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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I frequently hear from writers who are working hard to make their publishing dreams come true—but their significant others are not quite on board. These writers are being persistent, learning the craft, and building their platform. But their loved ones are having a hard time remaining supportive since there’s no income to show for it. They also might not understand the many peculiarities of a writer’s life.

So today I wanted to help out your loved ones. Feel free to send a link to your significant other, or print this out and post it on the fridge.

To Anyone Who Lives with a Writer:

Congratulations on having the fabulous good fortune of sharing close-quarters with a writer-type. There are many great things about being involved with a writer, among them:

  • Awesome income potential.
  • Hollywood premieres and red carpet treatment.
  • A stable, non-emotional partner.
  • Opportunity to try new dinner recipes since you’re probably doing all the cooking.
  • Plenty of time to play Xbox or watch hockey without interruption.
  • Bragging rights when publication finally comes.

The perks are amazing, right? However, there are a few things you should know about your writer friend. The sooner you accept these truths, the more harmony you’ll have in your household.

1. You can’t change them. Most writers can’t help it—they are what they are. Writing is their calling or their mission. To try and get them to stop writing would be like taking away their oxygen. Don’t do this.

2. Success can take a long time. Most writers spend years diligently working on their writing before getting published. Think of it as being in grad school. This is their education, and although the thesis may be taking forever, it’s a normal process.

3. A writer’s life is more than just writing. It’s no longer enough to sit at a desk and pound out words. Writers must engage in social networking, they may need to attend conferences, and they’ll certainly need to buy books on writing. Yes, it’s gonna cost, before it ever makes a dime. Think of it as the cost of that graduate degree.

4. Speaking of the cost…money is a sensitive topic for a writer. There’s no way to know if a writer will make a little money from their writing, a boatload of money, or no money at all. It may take years to determine this. If at all possible, try to separate your financial concerns from their writing. Have your money conversations without bringing up the time they spend on writing.

5. Your partner is an artist. This means they may not view money and income as primary motivators for what they’re doing. They are on a quest. They’re attempting to master a very difficult skill; they’re trying to break-in to an extremely competitive field. But underneath it all is an artist dedicated to their art, and there may be a small part of them that’s willing to starve for it. Try to accept this even if you don’t understand it.

6. The life of a writer is mostly thankless. It comes with a lot of rejection and criticism, along with very little kudos or positive reinforcement. On top of that, being an artist means opening oneself up, being vulnerable, and therefore susceptible to insecurity and anxiety. Try not to make the insecurities worse by communicating disdain or disrespect for their work.

7. And it IS work. They may look like they’re sitting at the laptop staring into space, but that’s what the writing life looks like. Paid or not, writing is difficult labor.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Writers:

  • Help them to create a special writing space inside your home, whether it’s an entire room or just a corner somewhere.
  • Help them create time for their writing, and encourage all members of the household to respect that time.
  • Ask them about their writing, or why they like to write, or what their hopes and dreams are for their writing.
  • Get them little writing-related gifts that show you’re taking them seriously: pens and sticky notes, books about writing, a new desk or computer supplies.
  • Give them a gift certificate for something like a weekend “writing retreat” at a local hotel; or a few days away at a writer’s conference.
  • Ask them how you can help support their writing.

Here are a few “don’ts” for you:

  • Don’t belittle or demean your writer-in-residence for their dreams.
  • Don’t assume “success” must be correlated with income.
  • Don’t refer to their writing time as “wasted” and don’t think about how much money they could be making if they spent the time differently. This is who they are.
  • Don’t say “have you finished that book yet?” Instead, say things like, “did you have a good day of writing?”

Most writers are smart, passionate, interesting, driven, and eager to share their words with the world. (And yes, okay, a little moody and sometimes sensitive.) Enjoy the fact that they have depth and ambition, and something to say!

And definitely make sure you have your own hobbies, passions and interests.  You’re going to need them.

Your turn: What would YOU say to the significant others of writers?

Image copyright: damedeeso / 123RF Stock Photo

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Blogger: Michelle Ule

Sitting in for Wendy Lawton, whom I hope is no longer waiting for a plane in Duluth . . .

What are the seven deadly sins for a writer?

The usual ones:

  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride
How do the seven deadly sins play out in a writer’s life?

Let’s take them one by one.


Fundamentally, lust is a desire for something you do not have.

The list can be endless for a writer, but the biggest one is the desire to be published and/or famous at all costs.

As in any sin, there are good aspects of it: lust can also drive a writer to work hard.

But, it’s always important to examine goals. What is the point of all of this?


Holy Spirit Interactive provides an alternate definition of gluttony that goes beyond food. Here it is:

  • Wanting more pleasure from something than it was made for.
  • Wanting it exactly our way (delicacy).
  • Demanding too much from people (excessive desire for other people’s time or presence).

The last two definitions apply the most in the publishing arena. Some writers aren’t content to work with editors–they want their manuscript to reflect only their work.

Other writers require an inordinate amount of time from their agents, writer friends, editors, publishing houses, marketing folks–you get the idea.

It’s always helpful to ask ourselves, “Do I really need to contact this person and demand their time right now?”


An alternate form of gluttony–see the three definitions above, greed is most often connected to money, power and fame.

For the majority of writers, the desire may be there but if you’re looking for money, power and fame, you might consider another line of work.


Sloth can take many forms, but basically boils down to a writer who can’t be bothered to run spell check.

It’s seen in folks who believe their first draft is perfect and requires no editing, because they’re too busy to deal with it.

Most writer probably struggle with a different form of sloth: the inability to get themselves into the chair to work.

It’s amazing how many things can get in the way of your writing time unless you’re disciplined.


You can recognize wrath in comments like this:

  • “Those gatekeepers don’t know what they’re thinking not picking up my book.”
  • “Why won’t anyone buy my book?”
  • “Why does this computer not work?”
  • “Where can I find a publisher who wants my work?”
  • “Why would someone publish that trash when my book is so much better?”

And so on.


I’ve written before about envy and the writer.

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins because it destroys relationships.

It’s important to remember that each of us are on a different writing and life journey.

What works for one writer may not work for another.

The book that garners great attention may have cost the writer far more than you are willing to pay.

Envy can be a natural reaction, it just doesn’t need to be shared or acted upon.

When I feel envy, I confess my sin to God and try to thank Him for what He’s doing in another writer’s life.


Pride is the cornerstone in many of the above attitudes. It’s all about me, right?

Don’t most of these seven deadly sins revolve around our demand for attention?

Isn’t that demand to be a famous bestseller what caused Satan’s fall?

Examine your heart

Publishing is a relational business–between you, your God, your agent, your friends, your publisher and the public.

While we’ll applaud you when you succeed, no one really wants to work with someone who exhibits the seven deadly sins.


I’ve found there’s a bittersweet humility from seeing my name on the cover of a book.

What do you do to combat any of the seven deadly sins in your writing life?


The 7 deadly sins & the writer. Which apply to you? Click to Tweet

What do greed, sloth, envy, pride, lust, wrath and glutton look like in the writer’s life? Click to Tweet

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Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Last week the American Library Association (ALA) announced that the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a prestigious children’s literature prize, would henceforth be called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. You can read the announcement on the award’s website and dig into the rationale as deeply as you want by clicking on the site’s links.

The Story Behind the Change

While the association’s press release and other documents present the decision as civilized, sensitive, inclusive, and compelling, in my opinion, the name change represents taking an eraser to our country’s history. By way of background, the award initially was named after Wilder for her significant contribution to children’s literature.

Many a young girl still falls in love with reading because of Wilder’s books. And many a young reader still cozies up to the charming Ingalls family as they settled into their soddie and made do with whatever was at hand through each season of the year. The three sisters fell into a deep slumber each night to the sound of Pa’s fiddle playing. Young readers see what a happy, resilient family looks like, even though the girls themselves might well experience something far less wholesome in their own families.

The Rationale for the Change

All of the love, warmth, and sweetness remain even today in those novelized stories of Wilder’s own pioneering childhood. And ALA carefully writes that the name change is not intended to censor the books themselves. The organization believes removing Wilder’s name from the award makes sense because Ms. Wilder, who wrote the books in the 1930s and 1940s, depicted those lovable people as what we today would label racists. A variety of characters in The Little House on the Prairie utter the sentiment that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” That probably was considered sage and true advice in the late 1800s, when Laura grew up in a land where settlers were sparse and Native Americans could kill you. After all, the pioneers and Native Americans were at war.

Another offensive passage occurs when Laura attends a minstrel show and refers to the  African Americans as “five black-faced men in raggedy-taggedy uniforms.”

Why Readers Should Care

Stripping Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from the award is to post-posthumously dishonor  a writer for portraying commonly-held views from the era in which she grew up. It’s also a subtle form of denial that a shameful time in our history occurred. We must remember who we were so we all can strive to be better versions of ourselves. Whites’ treatment of Native Americans constituted an egregious time that all whites need to acknowledge really happened. Wilder’s books for the most part showcase the beauty of a family loving its members well. But they also highlight the shadow side of some of those people. Isn’t that part of a good story’s job? Not to create caricatures of settlers but multi-dimensional characters.

Why Writers Should Care

Sometimes being politically correct isn’t correct at all. I think the ALA’s decision is a case in point. As a writer, you work hard to accurately depict a person, a time period, and the attitudes that prevailed. This does not lessen the quality of what you write but enhances it. Even if you hold beliefs that society eventually comes to disagree with, don’t you expect to have the right to communicate those beliefs without future generations berating your contribution to the public discourse? What if, a generation or two from now, it’s not politic to write about one’s personal belief in Jesus? It’s such an excluding worldview, after all.

Are we so unsettled by people’s past behaviors that we feel compelled to step away from important voices from those times?

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
~ George Orwell, 1984

Who Else Belongs in the Pantheon of Infamous Authors?

What other authors do we want to distance ourselves from? Mark Twain? Now, there was an opinionated man who held forth many a thought that we would condemn today if it were uttered in our hearing.And yet, how much delight do we experience when we read a humorous piece of his? Or gain insight into life from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn?

What about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, which was written in the 1930s, as were many of Wilder’s books? Mammy is a winsome character. No wait, maybe she is a caricature…

How Far Will We Go?

I didn’t intend to write a blog post about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award until I read an article in the June 11 of Publishers Weekly. The magazine always concludes on the last page with an opinion piece sent in by one of Publishers Weekly’s readers.

In this issue, an author writes an essay entitled “Cover Bias.” She argues that fiction covers shouldn’t employ full-face images but should leave what the character looks like to the reader’s imagination. That way the book will appeal to a broader swath of readers–in terms of readers’ age, ethnicity, and imperfect bodies that compare poorly to the models on many a cover.

The writer suggests: “Finding agnostic cover art isn’t easy, but there are a few tricks:…think twice about showing faces; maintain a sense of possibility by using ambiguous models; and avoid ethnic anchoring by converting images to grayscale, sepia, or alternative color scales.”

As I read the essay, I thought to myself, I don’t think I would relate to a cover model with gray skin. How far will we go to pretend we aren’t different from one another?

Your Turn

So now I ask you,

Are these authors and their works of less value to us because of their flaws? Or of greater value because of them?

P.S. Now that I’ve thrown this hot potato at you, let me add that I’ll be traveling when this article posts so I won’t be able to join you in the conversation.


Does the name change to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award make sense to you? Join the conversation. Click to tweet.

Why should writers care that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name was stripped from the prestigious children’s award? Click to tweet.

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Blogger: Rachel Kent

Recently, I’ve received a few query letters for top-notch ideas, but when I look at the proposal or manuscript, I realize the author shouldn’t have submitted the project yet. The idea and bones of the book are good, but the writing could use some major editing.

A writer who sends a query letter too early doesn’t take the time to have critique partners look at the project first and then make the suggested changes. He or she is setting him- or herself up for failure. If an agent requests a project and sees it’s a mess, that agent is unlikely to re-request, even if the book is amazing after more work has been put in.

I know that sometimes an author can get a request for an unfinished or unedited project because of a connection made at a conference or through an author recommendation to an editor or agent. If you make a connection like this and your project is requested before it’s ready, you can wait to send it. Let the agent or editor know that the book isn’t ready, but that you will send the proposal as soon as it is. Also, more often than not, you will grow as a writer through the classes you take at a writers’ conference. When editors and agents request projects during a conference, we expect to wait a little while while you get the manuscript fixed up before you send it in. If there’s a rush for some reason we will make this clear at the time of our request.

An author-friend of mine who was chatting with an editor at a conference about what the publishing house was looking for. Off the top of her head, she came up with a book idea that blew the editor away and fit right in to what the house was looking for. The editor wanted to see a proposal for the book. My friend took a few weeks to come up with a strong synopsis, proposal and sample chapters and then submitted the story. I can’t remember if this project was contracted, but I think it was. I know that the time my friend took to prepare the proposal helped her to put her best foot forward with the publishing house and showed that she cared about creating a great product.

Have you ever received a manuscript request before your book was ready? What did you do?

What are the steps you take to make sure your project is in the best possible shape before sending your query letters?

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blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

What truths do we hold as “self-evident”? With the United States’ Independence Day just behind us, many of us are still eating cake with strawberry stripes and blueberry stars, picking up yard evidence of expired sparklers, and reflecting on what those freedom evidence truths mean to us.

Writers hold certain truths as not needing explanation, too. Self-evident, evidently. Inalienable rights. But are they? (The final version of the Declaration of Independence calls them “unalienable.” Same thing.)

“Everyone has a right to write.”

Yes. Although “right” is a strong word. Almost anyone can take advantage of the opportunity to write, to create stories, to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and express themselves through writing. Books, poetry, spoken word, music, jokes, opinions, apologetics, creative grocery lists, Tweets, posts, studies, curriculum, plays, scripts…

“Everyone has an inalienable right to publish.”

No. Publishing is not an entitlement. It’s a privilege and an honor. Approaching it any other way is a distortion of truth. Even though independent publishing allows the possibility of publishing without involving a traditional publishing house, savvy independently published authors understand that freedom of speech and freedom of publishing don’t mean we can use words without consequences, that we can say, write, or print anything we feel like because of an inborn right.

“Every writer can count on the truth that their work deserves to be respected as-is.”

Ooh. A tricky one. There’s that word respect. One thing I appreciate about Books & Such Literary Management is that we treat everyone’s work with respect in our responses. Even if the query or book proposal is misguided, volatile, error-thick, and poorly done, we respect that a human being created the work. But the finest and highest quality writing can always use the benefit of an expert’s eye and advice.

“Every writer can count on the truth that even exceptional work is edited.”

Yes. That is truth. 

Writers can depend on the writing truth that “if you work hard enough and long enough, you deserve to be published.”

Again with the deserve? Publishing isn’t an equation. Good idea + hard work + writing skill=publication? That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works. Good idea + hard work + writing skill + annual writers conferences + agent + chocolate=publication? Still not how it works.

So many factors enter into the chemistry of traditional publication. The atmospheric conditions. That’s right. What’s the publishing atmosphere right now? Is it conducive to a book on that topic? Is the timing a little off? How many other authors are tackling that topic/genre/setting/approach? Does that help or make it less likely the excellent book will be published? I turn down projects almost daily that are good, even fascinating, but not for me. They’re for another agent. It’s not a project that resonates with me, even though it might with the next agent. Editors tell the same story. They need to feel passionately about the proposal or they can’t convince their editorial team, much less their pub board.

An excellent book that is too similar to another excellent book already in the publishing pipeline is enough to stop a great book from reaching the bookstore or library shelves. Some might say, “All the more reason to independently publish, then.” Could be a good option. But the book will always be tugging for the same readers as the one already on the market.

Self-evident truth? “If the book is excellent, it will find a publishing home.” Not always. A hard truth, but undeniable.

Working hard and long is good. But it doesn’t give an entitlement to automatic publication. Publication entitlements don’t exist.

Writing truth?

“Practice makes perfect.”

A more solid truth is that practice makes permanent. And practice makes possible. Some have been writing for many years, attending multiple conferences a year, but haven’t advanced toward publication because they’re rehearsing the same mistakes. They haven’t applied the editorial or critique comments. Or they’re practicing average rather than growing toward excellent. Practice doesn’t always make perfect. Or published.

“Agents and editors owe me and my project their attention. They at least owe me an explanation for why they turned it down. It’s my constitutional right. ‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of publication.'”

Our primary agenting responsibility is to the clients we represent. Editors’ primary responsibility is to the authors they’re publishing. I assume no one who follows this blog would fall for the “constitutional right” idea in this untruth. But you might be amazed how many do.

Where’s the hope in this post? Simply this. We may not have an inalienable right to publication. But we’ve been given the freedom to write, to learn, to grow. We’ve been given unprecedented opportunities to develop our writing craft and ever-expanding access to rich research resources. And we’ve been given the privilege and opportunity to pursue publication.

That’s something to celebrate!

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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

One of the most common questions I receive is: Can I write books in more than one genre?

Well, sure, you can write whatever you want!

Can I write books in multiple genres and expect to build a successful publishing career?

Maybe not.

A lot of people have asked me this question, and they don’t understand my answer. Hey, they can write historicals, suspense, and fantasy. Why wouldn’t I be ecstatic about a multi-talented author who can do it all??

This is a marketing issue, first and foremost. If you want to publish books, attract a loyal readership, and have long-term success as an author, then you’ll need to pick a genre, do it well, and keep doing it over and over. Simple as that. All the arguing in the world and all the talent in the world is not going to change this reality.

You want to specialize, because a publisher can’t afford to try and reach a whole new audience with every single book. If your first book is a historical romance and 25,000 people buy it and love it, you now have 25,000 historical romance readers eager for another book from you. If your second book is a contemporary suspense, you completely give up the audience you’ve already built (leaving them hanging, by the way) and you have to build a new audience from the ground up. How much sense does that make?

It’s not usually feasible, especially in today’s competitive market, to try and be a jack of all trades. You can’t reinvent the wheel every time out.

Choose the thing you enjoy most and do it the best you can.

I know, it’s frustrating to be “pigeonholed” into one genre. You feel like the marketplace wants to limit you. They’re holding you down, keeping you in a box. The world wants to put artificial constraints on the heights to which you can soar.

I recommend you avoid thinking of it as pigeonholing. I doubt LeBron James feels pigeonholed into “just basketball.” I don’t hear Stephen King bemoaning that no one wants to read an Amish romance from him. They’re not pigeonholed, they’re specialists.

Even if you’re thinking about variations of a genre (romantic suspense, romantic comedy, etc.) it’s best to keep your main goal in mind: sell books. What’s your best chance of selling the most books? How do you build yourself a loyal readership? Specialize. Create an expectation in the reader, then fulfill that expectation. If your first book is romantic suspense, plan on doing that for awhile. Once you’ve proven yourself a success, you may have leeway to branch out.

Many self-published authors build careers writing books in several genres, but it works a little differently. They’re typically offering books at lower price-points ($4.99 or less) and they’re publishing several books per year. They often write under different pen names for each genre. They don’t have a publisher’s help with marketing, but they also have low overhead, so they can afford to do a lot of experimenting. It’s different when you’re an indie-publisher.

Some authors write both fiction and non-fiction. If you want to do this, understand that you’ll be working to build two different audiences simultaneously. There may be some crossover, but you can’t count on it.

How much time, energy, and money do you have to devote to marketing? Most authors find it challenging to promote a book in one category, let alone two. Make your decision with the full knowledge that you’ll be doing twice the promotional work if you’re publishing in two categories. This kind of writing life is best done when you don’t have kids at home, or a day job.

Writing in more than one genre or category means you’re also diluting your ability to focus. Are you able to study and improve the craft of fiction at the same time as learning the particulars of writing a great memoir? Just something to think about.

Of course, there’s something to be said for experimenting. You may want to try writing books in several genres that interest you. But whichever one is the first to sell to a traditional publisher—that’s the genre you’ll want to stick with for the first few books.

Have you found it challenging to focus on one genre?

Photo by Baher Khairy on Unsplash

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Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m just finishing up my summer vacation. Or I should say, staycation. My daughter and grandson came to visit for two weeks and we decided to stay put and do as many local travels as we could fit in. So after trips to the coast, to Angel Island and Alcatraz, excursions into the Mother Lode, ghost towns and, of course, outlet malls and the local salon for our annual mother/daughter mani/pedi treat, we left for the airport to return Rebecca and Alex to the East Coast at two o’clock this morning. (That’s the time we leave home for a six o’clock flight. )

We never embark on a vacation without remembering THE vacation. I cannot believe it was twenty-three years ago. I wrote about it a while ago but I figured today was the perfect day to dredge up that blog to re-share it. I can’t believe how young our children were. Our eldest daughter is now a college instructor and regularly introduces students to the literary world. We only had two children at the time. Our third and youngest child came to us when she was ten years old so she missed this trip.

Sometimes our literary pilgrimages will offer new insight into the milieu of the writer. Such was the case with our most extensive literary jaunt.  The year was 1995 and we decided to visit the birthplace of the New England Transcendentalists. Our oldest daughter had just graduated from high school and was already a confirmed bluestocking. Our poor son would have rather been fishing, parasailing or hurling himself down a mountainside but he had learned to put up with us. And our youngest daughter didn’t join our family until she was ten, so she missed this one. But for the four of us who went, we’d all say that it was the trip of a lifetime.

We began our trip by staying in Copley Plaza in Boston where we haunted the museums with side trips to see the famous points of history. Little did I know then that I would write a book, Freedom’s Pen, which took place on those very streets. We even saw the grave of Mary Goose, widely thought to be the famed Mother Goose.

We went from Boston to Concord where we stayed in a bed & breakfast that was said to have been Nathaniel Hawthorne’s springhouse at one time. It was directly across the road from the Alcott’s Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott’s father Bronson used to sit on a bench under a tree and hold court with the literati of Concord, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both of them just lived down the road. The philosophy of the New England transcendentalists grew out of these meetings.

Our travels took us to Walden Pond on a drizzly morning and were able to walk the whole way around barely seeing another human—a miracle if you know the modern Walden Pond. We walked up to Sleepy Hollow cemetery and visited the gravesites of all these famous writers. I found the grave of Margaret Sidney as well. She wrote The Five Little Peppers—another book from childhood I loved. We went to the Old North Bridge where the “shot heard round the world” was fired. Nearby stood The Old Manse, which had been home to Ralph Waldo Emerson and then the newlywed Nathaniel Hawthorne’s. The herb garden there at the Old Manse had been planted by Henry David Thoreau as a wedding gift for the Hawthornes.

As we walked the town and began to understand the interwoven lives of these beloved writers I understood in a very tangible way the importance of a writer’s community. I came home more determined than ever to stay connected to my fellow writers—that’s where creativity blossoms.

After we left Concord, we stayed for a time at Williamstown so we could take in the theater and attend a Tanglewood concert (with Yo Yo Ma, no less). We took many a day trip—to the studios of Daniel Chester French and Norman Rockwell. And another literary side trip to the Stockbridge Library where I got to go down into the basement and actually hold Hitty in my hand (from the book, Hitty her First Hundred Years by Rachel Fields). That was before they began thinking of archival protection for the adventurous Hitty. Now I’m sure she is hermetically sealed or something.

Our last leg of our travels was out to Amherst where we stayed in a guesthouse on campus just a few doors from Emily Dickinson’s house. At twilight that last night we walked over to her house and sat on the porch to watch the sunset.

It was a trip we will never forget and more than anything we came away with the understanding of the interconnectedness of the community of writers/artists. And to think, this was just one geographical location and one era.

So here’s my question for you: Where would you take your dream literary travels?

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Janet Kobobel Grant

What stimulates you to write a story or to compose a manuscript about a certain topic?

Writing Hints

I find it instructive to listen to interviews with highly successful authors. They often are asked–and love to talk about–their writing process. Usually they’ve worked their way through to some helpful insights that all of us can borrow. Thus saving ourselves the pain of learning it through personal experience.

Or the author might have boiled down to its finest essence–like a rosemary sauce for lamb–a way the writer thinks about approaching the next manuscript.

Write What Obsesses You

Some time ago I watched an interview with novelist Meg Worlitzer on The PBS News Hour. As she talked, I grabbed a piece of paper and noted a couple of sentences that held the essence of how to think about what you write.

We’re told to write what we know, but I say, ‘Write what obsesses you.'”

Writers are instructed to steer clear of, say, writing a novel about a group of explorers to Antarctica in the 1800s, if you’re a stay-at-home mom who has lived in Florida all her life. The research necessary to authentically portray the setting, the challenges, and the interior lives of those men makes for a steep climb for any writer. But all the more so for someone newer to the craft.

On the Other Hand…

Ms. Worlitzer’s point is that, if you find yourself obsessively thinking about a topic and how you want to explore it–whether in fiction or nonfiction–you might just be the right person to tackle the concept, bringing to bear everything you know of life.

Here’s an insight from Ms. Worlitzer on why it’s okay to tackle something audacious:

I write not to provide answers–my novels don’t answer questions–but to look at the question from different angles.”

Each of our lives is informed by our experiences of the world that we’ve spent years collecting. If we start out our next writing project determined to showcase that knowledge–and thus lead readers to the answer you’ve already selected for them–you haven’t opened up the world to readers but instead have led them to the corner you reside in, with their faces to the wall.

How Adults Learn

Many years ago, when I received instruction on how to write curriculum, I was told, “Adults learn best when you don’t give them obvious answers–or even pre-selected answers. But if you ask them questions that let them bring their life experience to this new topic, they’ll teach themselves by thinking about the answers.”

Books should not give obvious answers but instead invite the reader to use all he or she has learned about life to consider how he or she sees answers to the questions you pose.

An Enriched Experience

Approaching your writing this way is much harder than presenting a pre-determined answer to life’s conundrums. That means you put your novel’s characters in a seemingly untenable situation, and then you and the reader watch how different personalities, temperaments, and personal histories come to bear on that circumstance.

For your nonfiction book, it means asking the question(s) you’ve been toiling over and–like any good discourse–present some of your noodling. Then give the reader space to noodle with you.

That’s what writing obsessions is all about.

Have you ever written to ask questions rather than provide answers? What did you like about that process? What did you dislike?


Don’t write what you know but what you obsess about. Click to tweet.

Want to add depth to your writing? Then don’t write to provide answers but to pose questions. Click to tweet.

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Blogger: Rachel Kent

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the Funko company and noticed how welcomed all of their “funatics” (this is what they call their fans) feel into their brand culture. I’m sure you’ve seen their Pop! figures in stores or online. Funko has created a network of people who love them and love their products. This seems to have happened both organically and through the careful care of their marketing team.

This got me thinking about authors and their fans. How can authors make readers feel more welcome? Authors are trying to sell books and readers that feel included and welcomed into the author’s space are more likely to continue to buy from that author. Many readers like to feel close to the author, even if they’ve never met him or her before. How can you make your website, Facebook, blog, etc. more welcoming to readers–inviting them in to spend some time with you and hopefully increase the chances of their purchasing your book?

And yes, as Christian writers, it’s not all about sales–but to spread the message you are hoping to share, people do need to be purchasing your product.

Here are a few suggestions I have to make readers feel more welcome and I’d love to hear yours!

1) Create a Q and A section on your website that answers the most popular questions you are asked in your emails. Do get a little bit personal, but don’t share private information, 0f course.

2) Share pictures on Facebook, in your newsletter, and on your blog. You don’t need to share pics of your kids if you are uncomfortable with that, but put pictures of you on trips, with your pet, doing research, and more. Visuals are really important these days.

3) If you create a special “street team” don’t announce that to all of your fans. You want everyone to feel special and you don’t want to make any of your readers feel less special than others.

4) Include snippets from reader emails (with permission) on posts or in newsletters. This shows all of the fans that you are paying attention and care about what they are saying. What they share with you can really be life changing for you, too, and it’s good to let them know that you are touched.

5) Create a guestbook on your website–these can allow for fans to “check in” and show where they live on a map of the world. The guestbook doesn’t need to allow comments or pictures–they come in all different types. You might not want comments or pictures if you don’t want to spend much time approving the posts. Find one that fits your needs.

6) Even if you can’t personally respond to every fan letter, make sure the readers get some sort of reply if they message you. Set up an email auto-reply to let them know they matter to you. Also direct them to your newsletter and encourage them to follow you on social media.

7) Be you! The readers like your books because you wrote them and each book includes a lot of you in it. By being yourself in your interactions with readers (in a professional way, of course) you will naturally welcome the readers who are reaching out to you.

How have you helped readers feel welcome? What new ideas have come to you as you’ve read this post? Please share!

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Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti


Wait. You really thought publishing success shortcuts exist?

Some try. Writers can successfully employ time-savers, but shortcuts aren’t the positive elements they might be in mountain hikes or traffic jam bypasses.

Time Shortcuts

At a recent conference, I overheard another agent tell a writer, “You’re about two years away from being ready to submit your work to a publisher.”

Cruel response? Not at all. Kindness colored the agent’s words. Why might years have been a success recommendation?

  • The author may have needed time to support a great concept with a strong platform. The investment of two years in building a solid platform could have meant the difference between the book reaching a few or many.
  • The idea needed time to percolate. It wasn’t yet fully formed.
  • The pain was still too fresh. Sometimes books intended to encourage others out of the painful experiences the author has endured wind up being cathartic only. Given time and the perspective that accompanies it, the book’s impact might be stronger, richer, and free of anger that would otherwise fog the takeaway value.
Craft Shortcuts

At the same conference, I asked to read a sample of an attendee’s writing. He replied, “I’m working with a professional editor. She hasn’t edited this yet.” I still needed to see it. An author might shortchange his or her publishing success–and the agent’s success–if unwilling to show a snippet of unedited work. Why?

  • For an agent to consider representing a writer, he or she needs to know the level of writing talent or skill the author has pre-editing. Your highly polished piece will tell me how well the editor edits. But will it give me clear clues to the writing strength of the writer?
  • Can the writer present another book, many others, throughout their writing career? Or can the writer create only rough drafts?
  • How rough is the rough draft? If it shows lack of understanding of basic writing premises, basic storytelling skills, basic grammar, spelling, punctuation guidelines, the writer may need to invest in more craft education before embarking on an agent/author relationship. Without that investment, the author’s first book could be the last.
Self-Editing Shortcuts

A typo in a one-sheet, a proposal, or an email to an agent isn’t a deal-breaker by itself. A typo doesn’t spell instant doom rather than success. But if it has many typo friends…

  • Computer grammar, spelling, and punctuation checkers leave red flags for writers. Or double blue lines. Or red squiggly lines. Successful authors take time to consider and correct, when needed. Ignoring red flags is a mark of a writer in too much of a hurry, or unobservant.
  • Typos in a one-sheet don’t leave a good first impression.
  • Multiple typos in an email query sometimes keep agents from going any deeper into consideration. It takes very little time to proofread an email. In an email as important as a query, not spending a few moments to proofread is a path away from rather than toward success.
Marketing Plan Shortcuts

When creating the marketing plan section of a proposal, a writer who takes a shortcut–or a cookie cutter approach–may miss opportunities to win the heart of an agent or editor. What shortcuts might derail potential success?

  • Listing only local library or bookstore events.
  • Including what the author is willing to do, rather than what the author will do.
  • Noting that the author will cooperate with the publisher. That’s a given. More effective are the marketing plans that include innovative ideas that don’t merely “get the word out” but are likely to net actual sales.

Rather than settling for shortcuts, successful authors dig in, put in the work, and consider the time investment a small price to pay.

What other shortcuts are writers tempted to take?

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