Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Questions from Readers

“How do I get endorsements?” is another question from readers.

Don’t solicit endorsements until you have a book under contract. I’ve been asked to endorse books that the author was proposing and they never received contracts.

If you solicit people to endorse an unsold book (unless you’re going to self-publish), you’re asking them to take time to read your manuscript, write something, and send it to you. If no publisher buys the manuscript, you’ve wasted their time and I doubt you’ll ever get a second endorsement from them.

If you’re fairly certain specific individuals will endorse your book, say in your proposal, “I can reasonably expect endorsements from the following.” Don’t say that unless you’re sure.

So here are a few ways to get endorsements.

1. You don’t need just famous people. If you can get the president of Harvard or the CEO of General Motors, their titles are more influential than their names.

2. Assuming you’re represented, you can ask your agent if she has any clients or contacts.

3. Ask your editor of the publishing house if he thinks any of their writers would endorse your book.

4. Ask friends and other writers for contacts. Are you part of a writers loop? An editing group? If a writers conference director knows you and you’ve attended that conference, ask if she can suggest names.

5. Make sure those you ask are known in the genre in which you write. Occasionally I get requests to endorse novels. I’ve published novels, but most fiction readers wouldn’t recognize my name.

When you ask for endorsements, offer to send them the entire manuscript in pdf or have your publisher mail them an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy). Some authors send me their first two chapters and an outline and I won’t look at them. If my name appears as a recommendation, I want to have read the entire book.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Questions from Readers

Yvonne Ortega asked an excellent question about using sidebars and endnotes.

You’ve probably seen courtroom dramas on TV where the judge calls both lawyers upfront and to the side so that the jury can’t hear. That’s where we get the term sidebar.

In writing, a sidebar is a short article, usually boxed or shaded, that provides readers with additional or explanatory material. Some publishers put sidebars on a separate page, and others insert it into the text.

I wrote a book for Dr. Jan Kuzma called Live 10 Healthy Years Longer in which we used several sidebars. One chapter called “Just Another Drink” dealt with caffeine. Dr. Kuzma’s point was that there are no positive effects of caffeine (except a temporary high), and he pointed out a dozen negative effects. We put in a sidebar titled “How Much Caffeine?” and listed the amounts in various soft drinks and candy bars. Nice information, but it wasn’t essential to the chapter.

Endnotes are, of course, footnotes, but their designation tells you where you place them—at the bottom of each page or at the end of each chapter (or more regularly at the end of the book).

Twila Belk and I wrote I Believe in Healing with seven pages of endnotes. Seven pages means a lot of interference with the text, so endnotes seemed the obvious answer. Almost all the 59 endnotes were references on where we got the material, and most readers wouldn’t care.

By contrast, I wrote Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor for Katariina Rosenblatt for the same publisher and used footnotes. The reason was twofold. First, there were few of them, less than 10 in the entire book. Second, they contained information pertinent to the material.

I think of a footnote as a brief kind of sidebar. It’s significant enough to include for readers on the page, but if you insert it within the text it’s disruptive and disjointed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Questions from Readers

Scheduling writing time seems to fall into one or two categories.

My writer friend Deanna* makes a to-do list every day. Her problem is that she schedules more than she can accomplish. She’s frequently late for meetings, never makes her agreed-on deadline with publishers, and by evening, she asks, “Where did my day go?”

My answer to Deanna is that she planned too many things for that day. She was certain she could accomplish them, but one or two always took longer than expected.

One way to fix that is to use the A, B, and C lists. A means those you must do that day. If you get only one item on B, you’ve still accomplished your must-do items.

I’m the other kind of writer. That is, I make my to-do lists inside my head. I nearly always get the work done in less time than I allowed. I detest being late and have never missed a deadline. But sometimes the self-imposed pressure pushes me to work faster than I might otherwise.

Whichever type you are, you probably won’t change much. If you’re used to being five minutes late for lunch with your friends, accept that’s the way you are. But you can learn to allow extra minutes for the various activities and surprise yourself when your two-hour meeting lets you out ten minutes early.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Questions from Readers

Cherrilynn Bisbano wants to know how to schedule time to write.

That’s difficult to answer because we vary so much in our personalities. When I began to write for publication I was a pastor of a growing congregation. The only way I could schedule writing was to get to my office before my secretary and on Saturday afternoons.

I’m self-disciplined, and within a few weeks I had established my pattern and was able to stay with it. I’m probably the exception.

I read an article that said 46 percent of those who join a health spa in December or early January stop going by February 10. That would fit writers as well. They get inspired and committed—for a time—and then drop out.

If you’re serious about scheduling writing time, here are my suggestions.

1. Enlist an accountability partner—someone to whom you’ll have to tell how faithful you were (or weren’t) every week. Make it a person you wouldn’t want to disappoint.

2. Analyze your daily and weekly schedules. Don’t try to set aside five hours a day, but start with what’s manageable for you. When I started, my goal was to write 30 minutes, five days a week. Ask yourself how long and often you feel you need to write.

3. Prepare for that writing time. That is, ponder what you’ll write about so you don’t expend energy and time staring at your computer. I was a pastor and regularly visited six metropolitan hospitals each day. While driving there I thought about what I wanted to write. I edited inside my head while shaving and showering. I walked from my office to the Post Office each morning to pick up the mail (a three-minute walk each way). Not a long time, but enough that I thought about my writing. Get the idea?

Each morning when I arrived at my office, I was primed to let the words flow.

4. Promise yourself that you won’t answer the phone or be distracted by emails or texts. Let your friends know the time you’ve set aside for writing and ask them not to call you. (You can leave your cell phone in another room so you don’t hear it.)

See my next post on this topic.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Questions from Readers

Phyllis Freeman asks about use of the past perfect in constructions such as have done and have gone.

We use the past perfect tense often in English, even without realizing it.

1. The words had and have show us it’s past perfect—meaning it’s action that was completed before something else took place in the past.

For example, Before Nellie visited (simple past) I had prepared (past perfect) the guest room. Preparing the room was done before Nellie arrived.

The past perfect refers to a time earlier than now and you use it to make it clear which happened first. Andy had saved his document before his computer crashed. Isn’t it obvious which took place (and was completed) before the second event?

2. We use past perfect to explain something that happened in the past.

I had eaten a big lunch so I wasn’t hungry at dinnertime. (Had eaten was completed before the evening meal.)

3. Occasionally we use the stative verb (a verb that refers to the state of being) to show something that began in the past but continues to another action in the more recent past.

When Maurice married Joan, he had lived in Liverpool nine years. (He had lived in Liverpool continuously or until he married, or even longer.)

4. We also use the past perfect when we speak conditionally or when something is contrary to fact.

Had I known you lived in this city, I would have visited you. (I didn’t know you lived here. Notice both verbs use the past perfect.)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Questions from Readers

Kat asks, “How do you find an editor when the first draft is completed, or maybe after the second?”

I like the question because Kat realizes the need to be edited.

All serious writers need editing.

I’ve written a lot of books and articles in my career and I still need editing before I send it to a publisher. Those talented individuals can look objectively at your writing and point out your flaws in thinking, ambiguities, improper grammar, lack of transition, et al.

As an author, your function is to make your writing the best you can to meet (and exceed) professional standards. When I get to the place, whether second draft or tenth, and I confess, “This is the best I can do at this stage of my development,” then I send it to an editor.

When you feel you’re ready, here are my suggestions.

1. Don’t pick an English teacher, unless that person has worked in publishing.

2. Expect to pay editors for their services. Their rates vary, so I won’t quote any prices.

3. Ask published writers the name of their editors. (You may ask me because I know many qualified editors.)

4. Susan Osborn and Kathy Ide offer professional editing services.

3. Go online and look up editing services. (Be careful. Anyone can claim to be an editor.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Questions from Readers

To follow up on the last question, one reason our manuscripts don’t sell is that we don’t meet the perceived needs of a large number of people. Too much of what I see focuses too narrowly. Or they write about the obvious. Especially among Christian writers, they retell biblical stories and the application is one that Augustine espoused in the fourth century.

We need to present a big concept that speaks to needs and then focus on that topic, developing a fresh way of looking at it.

Here’s an example. David picked up five stones to attack Goliath. He needed only one. Did David have doubts that one would be enough? You could use that as an example of knowing what God wants and yet doubts persist. Struggling with doubts is universal and would have wide appeal.

To deserve publication, a manuscript needs two special qualities. First, it must be unique. Personal experiences fit, but not all writing. If I wrote about the evil effects of drugs, that’s not unique.

Second, the manuscript must be universal. That is, it has to appeal to a wide range of readers. Again, using the subject of drugs, suppose I wrote about the underlying need of people who succumb to the lure of drugs. Or I tell the account of someone once addicted and how that person was freed.

Does your manuscript fit the unique plus universal appeal?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Questions from Readers

Touching lives or making money? Which matters more? That’s Janet Ann Collins’ question.

Her question assumes those are the two top priorities for writing. Perhaps I’d like to make money with my writing, and I truly want to influence others and, in the process, enrich their lives. Do I need to quantify?

However, for me, the major motive in writing is that it’s something I must do. Name it compulsion. Calling. Ministry. Vocation. If I made no money, I’d still write. If I never received feedback that my words encouraged others, I’d still do it.

Some people boast that they care only about the dollars they bring in, but that may be misleading. If their writings didn’t affect people, likely they wouldn’t continue. Touching lives may be to entertain, inform, or challenge thinking. To continue to sell successfully, we have to impact readers in some measure.

This leads me to say my motive is primary. I’ve never focused on either influencing or making money. Like Nike urges us, I just do it.

I know writers who rarely sell anything and say they’re more interested in changing lives than making money. We don’t influence readers unless we sell our work. And too often authors won’t work hard enough to learn or pay someone who can help them learn.

Some give away their writing on blogs or nonpaying magazines and the more honest ones will say, “Because I can’t sell them.”

It must be frustrating to write, write, write, and have few sales. I’m convinced that if we have the right message and communicate it well, eventually we’ll sell our material and we’ll change lives.

Thus if we sell our manuscripts, we actually do both.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Four Viewpoints (Part 17 of 17)

Here are my concluding words of advice about POV.

1. Use first person if you want the entire book to have a limited, personal, and individual perspective.

2. If you want high reader identification with your character, first person is a good choice. Or go with limited third person.

3. If you want to describe your character from the outside, where you tell us "she thought" or "he said," limited third person works well.

4. If you want to experiment and can justify it, choose second person as a modified first person.

5. If you want perspective so readers can glimpse the attitude and feelings of several characters and grasp the plot from different outlooks or perceptions, the omniscient or unlimited third person might work for you.

If you're unsure, write a page or two in each POV. As you look at them and compare what you want to accomplish, ask yourself, "Which of these POVs would be the most satisfying to me?"

You have to decide the POV that works best for you.