Thursday, December 31, 2009

A strategy for the New Year

For many writers the goal for the New Year is to get published. Any worthwhile goal should have a viable strategy to get there. What might such a strategy look like? The first and most important thing is to effectively target who we want to approach.

Just going down the Writer’s Digest and picking names to submit to is a recipe for failure. The odds of such a cold-call submission succeeding is very slim, but what do we have to lose, right? Actually what we have to lose is burning bridges that with the right approach might be a successful contact. But once we have managed to successfully secure a rejection, that avenue is gone.

No, successful contacts are not made with publishing houses, but rather with editors, and ideally with editors or agents that we have managed to establish some sort of contact with. This is the difficult part of making submissions, finding the right people and knowing WHY they are the right person to submit to. The best way is by identifying what projects they have been involved in that makes us believe they are right for our project. Not just the house, but the right editor.

Ninety per cent of making a successful submission is targeting the right person to send it to. The majority of such submissions aren’t successful and the reason on a high number of them is they simply are not sent to the right person or to a specific person at all. “To Whom it May Concern” submissions are quite likely to draw a “To Whom it May Concern” response which is not likely to be favorable.

If we have effectively targeted the right place to go, then the next step is a great query letter and proposal. These are the sales documents for our books. Occasionally I have someone say “I don’t want to put a proposal together, that’s what I want an agent for.” I wish them luck. I can only take a few of the many submissions that are made to me and they are going to be people who have given me a terrific proposal that shows me how strong a sales pitch can be made on the project. I’ll never know a project as good as the author, so the starting point for me has to be a good proposal.

So the strategy is good targeting, a very professional pitch and proposal, (I have an ebook at my website on ‘Pitch and Promote like a Pro’ at if you need help ) and finally we need patience. At any given time, even with good research and targeting, our project may only fit at a single place in the industry. Within a short period of time it may only fit at ANOTHER specific place. That means making a good connection will by definition entail a lot of misses and near misses. Too many people don’t understand and get discouraged when it is simply the process of finding the right match. Those who publish have the patience to see it through, learn the editing that is required, and get the training they need to grow in their craft.

So what is your goal for 2010? And have you formulated a strategy to give you the best shot at achieving it?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Is there such a thing as an over-believer?

This question was asked on one of the writing groups. My answer is NO! I believe in Jesus and the good news of the gospel with every fiber of my being. Is there such a thing as an over-communicator? Well . . . yes.

I have a young relative that was a brand new preacher. He was on fire with an unmatched evangelistic zeal. When he was speaking to potential converts you could see their eyes glaze over as he exceeded their capacity to receive information. I told him we need to learn to gauge the amount of information our intended audience is prepared to receive. He learned to read people better, to not try to get the job done in one burst of information, and be patient to match the message with the receiver.

This is particularly true when bringing a message of faith to a non-believer. What happens when that occurs? The Holy Spirit brings them under conviction. Being under conviction is difficult enough for Christians who understand what it is and often need a dose of it, but it is never a comfortable thing. Being a non-believer and coming under conviction is that much more uncomfortable when they don’t understand what is going on but do not like it. The result is usually to tune out or even to resist. Not what we are after.

It’s the same in writing, in our daily communications, sermons, any type of communication activity. We have to try to match the message with the receiver. I had a speech professor once that said we all possess a box of index cards. On those cards are written all of our life experiences, our education, our upbringing, the mistakes we have made, all the facets of our life. We formulate a communication by going through that box and putting the message together by using that box.

The problem is the message will be received by a person with another box that has a completely different set of cards, and they will use their cards, not ours, to decode the message. To the extent that we can find common ground, that is the extent that we will effectively communicate. A good communicator can match the message to the receiver, can keep from giving them more information than they are prepared to receive in one sitting.

Is there such a thing as an over-believer? No, I don’t believe it possible to love the Lord TOO much. Is there such a thing as an over-communicator? Actually that seems to happen a lot, particularly with those who are on fire for the Lord, but there is something we can do about it. And we can become more effective communicators for God.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Politically Correct Christmas Greeting

Actually, if that is what you are looking for you have come to the wrong place. Everyone in our family is a Bible-believing, born again Christian and above all else we believe that Christmas is a day set aside for recognizing the birth of our Lord.

Sure I know it may or may not be the exact day He was born, it’s silly to get into that argument. What is important is there is a day set aside to honor Him. It doesn’t matter if a lot of stores try to circumvent that by using “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or if the government seems bent on getting any vestige of religion out of our country because they can’t do it. The real church of Jesus isn’t a building or a place that the government can get at, but it is in our hearts and there it is secure and above their petty efforts.

Of course I want to do everything I can to reverse these trends, but I also want them to know that their efforts are futile. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, period, exclamation mark. Not that we don’t enjoy all of the ‘trimmings’ of the season, we do. The lights, the decorations, the brightly lit tree, and presents, did I mention presents? And how about the look on the faces of the children in anticipation of seeing what is in those brightly wrapped packages? Priceless.

Is there a big meal involved? There usually is for us, our family thinks eating and celebrating are two ways of saying the same thing. No, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the holiday as long as we first remember the real reason.

We were watching a Christmas program and on it they asked if people could name the best and the worst Christmas. Someone said, “who could possibly do that?” I said I could. My worst Christmas was the year my brother died right at Christmas. No contest.

My best? Sitting in a candle-lit evening service on Christmas Eve and watching my kids get baptized together. Also absolutely no contest. What present did I get that year? Who knows? But I’ll never forget the sights reflected in that flickering candlelight or the smell of the pine boughs being warmed by candles in the windows or the sound of the Christmas choir all leading up to the actual baptism. No amount of ‘political correctness’ can take that away from me.

Our family wishes you and yours a wonderful celebration of the birth of our Savior and we hope for you it is more than just a time to exchange gifts but a time to build precious memories that can last the year through . . . and some can last a lifetime.

Merry Christmas,

Terry, Saundra and Ruth

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Guest Blogger - Joyce Hart, owner and principal agent Hartline Literary

Some tips on getting your book proposal read.

1. One of my stock answers is: “This isn’t a good fit for our agency.” Have you researched our web site? Did you read what we’re looking for? I get several queries and/or proposals a day for Young Adult and children’s novels. We don’t do either of those categories. Under “guidelines” we list what we are looking for and the categories that we are not interested in seeing.

2. Do you know how to prepare a proposal? Again, we have proposal guidelines on our web site. We tell you exactly how we want to see a proposal. We can bend a little, but basically our guidelines reflect what editors are asking from us. When we don’t send them this way we get comments like this, “Joyce, this is not your usual style.” Then they ask us to do them over. Authors tell me that preparing the proposal is harder than writing the book and I know this is true. However, please know that it is a necessary step in getting your book published.

3. Your bio is important. Every day I get queries with only a summary of the book. I can’t make a decision without your bio and your publishing history. It’s all part of the drill.

4. The marketing comparison – we get a lot of “groaning” about this one. However, again it is essential. One editor recently asked us, “Does this author know where this book fits on the bookshelf?” In other words do you know who your audience? Very important in presenting your book to the agent and to the editor.

5. Don’t give us too much information. We need all the elements of the proposal, but we don’t need pages and pages. About the summary: for fiction, I personally prefer one to two pages. Some agents want more. For non-fiction, we need a small summary of each chapter.

6. Are you willing to complete the book? Terry recently did a survey of 175 editors and his conclusion is that the majority of editors want the book finished. We will accept a partial on non-fiction and also from published authors of fiction. However, for new authors, we need the whole book. And the editor might want the whole book finished even if you are a published author. Your agent will work with you on this.

7. Did you remember to put your contact information on the cover page, and yes, a cover page is necessary. Also, don’t forget to put a header on each page, using the “insert” button and please, number the pages. Amazing how many proposals we get without contact information and without the pages numbered. Even if we love the manuscript, we can’t contact the author because we don’t know who to contact. The e-mail or the envelope has gotten separated from the proposal, more than likely.

These are just a few tips, if you have questions please ask us. We are caring agents and it is not easy for us to reject your work. Sometimes, it’s simply not what we are looking for, other times we don’t know of anyone who is looking for your particular project. Let me point out that we get far more rejections than you do, because we have close to 200 clients. Some days we’ll get several rejections. I hate to tell an author their book is rejected. We hurt along with you. It’s one of my least favorite parts of my job.

Right now I’m looking for romance, romance, romance, either contemporary or historical. My personal favorite genre is romantic suspense and almost any kind of a mystery/suspense. However, this genre is a little hard to sell at this time. Amish is hot, whether contemporary or historical. Who knows how long this will last, it’s anybody’s guess. Thomas Nelson told me “we don’t want any dead bodies, we want lighter stories.” Mystery does not do well at Revell. Harvest House and WaterBrook are willing to look at mystery, but the book needs to be completed. Bethany’s specialty is romance, historical and contemporary. We are willing to look at women’s fiction. Bottom line is this, in spite of anything I’ve said we will always look at stellar writing in any category. Send us your very best work in a well done proposal.

I’m wishing you the best. Don’t get discouraged; remember selling anything takes persistence and consistence. If you are called to write, put your trust in God and keep writing.

One last word, publishing kind of dies this time of year. People are taking vacations, getting ready for Christmas. It will pick up in January 2010.



Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do Book Trailers Work?

Do these book trailers really do any good? There’s a big discussion going on over on one of these lists about this, on that recurs often from place to place. In the case that is being talked about the publisher wants trailers to go on a DVD the sales reps can use to go out and pitch books and in that case the answer is they will absolutely do some good. I have a friend that is in book acquisition for some bookstores and he tells me they simply do not have the time to read all the books they acquire so they depend on some trusted review sources, or sometimes the decision is made as simply as the cover and how they think it will display on the shelves and be picked up. They would look with great favor on such a DVD.

But how about your average reader? Are they swayed by trailers? Do they even see them? Who knows? Putting my writer hat on I try to build things in to various promotion sources when I can that will show me where success is coming from. After all, most of the time when we sell a book we don’t know what triggered that buying decision. Word of mouth is the most effective thing, I think most people agree on that, but how was that word of mouth promotion generated?

Does the trailer do that? Do blog tours do that? Promoting the book on various online groups, is that what makes it happen? Doing book-signings and programs and being a guest on radio or TV or getting interviewed somewhere, is that it? The answer is yes, all of the above and anything more that we can think of.

It’s great when we can decide something is definitely working so we can do more of it. It’s even good when we see something doesn’t work so we can not do it again. I did a contest with one of my books that drew no entries. That means I wasn’t out the prize for the contest as nobody won it, and just the existence and promotion of the contest may have triggered some sales, no way to tell. But on the surface the contest was a bust so I won’t do it again.

It’s called platform and while we seldom can tell what is really triggering purchases, the more of it we have the better. P T Barnum, the old circus promoter, said it. He said “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.” He meant all publicity is eventually good publicity. I’ve seen folks with very questionable activity in their past get elected to office. Voters didn’t remember WHY they recognized the name, they just knew it was familiar. I’d rather people be more discerning than that but it proves the point.

People buy books because they see a name they can identify with more than anything else. How did the name become familiar? It might have been that book trailer, the author may never know. Or it might have been any one of the other activities the author is doing to generate visibility. And you want to know the funny thing? The purchaser may not even know themselves why they are familiar with the name, they just are.

Like I say, the answer is “all of the above.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm an independent

Yes, I’m an independent. It goes back to when my mother and father cancelled each others votes every time they cast them. Mother won, she outlived him, although at 95 she doesn’t feel like she can keep up with things well enough to cast an intelligent vote. I wish more felt like that and if they couldn’t vote intelligently just wouldn’t vote at all.

But I digress. To keep from taking sides as soon as I could vote I was an avowed independent, supporting the candidates rather than the party. Then I went into chamber of commerce work and since I had to work with both parties my independent status was useful showing I was unbiased. I even carried a voter registration card that proclaimed that status.

I’m an independent now more than ever. I’m unhappy with both parties and the unprecedented level of government expansion and spending. I would support a genuine third party if it didn’t mean penalizing one party over the other producing a result I would not like to see.

I am disgusted with the politicians going ahead and doing what they want to do ignoring the huge public outcry. The major portion of America do not want the huge spending, the major expansion of government, the incursion into our lives. They simply don’t seem to care and seem dead set on doing what they want to do regardless of what the people that sent them there want them to do.

They seem dead set on spending the money of our children and grandchildren. They make it clear that they do not think we are intelligent enough to know what is good for us so the government must control more and more until they control everything. I simply can’t understand why there is anyone in this country that isn’t insulted by that.

Yes, I’m an independent and for me party means nothing. The issues and even the character of those involved is everything for me. And quite frankly I sincerely hope that anyone voting for this monstrosity of a health care bill will be committing political suicide to do it. And I will do anything that I can do to see that happens. Along with encouraging others to be independent in their thoughts as well. Most of this stuff is pretty easy to see through of we take the party blinders off.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Interview with Client Bonnie Calhoun

Bonnie, the Madison PI series kicks off soon from Abingdon Press. I know you worked with Michelle Sutton on it, but Michelle is Tamela's client so I'll let her handle talking to her when she is ready. But you were the one that had the idea for this black and white sleuth team, weren't you? Tell me where the idea came from? And how it developed?

Yes this was my idea. I came up with this because, out of all of the Christian fiction I read I really haven't found a lot of diversity or multicultural interaction. The idea comes from my own real life. My extended family is a blending of multicultures, and my husband is white. We've been together for 28 years and between him and family interactions there is plenty of fonder to keep me writing novels until the Lord returns. This developed out of a real situation that happened long years ago in my family and with enough embellishment I have turned it into a full length novel.

The first book is called "Thicker than Sisters" - can you give us a little teaser about what to expect?

Precious Madison has a chip on her shoulder.

Olivia Baldwin is the epitome of that chip.

Bridging the crack will create a bond that can never be broken.

PI Precious Madison is tough, jaded, and judgmental, but are her street smarts enough to save sheltered heiress Olivia Baldwin from her naiveté of the real world.

A young man is murdered, and the two women are drawn into the mystery when they assume that the police write it off as a random crime. Unraveling the truth puts their lives at risk when they uncover a high-level crime organization, and another dead body that disappears before they can report it.

As the danger escalates, Precious and Olivia, learn to depend on each other for survival.

And There's a second book, "Thicker than Blood" contracted in the series and an option for more after that. What can we expect to see down the road?

In Thicker Than Sisters we see the coming of age of Precious' story and her coming to terms with her situation and her relationship with the Lord. In Thicker Than Blood we delve into the story of what has made Olivia the person that she is, and how she matures into the life-hand that has been dealt her.

Bonnie, you are the owner and publisher of the very successful Christian Fiction Online Magazine as well as for the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, how do you find time to write? How do you think these roles impact your writing career?

LOL...I find time to run the organizations and also write because I've given up on sleep. It was overated anyhow...LOL. I also have a full time day job.
I am a clothing designer and seamstress and I own my own business. I prioritize my projects at any given moment of the day, and I've learned to stay organized and within my own system, no matter how muddled it becomes. I work infinitely well under pressure. Actually over my life time I have found that I tend to thrive under pressure, so that is a plus that adds to my writing career!

What are you working on in addition to this series?

I'm working on another multicultural suspense series.

What's the best piece of writing advice you ever got? The worst?

The best writing advice:
Read Brandilyn Collins to learn how to write suspense.

The worst advice:
Ignore that looney Snowflake Method by that crazy nuclear physicist.

Anything else you'd like to take this opportunity to say?

Be true to yourself, and if you have a dream of being something.... be the best you can be and the Lord with honor your diligence.

Thanks, Bonnie

Look forward to your books coming out

Monday, November 30, 2009

Is there a change in submission preferences?

I’ve been sensing a change in the way editors look at receiving submissions where the person submitting indicated the manuscript is finished versus a person submitting on proposal with a deadline for completion. We’ve long known the book needed to be completed for a person submitting on their first book, but how about for a person with previous publishing experience?

To see if there is indeed a different attitude I surveyed 175 editors, both mainstream and Christian. Most have now responded. What did I learn?

In nonfiction, selling on proposal seems unchanged except a majority said on a new author they wanted to know the work was complete even on nonfiction.

In fiction, most still say an author with no publishing credentials needs to have the manuscript completed. As to being able to sell on proposal once they have publication credits,
• 20% require the full mss submitted with the proposal instead of sample chapters.
• 33% - respondents said they required the manuscript be complete no matter the writers credentials.
• 12%- said they did not require a full manuscript but preferred knowing that it was.
• 30% - said that the manuscript needed to be completed before submitting unless they are a well published (some said A list) author or someone they had worked with before.
• 7% said they always bought on proposal. (mostly nonfiction)

I would say my new conventional wisdom is that a manuscript should be complete before submitting unless the editor has worked with the author before or if the author been not only published, but very well published with good sales numbers. Changing genre very much puts an author in a new author position in the new genre. Even though it was not part of the survey a number of editors volunteered the information that platform was very important on non-fiction and fiction alike.

Some specific comments that were mentioned:

An editor's job is so fast-paced and overloaded these days, if a manuscript needs a complete overhaul, it can leave us in a pickle

Well, I hate to buy a full-length novel from proposal if I haven't seen the author's published work or even a completed manuscript of a different title that proves the author knows how to start, bridge the middle, and wrap up a story.

I wouldn't say I've found myself giving precedence to completed projects for Heartsong. My search for new books hasn't changed much.

I have in the past contracted books from new authors just on the proposal...but there is a comfort level in seeing more, rather than less, of a manuscript.

Sales history is becoming a more important factor in our decisions than ever before. An author with a shaky sales history is more likely to sway me with a full manuscript I can read fully vs. simply a proposal.

We've been burned a few times by authors who told us they were going to write one thing and then wrote something totally different, or who did not offer the quality of manuscript we believed they would after reading their previous work. So whenever possible, we love to see the complete manuscript because then everybody is on the same page.

I think all editors have their own MO's and I can't generalize, but I'd say in my case I've always bought on complete ms unless I've worked with the author before, myself.

Publishers are overall more cautious in this economic climate. Sales history of authors' previous work weighs heavily on acquisitions decisions...not just the fact that these authors have completed work.

I'm afraid I do require complete manuscripts from unpublished fiction authors. However, we have always accepted proposals from fiction authors who have established themselves

Unless the fiction author is a name author (Angela Hunt, Janette Oke, James Scott Bell), we are probably going to want to see the entire manuscript. My exception in this case is because I do know the author and can vouch for her ability to complete a project.

I'm a bit more of a stickler in wanting to see the whole manuscript even from a previously published author. The reason is that I don't know how much work the other house or houses put into that author's unedited manuscripts before publication. I wouldn't feel comfortable going to the publishing committee unless I had read the entire unedited work by a new author to our house.

Yes, it’s changing. I’m told that it’s been true in New York publishing for some time that fiction tended to be sold on the basis of completed mss., rather than proposals. And that was true, in many or most cases, even with well-established authors. In that sense, the world of “Christian publishing” (and let’s face it—the line between the two is disappearing) has been behind the curve and is just now catching up. I have a much better chance of getting a project approved in Pub Board if I have a completed ms. rather than simply a proposal.

We are working sometimes a year in advance. For the author that means if we accept a proposal, the manuscript takes a year, and it takes us another year for editing, production, etc., the result is a two year time frame. I know a lot of authors feel like that's an eternity. So for us, the more finished the manuscript, or the more available for consideration, the sooner we know we can get it into the marketing cycle.

I want to see the completed manuscript before I buy anything. Especially since I'm new and still finding my feet here, I want to make sure that whatever I take to my editorial meeting is solid and well grounded.

For fiction, if an author had a big enough name and I really liked the project and the proposal included a good synopsis, I'd likely go ahead with it. But I admit I do feel much more comfortable with seeing the entire MS, especially if the subject is a controversial one.

Yes, I prefer to see a completed project over just a proposal. Gives me a better sense of the writing and the author's thought process.

If the author is one with whom I've personally had previous experience, I don't mind contracting based on a proposal and sample chapter/s. However, unless the author is WELL established in the fiction industry, all things being equal, if I am considering two similar proposals from authors of similar standing in regards to their publishing history, I would naturally go with the one who has submitted a complete manuscript.

No, I can't say this is the case with us. We'd never sign a new project without sample chapters of the writing, but whether the manuscript is complete or not is not a determining factor in our decisions.

As I know you've experienced, there can be a vast difference between a proposal and three chapters that have been honed to perfection and what we sometimes see as the completed novel. The current marketplace is being particularly difficult on mid-list and emerging authors. Even with publishing history, I have to be very selective about contract extensions and/or commitments to new authors at this level. The market is very crowded with competent authors at this level. With authors whose sales figures are consistent, but below the 25,000 range it is often much easier to sell in a first time/debut author. So . . books at this level need to deliver and publishers need to know that they're not committing to a book that will require rounds of rewrite. That's a long way around the bush to say . . yes, I think authors will almost always have a better chance with a complete novel.

Yes, I am much more likely to consider new(er) authors if they have a complete manuscript because then I know exactly what I'm buying. Publishers, including us, are not taking as much risk on B and C level material because the market is so tough. Obviously, for high-profile, A-level authors/books, incompletion isn't really an issue.

In general it is more beneficial for our company to read through the entire manuscript, however, we can certainly give a feel for general interest based on a proposal.

For established authors new-to-our house, I want to see a detailed synopsis, sales history, and sample chapters. The mss does not have to be complete unless the author is changing genres and is writing in a different style than their previously published work.

With first-time fiction authors, or those taking on a new genre (be it fiction to nonfiction or vice versa, or a writing style change like going from romance to supernatural suspense), I almost need a full manuscript to know how the book will play out.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Interview with Client Andy Von Loenen

Today we'll be talking with client Andy Von Loenen:

Andy, how long have you been writing?

I sold my first article in 1987, so I guess you could say that’s when my writing career began. But I discovered the love for writing in my senior year of high school. English composition was my first-hour class and my curmudgeonly teacher would often walk in the room and, without saying a word, write on the blackboard a subject and expect at least a couple of pages on that subject by the end of the hour. Sounds tough, but I loved it. It helped me realize I had something to say and that writing was the way to say it. It kindled a little spark that, over time, became a fire.

What genre do you write and why?

I have written a lot of non-fiction—instructional materials, construction articles, that sort of thing. But I’ve taken up writing mysteries of late, romantic mysteries, if that’s a genre. I like mysteries. I guess it’s the who-dunnit aspect—trying to it figure out before I get to the end. And the ones I’ve enjoyed most always seem to have a romantic element to them. I think I’ve read all the Sherlock Holmes adventures (in fact I give them away on my web site) and, as great as he was at solving mysteries, nobody, even Watson, was ever able to get really close to him. In that sense he was invulnerable, almost machine-like—somewhat less than human. I want my characters to be human, vulnerable, capable of suffering emotional pain, capable of knowing joy—of giving and receiving love. In the end, I think that’s what we all want.

Tell us about your book, Justice for Amy.

Justice for Amy is a story about redeeming love. It centers around a man, Clay Ramsey, a widower, who rescues a woman from a man who is attacking her in a parking lot—only to have her die in his arms an hour later. The police suspect suicide, but Clay cannot accept the idea. Even though he knew her for only a short time, something of a bond formed between them and he feels compelled to find out what really happened to her. Along the way, he meets her older sister and together they search for the truth. They fall in love with each other in the process, but there’s a real question about whether their love will come to fruition or whether they’ll even survive when they fall into the hands of the killers.

What inspired you to write this book?

As a Christian, I see writing as a way I can serve the Lord. I wanted to write a book that was a little gritty, because I think that’s the way real life is. I wanted to explore the subject of evil, its effect on people and why it exists in a creation that God pronounced, “very good.” And I wanted to try to provide some answers to the questions a lot of people have about evil and why God allows it in the world. What better way is there to do that then to show, in the context of a story, how it impacts the lives of people?

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel about a woman whose husband died in a boat explosion in Lake Michigan five years ago…or so she thought. Without giving away too much of the story, he winds up really dead and she winds up in jail for killing him. And you’ll have to read the book to find out more. I’m also thinking about updating and re-releasing a classic work on prophecy. But I haven’t made my mind up about it yet.

Where can people find out more about you and your work?

The best way is through my web site, Anything I’m writing or working on finds its way there first. People can also contact me through the site, sign up for Sherlock Holmes, download the first chapter of Justice for Amy or access any of my other free downloads there. People who sign up for Sherlock Holmes are eligible for special pricing on signed books and they’re always the first to find out about book releases or anything else I happen to be working on.

Thank you for visiting with us today.

My pleasure.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving Day, a day to gather around the table, gorge ourselves on turkey and dressing, a whole table full of deserts, leftovers in front of the football games. Family gathered around. What a day!

Like so many other holidays the celebration of the Holiday has become the holiday itself. We tend to forget the reasons behind the event. We do that so often at holidays like Easter, July 4th, and most of all Christmas. For this one it should be easy, the name itself reminds us. It’s a day for stopping in our busy lives and giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives, something that shouldn’t be restricted to a single day, but for sure should be the focus on this day.

I feel sorry for those who don’t know who to give thanks to. Who do you thank if you don’t believe in a loving and protective God? Do they thank themselves thinking the blessings they enjoy are merely the fruits of their own productive labor? How sad.

It started with the pilgrims. They had the first Thanksgiving to give thanks for surviving the very difficult period they had just come through. They invited some of the natives who had befriended and helped them but they knew even with that help where the blessings they had enjoyed had come from.

I know where my blessings come from too, and it’s good to take time to stop and count them, to realize all God has done for us and to sincerely thank Him for all we have received. Too often our prayers are centered on our own desires and needs and more of them should be genuine prayers of thanksgiving.

We wish you and yours a wonderful thanksgiving. And once we have counted up our blessings and truly given thanks there is nothing wrong with enjoying the three F’s – food, family and football. As long as our priorities are straight.

Have a great one!

Saundra, Ruth and Terry Burns

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Interview with Client Randall Mooney

Today I'm interviewing client Randall Mooney. Randall, your new book Robbing God is out from Crossover Press. Tell me a little about it:

Terry, Robbing God is the culmination of a lifelong pet peeve turned passion, to help people overcome the guilt-driven coercion and manipulative methods some ministries and organizations use to raise money. The book parabolically follows a typical family from the time they get their paycheck on Friday afternoon to the time the offering plate passes in front of them on Sunday morning. It also explores the effect a down economy has on the average family and their ability to continue to be charitable givers. The book deals with the issue of giving in two divisions: "the parable of the family" is a visit of their weekend in 5 chapters, and "the conflict" uses 5 chapters to take an honest look at the historical and cultural trends and reasons that contributed to mindsets that have managed to take the joy out of giving.

What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

I deliberately kept the book short, 106 pages. It's a quick read that leads to an "aha" moment in which the reader can take a deep breath, shake off any guilt and condemnation about giving, and rediscover the true joy and heart of being charitable. Our own families are a great place to start. I also hope the reader acquires a new freedom about giving. My own favorite line in the book is, "God gave his son, Jesus gave his life, the least we can do is give cheerfully." I have told people for years during fund raising events for different things, "If you can't give cheerfully, don't bother to give at all!"

You also have Prophets and Poets out from Crossover, tell us what it's

Prophets and Poets is a collection of short stories, articles, testimonies, blogs and poems that I have written throughout the years of my life. As I worked on transitioning from my music and song writing years to developing my writing career I wrote in every genre from fiction and non-fiction, to poetry and social commentary. Basically, if it was in my heart and on my mind I wrote about it. Prophets and Poets contain the ones that made the cut. Christian futuristic fiction, allegory, poetry, sarcasm, opinion, etc., all intended to encourage and inspire. I have had tremendous feedback from folks about its encouraging ability.

You are not only the author on these two titles but the publisher. Tell us about Crossover, what is your vision?

During the '70's and 80's I utilized contemporary music as an evangelistic tool to share the gospel with the world. Through my company Crossover Publications, LLC., it is my goal to "reach the world in print." God told Jeremiah in chapter 36 of the Bible to write down every word he had ever told him. Because Jeremiah obeyed God we are still able to read what God said to Jeremiah and the world in which he lived to this day. I believe God is still speaking and revealing himself to people in many ways. My vision is to help people publish what God has said and done in their lives so the rest of the world can be touched and encouraged by the works and words of God. I want to publish living words and stories that edify, encourage and inspire people to experience God in a real and relevant way.

Tell us about some of the other authors you are publishing at Crossover:

I will be releasing a new book entitled The Fragrance of Paradise on September 25th by Stephen Hoy. Stephen is a musician, teacher, gardener, and landscape designer. He was raised in Pennsylvania and served as a trombonist in the United States Air Force premier jazz band called The Airmen of Note.

His story is a powerful testimony of how God raised him up after twice falling into a coma and how he has rediscovered a new lease on life in the form of a liver transplant. He shares how he reached a point of such utter weakness that he heard the Spirit of God whisper, "Rest in the fragrance of my presence." He lay in bed with only enough strength to breathe so he obeyed and began to inhale the fragrance of paradise as he waited on God to heal and raise him up.

Also releasing this year is a new book by sixties rock star Jerry Masters.
Jerry played for great artists like Charlie Rich and Jerry Lee Lewis. He formed and managed the band Ronny and the Daytonas, touring and supporting the hit song, Little GTO. He was also a founding member of The Hombres and they had a hit song called Let It All Hang Out. After he accepted Christ he toured extensively with Christian artist Will Farland (Will played for Bonnie Raitt) and finished his career as a recording engineer for Malaco Records producing blues and gospel music. His 350 page book entitled Let it all Hang Out chronicles the 50 year music career of a man that reached for the sky and found Jesus in the journey.

What new projects are you working on?

I am currently putting the finishing touches on two books. The Illegitimate Journey is my own memoir of tragedy and discovery. I plan to release it in 2010. I am also finishing up a book called Letters to the Homeless Church.

It deals with the displacement many Christians feel in our American church culture and how they cope and walk in the world apart from the traditional norms of attending Sunday morning church services.

I have just begun work on a book entitled What Every Father Should Know about a Grieving Mother. Eleven years ago my wife and I lost a 22 year old son to suicide. We both kept separate journals of that tragic event. We never read each other's journals until recently. I came across one of her journals a few months ago while spring cleaning and read a few pages. I asked her if I could take our journals and combine them into a story that will help couples survive such family tragedies. The first day we got the news about our son I looked at my wife and said, "Seventy percent of couples that go through this kind of thing end in divorce, are we going to be the seventy or the thirty?" We made a covenant with each other to be among the thirty percent that survive. Our marriage is stronger than ever despite our loss. I hope to have this project finished and released on August 20, 2010, the twelfth anniversary of his passing.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing? Your publishing house and the programs and speaking that you do?

I have a strong web presence. Business websites include,,, Personal sites include, and My books are available at,, and,
among others.

What is the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?

Mississippi lays claim to some of the world's great writers such as Willie Morris, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and our adopted son, John Grisham. I once listened to John Grisham give an interview in Jackson, Mississippi. Someone asked him how he managed to write so many novels so quickly while practicing law, coaching his son's ball team and keeping up with his writing career. He said, "I write one page per the end of the year I have a novel." That answer freed me up tremendously. I used to write like I had to finish the whole project before I stopped to do anything else. Trust me-that will only leave you with a lot of unfinished projects. I learned that day that writing was like many other projects in can eventually accomplish great things by finishing a little of it every day.

I can't recall the worst advice. The most unpleasant criticism still makes me try harder rather than give up.

Anything else you'd like to take this opportunity to say?

As a newly published author and as a new publisher, I find writers to be the friendliest and most accepting folks I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. I think it is because we have learned the real difference between being rejected and being misunderstood. Therefore, we have a lot of heart for others willing to share our journey.

Thank you, Randall, and thank you blog readers for dropping by. Please consider signing up at as a follower so you will be notified each time a new entry is put up./div>

Monday, November 16, 2009

Heart of America Conference

It's called the Heart of America Conference and it is held in Kansas City at a beautiful and spacious Presbyterian Church. Continuing in our series of profiling conferences that we go to to help people planning conferences to attend, this is a good one held in mid-November. Co-Directors Mark and Jeanette Littleton were assisted by a dedicated board of directors that left no stone unturned to make the conference a success.

The weather was cool but quite pleasant. The church setting provided class room settings on two floors for the wide variety of workshops and the excellent faculty brought in to teach them. There were spiritually fulfilling sessions in the evening and Thursday, Friday and Saturday night Cindy Kinney, myself and Mark Littleton gave keynote talks to wrap up the day. I spoke on "Being a Christian Writer in a Changing World."

I will admit I changed the content of my talk as I got up there because a conversation with a participant led me to believe God was telling me some different content was needed. It came as no surprise that God was right as a number of people came up after the session and the following day to say that it was exactly what they needed to hear and addressed a writing and faith concern they were dealing with. Getting that sort of response is exactly what keeps me on the conference trail trying to parcel out what little encouragement and assistance that I can.

There was a steady program of one-on-one appointements and quite a number of people took advantage of the paid evaluation of projects. I did my evaluations and emailed them to the participants in advance of the conference to allow them to chew on them and have different and better questions during our 20 minute interview time and some are doing some revision and I will also do a post-conference exchange with them so hopefully they will really feel they got their money's worth.

Wrapping it up I would have to say this is not as much of a relaxing conference as some I have gone to as they schedule tightly and provide a lot of content. I would characterize it as a rather intense writing and faith related time and all that I talked to toward the end were very pleased and said they were going home with a new sense of purpose and new writing goals that they were determined to pursue. It's a conference they have been putting on for many years, and one I would not hesitate to recommend.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Writing at the Ranch conference -Abiquiu NM

For many, many years it was the Glorieta Christian Writer's Conference. It's the place over ten years ago where I went through the process of deciding how I needed to incorporate my faith in the writing I was doing. (See the writing testimony on my website at

Now it is still put on by CLASServices but it is at a place called The Ghost Ranch up above Santa Fe nestled in a box canyon in some of the most amazingly beautiful country you ever saw. The movie "City Slickers" was filmed there which would give you an idea, or as soon as Saundra has time to get them ready I'm going to put some pictures up on my website. But this is the place where Georgia O'Keefe lived and did the bulk of her painting, so that should tell you about the beauty of the place.

Sweater or Jacket cool in the morning and evening, the temperature was perfect during the day. It was a laid back conference, without cell phone acess and limited internet which I found very inconvenient . . . for about an hour . . . then I discovered how much that was going to enhance the retreat experience. A writing conference is one thing, but a writing retreat is yet another.

The program and content was excellent and because of the retreat environment the faculty and attendees were in constant contact, sharing ideas getting to ask all the questions that was on their mind. Many of the attendees were very new writers, which I found to be delightful. Their enthusiasm and dreams helped set the tone for the conference. Of course this conference has always been not only a tune up for our writing but a tune up for our soul as well and the praise and worship content fit right in with the retreat format.

Everyone I talked to was leaving refreshed and renewed. It is true that it takes a travel committment to get there, driving or flying into Albuquerque and being shuttled out. That remoteness is what makes a retreat format work and for those who were mentally prepared for it provided a decompression time to get into the retreat attitude.

They prevailed upon me to read a little cowboy poetry at the campfire session (along with some folks singing some great gospel music) and although I don't consider myself a poet by any stretch of the imagination it did put me in a mood to write a new one about the experience:

Parting thoughts

Brilliant colors on the mesa, morning sun just lights it up
as I sit in the quiet to take it in with my morning coffee cup.
Animals stir all around, as they have all through the night
but as people arise they begin to fade back away from sight.

A gentle breeze it stirs the leaves with a sound like falling rain
and the leaves on the ground answer back with an echoing refrain.
The Ghost Ranch calls us back, fore we’ve even had time to go,
or bids us stay as we pack our bags still warming in the glow

of a time with friends both old and new, sharing words and sharing souls;
refreshing spirits and strengthening hearts where the world has taken toll.
It’s been a trip to an earlier time, a slower pace for sure,
the time to reflect and to learn new things, write words we hope will endure.

It’s been a time of quiet reflection, a time to take it in…
the stark beauty God crafted here, a time to newly begin
to set our feet on a brand new path or redirect our minds
in a manner we came and hoped to do, though of many different kinds

of people, ways and dreams to fill and now with different goals;
formed and nourished through this time in many different souls.
The conference sends us forth with hope while it also calls us back
to finish with the things we start . . . and give us what we lack.

11/8/2009 Terry Burns

Folks, put this one on your list for next year . . . it's a great experience! You can find out more at the CLASServices website

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Interview with Client Graham Garrison

Today I'm interviewing client Graham Garrison, Graham, your new book HeroTribute is about to hit the stands coming out from Kregel Publications. Canyou tell us a little about it?

The premise in a nutshell is – a small town hero, Michael Gavin, passes away, and wants a complete stranger to give his eulogy. The stranger, newspaper reporter Wes Watkins, has less than a week to interview the people who knew Michael and figure out why he was given this assignment. Ultimately there is a message of faith that will rock Wes to his core.

Where do you get your inspiration from? For “Hero’s Tribute,”

I got a lot of my inspiration from family and friends. I was born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, while my dad was a captain in the 82nd Airborne. One of my best friends did a tour in Iraq with the 101st Airborne. There is a resiliency in soldiers and their families that I have always wanted to explore from the outside looking in. What makes them tick? What makes them heroes? How would that reflect to their neighbors?

What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

The first word that comes to mind is “grace.” “Hero’s Tribute” is a story about grace and the heroes that surround us and I hope that comes through in the characters and the story, especially the twist at the end.

I know you are working on a sequel to it that Kregel is considering, what other projects do you have in progress?

Yes, I really hope the sequel gets a green light because there are still some more angles to cover in the characters and their backgrounds. I’ve also completed the first draft of a supernatural thriller and mapped out three more books in what would be a series. The series takes themes from the major and minor prophets in the Old Testament and drops them in the middle of America’s Civil War. Basically, the devil takes an active role in the demise of a nation, and the books would explore ways that God would respond, based off of how he has responded in the past with the likes of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Jonah, etc.

What is the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?

Best would have to be from a college professor – Conrad Fink. He was a former AP reporter and hammered home that you have to keep working at your craft. He had an archive full of stories he said the he wished he could have written a different way or taken a different angle and it was good to realize that early on that it’s a continual process.

The worst -- well, I edit some magazines, and I’ve found that the better writers are actually the one’s less married to their prose. So, don’t make a fuss about tweaks and revisions. You have to understand that what you send to your editor won’t be exactly what you see on the printed page – it’ll be better.

Thank you Graham, and thank you blog readers for dropping by. Please consider signing up at as a follower so you will be notified each time a new entry is put up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm building my platform

Those of my clients that have not published yet are busy building their platform to make their submissions more attractive to a publisher AND to be better positioned to help sell the book when they get a deal and it comes out. Those that have books out are doing the same thing trying to expand the visibility they have and the book has in order to improve sales.

So what is a platform? It's something a speaker stands on to speak. How is that applicable here? A publisher wants to know when we are standing on that platform, who is out there in front of us? Or in other words, What people or groups of people do we have direct access to in order to promote our book?

They aren't looking for us to guarantee that we can sell them all, they just want to know we have the access. We get proposals in that say this book will appeal to both male and females from 18-80. Great! How can you get a bigger platform than that, right?

Wrong. That is no platform at all unless you have some means of direct access to all those people. If you do it is an awesome platform. If not it is a dream of who we would like to see buy our book, and by the way, it's who every author in the known world wants to buy their book.

A platform is also about where those people are located that we have direct access to. If we write a column in a newspaper and attend a really big church, are in the largest civic club in town and have local media coverage available we have a very good local platform. If we can do the same thing over the counties or the region then we have a regional platform. You can see where I'm going here, as we can also have a statewide platform or even a national or international platform. It doesn't take a genius to see that the larger the number of contact points and the wider area they are spread over, the more a publisher is impressed and the more chances we have to impact the sales of our book.

Online visibility is a great platform took particularly since online book sales are getting so important. A large group of friends and family spread all over that will help generate buzz, talk about the book and maybe the the local library to shelve it are a good tool. Blog tours and having a blog ourselves can help. Doing booksignings and giving programs and getting media coverage is important. And getting visibility doesn't even have to be about the book. We could be going to talk to the national swine producers conference which might have nothing to do with a fiction title we are promoting but if we can get mention of our writing as part of the intro and have an opportunity to sign books while we are there that is great platform.

There would be no way to list all of the possible planks for a platform. Literally any means we have of being in contact with a group and putting our name and our book in front of them is valid platform. And the more unique they are to us the better.

And yes, this blog is an important part of my platform as is the one I contribute regularly to over at

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A note I didn't want to write

My editorial asst told me it was a good read but had some pacing problems. I looked over it and agreed. I told the author, "this is a good read. Very enjoyable. That makes what I have to say very hard." I offered the following explanation:

The problem is I am being offered hundreds of good books. But what editors are hunting are exceptional books. An exceptional book stands head and shoulders above good books the way a good book stands head and shoulders above the mundane. An exceptional book is a unique story or new take on a subject that has been done, and it is written in a unique voice and style.

I am getting very close to the maximum number of clients that I can handle so I'm searching for that exceptional book. That story and voice that I HAVE to take no matter how many clients I have or how heavy my workload is. Even though this is a good read the pacing of the story caused it to lag in places, particularly at the end, and the ending was good but rather predictable.

So many writers think they are through when they write the story. Actually that's when crafting the story begins. Like a director of a movie that takes all the raw scenes that he's shot and starts weaving them into a movie, the writer takes the raw chapters and starts working on the pacing and the flow, engaging the reader here and picking up the pace there. Moving scenes to push a reader at the end of chapter into the next. Watching to see that it doesn't slow down at a point to where the reader loses interest. In my opinion you now need to take off your writer hat and direct this piece - make it flow so you pull the reader in and then subtly guide them through it.

I would love to see this again if you can take a good book . . . and make it exceptional.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's your job, not mine!

I’m told I write some of the nicest, most encouraging responses in the business, even when it is necessary for them to be negative. I hope that’s true, I’m not in the business of stepping on anybody’s dream. But occasionally I get some that get under my skin a little. One of my editorial assts sent me one and said “You better answer this one, it just made me mad.”

The person had sent a writing sample and declined to comply with our submission guidelines because she felt most of what we asked for was our job, not hers. Her job was to write, not to write a proposal. Now as much as I appreciate someone telling me how to do my job and I’m sure I could use a lot of instruction, I still felt compelled to write her this response:

“Thank you for thinking of us with this project. In politely declining to comply with our submission guidelines you have also removed yourself from consideration instead of us having to reject you. You see, we get 2000 of these a year and before we look at the writing, we look at the proposal to see if the genre is a fit for us and to see if it looks like the writer is one we could effectively promote. Editors do the same thing on their end. In fact most rejections occur without any of the writing being read because something in the proposal told them it was not a fit. You have chosen to not give us that opportunity. It also suggests that you might be a difficult author to work with which is not really the attitude I would think you would wish to convey.

“Even for clients I already represent I will never know their project as well as they do, so the better the base proposal they use to sell us, the better the proposal we can craft to send out. We judge the writing based on the writing sample, but we judge the salability of the project based on the proposal. The one you chose not to give us.

“I wish you the best with this, but I would encourage you in the future to not argue with an agent or editor about what you should or should not provide, but to check the guidelines and send what they request or do not respond at all.”

I’m not sure what an author hopes to accomplish when they challenge what an agent or editor is asking to see, and if they think we don’t know what we are doing in what we ask to see why do they want us to represent them? It is true we ask for a little more than some, but we feel it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. I do look at projects that don’t send what we request, but not when they announce that it is intentional.

I’m funny that way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's too similar

I have to respond that way from time to time and it’s a shame, but it happens. I don’t like to pit clients up against each other so if I have something under contract and something very similar comes in, whether it’s a similar story line or similar in other aspects to they would be competing with one another then I just don’t take it. That’s a no win deal for me for no matter where I might pitch or sell something the other one would be saying “why did you do that one instead of mine?” Hard question to answer, so I just avoid the conflict.

There’s another way they can be similar. When I start reading and I step and check what I’m doing because I think I’ve read that one already, that’s a bad sign. What editors and agents are looking for is unique projects with unique voices. Now I know there are a limited number of base plots, but there are a myriad of ways to treat those plots, settings and writing. If I think I’ve already seen it chances are it is too similar.

That’s a shame when an author sits down and writes something they think is quite unique only to find out there are a ton of them coming in that are quite similar to one another, and we see that a lot. Maybe a movie or TV show hit a number of months ago, or an event in the news got a lot of people thinking along the same lines. Whatever the stimulus, all of a sudden a lot of proposals hit that are very similar to one another. It happens a lot, and when it does none of them may end up being chosen as editors and agents think “with this many coming in there are bound to already be some in the pipeline by now."

When that happens the author may end up having to put it in a drawer to pull out some time later when it has a chance of better standing alone. It’s all about the fit in the marketplace. Most, however, don’t think with a career view but keep trying to push it in and then possibly self-publishing it instead of trying for the big score again when the time is right.

Too similar can be a particularly frustrating response to receive to a submission.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Meet my Editorial Assistants

When submissions come in, chances are these ladies will be the first to work with it. They read queries and ask for proposals. If a proposal is good they may ask for a full read. They may even ask an author if they will make some changes they feel are necessary to be able to make a positive recomendation to me. They do not accept or reject, but I have to say they are VERY good and I am usually in agreement with their recomendations. I thought I would introduce them so you would know who they are:

Amy Alessio - is the co-author of A Year of Programs for Teens (2006) and Another Year of Programs for Teens (pending, 2010). In 2008, she edited the YALSA 2008 Excellence in Library Services for Teens 5th Ed, and the fiction anthology Missing for Echelon Press. She is active in YALSA, and has edited the online newsletter YAttitudes for that organization. Regular reviews and columns by Amy appear in Crimespree Magazine and She is the Teen Coordinator at the Schaumburg Township District Library in Illinois.

Teresa "Teri" Burns - Teri is an award winning writer, reporter and copy editor working on several newspapers and doing free-lance work. She majored in journalism at Stephen F. Austin college. In her spare time she is a certified EMT and volunteer firefighter and does freelance manuscript editing. Yes, she is my daughter and I'm very proud of her.

Kristine Pratt - Kristine is CEO of Written World Communications, editing, proofreading, and website services company. She has worked as an editorial asst for Terry at Hartline Literary and for Jeff Gerke at Marcher Lord Press. Written World Communications also publishes niche market magazines and books and she takes submissions for that as well.

These are the ladies who get the first look at your submission and I have every confidence in them.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thorn among Roses

Here I am a thorn among a sea of roses. And if I know these ladies they will all be even more resplendent tonight at the banquet.

I'm at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Denver and it has been a delight. I believe I have had to tell each of the over 500 attendees one at a time that my heel is much better, that I am happy to now be able to get around with a cane, but that there is still a bit of pain involved.

This is a conference loaded with a lot of terrific content. I often wish I could partake of some but have to be in appointments. But in those appointments I've heard a lot of fine pitches and will be very busy reviewing proposals that will come in after I get home.

Clients Donn Taylor, Pam Meyers, Susan Miura, Sherri Gallagher and Curt Iles are here and are working the conferences like a set of trained covert operatives. They've fanned out and are collecting information from the various editors reporting back and sharing that info with the group. Some good opportunities are arising from it.

Tamela and I did our agent session last night and it was well attended. Good questions and good interest. I enjoyed it very much. Some of my favorite editors are here and it has been good to get to spend a little time with some of them. Got to see Ted Dekker briefly last night, nice guy.

Well, the dawn is breaking and it's about time to launch into the last day. I will probably amend this blog before this day is done. If you are here, hope we've had time to meet and if you aren't, well, you know we wish you were here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Winning the Will Rogers Medallion

Jean Jones presenting award

It humbled this old country boy.

It did. My YA "Beyond the Smoke" just won the 2009 Will Rogers Medallion for best youth western. The award was presented at the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock September 12th.

Charles Williams, EVP of the Academy of Western Artists said: "It is with a great deal of pleasure that I recognize your book,"Beyond The Smoke", as a 2009 Will Rogers Medallion Award Winner. The Will Rogers Medallion Award is presented each year to those books that represent an Outstanding Achievement in the Publishing of Western Literature. Your book exemplifies the combination of excellent content, high production values and honoring of the Cowboy Heritage that the award was created to acknowledge.

The picture is one of me with Will Rogers impressionist William Reeder.

"As you know, Will Rogers was a respected writer as well as cowboy entertainer. We hope and believe that the Will Rogers Medallion Award will help to expand the heritage of literature which honors the traditions andvalues of the American Cowboy, which Will did so much to embody and demonstrate. The Medallion Award was created initially to encourage the continued upgrading of the quality of published books of Cowboy Poetry. This year, other categories have been added to honor a wide range of Western Literature, including Western Fiction - Young Adult .

Williams continued, "While the Will Rogers Medallion Awards are separate from the Will Rogers Awards, they do share a common goal of recognizing outstanding achievementin the advancement of contemporary cowboy skills. Congratulations on your selection. It was well deserved, and we hope to see further award-quality publications from you in the future."

As I received the award I said, "I'm pleased to receive it for obvious reasons, and even more so because it will help to get the youth title out where it may help introduce more young people to the western genre."

My Publisher, the JourneyForth imprint of BJU Press also received an award plaque for the book. Editor Nancy Lohr said, "Congratulations on receiving this honor, authors like you are few and far between. So light the campfire and cobble up s'mores, time to celebrate. We will be pleased to also nominate this book for the Spur Awards given by the Western Writers of American as well."

I'll be signing copies of the book at a joint book signing with mystery Writer Donn Taylor at Hastings in Plainview TX on September 15th in the afternoon and in the morning on Sept 16th at Mardel's in Amarillo. Following that I'll be signing at the American Christian Writers Conference in Denver Colorado. I would be most pleased if any of you from the area were there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Standing out from the crowd!

When we talk promotion having something to set us out from the crowd is a good thing. Authors often do promotional events and book signings in costume or use various promotional items to attract attention and draw readers to them. I like western wear, but when doing promotional events or when going to a conference I dress a little more flashy than usual for the same reason, so people will remember me and to draw people to me at a signing.

It’s a tried and true principle, just watch ads on television. When we want people to remember us it is a good thing to stand out. But is it always a good thing?

Not when submitting a proposal. I get proposals on colored paper or with huge type on the cover, maybe bound or with fancy covers. Anything to attract attention. This is NOT where we want to attract attention.

On Chip MacGreagor’s blog he was talking about people making exorbitant claims about their book. They were trying to stand out verbally. Doing things in a book proposal to stand out raises flags from the very beginning. Such things shout from the rooftop, “I am a newbie!”

We can’t hide the fact that we are a new or unpublished writer if that is the case, but the goal is not to advertise it. The goal is to have the person evaluating the proposal run across it after they are favorably impressed and be surprised with the professionalism of the presentation for a new writer.

So what’s the goal? The goal is not to stand out but to have our proposal look exactly like the carefully polished proposal of someone who has been doing it for years. The goal is to have the writing as polished and ready as we can make it, to look at the submission guidelines to make sure we are pitching the right person then to send them exactly what they want precisely how they wish to receive it. I have people argue with me about what I ask to see. Would you think that is more or less likely to make me look at something other than what I’ve asked to see?

Our Agency submission guidelines are at and to help make sure the manuscript itself is ready to go I’ve even posted a checklist on “is it ready to submit?” on my own website at and in the bookstore at that website I even offer a little ebook on “Pitch and Promote like a Pro” to walk someone through the process step by step. So, with us doing all we can to help make a very professional proposal and pitch, why do so many still feel like the best thing to do is stand out from the crowd? To that newbie trying to make the cut I say, “stand out in your promotion, make your writing stand out with the quality, but your proposal is not the place to stand out.”

Having done my duty on my blog post, let me take a moment to say my mind and heart go out to the families of those who lost someone on 9/11. I know hitting this date brings it back fresh again. It brings it back to many of us and rightly so, I hope we never forget.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Interview with Client Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Today I'm interviewing client Jennifer Hudson Taylor. Jennifer, your newbook Highland Blessings is coming out from Abingdon Press in May, tell us a little about it:

Scotland, 1473
Highland Blessings is the story of a highland warrior who kidnaps the daughter of his greatest enemy and clan chief to honor a promise he made to his dying father. While Akira’s strength in the Lord becomes a witness to Bryce, she struggles to overcome her anger and resentment when he forces her to wed him, hoping to end a half-century feud between their clans. As Akira begins to forgive, and Bryce learns to trust, a series of murders leaves a trail of unanswered questions, confusion, and a legacy of hate that once again rises between their families. Clearly, a traitor is in their midst. Now the one man Akira loves no longer trusts her, and her own life is in danger. Can Bryce look beyond his pain and seek the truth? Will Akira discover the threat against her before it’s too late? How will God turn a simple promise into bountiful Highland blessings?

You write in several different time periods, tell us about some of your projects that we're currently pitching:

Awakened Redemption (English Regency)
Awakened Redemption is the story of Elyse Brigham, an abused woman who believes God has forsaken her, but when Preston Mallory offers her a nursemaid position, freedom is in her grasp and love builds renewed hope. Elyse realizes that God never abandoned her. This knowledge awakens her dormant faith and brings her redemption. Elyse accidentally discovers Preston’s true identity—that he is the Earl of Somerset posing as a commoner. Angry and hurt, she flees to London. Preston follows, hoping to mend their misunderstanding. His plans are thwarted when his former fiancĂ©e is murdered in London. With plenty motive and no alibi, Preston is arrested. How will God help him prove his innocence, convince Elyse to forgive him, and redeem their love with a new foundation of forgiveness and trust?

Heir of Grace (Ireland, 1867)
When Gregory McCain receives a missive that his grandfather left him two grand estates, he leaves his American home for Ireland and walks into a conspiracy blackmailing him into posing as the leader of the Fenian Brotherhood. He finds himself in jeopardy of losing his heart to Briana Kate O’Sullivan, a daring woman who may be the key to the mysteries surrounding him, or the deadly destruction to his very existence.

Risking her father’s political career with the British government, and her own life, Kate secretly joins the Fenian movement in hopes of exposing the adversary threatening her father’s life. A trusted friend becomes her worst enemy, and Gregory may be her only hope. Deception, murder, and a Fenian bomb explosion in London requires all their faith to trust each other. As doubt turns into belief, and treachery into loyalty, a foundation of love is ignited between them and God, withstanding the only barrier left to discover—the identity of the real Fenian leader.

How did you research for these books?

I did a lot of research online and bought research books I knew I'd use over and over. One very important resource is "English Through the Ages". I needed this book for every time period I've written. One book that helped me with Highland Blessings was "Collins Scottish Clans & Family Encyclopedia".

My Regency was the hardest to write. I had to literally immerse myself in the time period. I watched Jane Austen movies for days on end, much to my family's frustration. I was determined to master the dialect and word usage for my dialogue.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

While many things inspire me such as people, places, historical facts and discoveries, my ultimate source is God. When I have writer's block and I need a breakthrough, I pray, and He delivers. God gives me dreams and goals for my writing.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing? The programs andspeaking that you do?

My website at I have a Speaker's page on my website that lists specific topics. If you have an interest in writing tips, new book releases and historical facts, I blog three times a week at If you have an interest in things related to Scots-Irish, I blog once a week at

What is the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?

Never give up, for those who do, are the ones who will never be published.

As for bad advice, most of that has been from critiques or judges who were inexperienced. They would hear a "writing rule" and think it applies to every sentence, every paragraph, not realizing that the "writing rule" should be applied in areas where it makes sense to apply it and/or layered throughout.

Anything else you'd like to take this opportunity to say?

To pre-published authors, keep writing and revising. Don't be discouraged by the things of this world. Know that you know that you know that writing is your gift.

Thank you Jennifer, and thank you blog readers for dropping by. Please consider signing up at as a follower so you will be notified each time a new entry is put up.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Labor Day and my dad

On Labor Day I often think of my Dad, Melton Burns. He's passed on now but I often think of him, particularly when I'm working around the house, wondering what Daddy would say about the way I'm doing something. Labor Day is about the working man, and that's him to a 'T' - Daddy worked hard all his life. I guess that's what inspired me to write this little poem a number of years ago:


He was a strong, tough working man,
his hands were brown and scarred.
His life was measured in tasks that were done,
and he led a life that was hard.
He lived in a world that kept feelings close,
and couldn't let emotions show;
for an emotion was a weakness, you see,
and he couldn't let the whole world know.

And this private man couldn't touch and hold,
and couldn't let his soul show through;
So he showed the world hard work and sweat,
and they didn't have a clue.
But you could see his heart every now and then
if you knew just where to look,
and if you knew how to open it's little door,
and you knew just what it took.

You just had to say 'I love you, Dad,
and look deep within his eyes,
and though he couldn't say it, you could see it there
shining like the sun from the skies.
For Daddy said love with his eyes and his heart,
and with that shy little smile.
It was surely enough, I'm here to say,
and beat the rest by a mile.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Interview with Client Tammy Barley

Continuing in my series of featuring clients and their new titles, today I talk to Tammy Barley about her new title Love's Rescue From Whitaker House:

Tammy, your new "Love's Rescue" has gotten off to a terrific launch and isgoing into a second printing in only a month. You have to be ecstatic aboutthat. It's the first book in a three book "Sierra Chronicles" series fromWhitaker House. Tell us about them:
I am ecstatic about that, and just as ecstatic to see that Love’s Rescue was recently #11 on’s historical fiction best seller list—hugely exciting. Even better are the wonderful comments and reviews I’ve received from readers, that they felt they were right there in the story, in the Sierra Nevadas, in 1863 (and best of all—countless readers have said they can’t wait for the next book)! Yes, it’s very exciting. Here are a few quick blurbs about Love’s Rescue and the next two books:

Book One: Love’s Rescue
A Dividing Conflict
In 1863, the War Between the States is dividing more than a nation. To escape the conflict, Jessica Hale and her family flee their Kentucky home and head for Nevada Territory. Her brother, Ambrose, committed to the Confederates, rejoins his Kentucky militia and is disowned by his father. But the worst is yet to come.

A Heroic Kidnapper
When Unionists presume the family to be Confederate sympathizers, they set a devastating fire to their home. All alone and then “kidnapped” by cattleman Jake Bennett, Jessica is taken to a ranch deep in the Sierra Nevada wilderness. Can she overcome her resentment toward Jake for failing to save her family?

The Depths of Love
When Jake launches a plan to help Jessica’s brother escape from prison camp, she sees him for the honest, good-hearted Christian man that he is and now knows the depth of his love for her. Through the lingering smoke and smoldering ashes from her ruined home and murdered family, will Jessica see a future with Jake?

Book Two: Hope's Promise
Jake and Jessica Bennett learn there was more to her parents’ deaths than they knew, and both the ranch and Jessica are in danger. Now they must quickly find the murderer . . . and discover for themselves how far they will go for love.

Book Three: Faith's Reward
Jake and Jessica are expecting a child while their hope of surviving land redistribution laws grows dim. Worse, Jessica’s inheritance has disappeared from the bank, and turns up in the hands of a man funding Union sympathizers in a personal war against Southerners. To stop it Jessica must confront her greatest fear, and Jake will be forced to risk the lives of Jessica and their unborn child.

You had quite a book launch, can you tell us about it?
LOL—Quite a book launch it was!

I worked a few angles with the book launch to bring about the most benefit possible with the event. First, my church, which has a K-8 school, is struggling financially. So several weeks before the launch, I spoke to the congregation—in an 1863 blue calico hoop skirt like my main character wears—and told them I wanted to throw the 19th century book launch at the church as a means to draw more people to the church and school, and hopefully help it financially.
So several members helped to throw an unforgettable event, and contributed a hundred or more 19th century antiques related to the various settings and characters in the book—cowboy, Civil War, Western Indians, the Shaker people—and in addition I provided interactive displays to reflect the characters and their daily life. I met folks and signed books in 1863 costume at a turn-of-the-century rolltop desk. My daughter, in prairie costume, demonstrated traditional Paiute basket weaving and invited folks to smell smudge sticks and healing teas from Sierran plants and trees and to guess whether the dried bundles were juniper, cedar, sage, sweetgrass, Douglas fir, and so on. One of my sons wore cowboy attire and demonstrated cowboy leather braiding and invited folks to handle various pelts and guess the animals—rabbit, river otter, red squirrel, coyote, raccoon, buffalo. My other son dressed as a cowboy-turned-Civil War soldier since his namesake did exactly that in the book, and manned the Civil War trivia display and the Shaker display. Women served homemade lemonade, cookies, and fudge brownies. Of everyone who came, about a dozen were unchurched or did not attend church regularly, but who enjoyed historical fiction.

The second angle I worked was to benefit The Hope Children’s Mission in beautiful Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico that I support, and the president and vice president of the mission were on hand to chat with folks.So I finished the day 200 books lighter, and a number of people who bought books read them within a day or two and liked them so much that I had to make a special trip to church to sell them more; they want to give copies to family and friends as gifts. One of the guests also invited me to be guest speaker at a biannual country club fundraiser for women who need assistance to go to college to become teachers, which I’ll be doing in December.

Are you working on anything besides delivering the series?
I also work as a ghostwriter and editor and assist with fiction, biographies, and business and self-help books. It’s been a doubly exciting time for me, because one of my clients, John Wolfram, was the first Navy UDT/SEAL in the water to rescue Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins after their first, historic moonwalk. Since the nation just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, John was interviewed by Fox News, CBS, The Weather Channel, and many other networks and newspapers, and a radio interview of him aired from more than 640 K-Love Radio station affiliates across the U.S., spotlighting his book, Splashdown: The Rescue of a Navy Frogman, which I assisted with. John is now a world missionary, so it’s great to see how God is touching lives through Christian books.

Aside from that and continuing work on The Sierra Chronicles, I’m also planning my next historical fiction series.

What is the best writing advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
Best: Write what you love, and your books will find their audience.

Worst: Do everything your way no matter what agents or publishers say (I instantly disregarded this “advice”). Fact: the publishing industry has standards for a purpose; following them gives you the greatest chance for success.

What would you like to use this opportunity to say to people?
One—Believe, and you will achieve.

Two—As a promotion to introduce readers to Love’s Rescue, I’m sponsoring a vacation giveaway—Read Love’s Rescue for a chance to win a one-week western guest ranch resort vacation for two to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado! (For details and to enter, visit The drawing is Valentine’s Day 2010.

Unbelievably, though about 1000 copies of Love’s Rescue are selling each week, only thirty—30—people have remembered to enter to win the vacation to date—a one-week all-inclusive mountain resort vacation for two. That means each entrant’s odds of winning are 1 in 30 (not one in 30,000; 1 in 30). Anyone want to win a vacation of a lifetime?