Merry Christmas!

Susan and I want to wish all of you a very, merry Christmas. We’ve had a blast doing the blog this past year and meeting with many of you at conferences, or chatting in email. Your individual notes and comments to us have been a great encouragement.

Those who have been clients, we do appreciate you and pray good things for you writing! For everyone’s writing.

The publishing industry may be making changes as the economy quakes, but our God is not surprised or caught off guard. He’s well aware and even better, in control.

We cannot judge our publishing success or opportunities by the world, but by Him. He can make a road way in the wilderness, a river in the desert. Keep your heart and mind on Him, and be comforted by His peace.

As people fear the world and it’s economy, we have such a great opportunity to touch them with the Light within us, through our words and stories. They will be hungry for words of hope.

I recently had a non Christian reader tell me she felt such hope after reading “Love Starts With Elle.” How great to spread the love and fragrance of Jesus across the country to a woman I’ve never met.

God has a plan and destiny for all of us. In Matthew 16, Jesus said to Peter, “I give you the keys to the Kingdom.” Wow! Jesus HAS GIVEN us the keys to His Kingdom. He’s given us His robes of righteousness. What are we doing in pauper clothes? Worry, doubt, fear, pain from the past, hopelessness.

Let’s put on Jesus and His righteousness. He has such great love and desire for us, not only to fellowship face to face, but to walk out the destiny He’s had in mind since the foundation of the world.

Think of when you held your first child. Didn’t you dream? She’s going to be a prima ballerina, or a prize winning scientist. Or, he’s going to be the next Babe Ruth, or a best selling author.

Jesus has those same dreams and plans for us. Better yet, He is able to bring them about! I’m not talking about digging around our own souls and presenting to Him a product of our selfish ambition. I’m talking about standing before him, arms wide, head back, eyes closed, heart toward Him and saying, “You are so good, so good, I can trust you with my life and destiny. What do you have for me to do. I’ll do it.”

He’ll hear you, answer and launch you on an amazing journey. 

Don’t be afraid of being hidden, or to be seated at a table in the back. Jesus cannot resist a humble, unoffended heart.

Let’s commit to seek Him wholeheartedly in ’09. Be unoffended by friends, family, church, government. But seek Him.

We have some exciting things coming up in ’09. Susie and I will list our 2008 writing lessons. You’ll be amazed at what we learned. Like, “Duh, you didn’t know that?” 

Also, interviews with agent Steve Laube and editor Ami McConnell. Find out why she calls authors “Rock Stars.”

Merry Christmas!

Strengthening a scene vs. rearranging words?

Now, what is the difference between strengthening a scene and re-arranging the words?

 

Strengthening a scene is discovering the emotional significance to the scene, the way it will affect the overall book, and milking it for the reader. Using setting and dialogue and body language and disappointment and WORDS to cut to the heart of a character.

 

 

Let’s take a look at the editing process in an actual scene. Below are three excerpts…the original, the edit, and the final product. See if you can see how I applied my editing checklist to strengthen the scene. This is the prologue from In Sheep’s Clothing.

 

Prologue

 

Five more minutes and she would be safe.

Gracie Benson hunched her shoulders and pulled the woolly brown scarf over her forehead, praying desperately her guise as a Russian peasant worked. Fear roiled through her as the train engine thundered through the station. She bristled, watching an elderly gentleman gather his bags, two canvas duffels, and shuffle across the cement platform. Would he turn, and scream, “Foreigner!” in the tongue that now drove fear into her American bones?

Without a glance at her, he joined the throng of other passengers moving toward the train as it rumbled by, one forest-green colored wagon after another. Another man, dressed upscale in a three-piece black silk suit fell in behind him. Gracie stiffened. Did he glance her way? Help me, Lord!

She didn’t know whom to trust after this morning’s horrific events.

The train slowed, ground to a stop, and hissed. Gracie shuffled forward, in keeping with her disguise of tired village maiden. She clutched a worn nylon bag in one hand — her black satchel safely tucked inside — and fisted the folds of her headscarf with the other. The smell of diesel fuel and dust hovered over the platform like a fog. Cries of good-bye drifted from well-wishing relatives, for others more fortunate and less alone than she.

Casting a furtive glance beyond the crowd, she caught sight of a militia officer. Fear coiled in her stomach. The soldier, dressed in muddy green fatigues, had an AK-47 hung over his shoulder like a fishing basket, and leaned lazily against the entrance doors, paying her no mind.

Hope lit inside her. Freedom beckoned from the open train door.

Stepping up to the conductor, she handed the woman her wadded ticket. The conductor glared at her as she unfolded the slip of paper. Gracie dropped her gaze and acted servile, her heart in her throat. The conductor paused only a moment before punching the ticket and motioning for Gracie to enter.

Gracie hauled up her jean skirt and climbed aboard.  

The train smelled of hot vinyl and aged wood. The body odor of previous passengers clung to the walls, and grime pooled along the edges of a brown linoleum floor. Gracie bumped along the narrow corridor until she found her compartment. She’d purchased the entire private berth with the intent of slamming the door, locking it from inside and not cracking it open until she reached Vladivostok. The U.S. Consulate, only ten minutes from the train station, meant safety and escape from the nightmare.

Surely Evelyn’s assassin wouldn’t follow her to America.

 

 

 

Prologue with edits

 

If the train trudged any slower into the station, American missionary Gracie Benson would be dead by sunset. Five minutes. Twenty steps. Then she’d be safely aboard.

God obviously wasn’t on her side. Not today, at least.

Then again, He certainly didn’t owe her any favors. Not after her fruitless two years serving as a missionary in Russia.

Gracie purposely kept her gaze off heaven as she Five more minutes and she would be safe.

Gracie Benson hunched her shoulders and pulled the woolly brown scarf over her forehead. , Please, please let her guise as a Russian peasant work. praying desperately her guise as a Russian peasant worked. The train huffed its last, then belched, and Gracie jumped. Hold it together, Grace. Long enough to fool the conductor, and find her berth on the train for Vladivostok. Fear roiled through her as the train engine thundered through the station. Then she could finally slam the compartment door on this horrific day – no, on this entire abysmal chapter of her dark life. So much for finding redemption as a missionary in Russia. She’d settle for getting out of the country alive.

She tensed bristled, watching an elderly man dressed in the ancient Russian garb of worn fake leather jacket, wool pants, and a fraying beret gentleman gather his bags, two canvas duffels, and shuffle across the cement platform. Would he turn, and scream, “Foreigner!” in the tongue that now drove fear into her American bones?

Without a glance at her, he joined the throng of other passengers moving toward the train as it rumbled by, one forest-green colored wagon after another. Another man, dressed mafia-style in a crisp black leather jacket and suit pants, upscale in a three-piece black silk suit fell in behind him. Gracie stiffened. Did he glance her way? Help me, Lord!  

Just because God wasn’t listening didn’t mean she couldn’t ask. The irony pricked her eyes with tears. This morning’s events had whittled down her list of trustworthy souls in Russia to a fine point. She’d give all the rubles in her pocket for someone like her cousin,

Chet, FBI agent extraordinaire, to yank her out of this nightmare into safety.

Not that she would give any man a chance to introduce himself before decking him. She’d been down that road once. Never was too soon to trust another man within arm’s distance.

She didn’t know whom to trust after this morning’s horrific events.

The train slowed, ground to a stop, and hissed. Gracie shuffled forward, in keeping with her disguise of tired village maiden. She clutched a worn nylon bag in one hand — her black satchel safely tucked inside — and fisted the folds of her headscarf with the other. The smell of diesel fuel and dust soured the breathable air and cries of good-bye The smell of diesel fuel and dust hovered over the platform like a fog. Cries of goodbye drifted from well-wishing relatives, for others more fortunate and less alone than she. from well-wishing relatives pooled grief in Gracie’s chest. Poor Evelyn.

Biting back grief, Gracie cast Casting a furtive glance beyond the crowd and, she caught sight of a militia officer. Fear coiled in her stomach. The soldier, dressed in muddy green fatigues, had an AK-47 hung over his shoulder like a fishing basket, and leaned lazily against the entrance doors, paying her no mind.

Hope lit inside her. Freedom beckoned from the open train door.

Stepping up to the conductor, she handed the woman her wadded ticket. The conductor glared at her as she unfolded the slip of paper. Gracie dropped her gaze and acted servile, her heart in her throat. Please, please. The conductor paused only a moment before punching the ticket and moving aside motioning for Gracie to enter.

Gracie hauled up her jean skirt and climbed aboard.

The train resonated with age in the smell of hot vinyl and polished wood. The train smelled of hot vinyl and aged wood. The body odor of previous passengers clung to the walls, and grime pooled along the edges of a brown linoleum floor. Gracie bumped along the narrow corridor until she found her compartment. She’d purchased the entire private berth with the intent of slamming the door, locking it from inside and not cracking it open until she reached Vladivostok. The U.S. Consulate, only ten minutes from the train station, meant safety and escape from the nightmare.

Surely Evelyn’s assassin wouldn’t follow her to America. 

Escape from the memories. Surely Evelyn’s killer wouldn’t follow Gracie to America.

 

 

 

Final Prologue

 

If the train trudged any slower into the station, American missionary Gracie Benson would be dead by sunset. Five minutes. Twenty steps. Then she’d be safely aboard.

God obviously wasn’t on her side. Not today, at least.

Then again, He certainly didn’t owe her any favors. Not after her fruitless two years serving as a missionary in Russia.

Gracie purposely kept her gaze off heaven as she hunched her shoulders and pulled the woolly brown scarf over her forehead. Please, please let her guise as a Russian peasant work. The train huffed its last, then belched, and Gracie jumped. Hold it together, Grace. Long enough to fool the conductor and find her berth on the train for Vladivostok. Then she could finally slam the compartment door on this horrific day – no, on this entire abysmal chapter of her dark life. So much for finding redemption as a missionary in Russia. She’d settle for getting out of the country alive.

She tensed, watching an elderly man dressed in the ancient Russian garb of worn fake leather jacket, wool pants, and a fraying beret gather his two canvas duffels and shuffle across the cement platform. Would he recognize her and scream, “Foreigner!” in the tongue that now drove fear into her American bones?

Without a glance at her, he joined the throng of other passengers moving toward the forest-green passenger cars. A younger man, dressed mafia-style in a crisp black leather jacket and suit pants, fell in behind the old man. Gracie stiffened. Did he look her way? Help me, Lord!

Just because God wasn’t listening didn’t mean she couldn’t ask. The irony pricked her eyes with tears. This morning’s events had whittled down her list of trustworthy souls in Russia to a fine point. She’d give all the rubles in her pocket for someone like her cousin, Chet, FBI agent extraordinaire, to yank her out of this nightmare into safety.

Not that she would give any man a chance to introduce himself before decking him. She’d been down that road once. Never was too soon to trust another man within arm’s distance.

Gracie shuffled forward, in keeping with her disguise of tired village maiden. She clutched a worn nylon bag in one hand — her black satchel safely tucked inside — and fisted the folds of her headscarf with the other. The smell of diesel fuel and dust soured the breathable air and cries of good-bye from well-wishing relatives pooled grief in Gracie’s chest. Poor Evelyn.  

Biting back grief, Gracie cast a furtive glance beyond the crowd and caught sight of a militia officer. The soldier, dressed in muddy green fatigues, hung an AK-47 hung over his shoulder like a fishing basket, and leaned lazily against a cement column, paying her no mind.

Hope lit inside her. Freedom beckoned from the open train door.

Stepping up to the conductor, she handed the woman her wadded ticket. The conductor glared at her as she unfolded the slip of paper. Gracie dropped her gaze and acted servile, her heart in her throat. Please, please. The conductor paused only a moment before punching the ticket and moving aside.

The train resonated with age in the smell of hot vinyl and polished wood. The body odor of previous passengers clung to the walls, and grime crusted the edges of a brown linoleum floor. Gracie bumped along the narrow corridor until she found her compartment. She’d purchased the private berth with the intent of slamming the door, locking it from inside and not cracking it open until she reached Vladivostok. The U.S. Consulate, only ten minutes from the train station, meant safety and escape from the nightmare.

Escape from the memories. Surely Evelyn’s killer wouldn’t follow Gracie to America.

 

 

 

Of course, there are entire books written on editing…the best being Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Get it, study it, and edit your book to greatness!

 

I hope you’re getting ready to submit your proposal to an agent or editor!  Stop by next week – we’ll be featuring an interview from Ami McConnell, editor at Thomas Nelson!

 

And, drop us a comment – how far are you on your story? 

 

 

The Knock on the door: Query Letters!

Now that you are tying up your threads for your synopsis, and packing it with a punch, have written those amazing sample chapters…now it’s time to put it in a cheery, compelling package and knock on the agent’s door. 

 

Aka: the Query letter.  A query letter is that first meeting, (unless, of course, you meet at a conference!), where you pitch your idea to an editor.  It’s what will get your toe in the door, so it has to be something that makes the editor take notice, and shows them how your book will be the Next Hot Thing.

 

What makes a good Query Letter? Let’s take it apart….

 

1.. A compelling, succinct first paragraph hook

2.. A summary of your book in 2-3 sentences

3.. Where it fits into the publishing world

4.. Who you are and why you can successfully pull off this book

5.. The mechanics of the ms – where you’re at in production.

 

The Hook:

In my opinion, the most important part of the Q letter is the beginning hook. This is

where you get the editors attention, the part that will make her stop from tossing all your

hard work into the circular file. Consider how many proposals channel through an editors

desk in one month and this thought alone should impress you on the importance of the

hook.

 

1. What is a hook?

It’s the who, what, and why of the story. It’s the juiciest tidbit, the selling aspect that

makes YOUR story different from the rest. This is where you take your 3-4 big bang

paragraph, boil it down to the MOST important aspect, and highlight it. You want to

create questions, interest. And, you should do it in less than 100 words.

 

For example, in my Query Letter for Happily Ever After, I wrote:

Mona Reynolds is running home, to Deephaven, MN, to open her dream bookstore.. Joe

Michaels has never stopped running. He is merely slowing down to visit a brother he

barely knows. When Mona’s dreams begin to crumple, Joe is conveniently there to save

her. But when dreams turn to disaster, is Joe the man she hopes he is? Or is he someone

much, much different.

 

The key here is to NOT give away the details, but to think like a marketing person and

find JUST the juiciest tidbits. Think of the blurbs on the back of books.they grab you, and

much of the time, based on that 100 word summary, you purchase the book. That is what

you’re aiming for.

 

2. Summary of your book:

What is the theme and the take-away message of your book? You must get very creative,

descriptive and frugal in this section of your query letter. The key is to say as much as

possible about the book, in terms of its content, as possible in 2-4 sentences. Query

Letters should be 1 page only. The editor just doesn’t have time to read more than that.

Here is what I wrote for Happily Ever After:

 

Through a myriad of disasters including a family of roaches, a house fire, a saboteur and

finally the unveiling of Joe’s secrets, Joe and Mona discover that when they turn their

hopes over to the Lord, He will satisfy their wildest dreams and fulfill the longings of

their hearts.

 

3. Where does it fit in the market?

Is your book a stand alone? The first in a series? Why is it unique. This is the paragraph

where you really sell your book. Go ahead, tell the editor why it is great, and tell her

where it will fit in their lineup. Definitely do some research and know what the publisher

offers. DON’T try and sell a romance to a publisher who doesn’t publish romance.

However, pump up those traits your book does have.

 

Here is my marketing paragraph. Note that I am selling the series, as well as book one.

Set in the fictional, picturesque tourist town of Deephaven, northern Minnesota, Invasion

of Privacy is also the first in a three part collection entitled, “The Deep Haven Series.”

Each book tells the story of a woman, running from the storms of life and searching for a

home, who discovers true love and the inner peace that only a deep relationship with God

can bring. The series combines the threads of mystery, suspense and spiritual searching

with heartwarming tales of love, and weaves them into satisfying romances set it in a

town we’d all love to visit. Attached is a short summary of the series and the titles in the

collection.

 

4. Who are you and why can you write this book?

In one or two sentences, highlight your publishing credits. If you don’t have any, list the

reasons why you are an authority to write this story. Obviously, I could pull off Russian

stories with some degree of authenticity because of my missionary experience. And my

first book with Tyndale was a “found my true love in Russia” story.

 

5.The mechanics.

This paragraph simply explains how long the book is, how much you have written,

whether your proposal is out to other publishers as well, and tells them the items you’ve

included in your package. And, of course, thank the editor for his or her time in reading

the proposal.

 

Those are the basics of a good query letter. They say that the query letter hooks your

reader on your idea, the synopsis hooks them on your ability to weave a story. And, of

course, the sample chapters hook them on your writing ability.

 

We’re having a delicious blizzard up here in Northern MN – I hope you have a cozy weekend as you write your query letters!  See you next week for some…editing!

 

Give me a sample! (Sample Chapters)

Let’s talk just a moment about Sample Chapters.

 

Every proposal package include sample chapters for the story you are proposing. Even if

you are a multi-published author, you will have to write sample chapters for new

contracts with new publishers, so it is wise to learn how to write them now.

 

There are so many elements to writing decent sample chapters, and we’ve covered most of those topics over the past year, but I felt we needed to touch on them in order to fully cover the proposal package.

 

When new authors read “Sample Chapters” in the submission requirements of an editor or publisher’s website, sometimes they are tempted to think… “I’ll pick my BEST chapters…chapter one, chapter eight, and chapter twenty-two.”  Delete that thought.  Editors DO NOT want to see a set of random chapter.  They want to see the FIRST THREE CHAPTERS.  They want to see how the story flows, along with your voice and developing characterization.  So, when you see the words Sample Chapters, think: The First Three Chapters.  (Although, if you have a SHORT prologue, you can include it.  If, however, you have a prologue that is five pages long (and, really, you shouldn’t, but that’s another discussion), include it as one of your First Three Chapters.)

 

Your sample chapters  the beginning of your story.  By chapter 3 you should have jump-started your plot and have the h/hn already engaged in conflict. Think of the synopsis as

your editor’s first introduction to your writing…the teaser, so to speak. The sample chapters

are where they fall in love with your style.

 

You want to make sure your characters are compelling, your story riveting. Refer to your threads and be sure to throw in that first obstacle, and hint at their darkest fear. Most of all, leave the editor wanting more.

 

When you prepare your sample chapter, refer to the publisher’s guidelines as to format.

Some want a specific type style and margins. Always put a header on top with your name

and the name of the ms and page number in upper left hand corner.

 

I usually spend at least two weeks on my sample chapters. It pays to take the time to get it

right. Usually a good proposal takes me a month…1 week for research, 2 for sample

chapters, and 1 for synopsis/query and polish. Don’t rush it. Once they review your work,

if they turn it down, it is hard to get a second chance.

 

Tomorrow we’re going to overview the QUERY LETTER – that first knock on the editor/agent’s door.