Monday, January 31, 2011

Paralyzing Fear

Paralyzing fear, also known to those of us who scribble as a living as writer’s block. Most writers have experienced this at some point in their career. Traditionally, we define it as a time when the well runs dry in the middle of a project.

I have a different opinion. I’ve talked with (okay, occasionally ambushed) many writers over the years and find the conversation might go something like this.

Me: “Have you ever had to deal with writer’s block?”

Anonymous Writer: “No, never. Once I start a project I just keep going, no matter what I’m feeling.”

Me: “What about before you begin a project? Have you ever postponed it because you doubt your ability to do it justice? Or maybe you needed to think about it some more - just work out the details in your head?"

At this point the person I’m speaking with usually takes a step back and begins to hem and haw. Most writers don’t include being afraid to start a project, as writer’s block. I would beg to differ – anything that keeps you paralyzed and unable to write is, by definition, writer’s block.

Funny thing is that the people who suffer most from writer’s block are writers who’ve had a modicum of success. Maybe they’ve won a contest or two, or written regularly. Far more often I find that they’re afraid they can’t live up to what’s gone before. I also find it crops up when a writer is trying a new genre. They might be going from fiction to non-fiction, or from writing devotions to writing a column or even romance to science fiction. Let’s face it, trying something new is always a daunting prospect.

Now that we’ve defined it, how do we combat it?
  • First, quit putting it off. Make a commitment to spend a certain amount of time in front of the computer – writing – and do it. Sound hard? Of course it is, otherwise everyone would be a writer.
  • Begin by writing what you’re afraid of. Fear of failure? Write why it matters. Fear of inadequacy? Define it. You’ll find that it looks small and a little silly when you actually write it down.
  • Next, remember how you got here. Recognition in the writing world comes (99.9% of the time) from putting in time. It comes from being willing to let others see your work and getting back at it after rejection. Give yourself some credit – you’re obviously not a wimp, or you wouldn’t be trying to become a writer.
  • Finally, give yourself permission to try and fail. Just because this one project doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. I would say the contrary is true. If everything you’ve tried, succeeded, maybe you’re not trying much.
So get out there, quit procrastinating under the guise of ‘I have to think this through before I start.’ Blow a raspberry at writer’s block and hit those keys!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Recently there have been several questions on the ACFW loop regarding writing and selling novellas. Today I am going to discuss marketing novellas.

Recently Barbour (my publisher) created quite a stir by announcing that in 2012 they will be releasing a total of 26 novella collections—13 historical, 13 contemporary, for a whopping total of 104 novellas. They are already awarding contracts, so the competition is on!

Steeple Hill (publisher of 2010 Carol award winner for historical novella), Tyndale House (publisher of 2010 Carol award winner for contemporary novella) and White Rose Publishing also publish novellas. There may be others, but I’m not certain.

Since my experience is with Barbour (four novellas), I will speak to their process. The steps are fairly simple:

1. Decide whether you want a contemporary or historical setting.

2. Assemble a team. This must include at least two established Barbour authors (and three is better).

3. Choose a geographical setting and a theme. Consider the following titles of the Christmas novellas from this year, that give you both in a few words:

  • Christmas Mail-Order Brides: Four Mail-Order Brides Travel the Transcontinental Railroad in Search of Love
  • A Door County Christmas: Four Romances Warm Hearts in Wisconsin's Version of Cape Cod
  • A Riverwalk Christmas: Four Couples Find Love in Romantic San Antonio
  • A Woodland Christmas: Four Couples Find Love in the Piney Woods of East Texas

4. Prepare the proposal. Elements will include: (Hint: Becky prefers single space.)

  • Blurb summarizing anthology
  • Blurbs summarizing each of the four novellas
  • Bible verse for each novella
  • Synopsis for each novella (1 page preferred)
  • First chapter for authors not previously published with Barbour
  • Author bios

5. Choose one person to submit the proposal to editor Becky Germany. . .and prepare to wait. She generally will contract the manuscript six months prior to the manuscript due date.

Although the process is fairly simply, I have noticed some common mistakes from non-Barbour authors:

1. Send a proposal for a single novella—proposals must be made for the anthology as a whole.

2. A group submits a proposal without the required two-three Barbour authors.

3. The novella reads more like women’s fiction than romance (this gets into how to write a novella, a topic I will address later if there is interest.)

4. The story deals with a topic too complex for the novella format.

Check out the December 16th post at for more on Barbour’s requirements.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Importance of a Name - Why We Need to Get it Right

Many of you may assume this post has to do with naming characters, but it doesn’t. Today I want to share about the importance of names in the context of the business end of writing.

So many times writers agonize over naming characters within their manuscripts, but don’t get the name of the editor they’re querying correct. Or they try to network with someone and get his or her name wrong. This is a HUGE mistake. Sure, this person will remember you, but chances are it’ll be in a negative way. Names are critical when you’re interacting with people.

Some of us have difficult and ambiguous names – like mine. When I was the Managing Editor for Centered Magazine I constantly had writers querying me—Mr. Eddie Melson or worse Mr. Eddie Nelson. My first impulse with those queries was to hit the delete button and that’s usually what I did. Why? Because their lack attention made me think if they couldn’t get my name right, they probably had a lot of other mistakes in their writing.

Writing is a highly competitive business. Don’t start out with strikes against you just because you didn’t bother to double check the spelling of someone’s name. When I was first starting out, I remember getting a lead from John Riddle, an instructor at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. As I carefully copied down the information of whom to query he made a comment I’ll never forget. “Be sure you spell the editor’s name correctly. She won’t even open your email if her name is misspelled.” That advice was golden and I’ve never forgotten it!

A lot of this business involves referrals and leads from other writers, so networking is critical. Because of that it’s also important to make certain you get the name correct when you’re posting a comment on someone’s blog or sending them an email. I read a blog last week, written by a blogger named Kathy and the first comment posted was addressed to Katy. Big mistake. It could have been a typo, but it also could mean the person commenting wasn’t paying attention. Either way, it leaves a poor impression—not just to the blogger, but to anyone who reads that blog.

Here are some things I do to help me slow down and make certain I’m getting the name correct.

  • Write it Down – I keep a scratch pad next to my computer and I always write down the name of the person I’m referring to. Writing it in longhand somehow helps engage my brain and acts as a way to double check my accuracy.
  • Check the Gender – so many names can be either masculine or feminine. Most websites and blogs have pictures (Centered Magazine had pictures of everyone on staff making it easy to see that I’m a woman) so I try to check that way. If it’s a blog and there’s no picture, I look at previous comments to see how most people have referred to the person – male or female.
  • Add to My Contacts – if I’m going to make a comment on someone’s blog or query an editor, I add them to my contacts list. This helps me find them again without searching the Internet and it gives me another way to double check their name.
Words are our business—and that includes names—so when we write, we need to be accurate and diligent.

What are some ways you ensure your accuracy? Has anyone ever misspelled your name? How did you feel?

Sunday, January 9, 2011


A year ago I was just beginning my relationship with the Book Doctor. Have twelve months truly passed? Thanks for coming along on the ride with me.

For the new year, I talked about goal setting. Still important. This year finds me in a different place. I need inspiration. Do you feel the same way? Or did the calendar page turn find you eager to start anew?

Here are some of the places I've found inspiration during this season of struggle and self-doubt:

  • Friends. One friend wisely pointed that I have entered a new stage in my writing career, and of course I should expect problems with adjustment, but that it would come. Wow! I'm perfectly normal.
  • Rest. I've been sick for four weeks with the same cold/intestinal bug that is bothering a lot of people this winter. So I've gone to the doctor, taken my medicine, rested extra and tried to take care of myself.
  • God's Word. From the challenge in Proverbs to live a disciplined line to the promise in 1 Corinthians that God has affirmed the gifts of speaking and knowledge within me, God gives me that little bit of encouragement and challenge I need every day.
  • Tune out. After a week of "playing" on the computer instead of writing, I decided to do something drastic. I left the computer off until the evening and wrote everything longhand. It worked!
  • Family. I spent a wonderful evening with my engaging toddler granddaughter Jordan, once again seeing the world through her eyes.
  • Deadlines. A powerful motivator to fix the problem.

What are some things you need to renew and renergize when life gets you down?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Clichés—Out With the Old, In With the New

We've rung in the New Year and vowed to turn over a new leaf. As part of your writing resolutions I want to challenge you to man up and join the fight against clichés. These tired phrases, many as old as the hills, are begging to be put to rest. 

Here are just a few reasons to leave the tried and true behind and chart a new path with your writing style. 
  • Clichés keep you from growing as a writer—if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
  • Clichés encourage the reader to miss what you’re saying—after all, familiarity breeds contempt.
  • Clichés are the mark of a lazy writer—only writers who keep their noses to the grindstone will succeed in this dog eat dog business. 

But seriously, here are a few of the benefits to thinking before you write. (Ha—tricked you) 
  • Saying something in a new way gives your writing depth—in this day and time a successful writer is one who can stand out above the rank and file.
  • It keeps your readers interested by keeping them guessing—no writer wants a reader as an armchair quarterback.
  • Finding a new way to describe something keeps your writing muscles toned—no guts, no glory.

Just in case you've caught onto the tongue in cheek nature of this post I want to commend you. And to those who have just managed to catch a clue, I say, better late than never.

Now I’ll cut to the chase. I challenge you to guess how many clichés are found in this post. So knuckle down and force yourself to reread this labor of love and mark my words.  No, really—mark my words—make a list and check it twice and leave a comment with your best guess of how many clichés I've used.

Here’s a hint before you join in the fun and games. Some of these are older than dirt and will lead you on a trip down memory lane. While others are so recent they almost seem to have been born yesterday. So don’t throw in the towel without giving it the old college try. Perhaps you’ll get your moment of glory as you give this post the litmus test.

After all, every dog has its day.