Monday, June 28, 2010

Profanity in Print

This is a topic of conversation with writers all of the time, particularly Christian writers. Many believe that strong emotions simply cannot be shown without it, or that really bad men can't be portrayed without it. I agree, bad men use bad language, and I show that all the time. But I never use the language, I simply show them doing it. People know what the words are, they don't need me to spell it out for them, they just want to see the emotions and the body language, to see the people using the language.

But people disagree with me, I get that. So there is a more pragmatic argument. Most Christian publishers simply will not take a book that contains profanity, graphic sex or violence. This seems to anger the people who feel that is taking realism out of the books. They miss the point. Christian publishers are trying to walk the line between taking on relevant, current subjects, and presenting them in such a way that they are appearing to condone the behavior. Showing people in a book using bad language is being realistic, but using the language itself is an appearance of condoning the behavior.

Shouldn't we as Christian writers be looking at it the same way? Shouldn't we be wanting to get as much realism as possible into our work without at any point be appearing to condone what we are presenting in our writing? Shouldn't we want to take on the tough subjects without glamorizing any inappropriate behavior?

Secular publishing houses don't have to worry about trying to walk this line. As an agent I have a very low tolerance for inappropriate material and don't want to have my name attached to it. I am quite frankly more worried about my Christian witness than about making another publishing deal. The Bible is very clear about our being a stumbling block for others and I surely don't want to do that even if it is a work I didn't create myself.

I guess what I'm saying is we talk about whether these things are or are not needed in a work, and that discussion could go on ad ifinitum, but the bottom line is we are ruling out an entire market if we do it, the fastest growing market in the industry today. Can we tell the story just as well without it? I think so. So why turn these readers and publishing houses off if it isn't necessary?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Congratulations to Christy Winner Jill Williamson

Our sincere congratulations to Jill Williamson as her novel title "By Darkness Hid" is this years Christy Award in the visionary category. Even though Jill is no longer with Hartline I was pleased to be the agent on this book.

This is not only a win for Jill but for Jeff Gerke as his small press went head to head with major publishers and came away with the win.

We are bursting with pride for Jill and for Jeff both and wish them tremendous ongoing success.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Get to a Conference

Let me put my writer hat on. I met my agent, Joyce Hart, at a writer's conference. Yes, even agents generally have agents, but that was before I started working with her in that capacity.

The contacts I have made that resulted in my first getting published as well as deals since that time and the things I am doing for my clients now primarily come from conferences.

Writers can't write in a vacuum, but "normal" people like our family and friends generally do not really understand so it is important for us to get off and get in contact with other writers for encouragement and support.

We wouldn't try to do heart surgery without the training, or work on cars, or fix plumbing, or anything else so why would we think we could write credibly without learning the skills necessary to do so. Workshops and conferences are the primary place this learning takes place.

There are so many other reasons, but suffice to say we need to make conferences and workshops a central part of our writing efforts. Hartline puts notes up on our blog to help select such a conference and I encourage you to take advantage of those posts in the archives there.

But today I'd like to talk to you about two if you are close enough for them to be feasible. Frontiers in Writing is a two day conference put on in Amarillo Texas June 25-26th by the Panhandle Professional Writers. It's a good conference, quite economical, and I've been associated with it for many years. I recommend it highly.

I also recommend the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference in Philadelphia August 12-14th. Marlene Bagnull puts on an awesome conference and it is more than a writing conference, it is also very much a spiritual retreat. She puts on two a year and I was at the one in Estes Park Colorado a few months ago. This one will help you get your head, your heart, AND your writing in order.

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is for you to get yourself to a conference if you are serious about your writing, and one of these two would be a great place to start.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Covers . . . We Got Covers!

One of the most important parts of a book is the cover. It can be the best book in the world and if the cover does not get it picked up and looked at, the contents are wasted. I have a couple of friends that are buyers for large chain bookstores and they openly admit they do not have time to review all of the books they acquire for the stores but instead depend on reviews from trusted sources, and the cover and how it will display in the store.

Terribly important, and the publisher has the final say on the cover and on the back cover copy. I do try to get at least cover consultation for my clients, but I know the publisher calls the shots. We all know authors who have ended up with covers that they didn't feel represented the content of the book or that they were otherwise unhappy with. We also have a lot who are just estatic with the cover they ended up with. We’ve had a lot of interaction on covers here of late and have been pleased to have our input listened to quite a bit. These covers would come under the heading of covers the authors are very happy with and we expect them to be quite successful.

We just got the cover on Bonnie Calhoun and Michelle Sutton’s “Deadly Accord,” a mystery from Abingdon Press due out Feb 1st 2011. Trust me, you’re going to love this one.

At the same time we got the cover for the second book in Tammy Barlow’s “Sierra Chronicles” from Whitaker House entitled “Hope’s Promise.” Book one, “Love's Rescue” is already out, and book three, “Faith’s Reward” has been turned in to the publisher. Another one for your must read list.

The cover for Roger Bruner's "Found in the Translation" is the first of a two book release from Barbour coming out Spring of 2011.

I got the final cover on my “A Writers Survival Guide to Getting Published” from Port Yonder Press. Developed in a month long online course taught for the American Christian Fiction Writers, this how-to book will be out in a few months. In can be pre-ordered now at my bookstore and while you are waiting I will send you a free smaller ebook version for free.

Covers are very important, and we try to be proactive and try to have as much input as possible. I think we have some terrific covers coming out, what do you think?

Monday, June 14, 2010

No Response Unless Interested

I get it. There are thousands upon thousands of authors submitting books right and left. I understand of necessity publishing houses adopting a “no response unless interested” policy to cut down on the work needed, particularly with staff cutbacks in recent times.

However, it seems to me the policy should be different for agents sending submissions. We are culling through hundreds of submissions picking out the projects we choose to send, and we do our best to determine what might be the best fit for the editor that we are submitting to. I would think it would be professional courtesy to answer agents even if such a policy exists regarding the general public.
I work for my clients by definition, however, initially it is more like I work for the editors that I interface with. I’m trying to find something that they might be looking for, something that fits that catalog spot that they are trying to fill. Once a potential fit is determined, then I am all about representing my client from that point forward.

If I get no response, or just a “not for us” that doesn’t give me any information that will allow me to do a better job of finding what that editor might or might not like. Fortunately most of the editors that I work with are great about this and they give me input that will help me help them. That’s why I work as many conferences as I do, to try and establish relationships with them and I count a lot of them as good friends by this point.

As I said, I really do get it, I just think instead of saving themselves work, those who adopt this policy are creating work for themselves by including the professionals as we continue to try and find out what works instead of better targeting our efforts.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Win Them All!

Who’d ever imagine that losing $20,000 and guaranteed publication of my novel with a powerhouse publishing company would be a good thing—a very good thing?

Certainly not me—at least not back in the days when I was one of five finalists for the 2009 Operation First Novel contest sponsored by the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and Tyndale Publishing House. That event stood, to-date, as the pinnacle of my writing career. Yes, I’d been published before, but this was the big time. This was the culmination of years of study, the completion of the manuscript I’d worked on for two solid years. Achieving finalist status in that prestigious competition was proof that somebody—somebody in the know, someone besides me—believed I could write.

I fretted for four months. But that all changed about thirty seconds after hearing Jerry B. Jenkins make the announcement at the Writing for the Soul conference last February that someone else (a very deserving man) had won, Misstep had not, and I was officially a loser. (Well, he didn’t say it exactly like that.)

Strangely, after my initial disappointment faded, a great relief washed over me. I was free! No more waking up to thoughts of winning. No more drifting off to sleep worried about losing. It was settled. I could get on with my life. Sure, winning would have been nice; I could certainly use $20,000 and I’d love to have my Christian novel published by Tyndale. But I realized it wasn’t the right time in my career to bypass the hard work of pitching my manuscript. I needed to speak with learned professionals from the publishing industry—the agents, editors, and publishers from around the country who were present at the conference. It was imperative that I hear what they had to say, soak up their knowledge, immerse myself in the atmosphere and camaraderie of like-minded individuals whose collective goal will always be to honor our Lord and Savior through our writing. It was up to me to prove I could deliver what they needed, that I had what it takes to be not only a writer, but also a published author. I had to believe in myself before I could ask them to believe in me.

So I hit the floor running and for the next two days, I pitched and smiled and asked questions and soaked up advice and acted the part of someone who had a product to offer that she believed in. I left the conference energized and optimistic (albeit sans the $20,000), returned home, and sent out requested proposals, manuscripts, and thank you notes. Then I prayed.

Four months later, Misstep and I are represented by Terry Burns, one of best agents in the business, and I’m now officially a proud member of the Hartline Literary Agency family. Through Terry I met Linda Glaz who not only helped me with my manuscript, but brought many a smile to my face in the process. I have a new batch of colleagues who have welcomed me into their midst with warmth and encouragement. Now that’s winning.

And I owe it all to being a loser.

Deborah Dee Harper

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The James Gang Rides Again!

Anybody that knows anything at all about the old west knows of the infamous James Gang, Frank and Jesse. Well, the James gang rides again, and they do have a brother Frank but primarily it is mother Jean and daughter Mary writing as a mother/daughter team.

They just signed a publishing contract for their novel Sparrow Alone on the Housetop! from 4RV Press. I am told that Jean has been skipping around the horse pasture all week, but they said not to worry, the horses already know she's a little crazy! To celebrate this good news they have launched a new author's website:

The website is still under some construction but please check it out and if you feel inclined post a comment on their blog. Also, if you'd like to make friendly with the crazy lady you can also find her on facebook:

But it’s not just about writing books. Mary, also known as “Mean Mary” is an extremely talented musician and singer and can play a banjo like nobody’s business. She has a new CD out and just completed a live concert that was hugely successful. I’m lucky enough to be their agent, but only for the books. Being an agent in the entertainment industry is a whole different animal and takes a totally different set of contacts. Do yourself a favor and go over to and listen to her pick that thing. Get you a CD while you are there.

MARY JAMES’ life has been one long road show interspersed with TV, radio, and film work. She’s also a prolific songwriter, playwright, and the spirited host of Nashville TV show, MEAN MARY’S CAFÉ AMERICANA, where she brings music and pertinent “ Americana” topics to her TV audience.

Before becoming a fulltime writer JEAN JAMES collected live mammals and reptiles for US and foreign distribution and live venomous snakes for antivenom production, was involved in various wilderness construction and survival projects, and worked as a press agent and song writer. Brother FRANK JAMES was an author on their nonfiction project, BE STILL I AM GOD.

So if you hear the thundering of hooves, don’t worry, they aren’t off to rob a train, but if you are really lucky they may sell you a book . . . or a CD.