Wednesday, June 30, 2010


J. R. R. Tolkien stated that critics of escapism confuse the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. His claim was that no one would scorn a prisoner for trying to get out and go home. He was talking specifically about fairy-stories, but I like his terminology and I think it beneficial to consider these terms in light of any form of fiction.

Two Types of Escapism

Escape of the Prisoner

The prisoner we’re talking about here is the reader, so we must consider what prison he has found himself in. There are many kinds of prisons, but none is as depressing as everyday life. A man gets up in the morning, eats breakfast, kisses his wife goodbye, goes to work, returns home, kisses his wife, eats supper and goes to bed. Another prison is the unhappy marriage. It goes something like the first prison, but he doesn’t kiss his wife and he may know she’s spending part of the day with another man. We understand a man wanting to escape that prison. We can write stories that keep that man trapped in his prison or we can try to let him escape and go home.

If we keep him locked away, our story is about a family with problems. Though the family may resolve those issues by the end of the book, they deal with them throughout the book. On the other hand, if we let him go home, our story takes on a different tone. Recall the story contained in the movie The Incredibles. We see a family that is trapped in a prison. An opportunity comes along for the head of the house to return to the old life (home) and he takes that opportunity. It gets him in trouble, so the whole family rush in to help, freeing them all from the figurative prison and allowing them to go home. That is the essence of well written escapism. While our readers aren’t superheroes, family problems is not what they want. What they want is a family situation in which the family works together, so home for The Incredibles is very close to home for our readers.

Flight of the Deserter

When we think of a deserter we aren’t thinking of a prisoner but a soldier who has left his post. Imagine if you will that our character is facing problems at home like what we looked at above. This time, instead of taking a job that allows him to be a hero to his wife and brings the family together we simply do away with the problem. We rewrite the story so that he doesn’t have family problems. His wife is adorning. His children are well behaved. Someone shows up to tell him they need his help and he goes to save the day. It’s everything we imagine we would like to be able to do. What a boring story it is.

This is an example of the flight of a deserter because it ignores the fact that people face real problems. In this type of story we’re deserting some of the basic truths of what we know to be human.

The Case for Escapism

While we can’t make much of a case for the Flight of a Deserter, it isn’t hard to argue for writing stories that allow for the Escape of the Prisoner. After a hard day at work, a reader isn’t likely to read hard to read stories. I greatly enjoyed Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman family series, for example, but it was the kind of stories that required me to be mentally prepared to read them. I had a hard time picking them up to read when my brain was tired. Contrast that with a book like Holes. While the characters face problems, it takes place in a world that allows us to escape. We have to dig a bunch of holes, but that’s not so bad.

Implementing Escapism

Every story begins with a problem, but the question of whether our story allows the reader to escape or not it determined by how we handle that problem. If we handle the problem in an ordinary way it is probably not going to allow our reader to escape. Some very good stories can be written this way, allowing the protagonist to learn something that allows him to handle the problem in the end, but the main part of the story is a struggle against a problem our reader would like to escape. In order to give our reader a means of escape, we want to take the less direct route.

Searching for Mom takes something of an escapist approach. Facing a prison of growing up without a mother, Sara takes matters into her own hands and does what many children in that situation might like to do but are unlikely to do, she set out to find one. Had I taken a more direct approach, the story would have focused more on Sara’s problems in not having a mother and she would have pestered her Dad to look for a wife. With him being unsure that he wanted to do that, thing wouldn’t have gone smoothly.

So I think one of the things we need to ask ourselves is if our reader happened to be in the same situation as our protagonist what he would like to do but probably won’t be able to do, either because he doesn’t know how or because of restrains he puts on himself. We may have some constraints of our own that prevent us from turning our character into a godlike creature, but allowing our character to do something that many people would like to do but can’t allows our readers to imagine what might happen if they did it. Doing these things will create problems for the character, but it’s freeing for the reader.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

At the Level

The maxim is that people perform at the level they are recruited. It applies in more places than you might think. Consider the difference between blogs and books. A reader discovers a book in the book store, pays for it and takes it home. The reader discovers useful information, decides this author really knows what he is talking about and reads the rest of the book, looking for similar jewels. Another reader discovers a blog through an internet search engine and reads the same information, storing that information away, but after reading the post he clicks away.

I’ve been thinking about serialization. In Dickens’ day, serialization was a common way to present a book to readers. A magazine would print one chapter at a time, encouraging readers to come back each week or month for the next installment of the story. If the book were printed and bound, the readers might purchase the book to finish the story more quickly or to find the chapters they missed. Today, it seems like the blog would be an ideal place for a serialized novel and yet such attempts have met limited success. I suspect that the issue is the recruitment level of a blog versus a magazine.

A number of books are being offered free to Kindle owners. That cause the book downloads to increase, but it also results in a number of low starred reviews. Though it may seem ironic that people who buy the book are more likely to praise it than people who get it free, the difference in recruitment level produces different results. While we may want to believe that we know what we like when it comes to books, our attitude has an effect on our opinion of a book. Just think of all of the high school students who hate the classics because they are required to read them. If the classics suffer from that problem then we can be sure that all other books do as well.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Women Teaching Men

Last week, I mentioned the Rachel Held Evans sees 1 Timothy 2 as one of her least favorite Bible passages—in particular verses 11-14, so I felt I should discuss the passage more completely. She isn't the only one. This is one of the more controversial passages in the Bible. There isn't much controversy in what it says. Paul very clearly states, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." You can go look it up in the Greek if you like, but that's pretty much what it says. The controversy is over what we're supposed to do with what Paul said. There are enough churches with women preachers to tell us that not all churches take this to mean that women should actually be silent at church. The range of ideas spans from this meaning women shouldn't say anything, to women shouldn't teach men at church, to this only applies to wives, to the passage doesn't apply today because our culture is different. Let's go at this fresh and see if we can figure out what it does mean.

First, consider the context. The book of First Timothy was written by Paul to give Timothy guidance in how he should instruct the church at Ephesus. In chapter one, we get the impression that the church wasn't quite as orderly as they should be. Various people were trying to teach when they didn't know what they were talking about. So when we get to chapter two, Paul is giving Timothy practical instructions on how a church service should be conducted. He first talks about prayer and giving of thanks. Then he gets very practical and talks about how women should dress in modest apparel. In other words, she isn't supposed to draw attention to herself by what she wears. Only then do we get to this thing about women learning in silence with subjection and not teaching. Given this context, I think we're forced to say that this has to do with conduct within the local church. There are other passages that deal with the home. This one deals primarily with the church.

Second, just what is Paul saying here? If we take it just like he said it, the women shouldn't be speaking during the service. It isn't her place to teach or to have authority over men in the context of the church service. Many people don't like this, but you can read it for yourself. That's exactly what it says. Does this mean that women aren't to teach at all? Apparently not. Paul wrote in Titus 2 calls for the older women to teach the younger women. In another place Paul praises Timothy's mother and grandmother for how well they taught Timothy.

Third, look at Paul's justification for why he says what he does. Verse 13: For Adam was first formed, then Eve. This may be part of why Rachel Held Evans doesn't like this passage. She isn't so certain that Adam was formed first, but Paul gives that as a reason why the man should be in charge rather than the woman. This upsets some people because they take issue with a woman being put in that position just because she was born a woman. But let's venture off into science fiction for a moment. Suppose you could clone yourself with a machine. At the push of a button an exact copy of you would be created, having your memories and abilities. Given that the two of you are equals, which of you is going to be sleeping in your bed tonight and which of you is going to be on the couch? Without some kind of rule to decide, what we have is a deadlock situation. You believe you should have the bed, but your clone believes he has the same right. We wouldn't think it strange to apply a rule of first existence. The clone ends up on the couch because you existed before he did. This is the same rule that Paul is applying here. In a marriage relationship, the man and the woman are equals, but for a marriage to run smoothly one of them has to have the final word when they are in deadlock situations. What Paul is saying is that God chose the man to have the final word when he created the man first. He could have created them both together, but to show us how the home should work he created the man and then the woman.

You may still have doubts. You wouldn't take issue with saying that Jesus is the head of the church, would you? What about that God the Father has authority over Jesus? The church is called the bride of Christ and certainly we wouldn't want the church to be over Christ, since Christ is God. But what about God the Father and God the Son? The Bible tells us that Jesus didn't think it robbery to be equal with God. If Jesus is equal with God, then why does God the Father have authority over his equal? And yet that's exactly the way the Bible says it is. 1 Corinthians 11:3 tells us that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man and the head of Christ is God. There is an order to it. God over Christ over man over woman.

So the only question now is, given his word is clear, what would God have me to do?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thoughts On A Sad Review

On I read a review for the book Evolving In Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. When I saw the review, only 1 of 4 people voted to say it was useful, but I felt the reviewer presented some interesting points.


But after reading the book, I felt a bit sad for Evans. She doesn't seem too sure about anything really. She's not sure she's saved (pg.133), she's not sure there's such a thing as a biblical worldview (pg.193), and she's not sure that hell is eternal (pg.224).

While I haven't read the book, I've watched the book video with the author discussing the book. The basic premise seems to be that she has found a way to hold onto her faith even though she has many questions about the things she had been taught. I'll have to say that as I watched the video and read the sales material I kept wanting to offer a quote from The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." In this case, instead of the word inconceivable it is the word faith that has a meaning in question.

The way many people use the word faith is in reference to the denomination they belong to and this is likely the way Rachel is using it. Another way people use it is similar to the way they use the word hope or as a means of positive thinking. A person has a strong desire for something—a publishing contract for example—and someone says, "I have faith that you'll get it." But when the Bible uses the word faith it isn't talking about belief with no basis; it is talking about the belief that God will do what he said he will do. Without a word from God, faith has no basis.

You've no doubt heard the phrase "standing on the promises of God." In a nutshell, that is what faith is. Throughout history, God has given us many promises. Some are big promises, like promising that Jesus would come to save us from our sins. Others are much smaller. When a mother has a sick child prays for the child's healing and feels the Holy Spirit telling her that the child will recover, that is also a promise. When she gets up off her knees and praises God for the promise, that is faith.

In reading some of Rachel's stuff, it appears that she filters the Bible through her world view and struggles to accept things like the six day creation of the world, the destruction of people who lived in Canaan and what she calls her least favorite passage in all of scripture, 1 Timothy 2. She says, "Maybe God wants us to have these discussions [about biblical interpretation] because faith isn't just about being right; it's about being a part of a community." I strongly disagree. While community is important, the reason God put the things he did in the Bible is so that we would come to a better understanding of him. Why create the world by speaking it into existence instead of a process of random selection? Because it reveals the awesome power of God. Scientists have speculated that for random selection to do that it would take millions of years. And they aren't even sure if it is possible for random selection to do it. God spoke and did it in six days. Wow! Why would God tell the children of Israel destroy the people in Canaan? Because God is a jealous God and refuses to allow any other gods before him. If that doesn't convince you that hell is eternal, I don't know what will. God wants the worship of his creation and will accept nothing less. Why did Paul say what he did about women? Because God desires that things be done decently and in order. I'll go into that more tomorrow.

Questions are fine, but we need to understand that God gave us answers. When we realize that the Bible is about Jesus and not about us, many of the questions disappear.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Retelling Stories

VeggieTales is one of the best children’s entertainment brands out there. One of the techniques they use in story creation is retelling Bible stories. Unlike the original stories, the VeggieTales version has vegetables as the characters. Obviously, they have to make modifications to fit their situation. Because they are operating in a world of fantasy already, it isn’t a far stretch for the writers to place the characters in which they are using swords to play out the skit one time and drive a car in another, giving them the freedom to follow the Bible version of the story quite closely. Things get more complicated when we try to fit a retelling into a realistic modern world, but the technique is worth considering.

I used this technique in For the Love of a Devil and I’ll tell you that it wasn’t easy. We read the Bible and it doesn’t seem so strange to see a woman leave Hosea for other men, see him continue to care for her and eventually buy her back when she becomes a slave. We sort of get this idea that that was the sort of thing that happened back then. It was a little out of character for the time, but only a little. We don’t see slave markets in modern day America, so some things had to change, but where do we draw the line on what can change and what must remain the same for it to be a retelling? Some authors seem to think that as long as a few of the same elements are in the story then it is a retelling. Let me explain the ground rules I use.

What Should Be the Same

The Same Theme

Open your Bible to any story and you will find that God has something that he is trying to say to someone with that story. When I retell a Bible story, I want the theme of my story to match that theme. In the case of Hosea, we see the theme of God loving Israel, even though they continually rejected him and turned to other Gods. We see this demonstrated through the life of Hosea, who married Gomer but she went after other men. Hosea chased after her anyway and eventually brought her home only after paying for her. We see this same thing happen in For the Love of a Devil. We see God’s love for his people through the love of the protagonist for his wife.

The Same Sequence

In one supposed retelling of Hosea that I’ve read the man purchased the woman before they were married. After they marry, she lives with him for a while and then leaves because she doesn’t feel worthy, but she doesn’t return to her old lifestyle. Instead, she starts a half-way house for prostitutes. While there are some of the same elements from the original, I have a hard time calling this a retelling because not only is the theme different but it follows a different plot. The Bible never talks about Gomer starting a half-way house. It never talks about her feeling unworthy of Hosea.

One of the things that following the same sequence forced me to do was to consider why things happened the way they did. While it’s hard for me to understand why a woman (any woman) is eager to leave a man that loves her, it is even harder to understand the sequence of events in Hosea’s life until you see it as a progression. It isn’t that hard of a stretch for an adulterous to become a prostitute. We might think it hard for a young woman who is sleeping with her boyfriend to become a prostitute, but if she needs the money or is on drugs she might decide to start sleeping with some other guys who’ll give her what she wants. She might even convince herself that what she is doing isn’t really wrong. So, the problem I see here is that if we change the sequence without first understanding the original sequence we are inserting our preconceived ideas of how a person should act rather than allowing for the development of a character that acts differently than we would allow ourselves to act.

The Same Major Plot Points

Pulling from Hosea, there were several major plot points that I felt that I needed to hit in my novel. They had to be married. They had to have three children. She had to leave for other men. He had to provide for her even when she believed her lovers were taking care of her. There had to be a situation in which he bought her out of slavery to take her home and she had to have reached a point that she wanted to stay with him. Had I missed any of those things I would have felt that I hadn’t done my job.

But Hosea is a short book. Even if we were to set the story in his day, there’s a lot of stuff we would have to make up. That’s why I feel that it is so important to hit the same major plot points. With more than ninety-five percent of the story coming from my imagination, if the reader didn’t see those major plot points he would have trouble connecting it to the original story.


The vegetable characters of VeggieTales are far removed from the flesh and blood people of the Bible and yet we can see the story through the shenanigans of the characters. This tells us that we have much freedom as writers to mess with the plot, as long as we do the things I mentioned above.

Things We Want to Change

VeggieTales is written to be comical. Many of the stories in the Bible are not a laughing matter, so the VeggieTales creators change some things and insert some things that we either know didn’t happen or are unlikely to have happened in real life. As long as we stick to the theme, follow the same sequence as the story and hit the major plot points, pretty much anything goes in between. We could retell the story of Sampson, for example, and we could change the thing about his long hair into something else, such as never cutting his toenails, and people would still see enough similarities to recognize the story.

Because we are telling the story in a different setting and with different characters, we might want to change other things as well. Sampson was incredibly strong. We can still have incredibly strong people today, but their value isn’t as great by comparison. Instead of physical strength, we might want our character to have strength of another kind. Our character might be a highly intelligent electrical engineer. There is nothing that he can’t build.

Things That Must Change

If we set our story in a time period other than the time of the judges of Israel and our character is an electrical engineer, you can be sure that there are things that will have to change from the original story. Our electrical engineer isn’t going to go out and slay a lion, then come back and eat honey out of it. He probably isn’t going to go out and destroy a bunch of crops. For the story to work, we need to find other things for our character to do that demonstrate his strength. So our character will be doing things like building robots or cracking computer systems.

Advantages of Retellings

Let’s face it, the Bible is well written and gets the point across much more efficiently than we can in a novel, but there are some reasons why we might want to retell Bible stories or stories from other sources. While most people are intelligent enough to find a parallel from a Bible story to their own lives, retelling the story can help to bring the point home and show people what we got from the story. Continuing to follow our Sampson example, many people hear the name Sampson and think only of his great strength and long hair. By retelling the story with a different character in a modern day setting, we can get past the preconditioned response and people may consider other aspects of the story.

We see the story of Sampson and see a good guy versus bad guy story, but if we pull him into a corporate situation we must address why on one company is good and the other is bad. We must also address why the hero of our story is sleeping with the enemy. In Sampson’s case, he was quite literally sleeping with the enemy. The things that a preacher might tell his congregation to take note of and they just nod their heads become things that our readers must come to understand just to read the book. We won’t tell the story better than it was told the first time, but we might help the reader see it in a different light when they read it again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's It About?

Before you do anything else you should write a brief statement about what your book is about. You shouldn’t write the first paragraph, the first sentence or even the first word without doing that. And when I say brief, I mean brief. Get it down to one short sentence. There isn’t a bestselling novel out there that can’t be summarized with one brief sentence. All the great movies can be summarized with one brief sentence.

When you think about it, it makes sense. If someone asks someone about what they’re reading or a movie they’ve seen word of mouth is more likely to work if the reader can summarize the book in just a few words. What’s Beauty and the Beast about? It’s about a young woman who is forced to live in castle with a beast. The Hunt for Red October? It’s about a Soviet submarine captain defecting to the U.S. without telling anyone what he is doing. But if someone asks us about a story and all we say something like “it’s complicated,” our hopes of them remembering the story are dashed and they certainly won’t be telling others about it.

It’s easy for us to latch onto some idea we have for a story and not want to let it go. We imagine our characters in a given situation and we start building the story around it. But when we’re done we don’t have a great story. Instead we have a mess made up of events that guide our character into the situation we wanted the character to experience. We try to explain the mess we’ve created and no one understands it. At best our story is okay, but it isn’t impressive.

If you find yourself in a situation where you wonder if people will like the story you’re writing, look at that brief summary. If you aren’t sure how to write that brief summary, then I can assure you that people aren’t going to enjoy the story. If you have a brief summary and the summary isn’t such that you are anxious to find out how the story takes place then people aren’t likely to enjoy the story as much. But if that brief summary gives you a thirst to know how it turns out, it is much more likely that people will enjoy the story.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Starting Points

Where do story ideas come from is a common question for authors. While an author may provide an answer when asked how he came up with an idea, the question takes on a completely different dynamic when the author is staring at a blank page. It’s simple enough to pick a plot from the ten or so basic plots and if the author is writing for a particular genre there are many similarities that all stories in the genre share, but simply copying what others have done does not a good story make. We look at the stories that are out there and see a hoard of stories that are pretty ordinary. We don’t want our story to be like that. We also see some stories that stand out above the rest. That’s what we want. It’s hard to guess what will do that, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

The Theme

One potential starting point for a story is the theme. The idea behind this is that you as an author have something to say and you base your story around it. Before you knock this idea, consider that authors such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Bunyan and Charles Sheldon, not to mention many others, used this technique to produce classics. Also, consider that every book has a theme.

Look at Bleak House by Charles Dickens. He used it to point out the problems with the court systems. While we can only see this through the lens of history, in his day it stirred some people up. He didn’t take a neutral position.

If you want to do this, think about what it is that you want to say to your potential readers. Suppose your claim is that we spend too much time on social networking sites. That would actually be a relevant theme for today. Now, within your story, your job is to not just make that claim but to show both sides of the issue. Your character begins in a situation and something happens as a result of social networking sites. You must consider how you can put your characters into situations that show reasons for and reasons against your claim. Simply stating your theme will seem preachy, but if you for your argument well it will work.

Total Annihilation

Whether you know your theme yet or not, one way to find a story is to look for something that would totally annihilate your main character. I don’t mean literally, though that is a possibility. One of the best things we can do is to throw the protagonist into a life or death situation from the very beginning. What form that takes may be different for each story, but we want to raise the stakes for the protagonist, not just the friends of the protagonist. That is forcing me to reconsider a story I am currently working on.

In a spy story, the stakes are raised by sending the protagonist into the enemy camp where he will die if he is caught. In a detective story in which the detective is brought in to solve the murder, the detective may not be facing death in the traditional sense. In such a situation, the stakes are raised by putting his reputation on the line. While it may seem that it should be important that he solve the case before someone else dies, his reputation as a crime solver is more important. In a romance, the annihilation may come in the form of a life event that threatens the character’s happiness.

Whatever it is, there should be no going back. The character may not have the best solution at first or know what will happen later, but he should be in a state that he can’t stay in. The only way he can live is if he continues to move forward. If you can find a situation like that, then the story just might be worth telling.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What's happening with Thomas Nelson?

By now you have probably heard that the largest Christian publisher has been bought by Kohlberg & Company. This transaction raises questions about the future of Christian publishing. I don’t know that anyone has the answers, but it’s still worthwhile to look at this transaction to gain a better understanding of how the publishing industry works.

One of the first things to look at is the purchasing company. Kohlberg & Company is a private equity firm. In other words, they make money by buying and selling companies. According to their website, they focus on “middle market” companies with values between $100 and $500 million. They make money by implementing changes that increase revenue and cash flow, giving the company more value in the eyes of investors, and selling the company, either to another company or in the form of stock. They aren’t publishing experts by any stretch of the imagination, so it should come as no surprise that Michael Hyatt is still at the helm of Thomas Nelson. What Kohlberg & Company brings to the table is money and a desire to see that money put to good use.

If the figures I’ve seen are correct, Kohlberg & Company paid $219 million in debt that Thomas Nelson had accumulated. For some companies, that is about what the weekly payroll is, but when you’re looking at a company the size of Thomas Nelson with about 500 employees that number is huge. At 6 percent, the company would be paying out over $13 million annually in interest alone. I suspect that it is that figure that has helped to persuade Kohlberg & Company that Thomas Nelson is a good investment for them. From all appearances, Thomas Nelson is a good solid company with one problem; they are swamped with debt. Kohlberg & Company’s gamble is that if they can eliminate the debt and instead use that $13 million to invest in new products the company will be able to make more money.

That sounds like a good thing for authors. Thomas Nelson will have more money to invest, so they may be looking for more authors. While that is partly true, don’t get your hopes up just yet. Acquiring manuscripts is part of how Thomas Nelson got in debt in the first place. Even so, with the debt gone, the company has up to $13 million dollars they can spend each year and would still be better off than before. With that kind of money to invest, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Thomas Nelson either buying smaller publisher or persuading a few well known authors at some of these other publishers to jump ship and publish with Thomas Nelson.

Of course, there may be some products that we’ll see Thomas Nelson either drop or sell. Considering how many people Thomas Nelson has laid off in an effort to stay afloat, I doubt there are many pet projects out there that just aren’t cutting it, but there’s always the possibility in these situations.

Sometime in the future, the day will come when Kohlberg & Company will be ready to sell Thomas Nelson. We have no way of knowing what form that will take. So all we can do is watch this situation and see what develops.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pop Quiz

Pop quiz: The Bible says that every knew shall bow and every tongue confess that____________________. If you answered “Jesus Christ is Lord” then congratulations on passing. Now, if you’ve recently listened to the song “Love Has Come” by Mark Schultz you might have answered “that God is love and love has come to us all.” I don’t intend to pick on Mark too much here because I suppose there is a remote possibility that everyone will confess that God is love. As far as I know, the Bible doesn’t say they won’t, but that’s not what the Bible says either. There is a huge difference between confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and confessing that God is love.

In talking about the background of “Love Has Come,” Mark Schultz references Philippians 2:5-11 as his source. This passage is clearly where he got the words “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess,” but it says we’ll confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, not that God is love. As I said, it is possible that Mark is right, so I’m not going to argue against his statement directly, but I will say that it bothers me to see people handling the word of God so loosely. If we truly believe that the Bible is the inspiredm, infallible word of God then our responsibility is to understand what it says as it is written and not add thing to it that aren’t there.

God is love. The Bible says he is. But could it be that people are focusing on the Love of God and failing to understand the other attributes of God? If all we see is that God is love and don’t also see that Jesus Christ is Lord we will fail to understand the very nature of salvation. One of the things we hear people say is that God loves us too much to let us go to hell. If all we know about God is that God is love then that might be our conclusion. The Bible tells us that God doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). Some people then surmise that God and Satan are fighting over how many people they each get and while God is trying to get people into heaven Satan is taking them to hell. But that’s not the way it works, God is in control.

Why then do people go to hell? We know it is because of sin, but why does sin send us to hell? If all I ever did to sin was to steal a cookie from a cookie jar, is that enough to send me to hell? Some people say no, thinking that as long as they are mostly good they will make it into heaven. But the Bible makes it clear that such a person would still go to hell (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 6:23). It doesn’t seem fair, if all we know is that God is love. But consider a mother who has put a clean white tablecloth on the table for company. Her three kids come in from outside with muddy hands. The first has mud covering his hands. The second has tried to wipe it off, but the mud is still there. The third only has mud on the tip of one finger. While their mother isn’t looking, they wipe their hands on the tablecloth. Can we say that the one with very little mud shouldn’t receive punishment? What if the other two had washed their hands and he just wiped his finger on the cloth? The result would be the same. The tablecloth would still be soiled and the mother would not be ready for company.

This is why it is important to understand the most important attribute of God. This is the only attribute of God that is emphasized by stating it three times in a row in the Bible. God is holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). God is so holy that he is unable to look upon sin. Because of this, any imperfection in our righteousness separates us from God. Just as even the smallest amount of mud on the tablecloth makes it unfit for company, the slightest sin makes us unfit for God. Our soul, breathed into man by God, is eternal and rather than disappearing into nothing, the soul will go on whether it is in the presence of God or not. God cannot have sin in his presence, so the sinful soul is placed outside the presence of God. We call this place hell.

God is torn between two things. He loves us and wants the best for us. He hates sin and must push it out of his sight. To get rid of the blot of sin there had to be a punishment. While we may think of hell as the punishment for sin, death is the punishment for sin. For those who believe on him, Jesus took that punishment for us. Jesus’ death on the cross is the punishment for sin. Through Jesus we are able to be reconciled to a holy, holy, holy God. But our salvation comes when we make Jesus Lord of our life, not when we agree that God is love. So we must be careful or we’ll point people in the wrong direction and they won’t be saved.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reader Expectations

All readers open a book with preconceived notions. This became very evident to me when I read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I can hardly mention the book without someone saying how much they loved the book. It is still showing up on best selling lists, which is impressive considering the book is nearly twenty years old. I read the book as I was completing For the Love of a Devil, a novel I very literally hung from the outline of Hosea’s story as it is detailed in the Bible. Because I had chosen to set the story in the heartland of America in modern times, it required some effort to fit the events on the outline and when I saw that Redeeming Love was a “retelling of the biblical story of Hosea” I purchased a copy so I could see how Francine Rivers had managed the same thing. When I opened the book I was surprised to find that though the author had pulled elements from Hosea’s story, such as God’s instructions to Hosea on whom to marry and buying her out of slavery, the order was mixed up and rather than seeing a rebellious woman pursued by a loving husband we see a woman so hurt from the past that she is afraid of love. That was a tremendous disappointment to me. My preconceived notion got in the way of me being as thrilled with the book as other people.

When we have conflicting feedback, it is often as much a result of a reader’s expectations as it is with the quality of the work. In the end, I think we have to stay true to our own vision for the story. While I followed the Hosea outline very tightly and Francine Rivers followed it extremely loosely, it doesn’t make one more right than the other. Albert Einstein said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” When we look at feedback, the thing we must consider is whether the person is judging it on its ability to accomplish what we want it to accomplish or whether they are expecting it to climb a tree.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Change Me or Change Them

There is a huge difference between a book that will change the reader’s life and one that the reader believes will change the lives of other people. At times, they may be one and the same, but consider the book that changes your life. You read through the book and by the time you reach the end you feel guilty or motivated or you view something differently than you have in the past. If it truly changes your life for the better, you might suggest that your friends read it. And consider the book you believe will change the lives of people you know. You read the book and see similarities between a character and some of your acquaintances. You begin to believe that if these acquaintances would read the book then they would see the error of their ways and make a change in their lives. You get on and send them a copy.

It seems to me that a lot of the Christian novels are written with the intent to be the kind of book that people believe will change the lives of other people. I think this is particularly true of authors writing Edgy Christian Fiction. One belief is that we should write fiction that appeals to the world if we’re going to reach the world with fiction. Right away that tells us that we’re writing outside of our platform. Assuming that we can target Christians with our marketing and we’re writing to non-Christians then what we’re hoping will happen is that Christians will encourage their non-Christian friends to read our work so that it will change their lives.

While our intentions to may be good in trying to change others, we are more likely to have an impact on the lives of the people we can actually reach with our writing. But if the people we can reach are Christians, then why do they need to change? Therein lies a potential problem. Writers are hesitant to call for change within the Christian community because it may require that they change their own lives. The things that other Christians are doing wrong are things that the writers are doing wrong as well. It is so much easier to point our finger at the lost world and talk of how wrong they are than to examine ourselves and identify what we are doing wrong.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Don't Reinvent the Hovercraft

Too often, aspiring writers try to reinvent the hovercraft when it comes to crafting totally unique phrases, and the writing doesn't come across as effortlessly as it needs to in order to keep the reader engaged with the story. – Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent

Are you one of those people who try to “reinvent the hovercraft?” One of the things that really irritates me about some writers is their tenacity to come up with new phrases. It isn’t just aspiring writers, I’ve seen published books with some of these phrases as well. Though this doesn’t come from writing, a prime example is the phrase “been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.” Now the phrase “been there, done that” is a perfectly good phrase, but someone decided to emphasize that by adding the part about the T-shirt. I’m sure it was funny the first time, but anymore it’s like an old joke. Well, for some people, that isn’t enough. So now you might hear people say something along the lines of “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and the coffee mug too.” They think it’s funny; the rest of us are thinking, “What an idiot!”

In writing, we might see Bransford’s example of “reinvent the hovercraft” instead of “reinvent the wheel” or “the greatest thing since the milk shake” instead of “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” I don’t know if authors are trying to be cute or if they are so afraid of clichés that they try to recreate it, but its very irritating and show no respect for the intelligence of the reader.

If you’re guilty of this and are trying to be cute, there’s not much more I can say than, “Stop it!” But if you’re trying to avoid clichés, consider what a cliché is. A cliché is a word or phrase that has lost its original effectiveness because of overuse. The aforementioned phrase “been there, done that and bought the T-shirt” is an example of a cliché. When it was first used it was intended to be funny, but it isn’t funny anymore. On the otherhand, “been there, done that” is not a cliché. Even though it has been used many times, people understand its meaning and that meaning has not changed or weakened. But at the same time, we must be careful in how we use it. It is quite informal language, so it might fit in dialog but not in the narrative. A better example of clichés are things like “free as a bird” or “cool as a cucumber.” When we see these phrases, they still have meaning, but we don’t stop to think about how free a bird is or how cool a cucumber is.

Changing the word in a cliché is not the best way to write. Changing “free as a bird” to “free as air” doesn’t really help. Effectively, what you are doing when you do that is coining a cliché. Instead of freshening the phrase to its original meaning, you’re creating a phrase that has the same meaning as the cliché. That defeats the purpose because the reason we want to avoid clichés is because their current meaning is too weak.

I think that one of the best ways to avoid these problems is to write as if we were writing to a friend. Suppose you were composing an e-mail to a friend with no intention that anyone else would see it. Let’s say you left off things like “lol” which is a huge cliché these days. Most of the clichés would disappear. You might have a few, but you would be much more concerned with communicating with your friend. You have a story to tell. If a cliché helps to tell the story you’ll use it, but you won’t be “reinventing the hovercraft” to make your writing unique. What do you care if your writing happens to sound like someone else, since only your friend will read it? You’ll avoid the old jokes because you know your friend has already heard them.

The job of the writer is to communicate the story, not to produce writing that seems particularly artistic. Write from the heart and the artistic stuff will come. The main thing we should give thought to is what we need to say.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Agree On The Important Stuff, Or Not

But at least we agree on the important stuff,” an online acquaintance responded to me the other day. Do we really? She had said something about the church beginning at Pentecost. I quipped that I didn’t agree with that. She asked me to explain why, which I did. She made it clear that she still didn’t agree and then came the comment about agreeing on the important stuff.

The Christian writing world is made up of many different authors who attend many different churches. On the surface, we’re a pretty amiable lot, attending conferences together, discussing writing online and whatever else, but there are major differences in doctrine. Let’s face it, there’s a reason why there are so many denominations. The people who began those denominations felt that the differences in doctrine were significant enough to justify splitting. You recall that the reformation was started with Luther nailing his 95 theses on the door of a church. Even before that there were other churches in existence other than the Catholic church. The Baptist churches were in existence at that time, along with the Ana-baptists and the Waldenses. Before Luther’s time there were groups like the Albigenses and the Paulicians, to name a few. It isn’t clear what some of these groups believed, but these groups disagreed enough to be separate. Even in the Bible we see various factions that formed as the gospel spread. If we truly agree on the important stuff then it makes no sense that there would be so many factions.

But just what is the important stuff? Certainly there is room for disagreement among Christians. If there weren’t none of us could go to church. Where do we draw the line and say that we must be in agreement on these issues?

That’s a hard question to answer in a general way, but consider some of the issue that divide us. Is God a trinity or not? Some say yes, some say no. What is required for salvation, when does it take place and how do we keep it? Some believe salvation comes to those who turn their lives around and do good works. Some believe that complete salvation comes to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Some believe it is necessary to trust Jesus for salvation, but if we stray into sin then we’ll lose our salvation. And there are a number of other beliefs. Whatever you believe about salvation, if someone else believes otherwise and puts his faith in another method, it makes him a non-Christian in your eyes. Is that enough reason to disassociate from him?

We don’t really agree on the important stuff. At best (or worst) we’ve agreed to not discuss the important stuff because we want to get along well enough to discuss the less important stuff, the stuff about writing. I fear that the result is that our writing suffers. In the interest of pleasing those who disagree with us, we don’t write about the most important issues.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Stories are about relationships. You recall the seven basic plots:

  • Man vs. Nature

  • Man vs. Man

  • Man vs. Environment

  • Man vs. Machine

  • Man vs. Supernatural

  • Man vs. Self

  • Man vs. God

Implied in this view of literature is a relationship. In a book, we may see these relationships many times. A tornado happens on page one, giving us Man vs. Nature. The tornado destroys the character’s house, so he is forced to deal with the insurance company, giving us Man vs. Environment. He becomes angry with God for destroying his house, giving us Man vs. God. In every scene that is worth writing, we are addressing some kind of relationship. The stronger the conflict in that relationship the better.

One of the easiest ways to put some emotion into a weak scene is to throw in some relationship conflict, ideally of the Man vs. Man kind. We love to see two characters arguing about something.

In some stories, we can’t reveal the name of the antagonist until late in the book, so we have to temper the conflict between the antagonist and the protagonist when they are on a page together, but we want to show that conflict. We do that by having the protagonist discover something the antagonist has done that is hurtful to him or his goals. One of the characters may be veiled, but we still need to highlight the relationship.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's Not About Me

Name recognition is one of those things that so many of us strive for and it’s no surprise. People like Stephen King can sell books even if people don’t know the name of the book or what it is about. But let’s get real; I’m not Stephen King and neither are you. There aren’t many people who will buy our books because our name is on the front. The marketing tecniques that work for Stephen King or any other well known author, even lesser well-known authors like Colleen Coble and Brandilyn Collins won’t work for us. Who knows, maybe someday we too can sell books by just putting out an announcement that our next book is available, but that only comes after a bunch of people have read and liked our books. Most of us will never reach that point, so let’s just say that we’ll cross that bridge if and when it comes.

In the meantime, the most important thing for unknown authors is the story itself. Forget about name recognition. Our goal shouldn’t be to make people aware of who we are. Readers don’t care who you are. There are many books that I have enjoyed reading that I couldn’t tell you the name of the author because I never looked at the author’s name. The Owlstone Crown was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I’ve probably read that thing ten times, but I couldn’t tell you the name of the author without looking it up.

Think about that and let it sink in. The author isn’t important. Suppose you are interviewed on television or the radio. If you were Stephen King, the viewers might be interested in what you had for breakfast, but since you aren’t, what they are interested in is the story in your book. Is this a story they want to read or not? The process you went through when writing the book, your similarity to one of the characters in the book or any of that personal stuff has little to do with that. While we can’t control which questions we’ll be asked, we can control how we answer questions. The best thing we can do when asked a personal question is to give a truthful but short answer. In one online interview I saw recently the author was asked whether he preferred baseball, basketball or football. Who cares? Unless this guy is a friend, I don’t. What I want to know is what he can do for me and that means telling me more about his book.

We need to have a clear understanding of what our book is about and the story needs to be one that people will want to read. It’s best to know what the book is about before you write it. Don’t make it complicated. The Owlstone Crown is about two orphans who fall through a portal and battle to free their grandparents from an evil dictator in another Earth. That simple statement becomes the backbone of the story. When we still people about the story, we can start with that can then fill in more details. Maybe they weren’t looking for a story like that, but after hearing the details they are more interested.

It might help if we imagined that our name has been left off the cover of the book and people don’t believe us when we say that we wrote it. What would we do to convince people to buy the book? If we can do that, we know what we should be doing to try to sell our books.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Problems With The Core

I watched a movie call The Core the other day. The basic theme was that to be a leader you first have to fail. Then throughout the rest of the movie they certainly failed. A team traveled to the center of the Earth to restart the rotation using nuclear bombs. They manage to do that, but not without losing everyone on the team except for two. Overall, the movie seemed to be fairly well written and it had some nice visual effects.

But no matter how well a story is written it is hard to get over killing off so many of the main characters. I think the problem is that we reach a point where death doesn’t mean anything anymore. The first death means something, but you can only include selfless sacrifice in a story so many times. As viewers or readers, we get attached to the characters and when you kill off too many we begin to steel ourselves against being hurt by the next death.

There’s a very good reason why we introduce redshirts into our stories. We can kill off a redshirt and the reader gets the point that the villain is a bad dude, that anyone could die, but it doesn’t hurt quite as bad. When a team accomplishes their mission and the only people who died are the redshirts and maybe one primary team member then we feel much better about celebrating the victory.

I say all of this, but it is really a personal preference. As I said, the story was well written, but it went too far for me. Others may like it, but not me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

As If Writing to a Friend

Relay the story as if you were telling it to a friend is a piece of advice I picked up the other day. I won’t say it tells me anything I didn’t already know, but having it put into words like that often helps. When we consider the stories written by Mark Twain we see that he took that concept to heart. Each time we pick up one of his books we feel as if we were sitting by the fire with him as he tells of some experience he or an acquaintance had. The narrator of his stories seems very real, even though it is clear at times that it isn’t Mark Twain himself or even one of the principle characters. His technique makes it easy for us to slip into the story.


One of the things we must consider when relaying a story as if to a friend is who this friend is and what he already knows. Our friend is likely an intelligent person and doesn’t need us to explain every little detail. Imagine sitting in your living room and telling your friend about a trip you took. What details would you need to include for your friend to picture the events that took place? Those are the details that are important to our story.

What Story?

Relaying the story as if to a friend also has an impact on the story we might choose to tell. There are a couple of reasons why we might tell a story. One is for entertainment. The other is to get a point across.


Look at a story like The Magic of Ordinary Days or the book Holes and you’ll see stories that have good solid themes, but their primary purpose is to entertain. A reader may walk away changed, but it isn’t so much about that. Instead, the author is relaying a story that he enjoyed and hopes the reader will too. It’s a little like when you’ve been out somewhere and something happens. You call up a friend and say, “You’ll never guess what just happened to me!” You don’t expect your friend to change his life because of your experience, but you want him to share in the experience. If we’re writing for entertainment our goal is to write about things of which the reader will enjoy sharing the experience. If it isn’t exciting or help to explain the events then forget it.

To Teach

Stories have always been used to teach and to change lives. Books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird were written for that purpose. The author had something to say and wanted to get it across, but he did so with an entertaining story. If we’re going to write stories like that, we must consider what it is that our friend needs to learn. Many times we make the mistake of preaching to the choir, trying to teach people something they already agree with. We need to stop that.

Let’s suppose we’re writing a Christian novel. As our theme we might pick something like how the world is going to hell in a hand basket or something similar. It seems like a great theme, since that’s what the preacher preached about on Sunday. But is that what our friend needs to read?

Let me get very specific. I have a friend—if you can call him that—who is the biggest gossip I’ve ever seen. Not long ago, I was at church and overheard him telling another friend about a preacher the three of us know. “I heard that the reason he’s looking for a church is because he got fired.” Whether he did or didn’t is none of my business. If I were on a pulpit search committee, it would be appropriate to ask the preacher and the church about it, but spreading this information in this way is harmful. So if my gossiping friend is the reader, the story I tell might be written in such a way that he would see that gossip is wrong. But it wouldn’t be so simple as just writing about gossip because my friend doesn’t see what he is doing as gossip or wrong at all. Which brings us to why fiction works. Rather than talk about how wrong gossip is, like a preacher would do, we would point out my friend’s flaws by creating a character who is a caricature of my friend, highlighting gossiping nature and revealing the consequences.


When we focus our writing on a friend, whether that friend be real or imaginary, our writing is improved because we are attempting to communicate rather than to fill the blank pages. When we’re writing to teach a friend, our writing becomes much more focused and we stand a better chance of getting the point across while telling an entertaining story.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Likable Conflict

Romance novels typically fall into a class of stories in which two people who can’t seem to get along come together and discover that they really need each other. In romances they have to fall in love, but in other stories of this type that is not a requirement. But how are we to pull this off without the reader hating one or both of the characters?

A good place to start is to find a way for both characters to be right. In You’ve Got Mail it is a battle between the big huge store and the little independent store. There’s nothing wrong with either. Both the man and the woman are trying to make a living with their business. Each has its good points and each has its bad points. So aside from some prejudices, the audience has no reason to hate either character. While the battle between good vs. evil makes for many great stories, the ideal conflict in this type of story is created when both characters want directly opposing things and yet the reader is cheering for both of them. Of course, the resolution can’t be something simple.

You may recall the story of the prince who wanted to eat something that was both very hot and very cold. The king called for the best chefs and told them to fix such a dish or he would cut off their heads. Try as they might, they couldn’t come up with anything, but a kitchen boy took a bowl of ice cream and poured hot fudge on it. While it makes for a good children’s story, that is too simple of a solution for a romance, but it is a similar idea. So, we pit the guy from the historical preservation society against the developer who wants to build a shopping mall. He wants people to remember the past and she wants to encourage growth in the future and they both want to do it with the same piece of ground. Neither is wrong in what they want to do and we can easily see why they are good things to do, but they can’t both have their way and that’s why they clash heads. And being sadistic like we are, the historical site has to be right in the middle of the only suitable piece of land for building a mall.

The beauty of this is that neither side has to be at the throat of the other. The historical society can calmly state their case for preserving the site and the developer can calmly make case for rezoning. Each can stand firm, believing right to be on their side. And as they fall in love, they can reach the point where they want to help each other out, the historical guy would like to let her build the mall and she would like to let him keep his site, but neither can back down, perhaps because of the people they represent. It seems like nothing will work, but then they come together and by working together they come to a solution that is better than they anticipated.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Reverse Engineering Stories

The theme runs throughout the story from beginning to end. When watching television shows, I’ve noticed that whatever issue is being handled in the A-plot is also being handled in the B-plot. If the character in the A-plot is having an argument with his wife, we may see a character in the B-plot having an argument with her boyfriend. I began to wonder about this because it seem like we might be able to work backwards from some of the things we see happening in the B-plot and discover where the A-plot is headed. That isn’t a problem unless by doing so we reveal too much.

Suppose that in our story a murder has taken place, but the reader doesn’t know who did it or why. In our B-plot, we reveal that the theme is about the importance of family. In our list of suspects we only have one person with a motive based around a family. In keeping with the theme, this person has to be the one to commit the crime. If the reader discovers this and has a rudimentary understanding of story structure, our killer is revealed.

This isn’t a reason to quit writing to a theme—quite the contrary. One of the best ways to hide our killer until we’re ready to reveal him is to give many people a motive that seems to fit with the theme and then reveal another motive at the end that fits with the theme but does so in an unexpected way. We could have a family fighting over an inheritance. All would have a motive to kill for the money, but in the end we may discover that the killer’s motive was to prevent the victim from using the money in a particular way, instead of because the killer needed the money. It’s no guarantee, but it might prevent the reader from discovering the end from our theme.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Twin Names

A friend of mine mentioned that her twin daughters were having a birthday and it got me to thinking about names. Parents want to give their children good names because they are likely to be stuck with the name for a very long time. We writers like to give our characters good names that fit the character. But I got to thinking about naming twins. A couple discovers the woman is pregnant and they begin thinking about names. Perhaps they settle on one—the others just aren’t good enough. Then the woman goes to the doctor and he says, “There’re two heartbeats in there.” Now the couple has to come up with another name. The day comes when the children are born and one gets one name and one gets the other. But who gets which name? Is it first come first served? I suppose it may be different for different folks, but when those two children are there in their parents’ arms, looking so much alike, there really isn’t much of a way to figure out which one should be Brad and which one should be Brian. I suppose that is why some cultures change their kids’ names after they get older.

But what if by the luck of the draw you were the twin who received the second name? Parents aren’t supposed to play favorites, but one of the children must have received the name they really wanted for their child and the other received the name that they had rejected. As writers, we play favorites with names. We give the “best” names to our favorite characters. We choose names that we think fit. This could be a problem if we’re writing a whodunit and give a character a name because we think it sounds like the name of a killer. Just something to think about.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Readers Need Purpose

You may have already seen this video elsewhere. If not, I recommend that you watch it and then come back and we’ll talk about it.

The basic premise of the video is that while money is a motivator, people are also motivated by purpose. Give people enough money that they don’t need to be concerned about money and they will turn their attention to those things that seem to have purpose, when we’re talking about something that requires cognitive skills. While that may not be immediately obvious, I think it makes sense if we consider the logic carefully. Our first priority is survival. Without money we fear we won’t survive, but once that is taken care of we are free to consider other things.

Applying This to Books

From the standpoint of authors and writing, the application is obvious. We write, not because of money, but because of some greater purpose that we see in writing. We want money for our writing so we can write without concern about money. But what about for the book buyer? What is needed to motivate a book buyer to buy a book?

Some of the same concepts apply. For example, money is only a motivator to a limited extent. If books are overpriced, people won’t buy them, but reducing the price of a book doesn’t always translate into more sales. In fact, reduce the price too much and people may assume there is something wrong with it. People buy non-fiction with a purpose in mind, usually to learn something so they can accomplish some higher purpose. Fiction may be for pure entertainment, but people may still have a higher purpose in the back of their minds. They may buy it so they can review it on their blog. They may buy it because they want to read the book with their book club. They may buy it because they’ve been hearing about it and they want to be knowledgeable enough to discuss the book competently. People want to become better at something. One of the things people can become better at is in the knowledge of a particular author. These people will purchase every book that particular author writes, just to increase their knowledge.

So for those people who want to become an expert in us, we need a means of informing them when a new book comes out and we need to do things like book signings and speaking events to give them additional insider information. For those people who are looking for entertainment, we need to know what other authors have a similar style to our own and try to reach their fans, maybe working together with the other authors so that we all can benefit. For book clubs, it might be helpful to have discussion questions. Whatever we can do to help people achieve their purpose is what we need to do.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Second Book, Easier or Harder?

I recently saw a discussion about whether book two is easier to get published than book one. From my point of view, I think it is pretty obvious that it is. Just look at it in terms of years. If it takes ten years for an author to get the first book published and the contract for book two is in place even before book one reaches the shelves then it is obvious that the author didn’t have as much trouble getting the second published. But let’s look at why this is.

The first reason is that the author already has an agent. Agents don’t really like signing new clients. What they really want is for their existing clients to make them tons of money. Life would be much easier for agents if they had seven clients who were making enough to live on rather than having twenty clients who are scraping by. If the agent has a client that a publisher liked in the past, the agent is going to push for publishers to publish that client again.

An author with a traditionally published book is more likely to be writing at a level that meets publishers’ approval. Granted, we may look at their work and question why the publisher liked it, but whatever it is that publishers are looking for, they’ve got it. Assuming they can duplicate it in a few months when they could take a decade to produce it before, the author is more likely to get a second contract.

If the first book was a success, there is a strong possibility the second book will be a success also. The publisher may have seen it as a risk to offer the author a contract the first time, but if the publisher sees that they made a profit, even a small profit, on the first book they will be easy to convince to try to push for additional success with the same author.

The author has a better understanding of the publishing industry. It’s like traveling somewhere in a car. The first time you may need a map to find it. The second time you may be able to get there with little help from the map at all. With the first book, the author may be stumbling around trying to find a way to reach his goal while the second time he has an idea of what will work and what won’t.

But that second book contract isn’t guaranteed. Some topics don’t need a second book about them, so the author may have nothing more to say. The author may have had other people edit the book and their work is what made the book good, rather than the work of the author. The publisher may look at the book and decide that the author isn’t worth future risk. So while it is generally easier to get the second book published, it may not be so easy for all authors.