A Valentine For Our Readers

rosesRoses are red, violets are blue,

I love you, my readers, for all that you do:

To your families and friends, you talk up my books;

You buy the hard copies, Kindles and Nooks;

You come to book signings in out-of-way places.

I’m always so happy to see my fans’ faces!

You sign up for my newsletter and say lots of nice things

On Goodreads, in book clubs – you make my heart sing!

You share kind reviews, both oral and text,

You give me ideas for what to write next.

You twitter my Tweets, like my Facebook page, too.

I’m so very grateful for readers like you who

Help me find new folks that I want to reach

And invite to the fun of being my peeps!

For YOU, my dear fans, are the reason I write

All through the day and into the night,

Wrestle with words and struggle with plots

(which sometimes are great, but sometimes are not!).

When all’s said and done, I have to confess

There’s only one way I measure success:

If I’ve made you laugh, touched your heart in some way,

My work is done, and YOU’VE made my day!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all our readers

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo……..the WordServe Literary Agency authors

Advertisements

Want to Write a Book? The Next Patch of Light

file6041243276582I was privileged to attend my former advanced memoir workshop a few weeks ago to share my publishing journey, both with my first memoir that came out in August of 2013, and the news about recently signing a book deal for a second memoir. As I talked through the six years it took to publish my first book, as my fellow writers threw questions at me left and right, “How did you find an agent?, what did you do to build a platform?, how do you plan to structure your current project?, how do you even go about writing a book?, a thought occurred to me.

If you want to write a book…If you really want to do this…

Step into the next patch of light.

That, my friends, is the best writing advice I have to date.

I’ll let you in on an author secret. We all started at the beginning. And I think most of us make this life up as we go along. Even New York Times best-selling authors, at one point, stared at the cursor on a blank page.

Still afraid?

Step into the next patch of light.

Are you already a writer, a person who has honed her craft and has literary muscles? Have you always been interested in memoir and look!, your uncle gave you a book on writing memoir for Christmas? Were you walking down the street when you stepped in a mud puddle, and while stopping to shake off the mud you happen to notice an ad on the flag pole in front of you for a writing class in your neighborhood?

Any of those instances may be your next patch of light.

You have to start somewhere, so look around and see where you stand. Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

If you hope to publish a book, than do what’s in front of you today. Don’t worry about a two-year plan complete with a detailed description of how you’ll construct your book while you also build your platform and research literary agents. (If you are naturally a person like that, email me, OK? I may need a little help.)

No, do what is in front of you right now. And when it’s time (and you’ll know it is time because you’ll itch for something else, or get bored, or curious), look ahead for the next little patch of light. Pay attention to your surroundings: follow authors on Twitter, look out for workshops, read blog posts for fun, pick up a book at your local independent book store on a Saturday afternoon that might apply to your writing journey. Any of these things could be your next patch of light. And before you know it, (and trust me, if you follow the patches of light, you will move in this direction and it is crazy and cool at the same time) you will be writing a book.

But for today, resolve yourself to take it one step at a time, and pay attention to the writer light in your life.

Why Asking For Help Is Not A Sign Of Weakness

“Strong people ask for help.” As a counselor, I often teach my clients this mantra.

Person under crumpled pile of papers with hand holding a help siSo when I found myself discouraged last week, I sent an email to another WordServe author, asking for help.

An hour later we were talking on the phone. She reaffirmed how much she liked my book, she told me she would commit to praying, and she gave me a handful of marketing ideas.

That short phone call changed my day in three ways.

  1. I got an emotional release. I even cried a little.
  2. I got encouragement.
  3. I got inspired with new marketing ideas. In fact, I spent six hours the next day working on marketing ideas.

Most authors, by their nature, are Type A personalities. We are self-motivated, hard working, and perfectionist. As we seek to promote our books, it makes sense that we would try to put the best light on ourselves. But have you ever noticed how lonely driven perfectionists really are? If you’ve ever spent time watching Brene Brown’s TED talks, you understand that it’s our vulnerability and imperfections that draw others to us.

All authors need to ask for help. Here’s why:

When you ask for help usually you’ll likely find ways to reciprocate. Authors don’t know all the same people or have the same ideas. During my phone call I was able to connect my author friend with some influential people who will help expand her books’ reach.

Almost everyone loves to help. I think it’s part of the way God wired us. Think about it: if someone trips and falls, we instinctively rush towards the person in order to help. I’m pretty sure the only ones who don’t feel that pull are people who lack the ability to have empathy (sociopaths).

When people help others, they’ll be reminded of their own success. As my friend was giving me marketing ideas, it affirmed all the hard work she had done. She was able to share her success stories and tell me how proud her publisher was. Reliving your successes feels good.

Accepting help can feel like a reward for all the times you helped someone. At all times I am in the process of reading and reviewing two to five books for other authors. I know how hard I work to promote my author friends; it’s nice to be on the other side once in a while.

Asking for help can build bonds. Before last week’s phone call, I only knew the other author by name. Just one more person person from Facebook. But now, I feel like we’ve become friends.

It is actually quite arrogant to think we can help others and yet have no need to accept it in return. Is there something you’re struggling with? Why not take a risk and ask someone for help.

Can you think of a time when someone helped you on your book-publishing journey? 

Coming Out of the Wilderness

Denabutterfly1The last half-decade has been full of changes for our little family. Stressors included the death of several friends, unwanted job changes for both my husband and I, health challenges, and a total of four moves in five years. We’ve bought and sold three houses (well, we bought three houses…one is yet to sell, so we’re renting it out). Finally, both my dad and my father-in-law underwent major heart surgery within a few months.

Whew. It makes me tired just reading that . . . let alone living it.

To add to the chaos, my writing career stalled. Ideas I felt were timely were turned down again and again, although my previous editors loved several of them and went to bat for me. I prayed, cried, doubted, and wondered what God was up to. He provided income through work for hire projects, magazine and editing work, and I was thankful. However, I longed to write books again.

I didn’t want to turn my back on God because I felt like I didn’t deserve my circumstances. I longed to be obedient, even in the difficulties. I prayed continually for strength, and I kept seeking Him . . . even when He seemed very, very quiet on the subject of when (or if) we might be done with the “desert” we were in.

Wanna know something? Every time I cried out to Him, He answered. Sometimes He reminded me of a Scripture passage that ministered profoundly to me. Songs came on the radio which seemed to have been written just for my situation. Friends and family members called, texted and emailed me at perfect moments, when I couldn’t seem to take another step or cry another tear. He was faithful. So, so faithful.

Two years ago, my friend Tina called me with a book idea, and I knew in an instant that we were meant to collaborate on that project together. Greg Johnson agreed to represent us, and (in a first for me), we actually had two offers on the project.

WoundedWomenIt came out this month, and my heart is full. Though the process of putting the book together was emotionally draining, it was a pleasure to write with such a kindred spirit. I couldn’t be more excited about the finished product (thanks, Kregel!).  Everything I’ve lived through, in publishing and life, has prepared me for Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts.

Six  months ago, God led my husband into full-time ministry and moved us back to a place we love. It feels as if we are finally coming out of the wilderness and into an oasis. We are grateful beyond words. And we can see in hindsight that He’d been honing and refining us all along to minister more effectively to hurting people.

Friend, are you suffering today? Do you wonder if God has something against you? And do you fear that you’ll ever feel joy again?In-Gods-economy-our

Oh, I’ve been there. My heart aches for you. But this I know: the path He has you on may seem lonely, and you might not feel His presence. But He hasn’t left.

He is up to something, even when we can’t see it. Until then, trust Him with your wounded places, for one day, they will become ministry spaces.

He promises.

Open Your Eyes, the Blinding Truth About Writing

Photo credit

Photo credit

Open Your Eyes

One time as a kid, I tried to walk home from the corner store with my eyes closed.

I knew the way. My brother and sister and I stopped in often at the tiny grocery store with floor to ceiling products and cold, cement floors, always desperately worried that Marsha, the mean cashier with a mustache, was working, and at the same time buoyed in our courage by the lure of fizz candy and green, curvy, ice cold bottles of Coca Cola.

I memorized every break in the sidewalk and each pebble from thousands of trips back and forth from our house to the market. It was a straight shot, no turns, no need to cross the street.

Confident I could find my way home using other senses, I closed my eyes. As a child I subscribed to the notion that if I couldn’t see, then no one else could see me either. Creeping forward, I gained confidence, enlightened by heightened noises and smells. I smelled pine. I heard cars zipping by on the street. My feet kicked broken up pieces of gravel on the sidewalk as I meandered.

Within a few steps, I smacked into a tree. Dubbed by confidence, I had veered off to the left. The impact wasn’t that severe because I had been going at a turtle’s pace. But my forehead stung and my pride was hurt. My eyes, now wide open, darted around for witnesses. I ran the half block home to my mother in tears.

The Blinding Truth

Most of us who write, or who want to write, will recognize this story. We’re at a party, or out to lunch with an acquaintance, and we mention the book we are working on.

“Oh, you’re writing a book? That’s great. I want to write a book some day.”

You nod, take a bite of your chicken sandwich on rye, and wonder if your conversation partner realizes you’re talking about actually writing a book, not taking in nine holes of golf on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Here’s the blinding truth about writing: if you want to write, than you have to write.

Not only that, but you have to be willing to be humbled. You have to want to learn about craft, and building a platform, and countless drafts, endless revisions, fuzzy hours staring at a computer screen, keeping your butt on the chair in order to get the story down, and growing thick skin for rejections. Because rejections come, my friends. Oh, they come.

Earnest Hemingway said that we are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

There is always more to learn about writing, and the best way I can figure out how to learn is by keeping my eyes open, and realizing that it is going to take work.

Gloria Steinem said that writing is the only thing that, when she does it, she doesn’t feel she should be doing something else. If that’s you, if that is how you feel, well then, write.

But do it with your eyes open …

The Memoir and the Robin

978512_28037870

I sit in the living room, my laptop in front of me, open, alive, waiting for my fingers to type.

But I don’t. I can’t seem to think of one true word, let alone one true sentence. Papa Hemingway would not be impressed.

Thud… Thud…

My eyes follow the thud to the window that looks out to our chipped blue porch and the Japanese maple in the front yard. Within a month, leaves will bud. Eventually a glorious rust-colored blanket from the tree will shelter the porch.

Thud.

A robin flies into the window. She backs up, bewildered, and returns to her perch on a bare branch of the Japanese maple.

“Oh, you poor bird. I understand. I’ve hit my head against my reflection more than once in my life.”

The robin seems to catch her breath, and she’s off again, flying towards the window, searching for someone in the smudge filled glass. Herself? A lover? What does she want, and why doesn’t she learn her lesson? There’s nothing there for her but a hard, cold surface that will cause her pain.

And still, she flies into the window. Again and again and again.

Thud… Thud … Thud …

I watch her as I sit on our comfy, worn leather couch with a hole in the right seat cushion, the buzz of the laptop the only noise–that, and the recurring thud of the bird.

On writing memoir

As a memoirist, this happens, this hitting my head against a hard surface, when I get too introspective with my work. I am the writer, and the narrator, and the main character, and sometimes my roles mingle to the point of self-obsession and confusion. My desire to be perceived well, and to reach my personal predestined truth in the story turns me into a robin, fixated on my reflection, attempting time and again to break into something bigger than me, but really only hitting my head against a hard surface.

Annie Dillard says that you have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on the reader’s arms, like a drunk, and say, “And then I did this and it was so interesting.”

Thud.

The robin has banged her head against our window for three days. I’ve tried to deter her by closing the curtains and opening the window a bit, but to no avail. She returns every few moments, unaware that if she just shifts her focus there is a whole world to fly into and discover.

If a memoirist’s goal is for people to esteem her, to like her, to want to be like her, it will show in the work. The writing will fall flat, come across as inauthentic, and showy.

No, the memoirist should write for discovery. According to Andre Gide, a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947, one doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

A good memoirist is open to her story’s agenda. She participates with the reader, and diminishes the importance of her role for the sake of the universal truth found in her words.

“On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points,” says Virginia Woolf. I would add that every good memoir has a point outside the visceral domain of the writer starting out. Our job is to bring ourselves and our readers to that point. Instead of a writer playing tour guide, the memoirist should rather find herself on the journey in the words. Then she will be able to fly right and free for discovery, and most assuredly get herself and her readers somewhere she would not have found on her own.

When Your Book Doesn’t Sell: Separating the Writer From the Wannabe

“I’m so glad it is our first year here so that the pressure’s off to win an award. I heard you have to be returning to be in the running,” my friend Kim leaned over and whispered as we sat in the back of Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference’s auditorium last April.

“Seriously, right?” I said, slouching down in the pew and sighing. We were settled in for the final night of programming; awards, music, and a message from the great Liz Curtis Higgs, who, if I am being honest, seemed so inviting and encouraging that it took all I could muster not to walk over and crawl up in her lap.

The week in California had been a dream for this mother of four, prone to piles of laundry, homework with kids, housework, and therapy and doctor appointments for my two daughters with Down syndrome. One week by myself, ensconced with like-minded people, authors, agents, publishers, and writers with dreams of their own, in one of the prettiest parts of God’s creation.

So you can imagine my surprise when my bio was read and my name was called. I won the Ethel Herr 2012 Most Promising New Writer Award for submitting 25 pages of my memoir about giving birth to my daughter Polly, and her diagnosis of Down syndrome, while serving as a missionary in Ukraine. My friend and I jumped up and down, and I ambled to the stage. The bright lights made me dizzy. Liz Curtis Higgs gave me a huge smile. “Wonderful!” Ethel Herr (Ethel Herr!) gave me a hug. The award thrilled me, and embarrassed me. After all, I was just a mom, trying my hand at this writing thing.

I naively left the conference sure that I would secure an agent and a publisher for my book within minutes of walking in the door back home.

Yeah. That didn’t happen. I secured an agent, but months later, through a different writing venue. The manuscript garnered interest from publishing houses that even resulted in two frightening, sweat-producing face to face meetings.

But so far, my book hasn’t sold.

Here are three things I’ve learned from this experience so far:

1. Keep writing

Someone offered me sage advice once I completed my manuscript. “Start another one.” Diving right back into another book length project has been one of the best things I’ve done as a writer. I’m a writer, not a wannabe, because I want, no, I need to write, not just to be published. I am growing in my craft, and I am still having fun doing it.

2. Grow your platform

I’ll admit it, there have been days that I’ve wanted to curl up in a ball over my memoir not finding a publishing home. OK, there have been days I have curled up in a ball because my memoir has not found a publishing home. But I’m a writer, not a wannabe, because I get back up and keep trying. I am building my platform and brand through articles, speaking, social media, and blogging.

3. Trust God’s timing

As a person of faith, although my carnality wants what I want in my timing, this experience has been a great exercise in trusting God and his timing. I am called to write. And by God’s grace, he uses my words in other people’s lives, and in my personal pursuit to become more like Jesus. So I practice trusting him. If it is God’s will for my memoir to be in print, it will happen. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.

I may not be a published author, but I am a writer, not a wannabe.

And today, that’s enough to get back to this crazy, exciting, challenging work of putting pen to paper.