Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Let 'em Have It!

Ask a Miss America contestant what she wants and chances are she's going to reply, "World peace."

The hippies' movement is known for the chant, "Make love, not war." They made peace signs of all sizes and psychedelic colors famous.

But fiction requires conflict. So make a little war between your characters. Now's the time to pick your battles, start a skirmish, engage in a fight. Create conflict. This week, I critiqued a new writer who's a kindhearted person. She's known as a peacemaker among friends and family. Her lovely heroine is starting a new life, transitioning from a successful career as a manager to owning a small business. Not a detail goes awry. Everything quickly falls into place. I'm envious. I want this gal's life!

But I don't want to read this book. No conflict causes me to wonder what will happen next. No tension forces me to stay up past my bedtime to read one more chapter.

Don't fall in love with your characters--well, maybe a little with your hero. Selling fiction writers aren't nice to their characters. You've still got to let 'em have it. Write conflict into every chapter, preferably scene. After all, if the scene doesn't have conflict, you've got to ask,"Why is it there?"

Don't make these common mistakes:
--Bickering between two characters isn't page-turning conflict.
--Riveting fiction isn't built on a misunderstanding that can be cleared up between a conversation.

Great conflict doesn't result from events that happen to the characters--other than the inciting incident that sets the story in motion. Rather, riveting fiction results from choices the characters make. Get to know your character's goals and motivations, and you know exactly the opposite roadblocks to stop them from obtaining their dreams until the very end. Discover the lies they believe keep them enchained in the past, unable to hope for happiness until you give your characters their happily ever after--and your readers their great read.

Great resources
to learn to write better conflict are Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict; James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure; and Susan May Warren's From the Inside ... Out.

~Roxanne Sherwood

Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 Christy Awards and CBA Bestsellers

“When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God's business.”—Flannery O'Connor

The Christy Awards honor the best in Christian fiction in nine categories. The Christy Awards board is pleased to announce the following winners of the 2010 Christy Awards:

  • Contemporary Romance: Breach of Trust by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale House Publishers)
  • Contemporary Series: Who Do I Talk To? by Neta Jackson (Thomas Nelson)
  • Contemporary Stand-Alone: The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson (Thomas Nelson)
  • First Novel: Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent (Tyndale House Publishers)
  • Historical: Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin (Bethany House Publishers, a Division of Baker Publishing Group)
  • Historical Romance: The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen (Bethany House Publishers, a Division of Baker Publishing Group)
  • Suspense: Lost Mission by Athol Dickson (Howard Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster)
  • Visionary: By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press)
  • Young Adult: North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)
CBA July 2010 Bestsellers
The CBA Best-Seller and category top-seller lists are compiled from actual sales in Christian stores as reported through CROSS:SCAN.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Blog Tour: Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff

I have a lot of books on my bookshelves. I have TBRs (To Be Read Piles). And now I have a Kindle where I am compiling a nice collection of virtual books.

What do all of these books have in common?

They can all be lumped in the "out of sight, out of mind" category.

The fun thing about Jonathan Acuff's book, Stuff Christians Like?

Since I received my copy, I've moved it from my car to my bedroom, to my bathroom, to my kitchen counter. The book has traveled. Not only that, I'm talking about the book. I ask friends, "Have you read ... ?" A lot of them have--and then we compare favorite sections. If someone hasn't, I launch into an explanation of the book or, better yet, pull out my copy and start flipping through it.
Acuff said he hopes readers of Stuff Christians Like will know how fun and full of laughter a life a faith can be. You've got to laugh when Acuff writes about things like:

  • "Using Vacation Bible School as Free Babysitting" -- I know people who sign their kids up for serial VBS sessions all summer long.

  • "Finding Typos in the Worship Music"-- I confess, I am guilty of this.

  • "Tuning Out if the Minister is Younger Than You" -- I just realized my pastor is younger than me!

  • "Feeding Kids Their Body Weight in Goldfish Crackers" -- Do we think there is no other snack food?

  • "Fearing the Church Will Do Something Wacky the One Time You Invite a Friend" -- Enough said.

You can get a double-dose of Acuff's humor at Stuff Christians Like. The blog, which now has over 120,000 readers a month, was the catalyst for his book. If you want to hear what others are saying about Acuff and Stuff Christians Like, check out what the other bloggers in the tour have to say.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Who Keeps You Acountable?

In summer, schedules are shed along with layers of extra clothing, and the only routine I can count on are daily piles of laundry resembling the Texas Hill Country. Younger kiddos wake with the sun, while teens don't rise until eleven a.m. or so--just in time to abide by the letter of family law, technically claiming they got up in the morning. Breakfast is eaten any where from sunrise until noon.

Q. With the lack of structure, how can I maintain a writing schedule in my topsy-turvy home?

A. Establish accountability.

Oh, those words were so easy to type . . . But so hard to do.

Q. So how can we really become more accountable?

1. Find a partner. From weight-loss plans to 12-step programs, it's well known that a buddy or mentor helps you reach your goal. If you don't have a partner, see if there is a local writing group you can join. American Christian Fiction Writers or Romance Writers of America both have local groups across the country. If you're in a rural area or small town without a group, try joining an online critique group.

2. Commit to a daily word count or page count.
When you reach your quota, reward yourself. If you fail to make your quota one day, make it up the next. Keep track of your forward motion. Momentum builds. As you see your word count grow, you'll want to squeeze in more writing time to make even more progress. If you miss one day, be really diligent the next one. Missing one day, then another without consequences, and you're quickly making excuses not to write.

3. Work through a writing craft book. If you've got a writing partner, this is a great activity to do together and another way to be accountable. If you don't have a partner yet, it can help with accountability by tracking your progress. Writing is a skill that can be learned, but it must be practiced. Two great books from multi-published, award-winning authors are Susan May Warren's From the Inside...Out: Discover, Create and Publish the Novel in You! and James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure.

What are you doing to stay accountable to your writing goals during the lazy months of summer?

~Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, June 21, 2010

Delete Adverbs

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs."—Stephen King
Beginning writers love adverbs, flinching when pointed out during a critique session. so how do you delete adverbs?
Adverbs often tell when, where, why, or under what conditions something happens or happened. Adverbs frequently end in –ly.

Adverbs modify
  • a verb (He walked slowly.)
  • an adjective (He walked at a very fast pace.
  • another adverb (He moved quite slowly down the aisle.

Find Adverbs Using Find and Replace
Highlight adverbs in red. On the Edit menu, click Find. In the Find and Replace box, enter ly or adverb. Then click on the Replace box. Type in ly or adverb. Select Highlight. Then Find All.

Replace adverbs with descriptive verbs.
What do you know about the man?
Adverb: He walked angrily/quickly/quietly/ slowly/nervously/unsteadily down the hall.
Descriptive verb: He stomped/stormed/tiptoed/ crept/paced/staggered down the hall.
Delete these empty adverbs: extremely, definitely, truly, very, really, only
Adverbs: A Common List in the English Language
Adverbs starting with: a b c d e f g h
Adverbs starting with: i j k l m n o p q
Adverbs starting with: r s t u v w x y z
Adverbs List

Friday, June 18, 2010

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Writing . . . for Summer!

Photo by Beth K. Vogt

According to the song, "the living is easy" in the summer, but my writing schedule is a wreck!
Since my daughter's free from school and homework, that means I'm supposed to live an unfettered lifestyle too.
But I still have edits to do on my work in progress (WIP).
And I'm in an editing cycle Connections.
And I'm also helping to edit Voices, an online e-zine.
And I'm wondering about the status of the nonfiction book my agent is shopping around.
And I'm helping others pursue their writing dreams.
And there's this blog I write . . . and a new blog being birthed.
I find myself sneaking into my office and snatching a few writing or editing minutes here and there, in between spending time with my daughter. Or running errands. Or taking her to summer camp. Or picking her up from summer camp. Or making phone calls to arrange play dates. Question: Christa's almost 10 years old. Do you still call get-togethers "play dates" when your daughter is 10?
But I digress.
The bigger question is: How do I continue to see forward motion in my writing during the lazy, crazy days of summer?
Get up earlier? Stay up later? Not sleep?
I'll toss the question your way: How do you find time to write during the summer, when school's out and the kids are at home? Do you write poolside? Or do you scribble inside a tent, during a family camping trip? Do you plot out your chapter on a family hike, talking into a digi-voice recorder?
Inquring minds--and one desperate writer--wants to know!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Burro—a must-have for bookaholics

“You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”— C. S. Lewis
Automatically compare prices of online books
Do you use Firefox? Then you’ll love Book BurroBook Burro automatically knows when you view a page containing a book. It lists the prices at other bookstore sites, such as Amazon, Buy, Half, and many more, in a transparent window. It also tells whether your library stocks the book.
Book Burro Features
  • Works via a small, collapsible pop-up
  • Can modify the list of active stores from the tool options
  • Opens up with one click to list of your libraries, book stores and online services.
  • Checks your favorite libraries, plus over 10,000 libraries if you integrate with WorldCat.
  • Integrates with online communities such as LibraryThing, PaperBackSwap, BookMooch, and Shelfari.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This and That Along the Writing Road: ACFW Conference

Registration for the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference (ACFW) is open. Go here to start the registration process. Dates for the conference are September 17-20 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Winners for two writing competitions will be announced at ACFW:

  • The ACFW Genesis competition (finalists listed here)

  • The first annual Frasier competition hosted by Susan May Warren and My Book Therapy (finalists and Bronze Medalists listed here)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Perfect Pitch

Baseball players of all ages are winding up to practice their pitches. Time for writers to practice yours too.

Even if you're writing the first draft of your novel, people will ask, "What's your book about?"

If you say, "Forgiveness," or mention any other theme, they'll still ask, "Yeah, but what's it about?"

If you hem and haw and sputter over you're words, you'll lose their interest.

If it takes a couple of paragraphs to describe all the intricate details of your plot, you'll get the same reaction as the previous example.

If you're passionate about your work--and face it, you'd better be passionate about it to spend about a jillion hours writing the darn thing--you need the skill of being able to pitch your story in a quick sentence or two.

The elevator pitch.
Say you're a writer who steps into an elevator and sees your dream editor standing inside. The editor is your captive audience for at least the time it takes to travel one floor. You've only got 15-30 seconds to convince him to buy your book. What are you going to say?

James Scott Bell
gives a quick and easy pitch formula to get started:
A adjective adjective noun (describing the main character) does blank and blank (verbs).

A suicidal family man struggles to escape his failures and discovers what life would be like if he'd never been born.

A good pitch does three things:
1) Tells the genre.
2) Describes the basic premise.
3) Hooks the listener into wanting to know more.

He's a pacifist. She's a black belt. They disagree on everything except saving the lives of the kids in their neighborhood.

For examples of good pitches, read the back cover copy of books, scour the TV Guide and check movie listings.

To see examples of how not to pitch and why they don't work, hop over to the Rachelle Gardner's blog Rants & Ramblings On Life as a Literary Agent.


~ Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, June 7, 2010

What To Do When a Critique Group Member Shares Your Manuscript With Third Parties Without Your Permission

All problems become smaller if you don't dodge them, but confront them.”—William F. Halsey
Over the years, some problems cropping up in a critique always surprise me. What’s a writer to do when a critique group member shares your manuscript with third parties—without your permission?

Address the situation with that person—privately and immediately. Don’t allow the violation of trust to fester.

One fundamental courtesy of any critique group is that members do not share another writer's manuscript, i.e. intellectual property, outside of the group without first asking the author's permission.

When this happens it sows seeds of distrust in the critique group. Who feels comfortable sending their work to someone after they breach trust? Writers in a critique group need to feel total freedom to share their work and that can't happen without members respecting one another as professionals. The works created by a writer belong to that author until the author decides to make his or her work public.

Trust and confidentiality is vital to a healthy, productive critique group. Neither manuscripts nor creative ideas are discussed outside of the group. Critique group members respect confidentiality to not disclose someone’s intellectual property to third parties, nor use any of the writer’s work in their writing.

Don’t take it for granted that everyone understands the cardinal rule of confidentiality without stating it up front. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

This and That Along the Writing Road

Items of interest to writers:

Rachelle Gardner, an agent with WordServe Literary, is hosting a One-Sentence Summary Contest.


  • Twenty-five words to capture your book or novel

  • Deadline to enter is this Saturday, June 5th, at 11:59 p.m. ET

  • One entry per person

  • Prizes: Five winners will receive one-year subscriptions to WritersMarket.com.

  • More information is available here.

    For those of us writing for magazines and newspapers:

    The just-released updated edition of the 2010 Associated Press (AP) Stylebook contains a separate section on social media.

    One notable change: Web site is now written website because of the increasingly common usage of "website" in both print and online, according to AP.

    Additional Social Media Guidelines include instructions for journalists on how to use Facebook and Twitter, as well as entries on terms such as app, blogs, click-throughs, widgets and wiki.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Publishing's Cash Cows

    When Doubleday released John Grisham’s novel, A Painted House, Books-A-Million splashed the cover all over its shopping bags.

    Like Grisham needed the publicity.

    Why not use that marketing budget to publicize the work of new authors, who otherwise have to do almost all marketing on their own? After all, didn’t Grisham have a significant fan base who’d buy his latest book just because his name was on the cover?

    Here’s the stark truth: even if Grisham didn’t need the publicity, the publisher did.


    See, Grisham is one of publishing’s cash cows.

    Here’s how it works. Let’s say a new publisher is going to open a fiction line with fifteen novels this year. They expect twelve of those books will lose money, two will break even or possibly earn a modest amount, but only one book will make a significant profit.

    If that were your expectation, you’d have no choice but to bet your marketing dollars on the prime stallion in your stable. (Sorry for mixing farm animal metaphors. I'm running on little sleep while caring for a sick child again.)

    Think for a moment how many people--from copy editors to printers--who are all necessary to turn a manuscript into an actual book. Each one needs to be paid. Only one author carries the burden of earning enough to keep everyone afloat.

    For those of us who dream of breaking into this crazy industry by penning novels of our hearts, these statistics are a sobering reality. But we must not give up. We need to understand the odds, then continue to overcome them. Our job is to study the craft, then write the best books we can, and to study marketing, then promote our novels without expecting a publisher to do so.

    ~ Roxanne Sherwood