A Library Located in a Village of Stilted Houses by the Sea

library-story

I loved going to the library as a girl. In the summer, after chores were done, we would go to town once a week, a trip that included a stop at the library.

I would always get the allowed quota–four books. 

At home I would sit in the tire swing under the elm tree and escape to faraway places in the pages.

I never imagined in the shadow of cornfields, alfalfa, and soy beans, that one day I would travel to a library in a village of stilted houses by the sea:

Our driver parked the van at the curve of a road on the mainland, near a dirt entrance across the bay to a smaller village of sea gypsies, the gypsy part of the name being a misnomer because they don’t move from place to place. They live there, a few hundred yards from the mainland in their simple stilted homes, because the lore of their people states that if they would leave, their skin would become diseased; they would grow sick and die.

sea library 1

“Where’s the library?” we asked our host as we passed a group of boys listening to a boombox, while laundry dried outside a simple house with a satellite dish in the backyard. As part of a literacy program we had been invited to check out the library in this small fishing village in Indonesia.

sea library 7

Our host pointed in the distance, to a destination I could not see, because all I saw in front of me was a series of rough wooden planks, nailed together in a single, rickety path above the water.

Walking the plank suddenly had an entirely new meaning as the boards weaved side to side as I shuffled across one and then another. I peered at the water six feet below as it flowed back and forth with the current. What happens when cell phones get wet? I wondered, as I took step after cautious step, on planks number three, four and five.

What happens when library visitors get wet?

My husband comes across

I was thankful for the years I spent as a child balancing on railroad tracks as I imagined being a tightrope walker on my way to our no-boys-allowed fort in a culvert under the tracks, never imagining I would need those high-wire skills four decades later.

Eventually all six of us made it across, some uttering not-very-silent prayers for God’s deliverance.

When we arrived at the library in the village school, we discovered the building was closed. School testing happened that week and the kids had a half day, an education reality that is common around the world. We stood around in the 85-degree heat with 90% humidity. The circle of sweat on my cotton t-shirt widened exponentially with each ticking minute.

“We can come into this home,” our host said, motioning us into a blue house with a corrugated metal roof across from the school.

sea library 4

“Have a seat, have a seat.” The woman and homeowner directed me to a far corner. Our group of six and a dozen children trooped in behind. Candies and other snacks hung down from the ceiling. The home was also a store.

We were invited to tell a story while the woman served crackers and bottled water. My husband told a tale of another stilted house with a boy, his noisy sisters, and their cows. It was a story about gratitude. Our interpreter echoed my husband’s hand motions and side effects, adding a few of his own, while the children listened, entranced.

The homeowner smiled as the children sang a song, moving with the tempo. More children arrived on the front porch, but there was no more room inside. 

In our culture, I hear arguments about the relevance of libraries in a digital world, but those debates were silenced for me in a stilted village where children pressed against the metal screen covering the front window in hopes of getting closer to the words, while the sea and the people swayed.

Do you have a library story?

Lynne Hartke’s first book: Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty and Faith in the Hardest Places is coming out with Revell/Baker in May 2017. She blogs at http://www.lynnehartke.com.

How to survive the book review blues

roses I have a love-hate relationship with book reviews.

Every time I get a good review, I’m happy. When I get a stellar review, I’m ecstatic. I feel like I’ve done what I hoped to do: I’ve connected with a reader and given them a journey they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. When dog-lovers tell me they laughed, cried, and were inspired by my memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God, I feel blessed that my story reached and touched them. When reviewers rave that my supernatural thriller Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I made them want to stand up and cheer, I get goosebumps of joy.

All those multi-starred reviews on my books’ pages at amazon.com, Goodreads, or barnesandnoble.com reassure me that the hours I pour into my writing are worth it: my books entertain, educate, and illuminate, and, gosh darn, people like them.

wilted-roseAnd then there is the flip side of my love-hate relationship with book reviews.

When I get a review that says “this book wasn’t what I thought it would be about, so I stopped reading it after the first two chapters,” and therefore receives the lowest rating possible, I want to bang my head against a wall. “Then why did you bother to post a review?” I want to ask the disappointed reader, and then explain that because she mistook the book for something it wasn’t, my overall rating has plummeted, which will dissuade some readers from even reading the synopsis, let alone buying and reading the whole book.

I’ve also seen reviews that rate books poorly because the author’s basic premise contradicts what a particular reader-reviewer believes. Again, those low ratings may prevent the book from reaching the hands of readers who would appreciate and greatly benefit from it; because many people (and I’m one of them!) choose books based on others’ reviews, authors are at the mercy of those published reviews, even when they make no sense at all, or are based on the personal bias of the reviewer.

So what’s an author to do about that oh-so-necessary-but-can-be-disastrous need for reviews?

My answer can be summed up in one word: relax.

Then remind yourself of these three things:

  1. You wrote a book! So many people say they want to write a book, but you actually did it! AND it got published. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment!
  2. You can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s especially true of readers. Some people just won’t ‘get’ it; others won’t like your writing style or your treatment of plot or subject. Some readers might be experiencing difficult life situations while they were reading your book and some of that negativity gets transferred to their reviewing. Bottom line: reviews are subjective, even when they intend to be objective.
  3. Your words will reach at least some of the people who need to read them, and they will bless you for it, whether or not you ever know it.

What do you do when you get the review blues?

The Joy of Writing

I’m not sure what surprised me first — the fact that my business coaching client turned non-writing friend answered the question intended for me, or how he responded.

Lake Superior Anita Brooks Photographer

Anita Brooks’ Lake Superior Reflection

From the dining room table, I glanced through the picture window at the full moon reflecting over Lake Superior in the distance. After finishing three days of intensive review with the four partners of my latest business coaching project, the mood was relaxed, while the five of us savored plates piled with steak and king crab. It was in this moment of celebration when one of my coaching clients leaned forward and asked me, “Do you enjoy writing?”

My mouth opened, but his partner’s voice sounded before I had the chance to speak. “Not anymore, now that you have to work at it. It’s different when it becomes your profession.” A sheepish blush crept across his rounded cheeks. “At least, that’s what I imagine.”

An awkward pause followed his interjection, but I didn’t allow it to languish long. I smiled to let him know we were okay — after all, I’ve made the mistake of answering for others.

Then I turned my attention to my other client. “Actually, it is different now that I write professionally, but I still enjoy it very much. I’d be lying if I said every minute felt good, but it’s like any difficult thing we accomplish. There are times I think about walking away, when things aren’t going smoothly, when I get bored, when I feel overwhelmed, when I despise the way my words come out on a page, and when I think about the investment cost of time, energy, and money. But the negative emotions don’t last. I can’t imagine doing anything else. A soul-deep, intrinsic drive pushes me to write, I’m compelled to do this, despite my finicky feelings. And reader responses make it all worth while.”

Intrigue was obvious on my client’s face. “So people actually contact you?”

I chuckled, but it echoed off as my thoughts turned to some of the specific readers I’ve heard from. I could feel a hot glistening around the edges of my eyes as I began to answer. “It has surprised me at how many people have emailed and sent private social media messages. Nothing compares to the power of knowing words you penned touched another human being.”

“What’s the best thing a reader has told you?”

Anita Brooks Plane Wing in Flight

Writing and Reading Are Uplifting Experiences

I dipped a piece of crab in melted butter and slipped it in my mouth before answering. “Probably not what you think. A lady emailed to tell me she bought a copy of Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over in an airport on the east coast. She started reading on the plane, and said it hit some tender spots, so she closed it and vowed not to finish. But when she got home, she said, “That book kept calling my name.” That’s when she picked it up and began reading again.

In her email she said, “PLEASE forgive me, but a couple more chapters in I threw your book across the room, but only for a few minutes, because I couldn’t help myself, and had to go get it. I just finished reading the entire thing for the third time. THANK you! Your book saved my life.”

As I heard myself telling this story to my clients, I realized something afresh.

Goodreads Review Getting ThroughYes, the writing is hard at times. There is no doubt my emotions can lead me temporarily astray. However, as a professional author, I DO still enjoy writing as well as having written — because I understand the impact my words can make.

The greatest joy of writing comes from knowing I was made to do this, and that others are helped because I act despite my fears and insecurities. Many think, dream, and fantasize about writing books, but there is no greater joy than realizing I am an honored member of the club that says, “I did.”

Have you discovered the joy in writing?

Pitching an agent? Read these query letter tips…

student-849825_960_720In my work at WordServe, I read a lot of query letters and book proposals (sometimes more than 100 in a week!) that come into our agency. And in my work as a freelance editor, I often help clients develop their proposals and queries before they submit them. After reading hundreds of pitches across every conceivable genre and topic, I’ve come to notice a few significant Do’s and Don’ts that can make or break whether an agent is going to read any further. If you’re newer to the world of publishing and hoping to get your book noticed, perhaps a few of these will be helpful to you the next time you’re putting together your pitch to an agent or editor.

When sending a query to a literary agency…

  1. Don’t claim that your book is going to be a huge bestseller. The fact of the matter is that only a teeny, tiny percentage of books end up at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list—and much of it depends on things outside of an author’s control. If you claim that you’ve written the next Harry Potter, the agent reading your pitch is probably going to assume that you don’t understand the publishing industry very well; have unrealistic expectations; and/or haven’t done your homework. A better way to emphasize your book’s potential is to try something a little less grand that focuses instead on who is realistically going to buy your book: “I’ve written a book about women in the workplace that will resonate with young working mothers across the country.”
  2. Do your homework on the agents and agency you’re submitting to. If you can find out the name of a specific agent at the firm who represents books in your genre, send the proposal to their attention. Mention why you’ve chosen them. Perhaps comment on another author they’ve represented whose work has similarities to your own. If you can’t submit the proposal to a specific agent, send it to the general agency, but make sure you’ve read up on what kinds of books the agency represents. WordServe represents primarily faith-based books; when I get submissions for romance books with risqué content or nonfiction books that argue against our values, I delete without reading any further.
  3. Don’t claim that your book will make a great feature film. Even fewer books end up as movies than end up on the bestseller list (see #1, above) – and agents who see this in your pitch will know your expectations are overblown and be far less likely to work with you.
  4. Do write your pitch in polished prose that reflects your writing style. You’ve got 30 seconds to get an agent’s attention, so represent your writing well. If your book is humorous, inject some levity in your query. If it’s a thriller, create tension with your first line. If it’s literary fiction, elegant sentences that mirror the book’s style are a must. In every circumstance, ensure that there are absolutely no typos; this is your first impression, and it needs to be 100 percent perfect. Seriously: a few typos in a pitch letter is enough to get an immediate rejection.
  5. Do highlight why you are the right person to write this book; but don’t claim that nothing like this has ever been done before. Chances are, it has—and the agent has already seen it. Instead, focus on what sets your project apart, what new angle or new research or new understanding you bring to a topic—and why you’re the best person to tell readers about it. Focusing on your prior experience, personal connection to the topic, research you’ve conducted, or a dedicated audience you’ve built up are all great ways to convince an agent that you’re worth taking a chance on—and that doesn’t require the claim that no one else has ever thought of anything like this. It just requires you to show me why you’re the best person for the job.
  6. Do read the requirements for submission for every agency you send to. Different agencies have different submission requirements, and it’s essential that you provide them with exactly what they want—or your query will likely be deleted without even being read. If an agent doesn’t want attachments, make sure you include everything in the body of the email. Do they want to see five pages of sample material or fifty—or none at all? Do you need to include a full proposal, or just send a query and wait for a response? Following the specific instructions for each agency, while tedious, will result in a much better response rate, as agents will see that you’ve done your research, are taking this process seriously, and have respect for an agent’s time and wishes.
  7. Last, but not least, do show courtesy and respect to the agents you’re submitting to. Thank them for their time (they really are busy), and don’t pester them if you don’t hear back immediately. While it’s appropriate to follow up with an agent if you don’t hear from them within the time frame they list on their website, do not write to them before this window has elapsed. If they say that they aren’t able to respond to every query, accept that you simply may not hear back. With so many queries coming in, agents aren’t always able to give a personal response to each project they see. It’s unfortunate, but a reality of the industry. And finally, if you do receive a rejection, don’t pester an agent to explain themselves or try to argue for reconsideration. Graciously accept the response, and move on. There are many good agents out there, and you want to find one who connects with your work and is excited to partner with you.

Pitching agents is a difficult process—trust me, I get it! But by spending time polishing your query and making sure to send it to just the right places, you’ll increase your chance of finding the perfect person to represent your work. Above all, don’t be discouraged! It takes time, and often lots of rejections, before you find the right agent—but it does happen. For the most part, agents are in this business because we love books as much as you do; and we’re always hoping that the next query letter we open is going to be the perfect one for us.

You can only eat so much eggplant.

eggplantI’ve rediscovered the joy of vegetable gardening, thanks to our move to a warmer clime that allows for gardening year-round. As a result, I’ve acquired some hands-on experience with how my garden grows…or not. And, being the reflective person I am, I can’t help but apply those lessons to not only life in general, but also to life as a writer. So whether or not you’re a dig-in-the-dirt kind of person, I hope you’ll find some gems in the guidelines I’m culling from my veggies.

  1. Sow liberally and see what comes up. For my first crop of lettuce, I ignored the seed packet instructions and laid seeds thickly the whole length of the row. I wanted to be sure something came up, and my confidence didn’t match the packet’s. The result: I had all the lettuce I could eat, and then some. The next time I sowed lettuce, I followed the instructions and spaced fewer seeds farther apart. The result: nothing came up and my work was a wasted effort.

Writing take-away: when you’re new at writing, try it all. See what develops for you. It’s better to produce more than you can use than have no success at all.

  1. Thin the rows to get better results. When I noticed that the new plants were crowding each other, I pulled out the smaller ones to let the bigger ones get the full advantage of soil, sun, and water. I got healthier plants that produced more and for longer periods of time.

Writing take-away: Capitalize on what’s working for you. If your fiction isn’t doing well, focus on the self-help material that’s popular with your audience and helping your platform grow. Put your energy where you’re seeing the strongest results.

  1. Some seeds just won’t sprout. Get over it. Plant something else. For some reason, I couldn’t get snow peas to grow despite two tries. Instead of letting the soil lay unused, I planted beets, which turned into a bumper crop, forcing me to try lots of new great recipes using beets.

Writing take-away: If you just can’t find an audience for something you’ve written, it’s time to try a different approach, treatment, or subject. The new material you produce might prove an easy winner.

  1. You can only eat so much eggplant. I didn’t think I could get tired of eggplant parmesan and mixed veggie grills, but after this summer and fall, I know there really is a limit to how much eggplant I can eat. Next year, I will plant only one plant, or make a habit of giving excess produce to my neighbors much earlier in the season.

Writing take-away: You can get tired of writing in the same genre. When you just can’t face writing another devotional, or romance, or even a blog post about writing, take a break. Write something else. Binge on reading books. Watch all the movies you missed in the last year. Then a day will come that you really want to write in your genre again. You’ll feel fresh and your writing will benefit.

By the way, if anyone wants eggplant, let me know…

Overachieving Your Platform: Best of the Water Cooler Series Book #2!

overachieving-your-platform-coverMany years ago, a good friend went into a coma after giving birth. She was on life support for nearly four months. We all prayed and wondered if she would pull through to see her baby girl and live a full life.

By her side was her husband. Every day he was at the hospital talking with doctors and nurses, making sure medication was properly being administered, asking questions . . . basically, being every doctor’s worst nightmare when it came to patient care. But you know, on several occasions, he insisted on something that actually saved his wife’s life. The third leading cause of death in America is medical care accidents and misdiagnoses. He needed to care for his wife because if he didn’t, the worst could happen.

I mention this story because I think it can be illustrative of some of the realities of book publishing today. Sometimes, your book is the one on life support, often from the moment of publication. Standing by are publishers and PR folks who are tasked and paid to keep your book alive. They’re busy, they have other patients (authors), and are generally overworked and understaffed.

The point is you cannot leave your book’s marketing and PR ONLY in the hands of publishers. They’ll do their best (usually), but they’re not perfect. And sadly, they have the 80/20 principle that is always screaming at them from the higher-ups. In publishing, it’s true: 80 percent of the money goes to 20 percent of the books. It’s a reality that won’t change, so we have to learn to deal with it.

So what should you do, then, as the author standing by your baby, trying to keep it alive?

You’ve got to tend to it diligently.

With your publisher: ask questions, say thank you a lot (gift cards and flowers are nice) when they do a job well done, give them ideas, don’t mention a problem unless you have a solution, tell them what you’ll do to help, keep track of everyone who helps (radio stations, bloggers, author friends). Work WITH them as much as they will let you.

What else can you do?

Well, we at the Water Cooler have just released a book that will help answer that question. Overachieving Your Platform: 95 Ideas to Embrace Your Inner Sales Marketing Genius is now available from FaithHappenings Publishers, and it offers the tools you need to break out and connect with large audiences. Adapted from the best writing of the WordServe Water Cooler, these doable, practical and affordable ideas will transform your platform and expand your audience if you put them into practice. No, you can’t do them all. But you can certainly go through this book with your highlighter and mark everything you actually could do. Then make a plan. What will you do during your first month from publication, second month, third? Write the plan out . . . and then work it.

Publishers, agents, and retailers agree: you’re only as good as your last book. So if your last book flops in the marketplace, it may very well indeed be your last book!

Don’t let that happen. Stay on guard by your book for the first six months to a year after launch, and you’re far more likely to get that second book contract. You may even get a royalty check.

I’m so proud of all of the authors who contributed to Overachieving Your Platform. They’ve done the hard work in the trenches and have learned from their successes and failures. All they know they’ve shared with you.

Grab a copy today—and take that first step toward creating a platform and brand that will serve you for the rest of your writing career.

Excelling-at-the-Craft-of-Writing-CoverAnd if you haven’t checked out the first book in the series, Excelling at the Craft of Writing: 101 Ways to Move Your Prose to the Next Level, make sure to do that as well. Craft and marketing go hand in hand when it comes to a writing career—you won’t find success unless you’ve got both!

This post was adapted from the Introduction of Overachieving Your Platform: 95 Ideas to Embrace Your Inner Sales Marketing Genius (available now!).

Double Booked by Two Authors

Photo/KarenAnita“Did you find your book?” I asked.

“No, but yours is on this aisle,” Anita responded.

Then the young lady standing near us asked, “What books do you need? I’m looking for one about anxiety and worry.”

“Well, I’ve got the perfect book for you,” I grinned. “I just wrote a book about the lessons I’ve learned about worry.”

Anita added, “It’s called Words That Change Everything: Speaking Truth to Your Soul. They have several copies of it here. It’s a great read!”

BookCover/WordsThatChangeEverything

The lady looked stunned as she examined the back cover of my book and my photo. “Seriously, you wrote this book?”

“Sure did,” I smiled. “And if you need a book about Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I highly recommend this one.” I pointed out Anita’s book: Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over: Stories, Tips, and Inspiration to Help You Move Past Your Pain into Lasting Freedom.

“I sure do! I’m looking for a book to encourage my friend, whose son was killed in a motorcycle accident a few weeks ago.“

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book Cover“Well, Anita’s book contains several inspiring stories about people who walked through some really difficult situations. I think it would be helpful for a person going through grief and post-traumatic stress.”

“Are you both authors? And you wrote both of these books?” Our new friend appeared confused.

“Yes, we attended a booksellers’ event here in town during the past few days. So, we decided to stop by this bookstore on our way home to see if they carried our books.”

Glancing at the two books in her hands, our new reader looked back up at us and giggled, “Well, I’d love to buy both of your books!”

“Awesome! Would you like for us to autograph your copies?” I asked.

“Yes, that would be great,” she smiled. “I still can’t believe you both really wrote these books!”

“Well, we’re finding it a little hard to believe that you were looking for books that deal with those topics.”

“I’m serious—these are exactly what I needed!” Then, she added, “This has to be a “God-thing.”

“Yes, a ‘God-thing’ for sure.” We agreed.

Photo/AnitaKarenThen, one of us suggested, “Hey, let’s take a ‘selfie’ to capture the moment.”

After I fumbled to find my cell phone in my purse, I said, “Okay, let’s strike a pose. Smile!”

After our brief photo shoot, we all embraced, recalling our unexpected encounter.

“Can we pray for you and your friend before we leave?” I offered.

“I would love that!”

“By the way, what’s your name? And what’s your friend’s name?”

“My name is Kendra. And my friend’s name is Karen.”

“Well, of course her name is Karen,” I laughed.

As Kendra walked to the register to purchase our books, we heard her telling the assistant manager about our encounter.

Anita and I waved at both of them as we turned to leave the store.

“What an awesome ending to a very productive week,” I commented to Anita.

“I told you we needed to stop by this bookstore!” Anita laughed.

Before we left the parking lot, Anita posted the photo of us with Kendra on Facebook, sharing our experience at the bookstore.

Best bookstore stop ever! Met this beautiful young lady named Kendra. She was looking for a book on anxiety and worry for herself, and another on grief for a friend who just lost a child. Talk about a God moment.

When she found out we were authors, and Karen wrote a book titled Words That Change Everything, and I wrote one called Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, she took a copy of each off the shelf. After a quick, impromptu signing, we parted ways—all of us stunned in a great way. People like Kendra are why we do this.

 Amen, Anita. This IS “why we do this.”

Tell us about one of your God-moments as an author.