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Writing Lessons

(previously posted March 12, 2016 on NovelRocket.com)

I was standing in line for coffee (well, in line with others in line for coffee—I prefer the near milkshake version) at a writers conference several years ago. The woman behind me was also alone and also wearing a nametag identifying her as part of the same conference. Feeling a little more extroverted than usual, I asked, “What do you write?”

I expected a quippy response—the kind of single-line identifier writers spend years perfecting. What I got instead was a tirade on the ills of Christian publishing and the narrow-mindedness of some editors not interested in books about missionaries in Africa.

After five full minutes, she harrumphed. “I just don’t understand why God would call me to write this book, when no one seems to be interested.”

I thought that probably translated into, “I had a couple painful editor appointments,” but I didn’t say as much. Instead I gently—I hope I was gentle, anyway—suggested that perhaps God had called her to write the book so He could teach her something new.

To which she snapped, “I’ve already learned the lessons I wrote about in my book.”

Thank goodness it was then my turn to order. Double that whip cream, please.

I wonder about that exchange every now and then. It was years ago, and I probably wouldn’t recognize the woman again if she introduced herself. But I think about what I really meant to say, and if I’m listening to my own advice. You see, I think God uses the very process of writing and editing and pitching books to teach us amazing things. Even on the surface level, I’ve learned some incredible lessons, like perseverance pays off, flexibility is important, and big computer screens can hide bad hair days.

But there’s more to this whole putting thoughts to paper thing. Here are three lessons God has taught me through the course of writing my books.

  1. My worth isn’t in sales or how many books have my name on the cover. Who I am is not how many people recognize me on the street (none, by the way) or what conference I’m asked (or not asked) to speak at. Doing the hard work of writing a book isn’t about making a name for myself or being told I’m a wonderful writer (although that’s nice to hear every now and then). Because in the darkness (I write best at night) it’s just me and my computer and God. That time alone is 95% of my writing life. And in that time, when the enemy whispers lies into my ear (like I’ll never amount to anything or I’m not worthy), I cling to the reminder that my worth is wrapped up in one thing. I am a child of God. And I do what I do because it’s the call He’s given me. I’m called to use my talents and not bury them in the ground. The process of writing reminds me whose I am and whose voice I heed.
  1. God’s good gifts don’t always come in the form of five-star reviews. Matthew 7 talks about how God is a good Father, who wants to give His children good gifts. It’s easy to think that those gifts always come wrapped in red ribbons and blazing with stars. But sometimes the sweetest gifts come in a spurt of writing or an unexpected inspiration. My favorite of his gifts are epiphanies that fill in gaping plot holes I couldn’t fill on my own.

The passage I mentioned in Matthew follows the familiar “ask and it shall be given to you” line. I’ve discovered a joy in asking God for help and waiting to see how He’ll show up. Sometimes it’s through a kind word from a reader. Other times it’s in a brainstorming session with a fellow writer. And then there are the times when it’s a meal made by a friend who knows I’m on deadline and just need real food. When my eyes are open to them, I see His gifts everywhere.

  1. I don’t have to fear rejection. Writers know the acute pain of dismissal better than most. We wrack up rejection letters with a butterfly net and wear them like a badge of honor. But that doesn’t mean they stop stinging. We pitch to our dream editors and agents, hold our breaths, and let out loud sighs when we hear back. “It’s not right for me.” “Your manuscript isn’t quite ready.” “It doesn’t fit into the market right now.” Or a reviewer plants a one-star review on your work, their words harsh and overly critical.

Industry experts tell us these aren’t personal rejections, but how could they not feel that way when we’ve poured our hearts into these stories? They hurt. Even after the 12th and 25th and 99th. (And they don’t hurt any less after you’ve published a book or six.) What I’ve come to learn is that a rejection may burn, but it’s not lethal. It may leave a bruise, but it’ll heal. And in the midst of that pain, I continue to turn to one truth. God has promised never to leave me or forsake me. No matter what pain this life brings, His love is everlasting. I don’t have to fear rejection because He’ll never reject me.

What have you learned through the process of writing, editing, and pitching your work?

About Liz Johnson: By day Liz Johnson works as a marketing manager, and she makes time to write late at night. Liz is the author of nine novels—including her latest, The Red Door Inn (Prince Edward Island Dreams, book 1)—and a New York Times bestselling novella. She makes her home in Nashville, where she enjoys exploring local music, theater, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nieces and nephews. She writes stories of true love filled with heart, humor, and happily ever afters. Connect with her at www.LizJohnsonBooks.com or www.Facebook.com/LizJohnsonBooks.

 

Image 2016-03-16 at 10.43 AMAbout The Red Door Inn: Marie Carrington is broke, desperate, and hoping to find sanctuary on Prince Edward Island while decorating a renovated bed-and-breakfast. Seth Sloane moved three thousand miles to help restore his uncle’s Victorian B and B–and to forget about the fiancée who broke his heart. He wasn’t expecting to have to babysit a woman with a taste for expensive antiques and a bewildering habit of jumping every time he brushes past her.

The only thing Marie and Seth agree on is that getting the Red Door Inn ready to open in just two months will take everything they’ve got—and they have to find a way to work together. In the process, they may find something infinitely sweeter than they ever imagined on this island of dreams.

51xzbYMMWfL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This excellent book consists of two stories intricately woven together. One story, told in first person, begins in the United States in 1972. Hannah Sterling’s mother, Lieselotte, has just died, and Hannah wants to find out more about her mother, particularly why she was such a cold, distant person.

The second story is Lieselotte’s, also told in first person, beginning in Germany in 1938. Hitler’s power is building, and Lieselotte doesn’t understand what is happening to her family, to her people, to their Jewish neighbors.

1972:  Hannah goes through her mother’s things and finds a stack of addressed but empty envelopes that reveal family still living in Germany. She decides to travel there to find out anything she can about her mother. With the help of a driver her grandfather has hired to show her Berlin, Hannah investigates clues that lead to startling and disturbing discoveries. Nothing is as it seems, and danger lurks with every secret Hannah uncovers.

1938:  Lieselotte works secretly with others to help those targeted by the regime. The risks are extreme. Discovery surely means death or a concentration camp. Her newly admitted love for her childhood friend, Lukas, must also be kept a secret for everyone’s sake.

I won’t incorporate any spoilers; I urge you to read the rest for yourself. This book is riveting and disturbing. Besides the superbly researched content, author Cathy Gohlke crafts a well-balanced and carefully arranged book that will leave its imprint on readers. Characters are complex, the plot unpredictable, the settings vivid, and the mood intense.

One of the startling things Hannah learns in her investigation is that even though the war is long over and Hitler is dead, not all Germans are remorseful for their attitudes and actions toward Jews. Nor are Jews confident that it won’t all happen again.

Introduced late in the book is the blessedly famous Corrie Ten Boom, who models forgiveness of our enemies. This is one of the most challenging aspects of this book, not only for Hannah but also for us as readers.

I highly recommend Secrets She Kept to anyone ready for a challenging, fulfilling and memorable read.

 

“Whatever you may have heard, self-publishing is not a short cut to anything. Except maybe insanity. Self-publishing, like every other kind of publishing, is hard work. You don’t wake up one morning good at it. You have to work for that.”

Zoe Winters, Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author

A short-cut?

A short-cut?

Indeed! But, as I’ve mentioned before, this is an adventure. (Bilbo Baggins’ definition of adventure, paraphrased: Adventure is a nasty thing that makes you late for supper.)

Since my last Indie-related blog on March 8th, there’s been a bit more water under the fridge bridge.

* I have completed my manuscript edits for Other Side of the River, including a painstaking review in “non-printing character” mode (on my MacWord there is a backwards P (known as a Pilcrow or paragraph mark) at the top of the Word page. It shows me where all the spaces, returns, indents and page/section breaks are).

I also spent many nasty hours trying to figure out how to make my footers and headers engage independently, and although I’m still not clear on this step, I managed to get page numbers to show up on every page while having different odd and even headers.

Thanks to Ruth Snyder who suggested using Master Pages, and Pat Gerbrandt who consulted a family member and offered feedback.

I am consistently humbled by the people who go out of their way to help other writers. I’m also thankful to those non-tech people who listened, albeit with glazed eyes, as I described my formatting challenges.

Professional services are beyond my price range at the moment, and these services do not set out to train authors to do their own interior formatting. Rather, they offer fee-based services. And who can blame them?

But enough of the format fiasco.

* Bottom line is that my book uploaded to CreateSpace without any glitches. As soon as the cover arrives in my inbox, I will upload that as well. I would add that the CreateSpace method of creating a print book isn’t too difficult to follow. Once successfully uploaded, my virtual book allowed me to page through it, making sure all my front and back matter appeared on the proper pages (recto/verso).

News Flash: If you are a Canadian using CreateSpace, you no longer need to apply for an EIN tax ID number. Simply fill out the non-U.S. form for a W-8BEN, which is part of the sign-up, and include your SIN number. That’s it!

Another Note: If your sole address is a box number, as mine is, fill in the Permanent Residence box with your physical land description instead. Your box number can be used in the Mailing Address section. Then keep a copy of the form for when you fill out the same thing at Kindle Direct Publishing! No reason to completely re-invent the wheel.

* The next step for me has been to sign up with KDP and re-create the adventure to format my e-book versions. This will require a few more Youtube videos and referral to notes from Janet Sketchley and Valerie Comer, but I think I’ll mange, with a little bit (or a lot) of help from my friends.

* Another essential element of this adventure is to choose keywords/phrases, and then write a book description that features these keywords, if at all possible. An excellent resource for keywords and Search Engine Optimization is C.S. Lakin’s blog, Live Write Thrive. I’d recommend this site for anything from writing to editing to marketing. Suzanne also offers classes, for a fee. If you have the budget for it, sign up.

* I think the best takeaway I can leave you with today is that although self-publishing is not a short-cut to getting our work out there in the big wide world, it is an excellent route.

It is doable (read: if I can do it, anyone can).

It is affordable, as long as you take time to consider what you can do yourself and what you definitely need someone to do for you. Since I don’t possess a single visual arts skill, I could not manage my own covers.

It is easier the second time around. I’m counting on this! I’ve taken copious notes on this process to make the next book format adventure more straightforward.

Until next month, keep your fingers on the keys and don’t give up. The end result will be worth all the work.

 

 

What happens next?

And after that?

Why did that happen?

How will it end?

All of us who write fiction do so because we love story. Our plot consists of the building blocks of the story.

We read or see something that intrigues us, that starts our imaginations rolling. Then, depending on whether we are OPs or NOPs (From James Scott Bell: OPs are Outline People and NOPs are No Outline People), we outline / think through the series of events by which we can show the story.

I will admit to being an OP. As a visual person, I need to see the outline, the highlights, the headings and titles, the progressions. From there I fill in the motivations, the conflicts, the story arc, and all the other elements that create a good read.

SAMPLE NOVEL OUTLINE

I     Chapter One

A. A terrible storm destroys a town

1. The church roof is torn off

2. The main character is in the church

3. The church is being used to house homeless people

4. Main character is angry at God for making life harder for these people

B. Second main character arrives and judges first main character for lack of faith

II     Chapter Two …

Sometimes things happen in our stories that are unexpected. At first we may not understand why they pop up, but then we see they are necessary to prepare a character or situation for the next step.

Our lives are stories. Our MO* (modus operandi—why people do the things they do) stems from our life story. Our values, beliefs and goals are based on the stories of those who came before us. We don’t often understand why some things happen to us or to our loved ones, why we must endure health problems or financial burdens or loneliness.

I would suggest that’s because we don’t have the outline for our lives printed out for us. But God knows every action, every response, every MO. He leads us along our particular path, He promises to be with us every step of the way, but He does not promise to tell us why. The Lord’s MO is His own and we have no access to it, beyond our understanding of who He is and His divine and unchanging nature.

However, if we belong to God’s family through His Son Jesus, we know that the eventual outcome will be superb. It will be more than a happy ending.

So if you are struggling in your life, think of it as being part of God’s Plotline for your life, and trust that He will resolve everything for your good and for His glory, at the perfect time.

I read Violet Nesdoly‘s guest post on Novel Rocket on January 17th and thought it so well worded that I asked her if I could post it on my blog. She kindly gave her permission, so here it is. Many thanks to you, Violet.

 

Probably unlike most of you, I am a reluctant novelist. I did not imagine stories and tell them to my dolls as a kid. My writing genres of choice are articles, blog posts, devotionals, and poetry. Yes, I’ve written and published a few stories but writing fiction has never come easily or naturally to me.

However, there was one story that ate away at my consciousness for years. I finally caved and wrote it as a NaNoWriMo project in November 2009 and published it in 2012. That, I told myself, was going to be it for fiction.

Except that people keep asking, when is your next book coming out? So I started thinking sequel and dreaming and researching… As I got down to work, there was a click of rightness. But there was also a lot of apprehension. Having been through the process once, I know how much work it is to plan and write a novel-length story and that the writing is only the beginning.

I have, in the two years that I’ve been nibbling away at this, often allowed myself interruptions. Then, when it was time to get back to work, I’ve prayed, “Lord, is this really what you want me to do? A novel is, after all, just entertainment. Couldn’t you give me something less frivolous and more important to write?”

I was praying like that again a few days into the new year when I was back at my desk facing my binder of research notes, looking through my Scrivener file of character summaries, and reviewing my stapled sheets of plot ideas. As before, I got no other answer but “You have your assignment. Now get busy.”

A few days later I was praying the day’s Scripture prayers from A Watchman’s Guide to Praying God’s Promises. In the guide author Dick Eastman emphasizes the importance of prayer for our society and its influencers. He names seven main ones that he calls “Mountains of Influence”: Religion, Family & Marriage, Education, Business, Government, Media, and Arts and Entertainment (including Sports). The seventh day of each month is devoted to prayer for Arts and Entertainment with Scripture verses and suggested prayers.

On January 7th, then, I found myself reading and praying this: “Lord, you are the creator of all things, and you have made us in your image so that we are creative like you. Today I pray that your Spirit would fill and inspire the arts and entertainment industries so that the things we create and celebrate would reflect your beauty and purity. Let creativity lead the world back to you the creator…”

And then I heard some strong words:

Violet, entertainment is a huge influence, a mountain of influence in your society. Do not trivialize this work I give you. It is not frivolous or unimportant. Instead of praying for a different job, pray that you would do this one well; that your words would be light on the path to Me in the realm of entertainment. 

I love reading novels. I have the utmost respect for many of you whose books I’ve read and perhaps even reviewed. If there’s a purpose for my halting tales, there is so much more for yours. So be encouraged today that your entertaining creations are not trivial or frivolous but important and potentially influential outposts of the Kingdom of God on our society’s mountain of Arts and Entertainment.

Violet Nesdoly

Violet Nesdoly

Violet Nesdoly is a freelance writer and author who lives near Vancouver, B.C. Canada. Her biblical fiction Destiny’s Hands was a finalist in the historical fiction category of the 2013 The Word Awards. Visit her online
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Indie Interview

Recently, I was contacted by Debra Butterfield to do an interview on her website. She asked a series of questions about indie publishing and I enjoyed the exchange. I am posting the interview below. Here’s  a direct connection to Debra’s website.

Thanks, Debra, for this opportunity to talk about the Indie Publishing Journey.

Indie publishingMaybe you are struggling with this very question right now. I hope today’s interview with author Janice Dick gives you some insight into making your decision.

Janice, what was the impetus behind your decision to go indie?

Two things:
(1) my first three books are now officially OOP (out of print) after a run of about fourteen years. I need to re-release them.
(2) my fourth book, print version, shipped to me from CreateSpace, and I asked myself why I was paying someone else to do this for me when I could probably learn to do it myself.

What did you do to get back the rights to your books?

As I said, the first three were OOP, and the publisher sent me official release papers. I simply requested my rights back from the publisher of the fourth book and he granted them. No paperwork (no matter how often I asked) but I saved the emails. I also have a couple more manuscripts waiting for readers.

Having said that, most of my previously published books are still up on Amazon. I’m not sure why, because I have the remaining copies of the trilogy and the fourth is POD, and should no longer be printing.

I would assume those copies on Amazon are used copies that booksellers offer via Amazon. Though I don’t have a definitive answer to that issue.

Obviously there have been some problems in this journey. Can you tell us what some of the struggles have been along the way?

Janice Dick

Award-winning author Janice Dick

Learning on so many levels. I continue to learn the craft of writing, and have confidence that my skills are gradually improving. I use those skills to re-edit my previously published works.

Aside from that, there is the issue of cover design. I am not a visual artist in even the broadest sense of the term, so I had to look for an expert. I tried a free design-it-yourself site, but the outcome was so-so, and we know covers sell books.

Then I tried a site called Fiverr, which worked for my publishing logo (not essential, but something I wanted), but not so great for cover design. Some writers love it. I rated the designer 3 stars out of 5, and he messaged me that I had mistakenly not given him 5 stars and I should go back and fix that! Doesn’t seem right, in my opinion.

I am excited to say that I found a real designer I can afford who has not only skills and experience, but is known to me and lives relatively nearby. In a nutshell, this was a miracle. The Lord apparently wants me to have an acceptable cover, so He stepped in to assign me a visual artist.

If you are a Christian author, make sure to pray about your work, because God cares, and miracles do happen. I think He often takes pity on my feeble efforts, but I’m okay with that.

I haven’t reached the formatting stage yet, but that’s next. Right now I’m concentrating on editing. I love that part, and receive excellent suggestions from my local writing group, as well as from a writer friend with amazing insight and the willingness to offer honest critique. What I’m really saying is that I can’t at this point afford a professional editor. I know comments will be coming about that, but it’s the place I’m in financially.

Another area that I’m realizing the great importance of is marketing. I’m an introvert. I just want to write the stories. But when an author goes indie, marketing is part of the package.

To encourage others of you on this journey, there are many books—and good ones—about marketing your own books. Many are free to download, and others are relatively inexpensive. Just search online.
Right now my focus is on learning SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Amazon uses certain algorithms, which are apparently beyond the grasp of mere mortals, to sell books. No one really knows how these work, but we keep trying to understand/guess at it. Categorizing our books correctly is key. We want to tap into popular categories that readers are searching, but we also want to tweak our categorization so our books are not lost in a broad and widely populated category.

What have been some of the blessings along the way in this journey?

I think being vulnerable has been a blessing. I can identify with others who are on the indie journey. I can’t tell them the full story because it isn’t finished yet, but I am sharing my journey on my blog as it progresses. So many people have helped me, and I want to help others too, in whatever capacity I’m able. I’ve made a lot of great connections through this experiment.

What advice would you give someone considering independent publishing?

Read about it, research, ask for help from people who have done it/are doing it. My greatest encouragement came at a recent writing conference. I participated in a workshop on indie publishing presented by a 79-year-old gentleman. He said if he could do it—and he and his wife regularly self-publish excellent books—then anyone can do it. I believe you, Bryan Norford.

Are there resources (e.g. websites, books, etc.) you found to be helpful that you can share with our readers?

I belong to a Facebook group called Christian Indie Authors that is very helpful. Writers at all levels in the journey post their questions, answers, problems, solutions. They are willing to help someone who’s not as far along on the path.

As I stated above, there are tons of books available to give direction. Most of them are e-books, so they can be immediately downloaded and put to use. I will list a few: [links are to Amazon.ca; titles also available via Amazon.com]

Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn (Free, includes video links.)
Indie Publishing Handbook by Heather Day Gilbert (Free, short.)
Self-Publishing Bootcamp Guide for Authors by Carla King (thorough, complete)
Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books by James Scott Bell (only a buck or so, depending on where you live)

I actually have a list of about 50 e-books in areas referring to writing, publishing, and marketing. They are easily available.

Join groups, attend conferences and workshops, pay attention to email listserves that offer deals from time to time.

Readers, God bless as you consider and pursue independent publishing. You can do it.

Thanks for those great resources. I know Joanna Penn has been very successful with indie publishing and also has a blog. Another person I learned a great deal from concerning indie publishing is Joel Friedlander and his blog, The Book Designer.

I realize indie publishing isn’t for everyone, but it is an option well worth researching. Thank you, Janice, for sharing your journey with us.

Have you considered indie publishing? What helped you make your decision? Leave your comments below.

ABOUT JANICE DICK:

Janice L. Dick is an award-winning author of four historical fiction books, as well as many book reviews, inspirational writings, short stories, interviews and blogs. She lives with her husband on a farm on the Canadian prairies, where she continues to write under the tagline: Tansy & Thistle Press—faith, fiction, forum.

Connect with Janice at her website: www.janicedick.com
On social media via Facebook and Linked In

The first in the Ladies of the Manor series, this Edwardian Era novel succeeds spectacularly in entertaining and inspiring the reader.Unknown

Here’s a brief summary of the plot:

Brook Eden has grown up in Monaco, in the palace of the Prince, cared for by her Maman, a former opera star. Her life has been idyllic, aside from the fact that she knows she is not Maman’s biological daughter, nor a member of the Grimaldi family that supports the two of them.

When her dearest friend, Justin Wildon (aka Lord Harlow), helps her discover her true identity, she has no idea the information will take her from the Mediterranean climate of Monaco to the damp, chilly hills of Yorkshire, England.

Meanwhile, the Earl of Whitby has been searching for his daughter since she disappeared after the car crash that killed her mother, his wife. Many imposters have come and gone, and anyone involved has become inured to the possibility that Brook could be the genuine heiress. How can she prove her identity when she’s not entirely sure of it herself?

What Brook finds at Whitby Park is more than a change of scenery and climate. The high society she must move in is skeptical of her pedigree and even the servants doubt her and plot against her. The saving grace is that the Earl accepts and adores her from the beginning.

Immediately upon her arrival in England, Brook is met with intrigue and conspiracy, greed and murder. She must discover the root of the problem and decide what can be done before the perpetrators kill her too. When she and Justin become distant due to unforeseen responsibilities within his family and their holdings, Brook must face her problems alone.

Why I liked this book:

I enjoyed this book because it is more than a light, historical romance. Well-written intrigue tangles the plot and vivid characters inhabit the story. Besides Brook and Justin, I especially like Lord Worthing, a high society son who actually lives out his faith.

An added bonus for me was learning about a brand of French known as Monegasque. The snippets of dialect thrown in add flavor to an already fascinating story.

The author includes just enough of the setting to give the reader a good grounding, bits of humor to lighten the mood, and a romantic line that is neither simple nor predictable. White also weaves in delicate threads of spiritual soundness that add another worthwhile dimension to the story.

The writing is excellent and the cover appealing. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with added depth. The story questions are answered for the time being, but there are broad hints to the next book. I look forward to it.

When you finish reading the book, make sure to read the author’s notes in the back. Apparently, this story began to take shape in the author’s mind many years ago when she was a girl. Many years and many edits later, we have a very commendable result in The Lost Heiress.

Roseanna M. White

Roseanna M. White

Roseanna M. White grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, the beauty of which inspired her to begin writing as soon as she learned to pair subjects with verbs. She spent her middle and high school days penning novels in class, and her love of books took her to a school renowned for them.

After graduating from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, she and her husband moved back to the same mountains they equate with home.

Roseanna is the author of two biblical novels, A Stray Drop of Blood and Jewel of Persia, the historical romance, Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland, and the historical, romantic suspense Culper Ring Series (Ring of Secrets, Whispers from the Shadows, and Circle of Spies). She is also the senior reviewer at the Christian Review of Books, which she and her husband founded, the senior editor at WhiteFire Publishing, and a member of ACFW, HisWriters, and Colonial Christian Fiction Writers.

 

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