Tuesday, July 08, 2014

"Between Engagements"

Ask an actor who's not currently under contract for a play or movie what they're doing, and they're likely to reply that they're "between engagements." I love that. They don't say they're out of work. They don't intimate that they're no longer an actor. Instead, they speak as though there's another acting job just around the corner, and they're waiting for it.

As the publishing world changes, some of my colleagues who've had books published by recognized publishers now are without a contract. The ready availability to self-publish a book has led many of them to seek this avenue of getting their work out. Others bide their time, continuing to wait for a contract with a traditional publisher. But if you were to ask any of them what they were currently doing, you wouldn't get an answer that they were no longer a writer. Rather, they're just "between engagements."

Because my next novel of medical suspense will be published by a different publisher, it's necessary to slot its release into a schedule that's locked into place a year or more in advance. That means it will be about a year between publication of novels for me. Before this contract, I had no idea about my next book, but I kept writing it. It wasn't that I was no longer a writer. I was just "between engagements."

What about you? Have you ever had no idea what or where your next job would be? What did you do? And how did you keep up your spirits? How did you manage to maintain the attitude that you were just "between engagements?"

(picture via freedigitalphotos.net)

I'll be taking a blogging hiatus for the balance of the month of July. I'll see you back here in August.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

My Thoughts On July 4

Every morning for years Kay and I have offered prayers that include our nation and our world. At no time in our nation's history has this been more appropriate.

When I was commissioned in the United States Air Force, I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. So far as I know, that oath is still valid, and I try to live up to it. It is my sincere hope that others will follow suit in the days to come.

As we celebrate the anniversary of our nation's declaration of its independence, seeking freedom for the inhabitants of this land, I hope the occasion will mean more to you than baseball games, swimming, and backyard cookouts. My prayer is simple and sincere: God bless America.

(I won't be blogging on July 4, but I hope you'll come back on July 7 when I discuss the concept of "between engagements.")

Friday, June 27, 2014

Writing: A Writer's Hierarchy Of Needs

This idea has been percolating in my mind since the announcement of the ACFW's Carol Award finalists (and, no, I didn't make it this year). Just as Maslow postulated that humans have a hierarchy of needs, I believe there is a similar pyramid for a potential writer.

At the base of the pyramid is the thought, "I'm going to write a book." And those who carry that out--who actually put tens of thousands of words together until they reach "the end"--are to be congratulated. They have done something not everyone has done.

But then come the dual steps of gaining representation by an agent and getting acceptance by an editor or publisher. That's something to celebrate. However, the writer's tasks are just beginning. Once a book is published, there are several goals for a writer: reviews, sales and awards.

Good reviews by sources such as Romantic Times Book Reviews are sought after and enjoyed when they come. When they don't, writers often wonder what they did wrong. The answer is that tastes in books are different, and what one reviewer pans a reader might love. Go figure.

I won't go into some of the tricks that have been used in the past to get books onto a "best-seller list." Let's just say that the definition is a loose one, and although I could use the term I choose not to.

As for awards, there are a number of them out there. I've been fortunate to have my share, but it pains me when I find myself frustrated not to be a finalist for every one. That's not how it works--or, at least, not how it should.

I haven't even talked about publishing a second or fifth or thirtieth book. When I started trying to write seriously, I had no idea the industry was this complicated. Did you?

What's your take on my "hierarchy of needs" for a writer? I'd love to hear.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My "Scary Summer Story"

TNZ Publishers just concluded a contest in which eight Thomas Nelson and Zondervan authors wrote a brief, original story. Contestants were to match the story with the author for a chance at a prize. You can click this link to see a list of the winners.

Some of you might be wondering which story was mine. Here's a hint--I grew up in Decatur, Texas, and there actually was (and probably still is) a Waggoner Mansion on a hill there. The story, however, is pure fiction. Or, is it?

In our little Texas town, all the kids knew about the spooky old house, “the Waggoner mansion.” It sat on an isolated hillside, a three-story house made of rough-hewn Austin stone, its crenellated towers giving it a faintly medieval look. It had been unoccupied since the last Waggoner passed on. Well, one summer’s night three of us got into a session of “I double dog dare you” and decided we’d explore the “mansion.”
Dusty Montgomery had a license, so we rode in his pickup truck. Frank Perrin knew where there was a hole in the fence. And I discovered an outside door that was unlocked. We forgot to bring a flashlight, but the moon shone brightly through the dusty windows. We had just entered a room on the third floor when a stern voice said, “You boys better skedaddle.” I could see the form of a man, silhouetted against a window, pointing toward the door. Well, you didn’t have to tell us twice.
The next morning I tried to be as casual as possible when I asked my dad, “Who’s the night watchman at the old Waggoner mansion?”
He looked up from his paper and said, “There’s not one. No one has lived there since old man Waggoner died in his bedroom on the third floor three years ago.” He took a sip of coffee. “Sure hope the family can sell that house soon. People are starting to say it’s haunted.”

                        Photo of the actual Waggoner Mansion from Donna Jordan.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Writing: Book Cover Design

In my last "writing" post graphic designer Ken Raney talked about the elements that go into a "comp"--the initial design of a book cover. Here's a bit more about the process of cover development.

I've had books published by three different houses. I thought the publisher, Kregel, did a nice job designing the cover of my first book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse.  The imprints in the sand of the hands, one male, one female, conjured up an image of both the togetherness and the impermanence of a life together. I had no real input into this--and was too much of a rookie writer to know better--but I couldn't be more pleased. Someone took the time to read (or at least scan) the book and came up with the idea.

My first four novels were published by Abingdon Press, the next three from Thomas Nelson (later to become part of Harper Collins Christian Fiction), and my next three will come from Abingdon. Each of these publishing houses approaches cover design somewhat differently, but in every case the author must provide a good bit of information. This includes a brief synopsis of the plot, a description of the main characters (including sometimes an actor they resemble and what clothes and setting are appropriate for them), suggested titles (not just your working title), and the mood or emotion you'd like the cover image to evoke. At times the cover artist or graphic designer gets it right on the first pass, in others it takes several tries. The first design of my debut novel, Code Blue, required several passes, and to the credit of the publisher, they stayed with it until they got it right, setting the tone for the entire series.

Thomas Nelson Publishers (Harper Collins Christian Fiction) put a lot of time and effort into the design for the covers of my most recent novels. I especially like this one for my latest novel, Critical Condition, although it's different from what one usually sees with Christian fiction. What do you think about it?

I had no idea about all this when I began writing. Did you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on book covers. Do you ever buy a book based solely on the cover image? Do some images turn you off? I look forward to reading your comments.