Thursday, December 5, 2013
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?
Posted by Debora M. Coty at 6:27 AM
Saturday, October 19, 2013
|Our view while driving on Italy's beautiful Amalfi Coast|
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
Posted by Debora M. Coty at 5:00 AM
Friday, October 11, 2013
|Fla Inspirational Writers Retreat|
"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
Posted by Debora M. Coty at 5:00 AM
Monday, September 30, 2013
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?
Posted by Debora M. Coty at 12:58 PM
Friday, August 9, 2013
|Deb in Speaker mode|
|The kind of audience every speaker loves|
I believe my response to this well meaning gal is pertinent to many beginning authors:
Yes, I'd say pretty much ALL faith-based author/speakers that I've ever met have that same goal - to draw the secular to Christ through their books or presentations. The problem is that agents and publishers will scoff if you answer that question in that way, because to them, books are only sold to book buyers (bookstores, etc) by being one or the other, not straddling the line.
The hard truth is that non-Christians rarely pick up Christian books (intentionally), and sometimes get extremely angry if the book mentions even one scripture if it was marketed to them as secular. I just read a blog post about a very ugly incident to that effect that was written by a Christian agent about someone who bought her client's book that wasn't advertised as Christian, but contained a subtle Christian message. The buyer was highly offended, considered it false advertising, demanded a refund, and groused about it all over the internet.
Apparently this happens all the time. And vice versa, of course. Perhaps it's not fair, but it's the way it is. You pretty much have to have the overall label Christian, Inspirational, or NOT to make any headway with first agents, then publishers. They operate by labels and if you can't, they won't waste their time on you.
The "great author/speakers" you mentioned are all labeled Christian by the industry and have been able to carry over to a general audience (not secular, but general) because of their enormous platforms they've built through years of promoting their work as pertinent to both worlds. It's unlikely that you or I will achieve that in our lifetimes, unless we manage to land a national television audience or internet show that draws millions.
Oh, no one says you can't start out billing yourself a crossover author, but it will just make the path bumpier for you. Once you're established in one side or the other and have obtained a loyal readership, then you have a better chance of successfully crossing over.
One solution is to do what I did and pitch your book as "written from a Christian perspective, but seeker-friendly." That way pubs know you're in the Christian camp, but your manuscript has gift book potential or would be unoffensive for those not particularly looking for a "Christian book." I get letters all the time from readers who have bought my books for their non-believing friends because they were, "just the non-intimidating, gentle faith-sharing message I've been looking for."
You know, it's like the advice given to newbie writers who try to write by their own rules instead of adhering to the established rules of the trade: Sure, you can write like ee cummings or Hemingway if you want. But you're NOT ee cummings or Hemingway and you'll very likely still be trying to get published ten years from now because you haven't paid your dues to become ee cummings or Hemingway as they did.
Wait until you've proven you know how to follow the rules before you break them.
How about you, friend? What has been your experience in crossing over?
Posted by Debora M. Coty at 7:10 AM
Friday, July 19, 2013
|With a good one-pager, you've got it made in the shade|
A one-pager basically contains the same information a query letter would include, and should answer the following questions:
1. What qualifies you to write this book? (Your platform; keep your bio BRIEF - they can and will look up your website if they're interested so no need to list it all here.)
2. What is the book about? (Short synopsis: make it interesting and craft a killer hook first sentence.)
3. What's the basic pub info? (Word count, page count - approximate if book isn't completed, genre, bookstore category, completion status - how much longer will it take?, format, endorsements.)
4. Who is your audience? (Age, gender, special interests - do your homework and be specific!)
5. Why will this book be marketable? (What makes it stand above the rest of the pack?)
6. How will you assist in marketing? (Outline your marketing plan, and it should include numbers - your current social media followers and how you intend to market to them.)
Obviously, since all of this is to be included on ONE page, each question should be answered in one paragraph if possible, two at the most. Write tight and keep the emphasis on the book, not on you.
One-pagers are valuable PR ammo and should be created with extreme care. They often open doors to book contracts. Make no mistake: This is your audition with this agent or publisher and your first impression COUNTS. If it doesn't pique their interest, it will be the only sample of your writing they will ever see.
You have one shot ... make it count!
Posted by Debora M. Coty at 9:01 AM
Friday, July 5, 2013
|If someone could build Stonehenge, you can build a one-pager|
I've heard all of these terms used to describe the same thing: THE most important item you'll carry to your next writer's conference. Your one-pager.
A one-pager is a single-spaced sheet of paper you'll hand out to editors and/or agents as a convenient (much easier for them to carry than a dozen bulky proposals pushed on them by rabid author wannabes) follow-up to your verbal book proposal presentation.
Trust me - I've spoken to enough editors to know they'll appreciate you thoughtfulness in considering their overburdened rotator cuffs and this will bode well for you during decision time.
A one-pager should include your contact info (write it on your letterhead if you have one), working title and subtitle prominently displayed, your head shot (professional, please, NOT a cell phone snapshot!) and should be written in the tone in which your book is written.
Describe the storyline/synopsis in third person present tense (using "is" instead of "was") and the idea is to make the reader (editor/agent) want to hear more. Writing your bio in third person enables the editor/agent to see how effective (and impressive) it would appear in promotional materials if they offer you a contract.
Your writing should be tight, concise, well crafted, and thoroughly edited. Include any slogans or tag lines that create promotional appeal (like a movie teaser: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in to the water.")
I don't know any experienced writers with a manuscript at the proposal stage who don't approach writer's conferences without their one-pagers. If the editor/agent to whom you've pitched your book idea is interested in following up, they'll have everything they need to convince their publishing house team that your project has promise, and to get in touch with you to request a partial or full proposal. After that ... Lord willing and the creek don't rise ... the next request will be for your manuscript.
There are certain points about your book that must be included for your one-pager to be effective. Stay tuned to my next post for the clincher!
Posted by Debora M. Coty at 8:16 AM