Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What Every Writer Wants

Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations with authors who want one thing in life: to quit their day jobs so they can write full-time. Let’s look at the odds of that happening.

I don’t want to discourage anyone, but the truth is that there are at least 75,000 to 80,000 books published every year in America . . . maybe more. And this week I read that only about 200 or so writers make enough money to stay home and write full-time. I’d give you the source, but I can’t remember where I read that stat; I only remember that it slapped me upside the head with reality.

So should you stop writing? Of course not. But you do need to establish the reason why you write. Is it to get rich? To live comfortably and pay your bills? To serve God? Because you can’t NOT write? All or none of the above?

I started this blog to inspire authors to write the truth. Before you can do that, you need to wipe the scales from your eyes and look at publishing, especially CBA publishing, in the bright light of day. Take off your sunglasses and follow me.

You struggle for years to write your first novel, or your first seven, before you make a sale. Now you’re a debut author. If you’re fortunate, you may have a series planned that a publisher loves. But since you’re a new author they may not want to take a chance on whether you can deliver a manuscript every six months for at least three books (anything less is not a series). The editor acquires your first book.

Depending on the publisher, that first book may net you an advance of anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000. But remember, that money is called an advance because you have to earn it back for the publisher, and they want you to earn it back within the first year.

How do you do that? Your agent will negotiate a royalty rate, and most publishers will give you an escalating advance as an incentive to sell enough copies to pay back your advance. For instance, you may be offered 12% for the first 10,000 copies you sell; 14% for the next 10,000 copies, and 16% for every copy you sell after 20,000. That’s just an estimate. Some publishers set the escalating percentages much higher. The average CBA title sells about 4,500 to 5,000 copies. Publishers who pay you a $10,000 advance want you to sell twice the average or more.

Let’s say your book sells for $12.99, and you make 12% of the net amount (about half of the retail price) or about 78 cents per copy. Actually, it may be less depending on what your percentages are for selling into markets that demand a higher discount from the publisher. That’s why an agent is worth the 15% you pay her or him. After paying your agent you may make about 65 cents per copy . . . or less.

But you don’t get the entire amount of your advance up front. Normally, it’s paid out in thirds, although some are now dividing the advance into fourths. Abingdon still pays the advance in two checks.

Let’s say you are paid 1/3 of a $9,000 advance at contract signing: that’s $3,000. The next third will not be paid until the editor accepts your manuscript. You’ll be living on about $1,000 a month until you finish your second book. The last $3,000 will be paid on publication, which may be 9 to 12 months down the road.

You won’t see a royalty check for about 18 months—that is if you see one at all. Remember, you need to sell enough copies to earn out your advance before you are paid any royalties. You also may have high returns, and those will be subtracted from your total sales.

Can you quit your day job and live on $1,000 a month? Add it up. It takes most writers at least 6 to 8 months to write a book. Unless you want to live in a tent in the woods and eat off the fat of the land, you better keep working.

Of course, if you have several successful books that pay you regular royalties, you might consider a full-time occupation as a writer, but be prepared to supplement your income by teaching workshops, selling books at conferences, and helping other writers for a fee.

I can hear your wheels turning. “But you quit!” Yes, I did, but I jumped off a 1,000-foot cliff without a parachute. If it weren’t for the Lord’s peace that passes all understanding, I’d crawl under my desk, suck my thumb, and sob while I rocked to and fro.

For the moment, I’m still receiving a small stipend from Abingdon until I wind up the contract stage of the 2013 acquisitions. At the beginning of October, I made a $1,000 for editing a manuscript. Yesterday, I took on a work-for-hire assignment to write a children’s story for $500, and an author called me today to read her initial chapters for my opinion. That will pay me another $100 for four hours of work.

My husband’s Social Security pays our house payment, and I’m responsible for paying the rest of the bills: utilities, credit cards, medical, taxes. In January, I’ll collect my Social Security, which is $500 less than what I would have made if I had waited until I was 65 to draw it out. That’s slightly more than $1,000. But the government will deduct $1 for every $2 I earn. By then my work at Abingdon will have expired.

If you see Mike and I living in a tent on a beach in Florida, drop by and say hello. But I trust the Lord has a plan. I have contacts, and those contacts know the quality of my work. God has plenty for me to do. And that’s the truth.

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This is day #10 in the 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Network, Schmepwork

Half your life as a writer will be spent in networking. Maybe more. The days of Hemingway sipping espresso in a Paris café while he scribbled his first draft are gone. Of course, his main network time was spent drinking all night with F. Scott Fitzgerald and running around Spain, watching bullfights and fly fishing. No one can deny that Hem lived life.

I yearn for those days when kids still played baseball after school until dark, or we could spend an afternoon lying on the grass watching clouds scuttle across the sky. Our best writing came after daydreaming in a swing, drinking iced tea and staring into space. Now we feel guilty if we spend five minutes daydreaming in the shower.

Today writers network instead. We’re consummate multi-taskers. Some of you set timers on your cell phones or watches to remind yourself to sign off Facebook or stop Tweeting how many pages you’ve produced.

We’re addicted to social networking, e-mail, and a thousand other ways to postpone the inevitable: starting at a blank page. Hemingway used actual paper. Imagine that. We use a computer screen with a blinking cursor that silently screams “hurry up.”

Yet I know writers who are able to balance their marketing, sales, and networking efforts while giving birth to another manuscript. I’m amazed. They can produce two or three books a year. I’m even more amazed.

We’re writing what the market wants to read. But, just for a moment, think about this: What if you decided to write a book that you wanted to write . . . one that continually nudged you over the course of years? Maybe God wants you to produce the next great American novel rather than write something in a popular genre.

A few agents and editors want to slap me about now. Because once you’re in the game of publishing, you will be expected to churn out at least one or two books a year to satisfy your audience.

After agent Rachelle Gardner recommended Betsy Lerner’s book The Forest for the Trees, I ordered it and just finished it last night. I highly recommend it; you will find yourself between its covers.

In the last chapter Lerner writes, “Publishers are concerned that the business model that has long served their business will no longer work. All this is disheartening for writers. It’s no wonder that some are tweeting for their supper. . . . I fear that we are dancing on the deck of the Titanic.”

But you know me: I look at life from the perspective of a glass half-full. Publishing is changing, and no one in the business (CBA or ABA) has figured out where it’s going or what to do about it. Remember that old cliché that if you’re digging a hole and it’s only getting deeper, stop?

This is day #8 in our 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian publishing industry. We can’t go back to the lazy days of the fifties. As authors and publishers we need to embrace the digital age. It’s here to stay.

But frankly, I think if publishing execs spent a little more time daydreaming, they might just find the way out of this mess. What do you think?

* * *

This is day #8 in my 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Engaging the World on the Internet

Last night I spied on enemy territory. I actually listened in on blog conversations where Christianity is an anathema. These people were quite sincere in spouting their opinions, but none of them had any facts—truth—to back up their assertions.

If you haven’t been published yet, consider engaging the world on the Internet. Your impact is immediate: no editors, no Pub Boards, no book buyers to please. Think about it. Put on the armor of God, pick up the sword of the Spirit, and like Caleb and Joshua, go spy on the giants in another land on the Internet.

Do you remember the story of the spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land? Only two—Caleb and Joshua—came back with a bold and courageous report that the Israelites could take out the bad guys. The other spies were afraid of the giants in the land. So the whole tribe of Israel had to wander through the desert until the older generation who remembered Egypt had died off.

Why do we write? To preach to the choir? If the Christian book industry is in trouble financially, what will you do if the number of bookstores continues to decline? What will you do if there is so much competition for publication that you could be waiting in line for years before you have a book published?

Did you know that one online magazine article might touch the hearts of 50,000 readers, but your first book might only sell 4,000 copies?

Now is the time to pray for God’s will in your life . . . not your own. Can you lay down a dream to pick up God’s dream? If you are called to write a book, then write it and stop worrying where you will sell it once it’s written. God will open doors you can’t even imagine.

But if you are more in love with the idea of being a writer than the actual writing process, now is the time to admit it. Pray for God’s will in your life. Is He instead calling you to write magazine articles or to post on your blog?

Now for a really wild idea. Is the Lord calling you to spy on enemy territory and take the land He has given you? Consider listening in on a blog for awhile and when you see error, refute it with the truth in love. It’s a big world out there.

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This is day #4 of our 30-day prayer challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Authors: To Thine Own Self Be True

Does anyone remember that old TV game show called To Tell the Truth? Since 1956 the show has appeared in some form over the course of six decades.

Here’s how the game was played: A panel of four “celebrity” judges would attempt to guess the correct contestant with an unusual occupation or experience. Two other people would pretend to be that person and were allowed to lie to the celebrities’ questions. The “real” person had to answer the questions truthfully.

This morning I awakened at 4:30 a.m. and lay in bed contemplating truth. Yes, I know . . . weird. As a writer this is not an unusual occurrence. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

We’re in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area this weekend checking on the house we had to leave more than two years ago when I was laid off from my job and we moved to Nashville for my position at Abingdon Press. The house still hasn’t sold.

We’re staying in a Comfort Inn on 28th Street near the airport and they begin breakfast service at 4:30 for those people catching early flights. I dressed quietly so as not to wake Mike or Riley, our Chihuahua (some watchdog he is), and took the elevator to the breakfast room. There’s nothing like the smell of coffee in the morning.

These may seem like disjointed thoughts, but as the prosecutor tells the jury on Law and Order, I will show that all these facts prove my contention that the witness is telling the truth about her occupation and experience. Join me in the courtroom.

* * *

Prosecutor: Isn’t it true that in your capacity as an acquisitions editor that you’ve been traveling around the country since mid-August?

Me: Yes, that’s true.

Prosecutor: And isn’t it also true that you’ve helped other writers understand their craft and clarify their mission in life?

Me: Yes, Sir.

Prosecutor: Could you tell the court how this lifestyle has affected you?

Me: Do I have to?

Prosecutor: You are sworn to tell the truth. Judge, please instruct the witness to answer the question.

Judge: Please answer the question.

Me: (Sigh) I’m tired.

Prosecutor: Would you please elaborate for members of the jury?

Me: I fall asleep when I’m driving sometimes, and I ache all over from sitting in a seat for hours at a time.

Prosecutor: Isn’t it true that your fibromyalgia flares up and you have periods of anxiety and depression from the stress?

Me: Do I really have to get into that?

Prosecutor: Might I remind the witness that you have sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Me: Yes, that’s true.

Prosecutor: What’s true?

Me: The part about my physical and mental condition.

Prosecutor: Ah! So you admit it’s true?

Me: Yes! I said it’s true.

Prosecutor: Let’s move on to your spiritual condition. Have you spent time in prayer? Do you regularly read your Bible?

Me: Mike and I have taken a “prayer walk” almost every day for this last month. I recall Scripture, but I’ve neglected my Bible reading. I mean I read my Bible, but usually before I close my eyes at night. Usually a Psalm.

Prosecutor: I see. A “prayer walk.” What does that mean?

Me: We pray while we walk. We praise God for His glorious creation. We pray for our nation and those in authority over us. We pray for friends and family and our world. We pray for the Abingdon authors and . . .

Prosecutor: I think the court understands. Do you pray for your occupation?

Me: Yes . . . a lot.

Prosecutor: And what have you deduced from your prayers.

Me: That the Lord is calling me to leave Abingdon Press as of December 15.

Prosecutor: What does He expect you to do if you sever your connection with Abingdon?

Me: Good question. To rest, to write, to edit, to pray. And . . . something else is coming . . . something good. I just don’t know what it is yet.

Prosecutor: To continue to travel?

Me: Not so much.

Prosecutor: I have no further questions, your Honor. It's up to the jury to decide whether this witness is telling the truth.

* * *

Now pretend you are the jury, dear readers. After hearing the evidence I intend to step out in faith. Will you as well be true to what God is calling you to do? Will you follow Him in faith? That may mean taking a job, or volunteering, or continuing to spend your time writing.

For the next 30 days I ask you to pray with me for the Christian book industry, for our roles in it, and whether the Lord might be calling some of us to sow, others to water, and still others to reap the harvest. What is He calling you and me to do? Will you join me in prayer?

Blessings on your day!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Roving Editor Is Out to Lunch

Literally. So I don't have any words of wisdom to post. It's Pub Board day, so I'm preparing my presentation and then having lunch with the Editor-in-Chief. The meeting starts at 1 p.m. CST in downtown Nashville, and I have no idea how long the marathon session will last. I'm presenting the Spring 2013 list, and believe it or not, I've prepared a Fall 2013 list.

As always, there will be give and take, lots of discussion and input from representatives in editorial, production, accounting, marketing, sales, and even the print buyer. Really? Really.

I'm not proud. I need your prayers for wisdom and for the Lord's leading in what we should publish. Some authors will be disappointed; some will be thrilled with the outcome. I will weep with those who weep, and I will laugh with those who laugh, because that's who I am.

Whatever happens in the meeting, I need to walk in knowing that I believe in every project and communicate my passion to those who will sit in judgment of every author's work.

Thanks for backing me up on the spiritual side. You're the best!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guess Blogger Kay Marshall Strom: Writing Secret Revealed!

Like Solomon, I've had to decide this week how to cut the baby in half. Lest you call the police, let me explain. I'm in the process of deciding who will make the cut for the Spring 2013 list at Abingdon Press: so many great books, so little room.

Since I need prayer time, some reading time, some listening time, I've decided to make this the last blog for the week and introduce you to another Abingdon author, Kay Marshall Strom, through one of her past blogs.

Kay had written 34 non-fiction books before her agent sent me her first novel proposal, a historical series titled Grace in Africa. You've already seen the first book in the series, The Call of Zulina, released last Fall.

The second book, Voyage of Promise, has just released and been selected for inclusion in Booklist's top ten Inspirational Fiction Books. It also will be featured in the November 15 issue of the American Library Association's Booklist Magazine.

I urge you to look for her books about the beginnings of the slave trade on your bookstore's shelf. Kay's passion is to end the slave trade today. Yes, the problem still plagues our world and has more than doubled since the late 1700s when this series takes place.

Now, here's Kay on her secret for writing . . .

 * * *

All the time, at writers’ conferences and on airplanes and just out doing my shopping, as soon as people find out I’m a writer, they want to pull me aside and whisper conspiratorially, “So, what’s the real secret to writing?”

Sigh! If there were one great secret, don’t you think it would be sold in a book for $99.98? Or presented at a one-day seminar for $599.99? Or at least written up on a blog?

Oh, right . . . that’s what I’m going to do right now on this blog.

Okay, here it is:

The secret to great writing . . .
is . . .

No, really. It’s true. Too many people spend the majority of their time talking about writing, reading books about writing, wishing they could write, dreaming about the writing life . . . you get the idea. But the fact is, writing is work, and to be a writer one must write and write and write some more.

That’s not to say that instruction doesn’t help. It most certainly does. Which is why, having made the point about actually writing, I want to go ahead and suggest these . . .

Six Rules For Great Writing

Kay Marshall Strom

1. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. It is true that short sentences and paragraphs feel comfortable while long ones feel threatening, and also that short ones give the feeling of something one can manage while long ones feel overwhelming, not to mention the fact that a shorter sentence is easier for readers to follow than a long, long, long confusing sentence in which they tend to get lost and wonder how it all started. Whew! Break up that sentence! When you have a longer sentence, follow it with a short one. And surround a long paragraph with shorter, punchier paragraphs.
2. Prefer the simple to the complex. The preponderance of didactic scriveners who lucubrate their discourse with rubbish is abominable. I know! You see what I mean, then? Often people argue with me on this point, insisting that their novel or whatever is aimed at an educated audience. Well, I am a college graduate. I’ve read plenty of college textbooks in my life. But I can assure you, it’s been a long old time since I’ve curled up in front of the fireplace on a rainy night with a cup of cocoa and a college textbook! Write to express rather than impress.

3. Show, don’t tell. Yep, you’ve heard this one before. But it’s so true. In movies and on TV, we can see what’s happening. But a book author must paint the pictures with words. You can do this with anecdotes, with good dialogue, by writing out a scene rather than just telling us it happened. ”Show, don’t tell” is important in both fiction and non-fiction.

4. Tie in with the readers’ experience. If your reader can’t comprehend what you are saying, you may as well not say it. Here is a good example: “BP must set aside $20 billion for those who suffered damage and loss in the horrendous oil spill.” Yes. Um-hmm. Here’s the problem: that word “billion” is constantly being thrown around, but it is outside our actual experience, so it means little to us. How much more effective if you tie it to something to which we can relate: A billion seconds ago, it was the year 1959. A billion minutes ago, Jesus walked on the earth. A billion hours ago, our ancestors lived in the stone age. Yikes!

5. Give your reader something to take away. Remember, you are writing for your reader, not for yourself. You may feel better for having poured out the agonies of your gall bladder surgery, for instance, but what is in it for the reader? Why not reshape your personal experience article to something like: “10 Ways to Help Your Loved One Recover” using your experience as background?

6. Write, write, and write some more! Keep on writing. Everyone gets better and better. No one gets worse and worse.

There you have it. The writer’s big secret!


To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.”
--Gertrude Stein

Find more inspiration from Kay Strom at her blog titled Kay's Words.  Here's the link:

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Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Power of Your Words

In 2003 I read a powerful novel by my friend Nancy Rue titled Pascal’s Wager. The book takes place in modern times on the campus of Stanford University, which I know well, since I received a certificate from the Stanford Mass Media Institute in film in 1983.

As I read her novel, Nancy’s words transported me twenty years into the past, and I walked the campus along with her characters. I remembered my experiences there as though they had happened yesterday: sitting in a booth sipping coffee, the smells in the antiseptic halls of the medical center, the soaring architecture of the buildings, a forest of eucalyptus trees.

The novel so inspired my friend and author Gwen Ellis and I that we adapted the book into a screenplay, which has never been produced, but our faith and friendship deepened as we worked on the script. The words of Nancy’s book had power to move us to action.

Why did Nancy title her book Pascal’s Wager? For that matter, what is Pascal’s Wager? How did Pascal’s words shape society’s dialogue about the existence of God?

Blaise Pascal was a 17th-century French mathematician, who had a mystical experience of Christ that caused him to give up his mathematical pursuits and instead live his life drawing closer to God through philosophy and theological studies. Basically, Pascal’s Wager is this:

Even though man cannot prove the existence of God through reason and science, a person should toss the dice and wager that God exists. If God doesn’t exist, the person has lost nothing; if God does exist, the person has won eternal life. (See Note 233 of his work titled Pensées written in the latter part of his life as he worked on a treatise of Christian apologetics.)

How does Pascal’s Wager relate to the power of our written words? Pascal, a mathematician, had his life planned out, but his encounter with the living Christ changed him forever. He wrote words that have lasted for centuries. Nancy Rue’s words moved at least two people to action. Your words matter too. What will they accomplish?

Here’s what Pascal wrote about the power of words:
“Cold words freeze people, and hot words scorch them, and bitter words make them bitter, and wrathful words make them wrathful. Kind words also produce their image on men’s souls; and a beautiful image it is. They smooth, and quiet, and comfort the hearer.”
Your words have power. Let them inspire and comfort your readers.

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Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Truth Shall Set You Free

What is truth? If I want to inspire authors to write the truth, I should understand its properties. We should have a mutual understanding of its definition.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, truth is “fidelity and constancy [archaic forms]; sincerity in action, character, and utterance; the state of being the case: fact; the body of real things, events, and facts: actuality; often capitalized: a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality; a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true (truths of thermodynamics); the body of true statements and propositions; the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality; chiefly British: true; fidelity to an original or to a standard; in accordance with fact: actually.”

Yet, today, I hear people on TV and in conversation say that “my truth is not necessarily your truth.” If truth is fact, how can that be?

I started my search for truth in high school, and it led me into numerous metaphysical movements, cults, alternative religions, other world religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, the concept of reincarnation, other spiritual realities, and metaphysics, plus so many more I can’t even name them all. Let me put it this way: If it went bump in the night, I wanted to know why.

But for all my searching for truth, I found only confusion and misery. If everyone had their own truth, then how could one movement or religion claim only they knew the truth passed down from “ancient masters.” The answer given was that I was not enlightened enough to understand.

Arguments over truth have consumed humankind from the earliest recorded times. An entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy from June 13, 2006 [] states that “The problem of truth is in a way easy to state: what truths are, and what (if anything) makes them true. But this simple statement masks a great deal of controversy. Whether there is a metaphysical problem of truth at all, and if there is, what kind of theory might address it, are all standing issues in the theory of truth.”

Theory. Huh. If truth is fact, why do people argue over its meaning? Truth is truth: fact, reality, fidelity, constancy.

One day the disciple Thomas asked a question of Jesus after the Lord comforted His followers by saying that He was going home and He would prepare a place for them and they would know the way to this place.

Confused, Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:5-7 NIV

Jesus is the truth. He is fact. He is reality. He is fidelity. He is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He died on a cross, was laid in a tomb, and rose bodily three days later. The tomb is empty. What other path of enlightenment can claim that their leader—their ancient master—rose from the dead and showed his (or her) wounds to friends, family, and followers?

Jesus appeared first to Thomas so that the disciple could see with his own eyes the Lord’s nail-scarred hands.

I had known the truth as a child. But I forgot, or maybe the other voices screaming at me from their metaphysical money booths shouted Him down. In 1982 I found the truth. It . . . He . . . has never failed me.

Christian fiction contains more truth than the realities of life in our confusing world. Grasp that fact, write from the truth in your heart, and you will not need to include a conversion scene in your novel. His Holy Spirit will show the truth in your stories to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

* * *

Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!