Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mick Silva (Advice for Writers, Part 8)

Our series continues again! This time Mick Silva shares his answer to the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Just one thing, really?

I'm an editor at WaterBrook, but in my free time, I'm an unpublished

So I've developed these 3 steps to writing fiction that I call my "formula" and interestingly, all of them essentially come down to one thing. Masochistic devotion. I don't know how universal this is-and it's certainly not natural. But I'm a little weird, which doesn't hurt in this profession. And while it's taken me a while to hammer out the 3 steps, something like 8 years, maybe 9, I've never seen anything like this in all the top recommended writing and editing books, which are great. Until I translated all that advice into my own steps and practice, I never felt I was writing my best stuff. You know, not really. And I don't really know if I'm writing my best now, but it feels different, like I've passed the point of no return and it'd be harder to stop now than it would be to keep going.

Kind of like love.

I think the most important thing in writing novels is to deeply love what you're writing. I mentioned this recently on my blog (, but it got me thinking that novels are kind of unique in that they require the deepest, even spiritual, kind of love. A spouse or a child doesn't always need your all in every scene. But a novel? It can completely fail if you don't devote to it consistently and vigilantly. Novels are incredibly demanding, so much so that those with young families or big relational responsibilities need to seriously consider whether it's prudent. You need to be able to separate because this spiritual sort of love requires you to die to self, pick up your "cross," and follow that creation where it takes you. You are, in a sense, practicing the gospel in your daily writing practice. It's no longer you who lives, but that new work happening in you and coming through you. By extension, your novel can speak of God because you've "died" to give it life.

That's the basic idea. I want to stop well clear of any heresy. This can start to sound theologically dicey, especially considering how easily novels can become our gods if we aren't careful. The bottom line is, the way we approach both spiritual matters and our novels must be with reverence and acceptance of the ultimate cost. This is the only way I know of to write the novels that truly connect and speak with relevance to the deeper truths of life.

Mick Silva, Editor, Waterbrook Press (Visit Mick's blog here where he'll be posting those three steps shortly!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rachelle Gardner (Advice for Novelists, Part 7)

Today I asked:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?" Rachelle Gardner. Here's her response:

The biggest mistake I see novelists making is trying to get published too soon. My Native American friend Russell Means used to tell me, "It takes the time it takes." He was always trying to get me to stop rushing. Now that mantra sticks in my mind when I find myself trying to force something before its time.

Becoming a novelist takes a serious investment in time as well as resources. Make sure you're ready. You must master the craft of writing if you want people to pay you for it. Attend writers' conferences and take writing workshops. Edit, rewrite and polish your book. Get critiques and feedback. Trade manuscripts with writing friends and get some good advice. Consider hiring a freelance editor. Read books about writing. Make sure you've done everything humanly possible to make your book the best it can be---take your time and get it right. THEN seek publication by pitching agents and editors. You'll find more success, and agents/editors will be less frustrated. A win-win all around!

--Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent, WordServe Literary (Be sure to check out her terrific blog here that's full of more insights like this!)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Steve Laube (Advice for Novelists, Part 6)

Our series of blog posts in which industry professionals (editors, agents, publicists, authors, etc.) continues with thoughts from Steve Laube.

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

A great story is the key. A fresh story is even better! We are deluged by unsolicited proposals with stories that all sound the same. But every once in a while comes that great story with a fresh take and style. Next month look for My Name Is Russell Fink by Michael Snyder (Zondervan) as an example of something that fits that criteria. In addition see When the Heart Cries by Cindy Woodsmall (Waterbrook), Dinner With A Perfect Stranger by David Gregory (Waterbrook), The Secret Life of Becky Miller by Sharon Hinck (Bethany House), and Coldwater Revival by Nancy Jo Jenkins. All these titles are debut novelists that captured the attention and imagination of
our agency.

As one fiction teacher put it, "Create a plot...not a plod." (Carol Gift Page)

Try to avoid starting the novel with back-story. This is a common mistake. Makes the opening boring to read.

Another key to great fiction is the use of dialogue. The character's voice must come through as distinct from other characters in the scene. This is a very difficult thing to do, and only the great writers pull it off.

Which brings me to my last point. We see a LOT of really good writers. But we like to only represent the great ones. We have placed a dozen debut novelists over the last three years. We are always looking for the "next best."

Steve Laube, The Steve Laube Agency (Click here for their guidelines)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rod Morris (Advice for Novelists, Part 5)

Today I ask the question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?" Rod Morris:

Don't preach to your readers and don't give in to the temptation to explain (tell) what's going on in your story. Know your characters intimately and let us see and hear them in action, then trust the power of their story to convey the theme or message of your novel.

--Rod Morris, Senior Editor, Harvest House Publishers

Thursday, January 24, 2008

James Scott Bell (Advice for Novelists, Part 4)

And we continue the series ...

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Arnold Palmer said golf came down basically to this: hit it, find it,
then hit it again. Well, writing is sort of like that, too. Write it, edit it, then write it again. When you write, don't be hung up on making it perfect. Don't be bollixed up on writing techniques. The golfer who thinks of 22 different things as he swings always muffs it. Write hot, revise cool. When you edit your work, get feedback: from readers, from a group, or just by reading a writing book and seeing how the techniques apply to you. Then, with what you learn, write it again. Or start a new project. Each time you do this, you get a little better. Keep after it.

--James Scott Bell, author of the novels The Whole Truth, Try Dying, Breach of Promise, and many others, as well as the writing how-to book Plot & Structure.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sue Brower (Advice for Novelists, Part 3)

Our series of blog posts in which industry professionals (editors, agents, publicists, authors, etc.) continues again today with thoughts from Sue Brower.

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Finish your novel! I often hear from novelists who have a complete marketing plan, list of endorsers, and brand strategy—but only three chapters of their novel completed. It is very difficult for an editor to evaluate your work if it’s not complete. What does a complete manuscript mean? First, it tells me that you can finish a book. Second, it tells me whether you know the mechanics of writing. Third, it tells me if you have the ability to flesh out the characters and keep my attention. Finish your novel! Anything else is a distraction.

--Sue Brower, Sr. Acquisitions Editor, Fiction & Inspiration, Zondervan

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Don Pape (Advice for Novelists, Part 2)

My series of blog posts in which industry professionals (editors, agents, publicists, authors, etc.) share their responses to this question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

...continues today with Don Pape's advice:

Write for the pure passion and joy of it. Don't write so to give us the "next Left Behind" or to be another Beverly Lewis. Be original and creative - as the Creator is! Be disciplined. Too many writers want to kick out the next bestseller in a weekend. Get up each morning and spend an hour honing your craft. Find other writers that can be mentors and provide the "iron sharpening iron" in your life. Don't write to get published. A contract is the gravy. Write for the delight of putting to paper words.

--Don Pape, Publisher - Trade Books, David C. Cook

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Charlene Patterson (Advice for Novelists, Part 1)

I'm starting a series of blog posts here in which industry professionals (editors, agents, publicists, authors, etc.) share their responses to this question:

"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"

Today I've asked Charlene Patterson, Fiction Acquisitions Editor at Bethany House Publishers.

Her response:

"First of all, write. Don't just talk about or think about or pray about writing. Write. Secondly, if you want to be published, do your homework. Can you imagine an aspiring optometrist showing up at Lens Crafters saying, "Yeah, I've been practicing in my house. Anybody need their eyes checked?" Read good books in your genre. Know what is selling in your market. Learn techniques for plot and dialogue and research and point of view. Take a class where your work is critiqued and you are given suggestions for improvement. Join up with a writers' group. Rewrite."

--Charlene Patterson, Fiction Acquisitions Editor, Bethany House Publishers


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Christian Writers' Market Guide 2008

"The Essential Reference Tool for the Christian Writer"

The book's tagline says it all. I've been buying this guide for several years now, and it's one of those books that's worth buying every year. If only to see how vast the Christian publishing world has become.

This year we have over 1200 markets (43 new book publishers and 53 new periodicals). There are also 280 new entries to the Resources for Writers section.

For the second year in a row readers are also given the listings in a CD at the back of the book (in Word and Adobe Acrobat formats). This can be invaluable when researching publishers or magazines for your work as you can cut and past particular listings into a different document and then print at will.

Not much has changed this year in the Christian Writer's Market Guide, but that's a good thing. All writers who wish to write for this market should go out and buy themselves a copy. Just make sure you verify an editor's name with a publisher or periodical before sending a submission---many of these entries are already outdated due to the fast changeovers found in the publishing industry.

Also be sure to check out Sally's blog, where she gives up-to-date information on the markets. Click here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pacing in your novel

Pacing is one of THE most important things in writing, especially in climaxes. A lot of times I find myself rushing through them, and the scene suffers for it. But the best anecdote I've found to spotting pacing problems is reading a scene aloud. I'll usually pick up when something doesn't work. The trick is knowing how to fix it. Here are a few suggestions for when your scene moves too fast:

1. Add more of what your character is thinking.
Even in an action scene it's okay to take a breath and understand what's going through your character's mind. Readers want to know these things.

2. Add action beats in between dialogue.
What is your character doing while he/she is talking? Show us.

3. Take time to describe the scene.
I'm not talking purple prose here, but a few lines of description can go a long way.

4. Read this article called "Stretching the Tension" by James Scott Bell.
It's invaluable. The info can also be found in his book Plot and Structure.

Now if your problem is that your scene is moving too slowly, do these steps in reverse. TAKE OUT some of these elements.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

3 Writing Tips

I've been tagged by my good friend WordVixen to do a writing meme. The rules are simple (luckily!). You post three writing tips that you've learned along the way, and then nominate 5 more bloggers to take up the meme (which, by the way, is pronounced "meem"). Here goes:

1. Writers are made, not born.
I think a very common misconception among beginning writers is that they can sit down at their computer, bang out a manuscript, and then expect a publisher to pick them right up. This does happen, but rarely. Why would we think a writer's path is different from say a doctor's? If you want to be a doctor you can expect to spend at least 10 years learning and perfecting your craft. I think writers should expect the same. If it happens sooner, great. But go in expecting a ten year apprenticeship. You'll be less disappointed when the years pass and you're still banging away at your computer!

2. Read, read, read.
This tip makes it to many lists like this for a reason. I believe we can learn more by reading other novels (talking to fiction writers) than reading how-to books. We'll pick up more than we might imagine. We'll recognize the structure of a story, and what makes it compelling. It'll happen naturally if you read widely. You might not be able to name exactly why something works, but you'll have a gut feeling what does. That skill will be one to ride the river with.

3. Don't worry about your voice and branding too early.
This is something I've noticed a lot in beginning writers (and of course I'm still learning a ton myself). They focus less on their craft and more about their "voice" and how to brand themselves, than I personally think they should. Your voice will develop naturally the more you write, and why worry about branding when you have nothing to brand? Yes, I understand both of these things are important at some point in our writing careers, but if we focus on writing the best books we possibly can, we'll eventually get to the place where these things naturally fall into place.

I could go on and on with various tips I've learned, but I'll stop here and leave the rest for another day. :) Now ... who to tag? I'm going with Mike Dellosso, Katie Cushman, John Perrodin, Donna Fleisher, Darcie Gudger, and Creston Mapes.

The CFBA blog tour this week is for Marilynn Griffith's new novel Happily Ever After. Marriage. Motherhood. And a Monster-in-law. Interesting ... :)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Top words of 2007

Thanks to my friend Brandilyn Collins for pointing out this link to the top words of 2007. This is intriguing, folks. The #1 word was:

1. w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"

Check out the rest here.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

How to Write a Novel Proposal

First, let me say that I've discovered there really isn't just "one way" to write a fiction proposal. One writer's style might not work for everyone. When I was crafting the proposal for my novel Thicker Than Blood, I included these elements, all double-spaced:

  • Three sentence logline ... think what you'd see on a movie poster.
  • Brief synopsis (1 page) -- pretend you're writing the back-cover copy of a novel. Write this like that.
  • Marketing considerations (1 page) -- compare your novel to what's already out there.
  • Target audience (1 page) -- shows the editor you're thinking in marketing terms.
  • About the author (1 page) -- if you don't have clips, that's okay. Are you a teacher and your main character is a teacher? Mention this.
  • Series potential (1 page) -- shows the editor, again, you're thinking ahead and don't plan to be a one-book wonder.
  • Full synopsis (6 pages) -- tell the whole story like you were talking to a friend. Don't leave out the ending!
Not all of the sections filled each page, but I separated them anyway.

Several books I recommend for writing a fiction proposal:
Also, Terry Whalin's Book Proposals That Sell, though geared for nonfiction, will teach you how to think like an editor.

More Resources:
  • Randy Ingermanson has an example of a successful fiction proposal on his website in .pdf format. It was the one he and John Olsen used for Oxygen, which was later published by Bethany House. Click here.
  • Also, literary agent Chip MacGregor has an example on his website (also .pdf) of Sandra Glahn's novel Informed Consent. Click here.
  • Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has a great post on her blog describing the details as well. Click here.
Authors, editors, agents ... what do you say?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

FIRST Blog Tour - Abandoned Identity by Tamara Tilley

Happy New Year!
It is January 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour. (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter.
This month's feature author is:

and her book:

Abandoned Identity
Evergreen Press (AL) (August 1, 2007)


Hooray! Tamara is one of our very own FIRST members!

She resides with her husband, Walter, and their children, John, Christopher, and Jennifer, at Hume Lake Christian Camps in the Sequoia National Forest. They have served on full-time staff and ministered at Hume for 13 years.

Tamara manages one of the retail stores at Hume Lake, which serves thousands of kids visiting the conference center on a daily basis.

Not only does she write, she is also an avid reader and enjoys other hobbies such as scrapbooking, designing greeting cards and invitations, and enjoying God's creation from her from porch.

The first chapter begins:

The young, blond woman stepped off the elevator, rushed past the receptionist, and quickly headed down the hallway.

“Jennifer, Mr. Lynch is looking for you,” Doris called after her.

Jennifer didn’t stop to acknowledge the message. She didn’t have time. She could hear the warning in Doris’ tone. Mr. Lynch was looking for her, knowing she was late returning from lunch. This could very well be her last day at Weissler and Schuler.

Read the rest of the first chapter here.