Category : The Writing Craft

  • August 21, 2013

    What's the best way to approach an editor at a conference?


    I’ve been trying to catch up on all the questions people have sent in, so let me share a handful of queries: “When speaking with an editor at a conference, what is the best way to approach the allotted 15 minutes? Do I focus on the editor and the titles she’s worked on? Do I focus on my novel? Do I bring a one sheet?”

    The best way to approach your time at an editorial appointment is to do some research and practice. Check to make sure the editor you’re meeting actually acquires books in your genre. Find out what you can about the editor’s likes and dislikes. Then practice what you’re going to say — sharing your name, your book idea, the conflict, theme, genre,and  hook. Be clear and succinct, and rehearse your talk out loud, so you know what it feels like to say the words. Be ready to engage in dialogue with the editor. Dress professionally, and bring some words to show them (many like a one-sheet; I prefer the first five pages). In my view, the focus of a successful editorial appointment is your book, so think through how to talk about your book in an engaging way without sounding like just another pitch.

    Another person wrote to ask, “Should I pay more attention to a literary agent’s list of authors they represent, or to their agency’s list of authors? In other words, if a Big Deal Agency has bestselling authors, how much does that mean if the agent I’m talking to doesn’t represent any of those writers?”

    That’s an interesting question, since every agency tries to promote their bestselling authors. I was at Alive Communications when we represented the Left Behind series that sold 70 million copies worldwide — and while I didn’t have much of anything to do with that series, I certainly mentioned that we represented it when I was a young agent

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  • July 24, 2013

    Would great writers get published today?


    A wonderful writer friend sent me a note that read, in part, “Those of us in the industry tend to laud writers like Graham Green and Flannery O’Connor, but would anyone publish them now? No Whiskey Priest or Hazel Motes. It seems that, in both CBA as well as the general market, there’s no place for these characters; they have no appeal.”

    I respectfully disagree, of course. Contemporary publishers would take both authors because they offered great craft. What would be interesting would be to see how religious audiences would respond to these clearly faith-infused stories.

    But don’t misunderstand — commerciality still trumps craft. Good grief — nobody thinks of Left Behind as being great art, but the series sold 70 million copies. No critic seriously believes the Harry Potter series is great literature, but it’s now the best selling fiction series in history. That’s okay. People like commercial stories. And I shamelessly represent commercial stories. I’m happy to work with books that sell — and I also want to be doing books that make a difference in the lives of others. I don’t see life as an either/or decision. We want to create great art, AND we want to see our books sell. That’s the constant tension in working with writers.

    So let me ask readers a question… Who is YOUR favorite writer, and why? Let’s have a conversation in the “comments” section on who you think we should all be reading.

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  • July 16, 2013

    "It's the Power of Words"


    A novelist wants to know, “What keeps you going? You’ve spent years as a writer, editor, publisher, and agent – what fuels your passion?”

    I love books and words. I believe in the power of words. I believe in the ministry of words. There are many movies I love, and several that have had a short-term emotional impact on me, but I’d be hard-pressed to name many movies that actually changed me – I went, saw it, and left a different person. Maybe that’s happened a couple times (“Schindler’s List” comes to mind), but for the most part movies are an enjoyable diversion.

    I love music, and have been moved by songs and arrangements, but I doubt I could tell you my life was ever changed because I attended the symphony. The same is true with paintings, sculpture, and dance. The arts are great for helping us explore the world, feel things, see things in a new way. But their influence is often short-lived. Yet I can point to several books that simply changed my life. After I read Brennan Manning’s RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL, I was simply never the same. When I completed Frederick Buechner’s SACRED JOURNEY or Henri Nouwen’s THE WAY OF THE HEART, I was different than I’d been before I read those books.

    Words can do that. A book can have a life-changing effect on a person. Perhaps that’s why when God came to earth as a man, his closest friend, in trying to describe him, didn’t say, “He was like a Symphony” or “He was the Great Dance.” Instead, the guy who was closest to him wrote, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.”

    So Jesus was described as being the “word” – the very word of God come to life. To me, that not only says something about Christ, but about the importance of words.


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  • July 2, 2013

    The “b” word …



    School is out, summertime is upon us all, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who has heard the “b” word from their kids more than once recently. I’ll confess, I used to hate it and get terribly frustrated when my son would utter it. Lately, though, I actually find myself smiling when he uses it. And I’ve been looking for opportunities to use the word myself. 

    I think you should too.

    In our house, the “b” word is spelled B-O-R-E-D.

    I want to challenge you to actually try embracing it and exercising the meaning of the word. As in doing nothing on purpose, and sitting still through the restlessness until you feel like you did the last time you said “there’s nothing to do! I’m bored!” (And … I wonder, how long has THAT been?)

    I also wonder if the reality that being, and staying busy – just for the sake of not being still – is potentially one of the most overrated endeavors humans undertake. To that point, I agree with several of the ideas in this article on the topic of being caught in “The Busy Trap.”

    I’ll admit, not producing is one of the hardest things for me to do, er, not do. Or not, not do.  Ack. You know what I mean.

    Sometimes, after dinner, when my son says, “Mom, just sit down with us,” or my husband suggests we go for a bike ride or walk the dog, I usually have a long list of reasons why I shouldn’t. Emails I should write or answer. Calls I should schedule. Manuscripts I should look at. I’m a hard worker. I naturally gravitate to being productive. It’s just who I am.

    Or is it just what I do?

    Recently, I’ve begun to realize that pursuing a state of boredom/idleness/stillness is the best antidote to the “crazy busy, purpose-driven over-achieving” state of

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  • June 26, 2013

    Message Versus Craft



    Someone wrote and asked a question that is related to my earlier criticism of the movie Fireproof and some of the other religious art I saw at ICRS this year. They noted, “You said that good messages and moral content don’t trump quality… but does quality trump message and moral content?”

    A fascinating question. It’s clear that to some (for example, the people who really enjoyed Fireproof) that a good message trumps bad craft. They’re welcome to that opinion, which is why it doesn’t bother me a bit to have someone join in the discussion and say, “You’re wrong — I loved the movie because it moved me.” I just don’t agree — I couldn’t get past the junior high acting and the high school script. So to me, the great message didn’t overcome the bad art.

    Looked at another way, I really appreciate the redemptive words to the song “Everything Shines” from the band Great Big Sea, and I wouldn’t enjoy seeing an off-key singer and a bad garage band playing that tune, no matter how sincere they were. I wouldn’t want to spend money to see bad paintings, even if the artist was trying to portray something redemptive.

    But the reverse can be tricky. The films of Oliver Stone might be nice to look at and well acted, but the messages range from “angry” to “deeply stupid.” Who needs another anti-American screed from an over-rated hack? Years ago, I thought the movie The English Patient was incredibly well done – great acting, great art, incredible script… and a repulsive message. Life is sacred. Morality does exist. Setting up a scene where two people boink one another while a crowd of people sing in church on the other side of the wall was just  a bit too “in-your-face-you-uptight-religious-people” for me. Similarly, The Cider House Rules was a fairly well-done film, but it’s over-the-top focus on “why

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  • June 24, 2013

    To Write A Series or Not To Write A Series, by GUEST BLOGGER RACHEL HAUCK


    Guest blogger Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as RITA nominated The Wedding Dress and RITA nominated Love Starts with Elle, part of the Lowcountry series, the Nashvegas series and the Songbird Novels penned with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Their novel Softly and Tenderly, was one of Booklists 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals.  Her current release, Once Upon A Prince, hit #5 in Kindle Amazon.

    To Write A Series or Not To Write A Series        by Rachel Hauck

    Thanks to Chip for the opportunity to blog this week! I’ve known Chip for a number of years of which the last four he’s been my agent.

    It’s been an honor and privilege to work with him. Our working relationship started when God shouted “Chip MacGregor” to me in a dream. True story.

    It’s also how I found out he played the glockenspiel in the 8th grade band.

    Chip likes to joke on his blog and unabashedly share his opinions, but he also cares about people and writers, and is more kind hearted than he’ll let show.

    Thanks Chip for being on the other end of the phone when I need it!


    So, now to the real purpose of the blog. How do series play into publication for published authors as well as unpublished? Should unpublished authors be concerned with writing a series?

    I live in a really cool little community, a sort of oasis in the middle of busyness, and it’s easy to get to know our neighbors.

    A new family recently moved in and the wife/mom wants to be a novelist. The other day we stood in front of her house talking books and she mentioned how she had a whole series planned.

    Her comment landed on a pile of “I’m writing a series” statements I’ve heard from beginning writers over the years. Seems everyone wants to write a series.


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  • June 12, 2013

    150 Resources to Help You Write Better, Faster, and More Persuasively


    Today we have a guest blog, from Claire Morgan at OEDB…

    It doesn’t matter if you’re a student or a professional writer: there’s always something new to learn and ways to make your writing more refined, better researched, and more effective. Writing is essential for students who want to succeed, whether they’re enrolled in one of the top online colleges or an Ivy League university. As essential as it is, learning to write well isn’t easy. The best practices for writing and research can sometimes be subjective, and the finer points of syntax and style often take a backseat to looming deadlines and strict citation guidelines.

    Luckily, there are many helpful resources that make it easier to build on your existing skills while
    learning new ones. We’ve compiled links to sites dedicated to helping students, bloggers, and professional writers improve their techniques while also becoming better editors and researchers. Browse through the following list or focus on categories you need most. It’s organized by subject and resources are listed alphabetically within. With more than 150 resources to chose from, you’re bound to find something that can make your writing life a little easier.


    These blogs can help you learn more about the profession of writing, brush up your skills, and even see what it takes to get a book published.

    1. CopybloggerOn Copyblogger, Brian Clark offers tips on how to improve the content, marketing, and business of a blog. A must for any writer hoping to gain readership in the digital sphere.
    2. The Creative PennJoanna Penn offers up her insights on writing, publishing, and book marketing on this useful blog.
    3. Evil EditorLearn what not to do when submitting your work to an editor through this entertaining blog.
    4. Fiction WritingThis blog is a great place to get some basics insights on how to write better fiction.
    5. Harriet the BlogThe Poetry
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  • June 11, 2013

    What is values fiction?


    Related to the recent posts about CBA and the general market, someone sent this: “I’m a writer who hasn’t been able to find success in the traditional CBA markets. I was told my book is ‘too message oriented for most Christian publishers.’ One house told me they want ‘values fiction, not message fiction.’ Is this a real trend? What is values fiction? How does it differ from message fiction?”

    It’s a real trend. “Message fiction” is a story that gets weighed down by the author trying to deliver some sort of obvious, heavy-handed message. An example? Christian writers who want to send me their novel about the naughty 15-year-old girl who fools around, gets pregnant, then has to show me her struggle about whether to get an abortion or not, complete with angst and tears while the author hammers me with the message that “Abortion Is Bad.” WAY too heavy handed, and I see it frequenlty.

    Look… I’m pro-life. But the author in that situation isn’t really trying to tell me a story — she’s trying to present me with a Major Life Message. And that’s boring. Who buys fiction to be preached life messages? Nobody. Pro-choice people won’t touch the book, and pro-life people don’t need to read it because they’re already convinced. If I want political messages, I’ll turn on MSNBC or Fox News (depending on your political leanings). If I feel a need for entertaining liberal messages, I’ll listen to NPR. But I buy a novel for the STORY. (And this isn’t limited to abortion books — there’s also the “We’re Destroying The Planet” books, the “Capitalism Is Evil” books, the “Obama Is The AntiChrist” books, and the “You Need To Fall On Your Knees And Accept Jesus Because You’re Going To Hell” books. They are all boring. Nobody wants them And they don’t work. So if you’re writing a book to share a message like that,

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  • May 28, 2013

    Where does depth in fiction come from?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Put simply, where does depth in fiction come from?”

    Depth is found when multidimensional characters who I can relate to, who I care about, face the timeless questions of life in the midst of complex circumstances, then make decisions that are open to interpretation. Their choices may not be right, but as a reader, I get to go through the experience with the characters. I see people in your story I have come to care about facing big decisions, making choices that I may or may not agree with, and I get to go through that season with them, and see the results of their choices, then measure them against my own life. THAT’S what causes me to learn, helps me to understand myself, and leaves me thinking about your book. And this can’t be faked – any bright reader will figure out when you’re faking depth or artificially trying to gin up emotion. So you can’t write with an agenda. Nothing is more boring than to read a polemic masquerading as a novel.

    One novelist sent me this: “Writers of historical fiction seem to be interested in knowing what time period editors might be looking for. Is there a ‘hot’ time period you would like to see a book set in or any to avoid?”

    Well, it’s changing all the time. Publishing is a tidal business– the tide comes in, the tide goes out. So Amish fiction doesn’t exist, then we’re awash in All Things Amish, then there are considerably fewer of those titles. And there’s nothing wrong with that — the culture embraces some topics or periods for a season. Some have more staying power than others (so “westerns” became their own genre, “Amish fiction” has become it’s own sub-genre in Christian fiction, and Chick Lit disappeared as a relative flash in the pan).Watching the trends can be fun, just to see what publishers

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  • May 21, 2013

    Do I need to be done with an experience to write about it?


    Someone wrote to note, “My critique partner told me I need to put aside my nonfiction manuscript, since he doesn’t think I’m really healed from the incident I’m writing about. Is that good advice?”

    Hmmm… Okay, let me think about how to answer this question politely, but clearly. I don’t know you. You may be a mess. You may need counseling. You may not be ready to write a book. And I suppose there’s something to be said for the fact that a nonfiction book is a tool that offers a solution to a question – so maybe if you haven’t worked all the way through it, you don’t have the solutions to offer yet. And that would mean you probably don’t have a book yet. 

    Having said that, I don’t universally agree on the “wait until you understand it before you write about it” theory. The fact is, some of the best writing we have comes from people struggling IN THE MIDST OF pain. Take a look at James Agee’s Death in the Family or Brennan Mannings Ragamuffin Gospel or Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God. One of the reasons we like those books, one of the reasons they resonate so well with readers, is because they don’t have all the answers. They are people struggling to find answers and, sometimes, coming up short. We live in a world that has questions and brokenness and pain — one that often doesn’t even believe in the notion of there being an “answer.” Letting others see the process we’re going through can prove helpful. So maybe you don’t really need to have all the answers to do a good book. 

    I hesitate to make that argument, of course, because I’m afraid it will lead to me seeing more reflective poetry, angst-filled books on bad relationships, and screeds against groups who have hurt you. But while it’s always nice to see somebody

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