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What About Medium Stuff?

by Dan Balow

Asphalt Road

Today I stand in support of medium stuff.

There is no argument that big important things deserve our undivided attention. There seems to be some disagreement over small stuff…do we sweat it or not? According to the Stan Jantz and Bruce Bickel’s book, God is in the Small Stuff, we probably need to be paying close attention to those things.

I am concerned with those things in the middle…the medium stuff. There are no books or seminars on medium stuff. In fact, if there were books and seminars on medium stuff, no one would buy or attend. That’s the problem with medium stuff, it’s boring.

In an automobile wheel, there is the “big stuff” tire, which gets all the glory and has blimps named for it and TV commercials touting it’s virtues and then there is the air inside the tire (small stuff) which is checked frequently to make sure it is doing OK and there is just the right amount of it. (Air actually has it’s own alarm light in newer cars, making it think it is really big stuff)

But it is the medium stuff…the axle and rim without which a wheel is not a wheel.

For people, businesses and ministries, focusing only on small details can be distracting or at best counter-productive. In publishing, this could be comparable to thinking that if the grammar in a manuscript were correct, it will sell well.

Likewise, big stuff can be made our focal point to such an extent that we forget the small things. Like a great book (big stuff) released without proofreading (small stuff).

The medium stuff is the fabric that keeps it all together.

It’s the printing press that prints the books. It’s the truck that carries large barrels of ink to the printer. It’s the chemical plant that manufactures ink. It’s the paper plant that manufactures the paper for books. It’s the computer servers in who-knows-where that send eBook files to anywhere on the planet. It’s the metadata coordinator entering information into the spreadsheet and uploading to customer computers. It’s the book buyer for a retailer or reseller who makes a decision to purchase a book for the store.

These are medium things. No fanfare. They are just there, making things happen.

Editors are medium stuff. They might get a mention in an acknowledgement page, but no parades.

So what is my purpose today with this tribute to medium stuff?

I was thinking of some ministries and those friends who work for them. Ministries like Media Associates International (littworld.org) who organize training and mentoring for Christian publishers around the world. Or Mission Aviation Fellowship (maf.org) who fly people and supplies to places to do ministry. Or ESL teachers living in China and rights and licensing professionals orchestrating publishing of content from one language to another.

Medium stuff. It takes their commitment behind the scenes to make something better. Like Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ arms.

A problem for medium stuff ministries is they don’t get the financial support as much as the big stuff. Training, education, transportation and logistics aren’t very glamorous pursuits.

So, for all those medium things in the world, I honor you today.

Okay, medium stuff, stop reading this blog and get back to work, you are important and we can’t live without you.

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!

Chapters: How Long is Too Long?

by Karen Ball

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I’ve had a number of people ask me lately how long their chapters should be. My answer has been: “As long as they need to be.”

Now, it would be nice if I could give folks the “industry-standard” answer: “Chapters should be no less than xx and no longer than xxx,” but the truth is there isn’t a real standard in the industry. And frankly, I think that’s a good thing. I’ve never been one to count words on chapters, but then, I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. The measuring stick, so to speak, that I use–as a writer, an editor, and an agent–to determine if chapter length is what it needs to be is whether the chapter flows well. If I either find my eyes glazing over halfway through or if I reach the end so fast I’m left wondering what in the bald-headed dog snot just happened, there’s a problem. (Thanks, by the way, to my dad for that “bald-headed” phrase. <grin>).

Generally speaking, many writings tend to aim for 2500 to 3000 words per chapter. But there are so many variables. Such as:

Genre:

Fiction–suspense fiction is all about keeping the reader on the edge of their seats, which lends itself to short chapters. Whereas chapters in literary fiction sometimes are longer.

Nonfiction—likewise, popular self-help fiction seems to favor shorter chapters whereas memoirs, not unlike literary fiction, take a bit more time (and page length) to say what they have to say.

So the kind of book you’re writing will have an impact on chapter length.

Your Voice
Some authors have a wonderful, lyrical tone that just kind of ambles on out, like sitting on the porch in the South, sipping tea and leaning your head back to savor a summer day. Others deliver their words in an almost machine-gun patter, hitting readers with one truth after another such that readers race through the pages. As you consider the length of your chapters, be sure you honor your author voice. Your readers can tell when you’re cutting yourself short, or when you’re trying to draw something out for word count. It’s letting your voice come through that matters most, not word count.

Reader Expectations
That being said (the bit above about voice), do keep in mind that readers have a certain expectation of the books they read. If you’ve developed a certain pattern and pace in your books, don’t change that up unless you have a solid reason for doing so. Readers love to “feel at home” with their favorite authors, and though they may not be cognizant of things like chapter length, they will notice the difference in how a book
feels when they read it.   

Publisher Production Costs
Some books are written to a specific format, and as such word length for chapters matters a great deal. Holding to the set format makes the costs predictable and standard. Make sure you know what your publisher is looking for, or you—and your editor—could end up with some very unhappy surprises when you turn your books in.

So if you’ve been wondering about chapter length, my best counsel is to:

  1. Check with your publisher to be sure there isn’t a set format for chapter length
  2. Take the kind of book you’re writing into account. Check out similar books that are on the market to see if there seems to be any consensus on chapter length.
  3. Just write the book. End the chapters where they need to end, but as you go, use readers to tell you if it comes across the way you want it to. 

Happy Writing!

Still Wanted: Writing that Sings!

by Karen Ball

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Anyone who has jumped into the waters of agenting knows they’ll be asked one question, over and over and over:  “What are you looking for?” Well, now that I’ve got a couple of years of this amazing work under my belt, let me build on what I said when I started. Back then, I said I was looking, first and foremost, for books that glorify God, then for writing that sings, that speaks to the heart and spirit, that uplifts and challenges. Well, that’s all the same! But there are a few clarifications I want to make.  First, here’s the not so good news:

What I’m Not Looking For

Children’s & Middle Grade Books: As much as I enjoy reading these books (that’s one of the only perks to never having had children—I get all the kid’s books!), I am not representing them. It’s not that I don’t see the need. It’s simply that I’m not experienced with these kinds of books. My work lo, these many years in publishing, has been with adult books. Now, I have worked with Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, but I already have some great clients in that category and am not, at present, looking for more.

Fun Fridays – June 21, 2013

Happy Summer Solstice! (Here is how we celebrate in Phoenix. At the Public Library!)

And enjoy this fun lesson in grammar.

When Editorial Errors Matter

by Steve Laube

Broken Pencil

Writers make mistakes. It happens. Often an editor’s job is to be the safety net and catch those tidbits that find their way into an early draft of a manuscript for any number of reasons.

  • The simplicity of “cut & paste” has created more opportunity for error than ever before. I’ve seen half sentences left in their original place because the writer failed to cut and paste accurately.
  • Many books evolve over time with additional research or new thoughts. Errors can creep in this way. I’ve seen an author actually contradict himself between chapters.
  • There are too many details to keep straight so the writer overlooks the inconsequential trusting the editor to fix things. I remember talking to a Bethany House editor who revealed that an author accidently brought a character back to life, forgetting that the character had died earlier in the story.

None of the above examples ever found their way into the final edition of the book and the public never knew the error was made. An editor caught it and fixed it. That is why errors found in a finished and published book are so jarring.

Ancient Wisdom from an Ancient Editor

by Steve Laube

LXX scroll

I came across a remarkable section in a book written around 124 B.C. The editor of the book wrote the following preface to help the reader understand his methodology and purpose. It shows the concern a good editor has for the ultimate reader. His job was to abridge a massive five volume work into an abbreviated 16,00 word document. Can anyone tell me where this comes from and the name of the editor? (Without googling the text!) I’ll reveal the answer in the comments later in the day.

The number of details and the bulk of material can be overwhelming for anyone who wants to read an account of the events. But I have attempted to simplify it for all readers; those who read for sheer pleasure will find enjoyment and those who want to memorize the facts will not find it difficult.

Writing such a summary is a difficult task, demanding hard work and sleepless nights. It is as difficult as preparing a banquet that people of different tastes will enjoy. But I am happy to undergo this hardship in order to please my readers. I will leave the matter of details to the original author and attempt to give only a summary of the events.

I am not the builder of a new house who is concerned with every detail of the structure, but simply a painter whose only concern is to make the house look attractive. The historian must master his subject, examine every detail, and then explain it carefully, but whoever is merely writing a summary should be permitted to give a brief account without going into a detailed discussion. So then, without any further comment, I will begin my story. It would be foolish to write such a long introduction that the story itself would have to be cut short.

Note a few pearls of eternal wisdom from this ancient editor:

The Writer as Editor

by Karen Ball

Reading the document

As we saw in my post last week, there are any number of ways a manuscript can go wrong. Hard enough to write a novel, but then to have to dig in and edit it yourself? That’s especially tough. So here are some tips to help you be the best editor you can be.

Don’t let the editor out to play too soon

Writing and editing are very different functions for the brain. Writing is a creative process; editing, logical and detail-oriented. When writing, we need to let ourselves forget the rules and coax the story to life. When editing, we must embrace the rules as a solid foundation to help us strengthen what’s landed on the page. I’ve seen so many writers almost drive themselves crazy by trying to edit as they write, which ends up making them second-guess everything. And freezes the story in its tracks.

Puts me in mind of one of my favorite pens (pictured below). It’s a two-tip pen—black ink at one end, red at the other. The body of the pen is made of two colors of wood, one with black tones, one with red. One end for writing, the other for editing. The pen works great—so long as I only use one end at a time! Trying to edit and write at the same time would be like grabbing the pen at both ends: totally ineffectual.

Editing 101 – Your Turn

by Karen Ball

rosie-we-can-do-it

I’ve had a number of writers ask me if I can show an edited page from a manuscript, so they can learn from it. So that seems a fun way to start out the New Year. But what I want to do is let YOU take a turn as an editor first. So here, for your editing pleasure, is something I wrote just for this occasion. Print this out, put on your editing hat, and go for it. I’ll post the edited text next week, so we can compare and discuss!

__________

Sammy said it was a long time since he seen Rufus. Said the ol’ dawg shoulda been home long time ago. Said somethin’ musta happent to the mutt and said it was my fault fer bein’ sew stupid and not tyin’ him up wh’n I shoulda. “Gilly, you no good” he says to me. Like he’s so good and special.

My Editor Made Me Look Fat!

by Steve Laube

You just received a 15 page single spaced editorial letter from your publisher. They want you to rewrite most of the book. But you disagree with the letter and are spitting mad. What do you do?

Or your agent took a look at your manuscript and told you to cut it in half to make it sellable. What do you do?

Both examples are true stories and illustrate the universal challenge of refining your manuscript to make it the best it can be.

In the first example there was great “gnashing of teeth” but eventually my client, the long time veteran author, and the long time veteran editor saw eye-to-eye and made the book great.

In the second example my client Peyton Jones said, “Okay, let’s see what I can do.” He did the necessary work and we sold it to David C. Cook. The revised manuscript is being published in April under the title of Church Zero: Raising 1st Century Churches out of the Ashes of the 21st Century Church.

Calvin Miller once told me that he appreciated a firm editorial hand. He described it as flint striking a rock. Only when they clash is a spark created. I think he was right.

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