Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday publishing wisdom

I told my clients that this time of the year publishing slowed down. I did it to help them have realistic expectations about hearing about that deal they are on pins and needles waiting for word. There is logic behind the advice, as it is difficult getting a publishing committee together this time of year to make a decision on a project.

It's a scheduling thing as so many people are making time before, during, or after Thanksgiving, Christmas, new year, or perhaps the Jewish holidays or other observances that fall during this time period. And with the complicated family structures that we so often find these days it makes that scheduling equally complicated.

It makes hearing about a deal from a house that requires a committee decision less likely. But as soon as I said that here came a number of contract offers from houses. Perhaps the houses that don't require a committee for a decision are working to get their new year arranged and off to a good start.

At the same time I see an increase in negative responses from editors. That makes sense too, they aren't tied up in meetings and are trying to clean out their inbox to start the new year. I know I'm doing that myself and my inbox right now is lower than it has been in years. Of course I got a little help on that with an email problem that lost a number of submissions I should be working but I don't know who they are. I'm pretty caught up so if you have submitted to me anytime other than the past few days and haven't heard back it might be a good idea to follow up.

Well, so much for my gazing into my crystal ball (man, wouldn't I love to really have one of those). Now that I think about it I don't know that it's a true statement at all that the publishing industry slows down during the holidays . . . but it does seem to change. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nice email in my inbox

Dear Terry, How are you?

I wanted you to know how very much I have been enjoying your short story "An E-mail for Christmas" in RiverOak's HEARTWARMING CHRISTMAS STORIES collection. Reading it was like getting a peak at how life might be for those guys (and women, too) who are serving far away. The ways that the community reached out to Mike's family, everything his wife shared, and how he in turn told his fellow comrades and it uplifted all of them as well, makes it a very precious story (if you don't mind my saying that :)].

My favorite moment was when the reservists answered for him in the roll call of their inspection lineup - "Deployed, sir! Standing tall in Iraq." That gives me chills every time. I have had the book since it came out a few years ago, and so have read "E-mail" more than once, most recently tonight. The story is close to my heart because I have special feelings for our military servicepeople and vets, especially those serving overseas.

I volunteer with a letter-writing team to send letters to soldiers serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, a project I'm been thrilled to be part of for 2 1/2 years now. Also, I am a music therapist, and one of my greatest dreams is to get to work with servicemen and -women dealing with PTSD, TBI, reentry issues, etc. In the music therapy community we've just had some incredibly exciting news that Walter Reed Medical Center is going to have a pilot music therapy program designed for it to serve the returning servicepeople who get sent there (!!!). Anyway, I understand from your brief bio in the RiverOak collection that you are a veteran serving during the Vietnam War. Thank you very much for your service there.

Thank you too for creating this terrific story. I wish I could send copies to the servicemen and women I write to, especially at this time of year. I also just wanted to say that the picture on your home page is very nice. Are those red rock cliffs in Texas? The scenery reminds me of the area not too far outside my home in greater Phoenix - especially the drive between here and family in Albuquerque. There's nothing like living in God's beautiful Southwest, is there?

Merry Christmas ~ Warmly in Christ,


Alexis, thank you so much for the great letter. It means a lot to me that the story touched someone. The stories in that book were all donated with the proceeds going to serving children overseas. I presume they still do. My wife took the picture you refer to, and it was taken at the 'Ghost Ranch' near Abique NM where a writing conference is held. My best to you and yours for a wonderful celebration of our Savior's birth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

guest post by client Linda Yesak

Who Do You Write For?

Are you a Christian Fiction author? If so, who do you write for? Do you know?

I didn't realize who I wrote for until I took a course author/agent Terry Burns taught at the East Texas Baptist University's Christian Writer's Conference called "Writing for the Unbeliever." He started the class by revealing something I've never heard from anyone else: There's a difference between being called to write and offering your writing to God. A calling, according to Terry, can be for one specific book which He will not let you publish until you've written it His way--and until you're His way. He has a specific purpose for it which you yourself may not recognize. Out of the forty or so books Terry has published, he can point to only one he was called to write, Mysterious Ways. That novel has garnered more response for the Lord than any of his other books. After the first few emails from folks he'd reached, he had to find the passage God used to reach them and reread it through their eyes. He was astounded at what he'd written.

Mysterious Ways is intended for unbelievers, and the format relies heavily on story to induce the reader to finish the book even after the salvation message is being presented, which is considerably later in the book. And it makes sense--if you bombard an unbeliever with Christian jargon and principles right off the bat, they're going to put the book down. They're not interested. Terry believes they're afraid of being convicted by the truth. He may be right.

Writing for unbelievers, then, means developing a story so intriguing and hooking the reader so securely that she can't put the book down. She'll continue reading through the salvation message because she wants to know how the story ends. But the story itself is vital. The author can't stop writing once the main character is saved, because it's too contrived, too "in your face," and it can turn off the reader. The story must continue to its natural end. The best story for a salvation theme is one in which you can yank the salvation thread out, and the story still stands. The salvation message has to be woven in carefully and has to evolve naturally as part of the story.

The other audience Terry mentions in his course is the believers, those who want the faith issue right up front. These readers want to delve immediately into what the Christian main character faces, then watch his battle and his victorious outcome, which leaves him closer to God. This isn't a salvation-message kind of book. It's a faith-building, giant-facing, walking-with-God kind of a book written for people who want to know they're not alone in their struggles and want the affirmation that God will see them through. This book is opposite the one for the nonbeliever--if you yank out the faith issue, this story will collapse.

But what if you don't write for believers or nonbelievers? What if you write for the backsliders, the nominal Christians, the ones who are Christian by heritage and tradition only? Or what if you write for seekers, the ones who are hearing the call, but aren't ready to accept?

These other two audiences weren't covered in Terry's outline, but by the time his class was over, we'd analyzed them. Some  write for backsliders, nominal Christians, etc. That message is basically, "Come back, He still loves you," and hits on the issues that keep Christians from seeking a more fulfilling relationship. Others write for seekers. In a large way, this gentle message is "Come on in, the Water's fine!"

Writing for backsliders is similar in format to writing for nonbelievers: hit the story hard and wrap the reader up in it before presenting the Christian theme. Unlike novels for nonbelievers, the message isn't salvation, but "return to your first love," and can be presented through one of the multitude of reasons people don't seek a personal relationship with God. Like books for non-Christians, the goal is to convict the reader and bring (or return) him to Christ. The story structure is the same, but you can present general Christian principles earlier--as long as you don't harp on them--because you're writing for people who consider themselves Christians. The story is key here, too, but if you yank out the Christian message, you'll have some serious tweeking to do.

The author who writes for seekers would follow the format of writing for believers: hit the faith issues early. The issues here aren't the same as the ones for Christians. These are the challenging, "If there's a God, then why . . . " issues. Seekers have, to a certain extent, accepted that there's more to life then the temporal, but something is holding them back from taking that final step to recognizing the one true God. The plot is derived from that "something," whatever it is, and the theme is a gentle calling to take that step in faith. In these stories, like the ones for believers, if you yank the faith thread out, your story will completely unravel. The writing difference between these books and the ones written for unbelievers lies entirely in its audience. Unbelievers have either a belligerent disbelief or a complete lack of knowledge of anything spiritual. Seekers realize there's more, but have to be convinced God is the answer.

So, here's the recap both of Terry's outline and how the class amended it:

For nonbelievers, you need a strong story in which the Christian message is delayed until the reader is thoroughly hooked. The theme is salvation.

For believers, jump immediately into the faith issue, without which the story will crumble. Themes include God is sufficient, all things work together for good--anything that strengthens the Christian through trials, and is presented through any temptation or pain a Christian faces and has to respond to/overcome within the confines of her faith.

For "backsliders," write a strong story in which Christian elements are presented early, but the message is delayed until the reader is hooked. The theme, "Return to your first love," is presented through any issue that can separate the believer from his faith.

For seekers, hit the faith issue up front, without which the story collapses. The theme is generally "I am the Way," and can be presented through any issue that keeps a seeker from taking that final leap of faith.

Keep in mind, the story always has to be strong, it doesn't matter who you're writing for. Give any reader a poorly written story, and the message will never get read. The difference is where in the story the Christian message is presented.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Where my heart goes on Thanksgiving

I can’t help it.

When it comes time to give thanks one of the things I am most thankful for is family. So it makes sense that’s where my thoughts go on this special day.

When I was young Thanksgiving (not to mention Christmas) meant a mandatory trip to Mamaw’s house in Electra TX. There was no choice . . . but we didn’t want a choice. That’s where all of us wanted to be. The aromas that would come from that kitchen were torture, and it seemed to take forever before it was time to eat. How that many ladies managed to be involved in that small a space is something I can’t wrap my head around today, and as to where we all slept in that tiny house? I have no idea.

I was the oldest of my generation, the only one slightly ahead of the baby-boomers which meant I presided over the second table. The men were around the first table and the women would eat later. (I presume they were able to do this because they did a lot of sampling as they cooked) Whether that was true or not, that’s how Mamaw decreed it would be and that diminutive little lady was the queen. The year there would have been an opening at the first table was also the year Mamaw died so I never got to get one of those coveted seats.

After her death Mother became the Mamaw of her own tribe, and we were all just as loyal. No matter what was going on in our lives Thanksgiving and Christmas were mandatory appearances there in Pampa TX. Wonderful, wonderful times and it often seems that the happiest times of my life centered around the gatherings in the two towns.

My father and my brother passed on within months of each other, my brother actually at Christmas. By some unspoken assent Christmas and Thanksgiving passed to my wife and I although mom was with us and clearly still presided. I loved these gatherings and the happy memories continued.

Finally, Christmas shifted to my son’s house. It just made sense to have it there as they had the room and it was much less to try to pack and carry the things they need to carry with three kids. Thanksgiving became just mom, Saundra and I with an occasional guest or two. After she passed, we began just inviting a couple of people over, the last couple of years the pastor and his wife. Much smaller, but still great memories.

My life seems to be summed up in these rites of passage measured by the passing of the baton for hosting these joyous events. All are special to me and the memories flood around me at this time of year. Each definitively mark a period in my life, and perhaps the passage of time make each more dear, particularly those early days at Mamaw’s house.

I do hope your Thanksgiving is every bit as special and your memories just as dear. When it comes time to count blessings, these are some I count without fail.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I missed some submissions

I left the note up on my website for some time alerting people that I had experienced an email problem and lost a lot of unworked mail. I believe the underlying problem is resolved now and that will hopefully never happen again.

There weren't that many in the file that I hadn't gotten to, or that I had at least acknowledged receipt on but had not handled, maybe fifty or so. But I don't log items in until I have taken them out of that inbox and start the process on them so I have no idea who those people are to ask them to re-send. I haven't had that many re-submit so it pains me to think there are some people out there who just won't hear from me at all. I'm not one of those people who considers no response a response, I know that's not that uncommon these days, but mama raised me to be more polite than that.

I suppose some of them may follow up after a period of time to see why they haven't heard back. I hope so. I really don't want anyone thinking I just chose not to answer.

When you get several hundred submissions a month it's not that hard for things to drop through a crack. I do have systems in place trying to keep that from happening, but it does on occasion. But my inbox is like the in-basket that used to sit on my desk that mail went into. It sat in that basket until I pulled it out, opened the envelope, and did something with it. If it was something I could deal with right then I would do so. If not, I would acknowledge receipt and suspense it for whatever action it required. Nothing has changed except now the basket is electronic.

Maybe I need to change the point in the process where it goes into the log - I'll have to think about that one.

Friday, October 26, 2012

eMail Woes

I had an email problem back at the first of the year and lost some email. I thought I had put a redundancy in place to keep it from happening again but I was wrong. I just had a re-occurrence and the redundancy did not work correctly and I lost the last 30 days email.

If anyone has sent me email in the last 30 days, particularly a submission following the ACFW conference, and you have not received a response (more than an acknowledgement of receipt) it would be best if you re-sent.

Please accept my apology if this is the case. I am hopeful that I now have a system in place to prevent it from happening again.


Mr. Terry W. Burns, agent
Hartline Literary Agency

Association of Author Representatives (AAR) member

Saturday, October 20, 2012

See you at the conference?

Soon it will be time to head over to Marshall Texas to East Texas Baptist University for the East Texas Christian Writer's Conference. I've gone to this conference for a number of years and I love it.

Set on the shady, peaceful campus of ETBU it is an economical conference packed with lots of content and excellent presenters. The dates are October 26th and 27th, starting right after lunch on Friday and ending up about 5 pm on Saturday. The keynote speaker Friday evening will be James Watkins speaking on "I have a dream!"

I'm going to be talking about the difference in writing to reach the nonbeliever. Christian readers and nonbelievers look for different things in a book, Christians want a lot of faith content and they want it right from the get-go. But the very thing that they are looking for will cause a non-believer to put the book down. Many who say they are writing a 'crossover book' are actually writing a book that will not have enough faith content to satisfy the Christian publishers but with too much such content for the secular publishers. They end up in the 'no man's land' in between where neither want the book. A true crossover book is written for one market or the other but written in such a way that it manages to cross over to the other.

I'm also going to talk about how to develop a writer's persona. Many people are simply too shy to meet with editors and agents to pitch, or to do promotion or interviews, or the other activities a writer must do to be successful. There is a way to develop a writer's persona and pretty much hide behind it to do what we need to do. Others are about as shy as a chain saw but they are uncomfortable in such writing situations because they don't know how to present themselves as a writer. These are the totally opposite ends of the spectrum, but for both as well as all of the degrees in between, the answer is learning how to determine how we need to present ourselves as a writer and to project ourselves that way.

Finally, my third session will be a "look behind the curtain." I'll be talking about editor and agent pet peeves. Participants will hear a lot of things from a survey that Hartline agent Linda Glaz and I conducted, things that turn an agent or editor off. But there are also peeves that authors have about agents and editors as well, that sword cuts both ways. Those in the class will have the opportunity to unburden themselves with some of the things that bother them as well.

The conference is a short but content-packed event that people are sure to enjoy and sure to feel they really got their money's worth. Hope to see you there.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Profanity in writing - guest post by client Donn Taylor

Every writer must decide whether he needs to use words that are euphemistically described as "strong language"—"cusswords" and gutter language. These "four-letter words" so dominate fictional and video conversations today that these words often are the dialogue.

I guess I've heard them all. And I've put a good bit of thought into their place, if any, in my writing. So I've come to reject the most common justifications of using these words in fiction, drama, and film.

The usual justification is a claim of "realism." First, it’s claimed that because people actually talk that way, realistic fiction must accurately report their words. Second, it’s claimed that four-letter words bring us closer to “real life” than other words.

Neither claim can withstand examination.

The first confuses "realism" with literalism. Fiction is not real life: it’s an artifice creating the illusion of real life. So if the writer must report people's words literally, what excuses him from including all other elements of life? Must every fictional day begin with the hero shaving or the heroine applying eye shadow?

Thus, if "realism" does not justify literal inclusion of other elements in fiction, it does not justify literal inclusion of specific words.

Nor can the claim that four-letter words are closer to "reality" withstand questioning. Many uses of those words are, to put it mildly, figurative. Perhaps is once was amusing to attribute bisexual reproductive capability to inanimate objects. But if so, the idea is now so clichéd that it's no longer humorous.

And on representing reality, let's consider the so-called "f-word." The early English (probably Anglo-Saxon) from which it descends was a savage language appropriate to those savage times. Then, perhaps, the word may have accurately described physical relationships between men and women. But many cultural changes have altered that reality.

One change was the twelfth-century invention of romantic (courtly) love, popularized by Eleanor of Aquitaine and Chrétien de Troyes. And in the 1590s, Edmund Spenser synthesized various love traditions into an ideal combining the romance of courtly love with the intellectuality of Platonic love and a dash of physicality from Ovid—all justified by marriage, one of the seven sacraments of the church. Spenser's synthesis held general acceptance until about 1900, when it was eroded by naturalistic philosophy and Freudian psychology.

The point for "realistic" fiction is this: if the "f-word" today accurately describes the physical relationship between a man and woman, it does so only because the couple is immune to the cultural experience the past millennium.

So if customary justifications cannot withstand examination, the real reasons for using "strong language" must lie elsewhere. Conflict is basic to all good fiction. “Strong language” helps lazy writers gain the appearance of conflict without the hard work of creating genuine conflict, which is always generated by a story’s narrative structure. In other words, "strong language" substitutes for genuine creativity.

Profligate use of such language will always be chic, of course. But as screenwriter Morrie Ryskind put it, "The chic are always wrong."

© 2000, 2008, 2012, Donn Taylor
Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he completed a PhD degree at The University of Texas and taught English literature (especially Renaissance) at two liberal arts colleges. His novels The Lazarus File andRhapsody in Red have received excellent reviews, and he has also authored Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences such as Glorieta and Blue Ridge. He and his wife live near Houston, Texas, where he continues to write fiction, poetry, and articles on current topics.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Meet you at the ranch?

The ranch would be the CLASS Christian Writers Conference at the Ghost Ranch, October 31-November 4 in Abiquiu New Mexico (just North of Santa Fe). It's a great conference and there is still time to take advantage of the price before it goes up October 1. Saundra and I will be there and we would love to have you join us. It's a great place to learn, write, fellowship, and just have some time in a beautiful place to listen to God's direction for your writing. 

The picture shown here is one Saundra took of me there as are the ones on my web page and facebook page. 

Saundra (and mom before she passed on) does love to go to the ghost ranch with me. Not only is it awesome scenery, but it's a remote setting where you can really get in touch with your writing and in touch with God. I’ve gone to it for 14-15 years now. Including going when it was in Glorieta and if you have ever read the writing testimony that is on my website ( ), this conference is where that experience happened.  

One plus for new writers is the fact that you can leave the conference as a published writer. During the conference attendees have the chance to work with a talented writer, an editor or an agent to write a story or item for inclusion in an anthology that will be produced following the conference. It's a great writing experience and does produce a good writing credit.

There are no televisions or other diversions at the ranch so that produces a relaxed environment with fellowship not only with the other writers but with the agents and editors that are there. That is unparallelled networking opportunities. 

If you'd like to know more, you can find the information at 

Hope we get the chance to meet you there.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Getting old

My advice is . . . don't do it.

Getting old is for the birds. And I can remember exactly when it happened to me. You don't believe I can pinpoint an exact time? Well, I can.

I was an energetic middle aged man when one day a ladder went out from under me and I got stuck non-weight-bearing on that foot for 7 months while it healed. Of course muscles don't like that kind on inactivity very much so I've never been quite the same. One day I was middle aged, and the next day I was old. Bummer.

Why am I talking about this today? It's on my mind because I was working in the workshop yesterday and picked up something that was heavier than I thought it was and was soon down in my back. Another bummer.

That's the second thing that contributed to my officially being a senior citizen. I was at a writer's conference a few years back and took a box of books out of an elderly ladies trunk for her, twisting somehow in the process. Talk about a painful ride back from Dallas to Amarillo. Now I can easily do something that will aggrivate it, and as I said I managed to do that yesterday. I told Saundra yesterday that I should have been rewarded for helping that little lady, not punished.

But that's how life works and I'm just explaining, not complaining, at least not much. A few months before Mother went on to her reward she told me, "I've never been hurt or abused, never gone hungry, have walked with Jesus and been blessed my whole life." Saundra and I often reflect on this and it is true for us as well.

We see the problems that so many people have and we have quite simply been blessed our whole lives. Sure, we have little things like this happen to us, but God doesn't promise that his children won't have problems, He just promises to help us through them, and He does. I look back at the little valleys in our lives and I wonder how people handle them that don't have the Lord's help.

Well, that's my thoughts for a peaceful Sunday morning. Instead of having the pleasure of being at Sunday School and church I'm sitting here being philosophical. Or maybe it's just the little buzz from the pain pill Saundra gave me. I guess it could go either way.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What do I need to do to start writing?

What do I need to learn before I can begin to write?

Nothing! Sit down and write.

I say that and people look at me like I just came here from Mars. There are rules, there are formatting issues, there is structure to be learned, there are things to learn about how a story is supposed to develop. There are a TON of things to learn.

This stuff is not writing. These things are editing. Good books are not created by writing, good books are created by good editing. But guess what? You can’t edit a book that is not underway. Chances are if you sit in writing workshops or take a writing class, or any of these things and have not at least started trying to write, the things you hear will not make a lot of sense. You won’t know the questions you need to ask. Once you start writing then you begin to see what you need to learn and the questions you need to ask.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a book-signing where people haven’t come up and said “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” I always respond, “So why haven’t you?”

If you want to write, sit down and do it. Why take classes or get training if you find out you don’t like doing it? Or if you find out you really have nothing to say or don’t have stories that you feel compelled to tell. That’s the starting point, imagination, the desire to do it. And that can’t be taught to you, that has to be something that is already in you.

I’m not knocking writing courses and workshops and writer’s groups. Success is virtually impossible without using these things to move forward once you are started. They will help you develop once you are underway. But if you want to write, quit reading this blog right now and get out a sheet of paper or open a blank page in your word processor and open your mind to what you have on your heart and your mind that you want to say.

The way to start writing . . . is to start writing.