Monday, March 31, 2008

Alton Gansky (Advice for Novelists, Part 35)

For those just joining us, this is part 35 of a series we're conducting here in which editors, authors, agents & publicists all respond to the question:

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

Here's Alton's reply:

Less is more. Sometimes publishers hire me to rewrite a book. The author had a great idea but had trouble bringing the writing up to expectations. I've noticed that all these books have something in common: tons of unneeded words. I can say the same for many of the manuscripts I've read by aspiring writers. My rule is this: If you can get rid of a word without weakening the sentence, then do it. Don't hesitate. Don't waffle over it. Cut it. Squash it. Exorcise it. Evict the little bugger. He's a freeloader who snuck on the train when no one was looking. Do this for the whole book. Perform literary liposuction. When you do, you will be left with what we arrogant writers call "tight writing." Will you do it perfectly? No. Some time ago I was listening to an audio version of one of my books while I tortured myself on the treadmill. I caught myself saying, "Didn't need that word . . . Could have done without the adjective . . . what was I thinking?" So my advice in a word is: cut. I wish I had learned this sooner.

--Alton Gansky is the author of 30 books. He writes full time from his home in the High Desert of Southern California. His latest books are ANGEL (Realms) and ZERO-G (Zondervan). Visit him online: and

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Christopher Hopper (Advice for Novelists, Part 34)

We're on a roll! Once again, here's the response of a talented author to the question:

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

Read, read, read.

I've learned more about writing after my first book was published than I ever did before. I think that's because I never went to college and I wanted to make sure my craft could be as good as it possibly could once I realized people liked my books. And my thinking was, if I'm critically reading books that I want to emulate, those will be my text books.

I don't just mean passively reading, but actively analyzing; making notes on what works and what doesn't; outlining a book as you read it; studying sentence structure, voice and tone. Read like the author is right there with you. Ask questions. Why did they develop that character like that? What was the thinking behind keeping that piece of the story a secret for so long? Why am I identifying so deeply with this person's emotions?

Receive criticism better than you receive praise. People telling me they like my books reminds me why I do what I do; but people telling me what needs to change helps me become better at what I do.

Get connected. Join online forums, messages boards and clubs. Join a writer's guild or book club in your area. Don't have one? Make one--I did! I found a few people who were wanna' be authors and started meeting monthly to read each other's works.

Just a technical thing that helps me when I'm writing: my voice is the only thing a reader is going on when they read a story. If I'm not saying it clearly or implying it effectively, they're not going to get it. They don't have an audio/visual presentation on their computer or a soundtrack with the narrative as they read my books. All they have is what I'm feeding them. So make sure it looks appetizing and tastes good. Making it healthy is good, too.

Lastly, keep writing. Everyday! Keep a blog. Hone your skills. Keep a journal. Something. Anything! I meet so many people who say they've always "dreamed of writing a book." And I always tell them that they are most likely a better writer than I am and have better ideas than me. But there is one fundamental difference between them and me--I wrote my book. God can't publish what you didn't create.

And always aim to do everything for the glory of Jesus. Your efforts will most likely fall short of is perfection, but your heart won't if your eyes are fixed on him.

--Christopher Hopper, Author of Rise of The Dibor and The Lion Vrie and recording artist of 9 albums. Visit him online at his website here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Brandt Dodson (Advice for Novelists, Part 33)

I'm pleased to feature another talented author here in this series of posts in which I ask editors, authors, agents & publicists the following question:

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

The best advice I can give any writer is to know why you want to write.

The road to publication (and beyond) is often slow and arduous. The
challenges will be great - and there are many. Some writers will quit and never touch a pen or keyboard again. But the rest will sojourn on. Why? What separates those who quit from those who persist?

If your goal is not worthy of the effort, you will fail. Why do you write? Do you write to impress someone? To make money? To find fame? Or do you write for another reason?

Why do you write?

Answer that, and you will find the motivation necessary to sustain you on the path to publication.
But what's more, you will have found the clarity of vision that will enrich the lives of your readers long after you are gone.

--Brandt Dodson, author of the Colton Parker series and the just released novel White Soul (Harvest House). Visit Brandt's website here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Betrayed by J.M. Windle

I want to bring to your attention a great new book that's being featured this week on the CFBA blog tour.

Betrayed by J.M. Windle intrigued me first with its cover, but I've been meaning to read her works every since her first novel Crossfire, published by Kregel (which has another cool cover, by the way). This latest novel is being published by Tyndale.

Jeanette's BIO:

As the child of missionary parents, award-winning author and journalist Jeanette Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles, and mountains of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones. Her detailed research and writing is so realistic that it has prompted government agencies to question her to determine if she has received classified information. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Jeanette has lived in six countries and traveled in more than twenty. She has more than a dozen books in print, including political/suspense best-seller CrossFire and the Parker Twins series.

I'm in the middle of Betrayed as I write this, and so far it's lived up to its promise of providing a noteworthy reading experience. I'm looking forwarding to completing it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Liz Johnson (Advice for Novelists, Part 32)

Here's a publicist's point-of-view on the question:

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

Make sure you're writing something that you love. Be passionate about the story you've been given to share and write it to the best of your ability. Infuse it with the things that you're learning in your own life, and you'll be amazed how much that reaches out to the readers and reviewers. That passion and purpose of writing makes publicizing a book much more straightforward, and your publicist will love you for it!

--Liz Johnson, Publicist, Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishing Group

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rick Christian (Advice for Novelists, Part 31)

We're still continuing our series in which authors, agents, editors, and publicists give their responses to the question:

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

Today we hear from a well respected agent in the industry who has a great perspective to share. Take it away, Rick:

Don’t measure your success by immaterial things. Authors tend to compare, to measure, to quantify. It's a normal thing I suppose, but your ultimate success really can't be measured by bestseller lists or copies sold. Come the Day of Judgment, God won't be asking about the number of appearances you made on the USA Today list. More important is whether you’ve been faithful with the gifts you’ve received—regardless of the results.

Work diligently at your craft, and it's OK to celebrate honors that come your way, of course. But a bit of perspective helps. Many of the great authors I studied in college died thinking they were failures because their books weren't wildly popular. Melville never realized the success of Moby Dick in his lifetime. It was only recognized as a masterpiece 30 years after his death. He worked on ships and loading docks to keep the wolf away from the door. Chaucer doubled up as a diplomat and secret agent, Milton was Cromwell's fighting foreign secretary, Ben Jonson was a bricklayer.

Also, remember the story of Christ who was often followed by thousands. That didn’t make him successful, and he surely didn’t lay awake nights thinking about the buzz he was generating. I smile when I recall the day he turned his back on the vast crowd to focus on a man who’d shinnied up a tree for a better view. His interaction that moment with Zacchaeus was as important as all the rest. He was OK with an audience of one.

That should prompt great relief. If you have faithfully exercised your talent and have just 17 readers, celebrate with abandon. Thank God for each. His arithmetic is unlike anything you’ve learned. He’s the great multiplier, and if you’ve been faithful, expect eternal impact beyond your wildest dreams. You may not see the results until heaven. But when you get there and he pulls back the veil, act surprised.

--Rick Christian, President of the Colorado Springs based literary agency, Alive Communications. Visit Alive's website here for more information.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What writers can learn from Project Runway

I'll admit it right now. I love Project Runway. And for someone who's totally not into high fashion (or any kind of fashion, really) that's saying something.

I finally got to watch the finale of season 4, and I got to thinking. What can writers learn from fashion designers? After all, we're both creative types. We both can be attached to our work in sometimes unreasonable ways. Here are some random things writers can learn from Project Runway:

1. Writers need to have confidence in themselves.
The fashion designers who succeed on Project Runway are confident in their abilities. Sometimes too confident, but that's another story! It is possible to be confident without being cocky. Believe in your work. Believe in yourself. With God's help, you can become a great writer!

2. Stay true to yourself, but learn from constructive criticism.
Don't be so confident that you aren't open to the advice of experts, but still be confident. Be careful who you let read your work. Or at least be careful who's advice you believe. I'll give a lot more weight to the critique of a published novelist than I will say, my neighbor across the street. :) The designers, and writers, who excel are the ones who weigh the criticism carefully and apply what feels right to them, but also discard the extraneous.

3. Don't be afraid to have fun!
If you enjoyed "designing" a piece of writing, chances are your readers will enjoy reading it!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wayne Thomas Batson (Advice for Novelists, Part 30)

Another author chimes in today with his terrific response to the question:

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

Don't just write about what you know. I know, I've heard other author's say it; you've heard your teachers preach it: write what you know. And the theory behind that advice is good. Write about what you know because you have the inside info, the details, and the experience to write about that topic or field. You play county soccer? Good, now go write a story about a character who plays county soccer. You have piano practice every Thursday? Wonderful, now go write about a character who plays piano. Now that's fine advice if you're writing for an audience of one or two. Will it work to get you published? Uh...not so much.

Writing what you know will not get you published unless, of course, your day job is: CIA Code Breaker, Supernatural Phenomenon Investigator, CSI Agent, or Tour Guide for the Amazon Jungle. What I'm saying is, the average, day to day life is not interesting enough to be the plot of a book. Now, if something interrupts that normal life: a tragedy, a phenomenon, a mystery--well, now we're talking. Most readers want a story to grab them, to move them, to take them places they've never been to before. Most publishers want the same thing.

So, how do you write about stuff you don't know? 1. Research: watch the Discovery Channel, read National Geographic, surf the World Wide Web--there's a novel plot, character, or setting just waiting for you. 2. Make it up: Now, this especially applies to the whacked lot of writers who want to write fantasy or scifi. You get to open your mind and just create. Make things the human eye has never seen before. Tweak reality. Have fun. Chances are, if you have fun, your readers will too.

--Wayne Thomas Batson, author of the Door Within trilogy, as well as Isle of Swords. Visit him online at his blog here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Terri Blackstock (Advice for Novelists, Part 29)

We're still going strong with this series in which editors, agents, authors, and publicists give their responses to this question:

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

My one bit of advice would be, "Don't get it right, get it written." I heard someone say this years ago when I was struggling to get started. At the time, I wrote the first three chapters over and over, editing and polishing, then I'd lose interest in the rest of the book and not finish. This piece of advice changed everything for me. Once I decided to write the whole first draft without judgment, and without going back to rewrite, I was able to keep my momentum building and finish a book. THEN I could begin rewriting. But once I get the first draft down, rewriting is easy. No matter how much rewriting is needed, I know I can do it because I've already written the whole book once.

--Terri Blackstock, author of the Restoration series, Newpointe 911 series, Cape Refuge series, and many more novels. Visit her online at her website here.

Completely unrelated to writing but worth watching!

This has nothing to do with writing, but I still couldn't resist posting. Check it out:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Writing Contest!

Fun new writing contest going on over at Rachelle Gardner's blog, Rants & Ramblings. Check it out:

The Yo-Dawg-Show-Me-What-You-Got
Double Decker CHALLENGE
~ R&R’s Inaugural Writing Contest ~

Why a Double Decker, you ask? Well, because this is a TWO PART contest. And why Yo-Dawg? Because I think Randy Jackson is the coolest, naturally, and because American Idol is on tonight.


THE CHALLENGE: I will give you the first line for a novel. You will write the first page of the novel, 300 words max.

BUT, here’s the kicker. That’s the SECOND part of the contest. The first part is:

YOU will send me the first line of the novel. Woo hoo, isn’t this fun???

WE HAVE PRIZES, TOO. I will award a prize to one winner in each part of the Challenge. What’s the prize? I’ll give an evaluation of the WIP of your choice (WIP=work in progress) , either a query, a book proposal, or the first ten pages of a novel. If I am feeling really generous, this might even include a phone call, we'll see. Yes, there will be TWO winners. Unless the same person wins both parts of the Challenge…we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Click here for the full details.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Matt Bronleewe (Advice for Novelists, Part 28)

Besides being a successful novelist, Matt is also an acclaimed producer (Plumb, Rebecca St. James, Leeland). It's interesting to have the perspective of someone involved in more than one creative art.

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

It sounds so cliche, but it's the truth: Be true to yourself. But what does that mean? It means don't write something just because you think other people will like it. If it doesn't inspire you, chances are it won't inspire other people either. Every day, I can't wait to sit down and start typing, and that gets me through the hard places along the winding road. I couldn't do that if I was trying to guess what people wanted. They'd probably want Chick Lit or something and I'd just butcher it anyway, so I'm way better off writing what I LIKE, which is THRILLERS. Forget "write what you know". Write what you LOVE. Write whatever gets you fired up enough to stay up all night fueled by nothing more than Mountain Dew and Twinkies and a blinding passion to find out what happens to your characters next. And write, dang-nab-it, write!! Stop telling all your friends about the book you're GOING TO WRITE, the one you're going to bang out after the entire world has stopped in silence long enough for you to get inspired and WRITE!!

I know it's hard. Believe me I know. I'm reading this back right now and wishing I was further ahead on my next book than I am. (But don't you worry, anyone from Thomas Nelson, if you read this, because I'm going to freaking ROCK this next book!) But just stick with it! Stay in front of that sheet of paper or computer screen or stone tablet or WHATEVER long enough for at least one sentence to make a landing. Because that's all it takes. Just a little at a time. It's not going to happen all at once, so just knock a little of the wall down every day, and soon the waters of creativity will flood. Ok, I know I'm rambling now, but it's just because I really care about this stuff and I know you do too. I never thought I had a chance in the world to get a book out there, and now that I do (pinch me) it just proves that anyone can do it! Anyone!! neighbor's dog (provided the little mutt has the necessary verbal skills).......ANYONE!!

--Matt Bronleewe, author of Illuminated (Thomas Nelson) and the upcoming House of Wolves. Check out his website here and be sure to sign up to his mailing list so you can receive the free soundtracks. They're really cool.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Only Uni by Camy Tang (FIRST blog tour)

The FIRST blog tour is doing a special tour today for Camy Tang's novel Only Uni. Normally, on the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter! As this is a special tour, we are featuring it on a special day!

Camy Tang is a member of FIRST herself, and is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.

Read a terrific interview with Camy done by my friend Rel Mollet here.

Read a terrific review done by my other friend Sheryl Root here.

Chapter One

Trish Sakai walked through the door and the entire room hushed.

Well, not exactly pin-drop hushed. More like a handful of the several dozen people in her aunty’s enormous living room paused their conversations to glance her way. Maybe Trish had simply expected them to laugh and point.

She shouldn’t have worn white. She’d chosen the Bebe dress from her closet in a rebellious mood, which abandoned her at her aunt’s doorstep. Maybe because the explosion of red, orange, or gold outfits made her head swim.

At least the expert cut of her dress made her rather average figure curvier and more slender at the same time. She loved how well-tailored clothes ensured she didn’t have to work as hard to look good.

Trish kicked off her sandals, and they promptly disappeared in the sea of shoes filling the foyer. She swatted away a flimsy paper dragon drooping from the doorframe and smoothed down her skirt. She snatched her hand back and wrung her fingers behind her.

No, that’ll make your hips look huge.

She clenched her hands in front.

Sure, show all the relatives that you’re nervous.

She clasped them loosely at her waist and tried to adopt a regal expression.

Read the rest of the chapter here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sharon Hinck (Advice for Novelists, Part 27)

Author Sharon Hinck is up today with her response to:

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

I think two qualities are important in serving God – whether through writing or other callings: Availability and Authenticity. Show up. Be real.

--Sharon Hinck, author of the Sword of Lyric series (NavPress), Secret Life of Becky Miller series (Bethany House), and Symphony of Secrets (Bethany House). Visit her online at her website here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bill Myers (Advice for Novelists, Part 26)

Bill's books and films have won 40 national and international awards. He's the co-creator of McGee and Me, and the author of books such as Blood of Heaven, The Seeing, and the forthcoming The Voice.

I'm thrilled he stopped by to give his response to the question:

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

My advice for writing? Easy. Write. Write every day. If you want to be a writer, write. Don't talk about it, don't dream about it, don't read about it (they all help but only a little). Write. Don't wait for inspiration or look for excuses. Do it whether you feel like it or not. Carve out two hours before work and write. Or carve out two hours after the kids are in bed and write. If not two hours one. If not one, thirty minutes. If not thirty minutes, fifteen. If not fifteen look for something else to do. I never think of writing a book, just writing for six hours, six days a week and eventually it turns into a book, or short story, or article. But it never would happen if I didn't write, re-write and keep writing.

--Bill Myers, author of The Voice, The Seeing, The Forbidden Doors series, and much more. Visit him online at his website here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

If you want to write about a cop...'s not something to be afraid of.

A terrific post over at Peg Brantley's blog in which Lee Lofland (author of Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide for Writers), offers an incredibly poignant post about writers writing about cops.

The article begins thus:

"How important is it for writers to be accurate about the cops in their stories? The answer to that question is simple. Be accurate, but don’t go overboard trying to feed unnecessary facts to your readers. They’re not buying your book as a study guide for the police academy."

Read the full deal here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Jan Stob (Advice for Novelists, Part 25)

Today we hear a response from Jan Stob. She answers the question:

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

I would tell aspiring authors to read.

Read the classics. Read books on writing. Read books in your genre. I can't tell you how often I meet prospective authors who are writing fiction yet state that they don't like to read fiction. This is a huge red flag for me. I want to know that the reader has read their competition and has a grasp on the market. I want them to be reading classics and comparing different writing styles. Reading will not alter your ability to have a unique voice. It will enhance your unique voice and help you find ways to make it stronger.

--Jan Stob, Senior Acquisitions Editor, Tyndale House Publishers.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Amanda Bostic (Advice for Novelists, Part 24)

And here's another entry in our "Advice for Novelists" series. Lend your ear to Amanda Bostic...

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

There’s so much good advice already posted here, but the one thing I would add is to make sure you know what your hook is. If you can’t distill your story into one or two sentences that immediately pique someone’s curiosity, the idea probably needs to stew in your creative juices for awhile longer. What makes your story stand out from everything else that is coming across an editor’s desk? And from all the other books on the shelves? Keep finessing and dreaming until you hit on that element that makes your novel fresh, unique, and so compelling that it can’t be passed by.

--Amanda Bostic, Associate Acquisitions Editor, Fiction, Thomas Nelson.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Andy Meisenheimer (Advice for Novelists, Part 23)

Today we hear Zondervan editor Andy Meisenheimer's response to the question I've posted to 20+ editors, agents, authors and publicists (so far!).

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

Take it away, Andy!

It's tough to come up with one thing without cheating. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Steve Laube and Andy McGuire.) And tough to come up with something that hasn't already been said.

But I do have one thing that I think is very important when it comes to the lifestyle of being an aspiring novelist. Communication is cheap, and as a result, there's plenty of recycled wisdom and free praise to be had, especially online. Disconnect from the web and spend your time at your local library. Read and savor the brilliant writers of the past fifty years. Study classic writing instruction from authors who are experienced and knowledgeable (my standbys are Orson Scott Card on characters and viewpoint and Obstfeld's book on crafting scenes). Watch great TV and film. Writing (and storytelling) is an art form, like painting, dancing, playing the piano. Before a pianist makes a public performance, there's usually a decade or so of private lessons and intense personal study of history, heroes, technique. Very few are brilliant enough to sit down one day and play Rachmaninoff, or in our case, write well.

My mom would call this "always having your nose stuck in a book". And that's my advice.

--Andy Meisenheimer, Acquisitions Editor, Zondervan. Visit Andy online at his blog here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Colleen Coble (Advice for Novelists, Part 22)

Today novelist Colleen Coble stops by and gives her response to the question:

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

If I had only one thing to say to aspiring writers, I'd tell them not to make my mistake of writing one book then sending it out for YEARS before starting another. Finish a book, edit it to the best of your ability, send it out, then MOVE TO A NEW STORY. If I'd done that, it wouldn't have taken me seven years to be published. I had all my eggs in that one basket and was desperate to have that particular book published. When the rejections came back, I'd rework it and send it out again. And again. And again. You get the picture. LOL

You learn more about writing by writing. Reading books and attending conferences (while all good and necessary to my mind) aren't substitutes for actually DOING it.

--Colleen Coble, author of Anathema, Abomination, The Rock Harbor series, and more. Visit her online at her website here and the Girls Write Out Blog.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Help for Writers

I've been a member of The Writer's View Yahoo group for quite some time. It's an invaluable group (thanks Barb Huff!), and I've learned so much. Why not take a moment today and see if the group is right for you? There are two of them, one for more advanced writers, the other for those just getting started. Here's a little more info:

If you're an aspiring writer and want to get a writers conference in your inbox, consider joining The Writer View. It's free. It's amazing. And, seriously, you'll learn everything you'd learn at a writer's conference (sans meeting cool people face to face), only you don't have to pay airfare.

How they work: Each Monday and Thursday a panelist poses a question about the publishing industry, the craft of writing, or anything related to the writing journey. These panelists are agents, editors, writers who are well known in the Christian writing industry. Then, panelists and members write posts about the question raised. I still learn new things every week. It's a moderated loop, so there's no blatant self promotion. Word counts are limited to 250 per post.

For beginning to intermediate writers, the group to join is TWV 2. Click here.

For advanced, published writers, join The Writers View. Click here.

You will be asked to fill out an application that you then send to the group's leadership. You'll receive an email letting you know whether you've been accepted.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Restorer's Journey by Sharon Hinck (FIRST)

This month's FIRST blog tour is featuring The Restorer's Journey by Sharon Hinck. This is Book #3 in the Sword of Lyric series, and let me tell you ... I'm looking forward to reading the full story!

I've followed Sharon's characters through Book #1, The Restorer; and Book #2, The Restorer's Son. Both were incredible novels blending the contemporary/fantasy genres beautifully.

The first chapter begins thus:

Chapter One - JAKE

My mom was freaking out.

She stared out the dining room window as if major-league monsters were hiding in the darkness beyond the glass. Give me a break. Our neighborhood was as boring as they came. Ridgeview Drive’s square lawns and generic houses held nothing more menacing than basketball hoops and tire swings. Still, Mom’s back was tight, and in the shadowed reflection on the pane, I could see her biting her lip. I didn’t know what to say to make her feel better.

I ducked back into the kitchen and used a wet rag to wipe off the counters. Clumps of flour turned to paste and smeared in gunky white arcs across the surface. I shook the rag over the garbage can, the mess raining down on the other debris we’d swept up. Broken jars of pasta and rice filled the bag. I stomped it down, twist-tied the bag and jogged it out to the trashcan by the garage. Usually, I hated the chore of taking out the trash. Not tonight. Maybe if I erased the signs of our intruders, Mom would relax a little.

So Cameron and Medea dropped a few things when they were looking for supplies. No biggie. Why did my folks have such a problem with those two anyway? They’d been great to me. I trudged back into the house, rubbing my forehead. Wait. That wasn’t right. A shiver snaked through my spine. Never mind. They were probably long gone by now.

Read the rest of the chapter here.
Read a great review of Book #1, The Restorer here.