Conferences and Friends


writingWith the beginning of the ACFW conference barely a week away, you’ll see many posts outlining the reasons you should attend a writers conference, what to expect, how to approach editors and agents, and basic conference survival guides.

I’d like to tell you about my first conference (albeit not ACFW, but RWA) in San Francisco. The day prior to the start of the conference was the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter meeting, which was RWA’s chapter for inspirational writers. There I met three special, very gifted writers, Debra Clopton, Linda Goodnight, and Janet Tronstad.

We had hooked up briefly in a pre-conference chat room and decided to take in a few of the San Francisco sights together. It was an afternoon of laughter and fun, especially when we ended up on the wrong street car and found ourselves in the Painted Ladies section of town rather than at Fisherman’s Wharf. Long story short, we finally made it to our destination, but what impressed me most was not the sights of the beautiful Oceanside city, but how these women took me in. Me–a green newbie writer. The encouragement I received from them that day has fueled my writing efforts for years.

I have since met other wonderful woman, such as the dozen who formed the group called the My Book Therapy Ponderers. A God-ordained story that I’ll save for another post, but just as impactful in my writing career.

The key to a successful conference is making connections. Surround yourself with as many writer friends as you can to encourage you, pray you through the journey, and help you along the way. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. Get their business cards or write their names and emails down on a piece of paper. Then afterwards send them an email, or perhaps invite them to do a guest post on your blog. The key is to make new friends. It will be one of your best takeaways from a conference and an invaluable resource to the future of your writing career.

Your turn: What have you found to be the most valuable takeaway from a conference?

A View From the Assistant’s Desk

alphabet-15461_640Working for a highly respected literary agency is not quite all it’s expected to be.

Some things I wasn’t fully expecting:

It’s a lot of emails. A lot.

It’s a lot of report filing.

Spreadsheet documents and, oh, spreadsheet documentation.

I am far from bored since I started working for Wordserve Literary and frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way!

So what do I see from my small desk in the publishing world?

  • Self-help books are really in. True, our agency has a felt-need and a niche in this market to pitch to the nonfiction sector, but it still surprises me how many marriage, parenting, general life/encouragement/devotional books continue to come through our office doors.
  • Book deals really aren’t that awesome. While this didn’t surprise me, as a writer myself, I’ve always wanted to know what dollar amount writers were forever bemoaning. Makes me that much more grateful for the novels I consume on a regular basis and the authors who continue to write them.
  • Social media is huge. Something I already knew, but a platform is so incredibly vital to a writer. It’s the main reason Greg Johnson started FaithHappenings.com. Writers with a great story and no platform are getting passed right on by without that audience to market to.
  • Self-publishing is becoming more and more the norm. Writers who can’t get a deal for their great new book, or who don’t want to wait a year or longer for readers to have their next content, are pushing the “send now” button into the great wide world of indie publishing. It’s not the same as it used to be years ago. Indie is becoming a good opportunity to take advantage of with new cover options, quality printing companies, and more opportunities out there to publish a good product. Self-publishing is walking away, though slowly, from the stigma of poor quality material.

Publishing is a swiftly changing monster. But I don’t need to tell you this. Even if you are not published, the reality is that you can’t be a book lover and not notice that things are always changing. Publishers are trying to find new ways to get their books to capture your attention—and are buying less content. Authors are pounding the pavement harder. Literary agents are pitching the right book to the right house and still hearing no, for seemingly no reason other than “it’s not the right fit for our house.”

Does that make publishing a discouraging business to be in? Well, maybe, if you only look at the negatives of the business. But with changes come opportunities to rise to the occasion and come out on top with a great idea. A great book. The opportunity to impact lives with your words on the page. Because whether publishers are buying or not, a great book is still a great book. And passion for story can’t quell that. Ever.

The gift of a literary agency is the team behind you, believing in your product. It’s not just you. It never has to be just you. So even when the wait seems long and the emails slow in coming, we are behind you. Fighting for this book.

Keep on writing.

Rejecting Rejection

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Rejection is an important part of the publishing process—but it hurts! Here are seventeen quotes to inspire you after rejection.

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”
 C. S. Lewis

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison

“Do not waste yourself in rejection; do not bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.” Dolly Parton

“If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.” Isaac Asimov

“I wrote poems in my corner of the Brooks Street station. I sent them to two editors who rejected them right off. I read those letters of rejection years later and I agreed with those editors.” Carl Sandburg

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your dreams. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Mark Twain

“A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.” Bo Bennett

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” Ray Bradbury

“If you’re not failing now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
Woody Allen

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”
 James Lee Burke

“Failure is success if we learn from it.”
 Malcolm Forbes

“As a writer, the worst thing you can do is work in an environment of fear of rejection.”
Carol Leifer

“I wrote poems in my corner of the Brooks Street station. I sent them to two editors who rejected them right off. I read those letters of rejection years later and I agreed with those editors.”
 Carl Sandburg

“I think that you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours—so enjoy the view.”
Michael York

file0001179129151There.  Don’t you feel better?

How do you pick yourself back up after you are rejected?

Betsy and Laurie

www.WritingSisters.com

The Season of Harvest Will Come

A seed. Faith starts with a seed. So does any harvest.

Jesus himself promised his disciples that if they had faith as small as a mustard seed they could uproot a mulberry tree (Luke 17:6) or move a mountain (Matthew 17:21).

You need faith and a seed to grow a tree as well as uproot one. Woman picking applesOne of my favorite September activities is picking apples. I love visiting an orchard on a crisp fall day with clear blue skies when the sun still provides enough warmth that you can leave your jacket behind in the car. I enjoy the experience of reaching up through the branches to select the perfectly ripe apple as much as I enjoy eating the apple later.

Of course, the welcoming orchard laden with fruit at my favorite local farm is the end product of many years of work for the farmers, including labor throughout the growing season to ensure a bountiful harvest in September. Some years the blossoms freeze and then are scorched in the sun, limiting the fruit yield for the entire season. Other years, insects threaten the crop, creating extra work for the farmer. However, with proper care and patience, a harvest will come most years.

Writing and Sowing

Those of us who write books know that our labor of love is truly a process of sowing. We are planting ideas, and casting spiritual seeds on what we pray will be fertile ground. Like germination, which usually occurs hidden in the depths of the soil, writing happens in quiet, hidden places, away from the clamor of the crowds. We can envision our intended audience and select words and sentence structure with them in mind, but only God truly knows who needs to read our words. If we are fortunate, our words may touch a heart that hasn’t started to beat yet. Unlike speakers who can receive immediate feedback by looking into the eyes of the listeners in the room, writers may never meet many of their readers. The time and place when a writer’s words will have their impact is not the writer’s to know. A writer must create by faith and trust the outcome to God.

Waiting and Growing

All writers take a hurry up and wait journey, especially those who choose the traditional publishing route. This journey also is an expression of faith. Like the farmer who tends the apple orchard, the harvest of a writer means intense times of labor alternating with stretches of simply waiting on the process. The owner of the orchard waits for the apples to grow, and no one can rush this process without damaging the quality of the crop. The publishing process helps grow the manuscript and the writer should respect the process. The input of editors, reviewers, marketing team members, and designers makes for a higher quality book. Team efforts take time. This time may cause the writer’s friends and supporters to wonder whatever happened to the book. Tell your friends that your book needs to grow for a season before the harvest comes.

Publishing and Harvesting

The work in the orchard on cool spring days and hot summer ones leads to trees filled with apples at harvest time. For the writer, the solitude of writing and the patience required by the review process eventually lead to publication and the beginning of the harvest. Soon the initial reviewers will provide feedback, much like the farmer sampling a few test apples. Then the pre-ordered books will ship to the first wave of readers. I am in the process of early harvest for my first book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith. Recently, a pastor shared with me his vision of a tree laden with fruit, providing nourishment for many people. That image captures my hope for my book.

What do you envision in your own season of harvest?

Idiosyncrasies of the English Language

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Don’t panic. I’m not going all-out academic linguistics on you, but we need to take a moment to consider the quirks of the American English language (as opposed to British). More to the point: what is said vs. what is meant.

When I say: “Wow, that garbage can is full.”

It means: “Get off your butt and lug out that Hefty bag, would ya?”

When my husband says: “Can I help with dinner?”

It means: “Have you been on Pinterest all day or what? Why isn’t the food on the table yet?”

When the sales clerk says: “Have a nice day.”

It means: “I don’t care a rat’s behind what kind of day you have as long as you fill out the survey on the bottom of the receipt and make me look good.”

When words are spoken face to face, it’s easier to decipher because of body language. But when the written word is your medium of choice, it’s all the harder to convey what a character actually means. On the up side, this can be used to an author’s advantage by choosing words that convey characterization via dialogue.

Or it can leave your reader scratching their head and relegating your book to the bottom of the stack on their nightstand.

What to do?

The best way to make each of your characters say what they really mean (and not give the reader a different expectation) is to know your character well before they speak. This requires some groundwork before you begin a new manuscript. Yes, this takes time, but in the long run it will pay off.

Know your characters. Know them well. Then use the words that flow out of their mouths to solidify who they are in your reader’s mind. Those are the kind of characters that stick with a reader long after they’ve closed the book.

But Don’t Overdo It

I love sarcasm. Give me a character who’s snappy and snippy with their dialogue and bam—instant like fest as far as I’m concerned. So it surprises me when my snarky personalities aren’t always well loved. What’s the deal?

Apparently I’m in the minority. Surprisingly, sarcasm doesn’t head the list of likeable traits, which can work against an author while crafting characters. It is your job as a writer to make your reader fall in love with your characters . . . or at least want to have coffee with them.

What authors do you know who have mastered the art of dialogue?

The Summer of Success: Michael Ehret

Facing a crossroads at the moment—what step to take next and all that. I’m not all angsty over it, but I have been thinking a lot about the late Donna Summer, as a result.

DonnaSummerDonna Summer? The Queen of Disco?

First of all, thinking about Donna Summer is not new for me. I’ve had a long time interest in her career and in the singer, herself. I’ve even been known to be a defender of Summer (she’s so much more than disco), because I think her talent was far overshadowed by her persona and by the Super Storm known as Disco that came in and tried, unsuccessfully, to obliterate the Rock and Roll shoreline.

Variety defined her career

Still, I’m more interested in Summer’s genre-hopping than in her music, per se. For instance, did you know she was nominated for 17 Grammy Awards in eight different categories (sort of like fiction genres)? Further, did you know she won five times in four different categories—twice in Inspirational? That’s right, Inspirational. The singer of 1975’s 17-minute+ disco moan-fest, “Love To Love You, Baby,” won two Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational song (1984 and 1985).

Conventional wisdom is to not genre hop in the publishing world. There’s greater freedom in music (Linda Ronstadt also played the field, musically). But in publishing, writers are often advised that if they start in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense) then they should stay in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense).

But, I must have a little Donna Summer in me because I don’t want to be constrained in that way. Before we get all crazy, let’s remember that no one is knocking down my door for my next book—or, for that matter, my first book.

But—again—we can look to the diva for guidance. Because “conventional wisdom” isn’t called “conventional-sort-of-good-advice,” you know?

Summer made her mark in one genre—disco. It was the red-hot genre of the time and she rode that horse for all it was worth.

But when the horse started to get hobbled, she made the smart move of wrapping up that era with a Greatest Hits collection, changing record labels, and then came roaring back in 1980 with a rock-pop disc without even a whiff of disco, The Wanderer. And a song from that project earned her one of her Grammy nominations.

DiscoBallWhat are the lessons for a writer?

  1. Do your homework. Summer worked in Germany and Europe in various touring companies of shows like “Hair” and “Godspell” before connecting with Giorgio Moroder for her first major album, Love To Love You Baby.
  2. Establish yourself as an excellent writer of (choose one: romance, historical, suspense, other) and then, like Summer, work your butt off to make your mark. She released seven disco albums from 1975 to 1979—that’s four years. Three of them in a row were blockbuster double albums.
  3. Keep your nose to the ground and your face forward. If you pay attention to the market and publishing trends, you’ll know when it’s time to change genres. If you’re a big enough success, you’ll get your opportunity. When you do, show the same quality, perseverance, and dedication to craft that got you where you are.

That’s the way to build a Hall of Fame career (Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) and do all the things you want to do.

Summer died May 17, 2012, at age 63. At her death (from cancer) she was working on two albums simultaneously—a collection of standards and a new dance music collection.

For the record, Summer’s Grammy wins were for:

  1. Best R&B Female Performance, 1979, for “Last Dance.”
  2. Best Rock Female Performance, 1980, for “Hot Stuff.”
  3. Best Inspirational Performance, 1984, for “He’s A Rebel.”
  4. Best Inspirational Performance, 1985, for “Forgive Me.”
  5. Best Dance Music Performance, 1998, for “Carry On.”

Additionally, she was nominated four times for Best Pop Vocal, twice for Best R&B Vocal, twice for best Rock Vocal, once for Album of the Year, once for Best Disco Vocal, once for Best Inspirational, and once for Best Dance Music.

Not a bad career.

Your turn: So, do you have a little Donna Summer in you?
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MichaelMichael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the former ACFW Journal Magazine and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star. You can connect with Michael via his website, Facebook and Twitter.

Encouraging Aspiring Writers

Photo/CCWCAs a freelance writer and writing instructor, I’m often asked to edit the work of my peers and of aspiring writers. And I love to encourage others to tell the stories that matter most.

Grammar cops. I also appreciate the editing skills of my writing peers, as they wield their red pens and hack on my “shoddy” first drafts. But at times, I observe grammar cops attack insecure, fragile writers, who approach them for encouragement as they tiptoe into the waters of writing for publication.

Now, I’ve been known to whip out my red pen from time to time, when someone asks me to do that kind of editing. But I try to use a little discernment and discretion when a novice writer approaches me with their work.

Aspiring writers. Sensitive, aspiring writers need our empathy, since they trust us with some of their most intimate tales. These newer writers pour out their hearts and souls into their first pieces; we need to handle them with care.

I’ve seen writers spanning from late teens to senior citizens. And I’ve noticed many of them choose topics dealing with difficult life struggles—the death of loved ones, flashbacks of war experiences, or simply leaving home and beginning their own journey as adults. I’m able to empathize with their pain, confusion, doubts, and fears. I recognize their need to tell their stories, trying to make sense out of the rumblings of their minds and troubled hearts.

Levels of edit. I believe it’s vital to discern the needs of a writer, not always assuming they need a grammar cop to attack their work with a red pen. My unsolicited grammar cop comments tend to cause more harm than good. I find it helpful to ask writers to clarify their needs and their expectations of me as an editor. What level of editing do they want?

I also think it’s important to examine one aspect of editing at a time, since I don’t do well at multi-tasking. And although many professional editors may have different terms to describe their levels of editing, my editing checklist for my own work includes three—the panoramic, macroscopic, and microscopic viewpoints. But sometimes, I consider one more level editing, especially with writers who need encouragement—like students, wannabe writers, or hobby writers (i.e. not professional writers).

Peer responses. Some professional writers may not even consider the peer response a valid level of editing, but it can serve as an important phase of the writing process. For instance, this approach might be helpful for some critique groups.

In the classroom, I required my students to participate in peer groups where they would listen and respond to each other’s work. I preferred small groups, where students seemed to be a little less intimidated. I wanted to encourage their writing, not scare them off.

I provided every student several copies of a peer response form. Then, as each writer read their essay out loud, their peers would listen, read along, and record their responses. After each reading, the group would discuss the responses.

One of my favorite writing professors, Dr. Sally Crisp, encouraged me as she taught aspiring writing teachers the value of emphasizing meaning.

I believe that we write to communicate and connect with others, often others we don’t know and may never know. In responding to writers, I like to let them know how their message got through to me. In other words, whether I ‘got it’ or I didn’t. I teach the same principle when I teach collaboration. The right kind of collaboration can be an excellent means of fostering in writers a keen sense of audience.

Dr. Crisp also composed a list of peer response questions and comments that you might find helpful, too.

Peer Responses

  1. How has the writer introduced the essay?
  2. What is the main theme of the essay?
  3. Is there any information that you are wondering about? What might be added to develop the main point more fully?
  4. How did the author conclude the essay?
  5. What part of the essay do you find the most effective? Why?
  6. Suggest two or three things that would make the paper even better.

Who has encouraged you as a writer?