Friday, December 31, 2010

Do I Need An ISBN?

With the number of self-published books exceeding the number of traditionally published books, it behooves us to discuss ISBNs. As you know, an ISBN is a unique identifier for books. That sounds simple enough, but not all books need an ISBN and some books have multiple ISBNs. As an author considering self-publishing, you may have the choice of using your own ISBN or using someone else’s. There isn’t a simple answer that applies to all people, so let’s look at it.

The Opinion of Enthusiasts

When I first considered self-publishing, I did my research. In other words, I went online and I read some web pages. I found several people who were of the opinion that you really couldn’t call yourself a publisher until you have your own ISBN. In fact, they were very adamant about it. So, before we go any farther, I’m going to say that if you are a self-publishing enthusiast you wants the full experience of self-publishing, by all means, go purchase your block of ISBNs. But for the rest of you, being the registrant of your own ISBNs is not cheap and it requires more effort. You should really give it some thought.

ISBNs for Free

If you’ve chosen to use a vanity press, the ISBN is part of the package, though I should point out that some vanity presses offer a very cheap package that may not include an ISBN because they have no intention of selling the books to stores. Even companies like CreateSpace which has some packages that are printing only packages have ISBNs available. In fact, by default, CreateSpace will add an ISBN/barcode to the back of your book if you do not use your own. That is true even of their no cost options. So, there is really no reason for authors who want their books published to worry about ISBNs, other than they want to make sure that whatever company they go with assigns an ISBN to their books. If they don’t, the book will not appear on or any other major bookstore.

The Cost of ISBNs

As I said before, ISBNs are not cheap. Granted, ISBNs can cost you as little as $1 each or even less, but that’s only if you buy at least 1,000. The problem is that you cannot register for an ISBN without paying at least $125. $125 per ISBN seems like a lot of money. Well, you can buy a block of 10 for $250, bringing the cost to $25 per ISBN. If that still seems high, you can purchase 100 for $575 or $5.75 per ISBN. If all you want is to get your book in print, $125 seems like a lot to pay for a number you could get free from someone else.

The Benefits

But having your own ISBN is not without its benefits. As the publisher of record, you have the option of moving your book to a different printer. Have it with CreateSpace and want to move to LightningSource? You can do that. Is your POD book suddenly selling like hotcakes? Maybe you want to send it out to an offset printer so you can make more money from the sales. And there is also the issue of association. One of the big arguments for the self-publisher having his own ISBNs is that he or the company he has set up is listed as the publisher rather than a company known to be a self-publishing company. His book will be listed right alongside some other books that he would otherwise not be associated with. For example, a Christian novel could be listed right next to novel that falls within the much more erotic gay fiction category.

Suppose an author has decided that he wants to have his own ISBN. By doing so, he has not only cost himself more money, but he has increased his paperwork. If you go to CreateSpace with your print ready PDFs and upload it into their system, ISBN assignment takes place behind the scenes. But if you are the publisher of record, you are responsible for informing Bowker or whoever your country’s registration company is about the book with the ISBN. It’s the kind of stuff self-publishing enthusiasts love doing, but I think most authors would just as soon not have to mess with it.

How Many ISBNs Do I Need?

If you’ve decided you need your own ISBNs, there is the question of how many you need. Some books don’t need ISBNs at all. Minute books for an association, for example, don’t need an ISBN. You can assign one if you like, but since they aren’t usually sold in stores, all the association needs is a way to identify the book internally. That may be as simple as the year on the front. Books that you know will not be sold individually through stores do not require an ISBN. If the book is packaged with a product or if the only place they will be sold is at the back of the room when you speak, no ISBN is required. Only books that will be sold through brick-and-mortar and online stores need an ISBN.

Some books require more than one ISBN. In the world of ISBNs, every version of a book is treated as a different book. You can use multiple printers to print the same version and use the same ISBN, but if you have a paperback and a hardback version of the book, you will need a new ISBN. If you published your book before and have decided you want to publish a new edition, such as updating a chart with the latest figures, you will need a separate ISBN. You won’t necessarily make both versions available at the same time, but they need different ISBNs so there is no confusion about which one people are buying.


Do you need an ISBN? Being the publisher of record has some advantages, but it comes at a price that some books will never recover. Most authors who are considering self-publishing don’t need to have their own ISBNs, even though they need ISBNs on their books. If all you want is to have your book in print and available for sale, by all means, use the ISBN provided by your self-publishing company of choice. But if you are a self-publishing enthusiast or have a need for more control over your book, you may find that the benefits of having your own ISBN outweigh the costs.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The New Amber

It’s a funny thing. As I was writing my latest book, I had an image of one of the characters in my head, but when I designed the cover, I didn’t quite match the image I had in my head. It was close, but it wasn’t quite the same. The nose was different. The eyes were different. The hair was different. But now, with the cover in front of me, the woman on the cover is the person I think of when I think of Amber.

I suppose that’s one of the nice things about being able to design your own cover. If someone else designed the cover, they would’ve grabbed some stock picture and that would’ve been it. I wouldn’t have been happy with the cover and there wouldn’t be a thing I could do about it. But since I designed the cover and I designed the woman on the cover, the cover is as much a form of communication between me and the reader as anything else.

But I will say that I considered using a stock photo. I found some I liked. Some showed a mother and daughter in which they were both smiling. The girl was about right age and the woman looked similar to Amber, but I wanted Amber to have a more serious look on her face. I found one that I liked in that the woman looked serious, but the girl in the picture was too young. On top of that, the stock photo would’ve cost me $150. It could be that I’ll look back later and think how silly it was for me to be concerned about that, but past experience has shown that it is good to keep expenses down if you hope to make a profit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Real Writers Use Windows

You might not believe this if you pay much attention to writer’s blogs, but Windows is the hands down favorite operating system of writers. How do I know? 85% percent of the people who visit my blog are using a Windows OS. Only 9% are using a Macintosh. Yeah, I know Macs are cool and all of that, but Windows is about getting the job done. The funny thing is, I hear far more complaints about Macs from the 9% who use them than I hear from Windows users. But I’m not sure that Word 2010 is even available on the Mac yet. If I owned a Mac, I think I would buy a Windows PC just so I could run Word 2010. You won’t look at cool, but I think writers are better off with Windows.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Finding Mistakes in a Haystack of Words

In the process of revising a manuscript I went through a list of commonly confused words, searching for each one in my manuscript to verify that I had used the word correctly. I skipped a few, such as to and too, simply because there are too many of them. And some of the words didn’t appear in my manuscript at all. Overall, it was a helpful activity because even though it didn’t find that many mistakes, it did find some that I could’ve easily overlooked while reading through the manuscript. And since Word 2010 lists each word it finds along with some of the context, it doesn’t take that long to move through the list. There were about a hundred words or so and I managed to get through the list is a few hours.

My most frequently confused words are where and were. It isn’t that I don’t know the difference, but I think it is a case of a lazy finger. I found a number of occurrences where I had used the word were when I should’ve used where or vice versa. Consider the statement, “He wanted to know where you where.” It is obviously wrong, but why doesn’t the grammar checker pick it up? Maybe it doesn’t matter why it doesn’t pick it up, but it doesn’t and that means that we have to check it manually.

The where/were pair is one that I particularly wanted to check, even though it meant checking about 275 individual sentences. It is that particular pairing that my mother mentioned having seen in one of my books. She saw it as a minor problem, but it made me sick. I knew there were problems, but I wondered, if she had noticed that problem, how big the iceberg under it was. In a way, I suppose it is good that I found so many instances of confusion in my manuscript for that pair. It would seem that the where/were mistake is the one that is most likely to slip through in my writing. There may not be a large iceberg under the surface. Where/were may be the iceberg.

Of course, there are other potential mistakes that I’m still trying to find an easy way to find. The brute force method is always to read through the manuscript and hope you spot them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. I occasionally spot where I’ve interchanged words like it and if or me and my. The ones I really hate are when I interchange he and she. It is unlikely that the grammar checker will ever be very accurate at checking for that one. It has no way of knowing which we mean. I suppose we could always use the person’s name and then go back later to substitute the correct personal pronoun, but I think that would hinder the creative process. The process of searching for each occurrence and verifying correctness is quite daunting. We can expect to find 2,500 occurrences of he or she in a manuscript and that doesn’t count things like his and her. With that many occurrences, searching the manuscript gives us no better results and reading line by line and hoping we spot the mistakes.

Some time ago, I asked Rachelle Gardner how to spot these types of mistakes. As some of you know, before Rachelle took up agenting, she was an editor. Her answer was to hire a good editor. I kind of took that to mean she didn’t have a good answer either. And the thing is that some people are just better at spotting those things than others, but authors can’t afford to hire editors. Some do, but it’s not a good business decision. On top of that, what I’ve seen from editors is that many of them will edit the first several pages and spot edit the rest. They’ll point out a problem and say, “This occurs in multiple places, so it needs to be corrected in the rest of the manuscript.” But, they don’t actually mark the rest of the occurrences. That would be useless with problems like these.

What can I say? I’m still trying to improve my editing process. I think I’m getting better with each book and some of the features in Word 2010 are a great help, but I’m a long way from thinking I’ll every have a book that doesn’t have a few mistakes.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Out of the Hay Stack

One of the great promises of the vanity press industry is that it gives good books that were rejected by traditional publishing a chance. If I remember correctly, that is the argument Thomas Nelson used when they began the WestBow Press vanity press. I think it’s a valid argument, but finding those books is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

As I looked through the books published by one vanity press, I noticed book after book that were inferior. One book was about why we should all be obeying the traffic laws. By not doing so, we’re endangering people’s lives. I can’t disagree with that, but it’s hardly a book I would expect to sell. Several of the books were novels with titles that did nothing to encourage me to read the books. In one book, the author attempted to defend Samson against the attacks of theologians of our day. Essentially, she wanted to say that all the stuff that Samson did wrong was by God’s will. She’s so far off on what she had to say that I don’t think it’s worth the effort to state an objection.

But I know there are some good books out there. There reason I know this is because I keep hearing stories of editors liking some of the manuscripts they’ve been sent, only to have the manuscript rejected by the committee. Not everything out there is written by someone who is angered by something their pastor said or who wants thinks some commonsense thing they’ve thought of is particularly profound. Can I just say that if you discover that it is important for parents to spend more time with kids, don’t write a book about it. Trust me, we get it. Sadly, there isn’t a easy way to find those books. Maybe we should try harder to do that.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve and a New Story

Can you believe it? It is Christmas Eve. I suppose that means I’m building a fire so Santa will have a good hot seat, or something like that. I’m writing this post early so I don’t have to worry about the blog while I’m doing whatever I’m doing. But that also means that while I’ve been pushing hard to get a book published this month, I don’t know if I’m to that point or not. I’m really hoping I can pull it off, but with all the holiday stuff going on (don’t send me e-mails for calling Christmas a holiday) it is hard to fit everything in. It is quite possible that the book will come out next month instead. That’s okay too.

Well, it won’t hurt to talk about it anyway. I think I’m calling this book Mother Not Wanted. In this story, a woman, Amber, from St. Louis shows up on Fox Jacobs’ doorstep claiming that the girl, Lizi, she has with her is his granddaughter. The family has no knowledge of such a girl, but Amber drops some information and names that cause them to question whether she is more than just an opportunist looking for money. If the girl is who Amber says she is, it is the first good news the family has had since the accident that took the lives of the other grandchildren a year earlier, but the timing is unfortunate. They are in the midst of a merger of the family business and maybe even the family itself with that of another family. Fox is fearful that whatever Amber is up to will put an end to the merger. So Fox looks for a way to get rid of Amber. But when the merger goes sour, Amber may be the only one who can save Fox’s business.

This story is a rework of a manuscript I completed some time ago. The major change between what I had before and what I have now is the motives of the characters. In the original version, Amber showed up with the idea that she would blackmail Lizi’s father into marriage and she attempted to do that with Lizi’s help. Fox’s motive for getting rid of Amber was that she wasn’t his type of people. She was a con-artist and she wore clothes that were out of style. Amber is still a con-artist and she still wears clothes that are out of style, but this time Amber’s main motivation is to return Lizi to her family. Secondarily, she wants to remain a part of Lizi’s life, but she won’t force her way in by blackmailing Lizi’s father. Fox’s motive is to protect the family. He thinks that means going through with the merger and keeping the details of the accident hidden from them.

While I liked the story before, my fear was that readers would have a hard time getting it. Neither Amber nor Fox seemed particularly likeable. This version is better, I think. I’m sure it’ll sell about as well as Brussels sprouts, but it’s still a good story.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Your Work Stinks; Deal With It

When I was a kid, I knew what artists were like. I suppose Tom Runnels was the archetypical artist for me. He was a local artist who was somewhat well known because he had a column in the local paper which included a pencil drawing along with the text. He also did sculpture. You can see an example here. Our art teacher at school was his niece. She is quite talented in her own right. I’m sure she must have sighed a great sigh of relief when she finally taught me that the sky touches the horizon and there isn’t a big white gap between the two.

But as you can see from the picture taken at Tom Runnels’ Cat Ranch, he was just a down to earth guy who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. The thing about art in any form is that most people don’t get rich at it. For that matter, most people are doing good if they make money at all. Art is a passion, it isn’t a profession. On top of that, there are always the critics. You pour your life into your work and there are always people there who will talk about what’s wrong with it. Sadly, they are usually right. I suppose we could say that the customer is always right, but it’s more than that. Whether we’re talking about a painting or a novel, if someone mentions something wrong with it, they are likely to see it as a real problem. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll usually agree.

Just because we agree doesn’t mean we have the ability to fix the problem, but all of us produce flawed work. If we think otherwise, we’re only lying to ourselves. What often happens is that a mistake or a plot weakness that we thought was insignificant is a major sticking point for our critic. Our tendency is to blow the critic off and say that we don’t think our work is wrong. We would like to belittle the critic for thinking that the issue is significant. We should not do that.

I am often struck by the realization that there are popular authors out there who are selling tons of books and yet I look at their work and I would love to rewrite major portions of their books. Some of their fans rave about their work and I struggle to get through it. I can’t help but wonder if I am such a terrible writer that I can’t recognize good writing when I see it. But I’m beginning to reach the conclusion that they really are as bad as I think they are. That doesn’t, however, mean that their readers are idiots for liking their work. The stuff that throws me with other writers is the same stuff that I attempt to remove from my own work. One thing I hate is awkward phrasing. That’s something the general reader may not notice as much because people use awkward phrasing every day. I hate how characters in romance novels are always chuckling and yawning and everything else while they are speaking. It isn’t right, but readers don’t care; they don’t know any better.

Where does this leave us? First, we’ll never be as important as we would like people to think we are. Let’s get over ourselves. Second, if someone criticizes our work, we should listen. Once again, let’s get over ourselves. Maybe it’s an issue we can correct next time or maybe it isn’t, but anything a reader finds to criticize is likely a legitimate issue. With luck (which I don’t actually believe in), other readers won’t care, but it gives us something we can improve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wise Men

Even though the wise men didn’t show up for a couple of years later, I find them a fascinating part of the Christmas story. Here these guys were watching the night sky in the east and something unusual happened, a star appeared. Somehow, they knew that meant something important had happened and they set off after it. That seems to indicate that this wasn’t the kind of star we see in the sky, but it was a bright light close to the earth. They follow it to Israel, like one might seek the end of a rainbow, but then they catch it. Only it doesn’t show them anything, so they ask the ruler. After some research, they discover that the child was to be born in Bethlehem, but not just any Bethlehem. There were actually two Bethlehems. Their research revealed which one.

It wasn’t like today. They couldn’t Google, “odd star in the sky” and find out what it meant. They had to pull out the books to find that information. So, when they started looking in the book, they were looking for prophecies about the birth of a ruler. In other words, they were digging through the Old Testament in search of the prophecies about the Messiah. What they found led them to the conclusion that he was to be born in Bethlehem. When they got to Bethlehem, that is exactly what they found.

Do you comprehend what an odd thing that is? These days, we have a lot of fantasy stories that give prophecies about the birth of a child on the night of the second full moon of the tenth month who will grow up to rule the kingdom. That’s easy enough to accomplish in fantasy, where we can craft events to lead to such an event, but it is humanly impossible to accomplish that in real life. For that to happen, a person must either have foreknowledge of future events, have the ability to manipulate future events or both. Any such ability is amazing, but for it to span a period of hundreds of years is awesome.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Atheist Hit by a Bus Won't be Saved

I saw a video online that I’m sure was put together by an atheist. A cartoon atheist was hit by a city bus (ironic considering what the atheists paid for in Fort Worth this month) and he stood before God. I won’t go into all the discussion between the two, but the atheist as the question, “if all that’s required to get into heaven is that a person believe in you, why can’t I just start believing in you now?” It’s a question that many people, even Christians, have asked and I think it is worth our consideration today.

The basic question seems to be, if God is good, why does he allow people to go to hell? Before we answer this question, I think it’s important that we avoid the temptation to assume certain characteristics of God and then question why such a person would do what the Bible says he will do. For example, we might assume that since God wants to give us all that’s good, he would never send us to hell. We should instead approach it from the other way. Given what the Bible tells us God has done and will do, what does that tell us about the nature of God? Two very important things the Bible tells us is that God sent his Son to die for the world and that God sends people to hell if they don’t put their trust in Jesus Christ. Those are defining statements about God.

So why doesn’t God wait until people die to ask them if they want to believe in him? A system like that could’ve been devised, but that is not the one that God decided to use. Instead, man has the freedom to choose to follow God or not. Those who sin, die. After death comes the judgment. I think the reason God chose this system is because the man who will not choose God in life will not choose God in death either. All men would choose to escape hell and would turn to God at its gates, but that isn’t really the choice God is giving. The choice God offers is one of service. Do we want to serve God or do we want to serve ourselves? If we are given a choice while we’re standing before God in judgment, it is self-serving for us to cry out to God. At that point, we think we can trick God into letting us into heaven by saying we’ll serve him, but our nature is still to serve ourselves.

God doesn’t want people in heaven who place themselves above him. That is the mistake Satan made. He was the most beautiful of the angels. He had a position of great power. But he thought to elevate himself above God. That is what the unbeliever hopes to do. He wants to live his life the way he wants to live it. He doesn’t want God telling him what to do. But when he reaches death, he wants to stand before God and say, “Now I’ll believe in you.” But God will not be fooled. That person, having never repented will be unchanged unless God forces change upon him. God is able to do that, but that would make us robots. God wants real people who choose him. Don’t you think that if God allowed an atheist on the new Earth, the atheist would find a spot on the other side of the world from Jerusalem, hide himself away and say, “I can’t see God, so how can he exist?” God does not want sin like that tainting the Earth. So when he populates the Earth, he wants to do so with people who have chosen to let him change them. He wants to do so with people who have chosen to identify with his son.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Atheists and Faith

Following the big announcement about the “Good Without God” campaign here in Fort Worth, I stumbled across an atheist site. The folks there were talking about DART not approving the ads on the side of their buses because they reject all faith-based ads. One of the things I’ve observed about atheists is that they don’t see atheism as a matter of faith. The assumption that many of them make is that all matters of faith deal with our understanding of God. Since, atheists don’t believe that God exists, they don’t see their beliefs as being a matter of faith. I think it’s great that Christianity is so influential that even atheist think that any mention of faith-based things is probably Christian in nature, but it is a result of a misunderstanding of what faith is.

Faith, in its most general form, is the belief that something someone has told you is true. Some children believe in Santa Claus. They’ve never seen Santa, but they have faith. Their faith is based on what their parents, books and a number of other things have told them. Without having been told that he exists, children wouldn’t have that faith. I once watched a movie that had a Santa Claus like figure call The Hogfather, had I not been told about this character, I wouldn’t have thought of him. There are an infinite number of things that we haven’t been told of, so we have no means of having faith that they exist. Atheists have faith in the statement of other atheists that there is no God.

The argument many atheists make is that the default position of the world would be that there is no God if people didn’t teach that there is a God. That too is a statement of faith. First, if God gave us no evidence to support his existence, we have no way of knowing what the default position of the world would be. To say that it would be one way or the other is a philosophical debate that comes down to a matter of faith. The fact exists that people have always believed there is a God and have told stories of what God and the gods have done. Obviously, more than a few of these stories are fictitious fabrications, but given that the stories exist, someone has to have told the atheists that they are false. Even though we know many of these stories are false, we can’t prove that all of them are false. Therefore, it is a matter of faith for an atheist to believe a parent or a professor who says they are false rather than believing the stories.

It should never be assumed that faith exists without evidence. Even a child who believes in Santa Claus does so on the basis of some evidence. An adult tells him of Santa Claus. The child has seen evidence that the adult knows more than he does. Since the adult claims there is a Santa Claus, there must be a Santa Claus. Many people come to their initial beliefs about God in the same way. A child of five who believes God exists does so because his parents have told him so. But it is foolish to think that all faith is like a child’s faith. As we grow older and are better able to understand, what we find is that there is evidence piled upon evidence that the Bible is true. We observe the world around us and we find that there is indisputable evidence that God exists. Even atheists like Richard Dawkins will go so far as to say that for us to exist on our world, there must have been an alien race that populated it. Well, I can tell them the name of that alien; his name is Jesus Christ. And he didn’t just populate the world, he created it all. And so we would know who he is, he left us with his written word. Don’t you think that if there was a God he would tell us that he exists? Absolutely. It is foolish to ignore what the living God has spoken.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mother Not Wanted is In Stock now has Mother Not Wanted available for sale. It is listed at $11.99, which is $3.00 off of the cover price. I don't know if you'll be able to get them in time for Christmas, since it is so close upon us, but I do hope you will purchase one for yourself.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Everyone Is Doing It

There seems to be a new trend in the publishing world. At first, I didn’t think it was much of a trend, but now I’m beginning to wonder. If Michael Hyatt does it, I’ll know for sure.

I first noticed it when Chip MacGregor did it. Of course, Rachelle Gardner has talked about doing it, but never has. But then Brandilyn Collins announced that she is doing it. Suddenly I feel like I’m in The Neverending Story fighting The Nothing. Could this be the forerunner of the end?

If I were to do it, few people would notice. I have a few people who follow my blog. I would hope they would notice—especially if I announced it, but the thing about blogs is that people only notice what you’re doing if you tell them about it. No, even my most faithful readers wouldn’t notice if I did it. That is sad, but true. Maybe that is why they have decided to do it.

Their decisions to do it gives us all reason to question whether we should do it. And I’m not sure I can give a good answer for why we shouldn’t. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that we shouldn’t, but some of that prevailing wisdom came from the people who are. It would make a difference if we had some kind of evidence that not doing it would help us sell more books, but what most of us have experienced hasn’t show that to be true. That does seem to be the case for some authors, but most of us put in a lot of effort only to see little in the way of results. Oddly enough, when Brandilyn Collins announced that she is doing it, her reason was that she wanted to be more effectively in contact with her readers at large.

It’s refreshing, in an odd sort of way. By doing it, people are admitting that what they thought to be true isn’t. But what gets you is that these are people for whom it should have worked. In many ways it looked like it was working. So why didn’t it?

When we look at why an author like Brandilyn Collins would quit blogging, I thing we notice is that she attracted writers, but not so many readers. I fear that is true for all of us. Blogging is a non-fiction medium. People find blogs when they are looking for something in particular. People find my blog when they are looking for information about publishing or about writing. What they aren’t looking for is a good novel to read, so it is hard to convince them they should purchase my books. I’ve literally offered to give my books away to my blog readers and have gotten a pitiful response.

Blogs are like speaking engagements. They only work to sell books if the topic of the blog is compatible with the topic of the book. I think people like Brandilyn Collins have an advantage because they have an established fan base, but for the most part, novel readers aren’t going to spend a lot of time reading out blogs. They might swing by after reading one of our books, just to learn a little more about us, but they won’t be hanging out to read every post.

I suppose that’s a good reason to implement a e-mail newsletter. I’ve avoided doing that because I don’t much care for being on a e-mail list, but as I write this I’m about to talk myself into it. It still requires a fan base, but with an e-mail newsletter a reader can learn about new releases when they come out without having to follow the blog. I’ll have to give that some thought. In the meantime, I’m not planning on following Chip MacGregor or Brandilyn Collins’ example anytime soon. I’ll keep on blogging for now, even though it won’t sell novels.

God Takes Checks

The other day I took some heat from a reader of this blog when I said that Christians ought to tithe. Obviously, I wouldn’t try to tell Christians they ought to tithe if Christians were giving more than 10% of their income. If a person gives 11%, what do we care if that person gave a tithe and added an offering on top of that or if he thinks of the whole thing as an offering. But I heard a statistic the other day. What I heard is that the average Christian gives 1.67% of his income. That’s not a question of whether a Christian should be tithing or not, that’s just wrong!

Think about this, if the average person makes $50,000 a year, 1.67% is a whopping $835 per person. Now consider that if you and your spouse dine out once a week and spend $25, you are spending $465 more on dining out each year than what the average Christian gives to God. I’m not saying that you have to quit dining out so you can give to God, but the fact is that that $835 isn’t very much.

But what if a Christian is tithing. That Christian making $50,000 would now be giving $5,000 a year to God. That’s still not all that much. It is less than $100 a week. I won’t say it’ll be easy for you to start giving at that level if you haven’t already been doing it, but Christians who have been tithing for a while don’t even miss it. In fact, they feel that they are more richly blessed.

God can accomplish his work without our money, but consider a church with 50 families, each averaging $50,000 a year. If they are giving at the 1.67% level, the church budget will be somewhere around $41,750. It would be hard to do much with that low of a budget. You could give to support a few things. The pastor would have to have job outside the church to support his family. But suppose each family tithes. Now the budget is around $250,000. With that kind of budget, you can pay multiple staff workers and still be able to maintain the building and support missions.

Now let’s get real. I mean come on. If you’re one of these people who thinks we should only give what God leads us to give, do you really think he will lead you to give less than 10%? I highly doubt that. He calls us to something greater. Why, if you start giving, he might bless you with enough that you can give 15%, 25%, 50%, who knows.

One more thought here. Have thought where that $835 comes from? Divide it out and what you’ll find is that it’s about $16 per week. That’s close to $20. Isn’t it odd that the average Christian feels God leading him to drop the amount of money in the offering plate each week that is the same size as one bill that comes out of the ATM? Knowing human nature the way we do, it wouldn’t surprise me if the average Christian isn’t listening what God has to say but is instead opening his wallet, pulling out a single bill and dropping it in the plate. It has nothing to do with the leadership of God at all, but it has to do with him not wanting someone to see him passing the plate without putting something in it. If that’s you, let me give you tip. God accepts checks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Finding You

Surely, I’m not the only one who does this, but when someone comments on a blog and mentions they have a book, I have a tendency to go looking for their book. I may not buy the book, but I may look for it to see what it’s about. Sadly, it is often harder than you might think. If I go directly to and type in the author’s name, I have pretty good luck most of the time, but sometimes that comes up with nothing. Sometimes I can follow the link back to the person’s blog or website, but you’d be surprised how many authors don’t provide links to their books on their websites. I sometimes resort to Google and even that yields results that are less than desirable. It’s no wonder they aren’t selling books, no one can find their books.

While it won’t guarantee book sales, one thing that we need to do is to make sure that people have easy access to our books. The more times people to click before reaching the product page for a book, the fewer people who will click through to the product page. We lose a few people with each click. You can see links to my books on the right-hand side of the page. Some of you have clicked through and purchased books. Thank you. Some of you have clicked through and decided that you wouldn’t read one of my books in a million years. If you’re one of those people, I’d rather not hear about it, but at least you were able to decide whether you wanted to buy the book or not. No author can claim to sell books to most people, but if people can’t find the authors book, even the people who would’ve purchased the book will choose not to do so.

So here’s what I suggest: imagine you know nothing of your book and you happen to see your name mentioned somewhere. What would you do to find your book? If you aren’t sure, find the book of some other unknown author and then use the same approach with your own name. How many clicks does it take to reach the book product page? Is it so many that you would’ve given up on your sudden urge to find out about the book? If it is, you need to work on it. You should be able to type your name into and within a couple of clicks get to the product page of a book you have written. You should be able to Google your name, find your website and from there find a product page that will allow you to purchase the book. If you follow the link from comments you leave on blogs, you should be able to find such a page very quickly. If you don’t, you can’t expect people to find your book, much less purchase it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Page 69 Test

You may have heard of the page 69 test. I’m not sure who deserves credit for thinking of it. I’ve seen similar tests before. The premise is that you can open any book to page 69, read what is there and know whether you want to read the book or not. I think there is some truth to the premise. Page 69, in many books, comes before the break into the second act, so we’re still identifying the problem to be solved, but we’ve gotten most of the introductory stuff out of the way. Page 69 is likely to be the climax of the problem definition.

I applied this test to my WIP, The Unwanted Mother (or whatever the title is by the time this post airs). It turns out that on page 69 of my manuscript, Fox is talking to his wife about the two guests that have shown up unexpectedly. He has taken his wife breakfast that was prepared by the woman and he discovers that while his wife had initially accepted the girl the woman brought with her as her granddaughter, she is rethinking her position. During the night, she overheard the woman and the girl talking about blackmailing Fox’s son, so that he would marry the woman.

When we consider that the whole book revolves around the distrust Fox has for this woman who has shown up and his fear that she is trying to harm his family, page 69 appears to be very descriptive of the story as a whole. I’m sure that we can apply this to many other books as well. But there is a problem in that not all books are the same lengthy. I’ve seen books that were 100 pages long. Page 69 in such a book is well past the midpoint. It’s easier to apply a hard and fast number to movie scripts because they are written for time and the turning points all happen about the same place in the script, but with books it is problematic. So, by all means, read page 69 of a book, but it might not hurt to look at the pages around it as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's Coming!

Let me tell you about my latest book. I’m excited about it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about any book that I’ve written. It took me some time to settle on a title, but once I did, I don’t think there could be a better title for this book. And the cover—I’m excited about that too. I love the bold colors; there are no pastels here. Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Abingdon and everyone else take note; this is how I think you should be doing covers. But more than the colors, what I excites me about this cover is that no matter what you do with it, the title is readable. Scale it down to the size of a postage stamp if you like. Convert it to grayscale or even black and white. Whatever you do to it, it still looks great.

Okay, so I don’t think anyone is going to buy the book just to look at it; let’s talk about the important stuff, the story. As our story begins, we find a mother and daughter who are on their way to Fort Worth, but what we quickly discover is that the woman is not really the girl’s mother and the reason for this trip is for the woman to hand the girl over to her real family. The woman is trying to do the right thing, though she’s not at all certain what that is. Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, the girl’s grandfather, Fox, is preparing for a business merger and the opportunity to retire. It’s been a hard year. A tragic accident took the lives of all of the grandchildren only a year earlier. So when the woman and girl show up, the family is eager to latch onto the hope that she brings. But the woman with her is not desirable. She is a con artist by her own admission. Not only could she be lying about who the girl is, she could be a threat to the plans the family has been making. But just as Fox is able to eliminate her as a threat, an even bigger threat threatens to divide the family and bring them to financial ruin.

For you romance buffs out there, there’s even a little bit of romance in it, though the Romance Writers Association won’t be giving me a card any time soon. The romance is actually secondary to the main story. As for What is it?, it is a buddy love story. I suppose that’s true of nearly every story about a parent learning about a child he didn’t know he had, but in this case it isn’t the child and the parent who are at odds with each other.

I’m looking for people to review this book. Perhaps you will be one of those people. Following Thomas Nelson’s lead, I’ll ask that reviewers post their reviews on their blogs and on a review site, such as And just like Thomas Nelson, I promise not to TP your house if you don’t like the book, or however it is they word that. I’m primarily interested in reviewers who have the ability to tell several people about the book.

Unfortunately, the book isn’t yet available for sale, so please stay tune. It should be out next month.

About The F-Bomb

If the number of comments is any indication; the most controversial topic in writing is the use of the F-bomb. On a blog I follow, one of the writers brought up that topic and there were several times the comments they usually get. Though I don’t think we can completely divorce the word from the pornographic connotations, I think the reason many writers feel comfortable using it is because much of its usage in common language is to express frustration upon the realization that something isn’t going the way one might hope.

I choose not to use the F-bomb and a number of other offensive words in my writing. Some authors have the idea that we use it because it adds realism to our dialog. Personally, I think that’s utter nonsense. The author who writes truly realistic dialog writes boring dialog. Compare reading trial transcripts with reading a novel about a trial and you’ll see that they are far different. One is completely realistic while the other communicates the information and a way that is easy to read.

I think that the reason some authors are so adamant that the F-bomb should be used is that they use it themselves and they don’t like feeling guilty about it. I was talking to a co-worker the other day and he said something about a couple of different types of beer. I told him that since I don’t drink I wouldn’t know anything about it. While I think everyone would be better off if they wouldn’t drink, I don’t go around making an issue out of it and yet my colleague told me that he felt compelled to tell me that he doesn’t drink a lot. I wasn’t trying to make him feel guilty, he did that to himself. I believe the same is true of authors. They don’t like hearing that it is possible to write without the F-bomb because it makes them feel guilty when they use it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Best Books

Have you noticed how much we try to live up to the expectations of others? Authors have a lot of expectations placed on them. There are the expectations of the family. If you write a book, people expect you to get it published and make millions or at least thousands. There are the expectations of other authors. There are the expectations of agents and publishers. All of these expectations are driving toward one thing. The author is expected to write the next Harry Potter.

The fact is that we can’t live up to the expectations of others. We must determine our own goals and strive to achieve them. I think of all the computer books I have sitting on my shelves at home. Some are great books and others leave something to be desired, but there’s not a one of them that has been hugely successful for the publisher. There are some very solid performers. There are some that almost any software engineer or electrical engineer will recognize, but there are no huge successes.

The thing is that those books have more value to those in the niche field they target than any of the novels or memoirs on the bestselling lists. The poor guys who wrote those books—many of whom invented the technology we use everyday—will do good to make a few thousand dollars from their efforts. They will not reach the heights of our expectations, but what they have accomplished is far better.

As writers, a very important thing for us to keep in mind is that bestselling doesn’t usually mean it is the best stuff. You won’t find the best books on the bestseller lists. What you will find there are books that have spoken to a broad audience. The best books speak to a much narrower audience. The best books of all may have an audience of one.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Magic Around Us

We often think of magic as something along the lines of a miracle. In the real world, magic is a bad thing because it puts peoples hopes in things that either have no ability to help them or have no desire to help them. But storybook magic is often a means by which a character is given something or an ability that he wouldn’t receive during the natural course of life. But suppose we wanted to apply a similar concept to a story that doesn’t have magic.

Storybook magic is an ability of a character or object to do something that we don’t understand. In a more realistic setting, there are many people who have the ability to do things others can’t. In A Little Princess, the appearance of the fine things in her room seemed like magic, even though we know where it all came from. I was at a gas station a few weeks ago when a man showed up with a gas can and asked if I could put fifty cents or a dollar of gas in it. Other than it costing money, it was a small thing for me to go ahead and fill the can. It wasn’t magic, but in a way it was. A character receives a large inheritance. We all know that a large inheritance comes from people working hard and saving their money before they die. It isn’t magic, but it seems like it. There are many ways we can introduce magic into a story that isn’t really magic.

Science fiction uses a lot of magic. In theory, every technology they use could exist someday, but we don’t have it now. It might as well be magic that allows time travel or to go to a different dimension. A spaceship with artificial gravity is also magic. In science fiction, we often assume these thing exist rather than going the normal wish fulfillment route of magic stories, but any of these technologies could be treated as the fulfillment of a wish. So, look around; you just might see magic.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Magic is powered by children’s wishes. And those of adults too. Look at how many stories there are in which magic comes into a person’s life and it turns his world upside down. If you look, you’ll discover that someone has made a wish. Cinderella wished to go to the ball. Aladdin had three wishes. Charlie wished to visit the chocolate factory. There’s always a wish. Sometimes it comes in the form of a prayer either to God, Santa Claus, or some other being, but there is always a wish.

The thing about a wish is that it acknowledges that the wisher has no or limited ability to accomplish what he would like to happen. Charlie was locked out of the chocolate factory and had no money to buy candy bars. Without the help of a higher power, he would have had no way of getting inside. I suppose wishes in stories are a parallel to prayer in real life.

But wishes are fleeting. They have power for a while, but stories are about character change. The higher power in the story gives the character what he wishes for, but as God often does with us, the higher power requires the character to learn from the experience. The character must accomplish the final goal without magic. In Angels in the Outfield, the angels were not permitted to help with championships. What that accomplished is that it forced the character to find another way to accomplish the same thing. In Cinderella, the magic wears off at midnight and all that’s left is a shoe. The result is that Cinderella and the prince must find each other without the aid of magic.

Magic is a fun thing to use in a story, but it is like a dream. At some point, we wake up and we are in the real world. If the character can’t learn to do what he wished to do without magic, his wish is lost forever. But if he learns the lesson, the magic can safely return.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Blogger is Bugging Me and Google Needs to Fix It. Now!

I got up early this morning and having nothing better to do I read several blogs. I read Eat, Pray...Hate? at Girls Write Out, the gist of which is that people don't like the "truth" of some people's stories, even going so far as to criticize Eat, Pray, Love because the woman left her husband. To that post, I wrote a response saying that it is natural for readers to feel hurt when someone hurts someone they like. In this case, the writer of Eat, Pray, Love hurt her husband, who appears to have wanted the marriage to work, whatever his failing might have been. I said that readers will feel the story is unresolved if the person doesn't admit wrong doing and apologize to not only the other person but the reader. Of course, the character can get comeuppance and that works too (sometimes even better).

But what got me is that I included a link to For the Love of a Devil and to a couple of Bible verses because I felt that For the Love of a Devil was relavant to what I had to say and I wanted to talk about how the Bible says that God hates divorce[1] and that Jesus only allowed the cause of fornication as a justifiable reason for divorce [2]. I sent my comment on its way and I thought it took, but I went back later and it wasn't there. I suspect it got caught in the spam filter, but how would I know? It is possible that someone will approve the comment for posting later, if that is the case, but I simply don't know if I should repost or not (not that I really want to write that post again). For all I know Kristen Billerbeck or Colleen Coble or one of the others has a problem with me saying what I did. But what I really think happened is that it got caught in the span filter because of the links. We used to be able to put links in comments with no problem at all. And if we aren't allowed to continue that, that is a real problem. The veins of the Internet are links. If we can't post links, the Internet will die. And if Blogger automatically removes comments with links in them, it is going to be very hard for us to carry on a conversation. So, there's the problem. Now, Google, have your overpaid engineers go fix it.

Cinderella's Magic

Today, I want to continue the topic of Cinderella from yesterday, but I want to discuss Cinderella’s magic. Where does it come from?

We don’t normally think of Cinderella having magic of her own, but magic is used to give her gifts. It appears to be in the control of a fairy godmother or a tree, depending on which version you read. Indirectly, the magic appears to come from her mother, who is watching over her from heaven. None of the stories make a huge deal about her mother, but some do talk about God and her mother looking down on her. In the Gimms’ version, the tree is planted on her mother’s grave and watered with Cinderella’s tears. Even the fact that some versions reference a fairy godmother alludes to a higher power. I don’t know much about godmothers, but my understanding is that they are to help protect their godchildren.

In terms of storytelling, the power comes from none of those things but from Cinderella. Had Cinderella not been “pious and good,” I don’t think it would’ve made sense for someone to give her all she was given. We see that in A Little Princess. In the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett and the 1995 film, the fact that Sara has so much taken from her gives us reason to cheer when thing turn around. Contract that with The Little Princess, which is a 1939 Shirley Temple film that is based on the same book. That version makes you want to just smack that girl.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Humble Cinderella

Several days ago, they topic of Cinderella came up on another blog. I won’t go into the details of that discussion, but one of the things I mentioned was that in all of the versions of Cinderella we see a selfless girl of humility and quiet strength. Some of the other commenters disagreed with that. I didn’t say that there, but I’ll say it here that to disagree with that is like arguing with a sign post. In all of the versions (not just the Disney version), Cinderella is treated like a servant by her step-mother and step-sisters. In the Grimms’ version, when her father wishes to bring the girls a gift, her sisters ask for fine things, but Cinderella requests only the first twig that brushes her father’s hat. She plants the twig at her mother’s grave and waters it with her tears. She is described as “pious and good.” While the stories don’t come out and say, “Cinderella was humble,” they don’t have to. The stories show us her humility and selflessness.

As storytellers, there’s much we can learn from the Cinderella story. One thing is that we should reveal the character through her actions rather than just through description, but there are other things as well. Notice the opposites in Cinderella. As we move into the second act, we see that lavish treasures are poured upon Cinderella. In the some versions, this comes from a fairy godmother. In other versions, this comes from a tree. She gets everything she could possibly want and yet we’re okay with that. The reason we’re okay with it is because it has already been established that Cinderella has been denied these things. Because she takes her treatment in humility and subjection, we cheer for her when she is given these things, but when her step-sisters were given similar things, didn’t like it. Before we can shower our characters with gifts, we must establish that they are deserving of those gifts or they will be hated like Cinderella’s step-sisters.

Part of the reason we can get by with showing characters like Cinderella with gifts is that we know she isn’t going to use them selfishly. It goes against their very being. We’ve all seen rich people of humble beginnings who haven’t allowed their wealth to change them. Instead, they remember where they came from and continue to help those in need. That isn’t always the case, but when we look at a character like Cinderella, that is what we expect of her because she is good.

There’s a scene I remember from Due South. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but the statement is that some people believe that every man has a price, but in fact, every man has a line that he will not cross as any price. It’s a matter of integrity. As writers, we often ask the question of what price would convince a character to take an action that he normally wouldn’t take. Would he kill a man if his daughter was in danger? Can he be bribed to overlook the flaws in a building design? But there are some things that a character will never do.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Top Posts

It’s official, my top five posts for the past week, the past month and for all time are:

1. Review: WestBow Press

2. How to Describe Beauty

3. An Example Book Outline

4. The Meaning of the Cinderella Story

5. A Sample Synopsis

I tried to post that same list in a comment on Michael Hyatt’s blog the other day, but it didn’t take. I think it must have gone in his spam file or something. His blog doesn’t like me very much.

I think you can see the pattern. This blog is attracting aspiring writers more than it is attracting anyone else. Of course, that also means that this blog is a waste of time in terms of trying to sell books. I keep saying that I’m going to move this blog in the direction of attracting readers rather than authors, but the fact is that I don’t really know how. I tried Fiction Friday for a while. As you can see, none of those posts appear in the list above. They aren’t in the top ten either. In fact, the only post in the top ten that isn’t aimed at writers is How to Impress God. It is number 6.

Looking at the top search keywords, it appears that I’ve become the de facto independent expert on WestBow Press. Can you see the irony of that? I’ve never actually used WestBow Press to publish a book. They really ought to give me a free publishing package so I can do a comprehensive review of their service. I’ll have to say that the price is a little steep for blog fodder. But then, they don’t make money by giving away services either.

In any case, that’s my top five. I suppose I’ll keep writing about the same old stuff for now.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Vanity Press Scams

A post in the archives, A Review of WestBow Press, has been getting a lot of attention. People are continuing to ask questions—not only about WestBow Press but other similar companies as well. I try to answer their questions as well as I can, but sometimes it is anyone’s guess as to whether a vanity press is any good or not. So, I’m going to offer some of my thoughts on the vanity press industry and most of them aren’t good.

The people who decide to go with a vanity press want one thing. They want their book published. They may have tried the traditional route or they may not have, but they’ve decided that they want their book published and they’re willing to pay for it. These people are not what I call self-publishing enthusiasts. They don’t get their kicks out of designing the book interior and cover. They’re willing to pay someone else to do that work for them. These are the customers of the vanity press industry. The vanity press industry uses a number of different methods to attract these customers.

Almost universally, vanity press companies use terms that don’t mean what their customers think they mean. One of my favorites is the statement that “your book will be made available to bookstores like Barnes and Noble.” What many of their customers think that means is that someone at the publisher will be actively promoting the book to Barnes and Noble. They envision someone sitting across the table from a store's book buyer and showing the buy the author’s book. What it actually means is that the title of the book will be included in a catalogue with thousands of other books the publisher produces and if the buyer happens to be interested, there is a mechanism by which the book can be ordered.

Vanity presses seem to have a distaste for the concept of the vanity press. Rather than coming right out and saying that they publish books at the expense of the author, many portray themselves as a traditional publisher. The bad boy of the vanity press industry, PublishAmerica even goes so far as to pay a one dollar advance, so they can call themselves a traditional publisher. Besides being accused of some unethical behavior, PublishAmerica has poorly designed books that are overpriced, compared to similar books. The overpricing is necessary for them to recover the cost of printing the books. Real traditional publishers are able to keep their prices low and advances high by being selective in which books they publish. When your average sales per title is higher, you can afford to lower book prices and pay the authors more.

Another vanity press that claims to be a traditional publisher is Tate Publishing & Enterprises. Most people know it as simply Tate Publishing. This is the one that will surprise you. If you look at the website, it looks like a great deal. It has a former Miss America talking about how great it is. On their FAQ page they describe themselves as “a traditional, mainline, royalty paying publisher. We have relationships with buyers and management of all major chains, including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Family Christian, Books-A-Million, Lifeway, Hastings, Mardel, Waldenbooks, and others.” They talk about the commercials they air on national television. (Odd that I don’t remember ever seeing one when I was watching television.) They are accredited with the Better Business Bureau and have few complaints listed there. What is noticeably missing from their website is any mention of the $3,985 investment they ask for from their authors. The thing is, if they were completely upfront with their pricelist instead of hiding behind the guise of a traditional publisher, I would have no reason to think there was anything wrong. But that $3,985 is a huge elephant in the room. The fact that they’re trying to hide it makes me wonder what else they’re trying to hide. There are so many things about Tate Publishing that make it appear to be run by Christians and yet they’re hiding some things in order to appear more attractive to potential customers.

Here’s what I would like to see out of the vanity press industry: I would like to see them explain the services in terms that their customers can understand instead of using publishing industry jargon. I would like for all vanity presses to publish a price list showing the services they provide. I would like for them to stop including items on long check marked lists that cost the company little and provide little advantage to the author. I would like to see vanity presses embrace the concept of providing publishing services for a price and stop implying that they are traditional publishers when they are not. I think vanity presses can be a great thing for those authors who can’t break into the traditional publishing route but don’t have the do-it-yourself attitude of the self-publishing enthusiast, but vanity presses need to start being honest with their customers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Must We Publish Everything?

There’s an innocence that exists before you publish a book. I’ll tell you right now that the first and second books I published were written with the intention of self-publishing them. To be quite honest, self-publishing intrigued me (still does) and I needed some material to feed through the process. But one of the things I’ve noticed is that people working on their first book have no clue when it comes to publishing. Almost universally, they have this idea that all they have to do is to write their book, send it off to the publisher and it’ll be in the stores before long. And though their hopes are dashed quickly after they finish their book, I keep encountering people who say, “I’m almost finished with my book and I’m going to look into a publisher soon.”

I don’t think we have much opportunity to educate these people. I suppose some of us novelists could write stories about authors seeking publication, but I’m not sure that even that would reach all of these people. But there’s something pure about that first book. Even though I know that most of the authors at that stage are writing some junky stuff, there’s something to be said about these authors who are off doing their own little thing, writing what they want to write with no idea that it’ll never be published. They aren’t influenced by the forces of the market. They don’t have the conference training that teaches them to write exactly like everyone else. They write because they have something to say or a story to tell.

That sad thing is that these publishing innocents run smack dab into the jaded industry insiders. They send a query to a literary agent and later they discover all the stuff they did wrong. They violated some industry protocol and now their query letter is posted on someone’s blog for the whole world to see—name removed, of course. Not wanting to make a mistake again, they begin to study the query process. They learn all there is to know about how to write a query letter. They sign up for conferences. The read agent blogs. But they don’t write anymore. They don’t have time. All their time is spent worrying about how to they’re going to get their work published. Innocence is lost.

Writing is the only art form I know where no one writes simply to just write. At times, I am a painter, but I’ve never sold a painting. I’ve given a few away and I’m not terrible at it, but I can appreciate that there are people who are more skilled at painting than I am. Sure, I would like to be that skilled, but the fact that I’m not doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of painting. I’m also a pianist. I do well enough to play for the offertory at church occasionally, but I’ll never be a concert pianist. My sister could’ve been were it not for her priorities. She still amazes me with her skill, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying playing the piano. But in writing we do things differently. We’re all looking for that big publishing contract. And if we don’t get it, we can’t understand why. In reality, it shouldn’t surprise us at all.

If we did things the way other art forms are done, we would write our stories and share them among our friends. Instead of novels, we would probably write more short stories. We would show up at critique groups and read these stories aloud, after which we might sit around discussing the story. Most of us wouldn’t bother with seeking publication at all, preferring instead to just enjoy writing and sharing the stories with our friends. A few of us might find that our stories consistently move our friends and we’d consider entering our stories in contests. Some of us would try to make a career of it, but not nearly the number of people seeking contracts today.

We probably won’t ever get to that point and I’m not sure we should. There’s something to be said for enthusiasts self-publishing their work and letting people buy it or not as they will, but I think we’re pushing publication a little too much. We’re not giving writers an opportunity to enjoy what they do without also… No, let me rephrase that. We’re not giving writers the opportunity to enjoy what they do. The fact is that once you enter into the highly competitive world of publishing, the art form becomes a job. There’s a lot of stress that comes with it and for what?

It’s a weird sort of thing that people lose their jobs they get this idea that they’ll just stay at home and write books. That’s got to be one of the worst ideas someone could come up with, but it makes them feel like they’re doing something productive. Then there are the housewives who decide to write so they can pull their weight or whatever it is they think they’re doing. Maybe they should go read what the Bible says about the virtuous woman. I’ve got nothing against women writing or people writing for a living, but there are easier ways to make money, if that’s what the goal is. I can make more money doing my job than what I could make writing about how to do my job. So, if the goal of writing is publishing and the reason we want to publish is to make money, why don’t we just give up writing and go to work doing what we’re trying to tell people who to do?

The simple answer is that it’s because writing isn’t really about making money. Yeah, publisher, agents and some authors think it is, but writing is about something else. Most of us aren’t like Charles Dickens and can sell a story when we’re about to run out of money. I think a lot of people will talk about how writing is a business because they want to impress agents and publishers with their professionalism, but I think a lot of us could be happy writing with no financial compensation. But I’m not going to start giving away my books anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Atheists and Fort Worth Buses

Atheists have purchased advertising in Fort Worth that will run during the month of December to say that they are “Good Without God.” It’s ironic that more will be said about God during the month of December by atheists than will be said by Christians as we run around trying to be Santa Claus. But that notwithstanding, I question what the DFW Coalition of Reason hopes to gain from this expense. No one is helped if they persuade people to reject God. I’ll agree that there are many people who do good things who are not believers but much more good is done for the cause of Christ.

When Christi ans tell people about Jesus, they do so with the belief that if people will trust him they will be saved in the life to come. But atheists make no claim that they believe their followers will have hope in the afterlife. Christians collect money and give to those in need. They provide programs for young people. They visit the nursing homes and hospitals. Christians lift our spirits through singing. Even if there were no God, those would be good things to do. But we don’t see many atheists doing that.

The atheists may hope that if they can persuade enough people that there is no God then they won’t have people making them feel guilty. Well, I’ve got news for them. They’re giving us too much credit. I can’t make them feel guilty. That is God. And if there isn’t a God, well that just means that they are making themselves feel guilty. So, if they are right then the problem is all in the ir heads. It seems to me that they need to either good see a pastor or a therapist.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Comment on Michael Hyatt's Blog

I frequently read Mike Hyatt's blog and I sometimes post comments there, but his comment form leaves much to be desired. Sometimes it just won't work for me. Today, is one of those days. Today's post was about a video that Jason Fried did on where we're the most productive. After taking the time to write a response to Mike's post, I hate to see it go to waste, so I'm posting it below:

Jason Fried is well spoken and gets plenty of laughs by saying things that plenty of people are thinking, but I think it is a mistake to assume that "work" is what we do when we are off by ourselves. I suppose it says something about our society in which the individual is valued more than the group. One of the things that I have found is that my most productive time is when someone interrupts me and asks me how they should be doing something. Yeah, I may have to put aside something that I was doing, but when I get back to my desk, the person I helped is off being productive. So now, instead of just me being productive, the two of us are twice as productive because the other person isn't sitting there spinning his wheels while I'm "working." I've also noticed that the people who work from home or work odd hours cause their co-workers to spend a lot of time looking for them. Because they aren't around to answer questions that need to be answered, they are causing multiple people to be unproductive. That time alone may be the most productive time for an individual, but it is deadly to the team.

And I might as well add, trying to use a comment form that refuses to work is not an example of being productive.

The Reader

When I write, I always have reader in mind. Even though hundreds or even thousands of different people may read what I’ve written, I always image that I’m writing to one person. That person usually doesn’t have name, but he’s that guy that isn’t doing something right. If he were, I wouldn’t be writing to him. Today, my reader is an author who probably doesn’t have a traditional publishing contract and needs to change in order to achieve success. That reader could be you.

The reader always needs to change. If he didn’t, what would be the point writing to him? So when we write, the first thing we do is to help the reader determine that he needs to change. We want him to see the problem as his problem If we’re writing fiction, we want him to see that the problem the character faces is similar to something our reader might face. Once we helped the reader identify with the problem, we give him a solution to the problem. That sounds simple enough, but we have to assume that the reader has some objections to the solution. Our reader might identify with a character who is locked out of the house, for example. Our solution is for the character to call friend who has a copy of his keys. We assume reader might objecs and ask, what should be done if the friend isn’t home. So now we present a our reader with a solution that addresses his concerns. We don’t have our reader sitting there next to us, so we must guess the objections and address them all.

Even though we imagine we have one reader, more than one person has the attributes of the reader we imagine. If our reader needs to change because he is addicted to alcohol, we can easily see that there’s more than one person who fits that description. But there are also people who may not be that reader, but they want to read something aimed at that reader. The wife of that reader, for example, might want to read something like that. Even though we expect to have the wife of that reader in the audience, we don’t write about how the wife should handle the problems of the situations. We keep our focus on that reader.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Wrong Mother

I just finished a first draft of a revision of a previously completed manuscript. The manuscript has been around for a long time and had a title, but after the revisions and the clarity of time, I’ve decided that the title needs to change. To give you some background on the book, the story is about a woman from St. Louis who shows up on the doorstep of a moderately wealthy business owner in Fort Worth, claiming that she has raised his son’s daughter. Having lost all the other children in a terrible accident the year before, the businessman is elated at the possibility of another grandchild, but the timing couldn’t be worse. The woman and girl have shown up just as they are preparing to announce the merger of the family business with that of another family and there is talk that the businessman’s son will marry the daughter of the other family. The woman has a reputation as a con-artist but some of what she says convinces them that they must check out the story. The businessman hopes to find proof that the girl is his granddaughter while protecting his family from the con-artist. The woman wants to deliver the girl to her family, but she doesn’t want to be left out of the girl’s life. Of course it has all the normal twists you would expect from a story like this.

After giving it some thought, The Wrong Mother seemed like a good title. It has a bit of irony to it and it seems like someone would want to learn more about the book just to find out how the mother could be the wrong one. But then I did a search for that title and discovered that Sophie Hannah wrote a book using that title that was published in September of last year. Her book involves a woman who investigates a man with whom she had adulterous relations. If the reviews are any indication, Hannah’s book hasn’t been particularly well received, so I could probably go ahead and use the title without fear of people confusing the two books. I’m guessing that most of the people who read her book have forgotten the title. But I’m also a little concerned that I might like that title because I watched Alice in Wonderland this weekend and it made reference to “the wrong Alice.” And there’s also the Jack in the Beanstalk movie that makes a reference to “the wrong Jack.” For some reason, I like that phrase.

What can I say? I need a title. I’ve got another one up my sleeve that is similar to the one I mentioned, but if you’ve got suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Ill-advised Projects

An author mentioned her book in the comments of another blog the other day, so I went to see what the book was about. The author appears to have written the book to impart the wisdom she has gained during her life—all twenty-two years of it—through “poems and journalistic thoughts.” In other words, she published her diary. The folks over at PublishAmerica printed it for her, so don’t think this went through some editorial review process. But the fact is that she isn’t the first author who has published something so ill-advised. If she had sent her work to an agent, we know how it would’ve turned out. “Not for me.” But if we know that, then why didn’t she realize that? More importantly, how can we recognize our own ill-advised projects?

I suppose that he problem could be that we’re all so blinded by our own conceit that we can’t see how bad our own projects really are. That’s a unsatisfactory answer because that would mean that we have no means of judging the value of our own work. It isn’t just a problem with being able to tell whether the project idea is any good, it would also mean that we have no means of determining if the way we are telling the story, the sentences we use and our word choices are any good. Being so blinded, we shouldn’t even attempt to write without someone sitting at our side to tell us if what we’re doing is any good. That’s ridiculous. A good writer knows when his work is good, so it’s something a wannabe should learn.

Too often, authors look at the rule of writing that says we should write for one and only one person and they assume that the one person is either the writer or God. Let’s get that notion out of our heads. We should instead be writing to that reader that we want to see changed by what we write. That image of our reader is very important because it defines what we write. The things we would have to say to an electrical engineer are different from what we would say to a politician. Our subject matter would be different. The words we choose would be different.

In evaluating the worth of our project, we must keep our reader in mind, just like an agent or a publisher would, but we shouldn’t ask whether we are saying something we want the reader to know. Instead, we should ask whether this is something the reader believes he want to know. For non-fiction, we might write something that has all kinds of information an electrical engineer could understand, but until he sees a way he can apply it to his job, he isn’t interested. So, if we can’t see why our reader would want to apply our project to his life, then the whole project is junk. In the case of the author I mentioned above, she needs to grow up and realize that unless the author has had a particularly unusual experience, people don’t look to twenty-two year olds for life advice. For that matter, there aren’t many readers who want to read someone else’s journal. Put stuff like that on a blog.

With fiction it is more of a question of whether our reader would like to venture off into the world of our story. Forget the rules, but ask yourself if you are creating an environment that your reader will enjoy. Your reader in this case is defined more by genre. A romance reader enjoys a different kind of story than a mystery reader who enjoys a different kind of story than a techno-thriller reader does.

It’s an easy thing to do—I’ve been guilty of this—to sit down and write a story, just because we want to tell the story, without giving any thought of who the reader is. We assume that there’s a reader for anything we might write. That’s probably true. Her name is Mom. But who are the other readers. If we aren’t sure or if those readers are hard to find, our project probably isn’t any good.

Friday, November 26, 2010

De Facto Gatekeeper?

Nick Harrison recently called Jeff Gerke “the de facto gatekeeper of Christian speculative fiction.” I don’t have a clue what that means, so I decided to write about it. To be the de factor anything you either have to be the choice that pretty much everyone makes (as in Microsoft Word is the de facto standard for word processers) or you’ve got to be the only one doing it. So which is it with Jeff Gerke. Is he the person everyone chooses as the gatekeeper for Christian speculative fiction? The thing about gatekeepers (agent, editors, etc.) is that people choose the ones that let them through the gate. If you’re letting more junk through the gate than other people, that may not be a good thing. The other possibility is that he’s the only one publishing Christian speculative fiction. That isn’t true either. None of the Christian speculative fiction I’ve read recently has come from him. Seems like most of what I’ve read recently came from Thomas Nelson. I’d have to go back and check the spine to be sure, but I know it wasn’t from Jeff’s company. So, I’m still not sure what that means.

I do understand what Christian speculative fiction is, so maybe it’s worth writing about that. I like speculative fiction because it gives us the freedom to do things we can’t do with other stories. I think you have to be careful though. Some people decide they’re going to write about elves or vampires or spaceships, so they venture into speculative fiction. I think it would be better if people would think about their story first. If at all possible, put it in a normal setting, but if it turns out to be difficult to tell the story in that way, then use speculative fiction as the medium for the story. That’s about all I have to say on the subject and I still don’t know what it means to be “the de facto gatekeeper of Christian speculative fiction.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! and Respect for Government

One of the marks of a false prophet is that they aren’t afraid to speak evil of dignities. Given the number of Christian TV and radio personalities that I hear saying bad things about governmental leaders, it seems to me that we have many false prophets in Christianity.

I think that the reason false prophets are so quick to speak ill of our leaders is because Satan and the evil spirits that are influencing these guys love to see people reject governmental authority and do their own thing. That’s practically the definition of sin. But we look at the Bible and we find that the archangel Michael wouldn’t say something bad about Satan, rather leaving that to the Lord. We find that David would not kill Saul, the Lord’s anointed, even when he had the chance. The Bible is very clear that we are to show respect to our governmental leaders, even when we don’t agree with them.

That isn’t to say that we can’t speak against the things they do. John the Baptist spoke against Herod’s adultery. But we need to be careful that we don’t follow the example of the false prophets and rail against our leaders. I won’t say that anyone who speaks ill of the President or our other leaders is a servant of Satan. I won’t even say that is true of all the preachers who speak against our leaders on TV, but it’s easy for those of us who aren’t to get drawn in by those who do. Because we hear someone else who claims to be a Christian speaking ill of our leaders, we find it easy to do the same thing. That’s not okay. I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone, but just because other people do it doesn’t mean that we have a right to be disrespectful to our God given leaders (all of them are God given). We still have a responsibility to attempt persuade them to do what is right, but we should work with them, not speak evil of them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Diverging Story Lines

There’s a manuscript that I’ve had in the back corner of my closet for a while. I wrote it with the intent of using it to get an agent, so I sent it out with that purpose. It didn’t get any notice, so I let it sit there. I liked the story, but the more I let it sit the more I thought about how other people might not get it. Then I started thinking of things I could do to change it. So, I’ve been revamping it.

The interesting thing is that I could reuse most of the text and plot from the first three fourths of the manuscript with only minor changes. However, the closer I get the end the more the manuscript has to change for it to go with the new story. It seems odd that the actions for the first story and the one I’m working one are almost the same in the first part, but it diverges more and more as we approach the end. I’m finding that I’m deleting more than I’m keeping in the last part of the book. Of course, anything I delete has to be replaced with something new. In the first story, one of the protagonists had to learn not to be so much a snob. In this story, there is villain to overcome, but she isn’t obvious until late in the book. Up to that point, the protagonist is making some of the same decisions that he did before, but now it is from a different motive. In part, it is from the opinion of the villain that he makes these decisions, but the other characters are able to do pretty much the same thing as before. Once the villain is revealed, the protagonist has to move in a different direction because now he must find a way to reverse some of the mistakes he made in the first part of the story in order to defeat the villain.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Not Worthy

We received word that a man who had attended the Baptist Missionary Association (BMA) Theological Seminary and recently returned to his native home in Africa has been killed. While the details are still sketchy and may never be completely known, my understanding is that because of the danger he knew he would face, he left his pregnant wife and their children here in the States before returning home. While there, he was arrested and killed. This is very poignant reminder that persecution is very real.

One particular passae keeps coming to mind. Hebrews 11:37-38 says, “They were stoned, they were saw asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy). They wandered in the deserts and in the mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” While I never met this man, but a feel a closeness to him because of his affiliation with the BMA Theological Seminary. But the world was not worthy of this man. The choices he made should be a inspiration to all of us. May we all live in such a way that the world is not worthy of us.

Cheating Men

On a news report I heard about a study showing that men are five times more likely to cheat on their wives if the wife makes more money than the man. Though there are people out there who would like to say that it doesn’t really matter who the major breadwinner is in the family, I don’t think anyone should be surprised by this. Christians should be especially unsurprised by this. In reading the Bible we see that God made us that way. That’s not to say that God made men to cheat on their wives, but God designed men and women in such a way that they man is to the be head of the home, the protector, the chief provider. God made men in such a way that they desire the respect of their wives. It’s understandable that a man who is earning less than his wife misses the respect afforded him when he is the chief provider.

I don’t know what we can do about the situation these days when so many women are going to school and getting high paying jobs while so many men aren’t manning up and doing what it takes to be the chief provider, but I do think that it might behoove wives to give special thought to how much they want that career that earns them more money than their husbands. Do they really value it more than they do their husbands and family? And for men, just because your wife is making more than you doesn’t give you a right to cheat on her. Maybe you should go back to school and get a better paying job.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Liking Characters

Should bad guys have something about them that makes them likeable? Some people say yes, but I have a hard time saying that is true in all cases. We certainly need our protagonist to be such that readers can identify with him, but I don’t think that’s always the case with the villain. There’s nothing wrong with having a villain that people like or identify with, but one way to look at a story is to see it as a protagonist facing a series of challenges. When we first see these challenges, we may not know who is opposing the protagonist. We might have a villain who is creating these challenges off camera, so all we know about the villain are the challenges the protagonist faces. We can’t be expected to like these challenges. So, your mother died. Yippee!

Once the villain makes an appearance, we may already know enough about him that we don’t like him and have no intention of identifying with him. That’s okay. It’s okay if the reader despises the guy. It may not be a comfortable feeling for the reader, but it also provides strong emotion. The stronger the emotions a reader feels the better, even if that emotion is great fear that a character they hate will win.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Plot or Character

How do you know if a story is character-based or plot-based? Maybe what I should be asking instead is how should a writer determine whether a story should be written as character-based or plot-based? I think a lot goes back to the inspiration for the story. Yesterday, I mentioned The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The selling point for that story is that it is about a guy who ages backwards. If that’s all you know about the story, you would be interested in it. I had no idea that it was a love story until I watched it. It didn’t surprise me that it was, since most movies have a love story in there somewhere, but that wasn’t the reason I wanted to watch it.

Contrast that with Die Hard, which is a plot-based story. If I tell you that it’s about a New York cop, you don’t have a great urge to go watch it. As great as the guys in the NYPD may be, they’re ordinary when it comes to stories. We aren’t particularly interested in how they handle ordinary situations, so until we know what the plot is about, we aren’t interested. Once we see that it’s about a guy taking back a building controlled by terrorists we become more interested.

So, look at why you want to write this story. Are you interested because you want to know more about a character you created or are you interested because you want to see certain events unfold? If it’s the character then the character will have a characteristic that forces him to experience the world differently from us. To highlight these aspects of the character, we actually want to avoid the more unusual actions that we might place in a plot. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there are scenes in which the character is just sitting and having tea with a woman. It works in character-based fiction, but if you were to put a scene like that in Die Hard it would kill the movie. We don’t want the character sitting around discussing how he will do what he needs to do, he needs to take action.

Most romances are character-based. The plot is set in stone, so when you hear the fans talking about what they want to read they talk about different types of characters. “I want an Alpha male with a librarian.” Or whatever. But there’s also the premature marriage plot that appears in both romance and science fiction. It is a plot in which two people marry before they fall in love. It seems to work better as a plot-based story.

Mysteries can go either way. The Monk series was very much a character-based show. We laughed at the way Monk handled the ordinary things in life. But so often the gumshoe of a mystery is quite ordinary. Agatha Christie had some memorable detectives, but they were always secondary to the crime. Their specialness gave them access to the crime scene, but it was the nature of the crime and the actions of the cast of suspects that made the stories great.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Example of Character-based Fiction

Last week, I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The movie was inspired by the F. Scott Fitzgerald story. The movie is about some morally bankrupt characters, which probably says more about the writers than it says about the story, but we don’t need to go into that. The thing that makes this movie worth talking about here is that it is a great example of character-based fiction. I’m sure that you are aware that there is something of a debate over whether character-based fiction or plot-based fiction is better. It isn’t a debate so much as a matter of personal preference. Each has its place, but some people prefer reading character-based fiction and some people prefer reading plot-based fiction. I don’t think we can say that one is better than the other, only that they are different.

The first thing that we notice about the movie as an example of character-based fiction is that the characters are unusual. Benjamin Button was born an old man and aged backwards. There’s nothing ordinary about that. The other characters are somewhat more ordinary, but we still see unusual aspects to them. We needn’t be too concerned with that since the main character is Benjamin Buton.

The second thing we notice is that this is a story about a sequence of ordinary events as seen from the perspective of an extraordinary character. The story begins with the birth of Benjamin Button and the death of his mother. Having a woman die in childbirth isn’t a particularly interesting plot device. It happens. It is quite ordinary. But because Benjamin Button is born an old man, he is old and wrinkled. He is quite hideous. His father, believing the child is a monster, is ready to throw the child in the river, but because a policeman is watching, he leaves the child on the steps of a house, that turns out to be an old folk’s home. This whole sequence of events is driven by the nature of person Benjamin Button is.

As the story progresses, we see Benjamin Button experience life. He goes to work. He goes to war. He falls in love. He has a child. It’s all ordinary stuff that ordinary people experience. The thing that makes this stuff interesting is that Benjamin Button is not an ordinary character. When he experiences these things, it is different from the way we experience them or imagine we would experience them. We’re drawn into the story because we want to see those differences.

That’s pretty much the formula for character-based fiction. Start with a character that is unusual. Then put that character through a sequence of events that the reader can imagine himself doing. It is the difference between the way your reader would handle the event and the way your character would handle the even that makes the story interesting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Do I Have to Find an Agent?

One of the things that scares me about my writing pursuit is that I might have to choose an agent someday. The more I learn, the less I like the thought of that. Ideally, you want an agent that you can get along with, but you also want someone who can stand behind your work. But when I look at some of the agents out there that seem to be great agents and are practically everyone’s short list, I am left saying “No for me.”

I think that what scares me is that I see a lot of ecumenism in Christian publishing. I suppose it is to be expected because the publishers aren’t going to make money if they are too selective about which authors they choose and the conferences want to be as all inclusive as possible. We start to see a problem when we see that you can go to a Christian writing conference and they attempt to handle it like a church service. I’ve even heard of some conferences doing the communion thing. To me, that just says that the people running the conferences want to play church. What disturbs me is that there aren’t more people taking issue with it.

With some of the agents I’ve seen, they don’t like it when someone opposes their ecumenical views. In other words, Christian has a right to speak, unless you hold non-ecumenical views. If I were looking for an agent right now, I don’t know where I’d look. There are several that I like as people, but I’m not sure that we would agree enough for me to be comfortable with their willingness to promote a book written with my point of view.