Devotional Essentials, Part 2

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Devotionals come in many shapes and sizes. By “devotional,” we might mean a single piece of writing, somewhere in the range of 200 to 1,000 words. Or we might mean an entire collection of such readings, perhaps in 30-, 40-, 60-, 90-, or 365-day packages. These details vary, but I suggest that the “devotional essentials” fall within the TEST described in my last blog post. Today, we’ll discuss the Topic and Example of an effective devotional; next time, we’ll wrap up with the Segue and Takeaway.

Topic: There are two ways to arrive at your topic: choose it yourself or have someone else choose it for you. That may not seem profound, but it is reality.
If you want to contribute entries to anyone else’s devotional project, you’ll write to their topic—or if not a specific topic, to the general themes and style of the organization. Maybe a book publisher is planning a devotional for mothers of special needs children. Maybe a church denomination wants adventure-themed devotions for its men’s magazine. Maybe your pastor is looking for devotions to go with his preaching series on family finance. If you’re chosen to submit entries in a case like this, part of your work is already done.

If you’re writing your own devotional, you have limitless opportunities for topics—though not necessarily limitless opportunities for readership. Sure, you could write devotionals that draw their points from thrash metal music, but you probably won’t find a huge audience. Whether you publish traditionally, self-publish, or distribute your readings in other venues, you can address whatever topic is near and dear to your heart or whatever topic will help and encourage large numbers of readers. Ideally, both.

I have personally written full books of devotions on baseball (180 readings) and the Star Wars films (40 readings). I’ve also contributed to collections about movies in general, football, literature, the outdoors, fatherhood, and memorable Bible verses. Please note the focus of these collections—each book is centered on a clearly identifiable theme. If you’re shopping a devotional book proposal, you’ll probably get farther with a narrower theme (for example, running) than a collection addressing all your varied loves of running, coin collecting, Seinfeld, cats, and grandparenting. Sometimes “all things to all people” is tough to market.

What do you most like to read, watch, create, collect, or do? Do you ever find your mind connecting aspects of your favorite activity with portions of scripture? Maybe that’s your topic knocking.

Example: This is a micro version of your Topic, where you narrow the larger galaxy down to some individual stars. Say, for example, the Death Star.

In my Star Wars-themed devotional book The Real Force, I drew upon the Empire’s fearsome space station for an entry about pride. If you’ve seen the original Star Wars film, you know that this metallic menace, in spite of its awesome size and power, did have a small vulnerability—a “thermal exhaust port” the rebels exploited to blow the whole thing out of the sky. The Death Star exemplifies a dangerous human tendency to shrug off temptation and the “little sins” that can blow our lives sky high (see Song of Solomon 2:15 and Proverbs 16:18).

Or take the larger galaxy of baseball, and narrow it down to some individual “stars”—like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, the original “Home Run Kings.” Here’s an example of success and achievement, and the human desire to be recognized as important . . . perhaps a king (or queen) of your chosen field. But no matter how far we rise, we’re wise to remember One who is always and much higher, the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).

It would seem, if your Topic is broad enough, that a little thought should yield plenty of Examples—ideally, with some related Scriptures (as noted above). Now, you need to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and actually start writing. Once you have a clear, concise, and compelling description of your particular example, the challenge becomes the Segue (transitioning from the example to the Scripture) and Takeaway (what you ultimately want your reader to learn/remember/do).

We’ll talk about those next time. Until then, think about your favorite Topic and see what Examples (and Scriptures!) may come to mind.

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Devotional Essentials, Part 1

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A well-written devotional can remind readers of key truths of the Christian faith, spur thinking that leads to a positive life change, actually draw people closer to God. A poorly-written devotional? Well, God can use anything for His purposes . . . but let’s consider some ways to “do devotionals right.”

Just think how popular devotionals are—they comprise some of the best-selling and longest-lasting books in the Christian realm (for example, Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling), and they represent entire ministries (like Our Daily Bread, The Upper Room, and Living Faith). It’s no exaggeration to say that new devotional material releases every single day, in books and magazines, on-line, and in outlets like church bulletins. How can we best meet the needs of this hungry readership?

I’d like to propose a TEST for you—that’s Topic, Example, Segue, Takeaway. Nail down these four elements, in this order, and you’re on your way to an effective devotional reading. In two blogs to follow, we’ll consider each element in greater detail . . . but we’ll wrap up today with an overview from my own experience.

My full-time job is editing books, but I’ve written or contributed to numerous devotional projects over the years. My most recent is The Real Force—A 40-Day Devotional, published by Worthy Inspired in Nashville. Here’s how the TEST applies to it:

Topic: Star Wars. About a year and a half before the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I envisioned a book drawing parallels between characters, events, and themes in the first six films to characters, events, and themes in Scripture. Happily, a publisher also caught that vision.

Example: Here’s one of the forty in the book—the trash compactor scene of the very first film, later called Episode IV: A New Hope. I give a quick rundown of the rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star, by Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Escaping from Imperial stormtroopers, the four jump down what turns out to be a garbage chute, ending up in a dank, smelly mess far below . . . and shortly, the walls start closing in. It struck me as a metaphor for life: in a world that’s already scary and dangerous, we sometimes end up in a really tight spot—and, frankly, it stinks.

Segue: Now we turn readers’ attention to God’s Word. In this case, I point out that three Bible characters—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—found themselves in a similar situation. As Jewish men exiled in Babylon, they were already in a scary and dangerous place. And when they chose not to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, they found themselves in a tight (actually a hot) spot, the “fiery furnace.”

Takeaway: What does all of this mean to readers today? God saved the day for S, M & A, but He delivered them through, not from, the flames. I point out that Jesus himself hoped to avoid the pain of the cross (Luke 22:39–42), but “for the joy set before him he endured” (Hebrews 12:2), and that James wrote that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:3). Ultimately, readers walk away with some sympathy and some encouragement: “Tight spots aren’t fun. Sometimes they stink. But God has reasons for them, and He’ll always be right there with us.”

Have some devotional ideas knocking around in your mind? Jot them down and watch for Part 2, as we’ll consider a devotional’s Topic and Example in greater detail.

WordServe News: August 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

Bill Donahue released, in partnership with Baker Books, The Irresistible Community. 9780801017094_p0_v2_s192x300

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Andrew Gerow Hodges Jr. and Denise George released Behind Nazi Lines with9780425276464_p0_v2_s192x300 Berkley Caliber, a division of Penguin.

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Lynn Morris released her next book with Faithwords, A Sapphire Season. 9781455575619_p0_v1_s192x300

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Contracts

Carey and Dena Dyer signed a contract with Barbour, Love at First Fight for their first book as a husband-wife co-authoring duo.

Dianne Christner signed a contract with Barbour publishing for a novella, A Christmas Prayer for publication in Fall 2016.

Leslie Leyland Fields signed a contract with NavPress for her next book, out in Fall of 2016, Crossing the Waters (tentative title).

Jonathan McKee signed a contract with Barbour publishing for his next book, tentatively titled: 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid.

Susie Shellenberger and Kristin Weber signed a contract with Barbour for their next book: The Smart Girl’s Guide to mean Girls, Manicures and God’s Amazing Plan for Me!

Jennifer Strickland signed with Barbour publishing for a 2016 release: 21 Myths (Even Good Girls) Believe About Sex

Shellie Tomlinson signed with Barbour publishing for her first cookbook, Hungry is a Mighty Fine Sauce.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Agency client, Paul Muckley, was named Nonfiction Editor of the Year. See the announcement here!