Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reading Blogs

One thing that marks the serious writer is that he or she spends an inordinate amount of time reading. Not just books on technique, although they're important, as I've said in this column before. And not just articles and meditations, although they certainly should be a part of the author's reading list. In this electronic age, there's a great deal of knowledge available at the click of a mouse. Nowadays, you've got to have a blog if you're an author. Blogs abound, and although some of them are unashamedly self-promotional, others selflessly offer information that is valuable to those of us who struggle along the road to writing.

I've included links to a couple of my favorite blogs in the margin of this blog. Head and shoulders above the rest is the daily posting from the Charis Connection. This group of Christian authors post material that is interesting and informative, and the diversity of the membership leads to some spirited exchanges, both in the blogs themselves and in the comments that follow.

Another great blog is that posted by Terry Whalin, fiction acquisitions editor of Howard Books. Terry's "The Writing Life" reflects his true interest in educating the fledgling writer, and comes from a background of being a journalist, an author, and an editor with an interest in both fiction and non-fiction work.

There are others out there, and I like lots of them. The blogs of Jim Bell and Alton Gansky are occasional postings, but always interesting and informative. Choose the ones you like, bookmark them, and consult them often. They'll broaden your horizons, and that's always good for a writer.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Getting The Word Out

My only published work in the area of Christian writing (other than articles and meditations in periodicals) is the book that God literally forced me to write: THE TENDER SCAR: LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF A SPOUSE. After its publication, I learned first-hand what I'd been told by other authors. Even though your publisher tries to get the word out about your book (after all, they're in business to make a profit), you are probably the person with the greatest desire for your book to be read by others. So, for the past four months I've done what I could to publicize the work. I want those who are suffering the grief that overwhelms them after the death of a spouse to know that those feelings in which they're drowning are normal, that others have felt them, and that they'll get through them. I want to help them cope, to begin healing, to survive that trip through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and get on with the life God has planned for them.

So, this big opportunity has arisen. On Sunday, I will travel with my wife (the Lord has blessed me yet again--but that's another story) to South Bend, Indiana, to be interviewed on Monday on the Harvest TV show. Frankly, I'd never heard of it until the publicist at Kregel set this up. Then I began watching it, and was fascinated. This show reaches into 46 million homes in the US, another 86 million in Europe, Africa, and South America, and billions of homes via short wave around the world. Am I nervous? Sure. I've done dozens of TV and radio interviews during my medical career. But this one is different, I'm offering a Christian message. So I've prayed that God will move me aside, take away any selfish desires I might have, and simply use me as his vessel. After all, that's what I want to do when I write for him. Speaking should be the same.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Agony and the Ecstasy...Of Writing

Those of us who classify ourselves as Christian writers have a common characteristic--we have felt God's hand upon us, guiding us to put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard, but you get my meaning). The end result may be a non-fiction book, a novel, a magazine article. Whatever the means by which we communicate a message, we want our words to reach out. That's the only way we can fulfil the commission we have received. Thus, our second commonality--we long to be published.

As I've pointed out already, rejection is a way of life for all writers, even those whom most of us consider to be successful. Everyone gets turned down, and for many of us it happens multiple times. Then, one day, you get that call, receive that email, open that letter. A publisher is tapping you, choosing your work, tendering a contract. We all look forward to that day.

But there's another scenario, between rejection and outright acceptance. A publisher reads your proposal, and says, "send the manuscript." You sweat bullets, not daring to hope that this might be your big chance. Eventually, you get the word. Your work isn't ready for publication right now, but you have talent. They want you to revise it. And not just a quick tune-up, hunting down and killing the adjectives, correcting point-of-view shifts, doing all the stuff you've learned from class after class and book after book. They want you to tune it up to the next level. You need to move from the high minor leagues to the big leagues. The product needs to be rock solid. That's the agony. Seeing your work torn to shreds by the red pencil of an editor. Seething when the points that seemed so obvious to you are unclear to the reviewer.

Eventually you recognize that everyone probably goes through this. You talk with some other authors, and find that their "big break" often came after the same kind of hard work you're now about to undertake. You seek out an independent editor, a consultant, someone to help you over that last big hump. And if you get over being peeved because what you thought was a fantastic work has to be redone, if you work hard, pray harder, and keep at it--you may yet get to enjoy the ecstasy that comes when you receive the message, "I need to talk with you about a contract."

Although we all want the easy path of immediate success, I recognize that for most of us, any success we achieve will come at the price of the hard work I've just described. I'm about to set out on that journey myself, and having endured the agony of seeing my manuscript critiqued in brutal frankness, I'm now willing to apply myself, hoping to achieve the ultimate ecstasy of having my novel published. Not for my glory, though. For my Creator, who's the driving force behind my writing in the first place.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Writing Doesn't Just Mean Books

In the three years since I became involved with Christian writing, I've learned some interesting things. I suspect that we all start out wanting to write the next Left Behind series or Purpose-Driven Life. Actually, the odds against our ever getting a book published are pretty long. But for those of us who've succeeded, it's sobering to see sales figures (when you can get them).

Terry Whalin, the author and editor, in his extremely useful blog (terrywhalin.blogspot.com), had a recent posting about the average sales numbers of books. In 2004, more than 90% of the books published sold fewer than 100 copies. An average sales figure for a book was 500 copies. I'd encourage you to go to that blog and read the whole post. What the figures amounted to is that, aside from the very small minority that constitutes the blockbuster books of the day, most books sell in the hundreds, or low thousands. I recall reading that most books are read by three persons (which is discouraging, if you're looking for a royalty check). Randy Ingermansen, who's a pretty successful author of Christian fiction, told me about sitting in a partially filled stadium for a football game, and thinking, "This is about as many people as my books will ever reach."

I've heard from so many editors that Christian authors shouldn't confine themselves to book-writing, especially if they're trying to break into the field. "Publish in periodicals," they say--"get some name recognition." That's certainly true, but there's an added benefit. Take the example of getting a meditation accepted for publication in The Upper Room. That short piece is going to be read by millions of people, around the world. You'll reach more people with that 250 word piece than you could hope to reach with an average Christian book, either fiction or non-fiction. And, if we're honest with ourselves, we write as a ministry, not to see ourselves glorified. Or at least, I hope we do.

Lately, I've begun doing more writing of articles and meditations. It keeps the writing muscles toned, and is a welcome break from my fiction. Watch for my work in The Upper Room and InTouch Magazine. And I'll watch for yours.