How to write a GREAT book

What makes a book a great read?

If someone asked me to name the best books I read in 2017, four immediately come to mind: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore, Be Strong in the Lord: Praying for the Armor of God for Your Children by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.

But if you asked me why they were the best books of the year for me, I would have specific reasons for each. I choose Walker’s book because it literally changed my behavior in two ways: I now try to get more sleep to improve my health, and I refuse to drive a car if I’m in the least bit tired (yes, he scared the heck out of me with statistics!). Moore’s book impressed me deeply with its story of women who suffered terribly, yet fought industry to make it responsible for employees’ health on the job. Be Strong in the Lord deepened my faith for both my children and myself, and Picoult’s novel gave me new eyes and a new heart to confront racism in America.

These books changed my behavior and attitudes in specific, concrete ways. I am a different person because I read them.

And that is ultimately what makes a book a great read: it meets the reader where she lives, and changes her.

Book design, reviews, buzz, brilliant writing, thorough research, perfect plotting – authors dream that all those things will come together in their books to make it a bestseller, but the key to every book’s success, I believe, is in how the author connects to the reader about something important to that same reader. This means, naturally, that there exists a myriad of topics a writer can address (and they do!), which also means many – actually, probably MOST – books will never appeal to every reader, and because of that, every author needs to be mindful of the particular audience for whom they write. To best serve that audience, however, the successful author has to dig deep into his own wants and desires, unearth the most compelling, most universal, needs he can share with his readers, and then translate that into the written word.

The words “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone” are attributed to Ronald Reagan. Likewise, every book can’t be a great read for every reader, but for some reader, some book can be a great read. As you set forth on your writing journey in 2018, I hope you write that great book for some reader.

Who knows? You might even change my life.

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Write Your Heart Out

 

write-your-heart-outOutside my window a bird is singing. So long and loud for a tiny bit of feathers. The song is varied and the notes rise and fall, fluid and melodic. Truly he is singing his heart out. Simple and beautiful. The night is gone and the sun is rising. As he sings, I type.

How naturally the notes come to him. Can I claim that innocent posture? Can I let my words fly out, wild and reckless, like he releases his song? Can I claim the natural beauty of his rhythm and cadence in my flow of words and phrases? Can I write as he sings – exuberant, thankful, not concerned with the cares of the fate of the song? Of who will hear it? Of where it will go? Or even of its value?

Now he is silent. The song is finished and he has moved on from the tree outside my window. Perhaps the song is forgotten, released into the world and abandoned. He has moved on to live his life, gathering berries and seeds, feeding his young, feathering his nest. Soon I’ll do the same with my day. Many tasks are waiting.

Tomorrow there will be another morning and another song, and I must trust that there will be more words to type, to release and surrender. The songs must be sung. Words must be written. Simple and beautiful.

Write your heart out.

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers WritingSisters.com

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice. . . Psalm 5:3

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Praying for the Armor of God: A Prayer for Writers

4c62df84a873982a7e0d7d5ea11ce3a4 (1)Dear Lord,

As I come to write today make me bold and fearless. Give me words to make you known in the world. Protect me with the armor you promised in Ephesians as I pray the words from scripture.

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Give me your strength which is so much more powerful than my own strength. And your words which are so much more powerful than my own.

 

Put on the whole armor of God

Give me your whole armor to protect me as I write today. As I make myself vulnerable to others by sharing my heart and mind, take down my walls and let your armor be my protection.

. . . having fastened on the belt of truth . . .

Help me to stand firm with your belt of truth buckled around my waist. Truth protects me and gives my life and writing integrity. Help me to focus on your truth, not the world’s lies.

. . . having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .

 Protect my heart with your breastplate of righteousness. As I strive to put my thoughts and ideas on paper I can doubt myself and feel unworthy. But with your righteousness in place over my heart, I have the authority to write.

. . . as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace . . .

 Make me ready with the firm foundation of the gospel of peace on my feet, ready to go places in my mind or places outside my comfort zone.

. . . take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;

 Lord, negative thoughts assail me like flaming arrows. “What ifs” fly at me. Critics wound me. Give me you shield of faith to stop them before they pierce me. Faith makes me strong and gives me courage to stand firm in my convictions.

 . . . take the helmet of salvation . . .

Protect me from my own thoughts. Let me meditate on things that are worthy and good. Transform my mind and give me the words that you would have me write today.

 . . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Teach me to take up your sword, Lord, which is Your Word. Your stories encourage me. Your wisdom guides me and gives me discernment. Your promises strengthen me. Your love empowers me.

Thank you for the great honor of writing for you. Thank you for your armor and protection for me.

Amen

Ephesians 6:10-11, 14-20

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Praying from scripture has been a powerful tool in our lives. Our latest series of books takes passages of scripture and guides parents and other adults a child’s life to pray God’s promises for them. Our latest is Be Strong in the Lord: Praying for the Armor of God for Your Children, September 2016.

Betsy and Laurie

www.WritingSisters.com

10 Tips for Great Research Interviews

10 Tips for Great Research Interviews  

You may have heard the advice “Write what you know.” But what if you want to write about something you don’t know anything about? Find someone who knows. We’ve interviewed modern day shepherds, airline pilots, engineers, trauma physicians, people from other cultures. Each interview is different and can be valuable in providing the authenticity and detail for your writing. Here are a few tips we’ve learned.

  1. Start with relationship. Spend some time connecting with your interviewee. Get to know him or her as a person.1965017_816271478388718_612352803_n
  2. Keep questions open ended. Yes and no questions don’t get you the details you need. Ponder ahead of time what will be the best questions to encourage the interviewee to talk.
  3. Be respectful of boundaries. Let your interviewee determine how much they are comfortable sharing about their personal lives. Don’t push, but be ready to go there with them.
  4. Be prepared. Do your homework; learn as much as you can in advance. Search the Internet or read books about the person. We find that the interviews are more productive if we have already written a first draft of the story or chapter. Then we know what blanks to fill in with our expert.IMG_0374
  5. Don’t be too structured. Some of the most interesting things we’ve learned were not from questions on the list. Sometimes, you don’t know what to ask.
  6.  Don’t send advance questions. For an informal interview it’s best to explore the subject together. Sending advance questions makes the interviewee focus on your questions rather than the subject.
  7. Listen. Sounds obvious but too often we focus on ourselves and what we are going to say or ask next. Stay focused on what your interviewee is revealing.
  8. Record the session. (We use our cell phones.) Take the focus off of note taking and trying to remember every detail. You’ll be thankful later when you listen to the tape. We’ve been amazed to find information on the tape that neither of us remembers the interviewee saying.1965075_10203555232787948_961820612_n
  9. Respect time. Set an amount of time in advance for the interview and let the person know.
  10. Express thanks. Follow up with a note or email of thanks. You can also bring along a book as a thank you, email a few photos you took, or send a copy of the article or book later when it comes out.

 

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers   www.WritingSisters.com

Shepherd Song

WordServe News: April 2015

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

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers (The Writing Sisters) released their novel Shepherd’s 9781501108037_p0_v2_s260x420Song with Howard Publishers, in paperback.

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Cheri Fuller released her nonfiction book, What a Girl Needs from Her Mom with Bethany9780764212246_p0_v2_s260x420 House Publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michael Hidalgo released Changing Faith with Intervarsity Press.9780830836956_p0_v3_s260x420

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Angela Ruth Strong released her third book with Ashberry Lane, The Food Fight 9781941720158_p0_v1_s260x420Professional.

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Tricia Williford released her second book with Waterbrook/Multnomah publishers, Let’s9780307732002_p0_v1_s260x420 Pretend We’re Normal 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Contracts

Barry Corey, President of Biola University signed a contract with Tyndale Publishers for The Receivable Life. Due out Spring 2016. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Denise George has partnered with Robert Child and Berkley Publishers to write The Wereth Eleven Massacre, due out in Spring 2017. Greg Johnson, agent of record

Rick Johnson signed another contract with Revell publishers for Overcoming Less than Perfect Parenting. Due out Fall 2016. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Marcus Brotherton’s debut novel, Feast of Theives is a finalist for the 2015 Christy Awards!

Doug Fields’ book, 7 Ways to Be Her Hero is a finalist in the Men’s Nonfiction category of the 2015 Christian Retailing’s Best Awards!

Amanda Jenkins and Tara Reeves’  children’s book, The Knight and the Butterfly is a finalist in the 2015 Christian Retailing’s Best Awards! Also, celebrating the release in paperback and translated into South African!

Adam Makos’ book A Higher Call was released in Polish in hardback!

7 Surprising Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

file0001849487704 The words stop flowing and we can become desperate. There could be a deadline looming or just our own daily goals. Writer’s Block – fearful words. How can we overcome it and move forward? Try these tips from the pros:

1. Take a walk.  For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. . .  I find that then thoughts begin to come to me in their quiet way.  — Brenda Ueland

2. Consider a media fast.  I had a half-dozen half-finished manuscripts on my computer, but I couldn’t seem to finish a book . . .  I decided to do a forty-day media fast out of desperation. . . In the process, I found that my writing became a form of praying.  I don’t type on a keyboard; I pray on it.  And by the time I was done, I had completed my first self-published book.  –Mark Batterson

3. Lower your expectations.  I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent—and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. Malcolm Gladwell

4. Don’t wait to have it all worked out.  If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. –Margaret Atwood 

5. Pray. The first thing I do when I am stuck is pray. . .I get on my knees and remind God that this was not my idea, it was His…Then I ask God to show me if there is something He wants to say to prepare me for what He wants me to communicate to our congregation.  I surrender my ideas, my outline and my topic.  Then I just stay in that quiet place until God quiets my heart…Many times I will have a breakthrough thought or idea that brings clarity to my message. — Andy Stanley

6: Chunk it. The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. — Mark Twain

7. Change course.  If you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject. — Ray Bradbury

Great ideas from some great writers.  What do you do when you are blocked?

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers   www.WritingSisters.com

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Shepherd Song

Rewriting: 7 Simple Tips – Part Two

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A book is made in the rewrite. We take the words and begin to refine and reshape them into the finished book. We compose the first draft quickly, getting the words down on paper as they flow. Then we begin the work of rewriting.

Here are our final four tips on rewriting with examples from The Shepherd’s Song. You can read the first three tips here.

4. Watch out for the word “felt” when describing a character’s feelings.  Remember the old saying: show don’t tell.

FIRST DRAFT: She felt confused and out of control.  

This is okay for a first draft but needs rewriting.

FINAL DRAFT: “What’s your name?”

She tried to focus. Her name?

“Kate . . . McConnell.” She gasped out each word.

“Your birthday?”

She tried to come up with the answer, but it was too confusing. Tears welled up.

“It’s all right. Just stay with me.”

“What hap…?” She wanted to finish the sentence but could not.

5. Eliminate prepositional phrases that tell us about the character or action.

FIRST DRAFT:  Without hesitation the nurses joined Dr. Belding in pushing the stretcher toward the elevators.

Instead of telling the reader “without hesitation,” why not put the scene in play and show them?

FINAL DRAFT:  Dr. Belding grabbed the end of the stretcher. “Okay, people. Let’s get her down to the OR.” He turned to the nurse. “Has the family been called?”

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6. Watch out for the word “saw.” Show us what the character is seeing instead.

FIRST DRAFT: He slipped the phone out of his pocket and saw the text message from his dad.

We don’t need to explain that the character saw something.  Show it from the character’s POV.

FINAL DRAFT:  Matt slipped the phone out of his pocket.

‘Emergency. Call me.’

A text from his dad. That was unusual.

7. Evaluate each adverb. Is there a better way to show the reader what is happening?

FIRST DRAFT: John McConnell looked up in irritation at his secretary.  

“I said hold all calls,” he said impatiently.  

Telling reminds the reader that it is not real. Staying in the character’s head means we show through the character’s actions what is happening, and how they are feeling. We had to rewrite to show his impatience.

FINAL DRAFT: “Mr. McConnell. A phone call, line three.” His secretary spoke from the doorway.

“I said to hold all calls.” He continued scanning the document in front of him.

“I know, but.”

“I am well aware that we all need to get out of here.”

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These simple tips help us with our writing. Do you have others to share?

Betsy and Laurie

http://www.WritingSisters.com

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