Archive for December, 2005

Measure a Year

December 31, 2005

Almost a year ago, I started these musings and stories about my life as a writer and editor. I’ve added to these posts more than 320 times. The end of the year is always a great time to take a few minutes to reflect on what happened and dream about what you have in the year ahead.  As I mentioned a year ago, I’ve given up on specific resolutions  since often they are easily changed or broken or forgotten. Instead I want to keep growing and changing to become better at my craft and better as a person.

As I look over the words I wrote a year ago, I’m going to provide a bit of accounting—which will hopefully help you in your own plans for 2006. I set out seven areas as a part of my ongoing growth. In terms of reading, this past year I read many books and manuscripts. It’s reflected in the occasional reviews that I pointed out in these entries. Today I completed the One Year Bible. It always feels good to read those final pages and reflect on my spiritual growth.  Also I plan my Bible reading program for the year ahead. Over the years, I’ve collected a number of these types of products and change from year to year for the variety and to add interest. In 2006, I’m going to return to The Daily Bible which takes the entire Bible and puts it into chronological order. If you haven’t seen this Bible I highly recommend it as something different. Recently Guideposts Books offered The Daily Bible to their direct mail market and sold over 200,000 copies.

In the areas of craft and trends, I continue to learn a great deal about the nitty gritty of publishing and some of those lessons have been reflected in these entries. For example, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to this NPR interview with Mike Wallace. I found his comment about no indiscreet question interesting and maybe you will as well.  I always try and learn from these seasoned journalists and usually I pick up something valuable for my own interviewing techniques.

In regards to books about writing, I’ve written about a number of these books that I’ve read throughout the year and the valuable lessons. I continue to read these books—in fact a new how-to writing books arrived yesterday. It’s something to anticipate for 2006. I continue to let people know about Book Proposals That Sell and I continue to receive good feedback about the contents. For example, this week I mailed over 600 postcards to various people within publishing to remind them about the availability of this book. I will continue to learn and practice the principles of PyroMarketing in the days ahead.

When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, I’ll admit that I don’t totally have that licked—but I’ve made great strides during 2005. I continue to consistently get on my treadmill and simply work at working out.  All of these diet books and weight loss plans boil down to a simple concept: “Eat less and exercise more.” It’s easy to say but hard to practice.

One key in this area of measuring a year is to keep moving ahead and attempting to have your priorities in order.  Am I perfect in these areas? Not even close but I continue to work at it and not give up. To me, it’s what counts.  While I haven’t made it to the musical, Rent and the movie version disappeared in the theaters before I could get to it, I appreciate one of the main songs called “Seasons of Love.”  As you close out 2005, reflect on these lyrics from the company of Rent:

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes – how do you measure,
measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In
inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes – how do you
measure a year in the life?
How about love? How about love? How about love? Measure in love. Seasons of love.

The Editor’s Search

December 30, 2005

It’s not rocket science to know what a book editor is looking for from an author. The manuscripts and book proposals and pitched ideas pour into the mailbox and email of various editors in publishing.  Many of those pitches (often the majority) are rejected quickly. For whatever reason, the author didn’t do their homework or the editor has already got another similar idea in the works or any number of other reasons. Yet the editor is constantly looking and open to new ideas. It’s why they take the time and energy to travel to writer’s conferences — some of which are way off the beaten path. They are looking for something different that will work for the needs of their particular publishing goals.

I’ve written about platform in these entries about the writing life. There are different ways to look at platform and one of those innovative concepts I’ve seen is called PyroMarketing. (If you haven’t heard about PyroMarketing, follow this link to some great insight.)  I was fascinated with an article in the December 19, 2005 issue of Publisher’s Weekly called “Who’s the Next Biz Guru? by Marcela Valdes. The article looks at business, personal finance and investing books in particular but some of the statements apply across the board to a much broader selection of books.  I recommend you read the full article and you have to be a subscriber or read the magazine at the public library. It isn’t available online except to subscribers.  I’m going to pull a couple of the universal thoughts from this article for you.

It’s almost like a mantra inside the publishing boardrooms and the editor’s search: platform. Here’s what Valdes writes, “Reading over the numerous articles on the topic, one could easily believe that platform alone unlocks the door to bestsellerdom. But for publishers looking to create bankable stars—the kind of mega-authors who stand at the helm of not just one, but a series of bestselling books—it’s time to recognize that platform isn’t enough.”  That’s my emphasis on the sentence underline. Then the article continues with some examples where a publisher believed an author’s platform was enough and invested in a book which didn’t perform as expected. As an editor and as a writer, I’ve been involved in several of these types of projects.  At the initial stages of a writing project, the publisher had high expectations. In some cases, they invested substantially in the author, the design of the book and marketing yet the book didn’t catch on and quickly faded into the out-of-print category.

Here’s the two sentences in Valdes article that stood out to me, “Add it all up, and you realize that any author who wants to compete in the financial big leagues needs a great, fresh idea; a proven track record; and a big, charismatic personality. Oh yeah, and one of those things called a platform.”

OK, I’m not writing this entry to discourage anyone.  The editor is searching for something more than visibility and an audience. They are searching for that fresh idea. Admittedly after you have been in this business for a while, you’ve been pitched the same idea over and over. Then when you hear something with a different spin or different insight, it stands out as something fresh.  To find one of these fresh ideas, you have to put some solid creativity into your book proposal and your pitch.  You may also shy away from the phrase “big, charismatic personality.” Most of writers are in the introvert category. We’d much rather curl up with a good book some where than stand out in front of millions on television or on the stage. (Did you notice how I categorized myself in that category? It’s true.)  Yet there is media training and coaching and skills to be taught in this area. I’ve seen any number of bestselling authors who when you meet them one on one are quiet and shy. Then when it comes time to walk on the stage or handle an interview, they reach down inside and come forward with that charismatic, attractive personality which draws readers to their message.

I believe in a creative God who will give us these fresh ideas and the ability to bring them into the marketplace in a creative way. It’s part of the optimistic spirit which I face each day—and hopefully something that will help each of you in your pursuit of excellence.

The Brad & Mary Interview — Part 4

December 29, 2005

I’m glad you’ve joined us for the fourth and final portion of the tag team interview between Mary DeMuth in France and Brad Whittington in Hawaii. Here’s the links to the other parts: part one, part two and part three.

Before we start, here’s a little about two more of their books (each of which have entered into these discussions):

Escape From Fred releases next month. New from 2004 Christy Award-winning author Brad Whittington. Mark Cloud (“the enormously appealing, literate, self-deprecating young hero,” says Publishers Weekly) escapes Fred, Texas, to relish the anonymity of college in the final book of this widely adored fiction series about a restless preacher’s kid in the 1970s. But the proverbial time of his life skips a beat when a series of catastrophes leads him back home and then on a soul-searching road trip through America’s heartland where his deepest questions have surprising answers.

Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God is a devotional aimed at the deeper issues of the heart and one that will provide a soothing respite amid chaos. Think of it as Oswald Chambers meets Busy Housewife. Writer, speaker, and stay–at–home mom Mary DeMuth creatively focuses on the gift of motherhood as she considers

* resting quietly in the Lord, even on crazy–busy days

*being thankful for the duties as well as the joys of being a mom

*offering God a heart to prune so that it can continue to bear good fruit

Personal stories integrated with scriptural truth and probing prayers will help everyday stay–at–home moms remain connected to the most amazing and extraordinary Parent of all parents.

Tag Team Interview Part 4 from 12/21/05

MaryD: Here’s where I am right now. The book’s been written, edited, endorsed, printed and is ready to rumble. Now comes the publicity element. Do you have any advice to give me in dealing with radio? Print media? Promotion stuff?

BradW: Get some.

MaryD: Thanks, I feel much better now.

BradW: Good. My work here is done.

MaryD: The reason I ask is that book number one didn’t have a publicist. But book number two and the two novels coming out this year do. So, I am readying myself for interviews. How did you handle that?

BradW: Well, aren’t you special?

MaryD: Oh very funny.

BradW: I can’t even spell publicist, much less have one. OK, OK, if you want to be serious, I can count the interviews I’ve done on one hand and still have fingers left over to pick my nose with.

MaryD: [Laughing] I guess that makes sense with fiction. But I do have a fiction publicist (NavPress ROCKS!).

BradW: Go ahead, rub it in. Broadman and Holman hooks up with a company that does a radio show interviewing novelists. I’ve done that twice, once for each of the first two books. But I’ve never heard a radio station that runs the show. Of course, I don’t listen to radio, so that might have something to do with it.

MaryD: Yeah, you think? So, here’s an aside to the listening audience. Listen in Detroit in January 2006. Sometime, somewhere I’ll be talking.

BradW: Oh, I forgot. I did one live radio spot in Honolulu. It was the morning drive show.

MaryD: Were you nervous?

BradW: Yes.

MaryD: Did you blather?

BradW: Yep.

MaryD: Well, at least I won’t be alone, then.

MaryD: Here’s another question. Who is that kid on your website. Tell me that’s not you.

BradW: It’s not me. But I’d love to meet the guy. He’s on the cover of Welcome to Fred. Great picture.

MaryD: I didn’t think so. You ought to get some horned rims though. They’re all the rage in France.

BradW: I’ll look into it.

MaryD: Good. I’m looking out for your image, Mr. W.

BradW: You’re all heart.

MaryD: Yep.

BradW: How about book signings? What has been your experience?

MaryD: Well, er, not many English Christian bookstores in Francy pants. I did have one when I flew home in March. It was a successful one, sold over forty books.

BradW: That’s a good signing. Getting in double digits is good for non-celebs like us.

MaryD: Yeah, but I neglected to mention (in my ego-pride-ness) that it was my mega-church’s bookstore and they publicized well. You? How many?

BradW: I did three booksignings in Texas and one in Honolulu for Welcome to Fred. For Living with Fred I did one at my church in Honolulu and one at the coffee shop where I wrote Escape from Fred, Common Groundz Cafe in Hawaii Kai. My experience is that the only people who buy a fiction book at a signing are people who were planning on buying the book anyway. Also, promoting for fiction and non-fiction is very different.

MaryD: Yes, that is true. Non-fiction is all about platform and branding, baby. But I’m naughty. My poor agent doesn’t know what to do with me.

BradW: Uh oh! No presents this Christmas.

MaryD: Coal this year from Pere Noel, I’m afraid.

BradW: OK, spill it. Wherein lies your naughtiness?

MaryD: I’m Anakin Skywalker, baby. Going to the dark side. From writing parenting books to venturing into risky faith.

BradW: Expound.

MaryD: I’m writing my last parenting book this winter and then it’s on to other things. Radical Christianity. How to exegete American from Christianity. Stuff like that.

BradW: Aha! The veil slips from my eyes. All is clear.

MaryD: Not that anyone’s bought anything yet, but I’m ruminating.

BradW: Well, Donald Miller doesn’t seem to be having problems so the time may be right.

MaryD: No, he doesn’t. And here’s the thing about the Donald: He didn’t sell much-a-nothing his first year. That is, until colleges picked up Blue like Jazz and went nutty. Now it’s a bestseller. So, if we can venture into marketing, here’s my thing. I think Malcolm Gladwell is onto something. He wrote The Tipping Point. It’s about getting your product (in this case your brilliant books or my tell-all tomes) into the hands of folks who will chat about it.

BradW: Yes, that is the key.

MaryD: They tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on and so on and so on.

BradW: So one hopes, at any rate.

MaryD: So, creating a great influencer list is important. I’m working on mine right now for the novel and the parenting book. And one guy, a good friend, has agreed to send the parenting book to 24 of his high-profile buddies. You just never know.

BradW: True. The problem is I, and many others like me, don’t have any high-profile buddies. Or even any buddies who do.

MaryD: Yeah, me neither. Maybe after Britney and Jennifer and the Donald read our witty posts here, we’ll be in.

BradW: I’ve wasted my life avoiding connected people. I’m a connected-o-phobe.

MaryD: You gotta get some new buddies! You will if you wear horn-rimmed glasses.

BradW: Gotta get the glasses. Speaking of glasses, it looks like it’s time for my coffee. As a night person, I’m amazed I’ve been coherent this long doing an interview in the morning with nothing but rooibos tea to sustain me.

MaryD: I’m not a night person, so I’m tired too [since it’s nighttime in France]. I need to turn in. By the way, I have one last question for you.

BradW: Shoot.

MaryD: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

BradW: That’s easy. To prove to the armadillo that it could be done.

Notice how these authors are grappling with how to get the word out about their books? It’s with good reason because there are many new books entering the market constantly. It’s hard to get the reader’s attention—but possible. It’s a cooperative effort between the author and the publisher. It’s not solely in the domain of either publisher or author. I’ve written a great deal about how to get publicity for your book and the necessity to market. If you want to know more of my thoughts, I suggest you use the Technorati search feature and enter words like “publicity” or “market” or “marketing” and you will easily find multiple posts on these topics. You can see whether you are in Hawaii or France or in the heartland of America, you can use a variety of means to get the word out about your books.

Tag Team Interview, Part 3

December 28, 2005

Today you will be able to see the third portion of the Tag Team conversation between Mary DeMuth and Brad Whittington. They’ll tell us more about the process of creating their novels. If you missed the first two parts, here’s part one and here’s part two.

Before we dive into the interview, let’s learn about two more books from these authors.

Mary DeMuth’s first novel will be published in March called Watching The Limbs (NavPress) With a haunting writing style reminiscent of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mary DeMuth releases Watching the Tree Limbs. DeMuth tells the achingly painful and beautiful story of Mara Weatherall, a nine-year-old girl repeatedly raped by a neighborhood boy. With no memory of a father and only a vague recollection of a woman and a green porch swing for her mother, Mara desparately wishes for the security of parents. Yet even the precarious shelter of a dismissive aunt is ripped away from Mara and she is sent to live in a run-down mansion on the wrong side of town. Things work out differently here. Textbooks are years out of date, the playground equipment needed to be replaced a decade ago, and her face is the only white one in a sea of ebony skin.

It’s been said that Christian fiction rarely acknowledges the true evils of society or depths of emotion in characters. Debut novelist Mary DeMuth absolutely shatters those notions with her March 2006 release, Watching the Tree Limbs. This book should come with a warning: It will change your heart and view of this world forever.

Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly wrote about Living With Fred: In this sequel to the Christy Award–winning Welcome to Fred, Whittington improves on his earlier novel with a more cohesive, confidently written story set in the early 1970s, in which 16-year-old preacher’s kid Mark Cloud finds a book in his church library that asks the now clichéd but then fresh question, “What would Jesus do?”

From that point on, via Mark’s first-person narration, Whittington entertainingly and poignantly takes readers on a tour of Mark’s last two years of high school. During that time, Mark and several other residents of the titular East Texas town attempt, in their own difficult situations, to do what they believe Jesus would do. Parker Walker, for example, whose alcoholism and abusiveness led to unspeakable tragedy in the first Fred novel, endeavors to emulate Jesus in a desperate search for redemption. Vernon Crowley, an alcoholic and a bootlegger, does as he believes Jesus would do when he stands trial for a murder he did not commit. And Mark, the enormously appealing, literate, self-deprecating young hero, also makes his own repeated attempts to be Christlike, often in situations that are simultaneously humorous and deadly. Whittington does an impressive job of focusing the novel thematically while letting its plot meander delightfully, and in doing so paints a satisfying, authentic portrait of late adolescence.

Tag Team Interview Part 3

MaryD: Let’s talk about saying goodbye to Fred. How does it feel to be done with Fred, Texas?

BradW: I haven’t thought of it in those terms.

MaryD: I ask because I got sad when I finished writing my first novel, like I’d miss my characters.

BradW: I wrote what I needed to write about it, and then I was done.

MaryD: You’re so man-ish. Compartmentalize it.

BradW: Oops, I guess I am. I had that experience in the middle of Welcome to Fred. Mark moves from Ohio to Fred. It’s a sudden, unexpected move that he resents. I had developed his friend, M, to the point that when it came time to take the plot to Fred, I didn’t want to go, either.

MaryD: Moving stinks.

BradW: I was really upset about having to abandon the character. But, hey, the contract was for a kid growing up in Fred, Texas, not Ohio. So I had to go there.

MaryD: Yes, that’s true! That Gary Terashita’s a real stickler.

BradW: Heck yeah! Speaking of sticklers, have you received any editorial feedback that you strongly disagreed with?

MaryD: The first book, no. For the novel, Watching the Tree Limbs, I received 22 pages of edits. Single-spaced. Most of what she said was right. A few things I didn’t agree with, so I nicely argued my point.

BradW: How did that turn out?

MaryD: They accepted my take on it.

BradW: So there wasn’t strong resistance.

MaryD: There were some things I could’ve pressed but didn’t. I think there wasn’t strong resistance because I was trying to be Suzie-Christian-Sweet-Author person, trying to be easy to work with, so when I did deviate, they seemed pretty open.

BradW: Well, there you go. I haven’t taken that route.

MaryD: So, you weren’t Suzie-Christian-Sweet-Author person?

BradW: I’m not sure the folks at B&H would describe me as “easy to work with.” Or maybe they would. Who knows?

MaryD: Gary? Where are you? Gary? Do tell, Gary!

BradW: Gary ran away to Time Warner. Perhaps I chased him off.

MaryD: Oh yeah, he’s working with my-agent-formerly-known-as-chip.

BradW: Gary and I went around a few times on Living with Fred.

MaryD: How did that go?

BradW: I had to rewrite the last chapter twice. But before I did it, I forced him to admit the first version worked for the story. It just didn’t work for the publisher. In the original, Mark bought the beer for the graduation party.

MaryD: Mark! That dog! In France he’d buy the wine.

BradW: I moved the scene to the middle of Escape from Fred where it worked even better.

MaryD: My editor nixed a few scenes from Tree Limbs that appear in the second book. That’s the glory of a series.

BradW: Yes, there’s always another chance to resurrect your slain darlings.

MaryD: Where do you see your novels? ABA? CBA? CIA?

BradW: What I’ve written so far, the Fred books and the Matt Cooper books, they’re solidly CBA in that the Christian content is very up front. And I use a lot of Christian fiction clichés in the first two Fred books. Which I like to think I transcended. The clichés, I mean.

MaryD: Good. Clichés are bad. Unless you transcend them.

BradW: Exactly. Sting has written some incredible songs starting with clichés. I have a back burner project to do a series of whodunits. It will be ABA. Very ABA.

MaryD: Way ABA.

BradW: Yeppers.

MaryD: But not CIA.

BradW: No, more FBI.

MaryD: I know you haggled on your cover for the third Fredski book. How did you resolve the great chicken cover caper?

BradW: One thing about the Fred books is they have incredibly great covers. Which the author has no control over, of course.

MaryD: I know. But do tell. This is an expose’, you know.

BradW: On the first two covers, I had minor comments, some of which they heeded and some of which they didn’t. For example, on Living with Fred they had a newer Coke can with the tab that stays on. I pointed out that in the 70s the tabs came off. So they changed it.

MaryD: Oh, good one. I remember getting all those warnings about peeling off the tab and putting it in your can. Good catch.

BradW: On the other hand, I complained many times about the pink sky on that cover, thinking it looked too girly and romance-novel-ish. They didn’t change that, as you can see.

MaryD: Ah, but Brad, now you’re in touch with your feminine side.

BradW: Let’s just say you shouldn’t ask me to choose your wallpaper. So, Escape from Fred came along and they sent me the cover they were all in love with. I absolutely hated it.

MaryD: The chicken cover? As in, why did the chicken cross the gravelly road?

BradW: Yes, as in “Why did the chicken leave Fred?” I violently and vehemently hated it.

MaryD: OOOOOH. You must. Using two adverbs like that.

BradW: I’m completely out of control on the subject. They thought it was very clever. Everybody there loved it.

MaryD: Really?

BradW: Yes. They tried their best to talk me into it. I threw a fit. It became the one hill I was willing to die on. They said, “We have this other cover, but everyone likes the chicken better.” And they sent me a wonderful cover that I loved instantly. I said, “This is perfect.” And they said, “We still like the chicken.”

MaryD: So, it appears you were at an impasse. (To loosely quote the Princess Bride.)

BradW: Oh yeah. So, Paul Mikos, then Marketing VP at Broadman & Holman, came up with a great idea. Have an online survey and let the Fred readers pick the cover. Their decision, whatever it was, to be final.

MaryD: Did you pad the vote?

BradW: Shocking! How could you suggest such a thing? (Also, the automated system prevented a person from voting more than once, the devils.)

MaryD: Well, you’re someone who says doodah. What else could I think?

BradW: Broadman & Holman put up a web page where people could vote and I sent out an email to my FredNotes list telling folks they had a chance to pick the cover of the next book. And, if you must know, I didn’t say anything about the covers or which I preferred.

MaryD: You’re very democratic!

BradW: I am. Absolutely.

MaryD: And the winner was….

BradW: My confidence in my readers was not misplaced. They picked the car 2-to-1 over the chicken.

MaryD: Zippadeee-doodah!

BradW: The chicken cover can be seen by mousing over the car cover at

MaryD: I like the feet-out-the-window cover better. Much better.

BradW: But, I must point out that Broadman and Holman didn’t have to accommodate me on the cover.

MaryD: This is true. I’m glad they did.

BradW: It is to their credit that they went to those lengths to come to a resolution that was agreeable to the author.

MaryD: Because they LOOOOOOVVVVEEEED you.

BradW: Oh yeah. They love me, baby.

MaryD: Because you’re not difficult, right?

BradW: Not, I.

Ok, that’s the conclusion of part three of this tag team interview. I hope you like seeing the type of diplomacy these authors used with their editors—yet also their persistence in talking with them about their concerns. There is nothing worse than an author who takes every interview to talk about how they dislike their cover (yes, I’ve seen it happen). Publishers understand the author is passionate about their topic and intimately acquainted with the content of their book. It’s a delicate balance to be pro-active and not become high maintenance.

Tomorrow will mark the conclusion of this series.

Tag Team — Part Two

December 27, 2005

Welcome back to the second part of the tag-team interview with Brad Whittington and Mary DeMuth. Just in case you missed it, here’s the link for part one. If this interview looks harmless, wait until you see the twist I place at the end of the entry. You’ll want to make sure you catch every word. Brad and Mary are book authors. Today I want to introduce a couple of their books:

Welcome to Fred is a moving and hilarious tale set against the vibrant backdrop of the 1960s and rural America. It is the timeless and classic story of Every teen in the hands of a master storyteller.

Mark Cloud has his doubts. He’s not sure if he’ll ever feel at home in Fred, Texas. He’s not sure that he can work up the nerve to declare his love to the girl of his dreams. He’s not sure he will survive another ride with Darnell Ray, Terror of the Back Roads. And he’s not really sure he buys the whole God thing. Which is an uncomfortable position for the son of a Baptist preacher.

Mark’s isolation begins in 1964 when the family moves from Texas to Ohio so Pastor Cloud can begin his career. After a bewildering series of schools, Mark finds his first true friend in his own backyard, a kid composed of equal parts intensity and hilarity with a letter for a name. Their encounters with The Creature fascinate Mark and terrify M. But just as Mark discovers the Sixties, hippies and Flower Power, he is uprooted and transplanted in an east Texas town the size of a postage stamp.

For Mark, the typical teen struggle for identity and acceptance is complicated by his outsider status and his father’s job. His encounters with the natives range from hilarious to heartbreaking. And an old book he finds buried in the library plants the seed of his secret doubt. After four years of alienation, he comes to place all his hopes for fulfillment on the family vacation to Los Angeles.

The vacation is a comedy of errors that intensifies Mark’s dilemma. But what awaits him in California is beyond anything he could imagine, as the answer comes from the most unlikely source. In 2004, Welcome to Fred won the Christy Award for Best First Novel.

You’re willing to do whatever it takes to ground your children in a faith your parents never embraced. Or maybe you grew up in an outwardly religious home that lacked a foundation of Christian grace and moral values. If you’re the first generation in your family to embrace a relationship with Christ but aren’t sure how to give your children a foundation of faith, find guidance in Building the Christian Family You Never Had.

Author Mary E. DeMuth understands firsthand the fears, frustrations, and anxieties of those who lack role models of faith-based parenting. In Building the Christian Family You Never Had she provides needed encouragement, practical tools, and crucial strategies. You’ll learn how you can…

  • shield your children from the negative influence of family members who undermine your values
  • cope with criticism and objections to your faith-based parenting decisions
  • honor (and forgive) your parents without endorsing their behavior
  • find positive parenting mentors

This inspiring, down-to-earth guide will enable you to provide a spiritual legacy of security and strength for your children as you lead the way through Building the Christian Family You Never Had.

Tag Team Interview from 12/20/05 part two

MaryD: Well, that’s cool. You must write it well first time around. Comes from writing a lot and being dedicated to the craft.

BradW: Or from being good at faking it. Here’s one example from Welcome to Fred. I used the phrase “of the first water” and they changed it to “of the first order.” I had them change it back.

MaryD: Yeah, two different things there.

BradW: Yep. So, being with different publishers, you have had varied experiences. That makes sense.

MaryD: The first book was very similar to your Fred experience. Harvest House didn’t have a lot of edits. I talked or emailed them through with the editor and it went to press pretty quickly. So, I was surprised when I got back more edits for Building the Christian Family You Never Had which comes out January 2006. Lots of questions in the manuscript. But that was good. The first book was anecdotal, easy to write. The second was a very difficult book for me to write. So, I really welcomed any feedback. The editing made it a stronger book.

BradW: Knowing a little about the content, I can see how it would be drastically harder to write.

MaryD: Yeah, because I tell the story of my upbringing, and there are parts of that story that are very hard to tell. I have always wanted to be a novelist because I could explore difficult issues and hide behind characters and settings and plot. But, for some reason or another, I have my feet in both pools. I can say that writing nonfiction, especially when the subject matter is personal, is very, very difficult to do.

BradW: Lisa Samson said writing historical romances was like pulling teeth, but when she changed to contemporary it was still like pulling teeth, but now they were her own teeth. Meaning it was more personal and more painful.

MaryD: Interesting point.Lisa rocks!

BradW: Heck yeah she does! Would you say you experienced the Lisa-factor going from your first book to your second?

MaryD: Oui. Yes. Pulling my own teeth. Which hits home because I had to have a root canal IN FRANCE this year. Not so much fun, I can assure you.

BradW: Ha! Not to laugh at your pain, but Ha! To go completely off topic how, different is dentistry in France?

MaryD: Longer. No Novocain.

BradW: Sheeeeeesh! I’m cringing just thinking about it.

MaryD: Ooops. I mean no laughing gas. I did have Novocain. They’re not completely barbarians!

BradW: Only partially. Speaking of laughing gas, how does Lisa’s statement compare with your different experiences from Book1 to Book2?

MaryD: Book1 was easier to write and edit. Book2 was harder on both accounts, but I feel like the impact this book will have on the Kingdom will be much bigger (by God’s grace of course). Maybe I’m a masochist, but books born from pain and authentic human experience (whether novels or non-fiction) impact readers.

BradW: I agree.

MaryD: But the emotional price I paid for that book was high. Thankfully, God kept at me to write it; otherwise I would have abandoned it.

BradW: Well, as I always say: Authenticity is essential. If you can’t fake that, you’ll never get anywhere.

MaryD: [Laughing]

BradW: Holy cow! Pardon me, but I was surfing your blog while you were typing and I see have a Korean version?!?!?

MaryD: Oh, yeah, Korean. I’m quite multilingual, you know. Now that I live in France I can speak millions of languages. It’s amazing really.

BradW: Heh.

OK, that’s it for the second part of the tag-team interview. There is a lot more to come with parts three and four.

While some of today’s interview is good fun, they address a serious topic—pain. After interviewing more than 150 best-selling authors and working with a number of others, I’m convinced that almost every writer I know has had some painful experience in their background. Not every writer chooses to write about those painful experiences. Yet often when these writers put words on the page, they return to those painful places to find the words necessary for their readers. I understand some of the details that Mary is telling us in this conversation.

I have a favorite Chinese proverb that I’ve used often (so if you’ve heard it, bear with me). It says, “He who writes taste life twice.” Particularly when writing personal experiences or even living through the eyes of a character for fiction, you often have to return to those painful places and pour out words. It’s not easy for any of us. But we face that pain and pour out those words and thoughts on paper, so they will help others or as Mary says, “impact readers.”

Tomorrow we will dig into part three of this tag team interview.

Meet Mary DeMuth & Brad Whittington

December 26, 2005

Today launches the first of four parts. It’s something called a tag team interview with Mary DeMuth and Brad Whittington as they talk about their writing life. I’ll add a few comments at the end from my acquisitions editor‘s perspective.

First, let’s meet these two authors:

Mary’s Biography

Mary E. DeMuth has been crafting prose since 1992, first as a newsletter editor, then as a freelance writer, followed by a fiction and nonfiction author. Mary’s articles have appeared in Marriage Partnership, In Touch, HomeLife, Discipleship Journal, Pray!, Bon Appetit, Kindred Spirit, P31 Woman, and Hearts at Home. For two years she penned a lifestyle column for Star Community Newspapers in Dallas (circulation 100,000). Mary’s books include Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House, 2005), Sister Freaks (Time Warner, 2005, one of four contributing authors, Editor Rebecca St. James), Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook, 2006), Watching the Tree Limbs, and Wishing on Dandelions(NavPress, both novels releasing in 2006). Mary loves to speak about the art and craft of writing as well as the redemptive hand of God in impossible situations. She’s spoken in Munich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Portland, Dallas, Seattle, and San Jose. A thirty-eight-year-old mother of three, Mary lives with her husband Patrick in the South of France. Together with two other families, they are planting a church.

Brad’s Biography

Brad Whittington was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on James Taylor’s eighth birthday and Jack Kerouac’s thirty-fourth birthday and is old enough to know better. He lives in Hawaii with The Woman. Previously he has been known to inhabit Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Arizona, and Colorado, annoying people as a janitor, math teacher, field hand, computer programmer, brickyard worker, editor, resident Gentile in a Conservative synagogue, IT director, weed-cutter, and in a number of influential positions in other less notable professions. When he isn’t writing he does what he can to impact the productivity of his fellow workers in the telecommunications industry. He is greatly loved and admired by all right-thinking citizens and enjoys a complete absence of cats and dogs at home. Brad won the 2004 Christy Award for Best First Novel, Welcome to Fred.

Tag Team Interview from 12/20/05
Ultra-cool and fatally hip authors Mary DeMuth and Brad Whittington take a break from the holiday madness to trade questions about editing, the limbo-time between submitting a draft and seeing the book on the shelf, and the black art of promotion. Through the beauty of the Internet, they chat across 11 time zones, Mary in her cozy writing corner in southern France and Brad from the palm-tree shade of his lanai in Honolulu.
BradW: So, Mary, how’s the weather in southern France this Christmas?
MaryD: Well, Brad, it’s much colder than Hawaii, I can tell you that much.

BradW: Shucks. I thought with all that Mediterranean influence it would be balmy. It’s 9am, sunny and in the mid 70s here.

MaryD: Dang. Nope it’s zero here (Celsius for all you Fahrenheit folks out there). So, aren’t we supposed to chat about writing? Like editing? You wrote the Fred books. Did the editing process get easier with each book?

BradW: I had certain expectations when I started on Welcome to Fred.

MaryD: Like that you would win a Christy?

BradW: Heh. Actually, at that time I didn’t even know what a Christy was. I’m curious to hear the experiences of other authors, but I expected there to be a lot of interaction between the editor and me as I developed the story. That didn’t happen.

MaryD: It didn’t happen with me either. I was on my own.

BradW: As I educated myself about publishing, I discovered that kind of editing died a long time ago.

MaryD: I suppose that’s why Self Editing for Fiction Writers is a good book to have.

BradW: Yes, I read a book on self-editing about 20 years ago. Don’t remember the title, but it was very helpful. Before then I didn’t have a clue where to start. Welcome to Fred originally started as 5 short stories. Robin Hardy gave a copy to Gary Terashita. He first contacted me in October 2000, I signed a contract in March 2001 and in July 2001 I was in Atlanta for a trade show and he drove down. We talked about how I would turn 5 stories into 3 novels. Then I went back to Honolulu, knocked out 3 chapters and sent them to him to see what he thought. It took weeks to get an answer and it was basically, “Don’t try to get fancy, just stick with your style and tell your story.”

MaryD: How did that make you feel?

BradW: Relieved, actually. I was feeling the pressure to write something incredible and I didn’t think my own style was incredible enough. I made some changes and sent it to him and never got any response, so I just plowed ahead and wrote the thing. As I went along with no input I adopted the perspective that it was my job to be the expert at writing and the publisher’s job to get the book out. So I quit waiting for feedback and set out to write the best book I possibly could on my own.

MaryD: So, then you sent Fred to Broadman & Holman Publishers and waited.

BradW: Yeah. I waited, expecting some back and forth editing. However, what happened was that many months later I got the typeset pages to proofread.

MaryD: Really? Just like that?

BradW: There were very few changes from what I had originally written. We haggled over a few things and that was it.

MaryD: Well, there you go.

BradW: But I expect it’s different for non-fiction. You have a non-fiction book out (Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God) and one due January 2006 (Building the Christian Family You Never Had) and a novel coming out in March 2006 (Watching the Tree Limbs). How much editing did you endure for your books?

MaryD: Three different ways, three different houses. First book: talk it through on the phone, get the final typeset pages. Second book: Edits written in the document with things like [Author: Did you want to use this word? This is a stupid word. Use mine instead.] No, not really, but you get the picture. Third book: No edits at all on the manuscript, all notes written out in a separate doc.

BradW: Yes, I get those “why the heck did you use that word” questions, too. The only edited manuscript I’ve ever seen is the typeset page proofs with some minor things marked here and there. I sit down with The Woman and have her read the entire book out loud from the page proofs while I read what I submitted, to see what edits they made that they didn’t tell me about.

MaryD: Oh. That’s hard. They should have a track changes document.

BradW: Yes, but they barely change a thing I’ve written, except for normal copyediting. I will find the occasional word they’ve changed that I make them change back.

OK, that’s it for part one. Tomorrow the conversation will continue.

I want to make one comment about the editing process within book publishing. Many writers have the false expectation their editor will totally transform their half-baked writing into a masterpiece of prose. Bottom-line profits and sales are what drives publishers. Most editors carry a large volume of books to shepherd through their publishing house. If they take hours to transform a manuscript, imagine what happens to the other books in their responsibility. Those other books don’t move and get stuck in the process. Publishers look for excellent writing then they can maximize the use of their editors and move the projects toward publication. If the writing isn’t excellent, then the publisher will pair a collaborator or ghostwriter with the author in the early stages of the process to again make the best use of their editorial staff. Those days of Max Perkins, the legendary editor who took pages from an author and transformed them into bestsellers, are gone. Brad and Mary’s editorial experience isn’t too much different from mine. The lesson for every writer is to turn in the best possible proposal or manuscript from the beginning.

Hurry back tomorrow for part 2 as the tag-team interview continues.

Something Special

December 26, 2005

You may be wondering what is special? Christmas is always special because once again we celebrate when God reached out to mankind and sent Jesus Christ. We celebrate the birth of Jesus when we observe Christmas.  While it’s been a special season, I’m talking about something different.

In less than a week or on December 31st, I will mark one year of regular posts about the life of an editor and writer.  As I’m able in the year ahead, I plan to continue these musings about the writing life.

Over the next four days, I plan to try something different—and special. Two published authors, Brad Whittington and Mary DeMuth are going to chat about their writing life. We’ll get to peek into one of these chats (divided into four parts). Brad lives in Hawaii and Mary lives in France. Brad writes fiction and Mary writes fiction and nonfiction. They write for different publishers.  I bring a different twist to this tag team interview. I plan to add a few of my own comments to their chat. It will be different to have a different writer’s voice on these pages. I hope you will enjoy it—and encourage others to take a look during these four days.

Some Hints About Publishing Challenges

December 24, 2005

People who know little about the book publishing business assume that editors arbitrarily reject their submissions. Or they assume literary agents are the ones who have the greatest power over the publishing process. As I’ve said repeatedly in these entries about the Writing Life, there is not a single path to publishing. It’s as much art as science. While the economic bottom line of selling books is a business, publishing is a consensus building process and involves many varied factors.

I was fascinated with this article in the New York Times last week. The main focus of this article is Laurence J. Kirshbaum, the former chairman and chief executive of the Time Warner Book Group.  He held one of the top positions in book publishing yet he’s become a literary agent.  A number of former book editors are literary agents. I loved this quote from writer Edward Wyatt, “Now he has become part of a steady stream of editors and publishers who, over the last two decades, have jumped to the agenting side of the business. Just how many people have switched sides is impossible to count, in part because – unlike Hollywood talent agents and sports agents – literary agents are unlicensed and unregulated. The Association of Authors’ Representatives, a trade group, counts 341 literary agents among its members, up 5 percent from a year ago.” 

Did you notice the phrase about unlicensed and unregulated? It’s why some unsuspecting writers are caught in scams from literary agents. It’s why books like Jim Fisher’s excellent Ten Percent of Nothing, the Literary Agent from Hell are published.  A book like Ten Percent of Nothing is a huge warning to writers that they need to carefully select their literary agent.  I understand the challenges of finding a good literary agent. Writers feel like they have to go with anyone who will take them yet each writer has a responsibility to research the literary agent and their reputation in this business.

Also buried in this article, notice the information about how the first novel from Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian, gained the recognition to get on the bestseller list.  Another key point in this article is the involvement of the author in the marketing and promotion process for the book.  Many different factors are involved for a book to sell into the marketplace. This article gives some hints about the challenges and opportunities for writers. 

Three Great Novels to Read

December 23, 2005

If you are traveling or need some excellent reading material for the holidays, I suggest three recently-published novels. I reviewed these books for Faithful but I also wanted to call your attention to these books.

How do you recapture the magic from those summer vacations in your childhood? You can gain some insight and get wrapped up in the story of Sam Tibbits when you read Deborah Bedford’s remarkable novel, Remember Me.  This book was reviewed in a recent issue of People magazine so it is gaining a bit of well-deserved attention.

Lauraine Snelling in Saturday Morning tells a remarkable story about friendship and prayer through the eyes of four women. At first their stories appear totally separated but eventually they are intertwined.  It was another great reading experience to consider.

Finally if you read these entries on a regular basis, you will know I’ve been a fan of the Left Behind series. I’m fascinated with the characters and there are a few other people who agree with me. Tyndale House printed 700,000 copies of The Regime for the recent release. By the time I reached the final pages of this book, I was ready for the next one—but I’ll have to wait until next summer.

For different reasons, each of these books are worthy of a bit of your reading time.

I Missed This Children’s Book

December 22, 2005

It’s a detailed story about a children’s author which I never knew about. I’ve certainly seen the movie over and over but I didn’t know there was a Mary Poppins book. It wasn’t the type of children’s literature that I read as a child.

If you read these entries about The Writing Life, you know that I’m fascinated to read the stories and experiences of other authors. In this week’s The New Yorker (and thankfully posted online) is the story of P. L. Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins books (yes there were more than one). You will want to read the complete version of Caitlin Flanagan’s fascinating story but I’d like to call attention to a couple of things for writers.

About the 1964 world premiere of the Mary Poppins movie, Flanagan wrote, “Inside the packed twelve-hundred-seat theatre, the members of the audience responded to the movie with enthusiasm: they gave it a five-minute standing ovation. In the midst of the celebrating crowd, it would have been easy to overlook the sixty-five-year-old woman sitting there, weeping. Anyone who recognized her as P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, could have been forgiven for assuming that her tears were the product either of artistic delight or of financial ecstasy (she owned five per cent of the gross; the movie made her rich). Neither was the case. The picture, she thought, had done a strange kind of violence to her work. She would turn the personally disastrous premiere into a hilarious dining-out story, with Disney as the butt of her jokes. But she had a premonition that the movie she hated was about to change everything for her. Writing to a friend, she remarked that her life would never be the same.” Notice this author’s personal reaction to seeing how her work was transformed into a much loved movie.

Later in this article, we learn more about Travers’ background. Here’s another sentence that struck me, “Obviously, Travers did not write her books to commemorate a happy childhood, but she did seem interested in rewriting her bad one.” It’s a common theme for many writers and it particularly seems true in the fiction area (just an observation). Each of us have made it through some difficulty or painful experience. We may or may not write about this painful life experience but it’s something inside that drives us forward to tell stories and communicate.

Also notice how Travers was intimately involved in every aspect of the publishing process including the book cover design and even the typeface for the book. Concerned about her reputation and her other books, she considered releasing the book anonymously—but her publisher wouldn’t allow it—and in this case, the publisher won that argument and used her name.

How did Walt Disney learn about the Mary Poppins books? His young, book-reading daughter Diane introduced Walt Disney to these books. When he saw the potential for these books, he checked to see if the material was in the public domain (or free for anyone to use) and discovered it wasn’t. Disney launched a 15–year courtship of P.L. Travers to win her trust and get her to sign a contract for the movie rights. It didn’t happen overnight or instantly but took a lot of continual effort.

This article includes details about Travers contract with Disney. She insisted the movie would not be animated and because the Disney animators were on strike against the studio during the negotiations, Walt Disney agreed. For me, the lesson is that there are many factors involved in these negotiations. Even years after the fact, we can see some of them but certainly not all of the various dynamics involved. Her contract included something that Walt Disney almost never allowed—script approval. Yet what happened as the movie was produced? That story is told several pages later in this article. While she had this contractual right and she approved a version of the script, she never saw the actual movie until the 1964 premiere.

Was P.L. Travers happy with the results? At the after-party, she tracked down Walt Disney. Here’s how Flanagan captures this detail, “Well,” she said loudly. “The first thing that has to go is the animation sequence.” Disney looked at her coolly. “Pamela,” he replied, “the ship has sailed.” And then he strode past her, toward a throng of well-wishers, and left her alone, an aging woman in a satin gown and evening gloves, who had traveled more than five thousand miles to attend a party where she was not wanted.” The Mary Poppins movie ultimately won five Academy Awards. While Travers tried to protect her creation, obviously Disney transformed her books into a household word. The group process was better than the single author could have ever done alone.

It’s a remarkable story with twists and turns and creative lessons for writers.