Author Karen Ball

Before You Say “I Do”

 

Thirty-two years ago today I said those very words to my darling hubby, Don, in a candlelit service, surrounded by friends and family. Ours was a whirlwind courtship and marriage. From the time we met to the wedding was a total of 8 months—and we were apart for 3 of those months. Yes, we were young. And yes, in many ways, we were incredibly foolish. But now, 32 years later, I can tell you that though our journey has not been smooth or easy, it’s taught us more than I ever thought possible about love, about faith, about obedience, about grace. God has used two imperfect people to forge a strong, lasting bond, and He’s knit our hearts and spirits together as I once thought impossible.

As I thought about all this today, and about all it’s taken for us to not just survive as a couple but to thrive, it confirmed something I’ve heard and experienced: the author/agent relationship is very much like a marriage. There’s the wooing and courting, often on both parts. There’s trying to figure out how to win the heart of the desired. There’s that flush of excitement when you discover your interest is reciprocal. There’s the proposal, and the happy “I do.”

And then there’s the freakin’ hard work of the relationship.

An author’s relationship with an agent is a close and intimate thing. You share dreams and passions, callings and needs, you work close together to make those things come true. For many authors, me included, you share not just your writing life but your personal life with your agent. They become, for all intents and purposes, as much a part of your life as family. And there’s another similarity between marriage and the author/agent relationship…

Expectations.

Don and I came from diverse childhoods. I mean…DIVERSE. Our experiences growing up were polar opposites. Our understanding of family and marriage and love were as far apart as the east is from the west! You’ve heard of folks bringing baggage into a relationship? Well, we had steamer trunks. Big ones. As a result, we hit a lot of snags. By God’s grace, our relationship endured some very turbulent times. Time that ended up, again, by God’s grace alone, making us stronger individually and together. But I won’t deny I wish, wish, wish we’d understood more about the potentially devastating effect expectations can have on a relationship.

Again, it’s similar with authors and agents. Whether you’ve had a number of agents, or are in the process of finding your first agent, the best counsel I can give you is what I tell young couples contemplating marriage: Know your expectations. Each of you must determine what you want from the person and the relationship. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and understand that no one person can ever meet all your needs. No, I’m not saying get more than one agent. Heaven forbid! All I mean is make sure you are aligning yourself with an agent who is a good fit in personality, ability, and passion.

How can you know that? Well, there are hosts of places online to find business questions to ask a potential agent. But I encourage you to consider this relationship in light of some self-examination, understanding there’s no right or wrong to your answers. There’s just understanding yourself and the expectations you bring to the relationship.

  • Do you want someone who will get to know you and your family as well as your work, or are you looking more for a business partner?
  • Are you someone who needs to hear from the agent on a regular basis, even if it’s just to say “hi”, or are you content only to hear when there’s something happening on the career front?
  • Do you state your needs easily or find yourself wanting the other person to “read” you and know what you need?
  • How do you handle conflict? Do you pull back and get silent, letting things simmer, or do you explode and then everything’s okay. Are you willing to address issues right away, or do you shy away from difficult conversations?
  • How do you respond when you fall behind or miss a deadline? Do you let guilt eat you up and make you even less able to work, or do you keep the nose to the grindstone and work until it’s done? What do you need from your agent when this happens? Encouragement? A pep talk? A kick in the pants?
  • What is the worst thing an agent could do? The best?

These are just a few thoughts to get you started. The key here is to not just know yourself, but to understand how you need to work with an agent, and how an agent needs to work with you. And then, when you have that figured out, to make those needs and expectations clear at the outset. Especially that last one. And I encourage you to ask the agent the same thing: What is the worst thing I could do as your client? What’s the best thing I can do?

If Don and I have learned nothing else through all these years, we’ve learned the importance of knowing and communicating as clearly (and unemotionally!) as possible our needs and expectations. Doing this with an agent will help avoid unneeded problems down the road, and will help you deal with problems when they come. No blame or shame needed. Just honest communication, steeped in kindness and truth.

There’s no better basis for any relationship.

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Threads in the Fabric (Part three)

Wednesday again! The days go by so fast this time of year! Well, my office Corgi, Mr. Kirby, and I are happy to welcome you inside once again.

Last week we visited the kitchen. Today, let’s meander into the main office, where, no surprise, you’ll see bookcase after bookcase, all overflowing. Oh, I try to decorate and straighten, but more and more I’m embracing the chaos. I’m persuaded true bibliophiles are seldom organized because there are always more books than shelves! And when you consider that I’ve been in publishing for more than 30 years, you KNOW I’ve got an abundance of books. And what a happy abundance that is!

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Threads in the Fabric (Part Two)

As promised last week, during this Christmas season, I want to share with you all the immeasurable gifts I’ve found in the wondrous world of words. So…

Welcome to my office!

The entrance is, as you can see, humble. But what delights I find inside! So let’s slip past my four-legged greeters (Kirby, our Corgi is welcoming you in today), to the first room, which holds not only a table for work and conversation, fellowship and study, but one of the most important elements of my office: the coffee corner! I start each day here, brewing some special creation that will not only energize me for work but fills my office with the delectable fragrance of dark-roasted coffee.

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Threads in the Fabric

If you came to visit my office, you’d see my walls are lined with bookshelves. Twelve in all—six ceiling-to-floor shelves and another six half that height. Plenty of room for all my books, right? Yeah, that’d be nice. I still have box upon box of books, all awaiting the day they can come out and play. Trouble is, I’m out of room for bookshelves. So I find myself faced with the painful duty of culling. I’ve done this difficult task probably 10 times since we moved here 8 Thanksgivings ago, and still the boxes aren’t empty.

What can I say? I love books. Always have. The feel of one in my hands, the smooth pages under my fingers, the welcoming typeface that works magic and brings worlds to life…worlds that sometimes are more real to me than the one I actually live in. Worlds peopled with characters and creatures that have become threads in the fabric of who I am.

Books are, quite simply, a miracle.

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How Things Used to Be

My family and I have discovered a new TV channel we absolutely love: ME TV. No, it’s not about being egotistical. ME stands for Memorable Entertainment, and its lineup boasts all the old shows that we used to watch when I was a kid. No fooling! It’s like my youth has been reborn! Everything from Rockford Files to Wagon Train, Perry Mason, to Dick VanDyke, Hawaii 5-0 (the REAL 5-0) to Family Affair, Columbo to The Guns of Will Sonnett…so many shows that, even at the earliest age, caught my imagination and introduced me to the power of story. Each show, in it’s own way, drew me in, making me a part of the drama, adventure, or romance. I knew, even back then, that I wanted to be a part of all that. Of weaving stories. Of letting them bring truths to life in a way that engaged the heart, imagination, and mind.

But as I’ve watched these old shows, I’ve discovered something. Something that absolutely astounded me. God is there. Up front and center.

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Beautiful Words…100 of Them!

As someone who has studied other languages (French, Spanish, and Russian), I love the physicality of words. When you speak either French or Russian, your whole lower face gets a workout. It’s as though you’re tasting the words as well as speaking them.

Happily, English has words like that as well. Consider the following:

• impecunious
• circuitous
• mellifluous
• exsanguinate
• ebullient
• flummery

Words like these are not only fun to use, they’re fun to say. The feel of some even reflect their meaning. Impecunious has a tight, stingy feel to it. Mellifluous rolls off the tongue. Flummery feels a bit foolish as it escapes you.

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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part Three)


So, there I were, surrounded by publishing professionals, faced with the question of whether or not we liked–or respected–our end consumer: the reader.

Publishing folk are a freaky bunch. They love to think and debate and share ideas and dissect and explore. Get a whole room of editors going and nothing is sacred. At the same time, everything is. At their core, publishing professionals recognize–and love–the power of words. Spoken, written, sung from the rooftops–words contain the power to create and cultivate, encourage and empower…or decimate and destroy. These particular folks also love God and His Word. So their drive is work on books that impact lives rather than books that just entertain.

So, what did they say, these learned, insightful, imaginative folks? At first, nothing. They stopped–really stopped–to consider the answer to whether or not they like the reader. Publishing pros are great at pondering.

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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part Two)


So what are some of the answers I’ve been given to the question “What makes a Christian book Christian”? Consider the following:

Written from a Christian world view Story offers hope Core of the story shows importance of faith in Christ

Similar to the things you all wrote in your comments (though I think your responses went far deeper.) But I’ve also been peppered with the following critical comments regarding Christian books:

It’s safe It doesn’t challenge the status quo It doesn’t leave anything unsettled, everything’s resolved Quality doesn’t match that of ABA books Easy answers Doesn’t make readers think Affirms readers beliefs and perspective
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What Makes a Christian Book “Christian”? (Part One)


I had this discussion over a year ago on my blog, but thought it would be a good discussion for all of you, too. In some ways, publishing is in a state of unbelievable flux. In others, it’s utterly grounded and unshakeable. Good and bad on both sides.

But here’s what I find fascinating–and a bit worrisome. There’s a seemingless endless debate on what makes a Christian book Christian? Is it the context of the book or the faith of the author? What’s in the book or what isn’t? The tone or the specifics? Believe me, when I find myself in this debate, the answers come fast and furious and are as varied as can be. But before I share any thoughts or conclusions, I want to know what you think.

So, as a reader or a writer, what are you looking for in a book from a “Christian” publishing house? Or from a Christian writer.
What do you expect to find.
What do you expect NOT to find?
What makes a book “Christian”?

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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Three)

Remember that old adage for retailers, “The customer is always right?” Well, for novelists seeking the perfect title, that should be “The audience is always right.”

Tip #4: Remember Your Audience! Novelists do a great job, on the whole, of keeping their audience in mind as they write. But sometimes when trying to come up with a catchy title or cover image, they go a bit far afield of that audience. The result is that readers who would love the story won’t even pick it up. And those who do pick it up may not find what they expected inside. So as you work on your title, remember who your reader is. For example:

Age range. If your book would appeal mostly to Christian women in their 40s and up, then don’t use a trendy title that will appeal to the twenty-somethings. And watch out for technology phrases. Unless your certain your core audience is familiar with both the meaning and use of something technologial, steer clear. For example, using RAM, bits, bytes, and bauds as words in your title may work for a younger audience, or one that’s technologically savvy, but for older readers? Odds are good you’d lose ’em. (Or have them writing you letters scolding you for misspelling bites.)
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