Category: What Makes a Good Book?

A Christian Writer’s “Wildly Unbalanced Life”

I hear writers bemoan the demands and distractions in their days (including technology) and how hard it is for them to achieve balance in their lives. Perhaps you’ve felt that, too. You’re working at the computer and think you’ll just check Facebook for a few minutes. An hour later, you wonder where the time went. Or you hear the musical tone that tells you new emails or text messages have arrived on your cell phone. You were just about to focus in on the theme of a blog post you’re preparing to write. You touch your phone screen, read the text and one thing leads to another. Let’s see, where did that inspiration, that thought, that focus go?

I ought to read more, pray more, call so-in-so, go shopping, attend those meetings, deep clean my house/office, sort through papers, watch those recommended movies, re-decorate my house, exercise more … while tweeting, blogging, posting, submitting copy to editors.

So, how do we achieve “balance”?

Or, is that even the right question?

I got help on this issue a few days ago when I attended the “Writers on the Rock” Christian writers conference in Lakewood, Colorado, as a workshop presenter. Happily, I had opportunity to go to a session taught by Allen Arnold of Ransomed Heart Ministries. “Balance isn’t the key,” he told us. “God wants us to write—not for him or about him—but with him. This leads to a wildly unbalanced life. Let other things fall away.”

Demonstrating his teaching, Allen presented a creative, God-breathed message that brought clarity to my mind and both piercing and encouragement to my heart. In fact, the heart was his theme.

“Infuse Your Creativity with Heart” was his topic. “Nothing great was ever achieved without great heart,” stated the workshop blurb in the conference program. “Yet writers often become disheartened, discouraged or overwhelmed” (that’s where I started this post, remember?) “and when they do, their stories slowly begin to die.” Allen’s workshop promised to tell us “how to discover the truer you, consecrate your creativity, and feast on hidden Spiritual Manna.” He delivered on that promise.

A tall man with a joyful smile and eyes that seem ready to laugh with you or cry with you according to your need and the Lord’s leading, he said, “God cares far more about the story you’re living than the story you’re writing. Live well. Then write well.”

Does living well mean keeping up with everything the world, and even the church, often tells us we should keep on top of and keep “in balance?”

“You can’t write a better story than you’re living,” Allen Arnold states. “Nothing is more important than how a story was born—what your heart is like at the time of writing. … Your writing changes when it becomes about presence over productivity.”

If writing and connecting with readers to encourage them, lift their sights to Jesus, come alongside them, instruct them in the living Word, bring them hope through a well-told story, is what gives you life … then this may be what the Lord is calling you to do; and to live out this calling, you will have to let some other things fall away.

Tend to your heart. Then write and connect and live a “wildly unbalanced life” in—and flowing out from—the presence of Jesus.

 


Update: I recently got Allen Arnold’s book, The Story of WITH : A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create. I recommend it! ~ C.L.

Are You Ready to Publish a Book?

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Think that’s a glamorous hat? Think again. As a “boutique” (small, custom, picky) publisher, I wear this hat often, and at first glance it may seem to give power and appeal. Over time, though, it brings me to my knees.

With my acquisitions editor hat on I must make decisions to enter into contractual agreements with writers based on perceptions and best guesses. First impressions of an author or manuscript are subjective. I may like the person, writing, or idea based on personal preferences and interests or their persuasiveness and ability to engage me with their written expression.

If an author/book idea passes that first, subjective threshold, it must hold up under business scrutiny. Tough questions should be asked, analysis and forecasting applied. Is there enough demand for a book like this? If so, can we and the author reach the market for this book? Is it well written, engaging, and unique enough to compete with similar books? If it floats, is the author ready and able to sail with it? Is this project financially feasible? Does it really fit in Cladach’s niche of literary waters?

If we answer too many questions “No” or “We don’t know,” and this process shoots too many holes in the potential project, it will sink before it starts with us. What we don’t want is to prepare a book, like a boat, to launch upon a sea of published books and then watch it sink. This has happened.

With some projects we know that we are testing the waters and risking storms at sea, but we believe in an author or project so much that we are willing take the risks. If we do that too often, though, we cannot stay in business/ministry.

Some book projects we take on with excitement, but the sales peter out. Others catch wind in their sails and continue to sell week after week, month after month, year after year. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that the following factors make a difference:

  • What other titles has the author published? For instance, if her other titles are poorly-edited, self-published books, this author’s reputation is hurt and that hurts the sales of even the title that we have carefully edited.
  • How actively connected is the author with the book’s prospective audience—even before he is published?
  • Is there a waiting audience/demand for this book—even before it is published?
  • Does the author have an ongoing means of reaching that audience? And can Cladach also effectively reach them?
  • Is the author’s personal life—health, relationships, finances—in order?

In my mind this begs the question: “As a writer, when are you ready to have your book published?”

Writers who have something to say and long to be published authors, tend to become impatient. Your preparations to publish involve much more than finishing a manuscript and writing an effective book proposal. You need also to:

  • Find/identify/make connections with/get to know the audience for you and your book. (Start this ongoing process, in fact, even before you write the manuscript.)
  • Get your finances in order. It can cost $ to publish and market effectively, even when you publish with a traditional, (large, small, or micro) royalty publisher.
  • Resolve, as far as you can, personal issues. Working as a published author takes time, energy, commitment, and the support of people around you.

As my mother used to say, “Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends upon the Lord.” In the final analysis it does. And that brings me to my knees in the uncertain but enticing waters of acquiring book rights and taking publishing risks.

Tantalizing but Tricky! : Query Letters

As I said in the previous post this is my most difficult publisher hat to wear:

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ACQUISITIONS EDITOR

I receive queries and proposals daily, both through email and snail mail. This publisher’s hat may seem glamorous, and I admit to a certain curiosity and gambler’s hope that in the slush pile I may discover the “next bestseller”—but, alas, I must say “No, thank you” to the vast majority of author queries.

So, you may ask: what makes me say “Yes” to an author’s book proposal?

First of all, the first sentence of the query letter must “grab” me with this writer’s giftedness, creativity, and unique slant on the subject. I barely have time to read unsolicited queries, so if you start out with the impersonal, boring, and obvious, I probably won’t even finish reading it. For instance, please don’t start (as many do) with, “Dear Editor, I’m writing to you in hopes that you will publish my book …” I already know that! Dive right into the gist of your passion, message, and/or quest—as any good nonfiction book or novel does. For instance, here are the first sentences of a query letter that recently grabbed my attention:

Ms. Lawton:

This story does not begin on the day Spring-baby Westbay throws a rock at Amen: a simple-looking donkey who knew Adam and Noah, Abraham and Moses, Jesus Christ, the Apostle John, Saint Francis of Assisi.  Nor does the story begin when Spring-baby’s father jilts her by dying far away from home and rebuke.  The story begins in the beginning – when death itself comes into the world and initiates its nefarious plot against Spring-baby’s dad amongst countless others.

Gadly Plain (a novel of 59,000 words told from an omniscient point of view) follows the struggle of a twelve year old girl as she grapples with one of life’s most mind-wrenching questions: Is death really the end? …

Not surprisingly, I kept reading this one to the end, then asked for sample chapters, then just had to read the entire novel, then offered J. Michael Dew a contract. And voilà! the first literary novel in Cladach’s fiction line was born:

Gadly Plain

Okay, there were a few other steps to the acquisition process. The manuscript was sent to a few readers whose input I value, and their responses were positive. I then had several phone conversations with the author. We negotiated a royalty contract. But the process started with those first few sentences hooking my interest.

I must add, though, that I have received some amazingly-written queries/proposals that caused me to ask for the manuscript with great expectancy only to be disappointed that the writing of the book did not match the quality of the professionally-prepared proposal. At writers conferences and from freelance editors and book doctors you can get help writing a proposal that will blow off the publisher’s socks and whet their appetite with tasty tidbits, making them want to express mail a contract offer to you. But the manuscript that follows had better offer real meat to chew on, flavor in every bite, and new taste twists presented on the plate in a memorable way.

 

What is a “Christian Book”?

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A book isn’t created in God’s image, can’t commit sin, exercise free will, or be saved and sanctified. But it can portray the results of sin, describe grace, and be used by God.

A book is paper printed on and bound together into a volume for reading. Or a digital file stored in a computer database or hand-held device for reading on a screen. Or, perhaps, a recording of written material into sound bytes for listening. Books come in many forms. And there’s nothing intrinsically “Christian” about the forms.

The person who envisions, experiences, writes, edits, and/or publishes a book, however, may certainly be Christian. If a believer in—and follower of—Jesus Christ writes a book, I believe that will be a “Christian book.” That book will be written from a mind that is being renewed, a mind that seeks to view the world as the Bible views it and as the living Word, Jesus, views it; it will be written out of a heart that is stone made flesh, set on and responsive to the Redeemer-King; written from a soul that is being restored according to the holy Creator’s plan.

I haven’t found a perfect book yet, or a perfect person. But I’ve known Christians whose lives ring true, and I’ve read books that ring true.

For the Love of Words and the Living Word

Are you a writer or a reader who loves words?

Then perhaps you, like I, have “a love affair with words.” You use words but take care not to abuse them. You like to play with words, but you also take them seriously. You cherish them, listen to them, pray over them, respect them, have faith in them, and you know when to release them.

Words are a writer’s tools, the building blocks of our stories, articles, blog posts, tweets and books. Words have power. With words we instruct, entertain, woo, influence, write and speak.

God spoke the world into being. Jesus is the Word become flesh. Spoken words matter. Written words matter. Every word matters. They matter because they enable us to see the unseen, to know the unknowable, to grasp the undreamed of.

The well-chosen correctly-used, creatively-connected, ingeniously-employed word has power. If your words fit that description, and they are prayed over, respected, understood—then these words may form a piece of writing that is Christ-infused, Christ-honoring, and Christ-giving to a church or a world that needs the living Word.

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