Category : Deep Thoughts

  • January 30, 2015

    5 Things Africa has Taught Me as a Writer (a guest blog from Curt Iles)

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    Lagniappe.  It’s a French word denoting, “A little extra.” And it’s a common expression in Louisiana’s Cajun culture. In the local Lugandan language along Lake Victoria’s northern shore, the word is enyogeza. It means a little extra at the market. Two small potatoes added to the dozen you purchased. This story is lagniappe (or enyogeza.) A little extra for you to ponder from my personal journey in Africa.

    My wife DeDe and I have lived in Africa for two years. Often I look around and am shocked at how far I am from my Louisiana piney woods roots. It’s been an eventful time full of growth, frustration, change, disappointment, and joy. Very similar to life back in the good ol’ U.S. of A. I’d like to share five lessons loom large in what these years has taught me as a writer and person:

    It’s always a draft. 

    2013 and 2014 have been years of constant change:

    • Selling our home where we’d raised our family and lived thirty years.
    • Leaving the Southern rural culture for the red dirt of east Africa.
    • Learning Swahili to work in Democratic Congo, then being switched to South Sudan and Arabic. Hatuna matada for sure!
    • Our country, South Sudan, descending into chaos and anarchy as we watched our new friends suffer and doors close. The future is poised with more of the same. It seems change is the only constant.

    Due to daily change, I’ve learned to live and journal in pencil. Life requires erasers. Our African journey has been similar to the process of writing a novel: sometimes our characters take over and send us in directions we didn’t choose. But the end result is almost always a better novel as well as a richer life.

    In spite of the change and uncertainty, I’ve never been more excited about life, our mission, or my writing than today. I’m confident that God is still in

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  • January 5, 2015

    What will you do in the New Year?

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    Welcome to 2015, everyone. I know it’s already the 5th (Twelfthnight, if you’re into the old traditions), so you’ve enjoyed your Twelve Days of Christmas, you’ve opened presents, seen old friends and family, and toasted in the new year. Now it’s time to think hard about what you’re going to accomplish over the next twelve months.

    I know what New Year’s resolutions can be like: a weight that you carry around for a few days, then let slip. Everyone who works in a gym will tell you that the first two weeks of a new year are always busy, then things start to get back to normal. You see, most people start the year with an idea that they want to do something different — exercise more, eat less, write more, drink less, contact old friends more, waste time on Facebook less… I’m the same way. I figure the start of a new year is a good time to clean the slate, pick some new goals, and get my life in focus.

    The problem is that most of us tend to overestimate what we can do in one year (even if we underestimate what we could do in five, if we were to stay focused on our goals). So instead of setting some huge, life-changing goal for yourself in January, what if you had two or three big goals you wanted to get done over the course of the year? In other words, if you could accomplish just three things in 2015, what would they be? Would you finally complete that novel? Or run it by an good editor? Start that next book? Would you launch your new website? Or maybe you’re not going to start something — maybe this year you’re going to stop some things, in order to free up your time and focus on writing. Maybe this is the year you find a writing space, set aside

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  • September 19, 2014

    Happy Jack and the Value of Books (a guest blog)

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    A few months ago, my wife and I took a weekend vacation to Ruidoso, New Mexico. At the outskirts of the small town of Roswell, we drove past a plain sign declaring Happy Jack’s, Beads—Books in front of a solitary building a hundred yards from the highway. My pulse quickened, my hands grew sweaty. I blurted, in the cracking voice of a thirteen-year-old, “Hey, is that a used book store?”

    My wife gave me one of Those Looks. She knows me well.

    “Do we have time to check it out?” I asked.

    She sweetly mentioned that it would be nice to reach Ruidoso before twilight. Or midnight. Or Thanksgiving.

    “We won’t stay long,” I insisted, turning the car around. “I promise.”

    My wife is a trooper, a team player, an accommodating woman whose enjoyment of used book stores dissipates, on the average, about a hour and a half before I’m ready to leave.

    I skidded to a stop in front of the building. “You stay here,” I commanded, using my Band of Brothers scout voice. “I’ll check it out. If it doesn’t smell like cat litter, the Dust Bowl, or the inside of a Marlboro, I’ll sound the all-clear.”

    Flanking the building commando-style, I slipped through a side-door, eyes alert, nose sniffing.

    And found Paradise.

    The floors were clean, the aisles well-lighted. The cool breeze from a swamp-cooler wafted through the air. And everywhere stood rows and rows of paperback books, seen through the reflected, prismatic light of thousands of beads on display at the store’s front. Sublime joy suffused me.

    I write and read Science Fiction and Fantasy. Unlike some genres, SF has traditionally been a collectors’ market; fans tend to seek out and keep specific volumes. For me, the time spent at Happy Jack’s (only an hour, I swear) was like stepping into the past, finding titles I had never seen before, studying the cover art, looking for

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  • August 15, 2014

    Dreams vs. Fears (a guest blog)

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    “You write a book and it’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You don’t know if it will ever reach any shores.  And there, you see, sometimes it falls in the hands of the right person.”   ~ Isabelle Allende

     

    The other day a woman at a party asked me how the writing was going. “I’m not sure how you writers do it but I do know that you have to deal with writers block,” she said.

    I didn’t have five hours and neither did she for me to tell her how it really has been going for me.

    I wish that ol’ proverbial writers block was all I had to fight.

    The last two years haven’t been easy.  Currently, I’m not in a position of writing one book after the other in a niche market.  I guess I’m still trying to figure out what’s next.  With my first contracts, I thought I was sailing along.  Then the boat stopped. And the water was dark and cold.

    It seems that non-writers have this notion that our lives are easy, luxurious even, as we run with one idea for a book, get it onto paper in a few days, and then create another work while we take long walks on California beaches with glasses of Napa Valley wine.  Non-writers think that we spend summers sitting on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for inspiration.

    I know I’m not alone.  You might be on this same boat.  The wind is in your face and not in a good way because it hurts your skin; it blows so harshly. Or perhaps you’re on a sailboat and there is no wind.  You’re stuck.  No, not with writers block—you know how to be disciplined—but when you’re done with your story, who wants it?  You wonder why you are where you are.  At two a.m. you send messages to your

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  • July 4, 2014

    Happy 4th of July! (a rant)

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    So I had a post I was going to share today, even though it’s a holiday. I was checking some news online, when my phone rang. It was 9 in the morning.

    Old guy’s voice: “Hello, I sent you a book proposal last week, and–”

    Me: “But you’re not really calling me at home on the 4th of July to talk about it, right?”

    Old guy’s voice: “Well, the 4th of July is the perfect day, since it gets into American history.”

    Me: “Really? You’re calling my cell phone on the morning of the 4th of July to pitch your book?”

    Old guy’s voice: “I thought you were a Christian.”

    Me: “Um, I AM a Christian. I don’t see –”

    Old guy’s voice: “You’re not showing the fruit of the spirit…”

    Me: (Hanging up.)

    Suddenly, it put me out of the holiday spirit. But it DOES motivate me to say something: I love books. I can honestly say that my life has been changed by books that I’ve read, and there’s not that many things in life we can point to and say that. A handful of people, a handful of books, a few decisions or events. So I’ve given my life to books and words and helping authors create books that make a difference. And YOUR book might be one of those fabulous books that makes a difference. But… you don’t just have a book — you have a life. Live it. Your book is important, but perhaps not the single most important thing in the world. Today is the day to go see a parade, watch a baseball game, barbecue, swap stories with the family. NOT to call an agent.

    I don’t mean to be a jerk about this. I love going to writers’ conferences, since there’s great energy and it’s fun to sit and talk ideas and projects and books and authors. I rarely mind being pitched

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  • April 22, 2014

    If you could sit down to dinner with a literary agent…

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    Imagine this: You get to sit down to have dinner with the literary agent of your choosing. You can ask anything you want? So… what would you ask? I’ve been taking the entire month of April to let people send in the questions they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. Recent questions include…

    A friend of mine in our writers’ group asked me if she can be sued if she uses the name of a real town — i.e., Witch Hazel, Oregon, in her novel. Is that true?

    Okay– I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not giving you legal advice. If you need legal advice, go talk to an attorney. What you’re getting is my take as an agent… Sued? For what? No. You can be sued for defaming or libeling someone, but you can’t be sued for simply using the name of a town. Does she think she can’t say, “The plane flew to New York”? (But thanks for the call-out to my hometown of Witch Hazel!)

    It’s my understanding that publishers will often pay higher royalties for hardcover than softcover. Why is this?

    It’s true. The standard book contracts pays 10% of the retail price on the first 5000 hardcopies sold, 12.5% on the next 5000 copies, and 15% thereafter. A trade paper pays a flat 7.5%. The cost of the hardcover is higher, the production costs are a bit higher, people are willing to pay more, so there is more money to divide. Thus the royalties are higher. (By the way, most CBA publishers pay on net contracts, so it’s a bit different.)

    I’d like to know what goes on in a Pub Board meeting, and why does it sometimes take so long for them to make a decision on a book?

    The pub board is where a decision is made to publish or not publish a book. Usually it includes the editor presenting the project,

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  • April 18, 2014

    If you could sit and have a beer with a literary agent…

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    I’m taking the month of April and letting people send in ANY question they have about writing and publishing. If you could sit down for an hour over a beer with a literary agent, and ask him anything you wanted, what would you want to know? Here are questions I’ve been sent recently…

    If I am offered a contract, should I then get an agent?

    That depends on the situation. Although I’m a longtime literary agent, I’m not an agent-evangelist, insisting everyone needs an agent. So think about the big picture here — your agent didn’t discuss the idea with you, or help you sharpen your proposal, or introduce you to editors, or send it out to publishers, or offer career advice. Once you’re offered a contract, the agent is going to step into it and earn a commission. So here’s my thinking… IF the agent can bring value, in terms of doing a great negotiation, and improving the contract & terms, and getting involved in the marketing, and stepping in to help with dramatic and foreign rights, and offering advice for your future, then it might be worthwhile to have an agent step in. But if all he’s going to do is say “yes” to the offer, it may not be worth paying him 15%. Consider talking with a good contract evaluation service, which might only charge a couple hundred dollars. (Or you might talk with an attorney, but be careful — they tend to charge by the six-minute increment and want to keep the clock running, so it can be expensive. Maybe consider this option if you’ve got something complex, such as a series offer or a movie deal.) But don’t sign with someone just so you can have the honor of saying, “I have an agent!”

    If my novel is women’s fiction, is it best to target a female agent?

    It’s best to target an agent who

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  • April 16, 2014

    If I could sit down with a literary agent and ask ANYTHING…

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    This month I’m trying to get to all the questions people say they’d like to ask an agent, if they could just sit down with him or her for a few minutes and talk privately. Here are questions that people have asked recently…

    Are the low costs of e-books costing authors money?

    Sure. I mean, if a retailer sells a book for $20, the royalty is higher than if he sells it for $10. The average e-book is way down — many below $5, and often you’ll see specials where the books are 99 cents. That doesn’t leave much for an author. The argument is made that people want a deal, and the low prices build readership by finding readers who will spend a dollar or two without even thinking about it. And I think that’s true, to a point… but at some point, we have educated readers that they only need to spend a buck or two on a book, and that means the only people really making money are the bestselling authors.

    I’m thinking of setting up my own publishing company. Do I need to trademark or copyright the company? Is there a contract template for doing that?

    If you’re just doing it to keep the words “Amazon Publishing” off your title page, then create a business name, do a search to make sure the name & domain are available and not a copyright infringement, and start a bank account in the name of the company. In some states you’ll have to register the company name, so check your local laws, or talk with an attorney if you have greater legal questions. (For the record, I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving you legal advice.) You can find people willing to sell you all sorts of business-planning materials, but most authors who start their own companies simply start them online with a domain name and a bank

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  • March 28, 2014

    What's the best writing advice you've ever received?

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    So it’s spring break for most people. You might be heading out of town, or driving to the beach, or trying to find a place to relax and dive into that new book you bought. I’m going the same thing — well… I live at the beach, so I’m not heading there, but I am trying to ditch the crowds find some quiet so I can read today. I have a long list of projects I want to get caught up on, so instead of doing emails and taking phone calls, I’m going to try and get away and just read for a while.

    And that, of course, means I don’t think I’ll take the time to create a new blog post. Instead, I’ll let you YOU create it. One simple question: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

    It might be something about craft, or a trick you learned, something about writing quickly or leaving writer’s block behind. It could be advice on creating characters, or raising the stakes, or leaving people with a memorable lesson. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you’ve no doubt heard (or read) some great bit of wisdom that you took to heart and you noticed it changed your work. Share it with us. Just click on the “comment” bar below and offer the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received. You’re welcome to give us context, and tell who said it and what the circumstances were, if you want to — but don’t feel you HAVE to. You’re welcome to just offer one sentence with the advice you’ve got.

    I do this once each year or so, and I have gleaned some wonderful tips from people over the years. Would love to hear what you have to share with your fellow writers. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

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  • March 21, 2014

    Engineered Bestsellers, Rock Star Pastors, and Rosie Ruiz

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    by Ghostwriter [While this says it’s written by Chip MacGregor, it is not. It’s written by a professional collaborative writer who is a friend — Chip just posted it.]

    Hi. I’m Ghostwriter and I’m the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.

    The news that Mars Hill Church paid ResultSource about $200,000 to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list shocked a lot of people. For me, that news solved a mystery.

    As I already mentioned, I am a collaborative author and occasionally a ghostwriter. Although I am a published author in my own right, I learned long ago that I could earn a much better living helping other people write their books. It’s a good life, and I enjoy my work. Nevertheless, I still hope that someday I’ll see one of my books on a bestseller list—any bestseller list.

    This explains my obsession with Amazon rankings and sales figures.

    I know, I know…

    You have to take Amazon numbers with several hundred grains of salt. I get that. But I still enjoy checking my author page and seeing how many copies of my books have sold in the previous week. Generally, the numbers are unremarkable. Sometimes they are depressing. But a while back those numbers astonished and mystified me.

    I’d collaborated on a book with a megachurch pastor and, although it was a contract job for which I received a flat fee and no royalties, I asked for and received cover credit. Because my name was on the cover, I was able to list the book on my Amazon author page and track its sales statistics. Even though I wasn’t going to receive royalties for the book, I was still curious to see how well it was selling.

    So I set the book up and waited for the launch date. The first week’s sales stats took my breath away. The book went from zero

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