• October 24, 2008

    Writing, Websites, and Craft


    Here's some cool news: This blog was just given the "Writers' Inclusion Award" from Stepping Stone Magazine…so we're now officially an award-winning blog.  :o)

    Pierce had a question related to my last post: "Do you have specific recommendations for companies that can help beginning writers with creating the necessary tools for a business — letterhead, business cards, website, etc?"

    There are countless companies that can print you nice business cards, and it seems like you can't swing a stick these days without hitting a web designer. So instead of naming a bunch of companies, let me simply tell you who I work with, and you can use that as a starting point, Pierce.

    My logo, letterhead, envelopes, and business cards were designed by Kevin Burr at Ocular Ink in Nashville (www.ocularink.com). Kevin does great graphic design work. My website (www.MacGregorLiterary.com), which routinely garners great comments from people in the industry, was created by Nick Francis at Project 83 in Nashville (www.project83.com). Nick is simply the best in the business. You can find people who will do this stuff cheaper, but you won't find anyone who does it any better.

    Tiffany wrote and said, "When I go 'live' with my author site, I want to have a different feel for my nonfiction, my suspense fiction, and my speaking pages. Do you suggest different marketing tools for each facet of a writer's business, or do you suggest we have something that represents us in all capacities?"

    That probably depends on the writer, Tiffany. I think you can have projects that share an audience on one site, but they need to be somehow related. If there are widely divergent aspects of your business, you may want to have different websites. For example, if the speaking you're doing is on time management, but the writing is on dog grooming, you'll be hard pressed to make those work effectively

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  • October 19, 2008

    Writers and Websites


    I've received a number of questions about websites and e-books recently…

    Ellen has a very thoughtful question: "I've become a smarter book-buyer because of the economy. I'm more likely to read three chapters in the cafe at Borders before letting go of my money. If the writing isn't good, I don't buy the book. If the writing is great, I'll buy it no matter what it costs. But that raises a question — could Kindle increase sales by eliminating our ability to loan out our precious books? And won't Kindles and Sony e-readers affect the used book market?"

    For those unfamiliar, the Kindle is Amazon's latest attempt to control the world. It's a small electronic book that uses cell-phone technology to download book texts, and it's great (except it doesn't do graphics). The Sony e-reader is a bit less expensive and bit sturdier, though I'll admit I like using the Kindle more. Ellen's question is one publishers have been rolling around — there's no forwarding from one e-reader to another, so will these tools keep readers from passing along books to friends? That could cut down on the readership of a book. But at the same time, if an enthusiastic reader tells all her friends to read the latest Paul Coelho novel, could they all purchase and download it, thereby increasing sales? 

    Both are good thoughts. And to this point, nobody knows what will happen. However, I used Brazilian author Paulo Coelho as a specific example because of his recent discussion at the Frankfurt Book Fair last week. Mr. Coelho takes the approach that getting his words out there in electronic form will bring him new readers, and that will lead to more people buying books. So he gets his words out there in the ethernet, and gives them away quite a bit, and he believes that is what has led to his worldwide success. "The more you give, the

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  • October 10, 2008



    How bad are things on the financial side of publishing? Publisher's Lunch today offered some startling facts:

    -Barnes & Noble stock is down 19% from their high last month.

    -JohnWiley is off 25% during that same span.

    -Scholastic is down 26% since September 19th.

    -Amazon has lost 31% over that same time.

    -Hachette's parent company Lagardere is down 31.5%.

    -News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, is down 36%.

    -CBS, which owns Simon & Schuster, is down 40%.

    -Borders is down 44% in the past 30 days.

    -Books-a-Million is down 49% over that same time.

    -And PW Daily reported that Atlas & Co. has been forced to delay its Spring 2008 list due to economic issues.


    Want some happier news? J.K. Rowling earned $300,000,000 in this past fiscal year, according to Forbes magazine.

    Continue Reading "Ouch."
  • October 7, 2008

    The Art of Fireproofing


    On this blog, I have regularly commented about art and faith — more specificially, calling for people of faith to do a great job when creating art, since I think it's too easy for believers to be lazy about their craft. Think about it — if you can claim "I'm doing this for the glory of God," then maybe that trumps any discussion of the value of your work. If your art is "God's work," who has the right to question your ability?

    I mention this because I've been hearing from Christians that I need to go see the movie "Fireproof" — a Christian film that has received fairly wide play in theaters. Several Christian writers encouraged me to go, since the film has a strong message and is directed at a good cause. I'll admit I didn't do any preparation for the movie, but instead just showed up so I could take it in and see what the fuss is all about. It turns out it's another one of those films that was written and produced by Christians who have convinced themselves that they're at the top of their game because they have a strong "message." We used to refer to these as "church basement films," since the Billy Graham Association would produce them, then they'd be shown in church basements everywhere, giving believers a chance to nod in agreement with the message and thereby making us feel like we've accomplished something great.

    Since there is a big "faith and film" conference going on right now, I'd like to offer some thoughts on "Fireproof" from an artistic viewpoint…

    1. Kirk Cameron can't act. Come on…they cast Kirk as the tough captain of a Firehouse? He's a soft metrosexual type. What next — he's going to cast himself as an NBA center? The guy is completely unbelievable in the shout/be-angry/get-in-the-men's-faces portions of the film. In addition, he always LOOKS like he's acting. The fight

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  • October 2, 2008

    All In Print Is News That Fits


    I am suddenly awash in questions, so let me jump in with a couple of recent requests…

    1. Tina wants to know, "What steps would you say are important for an author to try and study the market? (I'm trying to match a project to a particular publisher, and I'm not sure how to go about doing that.)"

    If you want to get to know the market, read frequently, and read outside your genre. If you're trying to target a particular publisher, by all means get their catalog or study their website, figure out which books they do well with, and read several of those titles. Study the bestseller lists (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, your local paper, etc) and take a close look at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. com to see what's working in the market. Make sure to pay close attention to who publishes the type of books you like to read, and who does a good job getting books onto the bestseller lists, since all publishers are not created equal. Stay on top of Publishers Weekly and the online Publishers Lunch (and, if you're interested in CBA, take a look at Christian Retailing Magazine) to find out the most recent news in the industry. Keep tabs on the economic climate in publishing and bookselling (right now it can be summed up: "stinko"). Many pubishers produce a style guide — ask for one and follow it carefully before submitting. And by all means talk to some people who know what they're doing, so that you don't get steered in the wrong direction.

    You raise a good point: It's important to study a publisher before sending them a proposal. HarperOne may be a great place for your memoir, but it's a probably all wrong for your YA novel. Harvest House may love your gift book about dogs, but they're all wrong for that commentary on

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  • September 28, 2008

    Here’s What’s New in Publishing


    There have been a number of fascinating things going on in publishing recently. Let me catch you up to date…
    1. In October, Esquire Magazine will feature something that's never been done before: an animated cover. Their 75th Anniversary issue, coming in October, will use 3-mm-thick e-paper (the same material used in Amazon's Kindle), and will have images that change and turn on and off. Think of this as a simplified version of the newspapers you saw in the Harry Potter movies. The data and batteries behind all this are actually baked into the paper, but they fully expect hackers to be able to get inside and reprogram the images. Fascinating stuff ahead for the world of publishing. Covers that shift and change. (I was even told the magazines will have to be delivered in refrigerated trucks. Interesting.)
    2. New York Magazine says that book publishing is dead. You can read it all for yourself at www.nymag.com/news/media/50279  — it's an interesting exploration of the current economics of publishing.
    3. It looks more and more like Borders could be in serious trouble. They picked a bad time to re-finance, and it looks like they may have to sell the company after all. That's a bummer. Borders is a wonderful company to those of us who work with books and words. As an author, you want them to remain in business.
    4. Google has announced they are (finally) making their book previews and searches available to data bases everywhere. And Random House is participating (surprise!). After all the talk of lawsuits and warfare, it looks like publishers are beginning to see the potential benefit of this type of arrangement.
    5. One of the most important, but under-reported, publishing stories of this year has been the behavior of some publishers over Sherry Jones' novel, The Jewel of Medina. In case you don't know, it's the story of Ashia,
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  • September 27, 2008

    I’ll miss you, Swick


    Celebration of Life for “Swick

    Michael Swickard

    Saturday – October 4th at 2:00 pm


    Mike Swickard passed away after his long battle with cancer, at age 54.  A celebration of Swick’s life will be held on Saturday, October 4th at Community of Hope Church in Wilsonville.  The memorial service will begin at 2:00 pm. 

    In honor of Swick, uncover those hot rods and join us for a memorial “cruise in.”  To honor Swick’s love for cars, please dust off those hot rods and join us for a cruise in car show in the church parking lot.  Pray for sun!



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  • September 14, 2008

    Creating Characters


    Since many people are about to board a plane for a huge fiction-writing conference, let me continue in that vein… Some people have written to ask about creating strong characters in their fiction. If you're going to establish strong characters, the best things you can do are to give them dialogue that demonstrates who they are and give them something to do. Don't feel like you have to spend a lot of time describing your characters (unless there is some unique reason for doing so, like they are seven feet tall or they have a tattoo of Ohio on their forehead). Often writers will offer one descriptive fact, as sort of an advance organizer. But don't bother describing everything about their history, physical description, dental records, etc. And, of course, to create a great character I think you have to have somebody in mind — a real person, whom you've met and found interesting, and who you can talk about from your experience… not just some mystery individual you created in your head.

    With that as an introduction, let me offer six tips for keeping readers talking to your characters…

    1. History is made by big people. Big personalities, big dreams, big ideas. However, most stories need more conflict than "the big guy doesn't get what he wants." Interesting stories are often made by small, weak people. So give your characters (even your big characters) some weakness and you'll discover the readers can relate to them.

    2. At the same time, page-turning novels are stories about special days, not ordinary days. So take that small, weak character, put him or her into an extraordinary circumstance. Kurt Vonnegut once said the best thing you can do in a novel is to create wonderful people and have the most awful things happen to them. He was right. So get the character to act big and strong after showing they are not

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  • September 10, 2008

    Advice for Novelists


    Since many of us are heading off to the great ACFW conference in order to rub shoulders with novelists, I should probably take on a "novel writing" question. Somebody wrote to me and asked, "As a first-time novelist, what advice can you give me to create a great, page-turning novel?"

    My reply: Dialogue and action. That won't necessarily make for the deepest, or most thoughtful, or the most life-changing sort of book, but it will make your book a page-turner.  A high sense of drama is necessary, of course. So is telling an interesting story at a brisk pace. (Whoever read a slow, rambling thriller?) Unresolved conflicts help. So do plot twists, and fascinating characters, or characters I like who are placed in tense situations. But if you stick to dialogue and action, you'll make your book more of a page-turner.

    This leads to the age-old writing question about plot vs character, I suppose. When it comes to page-turners, I think the plot takes precedence. The action and situations dominate the nuances of character in a thriller or suspense novel. People in publishing have a saying: "Editors love characters. Readers love plots." That's a nice way for highbrows to basically tell you "deep thinkers love interesting characters in their novels, so if you focus on plot you're probably shallow." I've never really agreed with that assessment — in my view, everybody loves an interesting character…but it's the action that gets me turning pages in order to find out what happens next. 

    Years ago, in an interview in Saturday Review, novelist Elmore Leonard was asked what made his novels so successful. Here is a guy who has written at least a dozen bestsellers, and has kept up his success for a couple decades, so I was really focused on his answer. It was brilliant in its simplicity: "I tend to leave out the parts people skip."

    That's great writing advice.

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  • September 3, 2008

    What’s Hot?


    Ben wants to know, "Are there any genres that are hot right now? If a new writer is trying to break into the market, is there any merit to ignoring the type of books he or she would normally like to write, and focusing on books that are in a hot genre, in hopes of being more likely to get published?"

    Sure, there are genres that are hot right now. In Christian fiction, it seems like all you have to do is to put an Amish person on the cover of the novel and it will sell. In general market circles, there seems to be a huge growth in vampires (also Obama, Sarah Palin, Batman, and Eckhart Tolle). And that goes to show the silliness (in my view) of chasing trends. I suppose you could try writing a book in which Eckhart Tolle becomes a vampire and attacks Sarah Palin, who tried to escape the media attacks on her family by fleeing with Obama to an Amish community, where they are saved by Batman, but… I don't know. The idea of Obama becoming Amish seems far-fetched.

    I rarely see authors achieve success by chasing the market, Ben. It always seems that by the time we've all recognized a trend, it's too late to contract another book on the subject. That may not always prove true (certainly there are plenty of Christian novelists who have sold books based on little more than having an Amish setting), but as a rule, I don't see authors breaking out with this sort of thinking.

    Carolyn wants to know, "How does a writer find out how many copies of a book sold? Someone told me recently that an author had sold 'millions of books.' How can I find out for sure?"

    It's hard to get a firm number. If you have a connection to the author, you can ask him or her. If you have

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