Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Do I Need an Agent?

Deb excited about her book in the window of Cracker Barrel
I received a question this week that I thought might interest my writer-buds. My answer is included below. 

Q: A friend of mine has just self-published a book and is having a debut with lots of people and publicity. I remember you talking about your agent. My friend does not have one. He does not know how an agent works or how it may help him. Would you be able to share your agent's number so he can get advice from him/her?

A: If your friend has already self-published his book (or is in the process of doing so), it's too late for an agent. The job of a literary agent is to represent a literary work in seeking a traditional publisher, much like a realty agent (realtor) does in selling a house. Once a book is out (as in self-published), it's considered "sold," and is unlikely to interest a traditional publisher - or agent - in wanting to publish it for their company.

The exception is when a self-published book sells well within the first 2-3 months of its release (we're talking 10-20k copies here). Those numbers will turn an agent's head (and publisher's). Otherwise, the time to query an agent about representing your work is after the manuscript is completed, professionally edited and ready to be shopped around to traditional publishers. 

If you intend to self-publish, you don't need an agent. 

Most traditional presses will only deal with agents - not the authors themselves - so the only way to get a better (bigger and more lucrative) book deal is by having an agent. But sadly, they're VERY hard to get these days. You don't audition them, they audition you, and are generally very picky about whom they sign on - they only make $ when a publisher wants your book and offers to pay for it (agents make 15% of your advance and royalties). If they can't sell your book, they make zero.

I strongly believe agents are worth their weight in gold. 

My first three books (with the best marketing I could do myself) all together sold about 10k copies. In contrast, I've had three different books published (through my agent) by a traditional publisher that have sold over 30k each. The difference is largely because of distribution. They had a system in place to market on a national level. I didn't. 

And 3-4 of my other books have sold between 5k-10k each. One is nearing 60k. The difference is the wider distribution you get with traditional publishers (my books are in WalMart, B & N, Cracker Barrel, Sam's, airports, grocery stores, convenience stores (just saw one of my titles at a nondescript “Food Mart” in rural Georgia when we stopped for gas on a trip recently) and Christian bookstores everywhere, besides being sold online as e-books and print books).

It's very difficult to get widespread distribution like that when you self-publish or publish through small presses (small presses pay for everything but the marketing is pretty much up to you; self-publishing means you pay for everything and do the marketing yourself).

I had three books out with a small press before I was able to interest an agent in representing my 4th book. His name is Greg Johnson of WordServe Literary Agency - your friend can Google Greg and the agency if he likes, but I don't feel comfortable giving a recommendation to Greg unless I've read part/all of the book myself and know that it's ready (meaning it's thoroughly edited and polished and of the highest quality).

Finding an agent is not something to be taken lightly. It's actually a lot of work - your manuscript must edited, re-edited, and edited some more so that it absolutely shines. You need to have your book proposal (about 10 pages long) ready too. Then you send prospective agents a query letter (which must be of excellent quality - there are books out there on writing a query alone) just like you would to a publisher. If the agent thinks it's good enough, he/she then offers to represent that work (JUST that one manuscript), you sign a contract, and you're off to the races. 

When your agent shops the manuscript around and finds a prospective buyer, you talk turkey and hammer out the details of the deal (date the final m/s is due, royalty percentage, advance - if there is one - who owns which rights, number of author copies provided, etc.). Then you sign the contract and the real work begins: Preparing to sell your book. 

Agents nowadays specialize in particular genres, so when your friend completes his next book, he needs to do a little research on literary agencies that specialize in his genre and start sending out queries right away. It's a huge bonus if you can meet your agent-match-made-in-heaven at a writing conference face-to-face. (Many conferences offer personal meetings with agents as well as publishing house editors - take advantage of this!)

I hope this answers your question sufficiently. I can be reached through my website if you or your friend have further questions. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

How Does Your Book Get National Attention?

Look what Shellie found in Cracker Barrel! 
Earlier this week, my friend and writing bud, best-selling author Shellie Rushing Tomlinson ("Belle of All Things Southern"), sent me this phone photo of her own coy eyes peeking over the top of a pretty pink and teal book in Louisiana.

Boy was I surprised!

It was my own Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal. Now this was fun in itself, to see someone of Shellie's celebrity holding my humble book (she's hugely well known in secular as well as Christian publishing for her hilarious southern-genre books like Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy), but the thing was ...

The surprise wasn't just WHAT the book was, but WHERE it was.

Gift bundles, anyone? 
Yup. My very first book to hit Cracker Barrel. Woohoo! The big time! And Shellie's local Cracker Barrel was apparently one of the first to grace their shelves with my baby blessing. 

Later in the week my daughter-in-law sent me another photo of my book in the central Florida Cracker Barrel she just happened to stop in for lunch. Not only were copies of Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal in the window, they'd wrapped some in this nifty gift wrap packaged with some cool bookmarks and other Cracker Barrel-y stuff for your shopping convenience.

Then other messages and photos of my book in Cracker Barrels across the country began popping up from my faithful reader friends. (THANK YOU if you're one of them!)

A glorious event for any author. But how did it happen? How does a book make it into a highly trafficked, nationwide consumer outlet like Cracker Barrel? My writer friends are clamoring to know.

Well I must tell you in all honesty that it was none of my own doing. The sales force employed by my super duper publisher, Barbour Books, is responsible. When Barbour decided to print a hard cover version of Too Blessed to be Stressed, they wisely made it upscale and beautiful and turned it into a journal (meaning inside it's basically the same as the original  paperback Too Blessed but with additional lined pages to answer the reflection questions at the end of each chapter and for the reader to journal her thoughts.)

And journals are IN these days. As are gift books. And gifts, of course, are what Cracker Barrel is all about.

Barbour knew this, of course (because it's their business to know what's hot and where it's selling), and when their sales team pitched a list of possible purchases to the Cracker Barrel home office marketing people (as they routinely do to Walmart, Sams, Target, LifeWay, B & N ... you name the retailer), even though the Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal was a few dollars more than the original paperback, they bit.

Why? Because it fit their before-Christmas-gift book criteria and seemed to be a good fit for their store.

I only wish it was easier for self-published and small press books to be considered for distribution by these national chains, and perhaps it will be one day with the ever-changing face of the publication industry, but for now, it's one of the benefits of going to all the trouble of getting your manuscript professionally edited to a glaring shine and enduring the angst of trying to interest a literary agent to represent your work.

That's the path to hooking a traditional publisher and the traditional presses seem to be the ones in the queue.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep spit-shining your manuscript with detailed editing or consider self-publishing. The two should go hand-in-hand. That's the way the glass ceiling will shatter ... good quality books by good quality authors will be chosen by good quality retailers. Regardless of their birth.

And I truly hope it's your book that leads the way!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Switch-hitting: Is it Really Taboo in Writing?

Some of my books; I feel very blessed!
I'm a nonfiction writer. Or at least my agent insists that I am. That's why he says I can't go back and delve into the fiction world where I began my writing journey (my first - and only - two novels are on the bottom right of this collage: The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails).

"You're a known entity in nonfiction now," he says.
"Women's inspirational nonfiction is your brand."
"You'd have to write under a pseudonym so not to confuse your readers."
"No publisher would take the chance."

Yet rarely a week goes by that I don't get an e-mail from a reader asking when the third book in the Emma-Lee trilogy will come out.

Sigh. Is switch-hitting really so very taboo?

More often than not, when I'm asked to lead a workshop at a writing conference, the topic requested is related to fiction. And I love it. Although I'm not actively writing fiction at the moment (just signed a new contract for another nonfiction book), I'm constantly studying the craft and skill-growing so that on that fateful day in the future when I return to my roots, I'll be ready.

So what I want to cover today is something aspiring authors often ask me about. It's a very good question and somewhat controversial. It's about switch-hitting too, but in a different way. It generally applies more to fiction, but can also apply to creative nonfiction (my forte) as well. Are you ready? Here's the question: Can you switch from first person to second person or third person and back again all in one body of work?

I've heard esteemed and ultra-learned writing teachers answer unequivocally NO to that question, and I've seen others equally pedigreed grin and shrug their shoulders.

So what are your thoughts on the matter, friend?

I've tended to fall more into the first category in theory but the second in practice. It's true that traditional English teachers preach hellfire and brimstone against the practice, but it's also true that many published writers do it and do it quite effectively. The thing is, it has to be skillfully accomplished or it becomes what I call an eyeball wall - it stymies flow and makes the reader stumble or even stop altogether to figure out what just happened ... the death knell for keeping the reader turning pages. And certainly the pox for getting an editor interested in publishing your book.

Then last night as I was reading my Bible, I came across the perfect example in this well known passage that switches perspective beautifully and seamlessly. So much so that you and I have never noticed:

Psalm 23 (NASB)
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."  (starting out in first person) Now look what happens:

"He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." (third person) Then we bounce back again:

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;" (back to first person) But whoa, what's this?

"For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou dost preprare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.; Thou has anointed my head with oil;" Hey, did we just hop to second person in the middle of a first person sentence? But we're not finished switch-hitting yet ...

"My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Ta-Da! Will you look at that - a triumphant first person ending! Beautifully written and beloved by countless millions after David, the psalmist who was inspired by THE Author of all authors, hopped around personhood perspectives like his feet were afire.

So that's the answer I'll go with. Switch-hitting is okay if and only if you're the reigning king of Israel and have slain a giant with a slingshot.


Switch-hitting is good. It's rich. It's powerful. As long as you're clever and skilled enough to use it subtly and effectively.

Now I just have to convince my agent.   



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Who Doesn't Like a 75% Off Sale?

Deb's brand new book
On SUPER SALE for a limited time (sale ends 10/13/14): The Kindle edition of my brand new release is only $2.99!

I hope you'll hop on this one like a tick on a hound dog.

Here's the link:

Now don't tarry or you'll miss out!

And as an added bonus, my publisher is putting the Momma book of my 6 Baby Blessings on sale during the month of October. Yep - Too Blessed to be Stressed is only $1.99! 

If you've already got Too Blessed to be Stressed, please send this golden opportunity to a friend. As always, I'm VERY grateful for your support! 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What To Do When Your Book Releases (Part 2b)

A wonderful place to do interviews in Lake Mary, FL
This isn't going to be long enough to be Part 3 so I'm calling it an addendum to the previous two posts on this topic (please scroll back to catch up).

In going through some files today, I ran across a Tampa Tribune article from 7/08 I'd clipped that had everything to do with the topic we've been covering this week - book promotion.

The article should have been called, "How NOT to do a Television Interview."

Author Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth appeared on "The Wendy Williams Show" to promote her upcoming book. The interview started out amiably but somehow nosedived into the host and guest trading insults about bad nose jobs, Botox gone wrong and pathetic wigs.

During one horrible interlude, the two snatched Omarosa's book back and forth amid audience hoots and catcalls until some director wisely decided to break for commercials.

I've done a few interesting interviews during my author days but I think the most memorable was when a guest appearing just before me brought along a friend and I got up close and personal in the green room before shooting (film, not wild game). By the way, Barbara Beck, the lovely host of TV-45's "The Good Life," is in the background.
Nobody told me interviews would include reptiles

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What To Do When Your Book Releases (part 2)

My most recent Baby Blessing
This is the continuance of a previous post so please do us both a favor and scroll back to read Part 1 so we're both on the same page. Gracias. Donka. Gratzi. (My apologies for phonetic foreign language spelling to you linguists out there.)

Okay, once you've got your reviews flowing in and have reposted, retweeted, and regurgitated everywhere you can think of, you need to divvy your happy hunting grounds into two expeditions: near and far.

Near: Consider how to reach local readers. Ask friends to help you by posting your blurbs and sending their own fantastic reviews to their contact lists. A personal recommendation goes a long, long way in the book biz.

Think about having a book launch party at a local bookstore, home, restaurant, or business (any business will do but one remotely related to the topic of your book is best - for instance when my book, Mom NEEDS Chocolate came out, I had a launch party in a chocolate shop).

Offer to speak and sponsor contests with book giveaways to church groups, civic organizations, libraries, Bible studies (assuming your book is inspirational; I wouldn't do this if you write paranormal erotica). Plan on giving at least 30 books away one way or another for promotion - some will need to go to media folks you query for articles/interviews/radio mentions. Face it, they have to have your book to know what they're talking about, and most then donate the book to someone who is a candidate to become your biggest fan.

So don't think of it as a gigantic hole in your pocket. Think of it as an investment in your future.
My newest release

Back room book sales at speaking events are an excellent source of side income while you're waiting on your royalties to kick in. Most publishers offer significant discounts to authors (mine allows me to purchase my books at 1/3 their market value), so if you buy a book for $3.50 and sell it for $10 and multiply that by the 20 people lined up at your book table, you've got a nice little gig going.

Far: Internet is, of course, one of the fastest and most efficient ways to get word of your new book out to the far reaches of the galaxy.

Having no cyber-savvy of my own, I hire a publicist to handle this oh-so-critical aspect of promo for me. The fine ladies at Litfuse Publicity Agency have helped launch my past 4 books by organizing and implementing press releases, Facebook launch parties (where people from all over the world meet in a chat room at the same time on the same day for an hour of getting to know each other via laughter, a few tears, and best of all, discussing my book!), TV and radio interviews, a blog tour of 80+ sites, and a huge contest/Kindle and book giveaway that attracts hundreds of entries, which are then added to my contact list to receive my free e-newsletter.

Clever, huh? Publishers consider those 3,350 people currently on my list to be my fans and are thereby persuaded to consider me a good candidate for writing another book. Voila. Killed two raptors with one spear.

Here's the link to my upcoming 11/6/14 Facebook launch party for Too Loved to be Lost Click on the link and join now to be in the drawing for the Kindle and other cool prizes, then I'd love to have you join us BFF's (Blessed Friends Forever) at 8 pm EST on Nov 6. You can see how it works in planning for your own and have fun in the process!

So what promotional tactics work best for you?


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What To Do When Your Book Releases (part 1)

It's that magical, mystical, maniacal time of the writing journey again - the release of a new book.

The wonder and excitement of holding that brand spanking new creation in your hands is lovely but momentary. Then reality sinks in. How will anybody know about this marvelous miracle?

AACK! I'm going to have to tell them!

Promotion panic sets in.

Hopefully you've had a little foresight and by this point have been plotting and planning your promo campaign for a couple months. The trouble is, most book reviewers (who your trust will gleefully plaster their 5-star reviews all over the internet, especially Amazon) require a book in their hands in order to read it so they can review it.

They're pretty picky about that.

So until you or your publisher have managed to place a book in their hands, you have to depend on your pre-publication endorsers to do the talking for you. You should have rounded up 3-4 (more if possible) endorsements - we call blurbs - from well known names in your field (meaning the topic of the book), names your potential readers will recognize and trust. These you should post everywhere you can - website, Twitter, Facebook, car bumpers, Times Square billboards, airplane banners ... you get the picture.

Because a book release is a big deal. Really. The bigger bang you can create during the first month post-release, the better your chances are to get those sales numbers up during the crucial first three months. These are the stats that convince publishers to offer you another book contract or not. And whether your book will stay on store bookshelves longer than the average author's quarter of a year. So do NOT underestimate the power of a great send-off.

More tomorrow on how to make your send-off the most memorable ever!

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Publishing Trends

Freshly released!
I was so excited when my editor told me my new Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal would be carried by Cracker Barrel! As you already know, these days it's not a sure thing that anyone at all will carry your books.

In fact, I've heard a few interesting industry trends recently that I thought I'd pass on you, writerly friends.

The first is sadly no surprise - as bookstores and book departments in big box stores are shrinking in size and number (have you noticed the teensy book section in Sam's Club recently compared to the bustling multi-aisles they had only two years ago?) traditional publishers are shrinking in number as well. Some are closing their doors and others are merging, but the result is the same ... less opportunities for agents and authors to attract traditional press eyeballs.

They want to stick with the tried and true, thank you. Meaning mostly the mega-names that have sold well for them in the past. That's why agents are pitching quality manuscripts by quality authors to publishing houses and are being turned away.

Oh, except for gift books. Pubs seem to be open to gift books, even from newish authors as long as the titles are catchy and they have mass appeal. People will always want to pick up nice gift books for friends in the hospital or someone going through a bad time. It's something to wrap in a pretty package to show how much you care and something the recipient can hold in her hands to feel the love.

Hence the primary reason Cracker Barrel, who as you know specializes in gift shopping to take your mind off your growling stomach while you're waiting for your table, snapped up the beautifully embossed hard cover version of my original paperback book, Too Blessed to be Stressed. Gift books are still a goldmine and will be for some time until someone figures out a way to sell an e-book you can tie a shiny bow around.

And we mustn't forget how-to books. People are eager to buy gift books for Aunt Matilda's Christmas present and BFF Louise's surprise birthday party, but they're downright hyper to buy themselves the newest self-help book on improving their marriage, parenting, sex, and spiritual lives in five easy steps. Who wouldn't want to do something important to them even better? And at little cost with no one aware that you're trying to fix a secret fault?

So if you're a gift book or self-help writer, or if you specialize in devos or spiritual encouragement, you may eat a celebratory Cadbury bar. But only one.

You'll need to pocket the change because there's not a lot of money in book deals these days. You may not have known - unless you're already a published inspirational author - and I hate to be the one to break it to you if this is a sudden shock, but ... you'll never get rich in this writing gig. Average first and second book advances used to be $10k to $15k ten years ago but nowadays if they're offered at all, they're more like $3k to $5k. And sadly, there are so many companies that don't offer any advance at all, people are tickled to get that much. Try to feed, clothe, and air-condition your family for a month with that.

The logical outcome of all this is, of course, a huge boon in online self-publishing and the use of social media for platform-building.

Many traditionally published authors are going hybrid (producing some self-published books along with the ones their traditional publisher churns out), and many new authors are choosing from the get-go to indie publish. The age old hideous-cover-terrible-editing stigma of self-published books is beginning to fade as indie companies cater more and more to discerning authors, but going the extra mile to produce nothing short of excellent quality material is essential for the new kids on the block if they want this trend to continue to be a viable option.

So what's a writer to do?

Keep writing, that's what. Explore all possibilities - blogs, guest posts, print magazines (there are a few left and hey, Sunday School materials will always be on demand!), e-zines ... oh, far too many opportunities to name here if you use your imagination and do your homework.

But that's the main thing: If you feel called to write, then keep on using every possible opportunity to impact lives with your written words. If Papa God asks you to build a shed, my friend, He'll supply the nails.

*A special shout out to Casey Herringshaw for her astute 9/15/14 blogpost on The WordServe Water Cooler titled "A View From the Assistant's Desk." By the way, if you don't subscribe to or, you absolutely positively need to get your behunkus in gear and do it today!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Best Picture of All Time

This image says it all
Yes, if you've followed my blog for long, you've seen this picture before. And you'll no doubt see it again. As a writer, it's my absolute favorite picture-says-a-thousand-words image of all time.

I know people usually think of this words-jumping-to-life feeling in terms of fiction, but as an inspirational nonfiction writer, this is exactly the way I want my readers to feel about Papa God wrapping His warm, loving, safe arms around them through the catalyst of my words on the page.

It's what I live for.

And when I receive letters from readers telling me they've been in this exact place, feeling the acceptance and contentment reflected in the face of the gal in the image, I rejoice down to the tips of my toenails.

Here are a few comments I've received:

"Thank you for helping me realize it's okay to be a diamond in the rough." ~Denise

"I'm 21 years old and have recently been laid off so I can no longer help my father with his medical bills. I read the first two pages of Too Blessed to be Stressed and started to cry. It had an enormous impact on my heart. I read certain sections daily and take it with me almost everywhere I go to refer to when I feel lost."  ~Erin

"I live in Puerto Rico and just finished reading Too Blessed to be Stressed in Spanish. I love the way you show us how God is included in everyday."  -Ana Maria

"I am currently a stay-at-home mom and Mom NEEDS Chocolate helped me know I'm not alone in this crazy and wonderful ride called Motherhood." ~Krystle

"Your book, Everyday Hope, truly saved me last year during one of the most challenging times of my life. Every day, as I lay in bed crying, the only thing that I could feel comfort in doing was reading pages of this book. I've read it again and again. The winter season passed and now, a year later, I'm in a place of renewed hope in my life. The only difference is that this year I have a new attitude and a new path to follow."  ~Marisa

"I cannot say enough how More Beauty, Less Beast has blessed my life. I bought the last copy at the bookstore and gave it to a teacher at the preschool going through a hard time. I know it will transform her life like it has mine."  ~Leondra

"Thank you and your co-writers for our wonderful book, Grit for the Oyster; it has inspired me and hit me right between the eyes that it's not about me but about doing the best I can with the gifts God has given me. May God bless you a thousand times as you have blessed us with this book."  ~Dave

"After seeing the format of how you compile your thoughts in Too Blessed to be Stressed into short messages and categories made me realize, 'Yes! That'show my brain works! Forget all the details, just get to the good stuff!'" ~Kaley

"Thank so much for writing More Beauty, Less Beast, Debora. I can't say enough wonderful things about it. You touched my heart, made me laugh out loud and brought me closer to the Lord."   ~Lori

"I just lost my dad due to a heart attack last Saturday. It was the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my life. I just read your book, Too Blessed to be Stressed, this week and it gave me a lot of hope and comfort. Thank you and God bless you."  ~Jen

"I let my mom borrow my copy of Too Blessed to be Stressed and she is on her tenth read now. I can't thank you enough for helping put that beautiful smile back on my mom's face!"  ~Pamela

Writerly friend, I share these comments with you to help spur you on. Sometimes we write for months, even years without feedback that anyone is responding out there. But this is the bottom line of why we toil away as writers, isn't it? To touch another heart ... to become the catalyst for that powerful unseen force to reach out through the page and envelop the reader in a comforting, healing, strengthening embrace.

So what has been your motivation to keep on writing?

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Bear of a Challenge

Deb and Chuck making new friends
Accuracy in details. It's a bear of a challenge for writers, but one we must tackle regardless of how hairy it may be.

Not long ago I heard a writer speaking. Now sometimes speakers write and sometimes writers speak. This was the latter. And she did it well.

During her wonderfully inspiring keynote address to a room full of fellow writers, this highly acclaimed author used a phrase that really resonated with me. She claimed it as a quote from one of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy. 

Well, as it happens, I had just finished listening to the CD (audio) version of that very book on my way to the conference. (Okay - don't ask why a grown woman with no children in the car chooses to listen to the Chronicles of Narnia over all the murder mysteries, romances, and motivational books on her shelf. It was either that or Harry Potter, and I've just about worn those out.) 

But you know what? For the life of me, I could not recall that specific phrase from anywhere in the book. And it was one of those rare, awesome memory-worms that I definitely would have noticed. 

So thinking maybe somehow it had been edited out of the audio version, I came home from the conference and dusted off my 35-year-old print copy of The Horse and His Boy and proceeded to rifle through the pages, paying particular attention to the sections that seemed most likely to contain the afore-mentioned phrase.


So I began at the front and for the next four hours, read the book from cover to cover, painstakingly searching for this handful of artfully sculpted words that I would love to use in context and reference correctly in my own work.

It simply wasn't there. 


If only this well-known author, who certainly knew better, had expended the energy to check her sources and reference her quotes correctly, it would have saved me many hours of effort and frustration. As it is, I have this terrific quote and no one to attribute it to. 

So please. Be a great writer instead of a good one. Make the effort to include accurate attributions and references in your work. And I'll be the first to reward you with a great big bear hug. 


Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Times They Are A-Changin'

I recently attended a wonderfully informational writer's conference in Atlanta (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), where Tamela Hancock Murray, a literary agent with the Steve Lauby agency delivered a State of the Industry address chockful of aspiring and veteran writer need-to-know nuggets.

I'll space them out over my next few posts so you don't feel like a tree fell on your head.

Feel free to contact me with questions or comments - I'd love to hear from you! Here goes:

  • Quite a few mergers occurred within the inspirational publishing industry this year, which resulted in the loss of many good editors and jobs. These include the alliance formed by Tyndale and NavPress, closed fiction divisions by B & H, Summerside, and Moody, merger of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, and Baker acquired Regal.  
  • These changes, of course, shrink the market for Christian authors to shop their manuscripts. Yucko.
  • Because of the evaporating larger house market, it behooves new authors to consider small presses more than ever. (Deb's note: I've been advocating small presses for years. It's where I got my start - many produce great quality books at no cost to the author, and most don't requite agents but will deal directly with the author.)
  • Self-publishing is still ironing out its kinks. Self-pub books tend to get fewer than 10 reviews on Amazon and most successful self-pub books are by already big name authors with large platforms. The few exceptions who get big press with highly successful first e-books or print books make it look easier than it is.
  • Hybrid authors (who do both self-publishing and traditional publishing) are on the rise; many are publishing their older traditionally published books after they're out of print and the rights revert to the author. (Note: rights reverting to the author MUST appear in the contract; check your fine print.)

More next post. Any thoughts you'd like to share about the above?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Terrific New Contest!

Summer 2014: Baby Blessings Shower

The Babies Are Arriving!

As you may have heard, my book Too Blessed to be Stressed has been busy birthing offspring; I call them my Baby Blessings. So far, the bouncing bundles of joy include:

Too Blessed to be Stressed 2014 Planner

Too Blessed to be Stressed Perpetual Calendar Too Blessed to Be Stressed Perpetual Calendar

Muy Bendecida Para Estar Estresada (Spanish translation) Too Blessed to be Stressed (Spanish)
The Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition
Too Blessed to Be Stressed - Promise Book

Due next in July is the Too Blessed to be Stressed 2015 Planner and in September, the Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal, which is a hard cover version of the original paperback with additional space for Too Blessed to be Stressed 2015 Planneranswering “Let’s Decom-Stress” reflection questions and journaling. I’m planning cool contests to give away copies of each one to celebrate their birthdays, so be sure to subscribe to my blog to find out about all the freebies as the news breaks!
In the meantime, I’m throwing a baby shower in reverse! That means I give YOU gifts to celebrate! Keep reading …

A Baby Shower Like No Other
In celebration of my Baby Blessings, I want to see yours! Just shoot me an e-photo of your cherished baby (human, 4-legged or even 4-wheeled) on my CONTACT page by August 8th and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win the Baby Blessing (listed above) of your choice. Winning photos will be posted on my blog in mid-August.

If you haven't already subscribed to my personal blog, please do so that you won't miss a thing (this is my writer's blog; my personal blog is

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Breaking Into Print

I received an e-letter from an aspiring writer this week asking for tips on how to break into print (she's currently a college English major, focused on creative writing).

As I'm often asked for advice from young writers on how to get your feet wet in the sea of publication, I thought I'd reprint my response to her here. Much of it is my personal story. I hope you find something in my tale helpful for your own writing journey. Here was my reply:

I think you're wise to pursue creative writing in college; I sometimes think if I had, it would have saved me a lot of cramming and learning the hard way later (I majored in occupational therapy at UF). But I had no way of knowing I would turn out to be a writer - it was more Papa God's idea than mine.

I started writing professionally about 10 years ago at age 45 when my youngest chick flew the coop for college and I heard a still, small voice whisper to my heart (in a dentist's office of all places!) that it was time to chase the childhood dream He'd put in my heart to write.

I began with magazine articles and with a mentor's help (mostly to make me NOT look like the amateur I was), was able to get 10 pieces published that first year. Although the industry has changed dramatically during the past decade, I still believe it's the best way to go - take small bites (articles both online and print, blogs, etc) before tackling the whole enchilada (a book). I'm now blessed with over 130 articles published internationally, most of them based on personal anecdotes and life lessons learned. Many of them are laced with humor (I highly recommend this to promote sales - everybody likes to laugh!). 

From magazines, I moved on to a newspaper column (which I still write 8 years later), kind of a Christian Erma Bombeck slice of life perspective.

Both of these experiences were crucial to:
1) Pad my resume and provide clips for catching bigger and better writing gigs (and eventually an agent).
2) Provide experience for writing tight and learning the ropes.
3) Demonstrate to book publishers that I was a serious writer, knew my stuff, and that I was worth taking a chance on (publishing and promoting a book is a hefty and risky endeavor).
4) Begin building my platform for a future book career - growing a readership and establishing my writing voice.
5) Get my name "out there."

My first three books (two YA historical novels and a combo devo/how-to for writers) were published by a small press. This is another thing I advocate at my writing workshops: small presses. They will deal with unagented writers and provide many of the same things larger traditional presses do, except for large scale book distribution. Since the books are usually POD (Print On Demand), bookstores won't carry them because they're nonreturnable, but these days that doesn't matter as much because the bulk of sales are online and electronic anyway. You don't pay a penny with a small press and end up with a nice book to show for it. (As opposed to some self-published books with inferior covers and poor editing.)

It was only after I had three books under my belt that I was able to land an agent - these days you don't choose them, they choose you, but only if they feel your manuscript is completely ready, sell-able and polished (this means professional editing before submitting a manuscript to either an agent or publisher is an absolute must). As I alluded to earlier, the larger publishing houses only deal with agents. My agent, then, was able to open bigger doors to better contracts. My 14th book will be released this fall.

I'm sure you already know that an excellent resource is the Christian Writers Market Guide (for inspirational writers) and I highly recommend combing that highly valuable book for places your work might be a good fit. All the info you'll need is contained therein - follow submission guidelines to the letter.

If your writing is solid and of good quality, it's only a matter of time until you start placing pieces. And periodical publishing brings in a little income while you're learning the ropes (averages 10-20 cents per word, sometimes more). 

Another way to add planks to your platform is to become more visible. Choose something related to your chosen genre that meets a felt need with the public, develop an expertise and become a speaker. My niche is quirky women's humor so I developed presentations related to the topics of my inspirational women's books - stress, self-control, beauty, fear, unconditional love - and have spoken to more than 100 groups in the past three years. Back room book sales are usually quite lucrative and the exposure (mostly word of mouth) really boosts your following.

There's no magic formula that works for everyone - every writer I know broke in a different way. But I think the common thread is determination and perseverance ... and continuing to perfect your craft.

I would also recommend a subscription to Writer's Digest or another trade journal (that's where I learned more about the writing biz than anywhere else), and to also subscribe to writing blogs of those successful within your genre. There's quite a lot of good info in the archives of mine that you would likely find helpful: I'd also like to invite you to subscribe to my personal blog: to get a flavor for the ongoing process of connecting with your readers after the books are out.

Go where the decision makers are. Attend one or two writers conferences each year; do your homework before hand and prepare queries or one-pagers to pitch to at least three editors face to face (conferences are the only place you can do this so it's worth the $500 or so it costs - I've landed many article and/or book deals at conferences). 

Even if they don't think your piece is "ready," they'll give you invaluable input so that you'll see clearly where you need to go from here and next time it will be. These are the actual people who make the decisions what to publish... let them meet you personally and get to know you. Rapport goes a l-o-n-g way in the pub biz.

Realistically, you may not come out of the starting gate making a living off your writing income. Many or perhaps most of us have other jobs and write on the side. Some of the fortunate few do well enough to eventually quit their day jobs and only write, but not most. After a decade writing professionally, I'm only just now starting to receive royalty checks that have more than three digits. I never did quit my day job as an occupational therapist and don't intend to in the near future, although I have been able to cut my hours back to allow for more writing time.

And a HUGE must: learn to write a killer query. So immensely important.

Professional writing is truly great fun, although a lot of work. But when those letters from readers start coming in that thank you for changing their lives and touching their hearts with Papa God's love, you know it's all worth it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Radical Makeovers

My new book covers! 
What do you think? 
Woo Hoo!

Soooo exciting!

These are the new covers for my two historical novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails. 

My publisher felt it was time for an update and I think they give Emma-Lee, the main character of both books, a fresh new look.

I actually resisted at first - accepting change has never been my forte. But I'm glad I relented now that I've seen what a very talented cover artist can do ... not really altering my perception of who Emma-Lee is, but enhancing the possibilities and engaging the imagination in all that she could be.

It was my desire to keep the distant storm clouds and dark edges on the horizon of The Distant Shore to symbolize the tragedy and mystery that Emma-Lee was thrust into on the island through no fault of her own. Not unlike many of the problems we face every day - problems not of our own making, but problems we must wade through nonetheless.

And the cover artist (whom I've never met or even spoken to) came up with the beautiful brightness and glorious sunbeams (if you read my books, you know how much I absolutely ADORE those symbolic fingers of our Creator reaching down to us in the form of sunbeams!) portraying Emma-Lee's emerging faith and hope in Papa God for Billowing Sails

The use of sunbeams is just another marvelously cool coincidence that isn't.

It's a grace note. An amazing grace note that proves to me yet again that Papa God is involved in every single detail of our lives. Even book cover radical makeovers!

P.S. If you've never read these delightful novels inspired by a true story, good news! They're on sale for $1.99 each for a limited time in e-reader version for both Kindle and Nook. And of course they're also available in print from and as well as anywhere books are sold.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Mentor Has Feathers

My Promo Mentor: Jo-Jo the Sand Hill Crane
It happened again yesterday.

I was enjoying my early morning prayer walk through a nearby patch of woods when my thoughts were interrupted by a loud honk/squawk/clicking racket from overhead.

Glancing up, I saw the same Sand Hill Crane I'd seen every morning at precisely 8:30 a.m. for the previous three days. He flew at the same height, in the same route - toward the south, banking off eastward at the intersection of the pond and strawberry field - all the while announcing his presence to the world in the same unmistakable, unmissable, unforgettable fashion. Honking/squawking/clicking at the top of his lungs. (Sorry for the clunky description but I double-dog dare you to try to put the call of a Sand Hill Crane into English!)

The key word here? Same. 

He did the same thing at the same time everyday. And he made sure the rest of the world was aware of it.

I assumed he was off a'courting some nice ladybird since it's spring and love is in the air. Incidentally, Sand Hill Cranes, like most birds, mate for life and take their marriage vows very, very seriously. We could learn something from them.

And as an author, it occurred to me that I could learn something from this guy. He's an expert at self-promotion.

The first day I saw him, he was simply of mild passing interest. Hmm. There goes a big noisy bird.

The second day, he made more of an impression. Hey, I wonder if that's the same bird I saw yesterday. He looks the same. Wonder where he's going. Wonder why he's going. Maybe I'll watch him a while.

The third day, he burrowed under my skin. Oh my gosh, that IS the same bird. How cool is that? I'm going to follow him and see what he's up to.

And that dadgum bird stayed in my mind all morning. I even named him Jo-Jo and went home and Googled Sand Hill Cranes to learn more about my new friend. And to me, suddenly he was.

My new friend.

I cared about him. I told others about him. I actually looked forward to the next morning when I could hurry out to see him again.

Just the way we writers want people to view us.

And how do we get to the point of burrowing under people's skin so that they care about us, tell others about us, and look forward to our next book? The same way Jo-Jo did: Stay vocal and visible.

Let me say that again because it's important: Stay vocal and visible. 

What does that mean to you? Pursue speaking opportunities? Guest blog? Write online articles? Show up and comment on websites and blogs frequented by your targeted audience regularly? Tweet ten times a day? Blog daily? Snag all the media interviews you can? Maybe all of the above.

Promotional guru Michael Hyatt has his accounts set up so that he feeds a template in the morning and tweets automatically appear 13 times a day and mini-blogs twice daily while he's busy elsewhere. He constantly shares good stuff he finds on other people's blogs, giving them full credit of course - an excellent way to foster networking so that they'll return the favor and eventually their readers become your readers.      

Sure, I know. You aren't Michael Hyatt with all his experience, funds and techy resources. But I'll bet there's still something you can add to your current self-promotional arsenal to make you more vocal and visible.

Go ahead. Give it some thought. Prepare to do some serious skin-burrowing. Become a Jo-Jo.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We All Want to be Winners

Congrats! You won the literary award!

The words every author longs to hear but seldom does.

But wait! There's more reason to hope than you might think. Don't give up yet on penning "award-winning author" after your name.There are quite a few writing contests and literary awards out there that someone will win. It might just be you!

Here is a partial list of some of the more prominent annual Christian book awards. Bear in mind that there are even more than what you see here; all it takes is a little elbow grease and research to turn them up so you can pop your entry in the mail (or online for e-books).

  • EPCA Awards (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association): Gold Medallion Book Awards are given in five categories including Bibles, Fiction, NF, Inspirational, and Bible Reference. 
  • Christianity Today Book Awards: Ten categories plus Book of the Year.
  • Christy Award: Fiction only, nine categories including contemporary romance, historical romance, contemporary series, suspense, contemporary stand alone, visionary, first novel, historical, and YA. 
  • Rita Award: Romance Fiction only (named for Rita Clay Estrada, the first president of RWA, Romance Writers of America). Ten novels are proclaimed winners from the 2000 applicants each year. 
  • Selah Awards: Blue Ridge Conference Writing Contest; winners in each of  eleven categories including romance novel, contemporary/women novel, historical novel, suspense novel, speculative fiction, novella, inspirational/gift, YA, Bible studies, children, Christian Life, plus Book of the Year. 
  • Golden Scroll Awards: sponsored by AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) in conjunction with the CBA's International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) award Fiction Book of the Year, NF Book of the Year, and Author of the Year among others.
  • Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year
  • Illumination Awards: eighteen categories including Bible study, Christian Living, devotional, theology, self-help, children's YA, romance fiction, Ebook NF, Ebook Fiction, and more. 
  • Enduring Light Medals: rewarding exemplary Christian-themed books published since the year 2000.  Categories include Christian Thought, Devotional, Inspirational, Christian Fiction, and Christian Children's Book.

Most of these contests require less than $100 fee per entry (per category) and usually two copies of your book for the judges. All have deadline submission dates. Most are accessible to authors (as opposed to the publisher being required to submit the book) but it's a MUST to read the application instructions thoroughly so you don't defeat yourself before you're even in the running.

The Christian Writers Market Guide is a good reference for writing contests and awards and I always recommend that you Google the entrance requirements for newest developments/changes.

Go get 'em!  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Behind the Scenes of Book Publication

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

Okay, now on to business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How Do You Say Papa God in Spanish?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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