Book Review: Christian Publishing 101

 Christian Publishing 101 by Ann Byle is like a writer’s conference in a book.

Byle covers multiple aspects of writing and publishing, among them:

  • Writing from life and vocation
  • Facing nos
  • Writing as a spiritual journey
  • Pitching your writing
  • Creating a book proposal
  • Specialty markets
  • Writing for magazines and websites
  • Writing fiction, nonfiction, devotionals, memoir, poetry, flash fiction, etc.
  • Personal style
  • Writing for children, teens, and tweens
  • Platform and social media
  • Promoting and marketing
  • Different ways to publish
  • Legal aspects
  • Interaction with agents
  • Managing time

For each chapter, Byle consulted an expert in the related field. Most of the chapters are the result of interviews with each expert, but some are excerpts from the expert’s book, blog post, or article. I knew of many of those interviewed and others were new to me.

Some of the chapters are quite general; some are detailed and meaty, depending on the topic and the person interviewed.

Byle covered almost every possible topic related to writing and publishing. There were a few areas where I would have liked more information, but in almost every chapter she lists resources for further reading. In a book like this, as well as a writer’s conference, you’re not going to get all there is to know about any one topic, because that would require multiple volumes. But Ann gives a good grasp of many of the topics.

Best of all, instead of trying to madly get down all the notes in a writer’s conference session or having to process the fire-hydrant blast of information received there, in this book you have all the notes to refer back to and can go over any given chapter as slowly or as often as needed. And in a conference there’s no way to get to every interesting session: with this book, you have access to all of them.

Overall, an excellent resource.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

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My round-up of exceptional online reads discovered this week:.

It’s OK to Choose Grace and Space. “There’s no Goals Police or Resolutions Monitor waiting to slap your hand if you don’t produce.”

Wherein an Anthropomorphic Tree Upends Me. HT to Story Warren. Beautiful.

What If Motherhood Was Meant to Be Hard? HT to Story Warren.

Letters to Taylor: On New Beginnings. HT to Story Warren.

Being Lazy Is Actually Good For You sometimes.

And, finally, I’ve always loved this quote:

Writing Contest: You Are Enough

I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Are Enough, hosted by Positive Writer. The following is my entry.

Writing can be cathartic, healing, freeing. Writing helps me think. Writing is the best way I express myself.

You, too?

But we often talk ourselves out of writing, don’t we?

Anything I could say has already been said by someone else.

Maybe. But each generation wants to hear from its peers as well as its ancestors. And no one else has our exact perspective or sphere of influence.

It’s scary to bare our souls to the general public. What if people laugh – when I didn’t mean to be funny? What if readers belittle and criticize my carefully measured words? Or, worse yet, what if my writing is ignored?

Writing requires a certain amount of vulnerability. But that vulnerability is what makes it good and keeps it from sounding canned and fake. That’s what invites readers in and helps them connect.

Writing is risky. Any of those scary scenarios might actually happen. No one will please everyone. Look for truth in any criticism. Learn from it. Use it to improve. Grow. Ignore haters. Keep going.

My writing isn’t good enough. So many others are much better writers.

There will always be people who write better than we do. There will always be room for improvement. But you know the only way to be a better writer in two, five, ten, twenty years? Start writing now.

Are any of us “enough” in the sense that at this very moment we have all the knowledge, skills, and experience we will ever need?

No. But we have enough to start.

To get there, we have to start here.

It’s in the process of writing, in making mistakes and learning from them, in exercising our writing muscles, that we improve. A baby learns to walk by taking one faltering step at a time. In the process, despite many falls, muscles strengthen, balance improves, sure steps increase until finally the baby is not only walking, but running. But walking never happens without those first shaky steps and many stumbles.

Take in: learn your craft, read books and blogs about writing, attend conferences, listen to speakers.

And step out. Go ahead. You can do it. Before long you’ll be running.

 

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It has been a little while since I have shared noteworthy reads with you. Here are a few:

Encouragement for Bible Reading From Puritan Women, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “Let these seventeenth-century women remind you that even if there are parts of the Bible you feel upset about or don’t understand, there is life to be found in it because God speaks to you through it.”

Always Wanting More. As Christian women, we encourage each other not to compare ourselves lest it damage our self-esteem. But the issue is much large than self-esteem.

The Cost of Surrounding Yourself With Negative People. I’ve had some of these same thoughts. Avoiding negative people is listed in a lot of self-help advice for increase your own happiness and productivity. But what if God wants you to be a light to those people? And didn’t Jesus reach out to those who were negative in every way?

Whatever Happened to Civil Debate, HT to Challies. “We’ve simply lost the ability to think deeply, engage opinions different from ours, and do so in a civilized manner.”

Thank You, God, for Failure, HT to Challies.. There is much we can learn from it.

Don’t Sing Noisy Songs, HT to Challies.. No, it’s not about contemporary vs. traditional or loud vs. soft.

What Not to Say to Someone in the Hospital.

A Simple Hinge. Neat connection to inward beauty.

I’m noting this one just because this phrase is so apt: “…the spirit of this age, which eschews thoughtful argument about difficult issues for moronic and often malicious soundbites.”

On Writing (More) by Hannah Anderson makes much sense to me though it goes against much of the other writing advice I have seen. Except the part about comments: I enjoy comments. 🙂

Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards Finalists, HT to Laura. These are always fun. One of my favorites:

Happy Saturday!

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Here are some noteworthy reads found recently.

On Giving Criticism As a Christian, HT to Challies.

Personality Assessments and the Wondrous Knowledge of Being Known, HT to True Woman. While some personality tests are helpful, Lore Ferguson Wilbert says, they are limited. “I cannot worship at the altar of my personality, but I can look at it honestly and ask the creator God to make and remake me until Christ comes again.”

Biblical CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) vs. Worldly CBT in relation to depression, HT to Challies. Applying truth to our thoughts.

5 Better Ways to “Argue” About Social Injustice, HT to Challies. If you’re not aware of it, there’s a maelstrom all over the internet concerning just how social justice should be exercised and to what degree it should be under the purview of churches and governments. As with most online storms, there’s more conjecture, accusation, and misrepresentation than there is real conversation.

Lawnmower Parents Are the New Helicopter Parents, HT to Story Warren. “Lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure. Instead of preparing children for challenges, they mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place…But in raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. We are creating a generation that has no what idea what to do when they actually encounter struggle. A generation who panics or shuts down at the mere idea of failure. A generation for whom failure is far too painful, leaving them with coping mechanisms like addiction, blame, and internalization.”

Hope When Hope Is Lost, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “While we commemorate the stories of freedom fighters, we tend to overlook the vast majority of regular people like my grandmother whose own hopes were sacrificed on the altar of someone else’s ideologies, ambitions, or societal norms. Their stories deserve to be heard as well.”

When Disability Makes Your World Feel Small.

A Writer’s Prayer, HT to Out of the Ordinary.

I’ve read biographies of Amy Carmichael, one of them a few times, and several of her own books. So seeing this tour of the Dohnavur compound that the Lord enabled her to build, where she lived and ministered most of her life and where she died and is buried, meant a lot to me. It was neat to see there are still people there who knew her personally.

Writing thoughts and questions

The writer’s conference I attended last March became a catalyst to take my writing off the back burner and make it a priority. I had a list of ideas for further writing, but one topic most on my heart and the most developed so far: encouraging women to read the Bible and dealing with some of the problems (distractions, busy schedules, etc.) that keep us from God’s Word. Different sources I’ve consulted say that a non-fiction book should total somewhere between 30,000-50,000 words. I have 24,000 so far!

One of my biggest writing roadblocks was making time. Every piece of writing advice I have seen says to make a schedule to write and keep your writing time sacred. But that just doesn’t work in my situation with caring for my mother-in-law at home, having caregivers and hospice people coming in and out (never knowing quite when some of them will be here), having a son working at home and taking online classes at home, and a husband who started working some days from home just about the time I decided to focus on writing. I was distressed for a while, but I knew that if God wanted me to write now, He’d help me find or make a way. Finally the idea came to focus on my writing as much as possible when my husband is away from home and then to spend the time he is here working on my household tasks. Even though this schedule isn’t the same each week. it has helped me make more progress with less stress than the hit or miss style I was working under before.

Several weeks ago I submitted a guest post to a particular site. The site owner sent back several helpful editorial suggestions. Sometimes writing just flows, and sometimes almost every word is a struggle. This was one of the latter times. I spent more than two weeks of my available writing time revising. The end result was immensely better than what I had sent originally sent in, but I was discouraged that the process was so laborious and took so much time. If a 1,000-word blog post took that much time, how long is it going to take me to finish a book? Around that time I came across a blog post on What 20 Famous Authors Had to Say About Rewriting. A couple of samples that most spoke to me:

Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it. ~Michael Crichton

More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. ~John Irving

I have rewritten–often several times–every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers. ~Vladimir Nabokov

Those and other sources I read encouraged me that rewriting is just a part of the process.

I’ve had moments of thinking, “I love this! I want to do more!” and other moments of, “What was I thinking? Who am I kidding?” But, from what I have read, those roller coaster feelings are pretty normal.

I had also started following some blogs and Twitter accounts for writers. While they were helpful in many ways, I got discouraged after a while reading every single day “Here are 20 things you MUST do or you’ll never be a successful writer.” So I cut back on some of those. There is still a lot I need to learn, but I am taking it in smaller doses and working on a bit at a time. I’ve started a Pinterest board for articles and memes about writing.

I’ve also been wrestling with some of the following issues:

  • What name to use. There is already an author by my name who writes on water birth (something I know nothing about). Should I just use my name and trust that readers won’t mix us up? Or should I include my middle or maiden name or initial? I asked Facebook friends, and no one cared for the middle initial, but they were split pretty evenly between adding my middle or maiden name. I’m not crazy about using a three-word name, but it might be best.
  • Everything I read says an author needs an online presence, a platform, before submitting a manuscript for publication. Publishers want to make sure you have something of an audience already. At some point I’ll make a separate author Facebook page, and I will probably use my Twitter account as is, since I don’t use it for much now except linking blog posts. But I wonder if I should create a new blog or use this one. On one hand, though this blog isn’t viral by any means, I do have some readers. I’d hate to start over with a new blog. On the other hand, when I started blogging, blogs were more informal and neighborly. I love my little hodgepodge blog, but I wonder if a “professional” blog would work better for an author platform. I would probably still keep this as a personal blog.
  • What should I do about book reviews? I write them because I love talking about what I have read and want to share these books with others, who hopefully will love them, too. And while I am not nitpicky or hypercritical, I want to be honest if a book contain problems (mainly bad language, risque scenes, or iffy theology, but sometimes poor writing). Some of you have told me that you buy books based on my reviews, so I want to be especially careful that I am not steering anyone into problem areas without at least a heads-up. But would it seem unprofessional as a writer to criticize another author’s work? I once read a particular new book based on the recommendation of a favorite author, and the writing was some of the worst I had encountered. I felt I had been deceived and wondered if all authors recommended each other’s books unreservedly. I couldn’t honestly do that, but maybe the solution is just not to mention the books I have problems with.   If I kept this as a personal blog, I would probably continue with book reviews as I do them now. If I transformed this into a writer blog, I might create a separate book review blog.
  • For tax purposes, do writers file as self-employed, or do they form a company (an LLC, my husband suggests, but I have only a vague idea what that even is. One more thing to learn…)
  • If I “crowdsource” and ask for opinions or ideas on a blog or Facebook page, and I use one of the ideas suggested, do I owe the person who suggested it anything other than a mention in the book’s acknowledgements? For instance, the title I had always wanted to use for this book has been used by someone else recently. The editor who critiqued the few pages of my manuscript at the writer’s conference did not like the alternate title I came up with. I’ve jotted down some other ideas, but nothing really grabs me yet. I’d love to get some feedback, but if I ask for it in a public way, I’m not sure what the implications are. Perhaps if I present it as a contest, and offer the winner a free copy of the book (or something), that would be sufficient?
  • If you quote from someone’s blog, do you need to ask them first, or just attribute them properly?
  • What about those quotes all over the Internet from famous people that you can’t find a source for? They’re just recorded in lists of quotes, but further searching doesn’t reveal an original source. Can they be referred to just as “as quoted by C. H. Spurgeon” on this site?
  • I’d love to find a critique group of not just new writers in the same boat I am, but with experienced authors as well. A couple of authors who were at the writer’s conference are involved in Word Weavers, and they have a local branch. So that might be a possibility, though there is a fee. Both the critique at the writer’s conference and the editorial suggestions I mentioned in regard to my guest post have shown me how valuable it is to have a more experienced person’s eyes to take a look at my writing and provide feedback.

So those are some of the “behind the scenes” thoughts and issues I’ve been grappling with on the writer’s front. Some answers I can probably find with a little more research; others I just need to ponder a while. If you have any thoughts about anything I’ve written here, I’d love to hear them!

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

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Here are noteworthy reads discovered this last week:

Reaching for the Light. A mom’s struggle to spend time with the Lord and four kids.

Why I Took My Six-year-old Son on an Overnight Trip. Thoughts on Scripture’s instruction, “Son, give me your heart.”

The Hardest Part of Mothering.

Youth Group or Frat House? HT to Out of the Ordinary. Wisdom about youth group activities that humiliate.

In Defense of Preachy Children’s Books. HT to Story Warren. “Kids want to be entertained and delighted. The first thing you can do is erase the words moral, teach, message, and lesson out of your vocabulary…keep authoritative figures, like parents, teachers, or older siblings, in the background. Lastly, never let the adults in the story tell what the main character should do. Remember, it is a sin to preach in fiction.” The author counters this advice with examples from beloved children’s classics, and I agree with her. There was something in me that rose up to meet and welcome moral instruction in stories. It can be overdone, of course. And there are times to let readers realize what the story is about rather than telling them directly. But, “Rather than detracting or distracting from the story, were these passages giving me the names of the lovely ideals I sensed in the characters I admired? Were they revealing to me an eternal, universal world of Courage, Sacrifice, Hope, Joy, Love that, unlike the long-ago and fairytale story-lands I longed to enter, was near at hand for me to dwell in? Could this be why didacticism, properly woven into story, does not ruin but elevates it?”

100 Summer Crafts and Activities for Kids, HT to Story Warren.

And a thought for the day, HT to Jody Hedlund re writing, but applicable to many areas:

A Writer’s Survival Kit

When I got back from the writer’s conference I attended, a dear friend who had prayed for me while I was there, while I traveled, and especially while I was sick there, gave me this Writer’s Survival Kit. I thought it was such a sweet, thoughtful and clever idea, and I wanted to share it with you.

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I loved all of it, but I think the stress relief is my favorite. 🙂

Takeaways From a Writer’s Conference

Last week I told you about attending the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference. This week I want to share some specifics I learned.

Writers make time to write. I was astonished to learn how incredibly busy everyone was. Each writer had several irons in the fire: family, books, multiple organizations, blogs, newsletters, and more. No one is luxuriating at a resort with nothing to do but write. Michelle Cox shared in the Lightning Learning sessions that she writes in 25-minute increments, a manageable goal. In addition, getting up and doing something else for a few minutes keeps writers from developing physical problems from sitting at the computer too long. Larry Leech told of one woman homeschooling several children who wrote for ten minutes at the top of every hour during the school day. If this is something God wants me to do, He will give me wisdom to discern how to make the time.

Writers learn. Writers are expected to know how to self-edit, format according to preferred standards, understand point of view, and myriad other aspects of writing long before they submit a manuscript for publication. Not knowing these things is seen as lazy, so I need to research, self-educate, soak up and glean all I can about the craft of writing.

Writers read. Most writers are readers, but writers are encouraged to read for more than pleasure. Nancy Lohr with Journeyforth suggested reading about the craft of writing, reading to see how other writers put together their work and what techniques they employ, reading books in one’s own field of interest, reading fiction even as a nonfiction writer. Craig von Buseck and Les Stobbe encouraged reading books like the one we want to write, both to see what’s already out there and to find our own unique approach.

Writers start small. Many of the speakers emphasized that writers rarely publish a book right off the bat with no previous writing experience. We were encouraged to start with writing articles, newsletters, blogs, etc., which will help us gain experience, write for an audience and receive feedback, work with deadlines and specifications, etc.

Writers are teachable. Candy Arrington emphasized the need for writers to be teachable and flexible. She and others encouraged joining a critique group so we can help each other with our blind spots, mistakes, clarity, etc.

Writers have a target audience in mind. Writing to our target audience keeps our writing focused. In addition, publishers want to know the target audience for marketing purposes. Sarah Bolme helped me clarify that my target audience does not have to be a certain age group: it just has to be the people who would have a particular interest in or need for my subject matter. “Adult women” is not a narrow enough target.

Since coming home from the conference, I started following a few of the speakers on Twitter to keep receiving tips and information. I also started reading:

The Write Conversation blog by Edie Melson. Edie is one of the coordinators for the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference. She was one of the speakers for the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference, but, unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend any of her sessions. Her blog is considered one of the top writing blogs, and I have already learned a lot from it.

Writer’s Write.

Writing and Editing.

Have you attended a writer’s conference? What was your best takeaway from it? What other sources do you read to keep inspired or to hone your writing skills?

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday)

My First Writer’s Conference

I mentioned in Friday’s post an adventure. I spent Friday and Saturday at the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference!

I had read about writer’s conferences, but attending one was a distant dream. I had never heard of this particular one until Mary mentioned it in a Facebook group we’re both in. I was surprised to see that the conference would take place in a city where I had lived for twelve years. That would take away the anxiety of traveling by myself to a strange new place. Plus it was just overnight, not several days. It seemed smaller than some of the others I had heard about, which would not be so overwhelming as some of the bigger ones. I didn’t think we’d be able to work around my mother-in-law’s care so that I could attend, but my husband said he could be home, and he encouraged me to go. So I did!

Authors, editors, and publisher representatives made up the faculty who presented the workshops. I had read one of the authors, heard of one other, and knew one of the publisher representatives years ago when she was on staff at my sons’ school, but everyone else was new to me. I came away with many of the faculty’s books added to my TBR list.

Four workshops divided into eight sessions each, covering topics like a writer’s social platform, managing time to write, self-editing, storytelling, plot, character arc, book proposals, publishing, and so much more. I wish I could have attended the majority of them! The one most beneficial to me was Craig von Buseck‘s “Fiction Techniques in Nonfiction Writing.” He explained that even though nonfiction informs, persuades, and inspires, it must also entertain or engage the reader, or else the reader will put it down. My writing sometimes tends to be “Just the facts, ma’am,” which might work for a Wikipedia article, but not a book. I gained both ideas and inspiration from Craig’s workshop for fleshing out my writing.

Todd Starnes was the enjoyable keynote speaker, and two panels covered editors’ pet peeves and publishing trends. Friday night after the last session we all divided into genre groups with faculty members available to answer questions.

A “Lightening Learning” session was both fun and informative. All of the faculty were stationed at various tables, and conferees went in small groups from table to table, changing tables at the blow of a whistle. Each faculty member had three minutes to share their favorite writing tip. Though all the tips were beneficial, one faculty member gave me a great idea for narrowing down my target audience.

We had an opportunity to submit an outline and the first ten pages of a manuscript for a critique before the conference, and during the conference we had a fifteen-minute appointment with the person who critiqued our work. That was a humbling experience, but then that was somewhat expected. We can’t improve our writing until we see what we’re doing wrong.

We also had the opportunity to sign up to meet with a faculty member for at least one 15-minute session just to ask questions, share our project and get feedback, etc.

Before the conference when I was trying to determine whether to spend the time, money, and emotional energy to go, I looked over the workshop topics and thought, “You know, I could read about most of this in books or online.” And though that’s true, and though I am sure I will read more, the conference sessions helped distill some of these topics down to their most important essence. Besides all the information and inspiration, one of the biggest takeaways from the conference was encouragement. It’s hard sometimes to know when or how to bring up writing in everyday conversation, but at a writer’s conference, everyone asks what you’re working on, and no one thinks you’re silly or self-promotional. Plus, at an event like this, editors and publishers are encouraging and instructive. They know we don’t know everything we need to and they’re there to help. But once you submit a manuscript to them, you’re down to business, and they expect you to know the ropes. Meeting a variety of editors and publishers gives you some sources to pursue when you do get ready for those steps. It was also encouraging to meeting others at various stages of the writing journey.

And since this was a Christian conference, two of the themes that continually emerged were prayer and responsibility. We need to seek God at every step in the writing process and ask others to intercede for us. And we need to remember that all we do is by His power and grace and for Him. If writing is a calling, we’re responsible to obey God’s call, and if it is a gift, we’re responsible to develop it for His glory.

One other plus for me was meeting Mary Hill at Maryandering Creatively! I have been participating in her Literary Musing Monday for some time now, so it was great to meet in person.

Before the conference Mary had also pointed me to Edie Melson’s The Write Conversation. Her sidebar contains a wealth of information about preparing for a writer’s conference, an invaluable help to me. Edie was also on the conference faculty, and I was sorry to miss her sessions. But I’m delighted to find her site and glean the information there.

I had let a couple of you know privately that I was going and asked for prayer: thank you! I had not traveled by myself since I had to drive from Spartanburg to Knoxville to house-hunt before our move here almost eight years ago (and since college days before that!) I am not a good traveler anyway. During the trip as well as before and after, I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I am doing this!” Excitement battled with fear, anxiety, and even dread at some points, but excitement won out, and God gave me peace. Everything about the trip itself went well: God kept me safe on the road and in parking lots. I spent all of Saturday morning sick in the hotel room, and I was sorry to miss those sessions. I had considered going home once I felt well enough to drive. My dear husband offered to drive up with my son so that he could drive me home and my son could drive his car back, but I didn’t think that would be necessary. I texted a friend to request prayer. I’m so thankful that I felt well enough to attend the Saturday afternoon sessions, as those were the best of the conference for me.

I also enjoyed just the aspect of getting away from everyday responsibilities for a while, and the quiet hotel room provided a counterbalance to all the new experiences and being with so many people. I’m so thankful to my husband for not only allowing me and providing for me to attend but encouraging me to and taking care of things at home while I was gone. It’s not easy being the sole caregiver for his mom, so I appreciate his being willing to do that for a few days.

My emotions definitely hit highs (“Maybe I really can finish a book!”) and lows (What was I thinking?!“) But I came away from the conference challenged and encouraged to move writing from the back burner. I have a lot of work to do, but I gained some good ideas, more direction, and more awareness of what needs to be weeded out. I tend to be wordy (in case you haven’t noticed… 🙂 ), so I need to tighten up in some areas and flesh concepts out in others. My head is still spinning and I am still processing much of what I learned.

If you enjoy writing, I’d encourage you attend a writer’s conference! I am already hoping to attend next year.

Special thanks go to Linda Gilden for organizing everything, for her patience with this newbie, and especially for her warm and encouraging tone in everything she did. Thanks to all the team who helped everything go so smoothly! Great job!

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Faith on Fire)