Friday, January 28, 2011

Guest blog by Client Roger Bruner

If I Had it to Do All Over Again

Now that Found in Translation has come out and Lost in Dreams is set to release in July or August, this year is fast becoming one of the most exciting times in my life. I never expected my 65th year to be so special, and only God knows how much better it can get.

So why think about “if I had it to do all over again” while I’m on such a wonderful high? To borrow one of the sayings President John F. Kennedy was famous for, let me say this about that.

I’ve been a writer all of my life: poetry, songs, dramatic monologs, short plays, articles, user documentation, and technical articles. When I unexpectedly ended up in an hourly, part-time job after three full-time, years-long, professional careers, I decided to take advantage of the extra free time and pursue my post-retirement dream—writing and publishing a novel—a few years earlier than I’d originally anticipated.

The story I had in mind seemed good; romantic, amusing, and full of conflict, it ended with an impromptu parade to celebrate the engagement of two protagonists who’d had the hardest time admitting they loved one another. Basing my characters (very loosely!) on my wife and me was good fun.

The only writing books I owned at the time I wrote I Started a Joke were a dictionary and The Elements of Style, left over from my college English days. Although I loved reading, I’d failed to notice how drastically novels had changed since college. No longer were the wordy James Micheners of the world—I probably have one of the most complete libraries of Michener books in existence—in the forefront of fiction.

But I knew that getting a book published by a royalty publisher could take a lifetime—or at least a number of decades—and I was impatient to get my work out there for the world to see and enjoy. I rationalized that I was too old for that kind of wait. So I self-published with a reputable, online Print on Demand (POD) outfit. Like Frank Sinatra, I was proud to have done it my way—and thrilled with the finished product. I Started a Joke listed on Amazon and several other online bookseller sites, and I thought I had it made.


Although several local bookstores carried copies on consignment—I don’t think my books were responsible for those places going out of business—and invited me to do signings, few of my books sold. And I was too interested in writing the next novel to “waste” time on marketing.

I started going to Christian writers conferences. Learned some things I hadn’t known. Hmm. Bought some writing books—a lot of ‘em, judging by the size of the bookcase beside the computer hutch. Oh? I should do a, b, and c and avoid doing x, y, and z. Gee! Showed sample pages to published authors. Ugh! Everything I’d done in that POD-published book was wrong. No wonder it wasn’t selling.

I probably wouldn’t have bought it, either. Not at the publisher-assigned price, which I understand is a typical problem with Print on Demand.

I eventually concluded I didn’t want that book out there representing me as a novelist. It was an embarrassment. I could do SO much better once I learned how. So I made I Started a Joke unavailable and pretended some other Roger Bruner had written it. I tell the few people who have copies—I gave away most of the 130 or so in existence for promotional purposes—that those books ought to be worth at least a quarter at yard sales if I ever “make it big.” Or perhaps donate them to writing instructors to use as examples of how not to write a novel.

Then I did what I should have done first; I settled down to learn more about the craft of writing fiction. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I learned all about not starting with backstory. Hooking the reader in the first sentence. Deleting unnecessary words. Using beats instead of attributions. Making dialog simulate rather than duplicate real speech. Showing and not telling. More things than I could ever try to, uh, show you here.

But how did it all fit together? Especially when writing authorities couldn’t agree on the rules, effectively converting them into strong suggestions and even stronger opinions. I admired the writing book authors who admitted they were just talking about what worked for them.

The most important lesson I’ve learned over the last five or six years? Learning to write well is a lifelong process. I’ll never stop learning or wanting to write better. I’ll never be satisfied. But I can and should make every new book better than its predecessor. If not, I’m cheating—myself, my readers, God. I especially recommend not cheating Him; He gave me whatever talent I have.

After writing a second novel and not even thinking about self-publishing, I wrote a third, Found in Translation. The short story version had already placed tenth in a competition, and in 2006 the novel version won the first place novel competition at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. An editor from a company that didn’t publish novels loved it; he really hoped his company would start publishing novels. Surely an offer would soon come from somewhere.

Wrong again.

At a subsequent conference, I showed the first page to writing expert James Scott Bell. “You didn’t start with a scene.” I hadn’t learned as much as I’d thought. But after I cut the first fifty pages and wrote a new beginning, another acquisitions editor who couldn’t use Found in Translation fell in love with my writing and helped me get Terry Burns as an agent. A year later, I had contracts for two novels with the possibility of more. (Good work, Terry, and thanks!)

So what is this “if I had it to do it all over again”? Just a few musings I’m offering at far beneath retail price. But be wary. YMMV. Your mileage may vary.

Self publishing is fine if you have a platform for selling. Don’t go in debt to do it, though. Be ready to market every one of your published books—even if you don’t want to. Don’t be in too much of a rush to have your manuscript published; you can always improve something you think you’ve finished. Develop a thick skin as you ask the experts for help. But remember they won’t always agree, and story trumps all of the rules. And sometimes you just have to go with your own instincts.

But don’t let being yourself—developing your own voice—serve as an excuse to write less than your best. Always strive to do better next time.

I’ll race you to the bookstore! First one there buys.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest blog by Client Rosetta D. Hoessli

Listen to the Voices: Writing Narrative Nonfiction
Rosetta D. Hoessli

            The term ‘narrative nonfiction’ is really just a high-falutin’ way of saying that you’ve written a true story that reads like a novel. It sounds simple enough, but the process isn’t as easy as you might think.
While you’re fortunate to have your plot laid out for you (it is a true story, after all) and you already know that your facts must be thoroughly documented and well- organized, those aren’t the most challenging aspects of writing narrative nonfiction. The most difficult—and rewarding—part is ‘channeling’ each character through your own psyche and out onto the written page—and doing it truthfully.
Now, this isn’t really as spooky as it sounds. While you, the author, need to become each character in order to tell his/her story with drama and authenticity, there’s a procedure for this. It’s time-consuming and often exhausting for you to ‘find all the voices’ involved in your story, but as a ghostwriter and co-author, I swear by this technique.       
            The easiest way to begin this process, obviously, is to find out everything you can about your subject. If he’s famous or notorious enough for the internet to contain information about him, pour through it all. Track down his contacts through books, newspapers or magazine articles, then hit up each person willing to talk. Keep meticulous notes with every bit of information you can find. Begin an actual notebook (or a file on your computer) for each individual in your story and cram it full of details.
Then, begin the interview process with your main subject. This may take months, but look at it like you’re building a character in a novel, which is usually slow going. Transcribe each interview immediately after you’ve completed it, while the individual is still fresh in your mind, and add the transcript to his file.
As you transcribe each interview, add your own observations (far beyond the obvious). How does he laugh? What does his voice sound like? Does he have an accent? Perhaps he swears, uses unusual colloquialisms, drinks, smokes, talks with his hands. Is he comfortable in his surroundings? Is his handshake strong and reassuring, or soft and wimpy? Does he meet your eyes when he talks or does his gaze slide away from you like that of a sleazy car salesman?
Write down everything that occurs to you; you never know in the course of writing your book what you’re going to need. Place your notes at the appropriate segment in your transcribed interviews so that his way of expressing himself goes with your observations. Add as many candid photos of the individual as you can to his file, as well as pictures of his family, home, workplace, pets, favorite places to hang out. This will help you turn him into a real human being when you begin actually writing.
Tape record your own thoughts about this person right after each interview and then transcribe your recording. I find this to be far more effective than just writing down my impressions whenever the mood hits me, although I carry a notepad and recorder with me everywhere—in case I have an unexpected stroke of brilliance. Finally, keep your personal transcript and the transcript of your subject’s interview together so you don’t forget your sensory reactions (negative and positive) to him and his surroundings.
Writers of narrative nonfiction must remember that everyone has interesting flaws and foibles; no one is all good or all bad. If you do your homework and keep your notes organized so that you can immerse yourself in them when you begin the actual writing process, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to bring each character to life with truth and empathy.

*A freelance writer and editor, Rosetta D. Hoessli co-authored with Carolyn Huebner Rankin the narrative nonfiction book, Falling Through Ice (Crossover Publications LLC, Pearl, MS, 2011)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Terry's Client Jennifer Hudson Taylor

 My client, Jennifer Hudson Taylor is really hitting her stride.
Her book “Highland Blessings” is out and selling well. Highland Blessings is the story of a highland warrior who kidnaps the daughter of his greatest enemy and clan chief to honor a promise he made to his dying father. Bryce MacPhearson, a highland warrior, kidnaps Akira MacKenzie on her wedding day to honor a promise he made to his dying father. While Akira s strength in the Lord becomes a witness to Bryce, she struggles to overcome her anger and resentment when he forces her to wed him, hoping to end a half-century-old feud between their clans. While Akira begins to forgive, and Bryce learns to trust, a series of murders leaves a trail of unanswered questions, confusion, and a legacy of hate that once again rises between their families. Clearly, a traitor is in their midst. Now the one man Akira loves no longer trusts her, and her own life is in danger. Can Bryce look beyond his pain and seek the truth? Will Akira discover the threat against her before it s too late? How will God turn a simple promise into bountiful Highland blessings? The book may be ordered in print or for the Kindle by clicking here.

The followup to this book from Abingdon is her novel HIGHLAND SANCTUARY. Hired to restore Braigh Castle, a man discovers the hidden Village of Braigh and Serena Boyd, the mysterious, comely lass who captures his heart; the villagers have an intriguing secret and the land a profitable opportunity that leads to bitter betrayal, the sequel to Highland Blessings.

But that isn’t all. She has signed a contract for NEW GARDEN'S HOPE, a novella that is part of a four-novella collection entitled "The Quakers of New Garden," to Barbour Publications  for publication in February 2012.

Her Novella HEARTS INHERITANCE has been accepted as part of the four-novella collection titled "Highland Crossings" by Barbour Publications. 

Still more? Her novels FORBIDDEN CONQUEST, THE WAR WOMAN, and IMPERFECT PIECES, are set in Scotland then showing the migration to America, sold to Abingdon Press for publication in 2013 and 2014.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor is one to watch as she bursts onto the scene with strong writing and memorable characters. And she’s just getting started. Learn more about her at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

If you live near Amarillo

For those that might live close to Amarillo I'd like to invite you to the book launch and signing of my client Caron Guillo for her book "An Uncommon Crusade."

It is set this Saturday, January 22nd from 2-4 pm at the Hastings Book Store at 45th and Western. I'm surely going to be there supporting her, and her publisher, Written World Communications from Colorado Springs is supposed to be there as well. I expect there will be a nice attendance from the Amarillo-based "Panhandle Professional Writer's" group, so there should be writers galore, but hopefully there will be even more readers.

This historical novel begins in thirteenth century Germany at the dawn of an  ill-conceived peasant crusade and ends adecade later on a sprawling estate in Egypt, approaching itssubject from an evangelical perspective of hope andredemption.

 An Uncommon Crusade tells a lively story of faithlost and forgiveness found, painting the medieval settingwith vibrant strokes. 

Novelist Jack Cavanaugh writes,
“With warmth and humor, Guillo weaves an unforgettable
story of hope and perseverance in a cruel and unforgiving world.”
“Caron Guillo weaves a rich tapestry with Children of Light, ushering you into another time and place with characters you can't help but love. Her unique writing style blends three journeys into a powerful story of understanding, forgiveness, and transformation.”
                        Jodi Thomas, New York Times Bestseller 
                        Writer in Residence, West Texas A&M University 

Hope to see you there -

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guest Blog by Client Max Elliott Anderson

How to avoid writer’s block
by Max Elliot Anderson
* This was first printed on the blog

I have to say that writer’s block, or blank-screen-itis has never visited my writing. And this is true after completing 36 manuscripts. But maybe I cheat the system a little.

Here’s how.

I write action-adventures & mysteries especially for boys 8 and up. Before I begin writing a story, it’s been percolating in my mind for a couple of weeks at least. Finally the whole thing comes crashing in all at once. It’s at this time that I stop what I’m doing, pick up a recorder, and briefly tell myself the story, just as if I were telling it to a group of kids, or to my own children when they were young. After doing this, I know the beginning, the middle, and the end.

This gets typed and usually runs 8 – 10, single spaced pages. The notes are put into a file and set aside. I don’t look at those notes again until the first draft is finished.  I write as I go when it comes to the manuscript. It is only after that first draft is finished that I ever look at it or the original notes. I’m always amazed to see that all of the elements of the original story have found their way into the first draft. That has never failed yet.

Then, to get myself into the mood to write, I make sure to do a few things. Around my computer I place several photographs and any props that will help me think about the story and characters. Once I was writing about the Pacific Northwest, and logging. I went out and caught chipmunk and placed him in a small cage with cedar chips. At the end of the day I let him go but I wasn’t finished with the sequences in the woods. So the next day, I went out and caught another one. The sight of the chipmunk and the scent of the cedar helped set the mood.

The next thing I do is to always burn a candle next to the computer. I ONLY do this while writing. I never do it during brainstorming, editing, research, or reading a draft. The candle helps to take me to a different place.

Finally, I play mood appropriate music for the scene I’m writing. If it’s a funny scene I play comedy. A sad scene requires a single piano or violin. The music brings specific images into my mind as I write.

One more thing.

If I’m writing about a hot place, I like to write in the summer with the air off. If it’s a winter scene, I try to do those when it’s actually winter. I have written hot scenes in the winter, but that’s when I crank the heat way up high. I may have to stop doing that with the economy getting so rotten.

All of these elements, working together, go a long way toward setting the mood, conjuring up the proper images, suggesting dialog, and preparing the way to write. And using them, I have never faced a block of any kind. Not yet anyway.
Max Elliot Anderson grew up as a reluctant reader. After surveying the market, he sense the need for action-adventures and mysteries for readers 8 – 13, especially boys. Using his extensive experience in the production of motion pictures, videos, and television commercials, Mr. Anderson brings the same visual excitement and heart-pounding action to his stories. Each book has completely different characters, setting, and plot. Seven books are published, with an additional twenty-eight manuscripts completed. Young readers have reported that reading one of his books is like being in an exciting or scary movie. Visit Max online at the links below.
Books For Boys Blog
Author Web Site

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Books published on Kindle

Is the game changing?

I'm starting to get a lot of projects pitched to me that have already been published on Kindle. Do publishers look at that any different than they do being presented a book that is already published by any other method? I was pretty sure I knew the answer to that but I decided to survey a number of editors to see for sure. I phrased my question to not lead the answer in any manner.

I simply asked, " May I bother you with a question? I'm starting to get a number of people pitching projects to me that have already been e-published on Kindle. How does that affect you looking at a print project for the same manuscript? I'm surveying a few editors on it looking to frame a response. Hopefully this presents the question in such a way as not to lead the answer in any manner."

I got about the response that I was expecting. I wondered if a Kindle version would be considered the same as any self-published book and the answer appears to be that it is.

For your information the responses are breaking down like this:

7% say it would not matter to them either way.

20% say they would consider a self-pubbed or Kindle but the odds would be against them. 

57% said they would not buy one that had been self-pubbed or e-pubbed or would have to have the e-rights in the contract which most agree Amazon are not going to give up in most cases once they have a book on Kindle so for all practical purposes that is a no. 

Finally, 17% said they would consider it but only if significant sales numbers could be demonstrated.

Over 100 editors in both the mainstream and Christian market participated in the survey. Many thanked me for raising the question and wanted to see the results which I did send back to them. A few said it was a developing issue and a problem they were wrestling with.

Some individual responses that interested me included:

"This sparked an interesting discussion.  Basically, we'd view a Kindle edition as a self published version. For now, it's going to be harder to benchmark what makes a successful Kindle sales number.And if we were to  take a book that had been pubbed on Kindle (and its ebook kin), we'd expect electronic rights to be part of the package that we'd be buying, so previous ebook editions would have to go away prior to our publication."

"An interesting new development ... our current stance on that is we won't look at a manuscript previously published, whether it is self-published, ebook, or with a foreign publisher."

"We use Kindle and Nook editions in a huge way, both in promotions and sales. To have a competing (and unedited) edition out there would create problems, especially since Amazon will not remove a book from their site once it's been published."

"An interesting question, Terry. And thorny. We won't publish a book without acquiring electronic rights, so I'd recommend pulling the book from any sites before submitting it. Like any self-pubbed work, we'd want to know how widely it'd be distributed. So we would want to know how many downloads, it'd received."

"I think it would be a strike against it. Not necessarily a death blow. If the proposal were to show, for instance, very strong Kindle sales and if the proposal included perhaps a follow-up book not yet published on Kindle, that might help overcome the strike against it.   I think with every proposal that has something about it that might possibly bring a no vote from the committee, the author needs to offer something that counters that one strike. If he or she does so successfully, it might still work."

"Generally we are not interested in taking on anyone that has already put their books online.  One of the reasons is that in order to present that book to buyers of the major chains, our distributor has to present it at least six  months before the book's release. Those authors that are so anxious to release their books online don't realize they are, "shooting themselves in the foot," so to speak because once that book is released, it becomes a backlisted book and the buyers don't want anything to do with it."
"If sales are strong, that could help.  It could also help that the author may now have a sense of what it takes to publish a book. On the other hand, previously published can be difficult to pick up. Depends on the project. Thanks for asking!"

"In most cases I wouldn't buy the book, but in some cases I'd buy it and subtract the reasonable ebook revenue percentage of overall sales from my offer."

"Since we don't contract for print rights only, if a title is already published in any format, it usually precludes us from contracting at all. We do take some reprints (contracting both print and electronic rights), but usually from established authors who already have a readership and on titles that we feel will do well regardless of the fact that they have been previously released."

"It probably wouldn't affect the way I evaluate a manuscript much. It probably doesn't hurt, but it doesn't really help, unless it was clear the Kindle version had become a runaway success. If we decided to pursue the project, we'd request that the self-published version be pulled off Kindle so that it could be replaced with the final version."

"My answer would be no, not interested unless the author/circumstances were really unusual. It would really confuse the publishing process if there was a previous Kindle edition out there while we were trying to market our own Kindle version and other e-books.  Knowing Amazon, it probably isn't easy to withdraw a title from sale either, so requesting that the previous Kindle edition not be sold would be complicated as well."

"For us it would not necessarily be a barrier. Strong Kindle sales might indicate a market based on strong word of mouth. For us it would depend on the author and the platform the author brings. It would have to be exceptional to rise from the e-slush pile, however, if it had only so-so sales on Kindle."

"Fair question, Terry. The sticking point would be the e-rights--we pretty much aren't doing deals these days unless we can have e-book rights. There are, of course, ways around this, just as there are if an author has self-pubbed a book. But we would have to really, really want to acquire a book to go thru the contractual hoops needed.I'm not sure all of the authors who are happily e-pubbing with Amazon realize that they are perhaps cutting themselves off from the possibility of "mainstream publishing.""

"This is a good question and one that I've been thinking about for a few years, first with respect to self-pubbed books and more recently e-pubbed books. My short answer is that for review purposes, I view these as reprints more than original, unpublished manuscripts.Although they probably haven't saturated their respective markets, they have already had a presence in the marketplace which may have an impact on our ability to create a "new" book."

These opinions and discussion are helping us frame responses to incoming submissions and have a lot to do with the way we approach the handling of e-book rights in contracts. But I believe it is still an evolving issue and surely bears watching.