So You Want to Write a Book

photoHave you ever experienced that awkward “oh” followed by the nodding of the head and a slight pitying glance cast your way right after you tell someone you are writing a book? Maybe it’s just me. But it happened more often than not when I shared this little secret of mine: I wanted to be an author. But not only did I want to be, I was trying to be.

Now that my third book will soon hit shelves, those pitying looks have changed to looks of surprise and some pretty fun conversations. I continue to get contacts from friends, friends of friends, and strangers asking, “How do I write a book? Will you help me?” Originally, this overwhelmed me. A lot goes into writing a book. Where do I even begin to teach this? How do I know who will be dedicated to pursue this to the end? Major shout out to the mentors who took time to teach me. The sad truth is that not everyone who wants to write a book or says they are writing a book will ever finish it or see it published.

So how do you avoid falling into this category of a “wanna-be” or “wish-I-had?” No formula is perfect, but this worked for me and this is what I give people who ask me how to start. I had a lot of missteps. I spent a lot of money on training and books. Lost a lot of sleep. Cried a lot of tears. Wondered if I could really do this. Fell in love with characters and settings. But the bottom line is…I tried. And I’m still trying. My writing journey is still a work in progress. But I am always willing to help those who try. My guess is, if you are taking the time to read this, on some level you are serious about making your dream a reality.

  1. How bad do you want this?
    • Know that this is a long journey. How bad do you want it? Have others affirmed this gifting in you (other than your mom)?
    • Ask why this story should matter to others.
  2. Learn how to develop a story.
    • Buy books. Take classes. Do writing exercises. Join a writing group.
    • Write a couple of short stories. Study dialogue, plot, character development.
  3. Brainstorm your idea.
    • Determine what research needs to take place
    • Buy books on the topic/Check out the library
    • Write down your ideas/get something on paper
  4. Start writing.
    • Most companies won’t look at your work until you are finished. Finish the book. Write, rewrite, write again.
    • When you are finished, research publishers that print in your genre. Look into agents that represent your genre.
    • Purchase tools on writing a book proposal.
    • Pray; and be ready for rejection. If this is something you really want and others have affirmed, then keep going
  5. Connect with other writers in your stage.
    • Local writer’s groups are a great beginning, and there are also some online!
    • Develop relationships with people who love story.
    • Ask people to critique what you have, and request honest, tough feedback. Then change your work accordingly.

Prayer + Passion + Perspiration = Success

Keep writing!

All Things Come to She Who. . .

gray coneflowerCome this September, I will have been a published author for nine years.

I’m still not a household name, and I don’t expect to ever be one.

But, I can say with complete assurance, my writing career is beginning to bloom into what I had once only imagined.

In the last two months, I received my first Kirkus review, which is, according to my agent, a “big deal.” Not only that, but it was a positive review, and it’s already generating advance word of mouth among readers thanks to shares on social media. I also finally landed a review with a major magazine in my (fiction) subject area of birdwatching, which will generate the nationwide publicity for me that I’ve yearned for since my first Birder Murder Mystery book came out. Both of these reviews are for the seventh book in my series, titled The Kiskadee of Death.

Yes, it took seven books for me to land on these reviewers’ radar.

Seven books.

Another first in the last month was receiving a request from a magazine editor to write an essay for them. In my entire writing career, I have never had an editor approach me for an article – I was always the one doing the pitching. To have an editor seek me out to author an essay was a huge boost to my career confidence; knowing that I’ve made an impact on publishing professionals is worth the months I’ve spent cultivating readers and developing my brand.

The final mark, for me, of having my feet firmly planted on my writing path is the number of guest posts and speaking engagements I’m now booking with relative ease. Whether my new-found success in that arena is due to my hard-won lack of fear of rejection, the persistence I’ve practiced, or just a matter of time, I don’t know. And at this point, I don’t care what has generated these new opportunities; I’m just very grateful to have them.

Coincidentally (or not), I recently read an interview with Kate DiCamillo, the celebrated children’s author. Before her first publication, DiCamillo recalled meeting Louise Erdrich, the award-winning author, who asked DiCamillo how long she’d been writing. When the budding children’s author said “Four years,” Erdrich advised her to hang on, that her own book career had taken six years to get off the ground.

It made me feel better that even some of the author superstars of the publishing world know what it’s like to have to wait for success.

The bright side of all that waiting is that when success does finally come, a writer can look back over the years that have gone before, and see that without that waiting, that revising, refining, re-imagining, and all those countless hours of learning a craft and business, the achievement would not taste as sweet as it does. Because the truth is not that all things come to she who waits, but that all things come to she who works while she’s waiting.

Have you begun to see some signs of success in your own writing journey?


Oh Yeah, It’s Not About Me

Praise for my work is as difficult for me to handle well as rejection. In a different way, of course. Praise doesn’t crush my self-esteem, destroy my confidence, and send me to bed with a carton of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. But it has the potential to be just as destructive.

woman prayingPraise for my writing can go straight to my head.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it. But sometimes I love it a little too much. Occasionally I take the very dangerous turn from loving it to needing it. Craving it, even. I collect the glowing adjectives carefully and methodically, like rookie baseball cards, and store them away in my mind to bring out in times of flagging faith in my writing ability.

I forget that this isn’t about me. That I didn’t give myself the gift. I didn’t invent imagination. I didn’t come up with the ideas for the stories. I’m not my own source of creativity. And my glory is not the intended result of any of the above.

It is all from him and for him. This is supposed to be my mantra. I’m having it engraved on a piece of jewelry as we speak. To remind me why I do what I do. How I do what I do.
And I need to be reminded, constantly.

Christians have long found themselves in a quandary over how, when and to whom to extend praise. As a kid, I attended many churches where the congregation refused to clap after a performance. The idea, I assume, was to impart to the musician that he or she should not expect to receive any kind of affirmation or reward for using their talents. God alone should receive the praise.

I understand the sentiment. But even as a kid I had trouble seeing how the awkward silence following a performance, the deliberate withholding of an expression of gratitude and pleasure, truly glorified God.

On the one hand, as believers we are to support and encourage one another, and to give the workman his due. On the other hand, it is true that every gift and ability we have is a gift from God and is intended for his glory and not our own.

I wrestle with this tension, and I suspect I am not alone. Yes, I enjoy and appreciate receiving affirmation of my work and in affirming the work of others. And yes, I believe all glory belongs to God without whom I am nothing and can do nothing. Can these two truths be reconciled?

Only when, through the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit, I am able to examine the attitude of my heart and the motivation behind my work to ensure both are pure.

If my sole purpose for writing is to share the stories he has given me in order to bless others and draw them to him, I can in good conscience accept the affirmation from someone that the blessing has been received.

And when I do, I will thank God for the gift he gave me and for the privilege of using it to bring him glory.

How a Non-Writer Like Me Got Published (Part II)

(Continued from Part I)

I began writing my memoir by starting near the end. That first night, while sitting in front of a blank computer screen, I tapped out the images closest to memory, and likely closest to my heart. It was the account of a remarkable day… the day I delivered my daughter, Annie, to a drug treatment center in California.

 “It wasn’t at all the institutional setting I’d expected for detox… At that late hour, the street was quiet and still. A woman emerged from the far side of the darkened house, brushing by a wall of hydrangeas that cast an eerie glow of amethyst and silver in partial moonlight. Her hushed tones made it seem a clandestine transfer as she took hold of the pull handle on Annie’s bag and turned to escort her inside… Just before both disappeared into the darkness of an open gate, Annie turned around to me and mouthed the words, ‘Thanks Mom.’ I thought I might burst. “

Within a week, I had one, full chapter completed. “Not bad,” my college-aged son reported after a quick read. He showed all the enthusiasm of dry cement. My husband refused to read it at all.Image, post-its and pens

My brother, Paul, on the other hand, provided terrific support for my intentions with the book. He had been the smart one, the accomplished student. While I was sunbathing and reading Cliff Notes during our college years, Paul studied Comparative Literature as a graduate fellow at a top university. “So Goose,” he asked (yes, he calls me Goose), “are you going to write this sequentially or thematically? You also need to pay close attention to your voice. My what? I struggled with how to continue. What was a “voice” and where could I get one? Was I really capable of writing a book? What initially had seemed nothing more than a quick chronicle of a story I already knew, the magnitude of the task ahead started to overwhelm me.

Image, Book binder

I decided equipment would help. A lover of bins and boxes and anything organizational, I ventured into Office Max and filled my cart with a large black binder, numbered dividers, a year’s supply of yellow sticky notes, white 3×5 cards, and multi-colored mechanical pencils.

Once home, I affixed a sticker to the spine of the binder with the word “Book” written on it in blue felt tip marker. I placed my new materials throughout the house: at my desk, on the coffee table in the great room, at my bedside table, near the bathroom sink, and in both cars. Ultimately finding it perilous to jot notes while driving, I purchased a small recording device. “Don’t forget to tell them what happened in the garage,” I recorded into the mic.

Each night before I sat to write, I filed the day’s sticky note inspirations onto the dividers throughout the binder. Then I prayed. “This was your idea, God. Help, please!” Six months later I had an outline and about six chapters written. This feat coincided with the weekend visit of a close friend, and one of the smartest people I know. Bright, articulate, and extremely well read, my friend-who-shares-the-same-name-as-me, demanded to read what I’d written. She in fact seemed hurt that I hadn’t yet asked for her input and advice.

I knew better than to share my work so early in the process, and especially with someone who tends to be critical, but I yielded to her insistence. I really hoped for some encouragement. You see it coming, don’t you? My friend emerged from our guest room the next morning, with the “Book” binder in hand, avoiding eye contact as she headed to the coffee pot. Oh boy, I thought.

“So Barb,” she finally said, once settled in at the breakfast bar, “I, uh, think, uh, this is an important story for, uh, people to read. It’s not, uhhhhh, gonna be a best seller or anything, but it’s, uh, good.” She then looked up at me and added enthusiastically, “You sure have a great memory!” I laughed. Kind of.

“Memory isn’t exactly what I was going for. But I guess that’s something. Thanks for reading.” Unable to leave well enough alone, she added, “You sure didn’t use many big words, did you?”

At that point my heart went “thunk”… and I stopped writing. (Stay tuned for Part III when I share how the Jordan River helped me start writing again….)

Rejecting Rejection


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

5 Ways to Drive an Editor Crazy

13761150586648bAs an aspiring writer, I thought editors had horns on their head and pitchforks perched beside their desks. After all, they sent me form “no thanks” letters after I’d slaved over an obviously brilliant manuscript. They ignored my letters and phone calls, and seemed to take joy in waiting months before replying to my oh-so-urgent emails.

Now, as both a seasoned writer and an editor for a large faith-based website, I’ve learned that editors are people, too. We love finding new voices to publish, and we try to be gentle when doling out rejections. Sure, we have our quirks, and we make mistakes. But mostly, we’re word-loving, gentle souls who find joy in a well-placed modifier.

When provoked, however, we can lose our literary minds. Several habits don’t just rub us the wrong way—they make us want to run down the street while still in our bathrobes, shouting Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” until we puke.

Here’s how you can speed that process along:

1) Treat Guidelines as Optional.

      Don’t bother reading writing guidelines; don’t even visit websites or read back issues of magazines. Send a totally inappropriate submission. In your cover letter, tell the editor that while you’ve never taken the time to familiarize yourself with their publication, you’re sure that your work is perfect for them. file3781288474089

       2) Respond viciously to rejection letters.

      When you receive a letter stating that “your submission doesn’t meet our current needs,” fire off a hateful email, chastising the editor for his lack of taste. Even better: use bad language and post your vitriolic thoughts all over social media. (This habit works well if you never want to see your work in print. Those bridges are so pretty when they burn!)

      3) Never turn in an assignment by the deadline.

Deadlines aren’t set in stone; therefore, ask for repeated extensions, paying no attention to the panicked tone of your editor’s responses. Don’t worry that you are one of several dozen moving parts in the publishing of a website, magazine or compilation book. Take all the time you want—the world does, in fact, revolve around you.

       4) Take up all your editor’s time.

Ask repeated questions about the contract or terms of your publishing agreement. Don’t get an agent or other professionals to weigh in on your questions. Don’t network with other writers so that you can learn from their experiences. Pester the editor with texts (preferably to her personal cell phone, if you can dig up the number) about when your piece will be printed, how many readers you’ll get, etc.

And finally:

5) Refuse to accept changes in your manuscript.

Since you have received your talent from God, treat every word as His direct quote. Don’t let an editor make changes to your beautiful masterpiece. Fight over each letter and punctuation mark. Don’t choose your battles. Take offense at questions. Die on every single hill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nasty email to delete…and I need to look up the lyrics to a certain parody song.

Facing Trouble with Courage

Photo/TaraRoss“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).

Have you faced trouble in your journey as a writer? Have you been tempted to give up on your writing dreams or career because of failure, rejection, humiliation, shame, or judgment?

Fear of judgment, criticism, or shame? When I struggled with some critical comments and judgment years ago, I expressed my frustration to my husband, Dan. I winced at his abrupt and honest response, “Karen, not everyone is going to like you.”

Photo/TaraRossDan’s statement shocked me, as he reminded me that not everyone likes me or agrees with my opinions. And I’ve revisited that story many times, when I try to encourage other writers.

I still grieve over rejection or criticism, and I prefer to walk away from all confrontations. But I’ve learned a lot from my failures—in relationships and writing.

Photo/TaraRossFear of writing process? In his book On Writing, author Stephen King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Even well-known writers must face rejections and criticism. The writing process demands prewriting, drafting, revising, and proofreading before any publication. You may become offended or embarrassed when someone offers constructive criticism. Some writers even give up rather than face more editing, critical remarks, or rejection letters.

Fear of rejection and failure? Do you see rejection as failure? Failure often points us toward changes in our direction and priorities. C. S. Lewis explained, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

Author J. K. Rowling agrees with the advantages of failure.

Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

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

Tempted to give up? I’ve been tempted to give up more times than I’d like to admit. Have you given up on something because of a failure?

Matthew 26 describes a time when the disciples faced failure. They fell asleep while Jesus prayed, after He asked them to stay on the lookout for danger or trouble in the Garden of Gethsemane. They must have grieved over their lost opportunity and broken promise. But Jesus responded, “Get up! Let’s get going!” (Matt. 26:46 MSG)

There will be experiences like this in each of our lives … times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples … had done a downright unthinkable thing … gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, “Get up, and do the next thing.” If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.

Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step. (Oswald Chambers)

Embracing vulnerability. Finding the courage to risk failure requires us to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken ….”

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, “spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.” She suggests, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Brown concludes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Choosing to become vulnerable could be one of the most courageous things we can do as a writer. Writing about our opinions, our faith, and our relationships takes courage.

What lessons have you learned about vulnerability?

Video/TED (Brené Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability”)