Thursday, March 20, 2014

Behind the Scenes of Book Publication

Our view of Italy's beautiful coast
First of all, let me say that this dreamy photo has nothing whatsoever to do with this post, but it brings back a happy memory from our European anniversary trip last year and I love it. So there it is. Hope you enjoy it too.

Okay, now on to business.

I'm nearing the March 31 deadline for completion of my new book, Too Loved to be Lost, so I thought I'd share what goes on behind the scenes at this stage of the publication game.

A few weeks ago, I started seeking endorsements (known as blurbs in the biz) from high profile people for the "Praise" page and/or back cover of my book. I'm fortunate to be acquainted with several wonderful authors who graciously read my chapter sampler and provided me with a lovely blurb I can either use as is in its longer form, or edit for a brief one or two-liner (which is what is often done for promo purposes).

I also asked my publishing house editor and my agent to give some thought to coming up with a few potential endorsers within their various circles of influence. Hopefully that will glean some nice results. 

For the last two weeks, I've been busily self-editing, which consists of grinding through the manuscript repeatedly, spot-treating (locating and making content problem areas better) and correcting errors. 

Spot-treating got easier for me with this book (as compared to the previous four) thanks to the wise advice of Dr. Angela Hunt. I attended a posh luncheon in Angie's benefit a month or so back and she suggested her booklet, Track Down the Weasel Words to help me with the tedious chore of self-editing before submission.

True to its cover promise, Angie's book supplied "strategies to revise and improve your manuscript," which happily augmented my tried-and-true system I'd long ago derived and revised from Browne and King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. 

I suppose that resource sounds peculiar for a nonfiction writer, but I cut my teeth on fiction and have found the precepts go hand-in-hand with creative nonfiction storytelling, which pretty much describes my current writing style.

Angie's suggestion to compile a list of your "weasel words" and plug them into the search and replace feature on your computer system was a terrific time saver for me and I'd like to pass it on to you.

The list of commonly overused wimpy words/phrases (which Angie recommended) I entered into "search" (typed in space-word-space) and then replaced with the very same word in all caps, again with a single space before and after the word, were:
it                    that                        just
was                there was               of the
were               there were             started to

The purpose of capitalizing these problem children is to make them jump out at you during your next pass through the manuscript, giving you the opportunity to see how overused they are (or hopefully not) and substitute a better word or phrase to tighten up loose writing.

For example, I was shocked to find that "it" appeared over 300 times in my book. Yikes! Some I decided to leave (can't do much with "Take it to the bank"), but others were quite expendable, making my writing all the better for the deduction.

"He tried the doorknob. Surprisingly, it turned." became "Surprisingly, the doorknob turned."
"As clearly as if he had spoken it aloud" became "as clearly as if he had spoken aloud." Simple, right? Yet so much more streamlined and professional (especially from an editor's viewpoint for those of you preparing to submit to an agent or publishing house for the first time).

Searching "of the" turned up dozens of sloppy overuses such as: " minutes of the meeting ..." which became "the meeting's final minutes."

Rooting out "there was" found many sentences like: "I knew there was nothing I could do." which became "I knew I could do nothing on my own."

I also noticed a few overly-repeated weaselly stylistic devices that are my own personal nemeses: em-dashes and italics. I was able to replace many of the em-dashes with semi-colons but there was still a hefty flock of pigeons left. I was flabbergasted at how many I use without knowing until a clever little tool like this digs them up. I tried to limit italics to no more than three per page (which was a struggle for me - hey, I talk in italics!) because I recognize that I'm actually removing the oomph by trying to emphasize too often.

So what are your personal weasel words or stylistic devices and how do you deal with them?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How Do You Say Papa God in Spanish?

I just received my first reader letter regarding the Spanish version of my book, Too Blessed to be Stressed, which was released last month and is being distributed by Wal-Mart, Choice, CBD, LifeWay, and a host of national and international distributors under the Casa Promesa imprint of Barbour Books.

That in itself is a huge blessing - Barbour, who published my last six books, has marvelous and widespread distribution, but never before has one of my books received this much attention.

 Wow! Wal-Mart! For a writer, that's the big time! It's like a new actress being invited to appear on Good Morning America - woohoo!

But even more of a blessing is to hear from a reader that Papa God has used you as His instrument to touch a heart. That's why I do this. For me, that's what it's all about.

So this lovely gal, Dary, wrote a note to me in Spanish (to be expected, I suppose, from the reader of a Spanish book.) The run in my hose is that my Spanish vocabulary wouldn't fill a teacup. (Barbour hired a professional translator to format the book.)

Thankfully, I have a wonderful Hispanic friend who graciously translated Dary's letter for me. Dary wrote that Too Blessed to be Stressed has transformed her life. It has been a great blessing to her and has made her laugh a whole lot. She asked if I would "pretty please" have my other books translated into Spanish for the benefit of women like herself who are not fluent enough to read them in English.

Dary closed by thanking me for allowing myself to be "used by the Lord to help, uplift, and restore women."

Wow! If that doesn't light a fire in your writer's heart, the wood's wet!

Next up, the Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition will be releasing in April. It's chock full of scripture related to all kinds of topics women deal with daily, including worry, simplifying, coping with loss, setting priorities, faith, worship, trust, and many more that were included in Too Blessed to be Stressed. It includes excerpts from my original book, but actually goes above and beyond what I had space to do, listing many, many additional Bible verses to help women stay afloat in the stress-pool of life by being encircled with the life preserver of Papa God's Truth.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth

Deb in Barcelona
I was in my readers zone, oblivious to the rest of the world rotating around me, reading contentedly away, when I came across a quote. Not just any quote. A quote from my very mouth. Or at least my very keyboard. 

Only it didn't include my name. If I hadn't written it myself, I would have never known it was me who'd uttered it.

"Someone once said ..."
"I read that ..."
"Once upon a time there was a crazy lady writer who said ..."

Have you ever run head on into your own anonymous self in print? If you haven't yet, dear writer buddy, you will one day. It's a very strange sensation, indeed, to recognize your own words but realize no one else will.

Writers don't give quote credit where credit is due for many reasons. Sometimes they don't know who said it and are just too lazy to plug it in a search engine. Other times they mean no harm - they're just repeating something they heard and liked and want to share.

But sometimes they want the reader to connect the words they've "borrowed" with themselves; they're not blatant enough to outright plagiarize, but on the other hand, they're not upright enough to cite their references. And they think if they sort of schmooze the clever quote in among their words, their writing will magically be better by literary osmosis.

I once recognized a funny story lifted right out of one of my books ( not attributed to me, of course) that made the viral rounds. I was at first honored in a smug sort of way to realize gazillions of people were reading my story that was being forwarded to the vast corners of the earth.

But it didn't take long to realize that unless they knew who wrote those words, it was no honor at all. It then became to feel more like an insult and I became enraged at the audacity of whomever felt they had the right to steal the product I work so hard to produce. That's right. Stories are the products of authors, just like TV's are the products of Sony technicians.

I'll bet if I heisted a big screen TV on my back in the electronic showroom and tried to walk out with it, there might be a bit of a kerfuffle. Yet no one bats an eyelash when a writer's products are heisted.

So please, dear writer buddy, take the high road. Cite your references. And refuse to forward anything, no matter how rib-tickling or tear-jerking it is, unless it includes the writer's byline.  

Somebody wrote it. And one day, that somebody might be you.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lay A Big One On Me

I saw this image and immediately fell in love.

If you're a rabid reader like me, how can you NOT feel the embrace depicted here? The love affair with the written word and all the deep emotions, exciting adventures and undiscovered worlds it has the potential to deliver?

It's a strong writer who recognizes that potential and vows to do whatever it takes to open up that vast world of promise to the reader. 

As primarily a nonfiction writer, I bristle when someone implies that creativity and imagination apply only to fiction. Bah! That's like saying you can't put sugar on your vegetables, and we all know green beans have never tasted better than with a sweet sprinkle. (Spouse discovered this decades ago and we've had very few leftover beans since.)

Creative nonfiction is an art and must be nurtured and developed like any other art form. Presenting what could be wearisome, boring  facts in a fetching and interesting way is a challenge that many don't appreciate until they try to do it.

The series I'm currently writing, Barbour's Take On Life series, deals a lot with scripture, which some people find tedious and dry, but I never have. The challenge is to transfer the light and life and inspiration I derive from Papa God's Word onto the written page so that the reader is drawn into the excitement.

So that her heart is engaged.

So that the words of LIFE pop off the page and embrace her with its hope and love, much like the picture above.

So as a writer, how do you bring words to life? As a reader, what do you look for in a book that makes it breathe, have a pulse and scratch it's nose?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

Our view while driving on Italy's beautiful Amalfi Coast
I was recently reading a blog post at the WordServe Water Cooler, by author Patty Kirk, about Bible passages that are excellent how-to examples for us writers. Many point out basic principles that would enhance the writing of any aspiring author.

I decided to expand upon Patty's examples and create a list of my own:

Luke 1:3-4: Before tackling the actual manuscript, careful investigation and some form of organization in compiling research data is a must. Outlines are also a good way of sticking to your point and writing orderly. The apostle Luke said it well: "It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account."
  • 2 Corin. 1:13: Cut the fluff. Edit out anything that doesn't move the story forward ... and it must he readable. Avoid excessive verbiage that floats in the atmosphere above the average head. Aim instead for the heart. Here's the apostle Paul's take: "For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you wil understand, even to the end." 

  • Song of Solomon 7:3-4: Poetic prose is lovely and flows across the mind as well as the tongue. Stylistic devices such as metaphors, similies, exclamations and hyperbole can be quite effective. Take a look at how Solomon (attributed as the wisest man who ever lived) uses these devices in this make-you-blush passage to his bride: " How fair and how pleasant you are, O love, with your delights! This stature of yours is like a palm tree, and your breasts like its clusters. I said, 'I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of its branches.' Let now your breasts be like clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and the roof of your mouth like the best wine." (Somewhat kinder than the beginning of chapter 7 when he compares her waist to a heap of wheat and her nose to the tower of Lebanon.)

  •  Jeremiah 10:13: A wonderful example of sensory writing (using the senses of touch, taste, vision, hearing, and smell) to engage the reader in the scene: "When He utters his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens; 'And He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain. He brings the wind out of His treasuries.'"
  • Jeremiah 13:1-10: Use personal stories and anecdotes to make a point.  Jeremiah makes his point very well here with this personal account: "Thus the Lord said to me: 'Go and get yourself a linen sash, and put it around your waist, but do not put it n water.' So I got a sash according to the word of the Lord and put it around my waist. And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, 'Take the sash that you acquired, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a hole in the rock.' So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. Now it came to pass, after many days that the Lord said to me, 'Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the sash which I commanded you to hide there.' Then I went to the Euphrates and dug, and I took the sash from the place where I had hidden it' and there was the sash, ruined. It was profitable for nothing. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying ... 'This evil people , who refuse to hear My words, who follow the dictates of their hearts, and walk after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be just like this sash which is profitable for nothing.'"
  • Matthew 19:23-26: The Bible is full of parables and word pictures using commonly known, everyday objects to illustrate a higher point, many from Jesus himself, such as this memorable one: "And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Of course if you're an avid Bible reader (and I know you are), you'll find many, many more examples of the very things we're taught in writing workshops and conferences.

Not surprising, is it? That we get more than just life lessons from the Bible. The Book of all books. Like wise old Solomon said in the book of Proverbs, "There's nothing new under the sun."

*All scripture from NKJV translation

Friday, October 11, 2013

Whistle While You Work

Fla Inspirational Writers Retreat
Not long ago, during my workshop on creating book proposals at the 2013 Florida Inspirational Writers Retreat, one of the attendees posed an important question.

"When do you quit your day job?" she asked, a glimmer of self-employment hope in her eye. "I'm finished with my book now and ready to submit it to a publisher. When can I make writing my only profession?"

I took a deep breath.

"Well, um ... never." I replied with an apologetic little grimace, knowing my answer would disappoint her and the other wannabe full time authors in the room.

Fifty years ago, it might have been a realistic goal: writing a blockbuster book with the intention of becoming a full-time author. Making enough income from royalties and advances to have no other obligation except to spend your days tapping away at the keyboard. Even twenty years ago it was not unheard of. J.K. Rowling did it. Jerry Jenkins too. And a number of lesser known authors whose works lept from the starting gate and continue to sell well today.

And let's not forget the cyber-author phenoms who have sold e-books in the millions.

But for the average writer, it's probably not realistic to think you'll be able to quit your day job and live off your literary income within the next, say, ten years. Possibly twenty.

Why? One huge reason is that writing income is cumulative. The more books you sell, the more money you make. The more titles you have, the more books you sell. And the more years you've been churning out those best-selling books, the more titles you'll have.

The rub is that the books must sell well to produce significant income. Consider how many books you must sell to pay this month's grocery bill if you get 10% royalty on a $10 book. You'd have to sell nearly 100 just to pay for a week's gasoline. That's more copies than the average self-published book sells in its lifetime. And these days, traditionally published books average 3,000 total sales.

But don't fret. It's not such a bad thing to keep your day job. You'll be in good company. I still have mine (part-time occupational therapist for 33 years and counting), after 10 years, over 130 articles and 12 published books. I tell my writing workshop students that I need to work to support my habit. My writing habit.

 And here are a few other notable authors who wrote after work:

  • John Steinbeck ran a fish hatchery.
  • Harper Lee was a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines.
  • Stephen King was a janitor, school teacher, and washed hospital and restaurant linens. 
  • J. D. Salinger was the entertainment director on a Swedish luxury liner. 
  • Jack London stole oysters and then resold them. 

Ha! That last one cracks me up. Plus it helps introduce major reason number two: writing income is not terribly consistent. Some months are plump, some are lean. And those are inevitably when the A/C goes out. If you haven't any other income source to fall back on, desperation may lead you to the oyster beds.

Royalties generally only come in two or three times yearly, and you don't make ANY money in royalties until your advance is earned out. So if you received a $5k advance and your book only sells 3k copies, you'll never receive another nickel. Rule of thumb is that it takes around $10k copies sold to earn out an average advance, and after that you'll start making a modest income, which will gradually increase with the number of books you have out there still selling.

So chase your writerly dreams, dear friend, but do the math. And invest in some oyster buckets.  

*Special thanks for Kimberly Vargas for the list of author jobs in her 9/27/13 WordServe Water Cooler blog post

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mindless Munching

Oh, man. I just did it again. Without so much as a single conscious thought, my hand crept into my second desk drawer on the right and came out with a hunk of chocolate, which proceeded directly to my lips.

And now here I am, chewing away, like a cow with her cud, before I even realize that I'm mindlessly munching. Again.

It doesn't matter that this particular blob is not merely my regular chocolaty fare from my not-so-hidden stash - Snickers or Cadbury or Dove or on a really good day, Godiva. Nope. This particular chunk is from the seductive bar of expensive Swiss chocolate I brought back from my recent European vacation.

All the more reason I ought to be cognizant of every minuscule morsel I consume, right? I should savor every smooth, delicate molecule. Not just scarf it down while my attention is on my computer screen. Right?


So why am I now reaching for another pawful?

ARGGH! Here comes that familiar self-incriminating Saint Paul thing whomping on my psyche:

"I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it ... I know perfectly well what I'm doing is wrong ... but I can't help myself" (Romans 7: 15 -17, NLT).

 Paul must have been a choco-athlete like me. I just know it. He didn't want to admit it because it was probably a big no-no to scarf cocoa in ancient Jewish culture. He understands me far too well not to be. And you, too, writer buddy! It may not always be chocolate, but mindless munching seems to be a universal problem with writers - I hear them grumbling about it to each other all the time at writing conferences.

If you've written for more than a week, you know the system. Write a sentence. Chew while you think about the next sentence. Mastication spurs imagination. Write another sentence. Chew some more. Go back and rewrite the first sentence. Ah, you know this one's a winner. Chew madly in celebration as you type. Repeat process. Finish the page and finally notice the empty Frito bag in your lap. Upturn the bag of crumbs into your mouth to get one good final chew so you can start the next chapter and fetch another bag.

Someone else who understands me is humorist/author Karen Scalf Linamen. I remember reading in one of her books (can't recall if it was Hand Over the Chocolate and No One Will Get Hurt or Chocolatherapy) about the time she decided to train herself to stop mindlessly munching while writing. So she filled her usual go-to candy dish with doggie treats and placed it high above her computer desk so that she would have to stand to reach it.

She soon became engrossed in fabricating her new chapter. The first time she came to, she was holding a doggie treat to her lips and opening her mouth. Ack! She threw it on the ground with a little scream. The little brown bone must have fallen out of the bowl because she had no memory of standing to retrieve it. Yucko. She would have to be more aware of earthquakes and wind gusts in her writing studio.

The next time her consciousness emerged, her hand was reaching into an empty candy dish as she stood chewing something extremely crunchy. It tasted faintly of chicken. And to add to her horror, the piece on the floor was missing. But her little dog had been outside all day. 

So tell me writerly friends, do you, too, struggle with mindless munching ... the chocholaty variety, Purina, or otherwise?