What Are You Afraid to Write?

Fear-Woman

I stumbled into the creative writing class fresh out of cancer treatment, a 48-year-old woman uncertain of her future. I had vague ideas about writing, but I was not even sure who I was anymore.

Cancer had taken all my sentences and scrambled my story.

I didn’t introduce myself as a pastor’s wife. I was Lynne (with an e) on a level playing field with the other college students.

I soon discovered that wearing jeans and a t-shirt like everyone else in the room couldn’t quite cover my wounds. The students wrote of true love and vampires and distant galaxies far, far away and I stared at blank pages. They were 18 and 19. All passion and future.

I was scars. Battle-fatigued. Dried up. Old.

The college professor—a reader of dark stories—disliked pat phrases, cliches, and the status quo. As he stood in front of the class one day, he said:

“The purpose of writing is to put on paper what people cannot say… or are afraid to say.”

Suddenly I discovered I had words. There were lots of things I was afraid to say.

Would the cancer come back? Would I live to see my children grow up? What is the purpose of it all anyway? Where is God?

Maybe that is why I didn’t introduce myself as the pastor’s wife, a careful woman, who would never admit the tumult of doubt, pain, and questions.

So many questions.

I soon realized other students were busy writing too. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with things she was afraid to say.

After writing for ten minutes, we were invited to share what was on our pages.

A heavy-set young man offered to go first and shared about his heroin addiction. A young woman shared about a sexual assault. Another shared about a miscarriage. Another the death of her brother. Another his parents’ divorce.

The readers stepped cautiously into the full noonday sun, all squinty-eyed, with scrunched up faces, unsure, after living in silence for so long, of the reception in the light of day.

As we each emerged, we discovered something unexpected: we were no longer alone. 

Writing is not about life in the suburbs and two perfect children and happily ever after. Ho hum. Pass the butter.

Writing—even from a Christian perspective—is about scars. Questions. Pain. Fear. Redemption is there, but not without struggle.

What are you afraid to write?

Lynne Hartke has a memoir coming out with Revell in 2017. She writes about courage, beauty and belonging at http://www.lynnehartke.com.

7 Ways Writers Can Find an Exclusive Voice

It’s one of the best compliments I receive from readers. “I loved your book. I could hear you encouraging me as I read. It felt like we were talking over lunch.”

Unique. Transparent. Courageous. Authentic. Fresh. Today’s most popular writing voices are often identified by these descriptors. But how do you tap into the exclusive inflections that showcase your authentic self on the page?Grandpa and Granddaughter

Recently, while watching my nine-month-old granddaughter amuse herself by practicing her newly discovered babble, I thought about a writer’s struggle to speak on paper. In the infancy of our career, we could learn a lot from babies about speaking in an identifiable way. And if we relax and learn to amuse ourselves in the process, we’ll likely find our voice faster.

Most of us need help understanding our voice. But if you follow the seven steps listed below, I can assure you, very soon, you’ll relax into the thrill of conversational-style writing.

  1. Karen Jordan author of Words That Change EverythingWrite to your best friend, parent, sibling, spouse, or child. Someone you wouldn’t hold back with. Last month, I rode to and from the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association Conference, (AWSA), and Christian Booksellers Association, (CBA/ICRS), expo with my author friend, Karen Jordan. One of the things I love about her new book, Words That Change Everything, is her transparent way of writing. Like me, she often envisions a specific person when writing her words.
  2. Imagine your ideal reader. Then, write to them, and only them. Writing expert Jeff Goins says, “My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span, and is pretty savvy when it comes to technology and pop culture. He’s sarcastic and fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. And he loves pizza.”
  3. Ask yourself, What do I like to read? Spend some time looking closely at the books, articles, and blogs you are drawn to. What are their similarities and differences? What is the personality of the writer?
  4. Review your recent writing, and ask yourself, Is this how I talk?
  5. Interview some of your readers. Ask them, “What does my writing voice sound like to you?” List the answers you receive, and ask yourself, Are they hearing the real me through my words?
  6. Don’t start your project/page/chapter by thinking about writing for publication; at first, simply write it for yourself. Free-write without pressure or hindrance — you can always trash it later. But for now, allow your mind to run unfettered and your fingers to type unbound. The gems that shine through your free expression may surprise you, and will lend to freshness in your voice.
  7. Ask yourself, If I knew I had thirty days to live, is the message I’m sharing coming through in its purest state? Is this what I would want to say to the world through my last breaths, and how I would want to express it?

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverRemoving our writing masks takes intentional effort. When I wrote Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I left puddles of emotional blood on many pages. However, I knew readers needed me to do it — our creative endeavors depend on reaching into our souls to thrust our true selves onto the page. When we do, readers feel like they know us personally, and want to draw nearer. Loyal fans are engaged when they can recognize our projects, without seeing our names.

Can you hear my writing voice in this article? How have you learned to write from your authentic writing voice?

10 Tips For Writing an Effective Query Letter…

10 query tips again

Whether you’re pitching an article or submitting a book proposal, your query letter—or your cover letter—needs to convince a publisher to keep reading. As you’re writing, remember that the reader will be tempted to check out and check Facebook. It’s your job to grab and keep a reader’s attention!

1. An effective query letter is concise.

Demonstrate you’re an effective communicator with the efficient use of words. (1 page!)

2. An effective query letter states your intention.

Be clear, up front, whether you’re pitching an article or looking for a publisher.

3. An effective query letter is personal.

Address your letter to a particular person. Has he or she represented or published something similar to your project? Make a meaningful connection with the recipient.

4. An effective query letter clearly identifies your premise.

What is the one thing this book or article aims to do? Clearly identify the singular unifying thesis.

5. An effective query letter identifies a reader’s felt need.

Why should this be published? What need does it meet? Who has this need? How will reader be helped?

6. An effective query letter captures and holds a reader’s attention.

Hook reader’s attention with colorful anecdote. Then, work to keep it.

7. An effective query letter communicates your competence.

Highlight the elements of your bio or resume most relevant to this project.

8. An effective query letter pulses with your passion.

Demonstrate your enthusiasm for this project.

9. An effective query letter balances confidence with humility.

Thank the reader for her/his time and offer your availability to discuss project further. Demonstrate humility and teachability.

10. An effective query letter is error-free.

It’s one page. Be fastidious.

Cheering you on,
Margot

Surviving the Valley

You hear a lot on the writing journey that it’s filled with highs and lows—probably more so in publishing because it’s rapidly changing and I personally wouldn’t consider any part of the industry stable or predictable.

valley-of-fire-1390258_1920The problem is the valley is hard. What exactly do you do? Do you give up writing? How do you readjust to keep your writing career moving forward when seemingly no one wants the words you’re putting on the page?

My writing valley (really—the deep dark hole of despair) started after my first trilogy was published. I worked really hard marketing those books, had great reviews, and two out of three of the books were each nominated for multiple awards. I was even told by my publisher that I was (at one point) their second-bestselling fiction author.

I thought there was no way my next proposal wouldn’t be picked up—by somebody. Well, it wasn’t and to be honest it put me in a psychological funk. I was pretty convinced that my envisioned bestselling author status dreams were rapidly crumbling in front of my eyes.

I’ve come through my first major valley (I’m sure one of many to come) and I thought I’d share what I did to survive it without throwing my writing career in the trash and lighting it on fire.

  1. Grieve. It’s okay to be sad about it. The writing life is unpredictable—even that’s a pretty generous understatement. Your writing life didn’t go as planned and it’s hard to readjust dreams sometime—but do readjust.
  2. Help other authors. Help them promote their books. Read books for endorsement. Review novels. Keep your name in the reader’s mind by having your name on their books.
  3. Stay active on social media. Even if you’re not publishing, keep engaging with your readers and other authors.
  4. Keep writing and learning the writing craft. Above all else—don’t stop writing. Journal. Blog. Write a new book proposal. Use this time to brush up on the areas of your writing that aren’t strong. Read those numerous writing craft books that have been piling up beside your bed (come on, I know you have them!) Learn those pesky computer things you’ve been putting off. Scrivner. Newsletter distribution sites. Take an on-line writing course. Even James Patterson has one now that’s very reasonably priced.
  5. Write outside your genre. During my valley, an editor from Guideposts reached out to me and asked me to audition for a cozy mystery series they were putting together. Hmm. Cozy mystery? I write thrillers. Straight up thrillers. I honestly didn’t think I could write gentle enough for a cozy mystery, but what else was I really doing? So I tried it. My first submission, well, you could probably predict the feedback I received. Too dark. The heroine’s not cheery enough. By the way, this surprised no one that knew me. But I resubmitted—and they loved it! And then the series didn’t move forward. I auditioned for a different Guideposts series and washed out again. Maybe cozy mystery wasn’t for me, but it did prove I could write something other than thrillers and I built bridges to editors at Guideposts even if they didn’t take me on for those projects.
  6. Fractured MemoryListen to God’s nudgings. Looking back with perfect vision, I felt that God used the Guideposts experience to get me to write outside my comfort zone. During this process, I started thinking about a contest called Blurb to Book that Love Inspired was hosting. Never did I imagine I would write for them. I didn’t think I was a good fit, but I found myself obsessing about this contest to the point where I couldn’t sleep. So I entered, and I ended up winning a contract for Fractured Memory, my novel releasing this month from Love Inspired Suspense. Suddenly, I was clawing my way out of that dark writing well.
  7. Go indie. In this writing age, there is literally no reason to not have content out for readers. Don’t quit your day job and scrap and save every penny you can to hire a good editor, proofreader, and book cover designer. I do say this with some caution—be sure you put out a good book! Don’t sabotage yourself into another pit.

Overall, take the valley as a place that can provide rest, rejuvenation, and growth. Perhaps you will need to go back to a paying job or postpone the plans that you had of quitting or reducing your hours. Just know that the valley is survivable and it doesn’t have to mean the demise of your writing career.

Tell me, how have you survived low points in your writing career?

 

 

Don’t ride . . . DRIVE the train!

trainAbout fifteen years ago, while taking a graduate course in Spirituality and Leadership, I had a professor who presented me with one of the most motivational sayings I’ve ever encountered: “Don’t just ride the train, be the engineer!”

Okay, maybe not the most theological statement I heard in the course of my graduate program, but it lit up my brain in ways I’d rarely experienced since finishing my undergrad degree decades earlier. Knowing myself to be an introvert and nonconfrontational, I’d always preferred to have someone else take the lead in projects at work; the only role in which I felt confident enough to be in charge was as a mother to my children. (Looking back, I can only say that ignorance was truly bliss, but that’s another post or two or a thousand.)

But the moment my professor uttered that directive, I had an epiphany that any writing career I wanted to pursue was going to demand that I drive the train, and not just ride along on whatever might come my way. As a result, I began to view writing as a vehicle I would steer, and, when necessary, refuel with energy and hard work. I also accepted that no one else cared as much as I did whether that train finally arrived; not even the support of spouse, family and friends (as important as that is!) would bring that train into the station if I didn’t commit myself to being the engineer.

I share this story with you because every writer needs to know that writing requires you to make that train your own: if you want to be successfully published, you have to learn the business, and these days, that means EVERY aspect of the business: writing craft, understanding your audience, marketing, platform building, travel requirements, publishing trends. Gone are the days when your publisher says, “Thanks for writing this swell book. We’ll take it from here.” Even your agent – if you’re fortunate enough to land an agent – can’t hold your hand through every stage of book development, because she or he is swamped just trying to navigate a path to publishers through all the layers of the industry – layers which can shoot down a book proposal for reasons of marketing or audience or numbers of your social followers, which may have nothing to do with the actual value of the book you’re creating.

You have to take ownership of your career. You have to drive the train to where you want it to go.

And that may be the biggest plus of being the engineer – you can CHOOSE where you want your career to go. It will take hard work and learning from the experience itself, but if you find you’re being called to write romance instead of devotionals, or humor instead of profiles, or politics instead of fiction, you can steer that train of your writing career onto different tracks, and see where it takes you. Maybe it will only be a short detour and you’ll end up at your original destination. That’s great! Then again, it may be a whole new journey on the writing rails.

Are you ready to drive the train?

The Splash-Launch vs. the Slow Build

51L8nL3LvpL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_My new book, Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage, released the same week that my oldest son graduated from high school. Although I was excited to finally see my book out, this was not excellent timing for me and my family.

Consequently, I didn’t do a lot on day one, day two, or even a few days after the release to promote my book. I was too busy pulling together the final details of the cap-and-gown experience for my son. The way I figured, I’d spent a few years working on my book, but eighteen years working on the kid – so the latter won out.

But all that is okay, because I’m not a big believer in the splash-launch. Not that I’m against it in the least! It’s wonderful when a much-anticipated book hits the shelves with well-deserved fanfare. Seriously, a book is not easy to birth, so cue the fireworks! However, a big splash isn’t what really matters for the long-term success of a book.

fireworks-227383_960_720

In the music world, we all know about the one-hit wonders who burst forth on the scene with as much hoopla as Mardi Gras in New Orleans. And then…they were gone. Sure, the splash rippled outward, but eventually the waters calmed.

Meanwhile, Aerosmith’s first album only hit #21 on the charts. But we all still know who they, and lead singer Steve Tyler, are. This rock-and-roll band caught some attention right out of the gate, but they built that into a legacy.

I’m looking toward the slow build for my book, snowballing interest and excitement into long-term sales and a devoted readership.

How can you take the long view of book sales?

Spread out your marketing efforts. Rather than focusing all of your efforts upfront, choose strategic activities for your launch and hold off on tasks that can be effectively pursued later down the road. Maybe you need to focus on interviews now and delay the blog tour, or do giveaways at the beginning but hold a larger contest later in the year.

Create a marketing plan calendar. I’m blessed to have a writer friend of mine who sat down and developed a marketing plan for me that goes for a full year. Among her wonderful ideas were capitalizing on special days throughout the year—linking my book and sales specials to appropriate holidays or awareness days. Also look for local events, conventions, and ministry conferences that suit your goals.

Engage regularly with your audience. Some authors inundate social media with news, pictures, updates, etc. all around release time, and then it’s crickets-and-cicadas for the next six months. Continue to interact with your readers and potential readers! Those who’ve already read your book will feel more comfortable recommending it to others if you are less spambot and more real person. And potential readers will get that nudge from time to time and may finally buy your book – the one from that nice author they keep seeing.

Write more quality books. Of course, the best long-term approach to selling books is to write more quality books. Having more offerings gives you more shelf space, raises your discoverability in online bookstores, and makes you a brand in readers’ minds.

Indeed, I’ll be marketing Hot, Holy, and Humorous from now until it goes out of print, but I’m also working on the next book. And let’s hope that one doesn’t release in the same week my other son graduates.

WordServe News: June 2016

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary this month!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

dont goDeb and Ron DeArmond released Don’t Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight with Abingdon Press. Combining a healthy dose of personal experience with relationship-affirming biblical wisdom, Deb and Ron demonstrate how communication through conflict can lead to greater insight and understanding of thoughts, feelings, and perspectives that can safeguard–and even strengthen–your relationship.

jordan

 

Karen Jordan published Words That Change Everything with Leafwood Publishers. With true personal stories and Biblical applications, Words That Change Everything offers hope and practical strategies to help women speak God’s truth to their unbridled and often debilitating emotions.

mckeeJonathan McKee released 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid with Shiloh Run Press. Drawing from his 20-plus years of experience working with teenagers, studying youth culture, and raising three teens of his own, Mckee provides an abundant supply of useful tips and creative ideas to help parents have meaningful interaction with kids hooked on their devices.

51pSKRR-6ZL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

Jim Putman published The Power of Together with Baker Books. An in-depth, biblical look at the critical importance of doing life in close fellowship with other believers, this book draws readers closer to their spiritual family and to Jesus than ever before.

 

51+ISQJmp1L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Susie Shellenberger and Kristin Weber released The Smart Girl’s Guide to Mean Girls, Manicures & God’s Amazing Plan for Me.  Melding spiritual and practical advice with humor, this guide offers 100 practical tips to help teen girls navigate the ups and downs of life with grace and confidence.

New Contracts 

Carole Engle Avriett signed with Tyndale to publish Under the Cover of Light, the true story of Col. Thomas Jerry Curtis, whose helicopter was shot down in Vietnam and who spent 7 years in Hanoi as a POW.

New Clients

Tim Riter, Frank Sievert, and Naomi Overton signed with WordServe this month. Welcome!

What We’re Celebrating

Terry Brennan‘s book The Aleppo Code is a finalist for the 2016 Carol Awards! Winners will be announced August 27.

Tricia Lott Williford was married to Peter Heyer on May 28. Life and Love took some time, but they did come back. Congratulations, Tricia and Peter!tricia