Category: What We’re Looking For

A Checklist to Make Your Writing Shine

A marshy field in Colorado

This marshy field teems with life. When our car speeds by it, though, we don’t notice or experience the wildlife hidden in the grasses, wading in the mud, singing from the reeds. One day we stopped our car, rolled down windows; looked through binoculars; listened, felt, smelled; tasted the breezes. Myriads of bird life, colors, textures of fauna and flora brought the place alive to us. Good writing does that also: draws in the reader, reveals hidden things, opens possibilities.

I taught from the following list at a recent writers workshop. Afterwards, a couple of wide-eyed writers said to me, “You really want good writing.”

Well, yes, I do! The better-written a manuscript comes to me, the more I like it. Here at Cladach we may resonate with the premise and material of a nonfiction manuscript—we may like a novel’s characters and plot—so much that we are willing to devote the editing time needed to bring the writing quality and style up to these standards. We may ask an author to go back and re-write/revise/re-work a manuscript. Then we also do in-house macro editing, line editing, and copy editing. The following list gives most of the elements of style and “good writing” that we look for in a manuscript and strive for in the books we publish.

Here’s how to give your writing pizzazz so readers will want to invest in it, engage with it—be entertained, convinced, and inspired by what you say. Check your writing against this list to make sure it communicates as clearly and persuasively as possible.

 1.  Have you written from your heart as well as your mind? (If not, read this post. If yes, go on to the rest of the list.)

 2.  Write in the active voice. Choose strong, active verbs.

 3.  Write concretely, rather than abstractly. Show, don’t just tell. Appeal to all the senses.

 4.  In nonfiction as well as fiction, use storytelling as much as possible.

 5.  Stay in a definite, consistent POV. Through whose eyes is the reader seeing?

 6.  Hook the reader on the first page/ first paragraph/ first sentence/ first word.

 7.  Keep the reader’s attention as each word, each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter leads to the next.

 8.  Maintain a logical or chronological flow of thought or action. Use transitions when needed.

 9.  Strive for precision and conciseness. Cut extraneous/ repetitious words and phrases. Less is more.

10.  Give thought to word choices—consider subtleties, connotations, nuances; find the zing and zest of the right word.

11.  Vary sentence structure and length. Use periodic sentences often (as in these examples).

12.  Search for and remove troublesome words that hide like gremlins in your writing, words that are used compulsively but often aren’t needed. (Click here for my list.)

13.  Use your ear. Do the sentences flow well? In fiction, is that how people sound when they talk? Try reading your writing out loud.

Running the Race ~ Writing for the Lord

A line-up of Cladach authors

Cladach’s Talented and Dedicated Authors

What makes a good author?

A good author is someone who has a burning desire to communicate through written expression, will pay the price to learn the craft of writing, will apply themselves to the process of writing, and will always keep their readers in mind. A good Christian writer loves the Lord, loves words, and loves people.

They can clearly answer the reporter’s questions:

Who: They know for Whom and to whom they are writing.

What: They have a clear focus and plan for what they are writing.

Where: They have a place to write and regularly “apply the seat of their pants to the seat of the chair” with pencil in hand or hands on keyboard.

When: They have a regular time to write and also have learned to snatch the moments and ideas as they come.

Why: They know why they are writing. A writer’s motives may vary: money (dream on), fame (rare and elusive), satisfaction, to scratch the itch (they can’t not write),…  Or, they relate to what the Olympic runner, Eric Liddell ‘s character said in Chariots of Fire: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

If God has truly gifted these writers to write for Him, then their writings will give pleasure to readers also. From their writings readers will gain inspiration, courage, hope, understanding, insight, help.

These Christian writers have taken to heart Hebrews 12:1-2.

Meeting Authors at Colorado Christian Writers Conference

A mountain view at YMCA of the Rockies during CCWC

This week, Thursday through Saturday, we (my husband and I) will be present at Colorado Christian Writers Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. We look forward to this event—just an hour’s drive from our publishing office. I will be wearing my Acquisitions Editor “hat” hat-3as I meet with prospective authors and consider their queries/proposals. I enjoy meeting writers and hearing their stories, each one unique and usually heartfelt and sometimes downright inspired.

While I visit with each writer in 15-minute appointments during those three days high in the Rockies, I will also be trying to listen to a still, small voice, silently asking Him to give me wisdom, discernment, and guidance, to help me really hear the heart as well as the mind of each person who has poured out their insights, experiences and passions on paper.

One author I met last year at CCWC – Jimmie Kepler

We have found six of our authors at this conference: Donna Westover Gallup, Kyleen Stevenson-Braxton, Gayle M. Irwin, Loritta Slayton, Templa Melnick, and Marilyn Wentz.

Will this week see another name added to the list?

 

 

 

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.

 

Cladach Authors Reflect the Body of Christ

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Cladach authors come from various streams of the body of Christ:

Baptist, Nazarene, Evangelical Presbyterian, Anglican, Vineyard, Christian Church,  Assembly of God, Salvation Army, Messianic, Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical Free, etc.

We seek to have agreement on the essentials of the Faith, liberty in non-essentials, and in all things love!

Do you follow Wesley? Calvin? Wimber? Jonathan Edwards? Phineas Bresee? Phoebe Palmer? Catherine Booth? The Early Church Fathers?

I wonder how our perspective might change if we were allowed a glimpse of all those men and women in fellowship together in Heaven and praising God before His glorious throne?

“They will know we are Christians by our …” Denominational affiliation? Theological distinctives? Form of government? Church buildings? Politics?

No.

“They will know we are Christians by our love.”

That doesn’t mean I don’t think theology is important. I do. I study it; I listen for it in sermons I hear and books I read.

But I find it interesting that we tend to believe, sometimes fiercely, the theological slant of the particular tribe or camp into which we were born, or where we first came into the Faith and received teaching, or where we found soul refuge, acceptance and belonging.

What is a “Christian Book”?

Cladach-Catalog-Card-FB

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.

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