Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#1)

1. We Don’t Bore Our Readers.

We can't bore readers. Instead, they stop reading. Perhaps that sounds obvious, but too many writers are fascinated with their topic—usually their own lives—and assume everyone else cares. If we write as a form of therapy (and that's valid), and recognize what we're doing, we don't try to push the rest of the world to read our struggles.

Some writers assume readers are eager to grasp every word they write. The opposite is true: We have to persuade people to read us and assure them that the time they spend with us will be rewarding.

We do that at the start of our manuscripts. What promises do we make in our titles? In our first sentence? Opening paragraph?

When we forget readers, we invite them to close the book. Whether we're entertaining or teaching, people read because of their perceived needs. We write to meet those needs.

Because we find it interesting, or we think our life is newsworthy, it's easy to assume everyone cares. It's better to assume no one cares about what we write. Our task is to give readers reasons to care—early in the article or book—and keep them interested because we relate to their lives.

If we put the needs of readers first, 
we earn the right to be read.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 3 of 3)

"If I could just find the right publisher/editor/agent."

In 1997, I taught at the Greater Colorado Christian Writers Conference. One man had a lengthy manuscript and asked me to look at it. I thought he had a few good ideas but nothing particularly original. It wasn't different from anything I'd read many times.

I told him, but he didn't listen.

"If I could just find the right editor, I know my book will sell." Those were his final words.

Afterward I walked toward the dining room and a woman came up to me and said she saw me looking at the man's manuscript. Before I could comment, she said, "He comes every year with the same book. He hasn't changed a word. He's convinced that if he keeps trying he'll find the right publisher."

Since then I've met several others like him. Their attitude says they don't want to grow, don't want to work hard to improve the manuscript, and they're satisfied with what they've written. They're usually the ones who cry about publishing being a closed group and "common people like me" can't get inside. It doesn't seem to occur to them that good writing opens many doors.

To find the right publisher, become the right writer.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 2 of 3)

"God gave this to me so I know you'll publish it." I've heard variations on that one, but they all say something like this:

• "God gave it to me."

• "God dictated every word."

• "God awakened me in the middle of the night and said, 'Write!' "

My wife heard all the stories. For several years, she was the acquisitions editor of a devotional magazine. Even though she received a number of such manuscripts, she never found one worthy of publishing.

Here's my suggestion: If God gives you a message to write, don't tell an editor; let an editor tell you. Early in my writing career, I wrote an article called "Grace Builders," and I honestly felt God had given the article to me. I changed exactly one word after my first draft.

I sent it to a publisher and it was accepted. After that, 16 other magazines reprinted it. This is the first time I've ever said God gave me a message, and I can do so now because the results provide strong evidence for my claim. (I didn't tell that to the publisher when I sent the article.)

When I hear people declare they have received divine inspiration, I believe it's a defensive statement. It's as if the person says, "God gave it to me and you can't argue with God or reject God." God's words can stand scrutiny.

One editor told me she responds this way: "God may have told you to write it, but God didn't say I would publish it. When I prayed today, God told me to reject your manuscript."

If God inspires your writing, 
others will know because it will inspire them when they read it.