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Music to Write by

by Steve Laube

Latino student wears earphone using a laptop while sitting on a sofa

Some write in silence. Some write with music in the background. Some write with music playing through their headphones (or earbuds).

I’m curious as to what you, our readers, listen to while writing. Or if you write in silence. In the comments below let us know your favorites. Maybe we can discover some new musical inspiration together.

I read somewhere that Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, credits the group Muse as her inspirational background music. She even provides a playlist on her web site of the songs she listened to while writing Eclipse. (Here is that playlist.)

Years ago Ted Dekker mentioned that he listened to hard rock while writing his intense thrillers.

When it comes to music I am wildly eclectic. Most of the time my work day is silent. It can be a challenge to find the mute button when the phone rings. But when I feel the need for some background music to cover the hum of the fluorescent lighting I go in multiple directions.

1) A classical Baroque station on Pandora radio. I could listen to Bach and Vivaldi all day.

2) Solo piano music. I have a playlist of 90 albums that would play continuously for 26 hours without repeating a song. Artists like George Winston, Liz Story, Kurt Kaiser, and Jon Schmidt.

3) A contemplative contemporary artist playlist. The playlist is entitled “Thoughtful Music.” It includes artists like Vienna Teng, Melody Gardot, A Fine Frenzy, Charlotte Martin, Natalie Cole, Imogen Heap, Natalie Merchant, and Sara Groves.

4) Other days the mood trends toward acapella music with artists like Glad, Rescue, The Real Group, Take 6, Manhattan Transfer, and The New York Voices.

But if I need to let off some mental steam the playlist gets a little louder. This one includes artists like Flyleaf, Red, Fireflight, Skillet, Hoobastank, Linkin Park, Muse, etc. Or classic rock from Boston, Queen, Three Dog Night, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, etc.

What do you play when the Creative Mood is in full swing?

Writing That is Powerful, Not Preachy!

by Karen Ball

dog_forgive_me_face

Thanks to Shirley Buxton for asking in the comments of my blog on writing that sings, “Can someone help me understand how to show spirituality without being preachy?”

Why, yes, Shirley, I can. At least, I can tell you my perspective.

It’s the difference between telling people how they ought to live, and showing them. It’s not spouting Scripture when someone is hurt or struggling, but coming alongside them, sitting with them, holding them, asking how you can help. It’s entering into their struggle and being Christ to them, acting as he would.

Think about it. When Jesus shared spiritual truths with the crowds around him, how did he do it? He showed those truths through a story. He didn’t say, “You faithless fools, God tells us to use our talents for him, not withhold them!” No, he told a story… “A man was going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them…”

Whether you’re writing nonfiction or fiction, the way to communicate spiritual truths is to show it, not tell it.

Consider the following paragraph:

Forgiving in marriage is not an option. It’s a command, straight from Jesus. If your spouse had done or said something that hurt you, forgive them. If you’ve done or said something that hurt your spouse, ask to be forgiven. You don’t have a choice. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” And a verse or so later, he says: ““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” If you’re a Christian and you aren’t forgiving your spouse, you are in the wrong. And God won’t forgive you. It’s as simple as that.

Okay, feel beat over the head a bit? Yeah, me, too, and I wrote it! That paragraph is preaching. Telling you how you’re supposed to behave, and that you’ll regret it if you don’t. All of which may be true, but not many are drawn to right living by that kind of presentation of truth. Now, try this…

I’d only been married a few days when I made a shattering discovery: the man I married, the man I saw as a knight in shining armor, could do and say things that hurt me! It didn’t matter whether or not he’d intended to hurt me, all that mattered was he’d done so. And then I made an even more shattering discovery: Forgiving your spouse is hard. When I said I do, I knew he’d be there to shelter and protect me, to love me unconditionally. He wasn’t supposed to hurt me!

It’s hard, isn’t it, letting go of expectations, loving someone for who they are, warts and all? But here’s the thing. When we don’t forgive someone, we put them—and ourselves—in a kind of prison. I found that out all those years ago after nursing a hurt for days. I was miserable. Don was miserable. Even the poor dogs were miserable! Life at the Ball household was not much fun. Then, one evening, God tapped me on the shoulder and reminded that—ahem!—Don was not the only imperfect human in the marriage. And that love wasn’t about not hurting each other, it was about forgiving and surrendering my hurts to Him. When I finally did that, oh! the freedom that washed over me! My heart was light, our home was warm again, and I swore I could fly.

Friends, don’t let hurts in marriage fester. Don’t let them weigh you down and imprison you. Let them go. Forgive. And know the beauty of God’s freedom, not just in your marriage, but in your heart.

When you show truth in your writing, you draw people into the experience. They live it with you or with your characters, and they learn alongside you. In the process, they may even change.

So writing with power means you don’t hit people over the head with Scriptures, you don’t give a sermon, you don’t stick in a conversion scene unless it’s a natural outgrowth of the story. Writing with power means you show what’s right, through story or illustration, through your character’s journey.

So that’s my take. Now, how about you all? What do you think makes the difference between preachy writing and powerful writing?

Book Proposals I’d Love to See

by Tamela Hancock Murray

beautiful red rose flower on black background

By God’s will and pleasure, during my career as a literary agent I have been successful in representing authors writing Christian romance, Christian and general market trade book fiction, and Christian nonfiction.

My interests have changed very little since my first blog post for The Steve Laube Agency, “Happy to Be Here,” but here’s an update for you:

Do you still want to see Christian romance novels?
Indeed I do! I’m happy to say that this is one area of Christian fiction that continues to thrive and enjoy an enthusiastic readership.

I am still passionate about Christian romance novels. I respect and honor the fact that the editors of the romance lines are very specific about their needs and wants. They look for hardworking, dedicated, talented authors who are able to write a fresh story within the romance novel framework. Does this describe you? If so, I’d love to partner with you!

What about other genres of fiction?
As those following the industry are aware, the trade book fiction market has contracted in recent years, but I have never experienced an easy time for authors to break in to trade fiction. As with modeling and acting, more people want those jobs than there are jobs available. This is a perennial fact.

However, I am always seeking a tale well told that I believe deserves a place in CBA. My personal tastes will always veer to heavy romantic elements. To wit, if my husband has a movie on television and I don’t see any women (e.g., cowboys sitting around a fire or a bunch of guys on a boat), I find something else to do until the movie is over.

But as long as there is a heavy romantic element, I’m open to all sorts of stories.

Are you open to general market fiction?
Yes. But the story must be so clean you’d be willing to share it with your most devout friend or relative. Nothing that would dishonor God or disrespect the faith of the church, as defined by The Apostle’s Creed, is welcome here.

Are you still open to nonfiction submissions?
Yes, and I continue to be highly selective. The importance of author platform here is magnified a thousandfold in comparison with fiction. I need to see an author who’s already connecting with his or her audience so I can show publishers the author has gained respect and credibility with current readers and will be a great partner with the publisher in expanding reader base. Nonfiction readers are looking for insight, consolation, help, knowledge, and encouragement. An author needs to come from a position of authority when delivering a book to these readers.

Platform must be accompanied by a great idea told in dynamic writing. Tell me why you have an audience eager to read what you have to say on your topic, and why. I love books that  make me want to read them even when the topic doesn’t apply to me. Now that’s a well-written and engaging book.

And in today’s market, that’s what you need.

Do you have a lot of slots open for new authors?
God has seen fit to allow me a client list that is fantastic beyond my wildest dreams. However, I am humbled and honored by authors who take their valuable time to learn about me and afterwards feel led to submit their ideas to me, especially when CBA is blessed by so many talented literary agents.

Although we are not perfect in our level of response (meaning it’s OK to follow up if you don’t hear from us), my assistant and I do consider submissions from new authors. I am thrilled to work with promising new as well as established authors. You can send proposals via email to ewilson@stevelaube.com (please visit the guidelines for specifics).

Are you still happy to be here?
Why yes, I am!

Don’t Just Do It

by Dan Balow

Dont Just Do it

I don’t like the word “just”.

Don’t get me wrong, “just” is a fine word, especially when used in a triple-word space in Scrabble.  It has all sorts of good uses and meanings…even used to fill time when we are thinking, along with the other great words and phrases of our culture, such as “like”, ”um”, “I mean” and ”you know.” 

I simply do not like the word “just” when it is used to place limits on or minimize something we are doing.  It might be unintentional, but many of us use the word to lower the bar:

“I just want to go to church and sit quietly and enjoy the service.”

“I just want to go to work and have no one bother me.”

“I just want to attend that meeting without someone asking me to speak up.”

“I just want to retire.”

Can you imagine someone stating, ”I just want to be a missionary”?  Devoting your entire life, both present and future to God’s will and work, giving up everything you planned in your life for the service of God’s kingdom seems a bit larger than “just” another path in life. 

Now imagine someone who “just wants to be a writer.”  It sounds like a person who aspires to write ad copy for Craigslist.

Purpose, passion, energy and total commitment are what it takes to be good at anything.

Many years ago, I decided to never “just” do anything (except for mundane things like getting dressed, washing dishes, taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn of course). My wife will often precede something she is about to say that contains the dreaded word with an apologetic disclaimer.  I might have gone too far with this entire thing, but it is too late to turn back now.  (Dedicated to the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose)

Many years ago, as a way to remember to not “just” do anything, I wrote myself a note and pinned it up next to my desk.  Here it is:

I Love Mondays

  • They are the beginning of an opportunity to do something significant. It might the start of the best week of my life.
  • Do important stuff.
  • When confusion reigns, remember what is important.
  • Harness creativity, intuition and wisdom to beat back ambiguity and randomness.
  • Have fun.
  • Do it all for the glory of God.

Who in their right mind would actually look forward to Mondays? (and not “just” because Steve Laube’s blog post is on Monday)

Zig Ziglar said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

So, don’t “just” write…write with everything in you, but first, maybe write yourself a note.

What drives you?

Open Your Eyes! There is Creativity Everywhere

by Karen Ball

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll have seen my recent pictures of the flowers that have been blooming like crazy in my yard. It happened so fast! One day the ground seemed dead and unyielding, the next green shoots popped up, and then…

WHAM!

Flowers and flowering shrubs and trees burst forth with colors and buds and blossoms. Among the first to appear were the jonquils. Then came the daffodils and tulips. But this year we had a remarkable variety of daffodils. Check these out…

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As I watched all this happening, it occurred to me that something else was coming back to life: my creativity. It was as though watching spring’s explosion of beauty and color fanned my own spark of creativity–which, I admit, had gone a bit dormant over the long, cold winter–into full flame. I wanted to write! To sing! To garden! To calligraph (yes, that’s a word) a poem! To CREATE! And you know what?

It felt great. It felt like I was waking from a deep sleep that had captured me. Like all my senses were refreshed and refueled. All of which reminded me how vital it is for those of us who make our living being creative to keep our eyes open for the inspiration God has placed all around us. And to celebrate it. Even revel in it.

Today, purpose to look around. If spring has visited you, let the color and shapes and beauty sink deep into your spirit. If you’re still caught in the depths of winter, find beauty and creativity in other things…a child’s smile, a piece of music playing, the fragrance of fresh-baked bread or a perfect cappuccino, a beloved one’s laughter… Wherever you are, I guarantee there’s something beautiful, something creative going on. Because God is a Master of creativity. Open your senses, and your spirit, and see what He has for you today that will restore you.

To share a bit of said creativity with you, here is a video I came across a few days ago as I was exploring another creative outlet of mine: latte art. If you know me, you know I’m passionate about coffee. And one of the things I’ve always wanted to learn is how to create latte art. So here, for those of you who want to do the same, or for those who just need a creative boost, is a touch of beauty in a coffee cup.

Enjoy!

How to Be A Reader’s Favorite Author

by Dan Balow

Woman with book

Last week in this space, I wrote about how you could become a publisher’s favorite author (other than selling millions of books).  Today, we’ll go a little different direction and talk about what you would need to do to become a favorite author to your readers.

A key difference between how you relate to a publisher and how you relate to a reader is that one is business and one is personal.  An average publisher will invest tens of thousands of dollars to get your book to market, while a reader might only need to pay $4.99 for an Amazon Kindle ebook.

Just like I wrote last week, regardless whether you are published or not, you should think now about what sort of relationship you want to have with your readers.

Last week I suggested that you should develop a publisher relations strategy for yourself. What I suggest this week goes a lot deeper. The closest thing I can think of for this discussion is to consider yourself as a “customer service” representative for your books. 

The Nordstrom retail company is legendary for their customer service.  They even have a manual, The Nordstrom Way.  To them, customer service is not a strategy, it is a “way of life”. 

So, among all the things you need to think about as an author…your platform, financial plan, professional growth and your relationships with your publisher and agent, I am suggesting you also need to decide on a way to treat your readers that becomes a way of life for you.

How would you become a “linchpin author” who inspires a reader to buy your next book and talk about it with friends?  I said last week that the obvious answer to that for the publisher is to write a best-selling book and making them a lot of money, but readers will be even more challenging.  Other than writing a great manuscript that will inspire wonderful comments from your readers, here are some thoughts on an effective “author way of life”.

  • Be a real person.  If a reader contacts you, write them back within 48 hours or less.
  • If you receive too many responses each day than you can handle, then have a friend, intern or even hire someone part-time to help you.  For most, the volume is not a problem. If it is, let someone else answer the questions about when your next book is available or if you plan on visiting Michigan any time soon.  A few “copy and paste” templates will suffice for those. For deeper issues, handle yourself.
  • Read a book by Gary Vaynerchuk…Crush It!, or The Thank You Economy or his newest, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.  Gary is a social media guru who is highly successful making money from his social media strategy, but his approach will surprise you.  I think you will actually feel comfortable with it. (He will urge you to be real!)
  • Follow through on commitments.  This is also in your publisher relationship, but important for readers as well.  If you say you will do something, then do it.  If you promise to answer all letters within 48 hours, then take your laptop on vacation and continue to do it.
  • Minister to the readers.  In your books, blogs, anything you do, show that you treat people with grace and with fruit of the spirit.
  • Be aware of other books or authors and recommend them.  Chances are you won’t write ten books each year, like a store recommending another store to simply serve a customer well. You don’t lose a thing, in fact you will actually grow in stature with readers because you helped them.
  • Pray for your readers without telling them.

Of course, write a powerful book that positively affects lives and you will go a long way to becoming a favorite author, but it takes more.  Be real.

What ideas do you have to make yourself a linchpin author to readers?  

Two Important Ingredients for Success

by Karen Ball

happy businessman holding success text  and jumping on the green field

I’ll never forget the day, just after church, when a friend pulled me aside and said, “My son can’t find a job and he needs to make some money fast. So he’s going to write a book. Any advice for him?”

Yeah, well, the advice I had wasn’t for him, it was for her: “Don’t ever say anything like that to me again.”

Whatever gave people the impression that writing was a get-rich quick scheme? Or that there was anything quick about it? Those of us who’ve been working at this for more than a few days know that very little happens quickly in publishing. So let me point out two things you have to have if you hope to succeed at this writing game: patience and perseverance.

But then, those two gems are necessary for success in most fields. So for those who are growing weary, who feel it’s taking too long, who wonder why they ever jumped into this pool to begin with, let me encourage you with a few stories of success that finally came—but only after substantial patience and perseverance:

  1. Emily Dickinson: One of the best-loved writers of all times, Dickinson crafted 1800 pieces of literary beauty. And, while she lived, guess how many were published? Less than 1 percent. And many of those dozen or so pieces were altered big-time to fit contemporary poetic rules. (Rotten editors!) Her first book of poems was published in 1890, 4 years after her death, by a group of friends. The first complete collection of her poems wasn’t published until 1955. Today? She’s read worldwide and considered by many to be one of the most important American poets ever.
  2. Vincent Van Gogh: One of his paintings recently sold for $149.5 million. And yet, while he lived, he sold…wait for it…one painting. One. To a friend. For the equivalent of pennies. So what did he do in the face of no sales? He kept painting. In fact, he created over 800 works. That, my friends, is perseverance.
  3. Dr. Seuss: Oh yes, Theodor Seuss Giesel was not an overnight success. In fact, his first book was rejected by 27 publishers. But thank heaven he kept trying, and ultimately we all benefited from The Cat in the Hat and the discovery that we do, indeed, like Green Eggs and Ham!
  4. Harland David Sanders: I’m especially fond of this one because Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame actually helped send me to college. No lie. He grew up in the same denomination I did, and gave scholarships to children of pastors and missionaries in that denomination. So not only did I receive one of those scholarships, the Colonel, decked out in his white suit and hat, came to my college once a year to say hello. And guess what the food service folks served him every single time. Yup, fried chicken.
             While KFC is, today, a clear success, Sanders had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it. Now that’s finger-lickin’ perseverance!
  5. Jack London: Speaking of rejection slips, this author of White Fang and The Call of the Wild received six hundred rejections for his works. Six. Hundred. Nuff said.
  6. Oprah Winfrey: Arguably one of the most recognizable people in the world, right? Revolutionized talk TV. Launched numerous writers’ careers with her book club. And, like many who are now successful, took hit after hit before she hit it big. In fact, she was fired from her job as a TV reporter because—ready for this?—they declared her “unfit for television.” Yeah, okay. Good thing she didn’t believe them.
  7. Thomas Edison: Okay, so today we equate this name with invention and brilliance. But when he was a kid, Edison’s teachers were less than encouraging. Said he was too stupid to learn anything. So, adulthood was better, right? Yeah, not so much. He was fired from his first two jobs. Enter his inventor years, during which he invented the light bulb…after 1,000 failed attempts! Perseverance, thy name is Edison!
  8. Abraham Lincoln: We all know Lincoln as one of the most successful and revered presidents in history. But that didn’t happen until he’d been demoted from captain to private while in the military, he’d started any number of businesses that failed, and he ran for public office—and was defeated. Over and over. So glad he kept at it!

This is just a short list of folks who have had to overcome adversity, opposition, rejection, and failure to reach the heights of success. And I believe they made it because of those two special ingredients: patience and perseverance. They didn’t let failure derail them. And they didn’t expect success NOW. They just kept at it, doing what they knew to do, believing in themselves and their calling.

Let’s follow their lead and stay the course.

Onward!

Basketball and Writing

by Dan Balow

Basketball

Next week is March and that means basketball “March Madness” around the country.  From high school to college, teams will compete in tournaments where excitement is at its peak.  

One of my hobbies is to work as the official scorer for the Wheaton College (Illinois) men’s and women’s home basketball games.  I started doing this back in the late 70’s, took some time away from it when our kids were young and then started up again in earnest about eight years ago.

I sit at the scorer table at center court, in a striped referee shirt and mark down in a book what happens.  If I am wrong, someone gets mad.

Rooting for the Bad Guy?

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Man with mysterious eyes

Last week I blogged about amoral protagonists. But what about protagonists who are unquestionably immoral?

Some general market books make their readers root for the bad guy. Think about accounts of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, written from their points of view. Or a book written primarily from the point of view of a courtesan, such as Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement. These books set the reader in a life where there is no Christ, yet the reader can’t help but feel sympathy for the protagonists by coming to an understanding of how circumstances combined by the moral failings of others set characters in one unhappy situation after another. 

Why I Read Romance Novels

by Karen Ball

Valentine’s Day is on its way, and that got me to thinking about that four-letter word we all use with impunity:

LOVE.

What a powerful word, one so full of meaning I could write a dozen blogs about it and still not exhaust the depth and breadth of all it entails. I’m grateful for love. For God’s love. For my hubby’s love. For my family’s love. For my doggies’ love. Love has blessed me more than I could ever deserve. But then, isn’t that the very nature of love—that it comes to us regardless of our so-called “worth.” And one area where I most enjoy the blessing of love is in writing. Whether poetry or novels, nonfiction or essays, I’m not afraid to admit that I love reading about love. And I especially enjoy–get ready for it–romance novels!

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