Monday, December 27, 2010

What are the odds?

85% of all manuscripts written will not be substantially published. That sounds so depressing. However, the reason that they aren’t substantially published is because the people involved do not take time to be in a critique group or get their product edited, didn’t go to conferences or workshops and learn their craft, didn’t make their product exceptional enough to stand out from the crowd . . . or just gave up after they got a few rejections.

I can’t think of any business that someone can just do without learning how. Even posthole digging requires learning a few simple techniques. So why do so many think they can just automatically write a book and it be a bestseller without learning the right skills? Or can just send it off and get it published without learning the right way to do it?

The good news is if we are learning our craft, if we are getting the product right and doing the submissions right, we aren’t competing with this 85%, we are in the 15% that is actually in the running. Much better odds, wouldn’t you say? The writers that substantially publish take the time to learn what they are doing, then they have the patience to see it through.

That’s my 2 cents worth anyway.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Past

 Christmas used to mean a pilgrimage to Grandma's house.

Those days are still very special to me and were the subject of this little poem:

Christmas at my Grandma’s house was there ever such a time?
And I a button scarcely large enough that I could climb
Upon the wing of Grandpa’s rocker, feet upon the rail
And watch him smoke his pipe & smile as I told him many a tale.

Christmas at my Grandma’s house and the tree would reach the ceiling.
The smell of cooking filled the air & the world was bright with feeling.
From the height we looked the presents stacked more than halfway up the tree.
And came back down near half the wall, and many of them for me!

Christmas at my Grandma’s house, and music filled the air.
Uncle Ray’s piano shook the room as he played without a care.
Uncle Bills fiddle took it high, Daddy’s guitar filled it in;
We kids supplied the chorus, though maybe a little thin.

Christmas at my Grandma’s house, but we always had to wait
For Uncle Edgar to get back home from the shopping trip he’d take.
We kids would gather round his door and try to peek inside
As he wrapped those final presents while the smallest of us cried.

Christmas at my Grandma’s house, and how excitement grew!
For though the gifts cost not too great neither were they too few.
As parents, aunts, uncles & cousins all bought something small
For each kid, and our eyes bugged out as our stack grew oh so tall!

Christmas at my Grandma’s house, and little did I know
That I was filling my heart so full of love that through the years would go.
I still recall and see it clear, the faces plain as day
And though I live a hundred years, I’ll always feel this way.

For Christmas at my Grandma’s house is a fairy tale in time!
When love and laughter filled the air and everyone felt just fine.
It cannot be repeated, nor would I if I might;
For our own have been as special, but still there was that night....

When Christmas at my Grandma’s house made all the world seem right.
But now I would remember, and have YOU see that sight.
And as you celebrate this year comes this vision from the past
And I hope this time is just as good and hope these joys do last.

Yet above all of the wonderful times with family and friends we must be ever mindful that the reason for the season is the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior.
Merry Christmas to you one and all . . . . .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Interview with client and author Caron Guillo

Caron Guillo, you have publishing credits, but “An Uncommon Crusade” is your debut book-length work. Tell us about your journey to publish your first book:

You know, I recently spoke to teenage writers who were dumbfounded that it took about six years from concept to publication. Of course, that’s a third or more of their young lives, but in this industry, it’s not unusual. Early on, I pitched “An Uncommon Crusade” to a couple of editors who were interested but ultimately decided to pass as they were steering clear of Christian fiction in a medieval setting. I’m grateful that Terry Burns loved the story so much, he read it in one sitting then signed on to be my agent. Kristine Pratt of Written World Communications was likewise intrigued by Simon, Elisabeth and Hugo’s journey. She told me recently that when WWC requested the manuscript in advance of a pub board meeting, a couple of folks there peeked at it early, and the thing went viral through the company. They’d all read it and were clamoring for it before it was even brought to committee.  

How did you research for this book?

I’m rather a research nerd, so it was a lot of fun to search libraries and the Internet for accurate, reliable information. My husband is an emergency room nurse and a combat veteran, so he provided quite a bit of insight regarding the progression of illnesses and injuries as well as battlefield strategies. As a former world history teacher and fan of historical fiction, I am especially sensitive to keeping the small details of the time period intact. If I wrote a scene where a woman wore a velvet dress, then I’d better be sure velvet was available at that time and in that location. I once watched YouTube videos so that I could describe the proper way to butcher a pig. I’m proud to say, it did not put me off peppered bacon at all.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

For this story, I came across a few lines at the end of an encyclopedia article (remember the part about me being a research nerd?) concerning a children's crusade that ended in tragedy, most of
the participants either dying prematurely in the Alps or being betrayed and sold into slavery in Africa.

I actually gasped and re-read the paragraph three or four times. What in the world would possess children to set off on such a misadventure or their parents to allow it?

Sometime later when I had the tools and time to research the subject properly, I discovered that at the forefront of the so-called children's crusade was a charismatic and egotistical young commoner named Nicholas, that most of the "crusaders" were young adults, and that parents were generally terrified of the movement, seeking to protect their children from a disastrous end.

I couldn't let the story go. Why would unarmed, untrained, unfinanced peasants think they could accomplish what professional armies had not? How desperate or deluded must an individual be to join such an ill-fated mission? And what about all those young people sold into slavery? How did they live with the consequences of their mistakes?

I began to envision a young woman who would do anything to win freedom from her past. A young man who dreams of rising above his lowly status to change the world. A would-be warrior looking for a fight, and perhaps a bit of fortune.

And so began my exploration into the lives of three young commoners who thought they had nothing left to lose.

What has been the hardest part of writing your novel and how did you overcome it?

To be honest, I’ve loved this story from the beginning. Because I tend to go lean on description, I had to work hard to include all the senses in my narrative, but I believe I’ve managed to immerse the characters in an authentic thirteenth century Europe or Palestine or Egypt.

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

I wrote "An Uncommon Crusade" to explore every man and woman's struggle to find deliverance from his or her own brokenness. I hope readers will come away knowing that God is faithful to the task, even in the midst of our darkest moments.

What new projects are you working on?

I'm currently working on a story based in large part on my experiences in Zimbabwe in recent years, my continued involvement in humanitarian efforts there, and my time spent at Imire Safari Ranch—a black rhino breeding station and game park.
In “Great Zimbabwe,” American Sara Jenkins travels to Zimbabwe to meet the father she’s never known and perhaps scrape together enough courage to deal with the challenges she faces in her life and relationships. Instead, she must solve the mystery of his disappearance more than two decades ago.

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

Folks can read more on these topics and contact me through my website at 

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

Best writing advice: “Show, don’t tell.” And I definitely owe author Jack Cavanaugh for taking the time to help me discover how to do that.

Worst writing advice: “Give up now while there’s still time to salvage your dignity.” Who needs dignity, anyway?

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

I insisted my photographer not touch up the photos for my website. I didn’t want anyone to be shocked or sorely disappointed when meeting me in person. :)

Caron's book releases Jan 4th and may be ordered now at Amazon:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Targeting Submissions

Many years ago I was the host at the Panhandle Professional Writers conference for NY agent Donald Maass. Nice guy. That meant I was with him for the whole conference. I also had an appointment with him late in the conference. By the time of the appointment I knew I wasn't a good fit for him as a client. I also knew that pitching an agent or an editor without doing the research and knowing that they are at the very least a solid possibility is not only a waste of time, but it is burning a bridge that later with the right pitch might have been a good possibility. I also learned not to try and go after the houses that required an agented submission even if I got a chance to do so, because the odds again were so high of burning a bridge that might later be useful. I stayed with small and mid-list houses that were set up to work with authors.

Getting to spend that time with him reshaped my approach to submissions. I quit just going through the market guide submitting to anybody who remotely listed the genre, but started doing the legwork to try and prove the market was there. Then I found out the reasons I came up with that told me the market was there controlled the way the pitch was structured, were the things the editor or agent needed to hear. I started getting published, and helped some of my friends get published. I owe Donald big time even though he never offered to represent me.

Then I was recruited to be an agent myself. I work with a base of editorial contacts and when I look at submissions I try to find things I know they are looking for. Targeting. Most agents come from a publishing background, being editors or marketing, or some function in the industry. The fact that I came from the writing side gave me some ground to make up in some areas, but gave me some strong insight in other areas. I still think a lot like a writer and don't like to tie a project up if I can't see a good place to go with it.

If I like projects I keep a substantial database on them even if I didn't have a place for them, and if I run across a market will sometimes get back to them to see if a project is still available. If it is we take a fresh look at it. If not I congratulate them, getting published is after all what we're trying to accomplish.

Targeting is the whole ballgame. For me, just submitting to a house I think is appropriate isn't enough. I have to know what editor I'm submitting to and why I think they are the right person to pitch. I not only want an editor that will be favorable to a project, but I want one that will love it and go fight for it in committee. I want an editor that wants it out there as much as my client and I do. My clients help me find those connections that can give a submission that little something extra, a team effort. They meet editors out and about too.

It's a very personal process.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Visitors from all over

It is a source of constant amazement to me that I get visitors to my site from all over the world. Who would ever have thought it? According to the counters at the bottom of the page there have been well over three million pages viewed by nearly a half million unique visitors. I get a report that tells me where these visitors are from and the list of countries amazes me as well. Who would have figured that some old boy way out in West Texas would be visited by people from all of these places:

1.     Algeria
2.     Argentina
3.     Austria
4.     Australia
5.     Azerbaidjan
6.     Bahamas
7.     Bahrain
8.     Bangladesh
9.     Belgium
10.            Belize
11.            Bermuda
12.            Botswana
13.            Brazil
14.            Brunei
15.            Bulgaria
16.            Burma
17.            Cambodia
18.            Canada
19.            Caymen Islands
20.            Chile
21.            China
22.            Columbia
23.            Costa Rica
24.            Croatia
25.            Czech Republic
26.            Denmark
27.            Egypt
28.            El Salvador
29.            Estonia
30.            Ethopia
31.            Finland
32.            France
33.            Georgia
34.            Germany
35.            Ghana
36.            Gibraltar
37.            Greece
38.            Guatemala
39.            Guernsey
40.            Hong Kong
41.            Hungary
42.            India
43.            Indonesia
44.            Iran
45.            Iraq
46.            Ireland
47.            Isle of Man
48.            Israel
49.            Italy
50.            Ivory Coast
51.            Jamaica
52.            Japan
53.            Jordan
54.            Kazakhstan
55.            Kenya
56.            Kuwait
57.            Latvia
58.            Lebanon
59.            Lithuania
60.            Macedonia
61.            Madagascar
62.            Maldives
63.            Malaysia
64.            Mexico
65.            Moldova
66.            Mongolia
67.            Morocco
68.            Mozambique
69.            Mymanmar
70.            Narobi
71.            Nepal
72.            Netherlands Antilles
73.            Netherlands
74.            New Zealand
75.            Nigeria
76.            Norway
77.            Pakistan
78.            Peru
79.            Phillipines
80.            Poland
81.            Portugal
82.            Qatar
83.            Romania
84.            Russia
85.            Russian Federation
86.            Saudi Arabia
87.            Serbia
88.            Singapore
89.            Slovak Republic
90.            Slovenia
91.            Solomon Islands
92.            South Africa
93.            South Korea
94.            Spain
95.            Sri Lanca
96.            Sweden
97.            Switzerland
98.            Syria
99.            Taiwan
100.       Tasmania
101.       Thailand
102.       Tobago
103.       Trinidad
104.       Turkey
105.       Uganda
106.       Ukraine
107.       United Arab Emirates
108.       United Kingdom
109.       United States
110.       US Virgin Islands
111.       Uzbekistan
112.       Venezuela
113.       Vietnam
114.       Zimbabwe

Monday, December 6, 2010

Guest blog by editor Dave King

Dave King, perhaps best known for his Self Editing For Fiction Writers (now in second edition) wrote to say:

I’ve just become aware of a couple of new sins in the publishing world that writers need to know about. I know a lot of writers get so frustrated with traditional publishing that they have to go somewhere, so they turn to vanity presses and self-publishing. And the people waiting to prey on them seem to be evolving new methods. I’ve written and attached a warning for your readers. Can you post it on your blog?

Of course, we said. Here’s Dave’s piece:

A former client recently told me he’d just published with a small press to very good reviews.  I was surprised since I had flagged some serious problems with his manuscript, and he said he had published it without changing a word.  I looked into his situation and discovered two new publishing sins.

One is the back-door vanity press.  Instead of asking for money up front like traditional vanities, these imprints only publish your novel if you promise to buy a certain number of copies yourself.  This keeps them from being labeled as vanities by many of the websites that warn writers about scams. Two websites that caught this one are Writer Beware  and Preditors and Editors .  Back-door vanities make enough profit selling to their own writers, so they don’t have to bother selling to the public.

Then there are the review mills.  These companies will review your book for free, then offer to put their review on your Amazon or Barnes and Noble page for a small fee.  Somehow, the reviews all seem to be raves.  And all the books they reviewed were either vanity or self published.

Pouring yourself into a novel with no idea how well it will be received can sometimes leave you hungry for good feedback.  Sadly, there are unscrupulous businesses (including some editorial services) who will give you that feedback whether you deserve it or not.  The books published by back-door vanities and praised by review mills may actually be good books.  Since they never reach a fair marketplace, we’ll never know.

Dave King

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Correcting the Bible

I have a Bible with really big margins, perfect for making notes transferred from Bible to Bible over the years as I have studied it and listened to sermons and Sunday School teachers. Yes, at 68 I still go to Sunday school, teaching a little when I can. When I wear a Bible out it can take me weeks to move into the new one, transferring all these notes.

On a recent visit my grandson saw me studying and making notes and asked me if I was correcting it. The way he said it made me think he was expecting me to mark the errors that I saw and maybe mark a big grade in red letters at the top. I laughed, of course, then told him no, that it was the Word of God and was perfect. I said the notes were for me, that even though the Bible is without error, my understanding of it can be faulty. When someone told me something or I found something that helped me better understand, I wanted a note to help me remember it and I wanted that note right where it could be of the most use to me.

Oh, over the years I've had people complain when they saw me writing in it, people who consider it too sacred to desecrate in that manner. I understand where they are coming from, but I don't worship the Bible, I worship the one whose words it contains. Besides, which shows a higher regard for it, someone who has a pristine, unblemished Bible held in high regard, or someone who considers it the ultimate textbook and guide for life using it and working in it and taking any means or method of finding greater understanding?

I tried to explain this to my grandson, that making such notes didn't show a lack of respect for the Bible, but an intense desire to more and more make it a VERY PERSONAL book.

I hope he got it.

This big Bible is my main repository even if I am using other resources in my study. But it isn't my favorite. I have s small Bible given to me by my mother on the day I was baptized over 50 years ago. It is a full Bible, but is scarcely larger than most New Testaments. Needless to say the print is very small, very hard for these old eyes, but I have always carried it, and usually have it with me as I still carry it each day. It is an old friend and has seen me through a lot.

So if you see me over there writing in the margins (when I can find room) don't bother to chastise me about it. I'm not doing it out of a lack of respect, but out of a strong desire to get closer to the Word.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving thoughts

Shortly before her death at the ripe old age of 96 my mother, Ruth Burns, said of her life: “I’ve never been hurt, never been abused, have had pretty good health, and walked with Jesus all of my life, I just don’t see how anyone could ask for more.”

What a great testimony on a wonderful woman and what a great way to cut through to what is really important in life. During the election coverage someone, I forget who, was talking about the fact that there are two kinds of people in this world, givers and havers. The givers are concerned with what they can share with others and the havers are involved with collecting as much as they can. The one making the point said that not many years ago there was no such thing as self storage units and now it seems they are on every corner. Clearly most of us have become havers.

Mother was a giver, always concerned more with others than herself. She grew up in times when they didn’t have much, but they didn’t want much, so they always felt their needs were met. Saundra’s family was the same and we were raised that way. We don’t have much by worldly standards but consider ourselves immensely blessed. When we find we no longer need something, or when we were dealing with Mother’s possessions after she passed, we sold very little. Instead item by item it went to people who needed it. We love knowing that she was still having an impact on people’s lives and we were as well. And so many people have a little something they can remember her by.

This is the time of the year when everybody writes notes about how we should be thankful, that it is the real reason of the holiday, not just eating turkey and watching football. But are we just parroting the words? When we count our blessings the big ones are not what we have but how we have been allowed to share our lives and our faith with others. Mother didn’t just talk about it, she lived it, and we are trying so hard to live up to that example.

We are indeed blessed in so many ways, and like her, I just don’t see how anyone could ask for more.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Register today to attend this live webinar from Writers Digest by Joyce Hart.

How to Get Published in the Inspirational and Christian Markets Live Webinar

By Guest Speaker: Joyce Hart Item No. #W1474
Format: Live Webinar Registration

Price: $79.00
Session date: Thursday, December 2, 2010
Starting time: 1:00 pm Eastern
Duration: 75 minutes
Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 1 year. If you are not able to attend the live webinar but sign up beforehand, you still receive the critique as well the archived recording. For more information CLICK HERE

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing at the Ranch

Saundra and I just returned from spending most of the week at the "Writing at the Ranch" Christian Writer's Conference at the Ghost Ranch outside of Abique New Mexico. It was a wonderful experience. No cell service and limited email service so it is more of a retreat. It seemed an inconvenience at first but then I came to understand that it was a blessing.

For me the zenith of the event was visiting with Bruce Wilkerson and hearing him give an awesome presentation. It was based on his book "For This You Were Made." Opened up our minds to new avenues in our lives. This is a picture of him signing a book for my wife Saundra.

During the course of the week attendees were teamed up with mentors and worked each day on a short piece for inclusion in an anthology that will be published following the conference. I had three writers in my group and the quality of their work was exceptional so I am sure the others will be as well. There will be material in it from some well published authors as well as be the initial publishing credit for some very talented new people. Great project.

During the event I decided to retire one of the programs I have been offering but as a result of meeting with a number of people have launched a new one to take its place. It is titled "It isn't my job to sell your manuscript," but quickly goes on to say it will be much more successful if it is 'OUR' job. I go into my 'team approach' concept for representing authors. I wrote the basic course outline as Saundra drove on the way home and it has already been booked into two conferences. Life is fun.

The quality of the pitches that were made to me were very good as was all of the content of the various programs and workshops.

I was pressed into service to read some of my cowboy poetry at the Friday night event and it was pretty well received. By that I mean nobody pelted the stage with anything.

If you are looking to get a conference on your calendar for next year I strongly recommend this one both as conference and as a retreat. There is a limit to the number they can take so you might want to get it on your schedule. You can find out more at

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What's Up with Louis L'Amour?

Creative writing classes study writers, discuss them, pick them apart to see what makes them tick. But I've never heard them give such attention to Louie. Dismissed as a paperback writer, not worthy of such discussion, I think they miss the point. The man died in 1988, and twenty years after his death continues to dominate the western fiction bookrack.


A lot of the writers of the classics that continue to be discussed and dissected ad infinitum, wrote books that today would probably not be picked up by an editor. They were beautifully written, I'm not saying they weren't, but in today's fast paced world and short attention spans they open far too slowly and often have much more detail than modern readers want to wade through. But Louie remains popular.

What's the deal?

I have a full set of his books, leather-bound, and I've read them all multiple times. I've heard a number of theories on why he is successful, but to me the answer is simple. Number one, he connects with the common man, and I mean that generically as I know a lot of women who love his books. He writes on our level. The other major secret is the fact that within a scant few pages into the book we have already identified with one or more characters and care about them.

The books open fast, get us invested in the characters, and they never whirlpool into a section where the story ceases to advance for the sake of explanation or description or setting or anything else that stops the forward motion of the tale. I won't go into a debate on how good of a writer he was, but he was one of the best storytellers America has ever produced. There's a difference, you know, a writer is concerned with the plot and structure and formatting etc. but a story teller is concerned with the story and keeping the reader entranced.

I think the people who do critical analysis of literature sell old Louie short . . . but it looks like the readers aren't fooled at all.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Are traditional books on their way out?

Probably. But if so, when?

Scribes sitting in dark rooms transcribing books and writings finally went away, but it took how long? The Gutenberg press was invented about 1441 and the Chinese had a printing press as early as 593, so it took thousands of years for the handwritten version to go away.

The paperback book was supposed to kill the hardback. I mean. The price alone is enough to do it, right? No, they continue to sell and will continue to as long as libraries and textbooks exist and as long as people who have nice personal collections prefer them. The paperback turned out to be a new but separate market.

But then came audio books and surely no one would want either version of the printed word if all they have to do is sit and listen to them. Truck drivers, vision impaired people and on the road salesmen embraced this technology eagerly, but wow, again it was a separate market and did not affect the other two.

We’ve seen DVD’s come and who would read a book when they can have a movie of it right in their own house. Actually I know people that want to read the book a movie is based on either before or after they see it. Different markets.

Now it is digital, and e-readers, the ability to have hundreds of books with you all the time. After the investment in the reader the books are cheaper but in many cases going up to rival the mass-market paperback price. I said a number of years ago that the e-book would not take off until a reader base was trained to read them and comfortable with them. I thought it would be when textbooks got so expensive that the electronic media would be the obvious solution. I’m starting to see some school systems doing just that, but it turns out that readers started getting comfortable with the devices without that happening. I have a book sitting on my iphone right now that I’m reading. They are different markets and while they may have impacted the other markets some each market continues to be strong.

We haven’t seen the last of it. The hallmark of our generation is exploding technology. More and better innovations and each will find it’s place. But every time this subject comes up there are those who say they still prefer to go off with a cup of coffee or chocolate and enjoy a printed book. I read constantly material being submitted to me on my computer. In fact, I wish I had more time to read for pleasure than I do. But the fact remains that if I am reading for pleasure I like to curl up with a book though for convenience I will read them electronically.

Will they go the way of the handwritten scrolls? Maybe someday. Will it take a couple of thousand years as they did? I don’t know, but it it does I expect the Lord will have come back for us before that time so the question is academic. I am pretty sure it isn’t going to happen in my lifetime although as writers it does behoove us to keep up with the new, developing media and to try and take steps to try and get product into it. Regardless what that media is they will always need to have people to produce the stories to fill it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A new beginning?

I hope so. I do know I am greatly relieved all the political ads are over.

I seldom talk about politics online, it can be too polarizing, but after staying up into the wee hours of the morning and now back up early to see how some of the things shook out that I was still watching with interest, it's still very much on my mind.

I have said over and over that I am a life-long independent forced to vote Republican as the only viable alternative I could see to stop an expanding and out of control government. Did it work? I was very encouraged last night to hear the new majority leader, Rep. Boehner, say he knew they were not being handed a mandate as a party but knew they were receiving a message about what the American people wanted and expected.

The message came from across the board, a major win in the house, narrowing the senate to virtually a deadlock, taking governor's mansions in 60% of the states and a huge number of legislative positions on the state and local level. Did the White House get the message this time? Or will they continue to push the agenda that the people clearly do not want? We will get an insight on that before the President goes jetting off again.

I believe people clearly want Congress working together, but they want them working together to reduce spending and reduce the size of government, plus the message on Obamacare was pretty clear to me as well. How do we go forward from here? We have a tendency to vote and then go away until it's time to vote again. This time we need to stay engaged and to try to have an impact on the way we are governed.

The Bible says we are supposed to submit to our leaders, but in a system of government where we select our leaders I believe a Christian has an obligation to be guided by their faith principles in selecting and then working with their selected representatives. "Separation of church and state" means the government can't mandate a religion, it doesn't mean Christians have to give up their voice in the government.

I'm a realistic optimist. I know what our track record is, but I am hopeful that this new crop of people going to Washington will not be changed by Washington but instead will change the way things are done themselves. I am hopeful that those who are returning will embrace this change. The clear message is "we are tired of government not listening to us" and I genuinely believe that failure to get this message will result in an even stronger message in 2012.