Facing Our Fears as Writers

Photo/TaraRoss

We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us. (Beth Moore)

I’m forced to face my fears and weaknesses in many areas of my life, particularly my writing life.

Resistance. What fears haunt you as a writer? I have a long list of my own. Writing for publication demands strength and stamina! We should expect to face resistance, right? Each new project, goal, or idea, may trigger memories of intimidation, shame, rejection, failure, regret, or setback. Or we may even fear the price of our success.

Intimidation. Fearful to let anyone see your first (second or third) drafts? Even the best writers produce shoddy first drafts. Anne Lamott offers an entire chapter on this topic in her outstanding instructional book on writing and life, Bird by Bird.

That’s why we RE-write. And that’s why I recommend finding a critique group or someone who can (and will) edit your work. I’m grateful for my writing friends who will are honest enough to wield their red pens and hack on my stuff.

My husband Dan serves as my Editor-in-chief, although most of writers do not advise asking a spouse to edit. But I’ll reserve that debate for another post. Although, I welcome your opinion on that subject in the comments space below.

Shame? Perfectionism and the fear of judgment and criticism can stifle our writing life. Our inner critic may be harder on our work than any reader or editor. “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough” (Dr. Brené Brown).

Rejection? Wow! This can be a monumental hurdle for writers! But many famous authors were rejected before succeeding, like C.S. Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

If you’re a Christian writer, here are a few encouraging words from Beth Moore, “The next time you feel rejection’s sting, remember God’s words to Samuel: ‘It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me’” (1 Sam. 8:7).

Failure? Many writers never pursue writing for publication for fear of failure. But I agree successful author and blogger Jeff Goins: “The cost of not pursuing a dream is greater than the cost of failure.”

Regret? Our mistakes can yield valuable lessons. But we don’t want to focus so much on our missed opportunities or disappointments that we lose sight of hope and dreams for our future.

… I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead …  (Phil. 3:13 NIV).

Success? Do you fear having high hopes? Afraid of taking risks? Or maybe you’re counting the cost of success, and you don’t think you have what it takes. Could your fear be the stumbling block that’s keeping your from moving forward?

Setbacks? How do you endure setbacks in your writing life? I’ve learned a few survival tips on the walking trail and on my writing journey. But as I face my fears and take one step at a time by faith, I’m able to go the distance.

And now, … one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received … Then the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9 NLT)

What challenges have you faced and what fears have you overcome as a writer?

Following the Story to a Different Market

All readers of this blog may not be writing for the CBA market and others may be contemplating writing for the general market when they’ve been in the CBA market for a while.

booksI thought it would be interesting to get the opinion of an author who changed from the Christian market to the general market and what her reasons were for doing so. She brought along two other friends to share their insight as well.

Welcome back, Charise!

Last year, I began to write my first non-Christian marketplace fiction project. It was a kind of one-off idea that I just wanted to try. It was a serial. It was historical fiction; I normally write contemporary. And it was for the general market. It started as a sort of experiment while I plotted my next contemporary novel for the CBA market (as were my first two).

But then something happened. I loved the freedom. The internal editor that kept me from writing what my characters really felt, thought, did and said was silent. And it all felt better. It read better. Frankly, it was better. And I decided I would no longer write with a CBA editor— or CBA reader— in mind.

Instead of being a Christian writer of fiction primarily for Christian readers, I am a writer who is a Christian. It now feels as I am writing with more truth than less; and the struggle with being “Christian enough” is over.

I know two other writers who have made this same switch: Katherine Bolger Hyde and Wendy Paine Miller.

Charise: What made you decide to move toward the general market from the Christian reader market?

Katherine: Even with an agent who believed in my work, I was not able to sell a novel to a CBA publisher. I had the choice of adapting my writing to that market or moving to a different market. Because I felt the adaptations being asked of me would have compromised the artistic integrity of my work, I chose to move.

Wendy: I’ve been honored to be invited to dozens of book clubs, and as I joined in the discussions, it became abundantly clear to me that Christians weren’t the only ones reading and enjoying my books. That was the strongest reason for me. But there’s more. My stories touch upon emotions and depth that reach beyond the Christian market—that are not exclusive to the CBA. When I write I don’t set out to work the gospel into my story arc or I don’t purposefully include a hopeful message. I just follow the story. I trust my faith enough to let it lead where it will.

Charise: I love that, Wendy, “I just follow the story. I trust my faith enough to lead where it will.” I felt the general market would let me be as dark as I needed to be in order to then show how much more blinding the light was when it broke through. And like Katherine, I was not selling in CBA nor entirely comfortable with the editorial limits.

What was the response from your writing network to that decision?

Katherine: My network was mostly supportive—probably because it was pretty obvious to anyone who read my work that it didn’t belong in CBA!

Wendy: So far, so good. As with any change, some have embraced it…

Charise: I think some were surprised and probably a few were relieved. Though I have had longer conversations than I expected about the new content and my choices.

What have been the greatest challenges?

Katherine: Honestly? Almost the minute I made the move, most of my challenges disappeared! The first novel I wrote deliberately for the general market sold to the first agent and the first editor who looked at it. I also got a better advance than I could have hoped for in CBA.

Wendy: Sometimes I feel like I’m straddling an invisible fence. Or quite frankly, I feel too Christian for the ABA market and not Christian enough for the CBA. It’s a strange place to be but more and more I’m feeling I’m on this exact road for a reason.

Charise: Katherine, that is a powerful affirmation! For me, the challenge has been to “sit out” on certain events and conversations because my stories will not fit in with CBA-oriented material. I’m still friends, of course, but there have been challenges.

What have been the rewards?

Katherine: I feel much more free to write what and how I am naturally inclined to do. I found CBA limiting not only in its evangelical worldview (which does not match my Orthodox Christian worldview) but also in its mission-driven approach to fiction. I see fiction as an art form; CBA seems to view it as a tool for evangelism, which can be crippling artistically. As a bonus, I’ve been fortunate enough to land with a publisher who doesn’t object to a little subtle spiritual content in their books.

Wendy: Understanding who I am as an author and establishing a grounded sense of what I want to write. Also, a wider reach. I’m a huge fan of engaging in enriching conversations and this happens at book clubs. When the topic of faith comes up doors open. It’s natural. There’s no budging involved. I learned to trust my voice, to filter through all the ideas of where I thought I’d be and who I thought I was becoming. I took risks. I paid attention, then did things that didn’t feel as safe but ultimately helped me to become a more authentic author.

Charise: I really just want to say “ditto” to Katherine and Wendy’s comments. Having readers who never would have found me in CBA contact me to say “that’s just how I felt!”  The rewards have been to be able tell the story the way I believed it was meant to be told.

Anything else to add on the subject?

Katherine: I have to thank all the people I met in the Christian fiction world for their kindness, generosity, and support. I made many friends there who still put up with me now that I’ve left. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to leap out into the general market if I hadn’t built up my confidence through several years in CBA.

Wendy: I’ll always come alongside other authors no matter who their audience is. This is a crazy calling. And we’d all benefit from doling out more support.

Charise: It can be a hard change, but if it’s the right change for your story and your career and your readers— then it’s the right change to make.

How did you choose your reading market?

Have you changed markets? How did it go?

Have you considered doing so? What’s holding you back?

***********************************************************************************************

Katherine Hyde is an editor by day and a mystery writer by  night. Arsenic with Austen, the first in her mystery series, Crime With the Classics, will launch in 2016. Find out more about Katherine at http://kbhyde.com

Wendy Paine Miller writes women’s fiction and suspense. Her latest release is The Delicate Nature of Love. Meet Wendy and her books at http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com

Charise Olson writes historical fiction under the pen name Leo Colson. The first episode in her serial The Roaring Redwoods is free! For more details and her blog visithttp://chariseolson.com

Crafting a Business Plan

Only a couple weeks ago, I closed the chapter on a significant season in my life – the completion of my first three-book series. I feel as if the last three years of my life have passed in a blur of deadlines, beautiful character adventures, and growing pains. As I celebrate the ending of this season and the potential of the next, I also need to reevaluate what I want this writing gig to look like going forward.

But that’s the thing. It’s more than a writing gig. It’s a business, a ministry. As with all businesses, it requires strategy, planning, and much prayer. When I first began this adventure, I wish someone had told me to look ahead, to dream but to do so in detail. As I reflect on all God has done, I am hitting “pause”–as I pray about contracts and direction and stories–to craft a business plan, one that gives me direction for the years (I hope) that loom with possibility before me.

Kariss Lynch Shakespeare quote

Creating Your Own Business Plan:

1) Craft a mission statement.

What is the purpose of your writing ministry? We all want to reach and impact readers. Be more specific. What unique calling/gifting/direction do you bring to the table?

2) Identify your audience.

If you have worked with publishers or are working to break into the field, you are aware that you must define your audience for your proposals. Be more specific than the age range. Do you write for those who have lost hope? Are your stories for the courageous at heart who want to change the world?

3) Set long-term and short-term goals.

This is where I am crafting financial, spiritual, physical, intellectual, family, social, and career goals. If every area of my life feeds my writing, and I believe it does, then it is important I take all of this into account. I’ve noticed I write better in deadline season when I am taking time to eat healthy and exercise. On the nights I don’t sleep much in favor of finishing a project, my health routine gives me energy to keep pushing. When I don’t set time aside to invest in family and friends or have fun, I write from a drained tank. If I don’t attend at least one conference a year, I miss out on building relationships and gaining valuable training. Goals help me account for these moments, and tackle them with more gusto.

4) Formulate a guideline for the unknown.

I have lingering questions that I want to answer that will help me as this career hopefully grows. Do I want to limit myself to my current genre or do I have other story styles burning on my heart? If so, what do I need to do to incorporate those stories? How do I respond to speaking opportunities? How am I going to interact with readers? How do I answer those who ask my advice on writing? How will I handle endorsements and judging writing competitions? I am working on answers to all these questions. I believe having an idea in place will help me to respond well when these situations arise.

5) Share your vision.

I have a small group of people in my life who will gather to give me feedback on my business plan. They will respond as readers, but they will also respond from a place of knowing my heart. They will be my encouragers in the months and years ahead, my accountability if I get off track, and the ones with wisdom to help me reevaluate this business plan when the need arises. They are the ones who challenged me to identify my direction in the first place.

I am still working to finalize this business plan and would love to hear from you! What goals have you set for your writing career? Do you have a business plan that helps keep you on track, or do you use another method?

U R Beautiful to Me (A Miracle At a Book Signing)

I met her at a book signing. Her skin was like silken milk chocolate. Her eyes darted in agony as she strained to speak.

IMG_4882 No matter how hard she tried, no discernible words came out. Her caregiver, hands on the bars of her wheelchair, spoke: “She wants to know what your book is about.”

Book signings can be humbling. So I make sure I’ve got a girlfriend with me to talk to just in case (ahem…) the line isn’t exactly wrapped around the building. And we had One Girl in front of us now. My friend leaned closer, and I began to speak. The caregiver walked away to look at other books.

The truth is, people don’t actually want to know what your book is about. If you start telling them, their eyes will glaze. People are motivated primarily by self-interest, so they really don’t care what your book is about. They just want to know what’s in it for them.

As I stood towering before her, I forgot all that. I’m six feet tall, and when someone is in a wheelchair, eye contact is like looking at a belly button. Somewhere in my blabbering, these words came out: “You are beautiful.” 

be strong and courageous journal Strickland Books Tears rushed to her wild eyes.

“You are Worthy. You matter. You are precious to God, and He loves to look upon your face.”

Her eyes gushed with tears. Weeping, then wailing, quickly turned to howling. My stunned friend stepped in closer.

“You are valuable to Him, and You have purpose. You are worthy ….” The writhing and the pain surfaced, as if all the hurt (possibly from being scorned, judged, lonely, and locked in a prison from which she could not escape?) all came to the surface at once.

For me, the sun stood still. The clock stopped. The book store disappeared, and all became the life of One Girl: body broken, couldn’t speak, wanted to; limbs lifeless; heart desperate; locked-up soul longing to be set free. In this moment, God pressed “pause” on my life and taught me that brokenness can be beautiful because it cracks open our hearts to see the one thing we need to know: that we are loved in our marred nature.

On the surface this gap of time was horrible but gorgeous–this “inside-out” kind of beauty my books are about–all in a body, all in One Girl. And she showed me that broken is acceptable. That we are worthy of love even if we are all tied up and twisted and cannot smile.

I knew I had to touch her, that she longed for touch. I knelt down beside her and brushed my fingers over her hot tears and warm skin. “Do you want me to pray for you?” I asked. “Do you want Jesus to give you peace?”

She nodded, open-mouthed, tears streaming. As I prayed, her sobbing became so loud that the walkie-talkies on the hips of Barnes and Noble employees began buzzing. Her caregiver rushed to see what was the matter.

Jesus met a girl in a bookstore that day. When she left, her once-pained face radiated with peace and joy.

beautiful girl in wheelchair

A Girl Named Mercy

 Do you need a touch of mercy today? I sure do.

Jesus can take your pain and give you peace. He did it for her. I saw it with my own eyes: a soul held captive, squirming beneath the weight. A body struck down, but not destroyed, for her story wasn’t over yet. If he can do it for demon-possessed, crazy Mary; if he can do it for wasted Lazarus; if he can do it for beautiful Mercy, then He can do it for you and me.

Somehow, writing the whole book series about beauty and woman’s worth, and finding your value in God’s eyes, culminated right there, with Mercy. Every hard-pressed moment of writing through my own tears transferred to wiping away hers. Strickland books Jesus met a girl in a bookstore that day. Yes, He met me there. 

(p.s. I was at the Texas Author Extravaganza yesterday …. you never know whose life you might touch at a book signing!)

Love,

7 Surprising Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

file0001849487704 The words stop flowing and we can become desperate. There could be a deadline looming or just our own daily goals. Writer’s Block – fearful words. How can we overcome it and move forward? Try these tips from the pros:

1. Take a walk.  For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. . .  I find that then thoughts begin to come to me in their quiet way.  — Brenda Ueland

2. Consider a media fast.  I had a half-dozen half-finished manuscripts on my computer, but I couldn’t seem to finish a book . . .  I decided to do a forty-day media fast out of desperation. . . In the process, I found that my writing became a form of praying.  I don’t type on a keyboard; I pray on it.  And by the time I was done, I had completed my first self-published book.  –Mark Batterson

3. Lower your expectations.  I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent—and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. Malcolm Gladwell

4. Don’t wait to have it all worked out.  If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. –Margaret Atwood 

5. Pray. The first thing I do when I am stuck is pray. . .I get on my knees and remind God that this was not my idea, it was His…Then I ask God to show me if there is something He wants to say to prepare me for what He wants me to communicate to our congregation.  I surrender my ideas, my outline and my topic.  Then I just stay in that quiet place until God quiets my heart…Many times I will have a breakthrough thought or idea that brings clarity to my message. — Andy Stanley

6: Chunk it. The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. — Mark Twain

7. Change course.  If you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject. — Ray Bradbury

Great ideas from some great writers.  What do you do when you are blocked?

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers   www.WritingSisters.com

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Shepherd Song

How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Pt. 2

Good NewsIn Part One, I talked about the importance of subject, title, and content for writing nonfiction books that sell. All of these are key elements. Missing just one could mean the difference between a publisher’s bite on your bait, or their swimming away.

Equally, if you neglect the power of your marketing strategy, including future books you can write, a publisher might say no instead of yes. Short-cutting is not worth the risk of losing a book deal.

So let’s talk specifics.

  • Intriguing marketing strategies are an integral piece of your non-fiction book proposal. Every author’s heard it, “You must help promote your own book.” But most, even those of us with sales and marketing backgrounds from other industries, can feel overwhelmed at how to effectively boost book sales on paper or in application. So what’s an author to do?

Think outside the industry. How do movies and TV programs promote their wares? What are the big producers doing to move sales? Think Coke, Wal-Mart, Apple, Under Armor, Cabelas, or others you see frequenting the air and radio waves, or filling store shelves. Learn from the big boys while creatively using your small budget.

For instance:

  • Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverBuild human curiosity into the heart of your sales tactics and specify samples in your book proposal. i.e. Six Secrets to…, How to…, What ______ Want, Three Things Most People Forget that Could Cost You Sales. See the pattern?
  • List all of your speaking events, including those you volunteer for, or that may feel more like family than a professional gig. Any exposure to a potential buying public counts — and those with built-in fans increase the odds of book sales.
  • Look at conferences, organizations, businesses, that don’t immediately seem like a fit for your message. Is there a way to connect your book to their needs? For Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I’m promoting the impact personal issues have on the workplace and vice-versa. I’ve booked new speaking opportunities as a result.
  • Include something unique. *Talk about the psychology of color and how you can use it in your marketing materials. Note your intent to attract those looking for peace through shades of green, your strategy to pursue passionate responses with strokes of red, or your ability to stir deeper thinking by adding blue.

*After you’ve made the sale, don’t forget to work with your publisher on appropriate colors when considering cover art for your book.

  • Future books you’d like to write are like adding scent to the lure for a publisher ready to bite. After writing your proposal on a subject matter readers are interested in, brainstorming a dynamite title, writing clear content, and adding unique marketing flavors, offer a list of intriguing future titles, true to your brand. This shows the publisher you are more than a one-hit-wonder. You are an author readers will follow for a long time to come.

In conclusion, I must stress the need for a teachable attitude and patient demeanor. Two common challenges we must overcome if we want to succeed. There is no place for arrogance or impatience in any professional venue. Be a turtle, not a hare, and in time, you will write a nonfiction book that sells.

Have you sold books and if so, can you offer insights I missed?

Asking the Question, “How Do I Get Published?”

Woman_talking_on_phoneNothing dispels the misconception that I am unique more categorically than the internet.

Case in point: Every time I embark on some new project—whether it’s growing asparagus from seed or figuring out whether to read a talked-about novel or advising a student about whether she should negotiate for a better grad school fellowship offer—I always begin by asking Google. Invariably, before I get further than a word or two, Google is already offering me the rest of my question in the searchbox, word for word exactly as I was going to phrase it, from one of the millions before me who’ve already posed it. Whatever I’m asking—however stupid, embarrassing, or arcane my inquiry—the e-populace has already considered it and devoted significant effort to answering it. Wherever I go, the virtual multitudes have already been. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

That said, experience has also taught me that there are many who don’t seek answers on the internet. Or anyway, there may be plenty of mes out there asking my questions, but, whoever they are, they’re not the would-be authors who show up at my office or email or call wanting to know how to turn their great ideas into published books.

Computer Workstation Variables from WikimediaUsually, I concentrate my authorial-guru expertise on trying to turn their initial question—how to get published—into something more answerable, like how do you write a query letter? Or, how do you write a nonfiction book proposal? Or, do I really need an agent?

I explain to them things I’ve learned about the publishing process over the years—like that agents play an important role in the publishing process by vetting billions of manuscripts out there to find ones worth sending on to publishers. I tell aspiring authors that the 15% of what they may make and are already so reluctant to shell out for their as yet unpublished (and often not yet completed or even begun) books is every penny worth it for someone who not only knows how to navigate the crazily mysterious publishing world and has the connections to do so but who has a vested interest—namely, the desire to make money—in their clients’ success, since that’s where their success will come from.

“What you should be asking,” I say, “is not if you really need an agent but how to get one. And how to motivate yourself to finish a draft. Or how to get started in the first place.”

But they didn’t come to be nagged. They came hoping I’d help them keep on dreaming.

Here’s the thing. Getting published takes work, that’s all. And every answer you have about it has already been asked and answered, in billionuplicate, on the internet. And in more detail than any single author could ever offer. Figuring out how to get published is a matter of asking Google a question and then making your way, site by site, into the vast inter-universe of answers, refining and reasking as you go.

Interested in finding an agent? Here’s how.

Interested in getting a particular agent? Here’s how.

Interested in what clients that agent has had and how successful those clients have been in the past few years? Want to know how long your dream-agent takes to respond to queries? To requests for a partial manuscript? To requests for a full manuscript? It’s all there, often conveniently consolidated into a single, sortable site. Verily I say unto you, there is no mystery more fully unraveled in the webby bowels of the internet than publishing a book.

Which isn’t to say everyone’s in agreement about everything. Or about anything. Far from it. Finding some small clump of consensus, much less an answer you can trust, is as difficult as getting the educated lowdown on a loved one’s disease from the internet. It’s there, but you have to sort through a lot of obvious and sometimes not so obvious nonsense to discover it. Publishing questions are no different. You’ll have to winnow your findings.

But answers to your questions are out there. And, if you’re selective, what you learn is likely to be as trustworthy as and more informed than the answer of any single expert.

So, when you have a publishing question—especially THE publishing question—start with Google. Each question you ask and every answer you receive will take you deeper and a bit more confidently into the publishing world than any one published author can. If you’re lucky, you might even end up somewhere like here, where not just one but an entire community of agented writers are dedicated to encouraging, engaging, and enriching you along your writing journey. Without even being asked.Computer Keyboard