Art of War for Writers

ArtofWar coverPeriodically I plan to recommend a title or two for you to read. I’ve always enjoyed this form of “word-of-mouth” marketing, thus I will “pay it forward.”  🙂

Yesterday afternoon I received James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers: fiction writing strategies, tactics, and exercises (published by Writer’s Digest Books). With interest I took the book home and devoured it. Not literally of course, as I’m not sure what the pages would have tasted like with extra cheese. But I could not keep from turning the pages with delight.

James Scott Bell has done an immeasurable service to writers everywhere. This little book is chock full of sage advice. Loosely based on the ancient classic The Art of War he consistently nudges the reader with nuggets of wisdom that are hard to assail.

The book is flooded with amazing quotes. I kept saying to myself, “Oh that’s a good one, I’ll have to use that in my next presentation.” But after saying that a dozen times in only a few pages I began to to realize the extraordinary wealth found in this book.

While the subtitle indicates the book is written with the novelist in mind the information is universal. Every non-fiction writer can glean much from these pages too.

I was also impressed with the interior design. The publisher went to great lengths to make the reading experience enjoyable. A deft use of two color printing creates accents in all the right places. And the page layout is easy on my old eyes. Thank you Writer’s Digest for an example of top drawer publishing.

Whether you are a novice or a published veteran in the industry there is something for you. The novice should return to the book again and again and practice what they have read! The experienced writer will find a great refresher course in ideas, but can also glean new insights to common problems.

In full disclosure, the author is a friend. We have taught at numerous conferences together over the years. But he has no idea I’m writing this review. And I still like him even though he quotes another agent in the book! Frivolity aside, I can, with full confidence, attest that Jim is the real deal. He has a teacher’s heart and truly wants to do whatever he can to help others succeed.

Do yourself a favor. Buy this book right now! Or put it on your Christmas wish list. It is reasonably priced (retail only $14.99 for 264 pages!)

All three online stores below have the book discounted for under $11.00 (as of the posting of this blog). Such a deal!

Writer’s Digest Books

Barnes & Noble

Amazon.com

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Do you Facebook?

The following article appeared in the UK on November 5th, “Facebook Users Spend Three Solid Days a Year on the Site.”

Three full 24 hour days on Facebook per year! Or nearly two full work weeks if you count a work week as 35-40 hours a week. And I suspect the statistics hold true in the U.S. as well.

Not all writers are full-time. Some must juggle day jobs or home-life responsibilities around their writing. So let’s say the average writer is cramming 20 hours a week of actual writing into their craft.

Thus if you are a writer AND you “Facebook” (is that a verb now?) this would mean the average writer is spend nearly a month’s worth of work time…on Facebook.

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The Wave of Digital Creativity in Books

I went to high school in Hawaii (I know.. a rough life) where I learned the joys and perils of body surfing. That experience is a great metaphor for the new “waves” of digital revolution we are seeing in the publishing world.

The key to great body surfing is waiting for the right wave and then time your push just right. The ride is exhilarating (I still remember riding inside the tube of a perfect wave off the beaches of Kauai). BUT if you catch the wrong wave or mistime the push, there is no ride. Or worse, catch a wave that throws you wildly into a bunch of rocks…

But unless you are in the water and making attempt after attempt you will never achieve the perfect ride.

I see this metaphor applied to the new world of digital publishing. It is really fun to play a small part, but even more fun to watch others be extremely creative in their experiments. There are some very bright and exciting people trying new things in merging the traditional book with all things “interactive.”

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The Singular “They”

Yesterday I opened a can of worms. There were many worms in the can; some male and some female. I discovered that a few of the worms were married to each other. One couple was having a marital disagreement. They were arguing about grammar, of all things. The fight was about the proper use of gender pronouns. Here is the sentence under dispute:

“When a spouse greets a partner with derision because of an opinion, what should be ___ reaction?”

Fill in the blank. Should you use his, his or her, or their? This is a grammatical conundrum. Your choice will determine whether you will be categorized as “sexist,” “tiresome,” or “ungrammatical.”

Our vernacular has changed over the past years due to our sensitivity over the generic “he.” For some it is a matter of being politically correct. For others it is merely a way of being inclusive of both genders in their writing. In addition it can be simply a matter of using the common language of everyday speech.

So what is correct?

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Book Manufacturing

If you ever get the chance to visit a printing press, do it. I’ve had the privilege to visit two of them. The first was Standard Publishing’s printing press in Cincinnati. Their plant is quite large and they do a wide variety of printing, everything from books to curriculum to Star Wars coloring books.

The other plant was Bethany Press International in Bloomington, MN. During my years with Bethany House Publishers I visited this plant many times since their building is about 100 yards from the back door of the publishing house! I watched them move from the old “film” method of processing to a completely digital technology.

The beauty of watching the books being printed is partly the fascination of cool machines, but also an insight into all of the incredible details that go into the manufacturing process.

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2009 ICRS Observations

Like many going into the 2009 ICRS convention (aka CBA or the Christian Booksellers Association convention) I was wondering what would be found. It was great to see that instead of the projected doom and gloom there was light and hope. (Yes, that is Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber in the photo to the left – courtesy of Christian Retailing Magazine.) A few observations:

1) The total convention exhibit floor was about 30% smaller than in past years and the middle section, housing CBA’s events and displays was HUGE. In fact you could walk through the entire book section very rapidly for the first time in years. Everything seemed condensed.

2) The net effect of the smaller sales floor was that you felt the crowds. There was noise, energy, and excitement in the air. This was a major change over previous years where it always felt so quiet.

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ICRS / CBA Bookseller’s Convention

Today is the official opening of the convention in Denver. This year will be my 28th consecutive ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) or CBA as we veterans still call it (Christian Booksellers Association Convention). I absolutely love the experience. I’ve attended as a retailer, as an exhibitor, and now as an “industry professional.” I find it amusing that each name badge is color-coded to help exhibitors know whether the person in their booth is a bookseller (and thereby a potential customer) or a browser, like me. What makes it particularly fun is that the “agent” color is black….the color of an agent’s soul.

PRO: There is nothing like the experience of walking the floor of the world’s largest Christian bookstore. Everything is there, the good, the bad, and the outrageous (like the balloon art crucifix or the painting of a junkie shooting heroin into the arm of Jesus). The spirit is electric. It can be overwhelming, but ultimately it is a picture of God at work. As a writer you can meet key people, network with fellow writers, collect catalogs (those that aren’t digital), and simply increase knowledge of what the industry is all about.

CON: Unrealized expectations. Too many writers think the convention should be all about them. It isn’t. Disappointment is palatable with some folks at the end of the experience. Their publisher didn’t pay enough attention to them; not enough people came to their signing; no editor was available for an appointment…etc. Go to the convention with modest expectations and the chance of disappointment with be minimized.

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Christy Awards

Tonight was the tenth annual Christy Awards which honors the best in Christian fiction. We were very proud to have six clients as finalists!

To my eternal delight two clients won!

Marlo Schalesky won in the contemporary romance category for her book Beyond the Night (Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group).

Tracey Bateman won in the contemporary series category for her book You Had Me at Goodbye (Faithwords).

Since neither Marlo or Tracey could attend, I had the privilege of accepting their awards and reading their speech. A thrill and an honor.

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When Does a Book Become Public Domain?

Writers frequently ask about whether they need permission to quote from another book. The answer is usually yes. But if the book is in the public domain that permission is unnecessary. I don’t want to tackle the issue of “Fair Use” today, but instead provide a few links that you can use to find out if a book is in the public domain, or not.

First, use this form (http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~lesk/copyrenew.htmll).
This form searches the U. S. copyright renewal records database. Any book published during the years 1923-1963 which is found in this file is still under copyright, as are all books published after 1964 (although until 1989 they still had to have proper notice and registration). Books published before 1923, or before Jan. 1, 1964 and not renewed (in the 28th year after publication), are out of copyright and therefore in the public domain. The form only searches books, not music, etc.

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