Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dazzling Queries

Last week we talked about attracting the attention of a publisher or agent with a query letter. I am asked all the time what to even include in a query. It is very difficult to look objectively at your proposal. But this is exactly what you must do. You have about two seconds to attract the attention of your writer enough to make them keep reading.

No one else is in love with your book idea yet. They don’t know how talented you are, and telling them so won’t cut it. You’ve got to show them, and fast.

As I said before, all agents and publishing houses have different submission guidelines. Read those guidelines and follow them to the letter. If one house wants your synopsis first and another wants you bio before anything else, give them exactly what they asked for. Just like the Bible asks that which of you parents would give your child an egg when he asks for a fish, don’t give your agent an egg if she asks for a piece of bread.

Sadly when most of us first begin pursuing publication or representation, we don’t have many publishing credits to showcase. You can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without having been published. Ugh! What’s a writer to do? Instead of elaborating your resume to impress, dazzle them with your ability to put forth information and ideas.

Don’t fake it. Don’t apologize. Be yourself. Don’t tell them how much your family and friends love your writing. Supply the information requested and get out of there. You have one page to dazzle. One chance. Best wishes on your great success.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I reached a goal!

This is totally unrelated to writing, but I was too excited not to post here. I’m doing the happy dance all over my house. I REACHED MY GOAL WEIGHT. WooHoo! I’ve mentioned it here before, but it bears repeating. At the first of ’08 I joined an online group called SparkPeople for folks who want to lose weight or just adopt a healthier lifestyle.

I guess this is writing related because sitting behind a desk every day pursuing this writing career helped lead to a weight gain that had me outgrowing everything in my closet. My wakeup call came when I busted out my pantyhose two Sundays in a row at church. Like the Hoover Dam, those things are only designed to withstand so much pressure.

I had to do something about my weight or resign myself to buying a whole new wardrobe, including pantyhose. I wasn’t willing to do that.

So even if you don’t need to shed any weight, but you are interested in maintaining your current weight or you just want to surround yourself with like-minded people who also are striving to live healthier, check out SparkPeople.

I’m glad I did. And I’m so glad I reached my goal weight.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The dreaded query letter

I spend a lot of time here at Joy in the Journey on discipline in writing, finding the time to write, polishing your manuscript and marketing your writing. What about those writers who have a finished manuscript, have polished it until it shines, and now want to know what to do with it?

Writing is hard work. We have already established that. But getting the attention of a publisher or agent makes writing a book look like a walk in the park.

Just like with the opening hook of your book, you must grab your prospective agent’s or publisher’s attention with a query letter. Most query letters should be less than one page long. These people are busy and only have so much time to wade through your set up. Go to the submissions page of the person you are seeking to represent you and read their guidelines. They are all different. I read four submission pages of some of the top agents in the Christian market and they all want something different.

It’s impossible to write a form letter and expect it to please these people. They will only be annoyed when they realize what you’ve done. So write a great, attention grabbing letter.

How do you do that?

Most everyone will want a simple paragraph describing your proposal or book. Even if you aren’t looking for an agent or publisher, you will need this paragraph. Everywhere you go people will ask what your book is about. It’s much easier to have a pitch sentence to spout off instead of beginning with; “Well, see, it all starts with a young woman who can’t get a job. She’s been drifting for the last few years of her life. None of her relationships work out. She can’t understand why nothing in her life is going right. So, what she needs to do is…”

Your audience’s eyes will glaze over and they’ll probably walk away. I would if I wasn’t such a polite person.

It’s very difficult to condense a full length novel into a pitch sentence and one paragraph. But it must be done. This will save you loads of headaches when you are at a conference and you get an opportunity to speak briefly with an agent over the dinner table or in line for the restroom.

You will never attract anyone with your fantastic book idea without one. And what good is that brilliant book in your hard drive or under your bed if no one ever gets a chance to read it?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Love Begins with Elle

I am thrilled to be part of Rachel Hauck's blog tour and let you know about her latest release, Love Starts With Elle. Leave a comment on the blog tour and you'll be entered to win a copy of the book.

About Rachel: Rachel Hauck is the author of ten, going on eleven novels, and has recently become an "acclaimed" author. (Yeah, funny how that happened. Some dude found her lottery stub stuck to the bottom of his shoe and tried to "acclaim" her. But her husband refused to pay out.)

Since then, she's gone on to become a best selling author of Sweet Caroline.

Living in central Florida with her husband of sixteen and a half years, one sweet little dog and one ornery cat, Rachel is a graduate of Ohio State University and a huge Buckeye football fan. One day she hopes to stand on the sidelines next to Coach Tressel as a famed, acclaimed best selling OSU alumni, beloved for her work in literature and letters. (She's written at least a couple hundred letters in her life time.)

Her current release, Love Starts With Elle (July 2008, Thomas Nelson) is set in the South Carolina lowcountry, and earned 4.5 Stars and Top Pick from Romantic Times Book Club.

Look for her next release next spring, The Sweet By and By, the first book in the Born To Fly series with award winning country artist, Sara Evans.

Of the writing journey, Rachel says, "I'm humbled by the amazing things God is doing in my life. I love what I do, and am so privileged to work with Thomas Nelson fiction and am excited to see what God has in store for all of His authors and writers. Just keep praying and writing!"

Visit her blog and website at

About the book:

Elle's living the dream-but is it her dream or his?

Elle loves life in Beaufort, South Carolina-lazy summer days on the sand bar, coastal bonfires, and dinners with friends sharing a lifetime of memories. And she's found her niche as the owner of a successful art gallery too. Life is good.

Then the dynamic pastor of her small town church sweeps her off her feet. She's never known a man like Jeremiah-one who breathes in confidence and exhales all doubt. When he proposes in the setting sunlight, Elle hands him her heart on a silver platter.

But Jeremiah's just accepted a large pastorate in a different state. If she's serious about their relationship, Elle will take "the call," too, leaving behind the people and place she loves so dearly. Elle's friendship with her new tenant, widower Heath McCord, and his young daughter make things even more complicated.

Is love transferrable across the miles? And can you take it with you when you go?

Buy the book Link:

Post a comment anywhere along the way on Rachel's Blog tour and be entered to win a copy of Love Starts With Elle.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sometimes Little People know the Most

If you think much long about hard it is to get published you won’t make the first keystroke on your computer. After you’re published things get even harder. The economy has tanked. Christmas is coming and people are already strapped for extra money they might have used to buy your book. Book tours and signings seldom work up enough interest to be worth your time.

So what’s a writer to do when agents, economists, and well-meaning friends are telling us now is not the time to build a new career. Not the time for risk taking and stepping out into the great unknown.

The only thing we know for sure is that God is in control. We can’t see the future, but we can have fun in the journey. Forget everything you know about the economy and the election and the naysayers and take a look at some of the children in your life.

Everything you need to know about living a fulfilled life you can learn from children. They have in down pat.

1. Everything can be a game. Add a little fun to your writing. Make up your own rules, shoot for personal records. You might find something that works no one else has ever thought of.

2. Don't walk when you can run. Every day is full of opportunities to increase your productivity. This rule is closely related to "don't drive when you can walk."

3. If you don't like it, don't write it. Don’t write what you think the market is looking for. By the time your book is written, tastes and trends would’ve changed anyway. Write a book you would want to read.

4. Laughter feels good. Kids seem to inherently know that laughter can ease blood pressure, help your brain function, give you energy, and help you reach your goals.

5. Playtime is important. We get so caught up in work, and "have-to's" that we forget to take time for ourselves. Not only does relaxing make life worthwhile, it has real health benefits.

6. The world should be full of color—Splash your life and experiences with as many colors as possible. Try new things. It will benefit everything you put your hand to.

7. It's always more fun with friends around. Children tend to gravitate toward other children. It gives them spirit and makes them want to play all day. Whatever you’re striving for, find a group that understands what you’re shooting for and will support you in it.

8. Adventures are found outside, not inside. Every kid knows that the good stuff is in the great outdoors--fresh air, wide open spaces, limitless possibilities. You can't find those things cooped up in your tiny, stale office. Open the door and start a new adventure every day.

9. It's important to use your imagination. You can be Major Fantasia or Stupendous Woman any time you want. Give yourself permission to believe in your own super powers and let your mind take you wherever it wants to go.

10. Anything is possible. No fear, no self-doubts, no negative self talk, no self-criticism, no worries, no destructive anxieties or thoughts of failure. To a child, he/she can do anything. And do you know what? They're right.

11. You have your whole life ahead of you. Here's your chance to do it right.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What I learned from watching TV

I’ve been writing for a long time now so I am always watching for techniques and tricks that work in writing. TV can be very predictable and boring and give a writer more than enough examples of what doesn’t work. But occasionally if you’re patient and watch closely enough, you’ll notice a few things that do work, even when they are done badly.

Turn on your television and you’ll find little else than suspense and cop dramas in which the bad guy is discovered because he coughed while driving to the victim’s house. Or the dog spit up on the carpet in 1998 after licking the wound of a victim and the DNA is still on the floor even though the carpet was used to wrap the body and burned in another state.

Nothing gets by these super-detectives and investigators. I’ve been told by those in the know not to use primetime TV as research. Real life doesn’t happen that easily. DNA results takes months and local authorities seldom follow Fido around to see if he’s carrying a victim’s DNA in his digestive tract.

But you can pick up a few tidbits.

Successful TV dramas these days are high wire tension. But they don’t maintain the nail biting tension for an extended length of time. You must give the viewer—or in our case the reader—a chance to breath.

The next time you are watching your favorite nighttime drama be mindful of how they cut from scene to scene. Just as the high tension scenes aren’t long, neither are the ones that slow down the action and get into the personal lives of the participants.

It’s all about balance. Create a high tension, edge of your seat scene and end on a cliffhanger. Then just like they do on TV, switch to a scene where the hero must visit him parents. His mother makes a stunning announcement. End your scene before he even has a chance to react and cut back to high tension.

Play around with these techniques and see what works for you and your book. Keep the story moving. You want to jump back and forth, but not so much you lose the reader. These techniques are carefully honed skills but you can learn them. Pay attention to how those making the big bucks do it. Your writing will get better and more appealing to the elusive agent and publisher.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Why didn't I think of that?

The other day a woman from Middletown, Ohio dressed in a cow costume got drunk, chased some children, screamed at some people, and urinated on her neighbor’s front porch. She even showed up in court the next day still wearing the cow costume and asked people to squeeze her udders.

I don’t know if you missed it, but her little drunken escapade earned her two full days of national news coverage. After seeing her story on the local news, I saw it everywhere from CNN to FOX.

What a brilliant marketing ploy!

Every time I saw her picture, most becoming I might add, in her cow costume I wondered what it would’ve done for book sales if I could’ve talked her into holding up a poster for my latest book every time the cameras started rolling. You can’t buy that kind of coverage, folks. Two full days of being plastered across every major news venue! Wow. I might’ve even broken the elusive 1000 mark on Amazon.

That got me thinking about what kind of escapade I could come up with to earn me two full days of national media coverage. I don’t drink, I like my neighbors, and I have at least a modicum of self respect so I can't do what she did. I always heard of climbing up the Empire State Building naked to get attention, but I gotta wonder if anyone would even notice.

I’m not really thrilled about the whole getting arrested thing either. My county doesn’t have facilities for female prisoners so who knows where they’d send me. And orange isn’t my color.

I suppose I’ll go back to focusing on writing the best book possible. I’ll update my website this week and book a few more speaking engagements before the end of the year. Other than that, I’m drawing a blank.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

It's never too early to think about Christmas


(Leafwood Publishers, October 2008)

A wonderful new gift book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, is available in October for Christmas giving. Today, I’ve invited the six coauthors to share their unique story of how they came together to publish this exciting book full of stories, recipes, tips for simplifying the holidays and so much more (click on bookcover to see the trailer!).

First, let me introduce Cathy Messecar, Leslie Wilson, Brenda Nixon, Trish Berg, Terra Hangen and Karen Robbins. Thank you for being here today, ladies.

Karen: Thank you for the invitation.

You are from three different areas of the country—Texas, California, and Ohio. How did you all meet?

Terra: We all six joined The Writers View, an online group for professional Christian writers. Trish and Brenda met in person in 2004 for lunch, I understand, and on 9/18/04, after reading a post Brenda sent to TWV, I sent an email to Brenda, asking if she would like to join with me and walk alongside each other, as a Barnabas group. Brenda said yes that same day, and suggested Trish too. Very quickly Cathy, Leslie and Karen joined in and our stalwart band of six was formed. Living in California, I was so happy to find 5 Barnabas writers in other states so we could bring together a wealth of different viewpoints and expertise

Brenda: Actually, We haven’t met. We’re all great colleagues and friends via the internet. Four years ago Terra and I formed a dyad to support each other as Christians who write in the secular markets. Along came Trish, Cathy, Karen, and Leslie (not necessarily in that order) and we formed a close knit bond of support, creative energy, and professional accountability.

Karen: I met Trish through an online forum called The Writers View and she invited me to join the group.

Trish: Although we belong to the same Yahoo writing group, we met one by one online. Eventually, the six of us decided that since we all write as Christians for a secular market through magazine articles and newspaper columns, we could support and encourage one another.

Leslie: Though we met virtually through The Writers View, I have been blessed to give and get hugs from Trish (at a MOPS conference), Cathy (in the area on business) and Karen (in town for a writers' conference). I can’t wait to meet Terra and Brenda face-to-face, though I feel as though I already know them!

How did you come up with the idea to do a book together?

Brenda: The book is Cathy’s brainchild. She mentioned the concept of telling stories of events that happened for the first time at Christmas and sharing holiday historical tidbits and recipes and each said, “If you need any help, let me know.” That offer morphed into each of us equally contributing and co-authoring A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Trish: Yep, Cathy came up with the idea and the title, and asked us if we wanted to join her on this project. Of course, we said Yes!

Terra: Cathy mentioned the idea for a Christmas book to the group, and someone (I think it was Leslie) suggested that maybe our group could all write the book together. Cathy agreed to lead the way on the project. The earliest email I have on this is from 9/7/05, which shows that this has been a three year collaboration from idea to publication.

Karen: (Chuckling) Terra is a librarian and keeps our historical records by saving our e-mails.

Leslie: Actually, Terra, I wrote that comment (in a group e-mail) kind of tongue-in-cheek. Cathy, the ultra-sweet person she is, took my joking at face value and here we are. However, I believe God prompted the passion and ideas we all bring to the project and that He will do mighty things as a result of our collaboration!

Why did you decide on a Christmas theme?

Brenda: It was Cathy’s concept to write a book centering on Christmas.

Cathy: For several years, I’d been thinking about Christmas as a threshold to introduce Jesus to folks who aren’t familiar with him, and I love a simpler Christmas with the emphasis on family, friends and doing for others. I knew of some families who had experienced “firsts” at Christmas—reunions, losses, special surprises—and I wanted to collect those stories.

Terra: Cathy’s idea immediately resonated with me because Christmas books are “a way past watchful dragons,” as C. S. Lewis wrote. Many people won’t buy a book about being a Christian, but will buy a holiday and family fun book, thus the “past watchful dragons.” People who want to grow in their faith, and people who have no faith but celebrate Christmas will buy our book and hopefully be led to put the focus back on Christ for the holiday, and for their lives.

Leslie: Though Cathy birthed the idea, the rest of us quickly hopped on board. Not only is Christmas special to me—especially now that I have a family of my own—but also that particular holiday cries out to be simplified, to return to the meaningful aspects of celebration, and to lose some of the hype and commercialism.

Tell me a little about what is in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts? What is your favorite part?

Cathy: I like that you can read one chapter in about 15 minutes and, with all the different suggestions, it feels like Christmas Eve. Makes you want to set up the nativity! Many of the suggestions for family activities can be adapted for any family get-together.

Karen: There are heartwarming stories about things that happened for the first time at Christmas. For instance, one of my stories is about the first Christmas with our adopted children. And the book is pretty. When I first saw the colorful pages and drawings, I fell in love with the illustrator’s work.

Brenda: I don’t have a favorite part – I love it all!

Terra: I like the way the parts are woven into a seamless whole, like a patchwork quilt, that is stronger and more beautiful than the parts.

Trish: It’s like everything you ever wanted to know about Christmas, all the best tips and recipes, and neat stories all wrapped up in this perfect little package.

Leslie: I love reading the special stories, hints, recipes—whatever—and imagining the precious family time that precipitated each moment. Plus, the book is gorgeous, beautifully printed, truly something to be proud of. And we are.

I’ve heard that the book is really a nice gift book; can you tell me a little about the format?

Cathy: Yes, it’s a hardbound book, full color interior. The layout makes it easy to read. It has a definite scrapbooky look on the interior. Different logos identify sections, such as an oilcloth-look Christmas stocking appears beside the “Stocking Stuffer Tradition” (help for connecting family members), and the “Cookie Canister” recipes are on a recipe card, and the back ground of “A Gift For You” is a gift box with bow. It’s a classy gift that they can be placed on a coffee table or in a guest bedroom during the holiday season.

Brenda: I like to describe it as a Starbuck’s sorta gift book. It’s high quality, crisp, and practical.

With six different personalities and areas of ministry, how did you manage to put this all together and still remain friends?

Karen: We pray a lot for each other and it helps that none of us have an over-inflated ego.

Cathy: There were no squabbles. Surely, we had differing opinions, but we knew that any of us could suggest an idea for this book and that each idea would get fair reviews from others. We actually voted on some aspects—everyone in favor say, “Aye.” If you’ve ever watched women at a Dutch treat luncheon when they divide up a meal ticket, it can be intense as they split the ticket down to the penny. As the project came together, I was in awe of my gracious coauthors, unselfish women who respect each other.
For some decisions, we did a round robin—things like book title and chapter titles and what categories to put into the book. Then, as compiler, I’d send out a list of needs to The Word Quilters, that’s what we call ourselves. For instance in a section we call “Peppermints for Little Ones” (hints for children’s activities), I’d put out a call, and the WQs sent in their hints, and then I put them into appropriate chapters.

Brenda: (Smiling) Are we still friends? Seriously, we each have our own platform, ministry, and family life, and those interests kept this project in perspective – it was important but not the only thing on our plates. No one was so enmeshed in this project that she campaigned for her own way. We never had a bitter disagreement or insistence to be “right.”

Terra: We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.We offer support and ideas for our separate writing projects and for personal prayer requests. I love these ladies, and I have only met one of them in person. So far, Karen is the only one who has met each of us, and one day we hope to meet in person, in a circle of friendship and love.

Trish: I think we are all very flexible and forgiving. We do have a variety of personalities here, but God has worked amazing things through our little group.

Leslie: Though I have seven non-fiction projects in various stages of completion, I could not be more thankful that this is the one to reach publication first. I am truly blessed to have worked with these women, learned from them, watched as they’ve poured heart and soul into crafting a product that will impact lives for the Lord.

Where can my readers get a copy of SOCF?

Cathy: The coauthors will all have a supply, plus our publisher, Leafwood Publishers, will have plenty of copies and discounts for buying five or more. Or they can be ordered at most online stores or by your local bookstore.

Karen: And anyone who leaves a comment here can be entered in a drawing for a free book and a gift basket worth $200! For a list of its contents, check our blog, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. And while you're there, leave another comment and increase your chances of winning!

Tell me more about your blog.

Karen: We started our blog in July and it is accumulating a wealth of information about Christmas. Each of us posts one day a week following the theme for that week. Watch for new recipes, tips, ways to simplify, stories, etc., similar to what is in our book.

Leslie: Ooh, ooh, let me answer this one. I’m probably the newest to blogging among the group, but I LOVE it. I’ve enjoyed posting and receiving comments back from readers. What an amazing adventure having an online voice can be! This blog will focus on a different theme each week—anything from tips to avoid overeating during the holidays to how to give a guest room special touches—and expand on the material in the book. I think readers will get to know the authors’ individual personalities and connect on a more personal level. Plus, they get that many more ideas, information, inspiration (!) at no additional cost.

WQs: As an added bonus for inviting us to your blog, we’d like to pass along this Christmas tidbit to you and your readers:

Enjoy a blessed Christmas this year! And thanks for inviting us to share our book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, with you.