Friday, January 31, 2014

Writing: Your Suggestions

There are some changes going on in publishing in general as well as in my own writing and publishing life. These changes are driven by lots of things. Authors want to communicate. Readers want an enjoyable reading experience. And publishers want to sell books.

To address these factors (which I'll do in a later post), I'd like your help. I've put together a short, click-the-button survey in which I hope you'll participate. Your responses (anonymous, of course) will be used in a subsequent post.

Please take thirty seconds to complete the survey, which you'll find here.

And if you have something you'd like to say, feel free to leave it in the comments box below.

Many thanks for your input.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kids, Don't Try This At Home

It's become a catch phrase: "Kids, don't try this at home." And for a while it was sort of funny. But now, in our current litigious society (to save you running for the dictionary, it means we sue people a lot) we're seeing warnings associated with everything.

I got a cup of coffee from a commercial vendor recently, and the sleeve had a printed warning that the liquid inside was hot! How many executives, consultants, and legal advisors did it take to formulate that phrase? Coffee? Hot? Who knew?

In watching the NFL playoffs on TV I've seen a particular commercial dozens of times--maybe you know the one. A carful of people are going to be late, so the driver takes the car up a ramp, steers it onto the top of a train, and gets to the destination ahead of schedule. And superimposed on the whole thing are words to tell us that cars can't really jump onto trains. No kidding?

There's another car commercial with a printed subtext below the images: "Warning. Cars can't fly." You're sure?

How far should society go to warn us about dangers of which a normal, rational individual should be aware? I don't have a specific answer, but I think labeling a cup of coffee as hot is going a bit too far. What do you think?

(illustration via

Friday, January 24, 2014

Writing: Consistent Point of View

Beginning writers are always hammered with the rules to which they should adhere. One of the most basic such rules is to keep a consistent point of view (POV) in any scene.

The best description of POV I've heard came from author and writing teacher Randy Ingermanson. Imagine a TV camera mounted on the shoulder of the POV character. What they see is what the reader sees. What they hear is what the reader hears. Simplicity itself.

Now look at this scene (edited for brevity) from John Grisham's classic book, The Pelican Brief, and see if you can tell when the POV switches:

"We're investigating, Mr. President." Voyles wanted to laugh. It was a lie, but how could he know? 

"What have you learned?"

"Not much...I assigned fourteen agents to start digging."

Fourteen! It hit him in the gut. "Sounds like it's pretty serious."

In this scene, we're mainly in the POV of Voyles (the FBI Director), when suddenly we're introduced to the emotions of the President when he hears the FBI is a taking this seriously.

Now, I think John Grisham is one of the best writers around, as well as one of the most successful, but here he's broken a cardinal rule of writing. If you're a writer, does that make you wonder if all these "rules" are necessary? And if you're a reader, do you even notice inconsistent POV? What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

(illustration via

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Indicators Of Success

When I was practicing medicine, every time I talked with a patient about a surgery or allergy therapy or anything that would involve time, discomfort, effort, I asked them, "What is your indicator of success?" If it wasn't realistic, we talked until we were both on the same page.

As a writer, I'm afraid I've gradually gotten away from that mindset. The field of publishing is literally exploding--more people are discovering that they can write books, either with or without the help of sophisticated software. And if a traditional publisher won't or can't accept their work, they can self-publish. This could involve employing professionals to design a cover, edit the work, help market it--or it can be a do-it-yourself project. But however you slice it, the field is changing. More writers, more books, more competition, more opportunities. Look at it any way you will, change is taking place.

Getting published isn't the ultimate answer. Even writers who've had a multi-book contract must have their work accepted again by publishers, and sometimes the answer is "no." Of course, the decision between traditional publishers and self-publication is constantly before us, and the right answer is different for every author.

As for making money writing, most writers don't make more than $1000 per year with their efforts. The secret, according to James Scott Bell, lies in quality of the writing, number of books, and the genre in which they are written. But if I were in this for money alone, I should have started many, many years earlier.

Finally, in the midst of all this, I asked myself, What is my indicator of success? I write Christian fiction. If that's true, success for me shouldn't be about contracts and royalties and awards. I didn't say isn't, I said shouldn't be. Truthfully, it's been easy for me to lose sight of my indicator of success. So I've decided to go back to this quotation from St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel every day. When necessary, use words." In my case, words are what I've been given to use, and that's what I need to do. The rest is in God's hands.

What's your indicator of success for what you do?

(image via

Friday, January 17, 2014

Writing: One Last Word About Publishing

One of the most experienced and most reasonable voices in the "traditional vs. self-publishing" dialogue is James Scott Bell. I asked Jim this question: You have had books published by traditional publishers and have self-published others. How would you compare those regarding:

1) marketing?

Publishers are best at marketing to bookstores and other retail venues. Really, that's been the primary aim for traditional publishing--the placing of physical, printed books on bookstore shelves. Authors have always taken on the brunt of other marketing, unless of course they happen to be Stephen King or John Grisham or Nora Roberts. 

In the self-publishing world, where the main outlet is now digital, authors don't need to have physical bookstore placement to succeed. They do have to go to market, but then again they have to if they are traditionally published, too. So the decision to self-publish or not doesn't have to do with physical placement, but with desire for control, pace of production, and so on. 

Big publishers are good at what they do: curation, design, production, physical placement. If someone seeks to self-publish, they need to approach it in a business-like and quality-control fashion, as I stress in my book Self-Publishing Attack.

2) sales?

There is no certainty in sales numbers or income therefrom. If a book is traditionally published and catches fire, like The Hunger Games, the financial rewards are tremendous. However, how many books does that ever happen to? It's a bit of a lottery, but authors may want to play it and can certainly be rewarded if they win.

Many midlist authors are turning to self-publishing because, frankly, they haven't been offered new contracts from publishers. Other writers have decided that the greater royalty income and ability to creatively publish as they please is a better route for them over the course of time. Remember, we are still in the beginnings of the disruptive change that started in 2007 with the introduction of the Kindle. We've seen bookstores closing and self space drying up So predictions about sales are subject to change without notice, virtually every week.

3) reader preference?

Readers have shown they do not really care who publishes a book, so long as it is one they enjoy. If they do enjoy it, they will begin to follow the author, not the author's publishing company. Now, it's quite true that readers are wary of paying even 99 cents for a digital book they know virtually nothing about. But if it's good, it begins to generate word of mouth, which is the surest form of marketing. Look what happened to Hugh Howey. His novellas in the Wool series took off because they were good. It did not matter one iota that he was publishing them himself. 

As a final word, more and more authors are working at becoming "hybrid," and publishers are beginning to see the advantages of same. The problem for major publishing, though, is the same that's faced by any large industry that has to shift gears because of technological change. They can't just throw out their models this afternoon. Meanwhile, more and more authors are making five and six figures a year via self-publishing. They now have more leverage to negotiate with traditional publishers if, indeed, they even desire to do so.

Thanks, Jim. James Scott Bell is a successful author (both traditionally published and self-published), teacher, mentor, and he does all this while maintaining his status as a "recovering attorney." You can learn more about James Scott Bell here.

If you have questions or comments about this subject, please leave a comment. As Jim has implied, there's room for all kinds in this brave, new world of publishing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Guest Posting

My fellow author, Jordyn Redwood, touches on all things medical on her blog, Medical Edge. Recently she asked me to discuss an operation that I've performed hundreds of times. It's one that's been in the news a lot recently: tonsillectomy. You can drop over and read it by clicking this link.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Advice From Experts

Warning. I'm climbing onto my soapbox for this one.

Perhaps it comes from thirty-six years of medical practice, in which I sometimes heard patients respond to my advice with, "Well, my friend said..." Unless that friend had a medical degree and decades of experience, I'm not certain they're the best source of advice for a medical problem. Yet people put faith in such information regularly.

And, of course, everyone has an opinion on gluten. The primary indication for a gluten-free diet is celiac disease. If you think you have it, consult your doctor. But I don't suggest you take dietary advice from Miley Cyrus.

This isn't confined to medicine, of course. I cringe when I go on one of the writer's loops of which I'm a member and read questions like, "Does anyone have tax advice about..." or "What do you think about that vaccine?" or... Well, you get the picture.

Athletes do a great job on the field, but I'm not inclined to take their advice about choosing shaving cream or shampoo. I enjoy the work of some actors, but I don't think they're especially qualified to render political advice. And the list goes on.

So, am I the only one whose blood pressure goes up when he sees people with no particular qualifications hold themselves out as knowledgeable on a subject? Do you think I'm all wet, or am I right? Feel free to weigh in. I'd love to hear what you think.

(picture via

Friday, January 10, 2014

Writing: Remove Pleonasms

One of the hardest tasks for the writer is deleting a word they've written. For some reason, after we put a word in place it becomes something akin to sacred. It's difficult for writers to "kill our darlings," but sometimes it's both necessary and beneficial.

And that brings us to pleonasm. What is this, you may ask? It's the use of more words than are necessary. Another definition of pleonasm is a word or phrase that may be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. In other words, it's redundant.

Back in the good old days of writers submitting their work to magazines and getting paid by the word, it was usual for a submission to be padded. But that's no longer true. Editors can and will certainly exercise their red pencils, but they appreciate it if the authors do it before submitting their work.

And what words must the author look for and possibly cut?  The most common are “that,” “very,” “both,” and “there was.” Others might include “began,” “started,” or “continued.”

The hardest task for an author is cutting extraneous words, especially after their battle to think of those words in the first place. It's a never-ending battle.

The next time you're reading, whether it's a book, a magazine, or a newspaper, look for words and phrases that can be (and perhaps should have been) removed. I hope you'll share some of those in the comments section.

(photo via

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Another Year Is Dawning...

The title of this post is from a familiar hymn, one that we sing at this time each year. This is the time when we make resolutions--lose weight, do better at (fill in the blank), whatever--and metaphorically turn over a new leaf.

I've given up on new year's resolutions. Most of mine have the life expectancy of a chocolate chip cookie at one of our family get-togethers. Rather, I periodically become aware of areas in which I need to make changes. When that happens, I resolve to try to improve. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not. But, to me, it should be a year-round process.

What about you? Any new year's resolutions? I'd love to hear.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Writing: R.U.E.

As I resume this blog after a very pleasant holiday hiatus, I thought about all the rules we writers have to learn and wondered if I should talk about them here. Then my wife gave me a perfect example of one that's easy to say and hard to do: R.U.E.

I first heard this from then editor/now agent Karen Ball in a writing class at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. I have to admit that I had no idea what R.U.E. meant until someone in the class muttered "Resist the urge to explain." Later I read this quotation: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." That is actually a hybridization of the advice given by famed writer Anton Chekov, and it is a good summary of R.U.E.--show, don't tell.

Last week, Kay was leaving to stay with our granddaughter, who lives with her father just a few blocks away. As she was getting into the car, I said, "Remember, call if you need anything." Kay looked at me, cocked her head, and said, "R.U.E." In other words, my actions to that point had always made it clear that I'd help when she needed it. There was no need to tell her. I'd already shown her.

Even though I've been writing for some years now, I still have to guard against telling rather than showing. Writers, is it a problem for you? Readers, do you sometimes skim over parts of a book when the author is telling, rather than showing? I'd like to know.

(image via