Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*All scripture from NKJV translation

Friday, October 11, 2013

Whistle While You Work

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

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

I took a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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