Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3 Characteristics that Help in Pursuit of Publication

Author Judy Hedlund posted this on her blog.

My daughter sat at the piano and plunked at the keys. “Mom, I already know all my songs. Can I stop practicing today?”

I looked at her timer. “You still have ten minutes left.”

“But I don’t have anything else to practice.”

I cocked my head at her and gave her my you-know-what-I’m-going-to-say look.

She sighed. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

“Exactly.” I smiled. “Practice ahead. Take initiative. Surprise your piano teacher by learning a new song she didn’t assign you.”

In the last post, we talked about reaching for our dreams. To start, we have to believe in ourselves. But it’s not enough just to want something and have confidence that we can attain it. We also have to work for it. Really hard.

My daughter may never become a concert pianist, but when I teach her to work hard in her piano practicing, I’m equipping her with the lifelong philosophy that if she wants to accomplish something, then she has to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

In the wake of the Winter Olympics, I talked with my children about this very philosophy. I asked them how hard they thought each Olympic athlete had to train to even make it into the Olympics, the hours, months, and even years, most of those athletes devoted to become as good as they are.

We need to dream big and believe in ourselves. But if we have Olympic-size dreams, then we have to give it Olympic-size effort. Here are three characteristics that have helped me:

1. Diligence: I made a diligence poster for my children that outlines the definition: Work that is done hard, thoroughly, steadily, and carefully. In our modern culture, diligence is often a forgotten word. But if we can learn to cultivate daily habits of approaching our writing time with diligence, we'll have a much easier time reaching our dreams.

2. Determination: The dictionary defines determination as "the act of deciding definitely and firmly." I think of it as making up our minds to stick to the task and see it through to completion. Maybe that means we'll finish the book instead of stopping halfway. Perhaps it means we keep querying even after rejection. We decide what we're going to do, and we don't stop until it's done.

3. Drive: Not everyone has a Type A personality, but we can all still strive to excel. Instead of letting the competition scare us, we let it sharpen us. Instead of being satisfied with status quo, we shove ourselves to the next level. We sweat, cry, and ache with the pain of reaching high, always attempting to pour more into each story we write.

No Olympic athlete ever won a gold medal without putting forth incredible effort. As writers, we shouldn’t expect to reach the ultimate gold of publication without the same kind of dedication to our craft and stories.

I spent years fiercely chasing my writing dreams. And today, even with publication in my grasp, I still work long hours and push myself to be diligent, determined, and driven.

Believe in ourselves, but also expect much from ourselves.

Dream big, but work fiercely.

Monday, March 29, 2010

In the Beginning, There Was No Prologue

Our writers group a few nights ago engaged in a lively discussion about prologues. It seems many beginning writers - including myself - depend on prologues to drop a healthy dose of backstory into the reader's lap before officially beginning the story in chapter one.

My personal experience has been finally deleting every precious word of the sweated-over prologue for my first historical novel, The Distant Shore, based on the advice of a publisher who, although he rejected the manuscript, kindly took the time to give me a few helpful suggestions.

The book was eventually accepted for publication - sans prologue - and I must admit that it's a much smoother read.

Just this morning, I ran across the same topic in the March/April issue of Writer's Digest. The following is an excerpt from the article, "Lessons Learned From an Author Turned Agent" by Jennifer Lawler:

"While reading the umpteenth slow-starting novel manuscript that crossed my desk one afternoon, I found myself practically screaming, 'Throw away the prologue! Just throw it away! I never want to see another prologue in this lifetime!'

In fact, in all the submissions I've looked at, I have yet to read a prologue that has improved a manuscript. Good stories should start where they start, and not before or after. You need to work the backstory into the story, and not just shove it into a prologue.

Only after I'd had that reaction did I realize that one of my own novels - in progress at that very moment - started witha prologue. The prologue was there because it was the image that popped into my head when I first started wiritng. As I neared the end of the book, I knew the prologue no longer served any purpose, but I loved it! I thought maybe no one would notice it didn't really work.

Now I realize that someone would notice. I was so attached to it that it physically hurt to chop it out, but you know what? Getting rid of the prologue did improve the book. Immensely."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rejection Lessons

At College Admission Time, Lessons in Thin Envelopes

Few events arouse more teenage angst than the springtime arrival of college rejection letters. With next fall's college freshman class expected to approach a record 2.9 million students, hundreds of thousands of applicants will soon be receiving the dreaded letters.

Teenagers who face rejection will be joining good company, including Nobel laureates, billionaire philanthropists, university presidents, constitutional scholars, best-selling authors and other leaders of business, media and the arts who once received college or graduate-school rejection letters of their own.

Both Warren Buffett and "Today" show host Meredith Vieira say that while being rejected by the school of their dreams was devastating, it launched them on a path to meeting life-changing mentors. Harold Varmus, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, says getting rejected twice by Harvard Medical School, where a dean advised him to enlist in the military, was soon forgotten as he plunged into his studies at Columbia University's med school. For other college rejects, from Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy and entrepreneur Ted Turner to broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw, the turndowns were minor footnotes, just ones they still remember and will talk about.

Rejections aren't uncommon. Harvard accepts only a little more than 7% of the 29,000 undergraduate applications it receives each year, and Stanford's acceptance rate is about the same.

"The truth is, everything that has happened in my life...that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better," Mr. Buffett says. With the exception of health problems, he says, setbacks teach "lessons that carry you along. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity."

Famous 'Rejects'

Warren Buffett
[REJECTS1] Bloomberg News; Buffett family photo (inset)

Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
After Harvard Business School said no, everything 'I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better.'

Meredith Vieira
[REJECTS2] Getty Images; NBC Universal (inset)

'Today' show co-host
Had she not been rejected by Harvard, she doubts she would have entered television journalism.

Lee Bollinger
[REJECTS3] Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal; Baker City High School (inset)

Columbia University president
To 'allow other people's assessment of you to determine your own self-assessment is a very big mistake.'

Harold Varmus
[REJECTS4] Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal; Harold Varmus (inset)

Nobel laureate in medicine
Rejected twice by Harvard's medical school. One dean there chastised him and advised him to enlist in the military.

Ted Turner
[REJECTSJ3] Bloomberg

Rejected by Princeton and Harvard. 'I want to be sure to make this point: I did everything I did without a college degree.'

John Schlifske
[REJECTSJ2] Kevin J. Miyazaki for The Wall Street Journal

President of Northwestern Mutual
Lesson he learned from Yale's rejection helped him years later counsel his son, Dan (standing), who was rejected by Duke.

Tom Brokaw
[REJECTSJ1] Getty Images

Broadcast journalist
Harvard rejection prompted him to settle down and stop partying. 'The initial stumble was critical in getting me launched.'

Mr. Buffett regards his rejection at age 19 by Harvard Business School as a pivotal episode in his life. Looking back, he says Harvard wouldn't have been a good fit. But at the time, he "had this feeling of dread" after being rejected in an admissions interview in Chicago, and a fear of disappointing his father.

As it turned out, his father responded with "only this unconditional unconditional belief in me," Mr. Buffett says. Exploring other options, he realized that two investing experts he admired, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, were teaching at Columbia's graduate business school. He dashed off a late application, where by a stroke of luck it was fielded and accepted by Mr. Dodd. From these mentors, Mr. Buffett says he learned core principles that guided his investing. The Harvard rejection also benefited his alma mater; the family gave more than $12 million to Columbia in 2008 through the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, based on tax filings.

The lesson of negatives becoming positives has proved true repeatedly, Mr. Buffett says. He was terrified of public speaking—so much so that when he was young he sometimes threw up before giving an address. So he enrolled in a Dale Carnegie public speaking course and says the skills he learned there enabled him to woo his future wife, Susan Thompson, a "champion debater," he says. "I even proposed to my wife during the course," he says. "If I had been only a mediocre speaker I might not have taken it."

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger was rejected as a teenager when he applied to Harvard. He says the experience cemented his belief that it was up to him alone to define his talents and potential. His family had moved to a small, isolated town in rural Oregon, where educational opportunities were sparse. As a kid, he did menial jobs around the newspaper office, like sweeping the floor.

Mr. Bollinger recalls thinking at the time, "I need to work extra hard and teach myself a lot of things that I need to know," to measure up to other students who were "going to prep schools, and having assignments that I'm not." When the rejection letter arrived, he accepted a scholarship to University of Oregon and later graduated from Columbia Law School. His advice: Don't let rejections control your life. To "allow other people's assessment of you to determine your own self-assessment is a very big mistake," says Mr. Bollinger, a First Amendment author and scholar. "The question really is, who at the end of the day is going to make the determination about what your talents are, and what your interests are? That has to be you."

Others who received Harvard rejections include "Today" show host Meredith Vieira, who was turned down in 1971 as a high-school senior. At the time, she was crushed. "In fact, I was so devastated that when I went to Tufts [University] my freshman year, every Saturday I'd hitchhike to Harvard," she says in an email. But Ms. Vieira went on to meet a mentor at Tufts who sparked her interest in journalism by offering her an internship. Had she not been rejected, she doubts that she would have entered the field, she says.

And broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw, also rejected as a teenager by Harvard, says it was one of a series of setbacks that eventually led him to settle down, stop partying and commit to finishing college and working in broadcast journalism. "The initial stumble was critical in getting me launched," he says.

Dr. Varmus, the Nobel laureate and president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, was daunted by the first of his two turndowns by Harvard's med school. He enrolled instead in grad studies in literature at Harvard, but was uninspired by thoughts of a career in that field.

After a year, he applied again to Harvard's med school and was rejected, by a dean who chastised him in an interview for being "inconstant and immature" and advised him to enlist in the military. Officials at Columbia's medical school, however, seemed to value his "competence in two cultures," science and literature, he says.

If rejected by the school you love, Dr. Varmus advises in an email, immerse yourself in life at a college that welcomes you. "The differences between colleges that seem so important before you get there will seem a lot less important once you arrive at one that offered you a place."

Similarly, John Schlifske, president of insurance company Northwestern Mutual, was discouraged as a teenager when he received a rejection letter from Yale University. An aspiring college football player, "I wanted to go to Yale so badly," he says. He recalls coming home from school the day the letter arrived. "Mom was all excited and gave it to me," he says. His heart fell when he saw "the classic thin envelope," he says. "It was crushing."

Yet he believes he had a deeper, richer experience at Carleton College in Minnesota. He says he received a "phenomenal" education and became a starter on the football team rather than a bench-warmer as he might have been at Yale. "Being wanted is a good thing," he says.

He had a chance to pass on that wisdom to his son Dan, who was rejected in 2006 by one of his top choices, Duke University. Drawing on his own experience, the elder Mr. Schlifske told his son, "Just because somebody says no, doesn't mean there's not another school out there you're going to enjoy, and where you are going to get a good education." Dan ended up at his other top choice, Washington University in St. Louis, where he is currently a senior. Mr. Schlifske says, "he loves it."

Rejected once, and then again, by business schools at Stanford and Harvard, Scott McNealy practiced the perseverance that would characterize his career. A brash economics graduate of Harvard, he was annoyed that "they wouldn't take a chance on me right out of college," he says. He kept trying, taking a job as a plant foreman for a manufacturer and working his way up in sales. "By my third year out of school, it was clear I was going to be a successful executive. I blew the doors off my numbers," he says. Granted admission to Stanford's business school, he met Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla and went on to head Sun for 22 years.

Paul Purcell, who heads one of the few investment-advisory companies to emerge unscathed from the recession, Robert W. Baird & Co., says he interpreted his rejection years ago by Stanford University as evidence that he had to work harder. "I took it as a signal that, 'Look, the world is really competitive, and I'll just try harder next time,'" he says. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and got an MBA from the University of Chicago, and in 2009, as chairman, president and chief executive of Baird, won the University of Chicago Booth School of Business distinguished corporate alumnus award. Baird has remained profitable through the recession and expanded client assets to $75 billion.

Time puts rejection letters in perspective, says Ted Turner. He received dual rejections as a teenager, by Princeton and Harvard, he says in an interview. The future America's Cup winner attended Brown University, where he became captain of the sailing team. He left college after his father cut off financial support, and joined his father's billboard company, which he built into the media empire that spawned CNN. Brown has since awarded him a bachelor's degree.

Tragedies later had a greater impact on his life, he says, including the loss of his father to suicide and his teenage sister to illness. "A rejection letter doesn't even come close to losing loved ones in your family. That is the hard stuff to survive," Mr. Turner says. "I want to be sure to make this point: I did everything I did without a college degree," he says. While it is better to have one, "you can be successful without it."

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are we creating a generation of literary robots?

I taught a Young Writers Workshop at a public high school last week and was totally unimpressed by the lack of creativity and basic writing skills demonstrated by the 11th grade students in attendance.

Now, this is certainly not true about every group I teach, but sadly, many of these kids could not express themselves using basic grammar and punctuation skills. I could barely read many of their stories. Original thoughts? Very few. A good example was the writing exercise where they were asked to freshen up stale cliches by creating a 2010 metaphor, for goldies as "Marching to the beat of a different drummer" or "Love at first sight." Only two of the 40 students came up with something remotely clever; something that wasn't just a thinly veiled regurgitation of the example. I felt like I was addressing a group of masked robots.

It was a little depressing.

Then today my niece, a freshman in a community college English class, showed me her timed writing pop quiz: an essay she wrote on the spot during class. How refreshing!

Now I understand Andie is an aspiring writer (a chip off the ole auntie block), and an intelligent little buggar at that, but I couldn't help but beam at her cohesive writerly skills and the depth of her insight on the assigned topic, "The difference between love and infatuation." Here's an excerpt:

"Far too often , the emotionally-driven society of the United States confuses the fleeting passion of infatuation with the steadfastness of unconditional love. Individuals in this culture proclaim their undying love for pizza and, in the next breath, tell the world how devoted they are to their significant other.

If two people love each other, it is logical that infatuation will turn to love; however, couples often make rash decisions and marry before the thrill of infatuation has died. For a while, they live in bliss together, believing that life after marriage is a real-life fairytale. They soon realize that married life, in essence, is not that different from single life.

Consequently, there is a sense of disappointment at the lack of perfection, which is often followed by regret or boredom. In addition, people often discover that the person they married is not the glorified, idealized image they once thought them to be. The climbing divorce rate may be a result of this disappointment, which is rooted in unrealistic expectations.

In contrast, actual love is not a fleeting emotion, but a deeper, more meaningful connection between two people. It is founded on certainty rather than impulse and is not likely to fade when problems arise. Those who are in love generally have a more realistic view of marriage as opposed to those who are blinded by emotion."

Whoa! Can you see why I'm a proud aunt?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Reviews Sell Books

This article is from Reader Views, a review site for small press and self-published books.

Every author wants glowing book reviews with quotable sentences to use as testimonials. A good review makes readers flock to the bookstore to buy the book.

But how do authors get their books reviewed? While the process is not difficult, the book review industry is changing. Today’s authors must designate a portion of their marketing budget for book reviews, and they must know how to use those book reviews to sell books.

Why Are Book Reviews Important?

More than 200,000 books are published each year. Less than 2% of those books sell more than 500 copies. We’ve all heard the saying, “So many books. So little time.” People don’t want to waste time or money reading books they won’t enjoy, so they rely on book reviews to help them make buying decisions. Your book will stand out if it receives positive reviews from reliable reviewers.

Where Do I Get a Book Review?

There are five top book reviewers: Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, Midwest Book Review, and The New York Times; however, if you’re self-published, it is unlikely your book will be reviewed by any of them. Reviews from local newspapers and magazines will only help you sell books locally. Furthermore, print publications are phasing out book reviews. So where can an author still get a good book review? The Internet.

Online book reviews are becoming standard, and your book’s review will reach a wider audience on the Internet. Online reviews level the playing field for self-published authors. Today, people are less inclined to read paper magazines and newspapers. They go online for information. Reviews posted at Amazon and other online sites are more accessible than print reviews. Reader Views ( and RebeccasReads ( are examples of reliable online book reviewers of both traditional and self-published books.

Free vs. Paid Reviews

Authors generally expect free book reviews; that was standard in the twentieth century—advertisements paid for the book reviews in print media. Today, however, authors must cover the cost of book reviews. A book reviewer may spend hours reading a book and writing a review, and he deserves compensation for his work. Consequently, authors must budget for the cost of book reviews. Authors are recommended to budget for mailing out a minimum of twenty books for review.

How Do Paid Book Reviews Work?

Paid reviews have multiple advantages. Most publications that offer free reviews do not guarantee a book review because of the volume of books submitted. Only by paying for a review can one be guaranteed. Reputable book reviewers will provide a review within a specific timeline—two weeks is standard. They will also provide a review tear-sheet for your use, and give you permission to quote the review, provided you credit them. Many reviewers will also post your review online at such places as their own website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ezine Articles, Goodreads and Authors Den.

Several online book reviewers, such as Reader Views, will give you the option of a free or paid book review. Reader Views will review the book for free provided one of their reviewers is interested in it. If no one opts to review it after three months, the book is returned without a review. If authors do not want to wait three months for a review, an express review can be purchased to guarantee a review within two weeks.

Several book reviewers, including Reader Views, also offer various publicity packages ranging from a single book review, to written and podcast radio interviews, virtual book tours, and book videos. Such packages allow authors the opportunity to get book reviews and publicity within their budget.

Just because you pay for a book review does not mean a good review is guaranteed. It is better to receive an honest review than one that gives false praise. The reviewer’s reputation is at stake here; readers will not appreciate being misled to waste their time and money on a book that does not meet their expectations.

How Do I Use a Book Review to Sell Books?

Before you do anything with your book review, make sure you know what permissions the reviewer has given you for using the review. Are you allowed to use it in whole or only a certain percentage? Can you reprint it or quote from it?

Once you know your rights, some suggestions for using the review to help sell books are:

  • Post it to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ezine Articles, Authors Den, Goodreads, Myspace etc. if the reviewer has not already done so.
  • Quote from the review on your book cover and the inside end papers. (If your book is already printed, use the review when you run a second printing).
  • Include the review in your press kit to gain more media attention.
  • Post and distribute the review at your book signings.
  • Post the review on your website.
  • Send copies of the review in your email newsletters.

Final Comments

More information about book reviews will be covered in future articles. But for now, here are a couple closing points:

  1. Be professional. Send the reviewer a thank you note. Whether you receive a positive or negative review, the reviewer has done you a favor. The reviewer’s comments will help you improve your next book or the next edition of your book. Even a negative review can be used to build a positive relationship with a reviewer, who will appreciate your professionalism. The book world is a small place and you do not want word to spread that you are difficult. Seek to build long-term relationships with book reviewers, and through them, with your reading audience.
  2. Be prepared for the book review to increase your book sales! A good review is worthless if you do not have copies of books to sell. Be prepared to fulfill your book orders so your customers are satisfied. After all, you want your book to be a bestseller!


Tyler TichelaarTyler R. Tichelaar is editor and contributing author of Authors Access: 30 Secrets for Authors and Publishers, the regionally bestselling Marquette Trilogy and the newly published Narrow Lives. He is the Associate Editor of Reader Views.

As the Associate Editor at Reader Views, Tyler has interviewed over 200 authors, written more than 60 book reviews, and edited and evaluated manuscripts for publication.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Everyday Miracles

I lunched with an aspiring writer friend today and her personal story really resonated with me. I bet it will with you, too.

Anna's (name changed) husband has been out of work for four long years, forcing Anna, previously a stay-at-home-mom of two, to return to the work force. Thus her longtime writing dream was necessarily shelved for the time being and Anna began cutting cost corners wherever she could.

During this "faith journey" as Anna refers to the last four years, she has been astounded how God took care of the needs of her family when solutions seemed out of reach. Human reach!

Like the time she had just finished pulling together tuna helper for dinner again, wondering aloud to God when it would ever end. Just as they sat down to eat, the doorbell rang. Standing there holding a huge roast and platter of potatoes was an acquaintaince - not really a friend - whom Anna barely knew.

"Just brought you a little something," she said. No explanation. No harp arpeggios. No rustle of angel wings.

Or when Anna's son wore a hole through his sneakers. "Let's try to make them last just a little longer," Anna whispered, knowing the monthly budget was already stretched to the breaking point.

The next day, a neighbor boy two years older appeared at the kitchen door holding a brand new pair of sneakers just the right size. "We're packing up to move and I found these in my closet. They hurt my feet so I never wore them - do you want them?"

Coincidences? Of course not. Everyday miracles from a Heavenly Father who cares.

I think similar everyday miracles occur in our writing lives as well. During those l-o-n-g waits for editors to respond to submitted manuscripts, when that book title just won't materialize in our brains, after receiving a royalty check for $4.36 ...

Papa God finds innovative ways to encourage us through everyday miracles. What everyday miracles have you seen?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wonder What They're Praying About?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Today's the Day!

I'm thrilled and excited about today's debut program for my "Amish Wisdom" radio show!

Please join me Thursday March 11th at 4:00 pm CST for my first guest, Erik Wesner. Erik is the author of the popular blog "Amish America." We'll be chatting about all things Amish and about Erik's new book coming out about Amish businesses. Have a question about the Amish? Call into the show with your questions 1-877-864-4869.

A bit about Erik: Since 2004, he has visited 20 Amish communities in five states, and met roughly 5,000 Amish families in total.

As the 2008 Snowden Fellow at the Young Center at Elizabethtown College, Erik delivered a lecture entitled “Is Success a Four-Letter Word? The Amish Approach to Business Achievement.”

Erik has contributed to Amish-themed articles featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and other print media. He's have also served as a consultant for numerous authors of Amish fiction and non-fiction.

His book Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive will be published by John Wiley and Sons under the Jossey-Bass imprint on March 29, 2010.

Success Made Simple is based on his 60 interviews with Amish business owners as well as experiences living and working in Amish communities from Pennsylvania to Iowa.

He's also finishing a general-information book on the Amish, Who are the Amish?, to be published in Poland in 2009.

In his previous nine-year career with a Nashville publisher and bookseller, he worked in management and set an international record as a salesperson.

If not in Amish America, you can likely find Erik in Krakow, Poland, where he teaches, translates, and trains for marathons.

Win a copy of Erik's fascinating book by leaving a comment on his segment post at Amish Wisdom here!

How do I know a Publisher is Ethical?

This is a very prudent question and one I've often heard voiced by nervous authors ready to take the step of entrusting their newborn literary baby to an adoptive parent (publisher) who promises to transform their precious offspring into a rock star (bestseller).

Or at least something close.

Can we believe all those payment clauses in the contract? Will hidden fees show up later and threaten to break the bank? Is this just a fly-by-night company out to make a buck and leave me stranded?

Although the majority are aboveboard, sadly, there are a few book publishers out there that cast fear and negativity on the rest - the legitimate businesses who treat the author fairly - and the bad guys are not all self-publishing and subsidy publishing companies (albeit the most notorious).

As savvy business people, we authors must take it upon ourselves to do our homework before signing our life's work away on the dotted line.

Besides first thoroughly revieiwing the track records of your prospective publsher (I recommend contacting a few authors listed on their website and politely request their candid opinions of the company), here are some research suggestions:

1. Peruse www.PredatorsandEditors (a list of those in the publishing industry with complaints lodged against them).
2. Contact the Authors Guild (an author advocate group).
3. Check the website of your genre's national support organization - many have a "writers beware" section. Also, talk to experienced writers in your genre via conferences, blogs and online support groups; authors are usually willing to share their negative or positive publishing experiences.
4. Contact the Publisher Standards Board (supports ethical publishing standards).
5. Look for websites warning potential authors (victims). Example: Airleaf, before disappearing, scammed unsuspecting authors out of tens of thousands of dollars. A proactive website has been established with details and contact sources.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Radio Interview--Book Club style

A week or so ago, I had a fun and quick radio interview with CHRI, a Canadian station. The interviewer was named Ali and was...just so good at her job! She read the book and was well prepared to ask relevant questions. I love the station's concept...each Wednesday afternoon, an author is interviewed for ten minutes on a segment called "Wednesday's Bookmark." The segment is sponsored by a local Christian bookstore that provides 20% off that book for the week. Creative and effective marketing!

Click to listen.

In other book news...The Choice is on the ECPA fiction bestseller list for the second straight month! I'm so excited...I thought I'd be on the list for about 5 minutes. And happy for those 5 minutes!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

American Idol's Life Lessons on Rejection

Are you watching American Idol? I DVD it and then zoom through it. A few weeks ago, as the judges whittled the hopefuls down to twenty-four, there was something Ellen DeGeneres said that stuck with me. She was talking to the annoying girl-with-glasses who wouldn't go home.

(Just to quality that...I didn't mean girl-with-glasses was annoying because she wears glasses. I wear glasses. She was just annoying.)

It's a little can click it off when you're tired of listening to her begging.

Anyway...Ellen said to her, "This is just one 'no' in your life. You will get many 'no's. It doesn't mean it's 'the' no."

Those words just resonated with me. That's a writers' life! Lots and lots of no's. I'm heading over to a writers' conference tonight and teaching a workshop tomorrow. I'm going to reference Ellen's wise lesson about getting no's. Rejection is part of the package when you are trying a creative endeavor.

By contrast, look at this young woman's attitude about rejection. AWESOME!!!

I worry about people like girl-with-glasses. She may be incredibly talented, but there's an extra quality that she is going to need if she ever wants to get anywhere with her music. It's called: perseverance.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Interview with Philip Yancey by Amy Sondova

This interview was written by Amy Sondova and originally posted on her blog, Backseat Writer. Amy graciously gave us permission to re-post this.

Philip Yancey is a lot of things—a “writer’s writer” who has received awards, accolades, and praise for his books. He is also the editor-at-large for Christianity Today. His vulnerable and personal writings have touched the lives of over 15 million people. To be sure, Philip Yancey is gargantuan in the writing world.

But that’s not why I asked Philip Yancey to do a Take 5. I asked him to do a Take 5 because I am one of the 15 million whose lives have been touched. Yes, I remember the moment I first laid my eyes on a Philip Yancey book.

It was 1997 and I was a troubled 17 year-old girl struggling with depression, anxiety, cutting, and of course, issues of faith. The Jesus I Never Knew stared at me from our living room coffee table. Literally, stared at me! Intrigued by the cover (who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?), I picked up the book and began reading.

The Jesus I never knew became the Jesus I started to know in a whole new way. So I read more of Yancey’s books—Soul Survivor, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Disappointment With God, and many more including another favorite, Reaching For the Invisible God.

Yancey managed to reach into the heart of a very confused teenage girl. His honest reflections on faith helped a young woman cling to her own faith in the midst of heartache. And the fact he answered my e-mail and agreed to do this Take 5 made my dream of interviewing Philip Yancey a reality. Thank you, Philip—for everything!

On Backseat Writer, we write a lot about music and books. So what music are you currently listening to and/or what books are you currently reading?

My music answer is always the same: old fogy that I am, I only listen to classical music. I did a three-year project of digitizing all my albums and (yes) reel-to-reel tapes, so I can order up “Symphonies” or “String Quartets” or any individual composer and then music plays all day in the background. I’m afraid that when I hear about the GRAMMY Awards I haven’t heard of two-thirds of contemporary musicians. Oh well, somebody’s got to support the classics.

My next book is a kind of memoir, so I’ve been reading almost nothing but memoirs for the last year or so. I must have read at least 100, simply to study the form and see how it’s done. Some are juicy, some are boring. I’m gradually preparing to make the transition from an essay writer to one who works with narrative and dialog–that’s my hope anyway.

On average, how long does it talk for you to write a book? How much research goes into a Philip Yancey book?

It would take about a year if I did nothing else. I travel quite a bit, and do other projects on the side, so it ends up taking 1.5 or two years. I figure the ratio breaks down like this: 40% preparation (including research, interviewing, outlining, all those writing-avoidance tactics); 20% composing (all the paranoia and psychosis occur here); 40% cleaning up what I wrote (I began my career as an editor, so I truly value this editing process.) While doing my book on Prayer, for example, I spent about six months in libraries before writing a word.

With all your success, how do you keep stay humble?

I play golf. Seriously, though, nothing that happens on the outside helps when you face that blank page or blank computer screen. Writing is the most humbling act I know. Nothing that has happened with prior books offers any guarantee that my current or next book will work, will connect with anyone, will show that I’ve lost whatever spark I may have had. Writing is a lonely, demanding craft, and the longer I do it the worse I feel, in a way, because I recognize more mistakes as I make them. My job is to produce the best book I can; the publisher and readers determine what happens to that book, and that world seems very far apart from how I spend my time.

Young writers often make foolish mistakes. What is a mistake I should avoid?

Writing should come with a label, “Do not practice this alone.” Starting out with an ideal of self-expression is suicidal. Writing is communication, connection. And when you begin, it’s best to find a supportive community, or writers’ group, who can point out what you’re doing wrong (feedback you need) while encouraging you to keep going (feedback you need more). Otherwise, you’ll likely give up.

How does your writing affect your relationship with God? (The reason I ask is this—I feel so close to God when I’m writing or taking pictures, the act itself turns into worship.)

God doesn’t seem to give me great words or great thoughts. Rather, prayer helps remove the distractions that interfere with mental focus–the most crucial ingredient in writing. “Cast all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you,” the Bible says. That takes on stark reality in the composing process. I have anxieties bubbling up–over deadlines, creativity, finances, a million other things–and they can prove paralyzing. I bundle them up and present them to God. Then I trust God with the result. I hear later from people who have touched by my words, but in the process I simply commit them to God as an act of faith. God knows better how to use my words than I do, and I trust God with that part of the process.

For more information on Philip Yancey, visit him online at Also, I recommend you buy every book he’s ever written, but that’s merely my opinion.