21st-Century Writing

I’ve been writing and publishing for a long time. Just look at me: a lonnnnng time.

During those many years of experience, I’ve learned a thing or two. Maybe three. And among the things I’ve learned about writing for publication is that writers in the twenty-first century must do things differently than writers in previous centuries.

Sure, generally speaking, the rules of fiction and nonfiction remain the same; but this twenty-first century requires twenty-first adjustments for writers—and perhaps for Christian writers in particular.

For example, I began to realize decades ago that I could no longer refer to and cite the Bible in ways that graduates of “sword drills” and “Bible baseball” like myself would understand and appreciate. I could no longer assume that a reader would understand what “1 Thess.” means. So I long ago began writing out biblical references and even, more recently, started introducing biblical material in ways that would be accessible to readers with no Bible knowledge. So, for instance, I might introduce a passage as “an ancient prophet once wrote” instead of “as Isaiah 40:1 says.” Similarly, I might mention “a first-century letter to a pastor named Timothy” instead of simply referring to “1 Timothy.” Sure, it takes more words; but it seems a small price to pay for avoiding confusion.

I’ve also disciplined myself to use (in most cases) “human” instead of the universal “man” and “humanity” for mankind. I admit that I still cling to “he/she” rather than the singular “they,” which I regard as an abomination; but we all have our little quirks, right?

Another twenty-first century adjustment for writers is the assiduous avoidance of “Christianese”—that is, Christian slang and jargon (also, it’s probably best to avoid phrases like “assiduous avoidance”). So, I use the phrase “blood of the Lamb” only when quoting Scripture or hymns. I don’t write about “being saved” but prefer to use more explanatory phrasing, such as “experiencing new life by turning from sin and following Jesus,” or something like that. Again, I know it’s wordier. But the time is long past when Christian writers can assume even the most basic knowledge of Christian terminology.  

On that note, one other twenty-first century adjustment is the enlistment of sensitivity readers into your critique circle. So, for example, if you’re unsure as to whether your writing contains “Christianese,” ask someone with no church background to read and critique your drafts. If you’re a male writing scenes that depict female characters (or vice versa), enlist beta readers who can help you determine if your characters all sound suspiciously unlike the opposite sex. And if you’re depicting people of different race, ethnicity, and nationality, a sensitivity reader can help you to make sure your depictions are fairly accurate and appropriate. (Be aware, however, that this is a bit of a minefield these days.)

These few twenty-first century adjustments I recommend merely scratch the surface, I know. (Maybe I should have mentioned avoiding clichés, too.) I’m confident the sharp readers of this blog can suggest a few others. Or protest mine. That’s why we allow comments.

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Men Read Too

I first wrote about “Writing to Men” in this post five years ago. I still hold the same opinions about this issue, but today I want to take a different angle. One of the many factors explaining why more books are not read by men and more authors don’t write …

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Visual Marketing for Your Books

Yesterday, August 1, was the 40th anniversary of the launch of MTV. Back in 1981 Music Television (MTV) debuted on a cable channel initially only available in New Jersey. It eventually changed the way music was consumed in the pre-Internet era. It quickly became a vital part of the music …

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Bookstore Economics 101

by Steve Laube

Understanding the economics of your local brick-and-mortar bookstore should help you understand the upheaval that is happening in our industry. So put on your math cap and let’s take a ride.

This article focuses on the bookstore not the publisher or the writer. I spent over a decade in the Christian bookstore business, and while that was a long time ago the economic principles are the same.

Let’s start with a $10 book (retail price). I’m using $10 because it will make the math a little easier to follow.

The bookstore buys the book for $6 (or 40% discount off the retail price) from the publisher (who calls that $6 the net price). Note that this discount varies between 40% and 50%.

When the books sells to a customer the store then makes a $4 profit ($10 – $6 = $4).

If the store discounts the book during a 20% off promotion they have to sell two copies to make that same $4 profit. But often a 20% off sale is not enough to double the sales volume. Why? Because a high-volume operation like is happy to sell that $10 book for $6.50 (35% off). They can do this because they plan on selling 10 copies at the discounted price and clear $5 in profit. This pricing strategy has a chilling effect on the ability of the local store to compete.

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Identity Publishing

A powerful social force in the world today is called “identity politics” (IP). Simply, it divides people by race, gender, economic class, and numerous other factors, creating a large number of micro-groups, each supporting political agendas important to the group. For Christians and the church, commanded by God to live …

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God’s Autonomous Zone

In the late 17th century, Catholic theologian and scientist Blaise Pascal authored a book titled Pensées. In it, he wrote: What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? …

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Banned Books

January was a really bad month for Protestant reformer Martin Luther, 500 years ago in 1521. In fact, the entire year was the wurst. (He was German you know.) First, he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Leo X after refusing to recant his writings. That was …

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Bring the Books (What Steve Laube Is Looking For)

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

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