Friday, October 31, 2008

Author of the Week: Sharon Knudson

Sharon Knudson is the author of Starting from Scratch When You're Single Again. You can find Sharon on-line at her website.
Welcome to our blog, Sharon!

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

Back in August, 2000, I resigned from my office job so I could write full time. It took a lot of courage and our income dropped dramatically, but I’ve never looked back. From the start I decided to treat writing like a business rather than just a hobby, and 10 years later, I have 425 published articles, 5 book collaborations, and the new book called Starting from Scratch When You’re Single Again (Strang Communications, September 2008).

What has been the best part about being published?

The best part of being published is the fact that it gives a face to my ministry to people. My co-author and I always say this book is not about us, but the people we’ll be able to help—women who have been widowed or divorced and anyone, male or female, who wants to reach out to them.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your book?

Starting from Scratch When You’re Single Again is made up of 24 interviews from women who lost their spouse and were thrust into a crisis situation. The book not only conveys each woman’s compelling story about what happened, we also asked each person to share some advice and to contribute a “made from scratch” recipe. My desire is that readers will conclude that no matter how horrible their present situation is, if they will cling to God in faith, they’ll find hope for a better future. Not only will they survive, they will thrive!

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

Looking back, I wish I had not been so afraid. I missed several good writing opportunities early on because I was paralyzed with fear and didn’t think I was capable of doing what was proposed. The good news is that little by little my confidence grew, and today I’m not only a prolific author and frequent speaker, but involved in a myriad of activities for book promotion. I’ve learned that just because I dread doing something new because of its high learning curve doesn’t mean I won’t like it and even flourish in it later.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author, or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I’d call my journey steady progress along a hard and bumpy road. It has been difficult at times because I believe in doing “whatever it takes” to accomplish something with excellence. That means having high standards, spending long hours at the computer, and sacrificing some of the pleasures I used to enjoy.

How important do you think self-promotion is, and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

No one cares about your writing or your book as much as you do. It’s best to accept that fact right away and not expect others to champion your cause. I have a problem with “promoting myself” (as do most serious writers), but what works for me is to remember that my book is a ministry, and unless I make people aware of its existence, it can’t help anyone. So my co-author and I hired a publicist for when the book came out. We blog daily at, and we send out a monthly E-zine. I updated my website and have been offering writing workshops and courses. We also schedule booksignings, Starting from Scratch workshops, and drop off copies of the book to bookstores, libraries and women’s shelters. We always have a plate of homemade cherry macaroon cookies along (it’s our signature recipe, made from scratch), and people love that.

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Starting from Scratch When You’re Single Again is available wherever books are sold. That means at all the major book retailers and Christian bookstores, at and, and on our blog (

Thanks for taking time for this interview, Sharon. We wish you the very best!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reader View Review!

Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers
Suzanne Woods Fisher, Debora M. Coty, Faith Tibbetts McDonald, & Joanna Bloss
Vintage Romance Publishing (2008)
ISBN 9780981559223
Reviewed by Valerie A. Howard for Reader Views (10/08)

“Grit for the Oyster” (although I understood the premise behind the name, I didn’t care for it), is a “how-to” manual for handling writing and spiritual issues such as success, rejection, uncertainty,writer’s block and many others. The four authors offer encouragement to writers who may be experiencing difficult or lean times in which they may question their writing gift.

“Grit” is targeted toward aspiring writers, however, it is great for all writers, new and established,published and unpublished, young and old, writing any genre, who love God and have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The format of each section of the book is a short devotional piece (1-2 pages, sometimes more) by one of the four authors, followed by a few “reflection” questions, and finally, a few pearls of wisdom (helpful hints, ideas, and theories) from established writers such as best-selling author Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages).

“Grit for the Oyster” is one gem that I will refer to regularly. I found myself highlighting, circling and placing asterisks by words from authors Fisher, Coty, McDonald, and Bloss (as well as the pearls from the established writers) so that I can refer back to them. This is one book that won’t collect dust on the shelf like some of the other books that I have with advice and tips for writers. Good job, ladies.

This book is a very well-written and attention-grabbing bag of goodies for the creative writer’s soul. There were a few minor editing and formatting issues which overall did not detract from the book.

The book read more like a devotional. Reading one inspirational word for the day will probably be more beneficial to the reader than trying to read the whole book at one time.

Overall, this is a great book and I would recommend it to any writer who attributes their writing gift to God for a daily reminder of why we do this and who we are really doing it for.

This wonderful cheerleading section for writers reminds us that our primary focus in this profession should be to glorify God. “Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers” is a very inspirational read.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I had a very interesting discussion with my editor last week about vocabulary--when an obscure word works, and when it doesn't.

Her theory, which shows her editing know-how, is that the reader should be able to figure out the word by the context of the sentence.

I tend to love using unusual words that broaden readers, and I love reading writers who use an expanded vocabulary.

But then again...I'm the type of reader who keeps a dictionary nearby, and underlines phrases, and goes to every day.

As we were writing Grit, we had fun chasing down how some obscure phrases, what does it mean to be Argus-Eyed? (A monster with many eyes.) Or who coined "the Green-Eyed Monster?" (Shakespeare.) Or what did Ezekiel mean by using an inkhorn? (An animal's horn that held the ink for a scribe.)

See? Obscure, but fun! And don't you feel smarter?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Less is more, part 2

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the importance of using fewer words to communicate more effectively. Here are some more tips for making your writing pack a bigger punch with fewer words:

  • Before you write your piece, ask yourself two questions. 1) Who is my audience? 2) what is my big idea? After you're finished, ask yourself these two questions again. Does every sentence in your piece communicate your big idea in the best way for your audience to hear it?
  • Look at the piece as a whole. Is there sufficient "white space"? When I see paragraph upon paragraph of unbroken text I tend to skim it or skip it entirely. Consider using bullet points or breaking information into tables or charts if it is technical or repetitive.
  • Review each paragraph. Are you adding unnecessary details that may detract from your overall message? If so, eliminate them.
  • Review each sentence and cross out extraneous words. "Due to the fact that..." can be changed to "Due to..." How about this one? We therefore pledge to you a fast, simple method to hop aboard the fitness fast train. A more efficient option is: That's why we offer a simple method to maximize your fitness routine.
  • Review each word. Are you using big-dictionary words when a more common word will do? Unless you're an attorney or an extremely accomplished literary writer, your readers will appreciate you more if you use simpler words.

Just to show you how passionate I am on this topic, I'm offering a free critique of 5 pages or less to the first three people who comment on this post. I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Author of the Week: Tricia Goyer

Tricia Goyer is an award winning author of novels and non-fiction books. As Grit for the Oyster was taking shape, she was one of the most generous authors whom we encountered. An imaginative and talented writer, too. She's amazing!

Hi Tricia! Thanks for joining us today! Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

My writing journey began in 1994 when I attended my first writer’s conference with my friend, Cindy Martinusen. Cindy and I went to the same church and we both had dreams of become writers. Everything at Mt. Hermon was new to me. I just followed the instructor’s directions. It took two years of hard work, but I was soon writing magazine articles for publication. Over the next five years, I also worked on missions’ curriculum, a devotional book, and study notes for the Women of Faith Study Bible (Zondervan). (My friend, Cindy, is now a published author too of four novels!)

During those years, in addition to writing, I was also raising three small children. In 1999, I felt God asking me to start a crisis pregnancy center in our town. I didn’t want to do it. I was busy enough writing and taking care of kids. I also was working on novel projects—with no success. I had novels make it to committee many times, with no contract!

Finally, I relinquished my dreams to God. I knew I needed to be obedient, even if I never got a novel published. Instead of closing the writing doors for good, the opposite happened. God brought people into my life who shared these amazing stories from World War II. I knew those were the books I was meant to write. Two years after the pregnancy center was up and running, I had the contract for my first novel, “From Dust and Ashes” (Moody, 2003). I remember answering the phone and hearing a “smile” in my agent’s voice. As she told me, one of my favorite songs by Fernando Ortega was playing in the background, and I felt delighted that God granted me such a gift.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

Way tooooo soon! I started working on my novel idea in 1995. I started my novel in February and I started “submitting” it a writer’s conferences in April. I thought I knew enough … I knew so little! I’m thankful that the editors were helping in pointing out what needed to be fixed. That’s one of the good things about writer’s conference—editors who are there to help you.

What struggles have you had on the road to being published?

In 1999, I was twenty-eight years old and had already published over one hundred articles for national publications. I'd also been contracted to work on two book projects for well-known publishers. Still, I felt far from successful. For five years I'd labored full-time on my own book projects with no luck. My agent didn't understand, "These are excellent proposals," she said. "I don't understand why they're not being snatched up."

I just have to try harder, write more, I thought. It didn't help.

Around that time, I started going through the workbook Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. I learned one phrase that kept going over in my mind. "Look to see what God was doing and join him." The premise is this: if you're doing something that doesn't work, put what you're doing aside and see what God was doing. I did that. And... I discovered God had different plans!

First, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. I invited him into our home. Between doctor's appointments, hospice visits, taking care of my husband and three children, there was little time to pen prose. My grandfather passed away after only four months, but inside I was changed. It was as if my heart had been rubbed raw with sandpaper. My eyes were opened to pain, and I had a new appreciation for helping those in need.

Lord, what do you want me to write? I prayed.

A few months after my grandfather's death, my pastor and two women in the church approached me about starting a Crisis Pregnancy Center. (There wasn't one for hundreds of miles.) I didn't want to do it, but I told my pastor I'd pray about it.
The next morning I did pray. I told God. "Lord, I can't help with this center. I'm a writer and my articles are helping people around the country."
His response was, "Well, what about the people in your own community? What are you going to do to help them?" Ouch.

Obviously this was something God was doing, so I joined him.

Soon, I was using my writing and organizational skills to create community newsletters, and to write radio commercials and grants. In one year, we had a huge center (given to us for free rent), forty volunteers, and we were reaching hundreds of women. We even received a $13,000 grant to teach abstinence education in the schools! At night I often felt drained by the number of young women who needed assistance--who needed hope--yet, I also felt a renewed sense of satisfaction. Obviously God was at work. I was glad I'd joined him.
It was a hard time in my life of giving up my will for God’s will, but I’ll never go back to the way things were again!

What has been the best part about being published?

Writing. I love putting my thoughts down on paper. I love praying, and seeking God, and playing with words, and reforming my research into something that can bless others and open their understanding of a new topic or time in history. I love pointing people to God with words.

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

I see ideas EVERYWHERE! I see them in magazines or on TV. I hear them in my friends’ stories. I get a new idea every week. The hard part is choosing which ones to pursue.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I used to be a VERY detailed plotter, but with every novel I get to be more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. Maybe it's because I've had less time between books. Or maybe it's because I trust myself more. So while I have tons of research and a general idea of how the book will end up, I have fun exploring the story and going along for the ride.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer? Any tips or suggestions for writers?

I write in 30 minute segments whenever I have time. Sometimes in the morning. Sometimes at night. Sometimes on family trips. Sometimes in front of the TV, since my family likes me to be “there.”

Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?

I have a basic idea but it usually changes as I write.

Do you have a process for developing your characters?

Yes, I use the book, “Writing the Breakout Novel” and go through the steps.

It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?

Yes, my friends tell me my characters are very much like me. I can see myself in some more than others. I definitely see myself in Mary in Arms of Deliverance. Mary was born to a single mom. She later met her dad who was the editor of a major NY newspaper. After that Mary tried to earn her dad's love/attention by taking on dangerous, overseas assignments during WWII. I had the same type of experience (except for the dangerous assignment parts). Only a few people know about my biological dad (until now!), but having them read that novel was like giving them a glimpse into my secret diary--the emotions were THAT real.

What are your dreams for your writing? Where do you see yourself in five years both as a writer and as a person?

I see myself pretty much doing the same—writing, spending time with family, working with teen moms. I’ll keep on this track as long as God allows. Then again, He might have something completely different in store! That’s up to Him. I’ll go along for the ride wherever He leads.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

Butt in chair and focus on the ONE THING you have to do next. My author friend, Anne de Graaf gave me that advice and it works!

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

Relinquish my desires to God. He may want me to write or He may want me to volunteer or serve or just spend more time with my family. We get frustrated when WE have a plan and expect God to follow. Instead I try to see what God’s up to and join Him. Since He’s already a work then my part is easy!

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Janet Kobobel-Grant, Books & Such. She’s one of my favorite people, ever!

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Everywhere books are sold.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers here (advice, website, etc)? Do you have a website for readers to go to?

God has wonderful dreams for what He longs to do in your life too. When it comes to my novels, I depend on God to unfold the story as I research and write. I have faith that He sees the end of the story, even before I write one word. It's the same with our lives. God sees the end of the story. And He knows how to unfold each chapter before us--with His perfect end in mind. It's our job to stay tuned-in, ready to face the next plot twist with His guidance, wisdom and strength.

Thank you very much, Tricia, for stopping by our blog. We wish you great success!

Find Tricia on-line at: and at her blog:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Let's get creative

This is one of my all time favorite pictures of my son Phillip. Phil(now 19) was four at the time. Matt, his brother and playmate, had deserted him to attend all-day first grade. Phil was home with me and his nine-month-old sister. She wasn't much fun. He was bored.

At the time I had more imagination than money, so to entertain Phil, I'd look around the house for random objects to fashion into a game. The game depicted above is, of course, scuba diving.

You couldn't tell? See the oxygen mask? Made from a plastic milk carton. And the oxygen tank? It was so new-fangled, it didn't even need a hose to connect it to the mask. And the spear? Useful for poking exotic undersea creatures--and sisters and brothers.

In this get-up Phil wriggled on his belly around the house for days on end.

Now, he's in school to become an engineer. He aspires to become an inventor. I like to think his ingenuity is due, in part, to the games we played that year when lack of money, lots of time and necessity spurred me to be creative.

I feel like I'm not as creative now as I used to be. I think time constraints, a culture that values sameness are two things that have muted my creativity. I want to get back to intentionally practicing creativity.

I'm looking for places to start. What do you do to get in touch with your creative bent? Send me your ideas!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nuts and Bolts of Manuscript Submission

I received a letter from an aspiring writer this week. She had heard me speak about publishers' interest in a writer's "platform" and wondered what I meant by that. She had completed a children's book and in consulting Sally Stuart's Christian Writers' Market Guide, had learned that her targeted publisher first wanted a query, and then a request for the manuscript would follow if their interest was piqued. What was my advice?

Since the purpose of this blog is to assist aspiring writers on their journeys, I some of you might benefit from my answer:

That's terrific that you're to the point of shopping your manuscript around. I think you'll find the vast majority, if not all, publishers will want a query unless you attend a writers conference where you can meet them face to face (I highly recommend this approach if you're ready to pitch your proposal/manuscript). It's not cheap ($500 - $700) but well worth it to bypass the query step (often the queries are answered by "underlings" and the real editors never even see them).

You can Google "Christian Writers Conferences" to find one that emphasizes inspirational childrens publishing.
Locally, check out the Florida Christian Writers Conference ( website for the conference in Leesburg, 2/26 - 3/1/09.You should be able to click on a list of the publishers/editors scheduled to attend - do a little research and see if any of those are a good match for your book. Most conferences allow you to officially meet with 3-4 but you can also sit by them at meals and pick their brain or woo them while they eat. I'll be teaching a few workshops there as faculty.
Another possibility is the Spacecoast Writers Conference in Melbourne 1/23-24/09- I don't know how many publishers they plan to have there, but check it out. I'm teaching there also.
I sold two of my books via this method (conferences) and I know countless other writers who have done the same. You have a much better chance if they meet you and hear your pitch in person. Plus, you get instant invaluable feedback if something needs tweaking so you can work on it before pitching it to another publisher.
If you decide not to go the conference route, I'd focus all your attention on crafting a killer query (one-page, single-spaced pitch letter). I spend almost as much time on my queries as I do on my manuscripts. Editors spend an average of 9 seconds reading them (because they receive thousands per week) so yours had better be good! Start with an attention-grabbing hook - no "throat clearing" introduction, just jump right into meat of your story.

In your query, Include a short synopsis, marketing plan, and bio paragraph explaining your platform. Your "platform" is how people will know about you and your book - are you a speaker? Expert on some topic related to your book? Do you hold public office? With my first book, The Distant Shore, I really had no platform (except my freelance magazine articles) and my only qualification was that I was a life-long Floridian and the book was set in old Florida. So I played that up. When I began shopping around Mom Needs Chocolate (to be released 3/09), I built my platform around my expertise as a mother (hey, I know whence I speaketh!) and connection with mom's groups.

Build your platform by marketing yourself as a speaker (start locally and then branch out), create a website, join Facebook and Twitter, online writers groups, send out a fun and interesting newsletter (sign up for mine at ...anything and everything to get your name out there. Publishers won't take a chance on you unless they see you're willing to take the reins on marketing your book. All authors, unless your name rhymes with bowling and you write about boy wizards, are out there today marketing their books. It's expected and required.

All the experience you mentioned in your letter to me should be included succinctly and without dates (you don't have to say how many years ago you did something, just say you are qualified to write on this subject because you have xxx degrees and experience in xxxxx. You don't have to include how many years you taught, just that you have extensive experience teaching in public and Christian schools. Don't use the word "several" about your acting experience, just say you have a background in acting, puppetry, writing, directing, and performing dramatic plays. (Don't use the word "skit" - many experienced stage people consider it an amateur stamp because they call them "sketches.")
Just say you are an inspirational speaker as well, you don't have to say how many gigs. They may or may not ask for your speaking schedule later (larger publishers will). Play up any possible connections you have with your proposed book market - be creative. I'd mention your writers group also - show them that you're energetic and a go-getter. They'll want to see that for marketing if they seriously consider publishing your book.
Do a little more research on writing queries and proposals. Some good references are Book Proposals that Sell by Terry Whalen, How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen and The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book by Patricia L. Fry. Visit instructional websites like and and don't forget (the blog I started with my co-writers of Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers, another excellent reference book for publishing how-to's).

Publishers often request a query first, then the next step is a proposal, which includes long and short book synopses or chapter-by-chapter outline for non-fiction, proposed market (targeted audience), unique selling porposition (why people will buy your book), your platform, marketing plan, author bio and publishing history, a comparative analysis of your competition (similarities and differences of at least three books), endorsers (committed and potential; you'll need at least two and get the highest-profile names in your genre you can), and sample chapters (their submission guidelines will tell you how many; if they ask for three, don't send ten!) If the proposal flies, the last step is to send the entire manuscript.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. I was in your shoes not so long ago so take heart - it can be done! Preparation is the key - you only get one chance to impress a publisher so make sure you've got all the bases covered.

Wishing you many happy query returns,


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Write So The World Can Hear

These writing tips are from author Barbara Johnson, taken from a class I attended at Mt. Hermon Writers' Conference.

Take off your church lady hat!

Study the culture.

Find common ground.

Do your research.

Focus on principles, not personalities.

Let your sources do the talking.

Find role models.

Keep it simple.

Be bold and speak the truth.

Be authentic!

No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Garage sales are like writing...

Against my better judgment, I agreed to do a garage sale with my neighbor this weekend. I'm still recovering. And I really didn't make that much money. But I made some interesting observations that remind me of writing...

  • The things we thought would sell instantly are now boxed up in my garage. The stuff we were kind of embarrassed to put out there...sold first. You just never know what will strike someone else's fancy. (Yesterday I actually saw a woman at Target wearing one of the shirts we almost threw in the trash.)
  • Sometimes, something that appears to be rubbish just needs a little elbow grease.
  • You meet some really nice and really crabby people at garage sales.
  • Great stuff can get buried in boxes filled with junk.
  • Just because it has sentimental value to me doesn't mean someone will be willing to pay more for it. (i.e. They don't really care that it was my daughter's costume in her kindergarten play.)
  • Garage sales are a great way to get the neighbors to stop by and say hi.
  • Working really hard doesn't guarantee success. You also need a good location, nice weather, the right shoppers and a little luck.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Author of the Week: Deborah Raney

Deborah Raney is a bestselling author of 18 novels (soon to be 21!). She was kind enough to take a break from the keyboard and answer our questions. You can visit Deb on-line at her website:

Welcome, Deb, to Grit for the Oyster:
Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

I’m almost embarrassed to tell about my journey to publication because it was too easy and I don’t want anyone to think this is the way it works. But here’s the story. On New Year’s Day 1994, I started my first novel—sort of a resolution. Finished a short first draft that May, had three contract offers by October. Well, there was that witnessing a murder thing that September…small detour…but bottom line, my first novel came out one year after I wrote the first word, the movie based on my first novel came out the following year, and I’ve been writing ever since. I’m just about ready to dive into a new series—novels #19,20 and 21 for me. I work hard and put in long hours, but I love what I do and can’t think of another thing I’d rather be doing with my life. I think the Lord knew I was NOT a patient person and thus the quick and easy contract. Ironically, you can’t work in the publishing business long without becoming a patient person, so He got me there.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

Not until the first draft was completed. I wasn’t sure I had what it took to finish the book, so I didn’t dare push my luck. Now I know that with an unpublished author, most publishers require the first draft to be finished before they will contract the book.

What has been the best part about being published?

I love hearing from readers, and meeting readers when I speak and sign books. There is nothing more rewarding—and better at fueling my creative gift—than hearing a reader say how the Lord used your book to touch them or minister to them, or even reprove them.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I am what author Alton Gansky calls an “intuitive” writer. In other words, I fly by the seat of my pants. I occasionally do a little outlining, a few chapters ahead, but for the most part, the story comes to me much the way a person dreams. And sometimes, as in a dream, I find myself saying “where in the world did that come from!” And I delete large sections of type and start over. But I’ve tried to learn to outline, and I’ve learned that I’m just not an outliner. The do-overs are part of the process for me. And I’ve learned to be okay with that.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer? Any tips or suggestions for writers?

When I’m on deadline, I’m both. I don’t usually get started until around 10 a.m. I work pretty steadily—with plenty of breaks to check email—until around 3 or 4 p.m. and then I’m done, except for answering reader mail or updating my website or reading research material. If I’m on deadline, I go back to my computer after dinner and work until I can’t keep my eyes open. 

What are your dreams for your writing? Where do you see yourself in five years both as a writer and as a person?

I’ve watched this industry long enough to know that the writer doesn’t usually get to decide when his/her career is over. I’d love to be writing till the day of my death, but I’ve come to a place where I can finally imagine that God may call me to some other task before my time on earth is up. I am trying very hard to enjoy where I am in the journey, hold it lightly, and let His word light my path one step at a time.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

I wish I’d realized that there were books on the craft of writing, that there were writers conferences and workshops and college courses, mentoring programs, organizations. There are so many resources a writer has, especially in this age of the Internet. I had none of those when I started. It was a very solitary undertaking (and I’m a people person!) and I did a lot of things technically wrong and had to unlearn some things.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

There have certainly been some bumps along the way. Rejections, disappointments, sales that weren't as great as I might have hoped, bad reviews, terrible reviews sometimes. But I think I’ve had a smoother sail than most, simply because it didn’t take me years to get that first contract. I certainly have no complaints!

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

My wonderful agent is Steve Laube. I agented myself for the first nine years of my career, and I feel that was the right decision for me. But in the years since, many…most of the publishers have closed their doors to unagented writers. I do recommend that writers seek an agent, especially if they aren’t able to attend at least one major writers conference a year. (Besides teaching people how to write, how to be a writer, writers conferences offer a way through the door for the agentless.)

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

I think it’s important for a writer to have a good website once their book is released. Beyond that, I recommend that a writer do only what he/she is comfortable doing beyond writing the best book she can possibly write. It is anybody’s guess how a book becomes a bestseller and while things like book signings, blogging, printed pieces, print advertising, gimmicks, book trailers, speaking, etc., probably give a book a boost, I honestly have not seen any data that says it makes enough of a difference to really matter to the bottom line. Here are the things I’ve enjoyed and felt comfortable doing:
• Keeping an up-to-date website
• Sending out a quarterly e-newsletter
• Blog interviews like this one
• A speaking ministry (with back-of-the-room sales)
• Teaching and critiquing at writers conference
• Occasional print mailings, and bookmarks for giveaway at book signings

Most of the above, I do for me. Because I’m an extrovert and need the contact with people a conference or speaking event offers.

Much of the above, I do in an effort to show my publisher that I am willing to partner with them in promoting my books.

In doing only the above, it is still very, very easy to find myself spending as much time with the business of promoting as I do actually writing. I don’t feel that’s a good expenditure of my time as a writer. But it’s a balance each author has to find for himself. My final word would be to not stress over promotion. Write the best book you can, and let the chips fall where they may.

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Your local Christian bookstore, Barnes and Noble and other “big box” bookstores, online retailers such as,,—in short, anywhere books are sold! If they don’t have it, they will be happy to order it for you. Please ask! That’s one way you can help promote your favorite author! Autographed copies are available at:

Thank you for inviting me! It was my privilege. And yes, I’d love to “meet” your blog readers at my website where there is a contact link to email me, and a place to sign up for my e-newsletter.

Parting words: if you’ve given your gift of writing and your writing career over to the Lord’s very capable hands, you can trust that things will happen in His timing, according to His schedule. That’s a very, very good schedule to be on.

Thank you very much, Deb, for stopping by our blog. We wish you great success!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Please fix me


I want to write, but first I come to you.
I grope my way through tangible surroundings to find You--
the essence of You--
and find that first, I must tap into the essence of me.

The essence of me hides in physical needs.
It gets layered in distractions.
Sometimes, I cover it on purpose because I can't stand how weak, how ugly how distorted it is.
Something in me despises that weakness. Something in me wants to cry out, "Ugly!" and place that ugliness on a billboard so passersby can join in the jeer.

Something in me wants to cloak the ugliness in status quo.
Or busyness.
And go about life with the ugliness, the lack, the weakness as the mobilizing force.

That is when I get in so much trouble.
I bluster about, clamoring: I am strong. I am beautiful. I am worthy.

You can get through a day doing that!
A trend, a culture can be mobilized when enough folks cry out: I am strong. I am beautiful--white strips have topped off my beauty. I am worthy--I wear designer jeans.

But for me, it works better to come before God--the essence of me meeting the Essence of Life--in quiet--and say, "Please fix me."

And sometimes, He gives me something to write.

Are we there yet?

When I'm glaring at my empty mailbox or checking my e-mail inbox for the tenth time that day, I often feel stuck in Crete (like Titus in Titus 1:5). Spider webs sprout on my "Accepted for Publication" file. I do a desperate rain dance, hopping on one foot around my computer.

Where is that editor's overdue response" What do you mean a two-year lead time?

Why, oh, why is this business so besotted with waiting, waiting, and more waiting?

I've discovered that the very reason I want to leave Writer's Crete is the reason God left me there. My character needs editing. God, the supreme Editor-in-Chief, is perfecting the manuscript of my life. His eraser chafes, and His pen digs deep. Crafting patience isn't pleasant. It drives me batty. But the final draft is unshakable trust in God's omnipotent timing.

Excerpt from "Stuck in Crete" from Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How Do You Deal with a Bad Review?

How do you deal with a bad review?

Every writer has to brace herself for a bad review—they’re like battle scars.

Reading is very subjective and there’s just no way everyone is going to love the same books. But one thing I’ve noticed about myself, and I bet other authors do the same thing…I tend to focus on a slightly negative comment and allow it to override so many glowing remarks!

Don't let someone you don't even know--someone you might not even agree with on many important areas of life--take away joy and pleasure in achieving your goal of getting published.

And...maybe keep a file of all of the good reviews, to help you keep it all in perspective. Re-read them on a gloomy day!

Then, get back to the keyboard.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Less is more

I am in the process of getting certified to teach CPR to employees at the fitness club where I work. This involves attending several training sessions, the first of which was this weekend.

The knowledgeable presenter crammed 45 minutes of pertinent information into two long hours. The last ten minutes were especially annoying--I think he was killing time so he didn't have to let us out early.

Ugh. I left feeling a little irritated. My time is valuable! I got up early on a Saturday morning and sacrificed time with my family (not to mention sleep) so I could go to this seminar. Besides, the important information he did share got buried in all the extraneous details.

I've had this same experience when I read, except the difference is I can close the book or set the magazine aside when I begin to feel the writer is wasting my time.

Lest your readers toss aside the magazine or book with your piece in it, here are some things to consider before submitting it for publication:

  • Read through your final draft after letting it sit for a while. Can you eliminate words without changing the meaning? ("that" for example)
  • Does each new paragraph introduce a new idea, or are you merely saying the same thing in a different way?
  • Lots of words aren't necessary for great writing. The shortest verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept" speaks volumes.
  • If your piece is too long, consider breaking major ideas into more than one article.

When you're writing remember, less is more. Your readers will thank you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Author of the Week: Alison Strobel

Today we welcome Alison Strobel, an up and coming author whose book Violette Between was nominated for a RITA.

Thanks for stopping by, Alison!

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

I have two books published, both with Waterbrook Multnomah: "Worlds Collide" and "Violette Between."

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

I didn't even try to get my first book published! I knew how hard it was to get to that point, and I wasn't writing to get published, just to prove to myself that I actually could write a full-length novel. I had my manuscript printed out in a 3-ring binder and sitting up in my closet collecting dust when a Waterbrook editor asked to see it. Definitely a God thing.

What has been the best part about being published?

Seeing my dream of being a published writer come true. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to even try to get published, much less actually be published!

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

God puts little ideas in my head, and makes things stand out. I start thinking about them, teasing them out and thinking "What if..." and "Then what?" The kernel of the idea for "Worlds Collide" came to me while driving through Hollywood for the first time. For "Violette Between" it came to me while listening to Norah Jones' "If I Were A Painter." The kernel idea for "Reinventing Rachel" (releasing in 2009 with David C. Cook Publishing) came to me while reflecting on one of my oldest friendships.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I'm an outliner. With my first three books I figured out a general outline of all the major plot points. With my fourth, which I'm working on right now (releasing in '09, I think, with Zondervan) I used Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method, and WOW, what a difference it made! I highly recommend it to every novelist.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer? Any tips or suggestions for writers?

I'm a naptime writer. :) Whenever the kids sleep I try to get a scene done, or at least work a little on one. Ideally, I'm an early afternoon writer, but I don't have the luxury of being picky anymore.

Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?

Yes. I'd tried writing novels for years but never outlined them, so I didn't know where or what I was writing *to* and I was never able to finish them. *How* the ending comes about often changes as I write, though, even though I outline.

Do you have a process for developing your characters?

I used to just think up the basics--name, age, general personality--and then let them form themselves as I wrote. But after using the Snowflake method's characterization approach, I much prefer knowing all about my characters before I start writing. It takes the guesswork out so I'm not in the middle of a scene going, "Now how would she react to this?"

It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?

Grace in "Worlds Collide" is very much me, personality-wise. So much so, in fact, that a lot of my friends in California who didn't know much about my life before moving here kept thinking Grace's past was my past! (It didn't help that Grace moved to California from Chicago just like I did!) Violette in "Violette Between" was a little bit me, but not much. I'm finding there's less of me in my characters with each book I write. I think I sort of got it out of my system with Grace. But when it comes to dialogue, I tend to put a lot of my words and sayings in. I really have to work to make my characters sound different from each other.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your novel?

I want readers to feel as though they've read truth--truth about life, about love, about God. I want them to be able to apply to their own lives the principles the characters discovered.

Do you have plans to write another book?

I'm contracted for four books right now, and have at least a few more ideas past those--hopefully the contracts will keep coming!

What are your dreams for your writing? Where do you see yourself in five years both as a writer and as a person?

I want to be a much better writer in 5 years. Not that I think I'm a bad writer now--but I want to make sure I'm always improving. I'd love to be Jodi Picoult caliber someday! Personally, I'd love to be more patient (I know, scary thing to hope for!) and less lazy. I waste a lot of time. The internet is both my favorite thing and the bane of my existence!

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

You need time away from your manuscript to edit effectively. I've started figuring in two extra months in my writing timeline for a book--a month away from my manuscript after I've finished it and a month of doing my own edits before turning it in to my editor. I need that much distance to be able to let it go and not hold it so precious. It's a lot easier to scrap an entire scene, or rewrite whole pages, when you didn't just work on them last week. That and using the Snowflake method to outline. Seriously, that method changed my entire writing approach.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

I wish I'd known how to edit well. "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" has been invaluable. I look back at my first book and just cringe! I edited 20,000 words out of that story and simply couldn't find a single word more to get rid of, but now I look at it and think, "Man, I wish I had another shot at that one!"

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I've been incredibly blessed in my publishing journey. God has brought me together with some amazing people. My agent is the best in the business, I've made friends with some editors that are just great--there have been a few bumps, but overall it's been a wonderful experience.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

My first two books were contracted together in 2002. "Worlds Collide" came out in spring of 2005, and "Violette Between" released in spring of 2006. If all goes well, "Reinventing Rachel" will release in sumer of 2009, and I contracted that one in December of 2007--a much shorter amount of time!

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it's necessary to have one?

Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary is my stellar agent. I didn't have an agent when I signed with Waterbrook, but that was a fluke. I think it's imperative to have one--a lot of publishing houses won't even speak directly to a writer and will only work with agents, save for editors who meet with writers at conferences.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Bribing Oprah to have me on her show! :)

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion is absolutely imperative, especially for first-time novelists. Publishing houses often struggle with the best way to market fiction, and when you're a first-timer, they aren't going to put the big bucks behind your project unless they somehow know it's going to be huge. So that leaves you to spread the word!

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Any bookstore should be able to order if it they don't have it in stock already. You can also go to my website and click on the links there to find them on Amazon. Amazon often links my books, so you can buy them both at a discount. :)

My website is and my blog is I also distribute a free bi-monthly newsletter where I share a myriad of things--book news, book reviews, articles on Christianity (I'm doing a series right now based off the Scripture songs composed by Rick Altizer), and there's always a contest with awesome prizes! You can sign up on either my website or blog.

Great advice, Alison! Thank you so much for taking time to share with us your journey. I know it's going to inspire many writers!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

More on Leads

Like Deb wrote on Tuesday, writing compelling leads is worth our time and effort.

I also like to use anecdotes. Other techniques that work well for me are intriguing quotes, fascinating statistics, or puzzling questions.

Once in an effort to discover the features of a compelling introduction, I borrowed ten best-selling books from the library. I determined to read the first page of each and identify the elements that made each introduction compelling and best-selling.

The first book introduced an intriguing character. The second started with a vivid scene construction. The third? I was well into chapter four before I remembered that I'd set out to identify elements of an introduction. It was John Grisham's The Client. I finished reading it before I studied another introduction.

It was the suspense that pulled me through the book. The sooner we get our readers asking, "What happens next?", the sooner we will have them hooked.

What is the most compelling introduction you remember reading?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Taking the Lead

"Okay, class," I addressed the room full of eager writing workshop attendees last Saturday afternoon, "imagine that you are Margaret Mitchell. Using the principles we've just learned, write a query to a fictitious publisher pitching your newly completed manuscript, 'Gone With the Wind.' Since you don't know Margaret's real writing history, feel free to take creative liberties with your bio."

For the next ten minutes, nothing could be heard but the scratching of ballpoint pens on paper.

When time was finally called, a salt-and-pepper-haired gentleman in the back with a mischievous grin volunteered to read his query first. His lead was one of the best hooks I've ever heard.

"Dear Mr. Ledbottom,

What could possibly be better? Hot off the dazzling success of my action-packed thriller about Mrs. Noah, "Gone with the Rain..."

If I was an editor, this fellow would certainly have my attention.

Leads (also called ledes) are of utmost importance, whether you're writing queries, non-fiction, novels, or a letter to your great aunt Matilda. No throat clearing, spit balls or phlegm. Just jump right into the action; spring the clincher on your unsuspecting reader to grab them around the throat and insure their attention is nowhere else but on your well chosen words.

Personal anecdotes make nice leads (didn't the one in this blog entry grab your attention?) as long as you're short on the introduction (like none) and move the point forward, always forward. It's a plus to include a hint or foreshadow in your lead of what your story will be about to help prepare (some call it tease) the reader and make them want more.

Kind of like the effect that smelling hot buttered popcorn has on you: first your interest is piqued, next you begin to salivate, and then you begin to yearn for one of those kernels with every ounce of your being. You won't rest until you can satisfy your craving, your lusty desire for a greasy, salty handful.

Take your opening seriously. Spend sufficient time on your lead to make your reader salivate and long for more. It's the best way to keep editors reading past the 9 seconds average they spend on each query.

So pour yourself a steaming cup of hot cocoa and focus on those beginnings. Then you may indeed predict a happy ending.

8 Tips to Boost Sales

I found these suggestions from Writers Information Network and thought they were excellent tips for the aspiring writers. Well, even established authors can learn a few things. These belong to Elaine Wright Colvin.

1. Develop a marketing plan. It will force you to consider what you want to accomplish. Gather any data you need to be able to realistically assess your potential, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. Brainstorm ideas that will help you accomplish your goals.

2. Track your sales and accomplishments to this point. What types of writing or subjects seem to bring your greatest success? What editors are you establishing good working relationships with? Are editors beginning to come to you with assignments?

3. Keep your resources and skills up-to-date. Are Associated Press Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style book in your library? Have you mastered query letters, book proposals, and professional manuscript presentations?

4. Improve your PR package. Are your author’s bio sketch, letterhead, and business card current? Do they portray you as a fresh, creative, out-of-the-box thinker and writer?

5. Link with other Christian writers. Plan to network with a larger group of your peers this year -- in a local critique group, online through web chat rooms or email critique groups, or attend a writers conference.

6. Take a risk -- try something new. It may mean changing your focus or area of writing. You may need to get an agent or use First Edition. Join Toastmasters and improve your speaking skills.

7. Learn more about the Publishing Industry. Take your bookstore manager to lunch. Attend CBA or EPA convention. Seek out leading Christian authors, consultants, pastors and teachers to gain a new perspective. Team up with professionals for credibility and endorsements.

8. Find a mentor -- someone who knows more about writing, publishing, and PR than you do. Learn and determine to make changes.

copyright 2000, Elaine Wright Colvin, Writers Information Network

Friday, October 3, 2008

Author of the Week: Ruth Carmichael Ellinger

Welcome to Grit for the Oyster,Ruth!

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

I have written for many years now, mainly for Christian ministry, short articles and stories for secular magazines as well. I have always had it in my heart to finish my writing endeavors with my paternal grandmother’s life story. I wove this colorful tale into an inspirational novel published by Ambassador International.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

I began the search for a publisher for my historical fiction in 2003, halfway through the manuscript.

What struggles have you had on the road to being published?

The rejections letters are always a challenge to self worth as a writer, but along the way, you learn how to deal with this aspect of the writing journey. If a prospective publisher gives me advice about my manuscript, I try to learn from it and improve my writing.

What has been the best part about being published?

The best part of having a book on the shelf is knowing the message of love and hope that Jesus wanted published is indeed available for anyone to read. I have been blessed many times over by readers telling how my book inspired them to have faith in God, to believe again.

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

I began the “Wildrose Series” with my grandmother’s life story and went from there. There is so much wonderful history. It could fill many books. I don’t think I will ever run out of material or ideas.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I have a general idea in my mind and I make a mental outline which occupies my muse for several months, then I create a hard copy outline and character sketch which I adjust as the story leads me on some unexpected adventures.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your book?

I want my readers to have faith in God, to believe that no matter what circumstance life may hand them, that He is still there, ready to help, even when we don’t understand His ways.

What are your dreams for your writing?

I want the message of my books to live on, even after I am gone. I want my posterity to know that long ago, someone in their family tree loved and honored God, loved freedom, and loved their family.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

That my works and my life, all that I do, including my writing, are in the hands of God.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

I wish I could have joined a writer’s group when I first started writing in 1975. It is vital to our writing endeavors to be involved in the writing community. I wish I had attended more conferences and workshops.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

There are always bumps in the road and many things to divert us from reaching our publishing goals. Distractions have been the biggest hindrance for me. Writing takes time and concentrated effort. That has been a rare commodity when you are raising a family and have other responsibilities.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Book 1, The Wild Rose of Lancaster, took about two year with no publisher in sight. Book 2, Wild Rose of Promise was written under contract and a publisher deadline in view. It took about six months. I estimate book 3 will be about one year with no definite deadline other than it must be finished in ‘o9.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

I have not used an agent, but I have pondered the idea and even queried an agent. Since I am writing for a publisher now, I don’t think it is necessary fro me, but it might be helpful for some writers who have no publisher. Maybe I’m getting lazy. I don’t want to deal with demands from agents or even my publisher!

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

A good publicist.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

It is vital for the author to be involved in promoting their book. When the author stops selling, so does the book. Promotion is not my favorite thing to do, but I feel a responsibility to my publisher to spend at least six moths of steady promotion after the book release. The physical setting for my book has opened many opportunities for book venues and speaking events. I chose a real town in an area steeped in colorful local history. I do a variety of book events which I plan myself and author signings in the stores which my publisher supplies. I also have a web site and newsletter and lead a writing critique group. I always have more invitations for book events than I can comfortably handle.

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

Any Christian bookseller can order my books if they are not on the shelf. Most online vendors have my books posted for sale. In Ohio, many of the unique and privately owned stores also carry my books. You can order from my web site and my publisher’s site as well. Just “Google” me up and see where you find me!

Thank you very much, Ruth, for stopping by our blog. We wish you great success!

Thank you for having me!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Creation Joy

Is it possible that You--
The Starter: You formed the first thought.
Conceptualizer: You imagined vast possibilities.
Designer: You designed intricate details.
Engineer: You meshed all the gears.
Ignitor: You started creation.
Facilitator: You maintain every aspect in flawless performance.--

Is it possible that You will meet me in my kitchen as I sit at my table and sip my hot coffee and contemplate the day ahead?

The Bible says you will. It says that You want to meet me, that You want to come to my house, that You live in my house, but You are waiting, patiently waiting, for me to notice.

Why do you live here in the midst of yesterday's dirty dishes, piles of ungraded papers, people who forget to notice each other, people (mainly me) who are angry, petty, self-absorbed--What will I do? How will I get what I want done done? What will I write?

You could live in delight--You could constantly party in the gleeful shrieks of amusement park visitors as they plummet the roller-coaster's first plunge.

You could live in applause. You could skip round the world from concert to Broadway production to each child's first clap. That's where I'd live--in each child's first clap.

You could sprawl on beauty's banks: the Atlantic at sunrise, the Pacific at sunset.

You could dance in the relish that bikers and skiers feel as they speed downhill and the wind lustily laps their cheeks.

You could live in victory's thrill--joining sports champions or political champions in upbeat cheers and chatter.

So why visit me in my kitchen?

And while You are here, what will You do with this moment when the essence of me sits and seeks to notice the essence of You?

Will you prompt a thought? That I might write a sentence?
Will you release imaginings? That I might tell a story?
Will you let me join you in getting the details just right?

How I love to dot my i's and cross those t's...

Thank You for sharing with me the joy of creating.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Just smell those muffins baking!

Self-confidence. Confidence in ourselves. A must for writers, we're told.

But how do we develop self-confidence when writer buddies all around us are getting published, winning awards, popping out manuscripts left and right...and we seem to only be collecting rejection slips? We feel like we're always a day late and a thousand dollars short.

I look at it this way: we can always find something bad about our writing, but there are so many more good things that outweigh them.

And God knows how we write - He put all the ingredients in our kitchens (brains) and is fully aware of what kind of cakes (writing) we'll turn out. He called us to bake our own muffins, not somebody else's.

He knows there's plenty of room out there for yummy cakes, buttery cookies, crusty bread, and delicious pastries of all kinds. Some eaters (readers) may prefer someone else's cinnamon over my nutmeg, but you can bet there are nutmeg-lovers who will be delighted with my unique apple-nutmeg tarts. And no one else has my special recipe!

It's a matter of discipline. We can't allow ourselves to sink into the doldrums over our "inferior" writing, because in effect, we're slapping our Creator in the face for giving us this writing assignment. Let HIM be the judge, not us.

After all, we're just the bakers. He's the Master Chef.

Gotta run to the grocery store. (Now why am I so hungry?)