Top 10 Ways to Finish a Book

Kariss editingAs I write this, I have just finished up a few days in St. Louis at the ACFW conference. Any other attendees feel like they drank from a fire hose? I’m still digesting all I learned. Still thanking God for orchestrating the meetings He did. As I talked to published and pre-published authors alike, a trend began to emerge.

Those who want it bad enough have the discipline to finish.

Unfortunately finishing doesn’t immediately equal a contract. Some pre-published authors have multiple completed manuscripts stuffed in drawers still waiting to be read. To you, I say, “Keep writing and keep pursuing publication!”

To those working on the first book and struggling to finish, life happens. It happens to those with deadlines. It happens to those with contracts.

It happens.

In the publishing world, life revolves around deadlines, and somehow you have to find the will and way to “let your yes be yes” and fulfill your commitment. Editors want to know you can finish and finish well before they invest in you. Before you comment with the specific circumstance that hinders you from finishing that manuscript, let me just say that I get it! And I want to help.

My creativity is officially angled towards my third book now, and as I work to finish that one in the next ten weeks, I can confidently share with you what it took to finish Shaken and Shadowed and what it will take to finish Surrendered.

  • Turn off your inner editor and write. I’m not a scientist, but I feel the tug of war in my brain when I try to think technically while thinking creatively. Write. Be creative. Edit later.
  • Pick your favorite caffeinated beverage and keep it handy. I became a coffee drinker about a month after I signed my first contract.
  • Select a time of day, place, and schedule that works for you! I’ve tried to become a morning person, but my best writing happens at night. Why fight my body clock? I love to sit in my room or on my patio in the quiet of the night with a candle burning and my creativity racing full speed ahead.
  • Alert your cheerleading squad. I have a group of about 20 ladies who consistently ask me about my writing schedule. They know when I have a deadline. They help me process. They are my test subjects when I need a reader’s perspective. They see the tears, laughter, creative passion, and the frustration. They know and they encourage me. Find your team.
  • Set healthy boundaries. I work full time, write on the side, volunteer in a young adults ministry, have Bible study, and time with friends and family. BALANCE is key.
  • Know that life will happen and work around it. This year, I’ve experienced family emergencies, my brother’s wedding, ministry situations, work crises, and somehow the writing gets done. I set my schedule and adjust when necessary. If I miss my word count because of something I can’t help, I make it up.
  • Cook ahead of time. Don’t forget to work out. Take care of yourself! Eating correctly and working out gives you energy to juggle everything.
  • Prioritize what’s important. For me, it is making sure to focus on the relationships I currently have. The Lord has sovereignly placed me in my city, my family, and my job right now. I need to be present where I am while saying no when necessary to hibernate and write.
  • Trust the Lord. He knows your journey. When you feel like nothing is happening, trust that He is working behind the scenes.
  • Just do it! Finish strong! You will go from pre-published to publication. But it takes discipline. And chocolate and caffeine. But mostly discipline. And prayer. Tons of that.

What else would you add to this list?

To Write a Book Someday, Share Your Writing Now

8139708904_9a1d1783d4_bSome people will tell you the defining characteristic of a writer is that he or she is someone who writes. There is truth to that perspective, but it fails to offer a complete picture. It also gives many “aspiring writers” an excuse to be nothing more than journal keepers: diligently plucking away at Moleskine memoirs or first-novel manuscripts that have zero chance of getting published, ever.

The point here is not a matter of quality. It’s about privacy.

The reason why many written works-in-progress will never see the light of publishing day is that they are stowed, always and forever, in a drawer or on a hard drive where they have no risk of being evaluated by a second person. The writers of these works will never be writers because they will never have readers. They exist completely outside the writing market, and the only critical eye they allow to view their work is their own.

If you think that one day you’d like for people to read your writing, then you should begin by inviting people to read your writing now. Here are five ways readers can strengthen your writing and make it even more worth reading:

Readers help you get over yourself. It’s not uncommon for writers to feel uncertain or insecure about what they’ve written. Will this technique work here? Am I being clear? Am I using a marketable concept? Does anybody else care about the subject? Without readers to help confirm where and how a piece of writing is hitting its target (and where and how it’s missing its mark), these uncertainties and insecurities often grow and fester. But when you prioritize feedback, typically you get it. As a result you might find that your sinking suspicions will be confirmed. Some of your assumptions might be challenged. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by rave reviews. Whatever the case, you won’t be stuck wondering anymore, and that will help light a clear way forward.

Readers identify strengths in your work. Encouragement and affirmation give extra fuel when you’re trying to produce a manuscript. So ask your readers to note the places where they laugh out loud, hold their breath with anticipation, get caught by surprise, can’t stop turning pages, or are struck speechless. That paragraph you’re thinking about deleting? It might be your readers’ favorite part. Give them a chance to tell you so.

Readers identify weaknesses in your work. That poetic metaphor you’ve taken days and months to craft? It might be so complex that it’s confusing your readers. The story you’ve built a whole chapter around? Your readers might be bored out of their minds.

As the writer of a work, you will undoubtedly feel more attached to it than your readers will. Because of your heightened emotional attachment, you’ll probably miss seeing some of your writing’s flaws. You might even be blind to enormous holes in the work. Let your readers open your eyes to the problems you don’t see, so you can take the opportunity to fix them.

Readers expand your perspective. You are only one person, so your outlook on the world is limited and skewed. You have strange views about certain things, and some of your views simply haven’t been challenged in a way that forces you to clarify them well or charitably. Readers can help you identify the odd little points in a draft, the ones that either are or seem arrogant, stingy, dismissive, hyper-emotional, you name it. Points like these will jut out in unseemly ways, always subtracting and distracting from good work, unless someone will be so kind as to call your attention to them, so you can know to improve them.

Readers make the process realistic. If your writing aspirations are real, then you’re going to have to accept the reality of readers at some point. Get used to feedback now, and critiques won’t make you crazy later. Write with readers in mind now, and it won’t feel strange when they’re a part of the process later. Start learning what readers are interested in now, and then when your defining moments as a writer come, you’ll be prepared to deliver for your readers.


YOUR TURN: Respond in the comments: How have readers helped your writing? What kind of readers give the best feedback? What keeps you from pursuing readers?


Photo credit: cogdogblog cc

How to Write a Page Turner Using Movie Trailer Tips

How to Write a Page Turner Using Movie Trailer TipsAn editor once commented in a pitch session I attended that writers should learn to write better pitch sentences from analyzing how movie trailers grab viewers. The remark stayed with me. Isn’t holding a reader’s attention all through a novel what writers hope to do? While acknowledging the importance of sales and awards, I’d argue that authors measure a story’s real success in whether readers stay up past their bedtimes while flipping pages.

With an eye toward fostering more sleep deprivation, then, let’s take a look at what makes movie trailers so compelling.

Movie trailers have the advantage of being visual whereas books can only use words, so comparing them isn’t fair, right? Yes and no. It’s true that moving pictures can grab attention with ease. However, readers use their imaginations to create mental images. It might even be argued that these self-generated images have more charm for them. Storytelling is always a partnership between the writer and readers, with the writer initiating storytelling and readers carrying it through. How well the writer does her part determines how fluently readers can do theirs.

How to Write a Page Turner Using Movie Trailer Tips

To make my points, I’ll be referring to the movie trailer for The Hobbit 3.

  1. Prompt the reader. In the Hobbit 3 trailer, we are given to understand that both war and a dragon threaten, and that some characters will survive and others will not. The viewer is cued with enough information to spark the imagination but no more than is needed. Doling out the right amount of information in just the right timing is an art that leads your reader effortlessly through your story. This is an acquired skill that must be practiced. As you get the feel for this, ask for feedback from a critique group to help you gauge the results of your efforts.
  2. Involve the senses. In vivid color and with Celtic music setting the mood, the movie trailer evokes more than sight and hearing. Can’t you smell the sulphur from the fire-breathing dragon’s flames, feel rough stone beneath your bare feet, taste fear as the hobbit faces the monster?
  3. Surprise readers. The trailer starts in a meditative mood that immediately gives way to surprise as the dragon sweeps through the village. Having something unexpected happen right off the bat in each chapter will carry your reader from surprise to surprise. This must be true to the story and not manufactured to gain attention or readers will know.
  4. Pack your story with emotion. The trailer brings us into emotions of fear, tenderness, grief, watchfulness, sadness, uncertainty in leadership, and fierceness, and all in the space of a minute and a half. Emotions must evolve from the organic story, not trumped up.
  5. Minimize backstory. In the trailer, someone (Bilbo) who has come all the way through the story looks backward to tell it. Within the framework of the story, however, you will notice that the characters don’t go into backstory. They are too busy dealing with events going on around them. In your novel, if you have enough happening, you won’t have much time for much backstory either.
  6. Employ pithy dialogue. Apart from the words of the song, the trailer has only six sentences, with three at the beginning that establish the story. Dialogue that conveys a wealth of meaning in a few words helps maintain a rapid pace. Use slower dialogue at points of rest, but don’t linger.
  7. Hook the reader. The trailer’s last sentence, with Gandalf challenging the characters to follow him one last time, is a hook and invitation designed to draw viewers into theaters. In the same way, leaving readers with a question at the end of each chapter will propel them into the next. I’m not suggesting ending on a cliff hanger. That becomes melodramatic and tiring. Rather, engage readers with the intriguing story you are telling.

What other things do you think writers can take from movie trailers and/or movies to enhance their stories?

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?