Seasons of Writing

I used to really love summer: 4th of July, barbeques, fireworks, my birthday, swimming, and relaxing with family and friends. However, now that I am older (and no longer get summers off–soak it up while you can, kids!), I have really come to appreciate fall. My husband watching football on Saturdays while I read or work, pumpkin spiced lattes, baking, crunching through leaves, Thanksgiving, and the upcoming excitement of Christmas all make me smile.

Just as each year has seasons and each time in our lives has seasons so, too, should our writing have seasons. Your writing seasons may not look the same as someone else’s writing seasons; however, everyone should be purposeful about their seasons.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth” (The Message).

When I was in graduate school, a professor told me that summer should be for reading (fiction, nonfiction, and craft books) and writing. The last month of summer should be set aside for editing, but most of your writing should be new. Read, create, write, exercise. Refresh yourself. Lucille Zimmerman’s book Renewed offers some wonderful ideas for how you might employ those breaks that are so necessary for our creative spirits. Consider going on a writing retreat. Summer is the time to allow yourself to be as creative as possible with your writing.

Fall, then, should be about “the offensive.” In other words, submit, submit, submit. What you wrote during the summer is probably not read yet, so consider sending out a previously edited manuscript. You want to make sure that your manuscripts are ready to be seen by an agent or an editor. Don’t forget to track all of your submissions and responses. You can also edit what you wrote during the summer and attend a few writing classes or a conference or two.

During the winter months, you might take a short reading break again and follow up on your submissions. During the winter, especially, you should concentrate on editing. Allow yourself time to work through your manuscript at least two, if not three or four, different times. Consider hiring an outside editor. If you cannot afford a professional editor, you might want to look into hiring a college student who would be happy to read through your manuscript for a few hundred dollars and a letter of recommendation.

In the spring, start something new and begin lining up the books that you are going to read over the summer. You might also use this time to take care of the business side of writing: double check editor/agent contact information, complete your taxes, and straighten up your paper and digital filing system.

Again, while everyone’s seasons will look different, determining what your seasons will look like allows you to be prepared and to have an intentionally-focused writing life.

Have you ever thought about having writing seasons? If so, what do they look like? If not, how might you fashion your writing seasons? Also, what’s your favorite season?

How My Agent Found Me

agent found me

My agent found me.

It’s true.

I didn’t believe it at first either.

And I am oh, so grateful. Her council, editorial skills, business savvy, and contacts make a huge difference in my budding career.

And I know… it doesn’t seem fair.

How exactly did she find me?

Through two chapters released to The Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012. As a participant of the conference, I submitted part of my memoir for agents to review.

Sarah Joy Freese found my chapters, and contacted me for the full manuscript.

But why did she find me?

Because people I met along my writing journey told me to work hard.

And I need to be able to say this although it feels a little strange, like a pat on the back or something, but I realize now that I did work hard. I worked hard and long for her to find me.

If you want an agent to find you, here are four things you can do.

1) Write well.

Make sure your writing continues to improve. Read a lot. Write even more. Attend a class. Submit your work for critique. Spend time in the chair, churning out pages. If your writing isn’t at its best, even if an agent finds you, he probably will pass.

2) Build your platform.

Gone are the days of a writer hiding away in an upstairs attic penning the next great American novel. In the publishing world today, writers have to do more than write beautifully. They need to build a following. Want to learn more about this idea? Read Seth Godin’s book Tribes.

Warning: when you begin to work on a platform, you will feel ridiculous. When I started a Facebook author page, I joked with my friends about ‘fans’ liking the newest dirty diaper I changed at home. As a stay-at-home-mom with four children to wrangle, I didn’t think I was qualified to have a fan page, but I did have a goal: to publish a book. So I began.

Other platform ideas: blogging, speaking, writing e-books, the list can get really long and daunting. The important thing is to start, and to remember platform building as an important element to your future in publishing. It needs to grow with your writing skills. You need to be a package deal.

3) Have polished, edited chapters of your current work in progress ready.

Spend time on a couple of your favorite chapters in your work in progress. Make them strong. Hire or ask someone you trust to edit them. Rewrite them. Rewrite them again. Make sure that even if you don’t know every nuance of the book that you have a general idea of the story arc, so that your chapters fit when you pitch the idea to the agent.

My husband and I cobbled together funds so I could pay two freelance editors to work through drafts of my recently published memoir Sun Shine Down. After writing a third draft of the same book, I started to feel like I had something I could show someone with my head held high. Yes, it takes work, and time, but your best work is worth it, and it is your best chance to have an agent ask to see more.

4) Attend writers conferences.

Before attending conferences, I queried countless agents to no avail. I hardly got back a standard rejection email.

I can’t stress enough how helpful conferences were/are to my career. In 2012, I attended Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, and the Festival of Faith and Writing, where I met my agent. Both were amazing experiences. I shook hands with people, passed out and retrieved business cards, and submitted my work for review and critique. While buoyed in my fervor for the written word, I soaked in lessons about the craft and business of writing.

I think every writer should attend as many conferences as they can.

Be encouraged.

If you want an agent to find you: do good work, put yourself out there, be ready at a moment’s notice to submit, and go where the writers, agents, and editors go.

If this stay-at-home-mom, queen of diapers and ruler over tantrums can do it, so can you. I’m rooting for you!

Now get to work. Your agent may be looking for you right now.

*Do you have an agent? How did that relationship come to be? Do tell.

agent2

How Writing a Proposal Is a Lot Like Teething

We’ve hit the teething stage at our house which means a lot of crying/whining (especially at 2:05 am), drooling, and biting. I still haven’t figured out how Baby Boy manages to fit almost his entire fist into his mouth. I have, however, made a lot of comparisons of teething to the writing process, specifically to proposal writing.

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1. It’s painful. Have you ever seen the show So You Think You Can Dance? Each week certain contestants who are in the bottom after the voting process have to dance for their life. They are allowed to dance in their style, but they must pour their heart and soul into their dance to prove to the judges that they still deserve to be in the competition. Similarly, think of your proposal as writing for your life. It is the first major part of your writing (after the initial query) that an agent sees. It is also what gets sent out to editors. If it is written well enough and an agent doesn’t have to do much editing, that enhances your chances of landing an agent. Therefore, writing a proposal should be painful. Pour your heart and soul into it. Create the best proposal possible. Razzle dazzle your audience–show them you can write.

2. Writing a proposal includes a lot of crying/whining (especially at 2:05 am). Agonize over the proposal. Research how to write a strong proposal. Don’t just find the first one that you like and copy it. View several of your favorites and compare them, looking to see what they all include. Spend time on the proposal. Just like you spent time writing and editing your manuscript, you should also spend time writing and editing your proposal.

3. Sometimes you have to bite (on chocolate) to help you through the pain. Use whatever inspires you to write a strong proposal. Get in the writing zone. Although a proposal isn’t as creative as novel writing, to write a good proposal, you need to be in the creative zone. An agent and an editor can tell a well-written proposal verses one that is written because you have to. So, go for a walk or a run to ‘shake your sillies out’, grab some chocolate and some coffee, and sit down to write. As an example, right now I am writing outside on my balcony viewing a beautiful moon–it has that ‘man in the moon’ look, and tonight it seems as if he is whistling. The neighbors are playing country music (which I love), and I can hear crickets and the wind brushing the leaves of the trees. I am in writing heaven. Now, if a bug flies in my hair, I am going back inside to my living room couch.

What exactly should you include in a proposal? Again, there are several blogs and websites out there that teach what to include in a good proposal, but here are just a few tips to remember.

1. Platform, platform, platform (even if you write novels). Have you hit a dry spell in your novel? Consider writing a short story and pitch it to literary journals (both in print or online). If you’re a non-fiction writer, write and pitch to magazines or journals that print your subject matter. Get your name out there. Any publication is something you can include on your proposal. Connect on social media. See if you can book speaking gigs, even if it is just ten people at a local Bible study. Connect widely, but also connect deeply, especially with influencers.

2. Pretty prose (but not purple). Engage your readers with your writing. What can you do to make your proposal stand out above the others? How can you add your own style and flare? Obviously there are certain sections that need to be pretty straightforward, but there are others that lend themselves for your own personality to shine through. Start with your biography. How can you show agents and editors who you are not just by listing your credentials?

3. Polished. Consider bringing your proposal to your critique group. Have an editor read through for grammar/mechanics errors. Edit, edit, edit. Don’t just edit it once, twice, or even three times. Edit it thirteen times. Or eighteen. And have your critique partners do the same.

Q4U: How can you make your current proposal even stronger? What tips have you heard for how to make a proposal great? Has anyone ever offered you positive comments or constructive feedback on a proposal?

What I Want on my Pizza

…or in my queries.

The hubby and I have been eating a lot of pizza lately. Namely because it is rather okay to eat when cold, and new babies often necessitate cold-food eating. My favorite pizza is Hawaiian–Canadian bacon and pineapple. Yum! Although, I won’t turn my nose up at pepperoni or mushroom and black olive. Still, even the thought of a Hawaiian pizza makes me drool a little bit.

Similarly, while a well-written query letter is edible, there are certain queries that make me pay a bit more attention, that make me email the author back asking for a partial, a proposal, or even a full manuscript.

I have had several conversations with authors about what stands out to me when I am reading through the slush pile. Sometimes it’s a certain spark–something in the tone of the actual letter. Or sometimes it is in the fantastic writing, itself–the story, a certain character, the beautiful language. However, there are also a few tangible things that really impress me, as well.

1. Numbers Both online and in person. In other words, platform. An author needs to be connecting online via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, his website, his blog, his online newsletter, etc. If all of those overwhelm you, pick two or three that you can grow consistently. Start with ten minutes a day. He also needs to be speaking (and keeping track of how many people attended each event) as well as writing for print publications. If the author is a nonfiction writer, then he needs to focus on non-fiction articles. If he is a novelist, then aim for literary journals.

2. Names I often request a partial or a full if the author mentions that a certain celebrity or high profile person is willing to endorse her book. If that person has the endorsement included in the email, then I am even more impressed. Obviously, most of the endorsements come after the book already has a publishing house, but it never hurts to have those connections ahead of time.

3. kNowledge :) When authors mentions things I like, information gleaned from my biography, I take a closer look at their query letter. I don’t mean that you should be a creepy stalker for the agent you are interested in (that would probably have the opposite effect), but you should research the agent. Know what she wants to read; know what interests her.

4. Names Oh, I mentioned that one before? Spell the agent’s name correctly in the query letter. My name has an ‘h’ at the end. I have rejected authors because they spelled my name incorrectly. All right, I am not that cruel–I did read through the query letter before rejecting, but it did nothing to gain brownie points, and speaking of brownies…

5. Nuts I don’t like nuts in my brownies, but I do like chocolate chips. So, you know, if you really want me to take a look at your query, be sure send me some. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Just like most people will eat any kind of pizza, every person has his/her favorite. Each agent has certain things that he looks for in query letters, but building your platform, connecting with high profile people, and doing your research about that particular agent will definitely help your query letter stand out among the hundreds in the slush pile.

Questions: What tips/tricks have you learned to help your query letter shine? Did they work? What hasn’t worked for you?

 

Layer Your Cakes

Lately, God has been speaking to me quite clearly. He keeps repeating the word “miracles”. As I am currently dealing with some tough life stuff, this word is especially meaningful. Obviously, God speaks to each person differently, and He reveals truth in many ways; although, His truth always remains the same. One way that God speaks to me is by repeating a particular word, idea, or theme. In this particular instance, the word “miracle” has come through several different people, one email, and the book of Matthew which I am currently reading through for my devotions.

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As I read through new manuscripts, something that always makes me take another look is a tightly layered story. For example, let’s say that you are writing a story about a family provider. In what ways could you show that character as a provider? Perhaps you could give him/her the last name of “Baker”. You would definitely show that character actually providing for the family: buying groceries, cooking meals, earning money. You might highlight the antagonist doing something in direct opposition to your main character, so he or she, instead of providing, would take away: steal money, ruin a relationship, work as a tax collector (no offense to any tax collectors out there).

Beyond emphasizing a particular character, you also want to pay attention to the language that you use. Perhaps choose a word or two, or an idea, to repeat throughout your story. Trace that word/idea over the course of your story during significant moments that will move your manuscript forward.

Also, integrating key setting elements is important. You might focus in on a particular building, almost making it a character. Then, destruction could come to that building during the climax of your story. Or the building could undergo a transformation, again, highlighting the character of it.

And layering plot throughout story is important as well. Create scenes that build on each other and move the reader forward in exciting ways.

Finally, when you have done several revisions on your story, then the layering part becomes fun. Include your audience! If you are in a critique group, pay attention to their likes and dislikes: reference their favorite TV show, name a character after one of their children, reference something from their current WIP. Doing this last part really only speaks to one or two people, but I have always found it to be the most enjoyable part of story writing. Plus, it will make certain readers think that you are only writing for them which is one of the amazing wonders of story writing.

When you have worked through so many drafts, however, there comes a time when you must stop layering. Yes, it is fun to trace a theme throughout your novel, read it from start to finish, and come to the end and think, “Wow, I am good!” However, you don’t want to overemphasize a particular theme. Your readers are smart. Encourage them to dig for the themes within your story.

Layered cake tastes good as long as their is only so much frosting separating the layers. Don’t make it too sweet.

Question for you: What layers do you currently have in your WIP? Are there others that you could add?

WordServe News: December 2012

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

As the year comes to a close, we’re so very grateful that WordServe Authors released 83 books in 2012, and signed 80 book contracts for nearly 119 books to release off in the future.

IntotheFreeJulie Cantrell had the agency’s first New York Times Bestseller in many years with her book Into the Free. It also garnered a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. A rarity.

We had several books climb over the 100,000 copy mark:

* The Secret Holocaust Diaries of Nonna Bannister, written by Denise George and Carolyn Tomlin (Tyndale)

* The Devil in Pew Seven by Rebecca Alonzo, with James Pence (Tyndale)

* My Flight to Heaven by Dale Black (Bethany)

* Edge of Apocalypse by Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall (Zondervan)

* Linspired (adult and YA book together) by Mike Yorkey (Zondervan)

And we’ve had several authors show up on national shows:

* Rebecca Alonzo on Dr. Phil (twice)

* Lauren Scruggs appeared on several shows in November at the launch of her book, Still Lolo.

These WordServe authors signed their FIRST BOOK CONTRACT in 2012:

* Anita Agers-Brooks (Leafwood)
* Leigh Ann Bryant (Authentic)
* Deb DeArmond (Leafwood)
* Rebecca DiMarino (Revell)
* Jan Drexler (Love Inspired)
* Michael Hidalgo (IVP)
* Heather James (Kregel)
* Amanda Jenkins (Tyndale)
* Caesar Kalinowski (Zondervan)
* Heather Larson, with David and Claudia Arp (Bethany)
* Tracie Miles (Leafwood)
* Jerry and Caroly Parr (Tyndale)
* Christina Powell (IVP)
* Rachel Randolph, with Becky Johnson (Zondervan)
* Tina Samples (Kregel)
* Lauren Scruggs (Tyndale)
* Amy Sorrels (David C. Cook)
* Mandy Stewarad (David C. Cook)
* Janalyn Voigt (Harbourlight)
* Jeremy & Jennifer Williams (Thomas Nelson)
* Tricia Williford (WaterBrook)

These WordServe authors had their FIRST BOOKS published through a traditional publishing house:

* Julie Cantrell, Into the Free (David C. Cook)
* Arnie Cole, Unstuck (Bethany)
* Katie Ganshert, Wildflowers from Winter (WaterBrook)
* Adam Makos, A Higher Call (Berkley Caliber)
* Jay Pathak/Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring (Baker)
* Zeke Pipher, Man on the Run (Howard)
* Lauren Scrubbs, Still Lolo (Tyndale)
* Helen Shores and Barbara Shores Lee, The Gentle Giant of Dynamite Hill (Zondervan)
* Jordyn Redwood, Proof (Kregel)

So all in all, we had lots to celebrate!

New January Releases

WhatJesusSteve Addison, What Jesus Started.

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UnholyHungerHeather James, Unholy Hunger, her debut novel!

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RadicalDr. Rita Hancock, Radical Well Being

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AHigherCallAdam Makos, A Higher Call

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JustWhatDoctorRick Marschall, Just What the Doctor Disordered

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TheRiverGilbert Morris, The River Palace

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DilemmaOlivia Newport, The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow

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GreatStoriesJoe Wheeler, Great Stories Remembered #1, audio (eChristian)

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StinkyJoe Wheeler, Stinky: The Skunk Who Wouldn’t Leave (Pacific Press)

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New WordServe Clients

Several new clients have joined the WordServe stable with Alice Crider as their point person, but we’ll report more on that next month.

New Contracts

Christina Powell signed with Intervarsity Press (IVP) for her first book. The book is tentatively titled Question your Doubts. It explores the many roots of doubt experienced by both believers and nonbelievers, providing a corresponding response of faith from the rare perspective of a Harvard-trained research scientist who is also an ordained minister. (SF)

What can we help you celebrate?

WordServe News: November 2012

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Rosslyn Elliot, Lovelier Than Daylight
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Jody Hedlund, Unending Devotion

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Tracie Miles, Stressed-Less Living

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Joe Wheeler, Showdown…And Other Sports Stories for Boys and A Bluegrass Girl…And Other Horse Stories for Girls

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New WordServe Clients

Alice Crider has been busy landing a few great authors and potentials…

Keith Robinson, Speaker, Founder/President of Emerge, Inc. www.emergexperience.com

Keith is the founder and president of Emerge, Inc., a non-profit organization with a mission of healing that delivers a message of hope by creating methods that help reach the lost, hurting, forgotten, and abandoned in this generation.  He leads a multi- denominational, multi-church based outreach strategy called the Emerge Experience, combining the efforts of students and local churches to present the gospel to youth and young adults.

His non-fiction project tentatively titled Is There Anybody Out There? touches the deep void in the soul of a generation longing for belonging.

Wintley Phipps

Wintley Phipps is an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister, world-renowned vocal artist, and innovative initiator of special projects such as the US Dream Academy. He is working on a non-fiction book tentatively titled Eight Secrets to a Better Life.

http://www.usdreamacademy.org/about/staff/wintley-phipps

Kelli Gotthardt, Writer Speaker Catalyst Consultant

www.kelligotthardt.com/

Kelli is writing a non-fiction book, tentatively titled Maxed Out and Wanting More, which is for women who feel spiritually, emotionally, and physically maxed out and yet long to live uniquely as female image-bearers of Christ in the world. Kelli also blogs and does freelance business writing for various companies.

Angela Ruth Strong

Angela is a novelist who studied journalism at the University of Oregon and worked in marketing for Borderline Publishing. She has published articles with magazines ranging from Brio to American Cheerleader to Encounter, and she earned four stars from Romantic Times for the 2010 release of her debut novel, Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho.

http://www.facebook.com/angela.strong.5439

New Contracts

Marcus Brotherton signed with Thomas Nelson as the collaborator with Shawn Hoffman for a novel called Samson.

Laurie Polich Short signed with Zondervan for Finding God in the Dark and an untitled book.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Lauren Scruggs launched her new book, Still Lolo, with some top media. Here is a brief list:

http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/48587195#48587195

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/lauren-scruggs-journey-survivor-propeller-accident-pens-book-17650917

http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/49866663#49866663

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bqR_oJiX7FE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=g7hZ63Nquhw

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2012/11/lauren-scruggs-reveals-new-prosthetic-eye-and-hand/

Debora M. Coty was thrilled to recently receive notification that her women’s inspirational books, Mom NEEDS Chocolate (2009, Regal Books), and Too Blessed to Be Stressed (2011, Barbour Publishing), were named as recipients of the coveted Mom’s Choice Award. The “Mom’s Choice Award: Honoring Excellence” gold seal is recognized world-wide as the symbol representing the best in family-friendly media, products, and services that encourage emotional, spiritual, and physical growth.

Rachel Held Evans’ new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, made it as high as #18 on the Publisher’s Weekly Ebook Bestseller List, as well as garnering Rachel a number of interviews on national shows, including “The Today Show” and “The View.”

Jodi Hedlund‘s book Unending Devotion debuted #18 on the CBA Fiction bestseller list.

What are you celebrating on your writing journey?