In Search of Ideas

by Karen Ball

Authors, I’m guessing you’ve heard this question over and over: “Where do you get your ideas?” I know I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Now, if you’re like most writers I know, ideas for possible stories come fast and furious—most of the time. But what to do when you feel as though the idea well has run dusty and dry?

Well! Let me share a few standards that I, and other authors I know, rely on:

The Media

That old saying that the truth is stranger than fiction has stood the test of time for one reason: It’s true! I’ve discovered that the news, whether on TV or in a paper or online, is a veritable mine of ideas just waiting to be…well, mined. <grin> It just happened to me again this morning. My dad was reading to me from the local paper about a hit and run accident in our area. At 3 am day before yesterday, a woman driving a pickup ran a red light, slammed into a van carrying workers on their way to a job, then jumped from her truck and ran away. One worker was killed, three others seriously injured. The police finally caught the woman at her home, and when they did so she was suffering from a multitude of injuries, probably, the authorities said, from the crash.

SO, I’m listening to him read, and this is where my mind goes:

What if the woman they arrested wasn’t the one driving the truck? What if it was someone who wanted to kill the driver of that van? So she stole the pickup of a woman she’d been watching, a woman who lives alone, who is known to drink excessively, who has received at least one DUI. Just before she steals the pickup, what if she attacked the inebriated woman, causing her injuries? Then she takes the pickup, T-bones the van to kill the driver, then takes off. Of course, when the authorities come after the woman who drinks, they won’t believe it wasn’t her, that someone just “happened” to attack her and steal her pickup.

And on it goes from there.

Okay, I’m not saying the idea is perfect, but what I am saying is it’s amazing how many real stories can spark a “What if” scenario, than can then become a book.

Personal Experiences

Some of the most powerful nonfiction I’ve read has stemmed from what the author, or someone close to the author, really experienced. Who are the people around you? What are their stories? What about their stories gets your heart pumping, sparks your outrage, warms your heart? Listen and ask questions. There are stories just waiting for you to discover them.


One of the best things you can do when you’re looking for ideas is people watch. Seriously! Go to the mall, an airport, the park—any place that’s busy. Then sit down, and watch. Watch the interactions between people. Watch expressions and body language. Look at how folks are dressed, what they’re doing, how they act.

We have a bohemian community not too far from us, and it’s a veritable feast of odd characters to observe. There’s the man trapped in his own world who sits on the same bench every day. He’ll watch people passing by for a minute, then suddenly he freezes in whatever pose he is in. He sits like a statue for five minutes or so, then comes back to life. A few minutes later, he freezes again. It’s as though he just catches some inner bus to another destination, then comes back. I’ve watched him a number of times and wondered…

What happened in his life that brought him to this place?

What does he see, hear, think, feel while he’s checked out?

What if he’s not really crazy, but he’s some researching watching to see how people react? Or what if he’s an undercover cop, and this is a persona he’s created to keep an eye on the bad guys? OR, what if (and this shows you how bizarre my brain is) what’s going on in his head is reality, and I’m actually a part of the delusion??

Watch people, let your imagination run wild. The ideas and stories will follow.

Okay, those are a few suggestions for sparking ideas. Now, your turn! Where do you find ideas for the books you write?

Can’t wait to read your responses!




News You Can Use – July 24, 2012

You Might Get Sued for Using that Photo! – Bloggers beware. That photo you snagged for your blog may not be yours to use. This article is a cautionary tale. (Beware, the author writes romance novels for the general market and her book covers are prominently displayed.) Our blog uses crestock.com and istockphoto.com for nearly all our photos. The licenses cost between $1 and $4 for each photo…

7 Ways to Sell Your Books on Pintrest – Beth Hayden offers some creativity!

Life Below the “Fold” – Common wisdom in home page design is to have everything important fit on the screen so readers don’t have to scroll. This article suggests otherwise. Agree or Disagree? (I think too much text is a design killer on the web. That opinion coming from a fellow who is known for writing epic length blog posts.)

Understanding the Harlequin Lawsuit – If you don’t think this lawsuit applies to you; think again. A similar suit change music contracts.

Reviewing Your Reviews – This is a tough thing to grasp for every author. Reviewers can be harsh. And even if the review is positive there is likely a negative comment or two. Nancy Mehl provides some excellent advice with this article.

Grilled Cheesus – Yes, this is real. In an October 2010 episode of the TV Show “Glee” had a poke at strange Christian products exclaiming “”It’s a Grilled Cheesus!” Then in 2011 some folks, who had been working on the idea for a couple years, raised money through KickStarter.com and actually created it. (Click here to see that they raised over $25,000) The product was found for sale on the convention floor of the ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) last week.

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ICRS 2012 – Observations

By Steve Laube

This year’s ICRS (International Christian Retailing Show) was a great time of celebration and doing a lot of business.

First I have to celebrate with Four award winning clients!

AWSA (Advance Writers & Speakers Association) Fiction Book of the Year

Susan May Warren - Heiress (Summerside)

The Christy Awards

Ronie Kendig – Wolfsbane (Barbour) – best Contemporary Romance

Ginny Yttrup – Words (B&H Publishing Group) – best First Novel

Lisa Bergren – Waterfall (David C. Cook) – best Young Adult

I am so honored to represent such wonderful writers! It is especially meaningful having traveled the journey of each book with each author. Ask the authors for the story behind their story!

As for business, we had a lot of great meetings with publishers, editors, and authors. Tamela Hancock Murray and I had over 20 scheduled appointments on Monday and Tuesday. It meant flitting from place to place in record time, especially since some appointments were on the convention floor and others were at one of the main convention hotels. (See Tamela’s post later this week for her perspective on the event.)

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Fun Fridays – July 20, 2012

I love visual experiences that make me want to read more. Enjoy this unique video short (six minutes) extolling the joys of discovery found in books. The last scene gave me goosebumps.

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Ebook-Originals, the Next Step in Traditional Publishing Strategy

Guest Post by Sue Brower

Our guest today is Sue Brower. She is Executive Editor at Zondervan in charge of fiction and thinks she has the best job in the world…she gets paid to read all day!  Zondervan is currently looking for completed manuscripts to fill the Zondervan First fiction eBook platform.  The ideal stories will primarily have romance-driven plots and vivid, realistic characters.  We are also looking for proposals in the Contemporary, Historical, Suspense, and Romance categories for our print program.  Sue lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband Todd, dogs Pepper and Ollie, and cat, Shep.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much the book market has changed in just a few short years.  Some bad, but mostly good because of all the new opportunities for innovation and creativity in publishing. Traditional publishing (print books sold through retail stores) is holding its own, but now there are so many more vehicles for authors to get published: print, epub-only, self-pub, etc.

A diehard fiction fan, I swore I would never give up my printed books and I didn’t believe that there would come a day when I wouldn’t be able to spend hours in a bookstore just browsing.  I love the way books smell; I love the way they feel.  Then the company I work for, Zondervan, gave me an IPad so that I could get comfortable with the format and so I could experience books electronically.  For a while everything I read was on my IPad; current books, as well as manuscripts I was considering for publication.  I thought it was so cool…for at first.  Then, a book was being released by my favorite author and I just had to have it in hardcover.  It wasn’t enough to have it loaded in perpetuity on my IPad, I wanted to be able to hold the story in my hands.  I enjoyed it more, become involved in the fantasy just as the writer intended.

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Spell Checking

by Karen Ball

Shortly after I became a book editor, I was working on a nonfiction manuscript that focused on Mormonism. When I finished editing, I ran the spell check. Imagine my reaction when the dear spell check wanted to replace every Mormon with moron and Mormonism with Moronism!

Since those long ago days, spell check has invaded countless emails, files, and text messages. As much as we appreciate it catching our errors, we curse it for “fixing” words that didn’t need fixing. So when I came across recently, I knew I wanted to share it with you.

So here, for your reading pleasure:


Eye halve a spelling chequer

It cam with my pea sea

It plainly marques four my revue

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait a weigh.

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News You Can Use – July 17, 2012

The Top 10 Things That Have to be Edited in a Non-fiction Manuscript – Written to the academic market but I think it has universal applications. Check your manuscript today for these ten things.

What is the Future of Publishing? – a well done article for “Forbes” magazine.

Behind the Scenes of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature – Michael Cunningham reveals why a winner was not chosen this year. Part Two of this article can be found here.

Titles are Everything! – a link to an 11 part series on how to read great headlines. Study it to learn how to title your book or your article or even your blog post.

Amazon Moving to Same-Day Service? – Since they lost the sales tax battle Amazon can freely open shipping locations in every Metro area and offer same day delivery. Imagine placing an order for that DVD, book, dress, or lawnmower and it is delivered within hours. And at a price lower than your local retailer. Wow.

In light of the previous entry I provide a picture with the possible caption: “What Amazon.com looks like to a local retailer.” (or to a Publisher for that matter!)

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To Comma or not to Comma?

by Steve Laube

I came across this entry in the Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss. The book is a classic on punctuation (although based on British English usage it is still a great book). Read the story below and then answer the questions in the comment section.

On his deathbed in April 1991, Graham Green corrected and signed a typed document which restricts access to his papers at Georgetown University. Or does it? The document, before correction, stated: “I, Graham Greene, grant permission to Norman Sherry, my authorised biographer, excluding any other to quote from my copyright material published or unpublished.” Being a chap who had corrected proofs all his life, Greene automatically aded a comma after “excluding any other” and died the next day without explaining what he meant by it. A great ambiguity was thereby created. Are all other researchers excluded from quoting the material? Or only other biographers?

Which do you think he meant?

What other ambiguities with commas have you seen or written with your own hand?

Why should it matter? It is just punctuation.

Is punctuation important in book contracts?

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Fun Fridays – July 13, 2012

Cookie Monster sings “Share it Maybe!” (You guessed it, a Sesame Street parody of the Summer’s biggest pop hit sensation “Call Me Maybe”.)

I vote we request that Animal do his version.

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Getting Our Books Into the Hands of Readers

Guest blog by Debby Mayne

Our guest today is Debby Mayne, an accomplished novelist with over 30 books and novellas published since 2000! She has also publshed over 400 short stories and a slew of devotions for women. She has also worked as managing editor of a national health magazine, product information writer for HSN, a creative writing instructor for Long Ridge Writers Group, and a copy editor and proofreader for several book publishers. For many years she has judged the Writers Digest Annual Competition, Short-Short Contest, and Self-Published Book Competition.

You can visit her web site at www.debbymayne.com.


Before I sold my first novel, I dreamed that once I wrote a book good enough to publish, an editor would call me immediately, tell me how brilliant my book was, offer to buy it, and maybe request a few revisions that’d I’d joyfully do (after I deposited my humongous advance that would cover hiring a publicist and purchasing a big house on the water). Then the publisher would print the book, and the marketing team would make sure it was available for people to purchase. I envisioned full window displays of my book at my favorite stores with people lining up to buy them…and of course I was sitting at a table signing my books as quickly as possible to keep the crowd moving.

I know, but remember this was a dream.

Eventually, an editor did call and say she loved my story, but I needed to address a few issues—and we talked for almost an hour before she sent pages of revisions.

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