalinHave you had a hard time getting a response from an editor during August (or even July)? Even the editors where you have a relationship (usually the ones who respond) are slow in August.
As an acquisitions editor, I've been pressed for decisions from authors and agents during the summer months but I've learned from hard earned experience there is little I can do to move the forces inside the publishing house. At one publisher, the publication board almost never met during August. With vacations and travel to conventions, it's a challenge to get any decisions or publishing contracts.
Recently in mid-August, I called one literary agent at a large agency and learned this agent was on holiday until after Labor Day. It was not an unusual story. Best-selling authors are out of their office the entire month of August and will be available in September.
As writers, we are a bit impatient at times and want faster answers. I regularly tell authors if they want an immediate answer from me, they can have it--and it's not the answer they want to hear. They don't even have to send in their manuscript and I can give it to them, "No." To get a positive answer in book publishing or magazine publishing, often takes time. Yes, takes patience and consistent excellent work from the writer.
Here's five things to do while you wait for an answer for your pet project from a publisher:
1. Start some new projects. If you are wearing a path to your mailbox (virtual or physical) looking for your contract or answer, you need to start some other writing projects. Too often at writer's conferences, I've seen writers return year after year latched on to their same idea. The world is big and much broader than one project. If you are waiting on answers for book proposals, then start some shorter magazine articles--personal experience stories, or how-to service articles or humor. Try your hand at a new type of writing for you. Write some query letters and pitch some different types of articles for yourself--and snag some more writing opportunties. They are out there and waiting for you--if you go to them.
2. Research the marketplace. What other things would you like to write about? Go to the library and read some new publications and look for something to spark an idea. The topics that will fascinate you will be completely different from what will fascinate me. Use your local newspaper to spark some ideas. Once I wrote a piece for The Numismatist from a short article in the business section about Disney Dollars. I wrote a query letter and snagged an assignment and the opportunity to get on the back lot of Disneyland--from a newspaper idea. Your idea will be completely different from my experience but it can be sparked from a newspaper article. Dig into some research for some new ideas. Use the time to learn about the marketplace and where you can possibly send other materials.
3. Form some new relationships. Maybe you have been to a conference earlier and met an editor. Can you write that editor either in print or on email and foster a relationship? Admittedly editors are busy people and don't have time to have a pen pal relationship. But at the same time, editors are real people--with other things in their life besides work. Can you do anything to foster such a relationship? It's something to consider and a good use of your time while waiting for a response from an editor.
4. Try a different type of writing. See if you can try a completely different type of writing. If you are writing fiction, then turn and write something true (nonfiction). Or if the bulk of your writing has been in the nonfiction area, consider writing some short stories or looking at starting a novel. The change of pace and disciple could open a new world for you.
5. Read the work of other authors. OK. Tell the truth. You probably have several books on your shelves at home that you have not read. I have a number of them--that I want to read. Determine that now is the time and open those books and begin to read them. Time spent reading the other people's work--whether fiction or nonfiction will fill your well of creativity. Then you will be ready to dip into it again and write with new vigor.
Don't wait and pine for that project which hasn't happened--the one where you haven't heard from the editor. At the same time, don't forget about it--occasionally you need to prod through an email or check on the status of it. Let's face it: there many projects in the works and editors are overloaded. If a proposal is almost right but not quite--it isn't right to reject--but there isn't time to develop it into something which is right. So...it's in stall. Whether it's August or October, publishing moves slowly. The only solution from my perspective is to get more things in the works. Be proactive rather than reactive.
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as an 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 nonfiction 55 books and his latest is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Teaching the Bible (Alpha Books). See more about Terry 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 and creator of www.right-writing.com. Terry and his wife, Christine, recently relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona. His bi-monthly newsletter Right Writing News is only going to have one issue for August.
© 2004 W. Terry Whalin
Writing TipsJohn R. W. Stott has made some deliberate choices with his life and the focus of his writing. What can you learn about his life focus and choices from reading the article. Does it apply to some of the writing choices you are considering?
Whether writers want to do it or not, promotion is a part of our work. Marita Littauer has some excellent insight for writers and speakers to create their own promotional materials. As a writer, are you taking some proactive steps in this area?
How can a classic story like The Maltese Falcon affect your writing and patterns for your fiction? Look at the example from best-selling author Tom Sawyer.
How do you write micro fiction? Take a lesson from Doc Hensley and his insight into this great topic for writers.
When a speaker tells a story, I sit up and take notice. Clint Kelly is a master at such speaking and writing. He gives some solid tips for writers in his article. Return to it and study his lessons.
If you are experiencing slow payments or wondering if you have the right writing experience and how to get it, catch the wise counsel in Kelly James-Enger's article. It's loaded with insight.
Magazine writing is a great outlet for any writer and something everyone should be encouraged to do. Karen O'Connor gives some terrific step-by-step insight and wisdom ni her article. Almost anyone can benefit from repeated reading of this article.
How do you know if you are called to write? In her excellent article, Sandy Brooks raises some thought-provoking questions which is worthy of your thoughtful consideration.
If you ever wonder why your response rate from publishers drops in the summer, you will get some insight from Why Publishing Is Slow in August.
New Links to CheckNext month from September 16th to 19th, you can learn more about writing at the American Christian Romance Writers Write from the Heart Conference:
Publishers continue to talk about platform and audience for your book idea. If you wonder how to build such things, your best option is to build a theme-based website. Learn more at:
The entire Right-Writing.Com website has a new look. Make sure you check it out and read some of the new articles 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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