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Right Writing News, June 9, 2004, Issue #009
June 09, 2004
Welcome to the ninth issue which highlights a best-selling author's writing life, writing articles and some writing tips. This publication appears bi-monthly.
If you like what you see here, please forward this copy and use this link to subscribe.
Table of Contents1) The "Normal Christian"--Stephen Arterburn by W. Terry Whalin
2) Whalins on the Move
3) How to Love a Workaholic Writer by Dr. Dennis E. Hensley
4) A Writer's Reality Check by Sandy Brooks
5) Writing Great Beginnings by Laura Backes,Children's Book Insider
6) Are You Writing Your Nonfiction Book Backwards?
7) How Do I Know the Markets by Cec Murphey
8) Are You Working under a False Premise? by David E. Fessenden
9) Five Steps to Writing Great Quizzes by Kelly James-Enger
10) Writing Tips
11) New Links to Check
The Normal Christian--Stephen Arterburn
By W. Terry WhalinThe atmosphere was charged with tension. More than 300 lesbian and gay couples packed the audience in Oprah Winfrey's studio. The guests that day included a mother of four lesbian girls, a Bible-thumping preacher and minister/psychologist/author Steve Arterburn. The topic was "When the Whole Family is Gay." During the commercials, security guards prevented fights between the conservative Christians and the homosexuals.
In the closing moments, Arterburn said, "The real issue here is whether this mother is going to find a way to love her daughters--whatever they are." The audience applauded.
"When I go on these talk shows, I'm the normal Christian--not the public's caricature of Christians," Arterburn says. Because of his expertise in recovery issues, he's been a guest on shows including Oprah, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Geraldo and quoted in periodicals such as USA Today.
As the founder and chairman of New Life Clinics, host of the daily “New Life Live!” national radio program, creator of the Women of Faith Conferences, a nationally known speaker, and the author of more than forty books, Steve Arterburn reaches a broad audience. He lives with his family in Laguna Beach, California. The New Life Treatment Clinics are scattered across the country and specialize in treating various kinds of emotional problems and addictions to such things as drugs, alcohol, food or sex.
As a seminary student, Arterburn was bored in marriage counseling classes. He knew Christian couples could take six months of sessions to break the ice and begin recovery. "I wanted to work with some really sick people," Arterburn said.
To get beyond the classroom, Steve worked the night shift in a psychiatric hospital as a nurse's aide. "In those places, people were past playing games," Arterburn said. "They came in a mess and would leave with things back together." Before long, Arterburn ended up running the program in the hospital and was then transferred to a large hospital in California. For about twenty-five years, he's worked with in-patient psychiatric treatment.
Then almost eighteen years ago, Arterburn co-authored his first book Hooked on Life with Tim Timmons (Oliver Nelson Books). One of the first books in the market on recovery--obsessions of the mind and compulsions of the body, this title made the bestseller list.
For his second book, Growing Up Addicted (Ballantine), Arterburn wrote it alone and this book has over 100,000 copies in print. A number of Steve's books have been co-authored with other people. "One of my favorite co-authors is my good friend Dave Stoop. He has a brilliant mind and we always work well together. We co-edited The Life Recovery Bible for Tyndale. In other situations, co-authoring has not been as pleasant as working with Dave. Every book has been different," Steve says.
"It's like a Life Application Bible, but for recovery," Arterburn says, "The study notes are not from a Biblical scholar standpoint but as fellow strugglers together. The personality profiles relate to obsessive compulsive personalities or dysfunctional families through the Bible."
Often writers believe they've come up with an original idea. Arterburn wrote his proposal for a recovery Bible and submitted it to Tyndale. "They called me and expressed interest," Steve says, "The only hitch was they had an identical proposal from a guy named David Stoop."
"It wasn't a problem to me," Arterburn says, "Dave and I had co-authored other books like The Angry Man (Word Publishing) so we were comfortable working together."
For The Life Recovery Bible, Arterburn and Stoop coordinated the various recovering Bible scholars and contributors plus, wrote some of the devotional contents.
Since his first two titles, Arterburn has completed many other books. His focus remains in this key area of helping readers solve critical life issues. Such as one of his titles, Addicted to "Love": Recovering From Unhealthy Dependencies in Romance, Relationships, and Sex which was written to fill a niche he saw in his work at the New Life Treatment Centers. Arterburn had been using a secular book on sexual addiction to help treat clients but wanted one that dealt with the subject from a Christian perspective.
For each book he writes, Arterburn develops an outline, then researches a variety of books and magazine articles on the topic. Also Steve interviews patients with the particular addiction and refines his outline. With Addicted to "Love", Arterburn compiled about 150 pages in outline form before writing. When the deadline approaches, Arterburn takes off from his work at New Life and writes in a block of time.
Writing has always been a part of Steve's life. Even in the fourth grade as a hyper-active kid, Steve would write a page or two per day. In the eleventh grade, Arterburn attempted a novel on hot rods. While in college, he wrote a children's story. "I always thought that some how I'd be a writer."
Yet in college, Arterburn studied classical music as an opera voice major. "I thought this would be my way to help people," Steve says. "Then through writing, I learned I don't have to sing to reach people."
One of his most personal books, Steve co-authored with his older brother Jerry, who died of AIDS. At the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, Arterburn struggled to locate a publisher for How Will I tell My Mother? (originally Oliver Nelson Books but now Xulon Press).
The effort was worthwhile, for the book has touched many lives. During a Steve Green concert, for example, Arterburn heard Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, say, "At first I felt homosexuals were getting what they deserved. Then I read Jerry's book and had a conversion experience. Now I believe there are thousands of young brothers and sisters who need our help through this crisis."
The latest series of books from Steve Arterburn have exploded into the marketplace called Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time by Arterburn, Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey. Shattering the perception that men are unable to control their thought lives and roving eyes, Every Man's Battle shares the stories of dozens who have escaped the trap of sexual immorality and presents a practical, detailed plan for any man who desires sexual purity-perfect for men who have fallen in the past, those who want to remain strong today, and all who want to overcome temptation in the future. Since the book released in 2000, it has sold over 750,000 copies and the Every Man series has over a million books in print.
For the writer, Steve gives some seasoned advice which has certainly worked in his own life, "Find something that you're passionate about and then write a book about that topic."
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 Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Whalins Are On the Moveby W. Terry Whalin
This newsletter is arriving a few days behind the normal delivery date. I am traveling a full 50% of June so it has been a challenge to accomplish the normal updating for this website and creation of this newsletter content.
My wife and I are in the process of moving to the Phoenix area in early August and have been house hunting this month. Also the final week of the month will be the Christian Booksellers International Trade Convention in Atlanta, Georgia and I will be participating in this event. It means you may receive a newsletter this week and another one next week--instead of a more spaced schedule of publication. I'm committed to the continued quality of this publication in spite of traveling.
My part-time work as the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Publishing will continue from Phoenix. We have many reasons for the move to this part of the country from Colorado but one of the key reasons is to fulfill a life-long dream for my wife.
One of the August newsletters will alert you to my new address and information. Just be aware that we are on the move and it's a challenge to answer your email as promptly as when I'm sitting in my office. I appreciate your concern and prayers.
How to Love a Workaholic Writer
By Dennis E. HensleyRecently, when I was invited to lecture for a week at the University of South Florida, my wife Rose flew down with me. After my first day of lecturing, one of the women who had attended said to my wife,"You must be the poor dear who is married to this workaholic. With as many books and articles as your husband has written, he probably never has time for you."
"Oh, quite the contrary," Rose said casually. "In fact, he recently took me on a very nice vacation."
Rose smiled. "Florida . . . this morning."
I am fortunate to be married to someone who knows how to live with (even love) a workaholic writer. My wife laughingly tells people I am hooked on my own adrenaline. If you are a successful freelance writer, no doubt you, too, have many of the traits of a workaholic. And, because we love our spouses more than our careers, it is our obligation to help them learn to live with us. Let me offer five ideas you can use to help your spouse and family live productively with a workaholic.
First, use the 80:20 vacation plan. Even workaholics need vacations and rest periods. The solution my wife and I have developed calls for vacations that are geared 80% for pleasure and 20% for work. When she and I fly out of state for a week of fun, she says nothing when I put in two hours of work in the morning (writing or appearing on a TV talk show or giving a lecture at a conference or convention). After that, we spend the rest of the day together.
When our children were younger we'd take them along with us and reverse the order of the day. We would have our family fun together until 3 p.m., and then I would put in a few hours of work alone while Rose and the kids took in a movie or a dip in the motel pool. Rather than criticize me for not"letting go" completely while on vacation, my wife thanks me for enabling her and the family to go with me on so many nice trips. Similarly, if my wife wishes to travel to see her relatives for a weekend, I arrange to hold a book autograph party in a bookstore in that town.
You could do likewise. If your spouse works second shift except for Friday nights, do your evening typing from Monday through Thursday. The more you coordinate your schedule with your spouse's, the more you will be able to continue your work and not have to be apart from each other.
Second, ask for career-related assistance. The workaholic's adage should be,"If you can't change me, join me." It has worked for me. If I am rushed to meet a deadline, my wife will often help with the word processing. If I need a second opinion on something I've written, my wife will offer revision suggestions. If I'm short on time in completing a research project, my wife will go to the library for the needed books or will search the Internet for pertinent data. This not only helps her keep aware of my current projects, it also provides a way for us to work and be together.
If you plan to attend a writers' conference, maybe your spouse will go along to help with the driving. If your appointment books, phone logs and expense records need to be reorganized, maybe your spouse will be willing to do the job.
Rather than assuming you are boring your spouse with"shop talk" or"routine writing matters" when you ask him or her for help, think instead of the chances you'll have to spend time together. Your spouse may not wish to get involved in your work, but you won't know until you ask.
Third, appreciate psychic income. Busy writers, it's true, deprive their spouses and families of much of their time; and they are frequently criticized by their spouses for it. Remember, however, that productive writers also provide spin-off benefits for their family members that other people don't have. My wife wishes that I were not so work-oriented all the time. Nevertheless, she's honest and open enough to admit that she gets"kind of a kick" out of seeing her husband on television talk shows, and that it's no small thrill to walk into a bookstore and see her husband's books on the shelves. The psychic lift such prestige gives one is something worth keeping in mind.
No one gets a free ride in life, least of all freelance writers. If you have gained a prestigious position in your field through hard work, it should also earn you your family's respect.
Fourth, remember why you are working so hard. The most common reason workaholics give for working 15-hour days is not the truthful one (“Oh, how I love this job!") but rather some variation of"We need the money." That was the excuse I used several years ago. One day my wife said she wanted to redecorate two of the bedrooms in our house and I said we couldn't afford it.
"Look," Rose said,"you're working 12 to 15 hours per day, Monday through Saturday. If we can't afford redecorating now, we never will. So, what's it going to be?"
The next day the redecorating started on the two rooms. After that, we bought a new piano, then a second car. Rose was right. Anyone living with a workaholic's crazy hours and habits deserves some of the benefits from the workaholic's efforts. Fair is fair.
Fifth, give in – on both sides. My mother used to tell me that marriage harmony was a 60:40 proposition. Each spouse had to give in 60% of the time and hold the line 40% of the time. Both the spouse and the workaholic writer must develop tolerance, respect and appreciation for the other person. Before they criticize each other's habits or behavior, they should attempt to understand the reasons behind them.
Think about compromise rather than criticism. Think about alternatives rather than arguments. Think about family détente rather than family debate. Success at your writing is of no value to you if you have failure on the home front. It's no crime to be a workaholic writer – just know what you're working for and why.
Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is director of the professional writing major at Taylor University Fort Wayne (IN). He is the co-author of the Leslie Holden mystery-romance novel series released by Harvest House and also the author of 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).
A Writer's Reality Check
By Sandy BrooksMany writers stand on tiptoe during the summer conference season in hopes of winning the approval of editors and affirming nods from the other writers attending the conference. Many other writers attend writers groups longing to discover the secret formula that will allow them to report acceptances and contracts at every meeting. But what happens in the heart and mind of a veteran writer when a beginner gets an acceptance at her first conference? How does a writer feel who faithfully attends writers group meetings and hears glowing reports of acceptances and book contracts by other group members when he or she does well to report only a few article sales a year?
Writers are among the most sensitive professionals in our culture. Having a sensitive spirit works strongly in our behalf because it means we have high potential for hearing the creative whispers of our Creator God. Also sensitivity hinders us because we often feel we've never quite made the grade as writers. Even well-published authors confess going into a mental and emotional slump following the completion of a book. They wonder if they'll ever produce another publishable manuscript.
Rest assured that the enemy of our faith knows how we think, and he knows how to take advantage of the least bit of insecurity in us. When things aren't happening as fast as we'd like, some of us get too discouraged to write anything, and the enemy has accomplished his purpose. One less spokesperson is speaking for Christ. Other writers respond by using any means available to force open doors to take them where they want to go -- usually leaving a trail of broken relationships behind them.
If you're frustrated and discouraged because your writing career isn't progressing as you would like -- or as fast as other writers around you -- here are some things you need to think through.
Why do you want to write for publication? One of the first issues you need to settle in your writing career is why you want to do this.
If it's for money, fame, or personal therapy and healing, then you're probably going to be disappointed. Few writers make a living at writing. Fewer still become famous in the process. Writing to meet personal needs for therapy and healing is fine, but that's journaling, not writing for publication. Yes, I know, sometimes one or more of these things happen as by-products of a writing career, but in order to glorify God with your gift of communication, your primary motive needs to be ministering to and meeting the needs of your readers. See 1 Chronicles 28:9b and 1 Corinthians 13:5.
Do you want a growing relationship with Him more than you want to be a well-known writer? The Lord often holds our careers back until we get our priorities in order. “Number One” on His list of priorities is that we know and experience Him and His love at ever deepening levels. That means spending daily, focused time with Him in Bible study and prayer.
Out of the overflow of your relationship with Him flows significant writing. Any writer can fill a page with words. It happens everyday. But if you want to fill a life with words that challenge, change, and heal, an intimate relationship with Him is a necessity. See Matthew 6:33.
Are you waiting upon Him and resting in Him to open the right doors for you? During the past 20 years, I've met many writers in a wide variety of settings and circles. Most of those writers are seeking God's will in how to use their writing gift. Others are selling consistently and have a clear understanding of how and where the Lord wants to use their writing gift. Occasionally I meet writers who are determined to leave their mark on the publishing industry. They've studied all the Madison Avenue manuals on how to succeed at writing. They've done their homework and know who to talk to and what questions to ask. Often they have a portfolio of credentials and full color promotional materials designed to push open almost any editorial door. The catch is that aggressively seeking career advances plays havoc with our self-image.
We're never satisfied with where we are because deep down we wonder if we really belong there. We're also too busy scanning the horizon for the next great accomplishment to enjoy where the Lord has placed us right now. See Psalm 37:23.
Are you enjoying what the Lord is doing in your writing career right now? Your identity isn't based on how many books or articles you have in print. It isn't validated by how many manuscripts you have circulating at any given time or how many editors you know on a first name basis. It's based on your love relationship with our Savior. He doesn't compare you with what other writers are doing. He knows your gifts and abilities better than anyone, and He's bringing along your career as fast as you will let Him, (see John 21:21-22). For your maturity's sake, He can't take you to the next level until you learn to enjoy and appreciate where He's taken you thus far.
Don't allow the adversary to steal the joy of your God-given gift. If you're doing the best job you can at this stage in your writing career, relax, enjoy, and appreciate what the Lord is doing your career right now.
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.
Writing Great Beginnings
By Laura Backes, Children's Book InsiderWhen an editor opens up the envelope containing your manuscript and begins to read, you have 10 seconds to get her attention. If she’s not captivated by the end of the first page (or maybe the second page if she’s having a good day), it’s not likely she’ll continue.
If that sounds harsh, think about this: editors have more patience than your juvenile audience. So how do you guarantee that your readers will keep reading? The first sentence must be active, must pull the reader into the book. The first paragraph needs to set the stage by introducing elements of the main character, the setting and the upcoming conflict. By the end of the first page, your reader should be so involved in the story that there’s no turning back.
Sound difficult? It is. Beginnings are so important that entire chapters have been devoted to them in writing how-to books. Crafting a compelling opening to your story takes practice, time and several revisions. But anyone can teach himself to write a better first sentence, first paragraph and first page by keeping one thing in mind: Begin at the beginning. Start your story at the beginning of the story, not the beginning of your character’s life. Don’t force your readers to wade through boring details of the character’s past, lengthy descriptions of the character’s family or home, or painful recitations of everything the character did since she got out of bed that morning. Ideally, your story opens with an event or a moment in your character’s life that signals impending change. There are a few notable exceptions, which I’ll talk about below, but in general you can’t go wrong when you begin a book with action.
The younger audiences of picture books (up to age 8), easy readers (ages 5-9 reading on their own) and chapter books (ages 7-10) can’t easily digest a lot of information in a short space, so you have to choose what story aspects you present in the first few paragraphs. Think about what’s important to young readers of fiction— they want to know what the story’s going to be about. So open your book by presenting the main character and the looming problem or conflict.
Emma’s Magic Winter by Jean Little (Harper I Can Read) starts like this:
"Emma liked reading to herself. But she did not like reading out loud."
By the third page of this easy reader (six sentences) we learn that Emma is shy and when she’s called upon to read out loud in class, she can only whisper. This is a conflict young readers can certainly empathize with, and they’ll want to know how Emma handles her problem.
In Little Wolf’s Book of Badness by Ian Whybrow (chapter book, Carolrhoda), we also learn the story problem in the first paragraph:
"Dear Mom and Dad,
Please please PLEEEEEZ let me come home. I have been walking and walking all day, and guess how far? Not even 10 miles, I bet. I have not even reached Lonesome Lake yet. You know I hate going on adventures. So why do I have to go hundreds of miles to Uncle Bagbad’s school in the middle of a dark, damp forest?"
The reader knows immediately that this is no ordinary wolf. He prefers home to damp forests, but his parents feel otherwise. We also immediately get to hear the character’s voice. Middle grade readers who are drawn to fast-paced, action-packed stories also appreciate knowing the conflict early on.
Here's the first sentence of The Kid Who Only Hit Homers by Matt Christopher (Little Brown):
"The Hooper Redbirds were having their third practice session of the spring season and Sylvester Coddmyer III, a right-hander, was batting."
No conflict yet, but we're given the setting, the main character, and the current action. Now look at the next three sentences:
"Rick Wilson hurled in the first pitch. It looked good and Sylvester swung. Swish! He missed it by six inches."
To any reader who's ever played Little League baseball, this signals conflict.
Sometimes setting and time period are important elements of the story, and the author needs to set the stage for the reader before the action can begin. This can work with upper middle grade and young adult novels, but don't use it as an excuse to throw in a lot of description and unnecessary character details. In Richard Peck's A Long Way from Chicago (Dial), the small Midwestern town of the 1930's in which the book is set becomes almost a character in itself. In order to show the contrast between this town, which the narrator visits one week a year, and Chicago, where he lives the rest of the time, the book opens with the narrator describing Chicago's "bad old days" of Al Capone and Bugs Moran. However, Peck wanted to guarantee that the reader would stick around for the action to begin, so he created a grabber of a first sentence: You wouldn't think we'd have to leave Chicago to see a dead body.
That's using your 10 seconds for all it's worth.
About the Author: Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For more information about writing children's books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children's Book Insider's home on the web at http://write4kids.com
Reprinted with permission.
Are You Writing Your Nonfiction Book Backwards?
Many people believe to write a nonfiction book, they need to write the manuscript then try to locate a publisher. Instead the publisher needs something called a nonfiction book proposal. This proposal contains a great deal of information which will never appear in the pages of a manuscript--yet a publisher needs to make an informed decision about the writer and to offer a publishing contract.
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.
How Do I Know the Markets?
By Cecil (Cec) MurpheyIn almost every writer's conference, at least one instructor repeats the two basic rules about writing for publication. If you read any book on writing you'll find them there. The first is Show me! Show me!
The other rule we call "Know your markets." I've heard this pounded into the skulls of conferees hundreds of times. Great advice; however, those teachers rarely explain how to understand the markets. Consequently, too many beginning writers send out manuscripts to any publication they've ever heard of. They don't realize that every publication has specific needs and clearly define what they want to publish.
For instance, my wife Shirley was the assistant editor for These Days for fifteen years and received submissions. She used to share tales of the odd materials that people sent. These Days is a devotional magazine, and yet she received sermons, news articles, short stories, and songs. "Don't they read These Days?" she asked.
The answer was obvious: Those people had no idea what that publisher wanted. One big step toward getting into print regularly is to know where to send material. That's also what we mean by knowing the market.
At one conference in my early writing days, I asked a presenter, "How do I figure out the markets?"
A startled expression filled her countenance, she sputtered a few sentences, and finally said, "Well, that's—that's part of what you're supposed to find out."
< BR> Despite my annoyance, her answer (or lack of it) propelled me to figure out how to answer my own question. I'm presenting an abbreviated version of what I learned about how to know where to send the articles and short stories we write. I'm devoting this to article writing. Book writing is a little different and more complicated.
I came up with eight things to focus on before you send out a manuscript. This is how I see it, and the order isn't as important as being aware of the various items. After I started using this system in the early 1980s, I received only a handful of rejections (but later published them elsewhere). No editors turned thumbs down because that magazine was the wrong place to send my material.
Don't worry about being from a particular denomination and writing for a different one. Editors don't care as long as the article is well written and doesn't speak against their theology. Recently, the editor of the Southern Baptist's HomeLife asked me to write an article for them on forgiveness. Before that, the Seventh-day Adventists' Signs of the Times published my article on how we use humor.
If you're serious about writing, you need the annual book, Christian Writers' Market Guide: The Reference Tool for the Christian Writer by Sally E. Stuart (Shaw Books). Stuart offers an immense amount of help by listing publications and a topical index to show the type of manuscripts each publisher seeks. As helpful as that tool is—and I buy her book each year—it doesn't preclude the need to examine the magazines themselves.
Most publications have guidelines for writers and they'll send them on request, or you can click on their websites for that information.
Here then, are my steps toward knowing the markets.
1. Start with editorials
Most magazines carry a brief message from the editor. This is how the major decision maker sees their publication and the audience. You can easily pick up the bias of the editorial department.
2. Letters to editors
Only a small number of people write letters to the editor. They do it out of anger or from hearty agreement. These represent the widest range of the people who buy the publication. These are the readers they must appeal to so that they will continue to renew their subscription. You can assume that most of their readers stand somewhere between the two extremes. Personally, I find readers' responses extremely enlightening.
3. The columns
For a column to remain in a publication, it has to have strong reader appeal. Obvious? That means readers must like the column. Read for the ideas those columns present and the way they present their material. Is the format informational? personal experience? Bible lessons? Are they written in a conversational manner? with an academic tone? carry a heavy-theological focus?
If I were a business owner and wanted to place ads, I'd spend considerable time to select those that would give me the highest level of exposure and possible return for the least amount of money.
Advertisers carefully choose the publications that will best promote their products. If you study the ads, you can learn an immense amount about the readers. To prove this to yourself, pick any two publications and compare them. Contrast, for example, the ads in TV Guide with Savvy. No one needs to explain the audience of those magazines.
5. The cover
Every magazine has a unique personality and the companies spend a lot of money to make their covers appeal to the target audience. Contrast the covers of Christianity Today with Charisma. Ask yourself what age group they seek to reach? What educational level? What kind of religious experience do they promote?
6. Blurbs and Callouts
Blurbs are summations of the articles and appear on the table of contents under the articles' titles, presenting a one-sentence glimpse of what they hope you'll read.
Many magazines "call out" key sentences in articles so that readers can sample them before they read. Note the style and bias. Are they sedate statements? Which comments provoke you to think? Is the writing couched in liberal or conservative theological terms?
Good titles beg you to read an article. As you go through the titles in any issue of a publication, you'll immediately see the type of articles they publish. For example, in the March 2003 issue of Presbyterians Today, the feature articles included: "Capital punishment on trial," and "How to listen to a sermon." What does that tell you about their targeted audience? What do the titles show you, as a writer, about the kind of material they want? What do they tell you about the interests and needs for readers?
8. Finally, the articles themselves
For writers, this may be the least significant. If you have gone through the steps above, before you actually read any articles, you already know if the readers are primarily male, female, family, single, teens, or older adults. You'll have a strong sense of the educational and income level of readers. The theological stance of the publication will be quite clear as well.
If you've gone through these steps, you need to check two other things. First, does the magazine have themes? Many do. At certain times of the year, those publications want articles on specific topics—and that's not limited to Christmas and Easter. You learn this from the publisher's guidelines.
Second, how many freelance articles do they accept? Here is where you'll need to rely on the Christian Writers' Market Guide or inquire from the magazines themselves.
For example, HomeLife no longer takes unsolicited manuscripts; Focus on the Family (which has gone from sixteen pages to eight) accepts less than 5 percent freelance, and Presbyterians Today says 65 percent of their articles come from free-lancers—writers like you.
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.
Are You Working under a False Premise?
By David E. FessendenWhenever I read a proposal for a nonfiction book, I am frequently drawn first to the premise, one of the most crucial items in the author's presentation. I am also frequently disappointed to discover that the proposal I am reading has no premise at all, or begins with words such as these: "This book will help the reader to . . ." I'm convinced that the phrase "working under a false premise" must have been coined by an editor!
The premise of a proposal should tell your reasoning behind the book, or the need that the book will fulfill, rather than focusing on what the book will do for the reader. That's a fine distinction, but a critical one. If you look at the definition of the word premise -- something assumed or taken for granted -- it may help clarify what you want to say in that section of the proposal. Here is where you want to tell us your presuppositions, the need you saw that inspired you to write the book in the first place.
Some authors, however, do not write a book to meet the need of a particular audience. They haven't thought about the audience at all. That approach may be acceptable for fiction (you novelists out there will have to guide me on that point), but for nonfiction it can lead to a self-absorbed manuscript. Have you ever listened to a speaker who seems enamored with the sound of his own voice? God save us from that in our writing!
Of course you do want to include in your proposal "what the book will do for the reader," but that comes after the premise. Ideally, your premise sets the stage for a description of the content of the book, just as the conflict in a novel builds to a climax, when the hero (your book!) comes in to save the day. If you tell what the book will do for the reader without establishing the need within the reader, your presentation falls flat.
I think some authors skip talking about the need of the reader because they assume that it is obvious -- it may be obvious to you, but that's because you've written a book about it! If you're having trouble stating the need for your book in a way that doesn't sound painfully trite, talk to some people that would seem to fit the audience for your book. If you listen carefully, you may even gain some insights that will lead you to revise your book!
The type of nonfiction article or book that centers most directly on the need of a particular audience is the "how-to" book, which says, "here's your problem or need, and here's how to fix it." It's a great format for a clearly defined audience with a specific need. For example, my book, Teaching with All Your Heart, identified Sunday school teachers as the audience and their need to put spontaneity and creativity into a lesson. How did I know that such a need was out there? I talked to other teachers and listened to their concerns.
I am not saying that all nonfiction books should be "how-to" books -- what a dull world that would be! What I am saying is that you always need to identify audience and need. A non-"how-to" book, however, may be more subtle and complex, so identifying the audience and need may require that you think it through more carefully. That's why bad "how-to" books (such as "How to Solve All Your Spiritual Problems in Three Easy Steps") are usually bad because they pigeon-hole their audience and provide simplistic solutions to complex problems. The author of a book like this probably should have used a different format than "how-to"!
So whether you are doing a nonfiction book or article, be sure to give careful consideration to your audience and their needs, or you may find yourself, very literally, "working under a false premise"!
David E. Fessenden is a freelance editor and consultant for Honeycomb House Publishing. The author of four books and dozens of articles for magazines and newspapers, he also serves as a columnist for Cross & Quill and a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. Dave and his wife, Jacque, have two adult sons.
Five Steps to Writing Great Quizzes
By Kelly James-EngerWhat's the best way to sell an editor on your latest article idea?
1. Spend three pages setting out every facet your story will cover in meticulous detail.
2. Brag about your third-grade award for penmanship.
3. Mention that you've never sold anything yet, but that you're certain this story is perfect for his/her magazine.
4. Suggest a quiz to complement the feature story.
I hope you answered "D." While it's always smart to suggest possible sidebars, resource boxes and other short pieces to accompany a feature story, quizzes immediately capture the attention of readers and offer an interactive element as well. Do you have a story idea that would be perfect for a quiz -- but aren't sure how to pull it together? Read on for the "Q and A" on writing quizzes -- and a five-step process to make it easier.
Step 1: Clarify your Goal
Most quizzes fall into two basic categories -- they either test readers' knowledge or act as self-assessment tools. You should have some idea of what you'll accomplish with the quiz before you write it.
"Decide what point you want to make," says Boston freelancer Lain Ehmann, who has written quizzes for a website. "Is this just entertainment or are you trying to convey information?"
Step 2: Decide on Format
You want your quiz to be lengthy enough to meet your goal, but not so long that readers lose interest. Depending on the topic and the length of the main story, a 5- or 10-question quiz is often appropriate. Then determine the format of the questions themselves -- will they be true/false, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or a combination?
You must also decide whether the quiz will be a separate, shorter sidebar to accompany the main article or if it will be part of the feature itself. For example, "What's Your Eating Personality?" which was published in Fit, consisted of a brief intro, a 10-question multiple choice test, and a key describing the characteristics of the four different eating "types."For another story, "Your Money Style: What it Means to You and Your Checkbook," published in Correspondent, the 10-question quiz accompanied the feature story as a sidebar.
Step 3: Research your Subject
You may have to do some legwork on the subject at hand before creating the quiz. This may mean interviewing experts and performing research or you may be able to rely on your own experience the way freelancer Kelly Caldwell of Naperville, Illinois does. She uses her recruiting and human resource background to write quizzes on employment-related topics for www.monster.com.
In general, the more information you know about your subject, the better. For example, when I wrote "Your Money Style," I interviewed psychologist Linda Barbanel, author of Sex, Money & Power, about the four basic money "types" she describes -- Love Buyer, Freedom Searcher, Keeper, and Power Seeker. I asked her about the characteristics of each type and made sure I thoroughly understood the differences between them before taking the next step.
Step 4: Formulate the Quiz Questions (and Answers!)
Now for the fun part -- actually writing the quiz! Make sure your questions are clear, relevant, and easy to understand. "I think of how I would write about the topic as an article and come up with 10 points I'd make," says Caldwell. "Then I turn those points into questions. For example, if I wrote about interviewing techniques for managers, I'd suggest asking open-ended questions of the job applicant. So the quiz question becomes 'Do you ask open-ended questions?'"
Do your best to make your questions entertaining, says Ehmann. "Even when it's a serious topic, I make the questions and answers somewhat tongue-in-cheek," she says. "I think it draws readers in more, helps them let down their guard and, I hope, give more honest answers."
A helpful tip: if the quiz is of a self-assessment nature (e.g., "test your love quotient"), the easiest way to write the answers is so that all "A" answers correspond to one category, all "B" answers correspond to another category, and so on. Or you can assign points to answers (1 point for every A, 2 points for every B, etc.) and have readers tally their scores after taking the quiz.
Step 5: Write the Key or Explanation
The key is the most important part because this is where you actually convey information. If the quiz is designed to educate readers about a particular topic (such as tax breaks for families), your key should give not only the right answer but explain why it's correct. If it's a self-assessment test like "What's your Eating Personality?" you'll want to include specific advice and tips geared to each type.
To test your quiz before turning it in, ask a friend or family member to give it a test run. Is it fun to take? Do the questions make sense? Is it challenging but not overly difficult? Did he or she learn something by taking it? If the answer to these questions is yes, you're ready to submit your quiz -- and get to work on your next quiz-worthy topic.
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.
Writing TipsMake sure you look closely at the writing details woven into the story about Stephen Arterburn. Learn that he's been at it almost twenty years--so his success isn't something that happened overnight but has been a continual process. Also early on Steve chose an area of specialty and need in the marketplace and has continued working in this area. How do these factors feed into your writing and your area of specialty and your choices for writing?
Dr. Dennis Hensley has given some incredible insight to the workaholic writer. It's critical to see how writing is a priority and constant in his life and busy career. Dennis runs a writing program at a university--yet continues to write for many periodicals and publish a book or two a year. Consider and learn from his priority with his writing.
Sandy Brooks addresses another key for the writer. Where are you finding your satisfaction? Is your identity wrapped in your writing or something else? She has some sound counsel from her years in the publishing business and wise advice for any writer.
Many writers are amazed at the prolific writing from Cec Murphey. In his article on how to know the markets, Cec helps us learn how to study and know the marketplace. This article will help any writer be able to do more than casual magazine reading but to study the publication.
Dave Fessenden helps writers have the right premise with their writing--to focus on the reader. His orientation and wisdom is another stepping stone for every writer. Make sure your books or your magazine articles are focused on the reader.
Many magazines uses quizzes and prolific writer Kelly James-Enger helps us understand the steps to construct a great quiz. Any writer can follow her advice for more sales in this area of the marketplace.
New Links to CheckIf you have a contract, here's a thorough document of wise advice and valuable information from a professional writer/ lawyer:
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