Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 3 of 16)

Reflexive pronouns trouble some writers. Some, who don’t know grammar but try to act knowledgeable, often use sentences like “He gave the money to Maggie and myself.” The person should have said, “Maggie and me.” The incorrect usage is because the speaker probably doesn’t understand reflexive pronouns.

Here’s the rule: Whenever we use a pronoun ending in -self or -selves, that form must point back (reflect) to a noun or pronoun near the beginning of the sentence. For example, Herb poured himself a drink. (Himself is correct because we know it refers to or reflects the subject, Herb.) I doubt that anyone would write this sentence: I poured a drink for Maggie and himself.

Because I’m a careful, professional writer, 
I remain aware of reflexive pronouns.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 2 of 16)

All ready (2 words) is a phrase that means completely prepared. We’ve finished lunch and we’re all ready to leave. Michael hooked up my computer so I’m all ready to start typing my manuscript.

Already is always an adverb and refers to something that happened before a certain time. Doesn’t every American city already have the Internet? They have already eaten. The battle may already be lost but the one-word and two-word argument goes on.

What about all right or alright? Two words was the standard, but for the past four decades, writers have increasingly opted for one word, alright.

These days, I suggest you choose. I still use two words. I suggest you use two words when submitting for publication and if the publisher has decided on one, your editor will change it.

I prepare to be all ready to work; 
and it’s not only all right to improve—it’s mandatory.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 1 of 16)

In this series, I want to point out problems many writers face (and their incorrect usage).

We’ll start with adopt and adapt. Most writers have no problem with adopt, which means to take something as your own.

Adapt means to change.

If your book is sold to the movies, the producers used to list the title and byline and then add, “adapted by . . .” (These days, they simply say written by and refer to the screenplay.) That means they changed the form from a novel to a script.

Affect and effect. This one used to trouble me until I learned a simple rule. Affect is nearly always a verb; effect is nearly always a noun. Affect means to “have an influence on.” Marvin’s brusque tone negatively affected Grace. (His attitude influenced her emotions.)

Think of effect as a noun that means result. His raised eyebrow had the effect of silencing Grace. (Raised eyebrow brought about a result.) That’s the basic rule.

There are deviations, but my advice is that when you have doubts use this simple mnemonic sentence: Action is affect; the end result is effect.

Because I’m serious about writing, 
I want to know the language well.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Life Hands You a Platform

This post from Dan Balow first appeared on the Steve Laube Agency blog. It's used here with Dan's permission.

* * * * *

Every writer’s conference or gathering includes at least one presentation about developing or maintaining an author-marketing platform.

Social Media, public speaking, blogging, newsletters…everything working together to establish and support your personalized and unique author “brand.” This agency and other publishing blogs address various elements of the issue on a regular basis.

If you are having difficulty determining the direction of your author brand, you might either be thinking incorrectly about it or avoiding the obvious.

Life hands you a platform.

Often, creative people avoid the obvious and desire instead to go an entirely different direction than their experience would indicate. A simple desire to be creative can do this. Narrowing one’s work to one general theme seems restrictive and even creatively dissatisfying.

Re-stating what has been said here and by many others, successful authors will primarily find their success by doing one type of writing…their one thing. A significant majority of authors will write and publish less than a half-dozen books in their lifetime, so unless you are extremely successful, you have just a few opportunities to speak into your brand.

You can become so worried about being repetitive in your fourth and fifth books, you might not have a second or third.

Life gives you a platform, meaning if you look at your experiences, journey, friends, family, work, education, challenges, successes, failures, strengths, talents, weaknesses, spiritual gifts, and sins (yes, sins), you will find a core message laying there which should drive your entire writing career, no matter how many books you might write.

The mistake most writers make is thinking their brand must be so specific and narrow the joy of writing would be completely eliminated because you need to write the same book over and over.

Not true.

Branding is not limiting, it is liberating.

A brand does not repeat the same story, but the same underlying theme. You might think life gave you just one story, but it really gave you a broader message. This broader message is what any skilled author can write about.

Companies and organizations have mission-statements or guiding principles to direct them. Authors should as well. This is the “message platform” which will form a foundation for your writing. (For more on a message platform, click here)

You don’t write Christian fiction, you write stories about people living life in relationships and how God directs them.

You don’t write devotionals or Bible studies, you focus a reader’s thoughts on the things of God and what he desires a person to know about him.

You don’t write books about effective use of money, you show how God’s principles of stewardship make the things of this world work for one’s benefit and for God’s purposes.

The “big” messages from Scripture are themes, which can be repeated and re-purposed in many books. These messages can make for elements of an excellent author mission statement and branded theme behind their writing.

God’s faithfulness

God’s limitless mercy and grace

God working everything together for good

Forgiveness and Restoration

Redeeming your past

…and many more.

Most authors who resist the idea of branding their work do so because they mistakenly establish a brand, which is too specific, missing the bigger theme, which could find its way into many books.

Finding the big-message brand for your writing should be relatively simple, if you are only open to seeing it. Your life and faith journey hand it to you on a silver platform.

—Dan Balow is an agent with the Steve Laube Agency. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Selling Self, Selling Ideas, Selling Books

This article first appeared in MediaWise, publicist Don Otis's newsletter. It's reposted here with his permission.

* * * * *

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is, “Do interviews help sell books?” My answer is always the same, “Sometimes.” This is clearly not the answer most people want to hear. Publicity is not a hard science; it is a soft science. There are many variables that go into making a successful interview. But there is one overriding component that makes a difference. Let me give you one example . . .

I have booked many people on The 700 Club through the years. Because it has such a large national audience most authors believe just being on the show will bring instant success. It doesn’t. I have seen as few as seven responses to as many as 13,000 phone calls. What makes the difference? The couple who saw the greatest response tapped into a felt need. They told their story, how they were about to divorce, and what turned things around. The wife said, “I realized that if anything was going to happen, I needed to be the first to change.” She did. And as a result of her change, her husband softened and changed too.

When listeners or viewers are desperate for answers to their most pressing needs, meeting their felt need is what creates the synergy that generates a positive response. Think about your own life. If you are in a fledgling marriage, have a prodigal child, lost a job, or have a major health issue, what’s foremost on your mind? Your problem. If someone steps into your world and offers a solution, you are open to whatever they have to say that will address the challenges you face. These felt needs beg for real world answers – not just a Bible verse or someone preaching about why you need greater faith.

To the extent that you can identify and tap into a person’s felt need, your chances of selling your book or product increase exponentially. While this may not sound very spiritual, the truth is we write books to help people, and getting your book into their hands is part of the equation. This is not just some magic formula or way to manipulate an audience. There are only human needs and human wants and reaching out to meet these needs is part of what Christ calls us to. While not all books have an obvious felt need, there are other important elements to help sell books through an interview. One of these is the amount of enthusiasm you convey. And no matter how good of an interview you give, you must drive people to your product. Make it easy and quick to find your book – online bookstores or website. And offer a value-added incentive – an autographed copy or a second book for half price.


—Don S. Otis is the president of Veritas Communications, a publicity agency that has scheduled more than 30,000 interviews since 1991. He is the author of five books and has hosted his own radio show and produced radio and television shows in Los Angeles and Denver.


















Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Remove the Barriers in Fiction

This article, written by literary agent Karen Ball, first appeared on the Steve Laube Agency blog. It's used here with her permission.

* * * * *

Few things empower fiction better than well-developed characters. Which is why you don’t want to create unintentional barriers between your characters and your readers. What barriers, you ask? Well, here’s one that affects POV characters:

John knew he was about to learn something important.

Do you see it? The barrier? No? How about here…

Sally realized she wasn’t getting it.

This barrier is kind of like those rotten little sugar ants that one day are not to be seen, and the next day are crawling all over your counter. You had no idea they were lurking there, unseen, and suddenly they’re everywhere! This sneaky barrier skitters into our writing when we’re not looking and pushes the reader just a step away from our character.

Still not sure what it is? Then consider this. We’re still in John’s and Sally’s POVs:

He was about to learn something important.

She wasn’t getting it.

Yup, it’s the knew and realized. If you guessed it, congrats! If you didn’t, not to worry. Now you know.

When writing a POV character, don’t tell us he or she has realized, or knows, or sees, or hears something. Just show the realizing, knowing, seeing, and so on. Because the fact is, if the POV character didn’t realize, know, see, or whatever, we couldn’t either since we’re perceiving the story through them. So this is not only a barrier to the characters, but it’s redundant.

So not:

Bill saw the man coming toward him.

But

A man came toward him.

It’s not a big change, but it’s one that removes a layer of distance—a barrier, in essence—between the reader and your character. Rather than being told about something, the reader experiences it with the character. After all, that’s much of the power of fiction, that our readers experience the journey and the story with the characters. And part of our job as writers is to ensure they can do that with as few barriers as possible.

—Karen Ball has worked as an editor for several publishers, including Tyndale, Zondervan, and B&H. She is a literary agent with the Steve Laube Agency.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Do You Want to Write? (Part 5 of 5)

Let your genre choose you. That probably sounds strange, but I believe that each serious writer has potential to do well in at least one area. And there are any number of ways you let the genre choose you. I’ve previously mentioned your passion and asking writer friends.

I’m a serious Christian and I pray daily for my writing. I began to write when I was a pastor and wrote and sold about 100 articles before I wrote my first book. For the first six or seven years, I rewrote my sermons. From there I branched out into other areas. In an earlier blog, I mentioned choosing your rut. But that’s after you’ve begun to establish yourself.

I became a ghostwriter because I wrote a novel and, at the recommendation of a successful author, sent it to her editor. He read it, rejected it, and said, “Too slow for today’s market, but . . .” And that’s where the door opened for me. “But you have the ability to get inside other people,” he said.
“I’d like you to become a ghostwriter for our publishing house.”

Even though I’d never tried it, I agreed and did 35 books for that publishing house. That’s why I say, let the genre choose you.

Because I’m a Christian, I could say that God intervened (and I believe that) or as my Buddhist friend said to me, “You were open to the universe.” My agnostic neighbor likes to refer to circumstances. Regardless of how you phrase it, my advice remains.

Be open to possibilities; 
let your genre choose you.