The Elephant’s Goin’ Down!

by Karen Ball

You remember the old adage:

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time!

As I’ve reviewed my calendar this week, I’ve realized that’s what I’ve got on the screen in front of me. An elephant.

Maybe two.

And they’re reaaaaallly big.

SO many things to get done before I board a plane early Wednesday morning and wing my way to Dallas for the ACFW conference. As if that elephant wasn’t big enough, there’s the one sitting there, reminding me that I won’t be able to work on anything on my list while I’m gone. As I take it all in, one thought fills my mind:


It would be so easy to just shut off the computer and go hide someplace. Like a nice, quiet closet. Where there’s no phone calls.

Or emails.

Or texts.

I know I’m not alone. Seems that most everyone’s calendars and schedules have grown to elephant proportions lately. I hear from more and more authors and editors how the days go by in a flash, but the To Do list just seems to keep growing, like Kudzu on steroids. A friend just told me on the phone last week: “I’m working all these hours, but I never seem to get anything done!”

So what’s a time-challenged writer to do when it seems there are more to-dos than days? And your writing time keeps getting consumed by obligations and duties? Take it a bite at a time.

Get your to-do list and choose ONE item to tackle. Then do nothing but that. For 10 minutes.

Yup, just ten minutes. But it has to be 10 uninterrupted minutes. Focus on nothing but that item. No emails. No answering the phone. (Trust me: they will call back or leave a message.) No getting distracted by the to-do list and second guessing your item choice. No getting up for a glass of water, to check the mail, to pet the dog, or change the hamster cage, or any of the gazillion things calling for your attention.


Use those 10 minutes with determined focus. You can do it!

At the end of the 10 minutes, take stock. How much have you gotten done? Enough to move to the next item? If so, go for it. If not, then give yourself 10 more minutes.

Sounds crazy, but you’d be amazed how much you can accomplish in 10 focused minutes. For example, one of the items on my overloaded to-do list was this blog. Which I started 7.5 minutes ago.

And now I have 2.5 minutes to add to the next bite. And you know what? That makes me happy.

So when your elephant gets too big for your plate, give it a try. Tackle him, one 10-minute bite at a time. You’ll be as amazed as I’ve been at the results.

No doubt about it.

The elephant’s goin’ down.

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By Tamela Hancock Murray

Of late, several popular Christian and secular bloggers have posted about unplugging for a time. I have enjoyed reading their ideas because I realize the importance of rebooting every once in awhile.

Years ago I read an article that said if being laid up with a broken ankle for six weeks sounded good to you, then you are too stressed out. At that moment, I knew I had to change my life. And I did.

Today, my work doesn’t feel like work to me. I greet each day eager to see what each email will bring. Nor do I dread vacations, because I love spending time with my husband and family. But since vacations are brief and rare, I try to unplug a little each day. I don’t say my ideas and routines are perfect, nor will they work for everyone. They are a mix of determination and time management:

Protect your time with the Lord.

I have a place set aside in a room where I cannot see a clock. I read the Bible, and keep on hand a book of my choice that I find challenging and edifying enough that I look forward to reading it. I have just started a book on personal godliness by Puritan writer John Owen, edited by James Houston (acquired by Steve Laube when he was an editor at Bethany House Publishers). When I’m too busy, it’s tempting to make this time quick. To force myself to slow down, I light a candle and say special prayers, including the Jesus Prayer, which is, Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I also say the Lord’s prayer, The Apostle’s Creed, sometimes other prayers, and my own prayers.

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Can You Plagiarize Yourself?

by Steve Laube

Recently John Lehrer of “The New Yorker” was discovered to have reused past material for his articles and his bestselling book Imagine: How Creativity Works.  Here are links to the articles unveiling the controversy. From Jim Romenesko, Jacob Silverman, and Edward Champion. There has been considerable outrage and a genuine apology from John Lehrer.

This incident begs the question, “Can you plagiarize yourself?”

First you have to define plagiarism. The traditional definition is copying someone else’s words word-for-word without acknowledged of some kind, intentionally or not. In the United States this is actually illegal.

But what if the words are your own?

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Write a Fan Letter Today

by Steve Laube

Everyone likes being appreciated. It is as simple as receiving a “thank you.” For the writer it is like a cold drink of water in the middle of a desert wasteland. The writing life is a bit like placing your words into a bottle and tossing it into an endless ocean, hoping that it doesn’t sink, and simultaneously hoping that someone somewhere will find those words and be touched by them.

Today, instead of waiting for someone else to tell you what a great writer you are, write your favorite author(s) a note of appreciation.  Because no one understands the anguish and crushing weight of the writing life better than another writer.

In Austin Kleon’s new book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative he has a section titled “Write Fan Letters.” He writes, “The most important thing is that you show your appreciation without expecting anything in return, and that you get new work out of the appreciation.” 

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Are We Speaking the Same Language?

by Karen Ball

I love languages. I started studying French in the 7th grade (“Bonjour, Monsieur DuPree. Comment-allez vous?), and by the time I had my double college degree in multiple-languages and journalism, I’d studied French (12 years), Spanish (5 years), and Russian (1 year). But I confess, I never expected to have to learn a new language when I entered the publishing world.


I remember the first time I realized words and terms had very different meanings in publishing. As a PK and PGK (preacher’s kid and preacher’s grandkid), I knew my duty to widow and orphans. It was right there in the Bible. So you imagine my astonishment when I discovered it was now my goal to kill the widows and orphans. Then I learned that bleeding in the gutters had nothing to do with murder, that picas weren’t fuzzy little forest animals, leading wasn’t something done to stained glass, fonts weren’t receptacles for baptismal water, a kill fee wasn’t about hiring a hitman, and a galley wasn’t the kitchen on a ship.

It all reminded me of a line from a poster I had up in my college dorm room: I know you believe you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure that what you heard is what I really meant to say. Or the poster in a friend’s room that said, “I’m not as drunk as some thinkle peep I am.” (Okay, it has absolutely nothing to do with that last one. I just put it in because it makes me laugh…)

It’s taken years of study and practice, but I’m finally fluent in Pub-Speak. Or so I thought until a few days ago when I had a discussion of editing terms with the illustrious Steve Laube. It went something like this:

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Your Brand is Not a Limitation

It is All About Expectations

What if you bought a recording from a music group expecting their usual collection of ballads, only to hear guitar anthems? Or what if you picked up a book with a pink cover that promised a love story but ended up reading a novel where hapless and nameless victims suffered gunshot wounds on every page? You’d be disappointed, right? I would be. You don’t want to disappoint readers, so branding has become a consistent topic.

Your Best Friend

Some writers find the concept of branding to be limiting. When they think of branding the TV show “Rawhide”  and Cattle comes to mind.  And despite the awesomeness of such a theme song, they want to keep their options open.

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Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I’ve been talking with writers who have another job as well as their writing to see how they juggle doing both. I was a social worker before my daughter was born and started writing soon after, but now that my youngest is off to college I’ve thought about getting back into the work force. I just don’t know how I’d balance the two yet.

The first thing I thought of was that I’d have to do some serious time management to get everything done that I do now plus working. Getting my family used to the idea that I wouldn’t be as available would be the biggest undertaking, and having others do some of the tasks that I’ve always done. In having less time for writing I’d be spending less time with my imaginary friends, meaning my characters of course (If I were writing this to anyone other than fellow authors I’d worry they would question my sanity) along with a number of activities and groups I belong to. I suppose it’s all about prioritizing.

I did a little research about authors who didn’t give up their day jobs, or at least not right away after they were published. Some of these might surprise you.

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To Pay or Not to Pay: For Your Own Media Travel Costs

I have had the privilege of knowing Ellie Kay since I first found her book proposal in the slush pile while an editor at Bethany House. That proposal became the first of her fourteen published books. I later became her literary agent and together we have seen her wrestle with a number of issues related to a growing platform. From those humble beginnings in the late 90s Ellie has been on nearly every major radio and television program including Nightline (twice) and was a regular on ABC’s “Good Money” for quite some time. I invited her to be our guest blogger on the question of whether or not an author should pay their own way to a media opportunity. I know you will find her thoughts insightful. Make sure to visit her web site at and get her newest book The 60 Minute Money Workout.


One question authors often ask is, “Where should I put my marketing dollars?” When you have an opportunity to go on a national show but you have to fund the trip yourself, how can you make sure it’s worth what I call the “Media Investment.”

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The Myth of the Unearned Advance

by Steve Laube

A common myth permeating the industry is that a book is not profitable if the author’s advance does not earn out. I would like to attempt to dispel this myth.

First let’s define the term “Advance.” When a book contract is created between a publisher and an author, the author is usually paid an advance. This is like getting an advance against your allowance when you were a kid. It isn’t an amount that is in addition to any future earnings from the sale of the book. Instead, like that allowance, it is money paid in advance against all future royalties, and it must therefore be covered by royalty revenue (i.e. earned out) before any new royalty earnings are paid.

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A Defense of Traditional Publishing: Part One



There has been a plethora of new developments in the publishing industry causing the blogosphere, writers groups, and print media to light up with opinions, reflections, and advice. Some of it has been quite brilliant, other parts, not so much.

I would like to attempt to address the positive elements of traditional (or legacy) publishing as a defense of the latest round of assault.

The source of the overall criticism can be found in the e-book revolution and the invention of print-on-demand (POD) printing. Book Publishing used to be a difficult and expensive proposition but has become a valid do-it-yourself option. Consequently anyone can publish a book, so why be beholden to the major publishers?

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