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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Brooklyn Book Festival - SAVE THE DATE!

The fifth anniversary of the Brooklyn Book Festival will take place on Sunday, September 12, with an all-star literary lineup, including Salman Rushdie, Mary Gaitskill, Colson Whitehead, Paul Auster, Rosanne Cash, Paul Krugman, Gary Shteyngart, Francine Prose, Dennis Lehane, Jonathan Lethem, Pete Hamill, Jennifer Egan, Russell Banks, Michael Connelly, John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Thurston Moore, Sam Lipsyte, Sloane Crosley, Sandra Rodriguez and Paul Harding and many, many more, as well as Children’s and Young Adult Lit stars like Rebecca Stead, Sara Shepard, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jon Scieszka. The Festival is a free, literary celebration featuring more than 200 national and international authors in readings and panel discussions. Always diverse, thought-provoking and lively, this premier literary event welcomes more than 30,000 attendees from around the world. The Brooklyn Book Festival is an initiative of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Tourism, and the Brooklyn Literary Council.

The Brooklyn Book Festival is expanding this year to include three days of special literary events that “bookend” the Festival—September 10, 11 and 12. Look for unique and fun Brooklyn Book Festival BOOKEND EVENTS in partnership with BAM, Bell House, The Brooklyn Kitchen, Brooklyn Public Library, Greenlight Bookstore, Littlefield, St. Ann’s Warehouse, PEN American Center, Irondale Center, powerHouse Books, Debut Lit, WORD, Light Industry, Triple Canopy, Mainspring Collective...and more partners and more info about events coming soon!

For info and current author lineup to date,

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Guest Blogger ~ Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck is a multi-published author living in sunny central Florida with her husband, Tony, a pastor. They have two ornery pets. She is a graduate of Ohio State University and a huge Buckeyes football fan. Rachel serves the writing community as a member of the Advisory Board of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).

Brainstorming & Up the Tension

Last year while visiting with Ane Mulligan, we brainstormed her work-in-progress.

Her story centered around two women and a wonderful supporting cast.

As we discussed one of the main characters, I asked Ane, “Tell me about her husband? What’s his issue?”

“Oh, well, he really doesn’t have one.”

“Give him a problem. All characters need a problem.”

Ane took my advice, gave the husband a problem and it added depth to the heroine’s story.

It sounds kind of simple to say, “All characters need a problem,” but it’s so easy to forget.

While writing The Sweet By and By with country artist Sara Evans, I created a secondary character, Lillabeth, who worked in the protagonist, Jade’s, vintage shop.

Initially the teen was to be a sounding board, someone Jade could talk to and tell her story. Lillabeth was cute and sweet, but kind of boring.

My editor asked me to give Lillabeth an issue to deal with⎯ a secret, a want, a problem.

As I worked out her story, it hit me. Every character has a problem.

Here’s how it changed my story. Lillabeth went from a lively, basketball playing teen who came to work on time and empathized with Jade to a worried young woman who quit the basketball team and asked Jade to let her work as much as possible. Money became a part of Lillabeth’s dialog whenever she was on the page.

Why? She’d wrecked her friend’s car and didn’t want her parents to know. She needed money to pay for the repairs.

Not a big issue right? Wouldn’t knock the literary world on it’s ear, but it did change the way my secondary character filled the page.

She was more interesting and impacting to my heroine. After awhile, Jade confronted her and learned the truth.

This problem rounded out the story and added a texture that made the story more interesting and fun to read.

Writing Lillabeth’s scenes and dialog became more engaging to me.

Take a step back from your work. Do you have secondary characters with no goal other than round out the protagonist life?

Even a receptionist at your hero’s office can have a problem. Every morning he walks in the lobby and greets Betty. Great if all she says to him is “Hello, have a nice day.”

But what if Betty quits greeting him with any life in her voice? What if her roots are growing out in her hair. Does he notice she’s lost a lot of weight? Or gained weight? Has she gone from a cheerful disposition to one of sadness?

Finally, the protagonist asks her, “Is everything okay?”

And her story floods out.

We like a hero who cares about others. Especially when things in his life aren’t going well. But we also take advantage of a minor secondary character to add texture and layers to the story.

My mom used to needlepoint. After she’d popped the needed and thread through a thousand tiny holes to make a picture, she back stitched the design with black thread so the image became clear and distinct.

Giving every character a problem in a story is like backstitching. It’s a technique, a texture, that enables the main characters and story stand out.

Considering if your secondary character needs a problem:

1. Evaluate the role of your secondary characters. When in a scene with your protagonist do they have significant dialog? Then they need a problem. Walk on characters like the mailman or UPS driver don’t need a problem.

2. Are you struggling with tension when your protagonist is talking to a secondary character? In Ane’s story, she was struggling with her protagonist when she was in a home setting. I suggested giving her husband a problems and it raised the level of tension.

3. The story feels flat. Every morning your protagonist walks into his office building and says “Hi” to the receptionist. By the time you’ve finished the book, he’s said hi to her thirty times. Give her a problem.

4. Perhaps you’re really good at giving your characters problems. Consider creating a character without problems but who acts as comic relief. She’s always doing something crazy or suggesting a wild adventures to the protagonist.

5. When you find yourself not caring about a secondary character. Eliminate him from the story or give him a problem

Hope these humble tips help. Happy writing.

Jade Fitzgerald left the pain of her past in the dust when she headed out for college a decade ago. Now she's thriving in her career and glowing in the light of Max Benson's love.

But then Jade's hippie mother, Beryl Hill, arrives in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, for Jade's wedding along with Willow, her wild younger sister. Their arrival forces Jade to throw open the dark closets of her past--the insecurity of living with a restless, wandering mother, the silence of her absent father, and the heart-ripping pain of first-love's rejection.

Turns out Beryl has a secret of her own. She needs reconciliation with her oldest daughter before illness takes her life. In the final days leading to the wedding, Jade meets the One who shows her that the past has no hold on her future. With a little grace, they'll meet in the middle, maybe even before that sweet by and by.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Novel Journey Editorial Launches

I've been editing others for years as well as being edited myself, so launching Novel Journey Editorial feels like a natural progression.

I'm one of those people who enjoys the rewrite more than the first draft because this is where I can really make my work shine, with exactly the right word or turn of phrase.

Rates are reasonable and can be found HERE.

So, if you're tired of close but no cigar with submitting your work to publishers, and you're ready to take it to the next level send me an email. I'd love to work with you.

“With a few deft strokes of her red editing pen, Gina Holmes offers insight and clarity to an author’s work. Her keen eye and talent for maximizing the written word made my work shine!” Elizabeth Ludwig, Love Finds You in Calico, California.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Weddings, Wakes and Whitefish~ Sally John

Sally John is the author of sixteen novels, including the three popular series: The Other Way Home, In a Heartbeat, and The Beach House. Her stories run the gamut from small-town dynamics to Chicago emergency personnel to Pacific beach epiphanies. Initially inspired to write after penning a computer software manual, Sally has also published nonfiction articles, and she speaks at workshops and conferences about writing and family issues. Three-time finalist for The Christy Award, former teacher, and Illinois native, she lives in Southern California with her husband Tim. Writing fiction takes a backseat only to her cherished roles of wife, mom, mom-in-law, and grandma.

Weddings, Wakes, and Wisconsin Whitefish

How do you tell your editors—six weeks before a twice-extended deadline—that you no longer give a hoot whether your characters ever resolve their issues? That as a matter of fact, if they walked off into the sunset, you would laugh and laugh until your sides ached?

This had never happened to me before. For me, writing fiction is life and the rest is just details. I’d rather be writing fiction than doing almost anything else. The line between real life and make believe life has blurred to the point that “real life” is the one in my imagination. All that other business tends to be ho-hum or annoying.

Then my daughter got married.

My son’s wedding several years before hers did not affect me in the same way. A mother-daughter thing? Or the fact that his was on the beach and hers was traditional church and slew of attendants? I don’t know. Suffice it to say this one undid me.

The buildup to the wedding was not to blame. Elizabeth basically organized the event singlehandedly. My role was simple. I made two pre-wedding trips from California to Iowa and “mommied” her. Most days while she taught, I sat in her apartment, wrote, and did her laundry. The only interruptions were the UPS man’s knock and the cat’s attempts to walk across my keyboard.

So far, so good. As usual, my heart hummed along, recording moments and emotions to draw upon later for future stories. In the meantime, I slashed away at my heroine, ripping apart every support system she had. I took her to Vogler’s darkest cave. She made it through. She began her journey home, armed with lessons learned and determination to live them out. Then the unthinkable happened and she was truly crushed.

Ah. It was the perfect time to leave the story and enjoy the wedding. Afterwards, I could put her back together and carry her safely home, easy breezy.


The week of wedding festivities translated into an indescribable joy and I learned an important lesson: indescribable joy is not fodder for fiction.

Nope. Pain is. As are fear, anger, terror, uncertainty, sadness, and doubt.

Not only was every difficult thought and emotion missing from this wedding experience, they were annihilated from my being. I went home and grinned at my desk, not writing a word, remembering the ceremony, the family and friends, the laughter, the dinner, the luscious Midwest spring day, my husband in his tux, my glowing daughter and son-in-law, my precious granddaughters in their flower girl dresses.

I was satiated.

In the fifteen years that I’ve been immersed in writing fiction, nothing has stopped the process. Of course there have been intrusions and obstacles and delays, but life always fueled the work.

There was the season of two teenagers. The empty nest. My father’s last days and death. Our nephew’s cancer diagnosis. A significant marital struggle and healing. The cross-country move from Illinois to California. The wildfire that destroyed our house and every memento we had so recently and so carefully packed while pitching everything that didn’t matter. The loss of our twenty-seven year old nephew.

All of it carved within me a hole, a longing for something that is beyond words. And, as you fiction writers know, this is where story begins, in that place where there are no words.

I grinned for days on end. The writing floundered. Real, real life had poked its amazing essence into my imagination and I could scarcely remember my heroine’s name.

But I didn’t want to worry my editors. Reminding myself that the secret to writing success is showing up, I just showed up, day in and day out. I wrote junk. I deleted. I wrote some more junk. I recalled unpleasantness, like the taste of boiled whitefish in Wisconsin thirty-some years before and the endurance test not only of that meal but of sharing vacation time with my in-laws.

Eventually the wedding receded. My heroine once again tugged at my heartstrings. Real life got back to normal.

I think my editors had an inkling of what was to come. When I first told them about wedding plans, they laughed and offered to extend the deadline. God bless those wise women.

With the flash of a bullet, Sheridan Montgomery’s world ceased to exist.

Her husband, Eliot – the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela – may have physically survived the assassination attempt, but he would never be the same again. And Sheridan had accepted that neither would their marriage.

But when a man that Sheridan had hoped to never see again brings new information about her past, it spins her life down a side road—a path that makes her question everything she thought she knew about herself, her husband, and their life together.

Does a promise last forever when everything has changed? With honesty and grace, best-selling author Sally John tells a moving story about the unexpected detours our lives can take and the hope that it’s never too late to find our way back.

“A wonderful story about the twin truths that forgiveness is costly but love can meet the expense head-on. Sally John is an insightful, inspiring storyteller.”
-Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy

Monday, July 26, 2010

Inhouse or Independent PR~Kathy Carlton Willis

What Is a Publicist?

A publicist is a professional who has both the know-how and the network in place to help bring your name to the public. In the literary world, a publicist is key to the marketing plan, to help create a consumer craving for a book title, or any book written by a specific author.

A literary publicist will promote the book title directly to consumers by identifying and making book information available to the niche-markets with an interest in the storyline or subject matter of the book. The publicist will also network with media by pitching specific interview angles the author can provide—setting up the writer as an expert on certain subjects.

In-House Publicist

Every publishing house has a publicist or publicity team under the umbrella of their marketing department. Their biggest goal is to make sure the book sells well, so they will invest their biggest promotional dollars and time on the book titles they predict will be big sellers. This means either the subject matter is unique and marketable or the author has some sort of celebrity status. But even first-time unknown writers will garner some sort of attention from their publishing house’s publicity staff. It’s up to the author to find out what the plan and timeline is for their title.

Some publishing houses will print ARCS (Advance Review Copies or Advance Reader Copies) as part of their publicity strategy. Marketing and PR staff will send the ARCS to reviewers who require advance review time (normally 4-5 months prior to release date). These reviewers are heavy-hitters. Garnering the attention of Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal or Romantic Times is a big bolster in the launch of any book.

Independent Publicist:

Sometimes publishing houses hire outside PR firms to manage specific book campaigns, or entire lines of books. Other times, they pay half toward an outside campaign, and the author matches that. The third option is for the author to pay all of the expense from their advance, believing that publicity and marketing is what will make or break the overall sales for the book. Independent publicists also assist with author branding for the career of the author, not just this one book campaign.

Most PR and communications firms offer a wide array of services for authors (and other public figures). They will come alongside of you at any stage in the writing game. They can help expand your platform, branding and name recognition. Need some help making sure your website is selling you in the best possible light? Ask your publicist. Some will even edit your manuscripts and write your book proposals, query letters and marketing plans.

After the book contract, your publicist will customize a plan for promoting you and your titles to create buzz in a way that makes the campaign go viral. This can be through traditional publicity campaigns through media, internet and social networking campaigns, and more.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a dozen times, “I’m so glad I didn’t have to navigate this book promotion jungle on my own. Thanks for holding my hand through the process.”

Why Hire a Publicist?

--A publicist has the media contacts and relationships needed to secure interviews/ reviews.

--A publicist knows how to pitch your book to the media and how each journalist prefers to be contacted.

--Most writers do not have the time to devote to a publicity campaign. It is a full-time job.

--When an author is pitching his own book, it is sometimes viewed as being too self-promotional. A publicist is seen as a third party and most journalists are more receptive to discussing a book with a publicist rather than the author.

-When media, retailers and consumers hear an author has a publicist, they seem to see the author as having more “clout.” It legitimizes the expert-status of the author and elevates them to a higher professional standing. An author with a publicity team has “peeps.” It’s that whole “I’ll have my people contact your people” approach.

So, whether you are blessed with a Johnny-on-the-spot in-house publicity team or an independent publicist or publicity firm, rest assured—they’ve got you covered!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eric Wilson's Open Letter to Readers, Writers, and Publishers of Christian Fiction

After nine books and well-over a decade as an author in the Christian Fiction industry, Eric Wilson is throwing in the towel. Why? Is it because he has forsaken the faith? Is it because the grass is greener in the general market? No.

Eric Wilson is leaving the Christian fiction industry because of what he perceives that industry has become.

In a recent post entitled Is It Time for Christian Fiction to Die?, Eric expounds upon the reasons for his decision. Subtitled A Challenge to Readers, Writers, and Publishers, the article serves as a window into one Christian artist's struggle to write the story of his heart within "the parameters of a 'religious fiction' market" that have increasingly narrowed.

If you haven't read Eric's Facebook post and ensuing discussion, or the original article, you must. In it, he expounds upon his journey:
By the time I was 19, my own faith had faced more obstacles than I found in most “inspirational” novels. I hunted for stories that dealt with real issues from a Biblical perspective, but found offerings that were mostly trite and poorly written--with Bodie Thoene's books being an exception. Did it have to be this way? Even those who love Jesus struggle with doubts, depression, sexual and financial issues, addiction, and disease.

If the Bible truly offered the Answer, I wondered, then why did these stories seem so afraid to ask the questions?

Hoping to be part of the solution, I read, read, read, and wrote, wrote, wrote. I studied the craft of fiction. I earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors from an accredited Bible college, got married (faithful for 20 years now), and published my first novel in my mid-thirties. I have since written nine more novels, with over a million words in print. One of those books spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list.

Trying to be part of the solution, I have also reviewed and endorsed hundreds of novels—the majority of them by Christian brothers and sisters. I've done my best to open doors for up-and-coming authors. I've invested the past decade in broadening the reach and readership of this market, and in reclaiming genres that had been hijacked by immoral and/or humanistic worldviews. Despite my efforts, and many incredible yet relatively unknown writers who have bettered them... this market’s recent influence and parameters seem to have narrowed.

Of course, Eric Wilson is not the first or the only Christian artist to express concerns about the "narrowing parameters" of the Christian market. Some would say, no doubt, that Eric's growing frustration and eventual exasperation are his own doing. The titles are a reflection of what Christian readers want, the argument goes. If you don't like it, then go publish in the general market.

But at stake is a larger issue, one that threatens to permanently caricature Christian fiction and force the exodus of many other talented Christian authors. He writes:
If our own writings fail to also wrestle honestly with life’s difficulties, it seems to me that we gloss over the bloody, earth-shaking war that Jesus fought on the cross—and we undermine the triumph of His resurrection.

True, the publishing number-crunchers feel the need to meet profit margins. Yes, we writers of the faith are called to honor God in our storytelling. Does this mean, though, that we should censor all the raw elements? Isn’t the Bible itself filled with depictions of violence, sexual misconduct, deceit, and bigotry? Some of its stories have happy endings. Some are dark cautionary tales. Few, if presented as modern fiction, would make it past the industry’s “gatekeepers.”

...I know there are authors who desire to write more than scrubbed-clean, rose-scented fiction. Must all Christian novels be “inspirational,” or can’t some be challenging, daring, even ironic and unresolved? (emphasis mine).

Eric's query is the crux of the issue -- What should Christian fiction look like? Should it be "scrubbed-clean, rose-scented fiction,"or can it be "challenging, daring, even ironic and unresolved"? Must it target a narrow swath of conservative church-goers, or can it discard traditional guidelines in order to address a broader "seeking" audience? If Eric's decision is any indication, the debate may be already over.
The Christian-fiction market, if it remains myopic, could very well die. I hope it does not. It has done many good things and produced some quality novelists, both commercial and literary in nature. Before we settle into mediocrity, I pray we'll see godly writers of all genres, all ages, all races, ready to raise the bar even higher and impact the world around them. Some are already published but struggling. Others are waiting for their opportunity. The question isn’t whether the market will die, so much as whether it will push aside fear and allow its authors to live.
If you've been around for a while, you know about Eric's passion for Christ, his love for the lost, and his desire to encourage other Christian writers. He is not grinding an axe or thumbing his nose at us before splitting the scene. Nor is he down on Christians who write exclusively for other Christians. This is a veteran of the Christian fiction industry, not a bitter, unpublished author. Which is all the more reason we should sit up and take notice. And ask questions.

Is our industry forcing writers like Eric Wilson to go elsewhere? Have we "narrowed the parameters" of our fiction so tightly that they have become shackles, a Pharisaical system of our own making? Must Christian authors with a heart for the lost leave the Christian fiction industry just to follow their call? And can we afford to keep closing our ears to this issue?

Whatever the answers, I'm a fan of Eric Wilson! Thanks, Eric, for fighting the good fight! Godspeed and wisdom to you, blessing and provision as well. And consider me part of the next wave of troops...

* * *

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Look for Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," in stores Spring of 2011. You can visit his website at

Reminder on Your Journey

Are you an unpublished novelist yearning to get your work noticed? If your answer is yes, have you checked out our awards program, OUT OF THE SLUSH PILE, Novel Journey’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest?

You still have time to submit your Contemporary/Women’s Fiction story -- the deadline is August 10. This is for everyone, not just the ladies; anything with a contemporary setting that doesn’t quite fit the romance, mystery or sci-fi/fantasy categories is welcome.

If that doesn't float your boat, there's still time to submit your Middle Grade/Young Adult Fiction (deadline is September 10). Contemporary romances will be accepted until October 10. And entries for the final round, Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror, have a deadline of November 10.

Want to get in on the fun? Download an entry form, fill it out, and send it, with your first chapter and a 1- to 2-page synopsis, to

Questions? Send them to that same address, and you’ll get a prompt reply.

We appreciate all the great entries we’ve received so far and look forward to receiving many more throughout the rest of the year. We love our readers!

Stand Firm

Anita Mellott homeschools and blogs “Words of Encouragement and Hope” at From the Mango Tree. Her book of devotionals for homeschooling parents will be released by Judson Press in late summer 2011.

I know spiritual warfare is a certainty in the life of believers. But little did I know I’d be stepping into a field full of landmines when I signed a book contract.

After several weeks of reeling from strange events--weird illnesses, and disturbing, unexplained lab results--I began to study Ephesians 6:1-18.

Intrigued that Paul repeats the word “stand” four times over four verses, I delved into their meaning.

Paul urges us to put on the whole armor of God so we can “take our stand against the devil’s schemes” (vs.11). As Christian writers, we are to brace ourselves for spiritual warfare. The onslaught will come. Paul leaves us in no doubt about the reality and intensity of warfare: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

The second time “stand” is mentioned (vs.13) is in reference to resisting the attack, almost like going on the offense. In the same verse, Paul emphasizes, “after you have done everything…stand.” After we’ve prepared and armed ourselves, and gone on the offensive through prayer, it is imperative to hold our ground despite the doubts, temptations to call it quits and weariness that sets in. Retreat is not an option because Jesus has our backs.

Finally verse 14 encourages us to “stand firm then,” even after resisting and holding our ground. We stand firm because:
* We know Who fights for us. The battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47).
* We know the outcome. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus has won the victory, and we stand firm in Him.

So be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. He has called us to write words of hope and inspiration under His anointing. Only eternity will show the fruit of our obedience. Till then, we can stand firm because He is with us.

Anita Mellott
Blog: From the Mango Tree:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I found this slip of paper in a book I purchased from a thrift shop. If it's the same age as the volume, it's from 1906. I thought you'd enjoy the peek at the past too. I guess e-readers will never have this problem.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Author Tara Hyland ~ Interviewed

Tara Hyland was born in 1976. She studied History at Cambridge, and then worked in London as an Equity Analyst for several years before leaving to write full time. She currently lives in London with her husband. This is her first novel.

What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?

Self-doubt. I waste a lot of time worrying that what I’m writing is no good, and I struggle to make decisions on how to proceed with the plot – coming up with three alternatives, and not being able to pick which one is best. When I’ve figured out how to handle this, I’ll let you know! But sadly I fear it’s just part of the job.

What is the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?

From my agent – “be patient”. After the initial euphoria of getting a publishing deal has worn off, it can feel a bit frustrating to realize that you aren’t going to be an overnight success. My agent constantly tells me (and all the others writers he represents) that it takes ten years to build a career as a genre writer. Even if sales are slow to start off with for your first novel, hopefully a reader will pick up your fourth book and love it so much that they go back and buy all the other novels that you have written. So you have to give yourself time to build a readership.

“Don’t Google yourself / other authors” is another one of his gems. It’s far too easy in this information age to get obsessed with reading reviews and trying to work out how your book is performing versus competitors. Tracking your Amazon sales ranking versus other authors is the path to unhappiness! It’s far better to channel that energy into writing.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

I’m currently working on my second book, which as yet is untitled. It’s another big canvas, sweeping novel, but this time it's the story of a mother and daughter. The mother is a somewhat flighty, selfish character, who abandons her daughter in exchange for fame and fortune, and the book is about the impact of her actions on them both. The action starts in the 1940s, just after the Second World War, and takes in everything from the golden age of Hollywood to gangsters in sixties London and the heyday of Fleet Street. There's also a big mystery, which starts on page one and is present throughout the book, so I'm hoping that will make it a real page-turner! It should be out in spring 2011.

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

It took me about three years from having the initial idea for Daughters of Fortune to finally being ready to send the first three chapters of my novel off to literary agents in March 2007. I spent some time researching who to write to, looking for someone who represented authors who wrote the kind of book that I had – a big blockbuster / family saga. I was lucky that the first agent that I sent it to called me back straight away saying that he loved what I’d written. BUT, before you think it sounds too easy, it took me a year and a half of rewrites (and other hurdles) before the book was finally submitted to publishers in October 2008. That was when the fun part started. Over the next couple of weeks I had four publishers bid for my novel. Having weighed up all the offers, we finally settled on Simon & Schuster in the UK and Atria in the US. Since then, my agent has gone on to sell Daughters of Fortune in nine other territories, including Germany, Russia and Turkey. So it was worth all the heartache in the end!

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

My initial draft of Daughters of Fortune was 220,000 words long – and while my agent loved the manuscript and thought it was a page-turner, he refused to submit it to publishers until it was reduced to AT THE MOST 150,000 words long. Cutting one-third of my book was both heart-breaking and frustrating. Imagine the time I would have saved if I’d known at the beginning to watch the word count! Obviously there are exceptions, but if you’re writing a commercial book, remember that most novels are between 70,000-120,000 words long.

Share a dream or something you'd love to accomplish through your writing career.

I guess I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’d love to end up on the bestseller list one day. But I’d also just be happy to be able to do this as a career for the next twenty-thirty years. It’s such a privilege to be published, and I hope that I never forget that or take it for granted.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, of course)?

I absolutely love the gorgeous cover of my book, with its connotations of wealth and glamour, upper class Englishness and dark family secrets. When I first saw it, I couldn’t help feeling proud that what I’d written had inspired something so beautiful. But apart from that, the highlight has definitely been receiving emails from readers, telling me how much they loved the book. I get so much pleasure from reading, and it is wonderful to be able to do the same with my own novel.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

I think dialogue has been one of the most difficult things for me to master. At first, the dialogue I wrote felt very flat, and all my characters sounded the same! Then I realized what’s probably quite an obvious point – that dialogue is just another way of portraying your characters. So I started thinking about how each of my characters would sound, whether they were upper class or common, whether they would swear or not. That helped. Plus, I read some of the masters at dialogue, like Jackie Collins.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

When I’m writing the first draft of a book, I have to force myself to write a certain number of words a day – usually at least 3,000 words, however rubbish they may be! Otherwise, if I tried to make everything perfect, I’d never finish a draft of the manuscript! Once I’ve got that draft down, it’s easy then to go back and perfect scenes, adding in description or tweaking until they are just right. But getting a beginning, middle and end down is so psychologically important to me.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I’m definitely a plotter. I planned my second book in more detail than my first, and it definitely made the process easier. It helped me to see pitfalls before I’d invested time and energy writing those parts in full. I’d spend even more time planning out my third book. It’s so tempting to feel you have to get down to writing, but I think planning is just as important and it really is worth investing time in it upfront – it will save you heartache later on.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

I had an email from a reader comparing me to Jackie Collins, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Sidney Sheldon. I love all of these writers, and could only dream of being like them, so that made my day!

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you'd share with us?

Sadly, no. The whole marketing/promo aspect of publishing has been a big shock to me! I’m quite a shy person – as I think most authors are – and so I was horrified when I was asked to go and record three videos about myself and my work! It was a painful experience, although I understand it’s also a very necessary one in this day and age.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yes, Novelists Pull From Life.

July 11 marked the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird's release. In honor of that amazing book, I offer a two-part series about the book's impact on me as a writer. (See part two August 12th).

I read an altogether fascinating book entitled Mockingbird by Charles J. Shields. It's a book about the life of novelist Harper Lee. Though, granted, it's frustrating that Shields has no first-hand interaction with his subject, I learned a lot about what went on behind the scenes of my favorite novel.

Here's what surprised me. Nelle Harper Lee wrote a novel based very closely on her life growing up in Monroeville, Alabama. I knew, of course, that Dill was Truman Capote, that Atticus was a prototype of her father, A. C. Lee. But so many other details correspond to the story as well: A character that looked and acted like Nelle's distant, most-likely manic-depressive mother. A poor recluse boy-turned-to-man who was essentially held hostage by his obsessive father (Boo, anyone?). A trial about two black men accused of murder. The similarities are staggering.

And all these years, I felt it wrong to base things so closely to a novelist's life. I don't know why I've thought that. Perhaps I've felt that to truly create a fictional world, one must completely make one up. I suppose that's why it makes sense to me why I am in awe of sci-fi or fantasy writers. They completely make worlds up! Tolkien created his own languages! Now that's creativity.

All my life I've had this deep longing to create things that no one else had created. I couldn't bear writing a story someone else had written. I've been suspicious of all the Joseph Campbell mythic structures. I wanted to do something new. Something never done before. I know now that there is nothing new under the sun. But I also know that what a novelist does is bring herself/himself into the story in a vulnerable, naked way.

It all makes sense now, thanks to Nelle Harper Lee. When Building the Christian Family You Never Had (a non-fiction book released in 2006) came out, I felt naked. Frightened a bit. In that book, I shared the story of my upbringing. Oddly, though, two months later Watching the Tree Limbs came out, and I felt more naked. More exposed. More afraid. Although I had exposed myself through the words of the pioneer parenting book, I felt my soul and heart lived on the pages of my novel.

I used to feel a little annoyed when folks would ask me if I'm Maranatha. I'd say no, of course. Because I want to create something utterly new. But the truth is, Maranatha is a part of me, as I am a part of her. And it comforts me that Miss Lee spilled herself onto the pages of her book; that in a very real sense, she was Scout, telling the story of mockingbirds in the South.

Maranatha is my mockingbird. I've made her breathe and sing and dance. My soul has enlivened hers. What a deep encouragement it is to me that Harper Lee wrote was familiar to her. That her pen ignited the familiar, bringing words to mythic truths on the pages of one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Charging Ramen--My Life as a Best-Selling Novelist

There was a show on TV I caught with my husband that made us both crack up. It was a scene with a group of poor white trash types sitting around the TV drinking beer and belching. One of them said he was able to quit his job because he slipped in a supermarket, sued and got a $47,000 settlement. One of the other guys said, "Lucky SOB will never have to work another day in his life."

People think the same of thing of novelists. Even my family thinks I'm rich, and that was before my book showed up on the CBA best-seller list.

Do you think that once you sell your novel your money troubles will be over? Let me tell you how it works then so you won't be in for the shock of your life when your time comes.

I've read that the average first advance for a book is $5,000. Say you're a good Christian and tithe--we're down to 4500. Your agent gets fifteen percent, so now we're down to 3750. Uncle Sam wants 30-40 percent, so now we're down to about 2000.

Not too shabby for a year's worth of work, eh?

Yes, you say, but what about royalties? Ask a few novelists about their royalties and see how hard they laugh. Most authors don't see those checks because they never out-sell their advance.

Before you feel too sorry for me, I got way more advance than most debut authors get. Heck, more than most multi-published authors get... but again, do the math.
People think that everytime a book is sold I get money. Um... no. My publisher gets money, the store gets money, but I already got my money in the form of that advance that the moths ate up.

Even best-selling novelists, which now includes me, make enough to be able to qualify for food stamps.

That chalet in Paris you're dreaming of buying once you sell your great-American novel is probably not going to happen. If I stopped writing now and went back to work full time as a nurse, I would double my take-home income. Nearly all novelist either have a day job, or a spouse who supports them. I have a bit of both.

And I'm now a best-selling novelist.

A friend recently wrote joking that it must be nice to be a best-selling novelist while she was charging Ramen noodles. I wrote back and said that I was charging them too.

I hope you're writing for something other than the money. (Oh and the fame ain't so hot either. If you don't believe me, go to a debut author's book signing sometime.)

Am I complaining? Nope. I feel so blessed to be paid to do what I love. I am a writer. A novelist! The money may or may not follow but that's not why I do this. Good thing, eh? :)

Author Interview ~ Aggie Villaneuva

Aggie Villanueva is the owner of Visual Arts Junction, a bestselling novelist, non-fiction author, and critically acclaimed photographic artistXanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. represented by galleries nationwide, including

She was a twice-published author at Thomas Nelson before she was 30, and commenced to found local writers’ groups, the Mid-America Fellowship of Christian Writers three–day conference, taught at nationwide writing conferences, and published numerous writing newsletters for various organizations.

Aggie founded Visual Arts Junction blog February 2009 and now, under the Visual Arts Junction umbrella, has launched the VAJ Buzz Club – a club where, guided by her experience and organizational/marketing savvy, members combine their individual marketing power (which many don’t realize they have), and much more, to create the ultimate BUZZ to launch each other’s books, products, seminars, contests, etc. A division of the club is Promotion a la Carte where you purchase your services only as you need them.

NJ: There has been a lot of hype lately about self-publishing. I have my own thoughts on the subject, as do most people. Why did you choose self-publishing over traditional?

Been there done that! Seriously, I would never go back to traditional publishing unless my health forced to let someone else handle everything, although I have nothing at all against traditional publishing. Ha, some of my best friends are traditionally published! Okay, I’ll be serious now.

While there are junk Indie novels out there, there are great ones, like the one written by teenager Cayla Kluver, and picked up by AmazonEncore!

We can’t trust that a book is great just because its publisher says so. With self-published as well as traditional fiction, we have to find those authors worth paying for. And we do that through friend recommendation, reviews, etc. In other words, though we may not all publish the traditional way anymore; we all still judge an author’s worth the traditional way.

Lastly, most of the upcoming generations have never purchased a print book. They download all their reading material, and they are reading more than any young generation in 60 years because they can do it on the run, and it’s mostly fiction.

They wouldn’t even know how to check to see if it’s Indie or traditionally published. They don’t care. Indie publishing lends itself perfectly to electronic publishing because we can place it anywhere and everywhere without our publisher’s permission. My novel is for sale in the iPad bookstore, Barnes & Noble’s electronic bookstore, and of course Kindle, plus so many more electronic book sites I don’t even remember them all.

NJ: Once you made your choice, were there any pitfalls you had to watch for?

I guess I would say spending too much promoting it. That’s probably most authors’ complaint. Personally, I love every minute of my publicity work. This is why I started the Buzz Club and Promotion á la Carte, promotional services for authors. My services save them time, fit their budget, and they can purchase it one step at a time, and then come back a year later and use just one or two needed services to boost sales.

NJ: Did you have your manuscript professionally edited?

Absolutely and actually ended up using two editors. And I went to a professional book cover designer, and hired an illustrator for my book trailer, which was then created by Blazing Trailers. There is no excuse for second-rate quality in a self-published book.

And this is an area of the Indie publishing control I enjoy most, and that greatly benefits my books. This is control you don’t get even if you hire a vanity press (which I don’t recommend). They are professional, but you have to use their cover designers, trailer companies, promotional agencies etc. And you pay much, much, much more than if you chose those services yourself, based on recommendations from other professionals.

NJ: What are some advantages in self-publishing? What about disadvantages?

Advantages: I like the control I have. I don’t have to get permission every time I hand out electronic promo copies. I don’t have to pile my home with print copies to give as promos, because I’m free to send a pdf file to reviewers, give as contest prizes, etc. More and more reviewers are starting to accept nothing but electronic books.

I have total say over sales, promotion, the cover, the trailer, not to mention keeping most of the money. I’ve already made more money self-publishing Rightfully Mine (June 2009) than I made from Thomas Nelson. And it was published at that time to rave reviews in metropolitan magazines and newspapers. Don’t get me wrong. I loved every moment of working with Thomas Nelson on my two Biblical novels. They are an outstanding publisher. I just didn’t make any money.

The list of advantages to Indie publishing is too long to list here. I did a series on self-publishing at Visual Arts Junction. Those interested might like to check them out. You can also find a rousing discussion on the topic at one of our SpeakEasy pages, “What’s Your Opinion About Self-Publishing?"

Disadvantages: The biggie is the time investment. And actually that investment isn’t that much more now than with traditional publishers, who now expect authors to work for their own platform. And that is exactly what consumes so much time.

Another disadvantage is others not accepting you as a “real” writer. But I think time will erase those arguments. Indie publishing is still comparatively new, but, as I show in my series it’s growing by leaps and bounds. And an author’s work proves its worth in both types of publishing. That’s the bottom line.

NJ: What have been a few of the obstacles you've faced self-publishing and how did you manage to clear those hurdles?

Coming up with the budget to pay for professional services is probably the biggest hurdle. Across the Net, it costs from about five thousand (which gets you almost nothing) to tens of thousands.

I personally don’t know anyone who could afford that. But as I took each step toward publication I’d need to spend $100 here, $500 there, $300 over there. So I had to save up the money in between each step.

NJ: You're an amazing and natural promoter. What two things promotion-wise have you found to be most effective in selling books?

Twitter. I personally prefer connecting on Facebook, but I haven’t made a penny through Facebook. I have through twitter.

Persistence. Like the tortoise you must spend an hour or so per workday on marketing. May not seem like much, but it will win you the race.

Contact Amazon and B&N for instructions, and list your books in the small categories also, all of them that pertain. You have a much better chance of becoming a best seller (top 100) in a smaller category than you do in, say, fiction, in which there are millions of books

NJ: How did you market your book? Do you have a marketing background?

Without knowing it, I was in promotion most of my adult life but never got paid for it. I did several newsletters for various organizations, founded and directed a three-day writer’s conference, headed writers groups, was assistant director of writer’s conferences, lots of charity work, etc. And I have this habit of hooking up businesses and people who can mutually benefit one another.

Social Media is the only way I can afford to market my book. It’s an amazing vehicle if you stay with it. You must be yourself, and you must care about those who follow you, giving them great value in your posts. People can spot a fake in a New York minute.

Interviews and reviews are like marketing gold. But it takes a lot of time, and the outcome from all that time invested, I’ve only landed seven reviews, and eight interviews. Since most of them publish the review to several places, it’s actually about 3 times this number when you consider site exposure.

NJ: You were very successful on Amazon, and now you're starting your VAJ Buzz Club. Tell us about that.

The VAJ Buzz Club is for group promotion. All who join commit to helping launch each other’s book/product/event. With just the handful of members we have now, we can launch to over 44,000 on twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

Promotion á la Carte is a separate entity, and is, as the name implies, getting your promotional services as you need them.

NJ: Why do you feel there's a need for the VAJ Buzz Club?

Blitzing social media with your book launch. Social media is THE marketing arena. “Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passé. In 2009 Boston College stopped distributing e-mail addresses to incoming freshmen.”

Generation Y outnumbers Baby Boomers, and 96% of them have joined a social network, with FB and Twitter still leading the pack. Social media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web. If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 4th largest.

The goal is faithful followers because you offer them value. With my 8,300 twitter followers, 99.7% of my tweets are retweeted. One reason is because if you added all my tweets that offer writing and related tips, you’d have a couple of books.

Social media made mass marketing available and free. The VAJ Buzz Club combines our reach. But it’s still a numbers game. Not for number’s sake, but numbers within the exact niche you want to reach; writing and writing related social media contacts. So, we join forces to combine our faithful followers.

NJ: What will the members receive for their money?

All of the above and so much more. Nanci Arvizu, my assistant, and host of the hit BTR show, Page Readers, donated a free 30-minute interview to all members at the time of their launch. Members are required to sign up to interview on their own blog one member per year. There is so much more you can see on the summary page, and at the bottom there are several links to detailed info and requirements. MAKE SURE you read them before you pay. Plus I’m here to question at any time, myaggie2[at]gmail[dot]com.

For those not interested in group promotion, but want to hire just the promotions they need now, there is Promotion á la Carte.

NJ: How do people find you?

Email me at the cabin: myaggie2[at]gmail[dot]com. If you feel the need to talk about your promotion needs instead, we’ll set up a Skype talk.

Aggie's book, Rightfully Mine: God’s Equal Rights Amendment, is available in paperback or Kindle.

You can find Aggie on Twitter and Facebook

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Join Me at the Greater Phila Christian Writers Conference

By Becca Anderson
Special to ASSIST News Service

LANSDALE/LANGHORNE, PA (ANS) -- From August 11-14, 2010, hundreds of writers will gather at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference at Philadelphia Biblical University, Langhorne, PA, where many of the most important sessions of the conference will be open to the public free of charge.

Marlene Bagnull

"We live in a time when we need to be both encouraged and challenged," says author and conference director, Marlene Bagnull. "The sessions, which are open to the public, will address issues of social justice, reaching out to impact the world for the better, and encouraging reports of things going on from urban America to the Middle East and beyond."

Each day of the conference there will be general sessions.

Here is a rundown:

* Thursday, August 12, Dr. John M. Perkins will deliver the keynote address at 8:30 a.m. entitled "Love is the Final Fight." Perkins is a lifelong civil rights activist, with over fifty years of hands-on experience in working toward reconciliation and community development based on the message of the Gospel. His extensive foundation has impacted lives from the Deep South to California. His message is one of hope designed to stimulate listeners to take personal action.

Dr. John M. Perkins

* At 7:30 p.m. that evening, Dr. Perkins will also take part in a panel on Justice, Compassion and Advocacy with Steven Lawson, Senior Editor at Regal Publishing Group, Geraldine Ryerson-Cruz of World Vision and others. The panel will discuss how we balance passion and objectivity and yet effectively communicate our concerns and suggested solutions. Perkins, Lawson and Ryerson-Cruz are also teaching a 6 1/2-hour continuing session about Justice, Compassion and Advocacy writing that is one of eight continuing sessions open to conferees.

The GPCWC has been known for 27 years for the multicultural and diverse emphasis it brings to encouraging writers throughout the nation. Those who register for the conference have an intensive education packed into a few days. In addition to general sessions and the eight continuing sessions, attendees will select from among 56 workshops on topics ranging from marketing to technique, getting published, issues inherent in the writer's life, and writing fiction and nonfiction books and articles for adults and children.

Face-to-face meetings between writers and those who are in the market for what they produce are invaluable in opening publication doors. GPCWC emphasizes such meetings, with each full-conference attendee having four 15-minute appointments to pitch their work to editors, agents and publisher representatives. Many published writers trace their first big sale back to a meeting at a conference. A roster of 70 faculty members will share their hard-won wisdom.

Other free sessions include:

* Wednesday, August 11, 7:30 p.m. - A concert with Becky Spencer, winner of the KCCM 7th Annual Inspirational Artist of the Year award.

* Friday, August 13, 8:30 a.m. - Rusty Wright of The Amy Foundation, speaking on sensitively communicating Biblical truth. The Amy Foundation is best known for its Amy Writing Awards, one of the most popular journalism contests in the nation that awards $34,000 in prizes annually to authors who present biblical truth reinforced with Scripture in secular, non-religious publications.

* Friday, August 13, 7:30 p.m. - Jeanette Windle, best-selling author of novels that take place in some of the planet's blackest corners, speaking on Writing to Touch the World. Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles and mountains of Columbia as the child of missionary parents. She has lived in six countries and traveled in nearly thirty.

* Saturday, August 14, 8:30 a.m. - David LeCompte shares a stirring and sometimes controversial message entitled "God at Work in the Land of Islam." From Chechnya, Russia, to Tehran, Iran, David's passion is to go where few others go. He and his family have served with Gospel for Asia, Eastern European Outreach and for nine years they were the directors of In His Fields. He now serves with Mission International assisting believers in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

* Saturday, August 15, 4:15 p.m. - Prolific, award-winning author Jim Watkins shares the states most authors and speakers pass through on their way to becoming effective communicators in "Confessions of an Author and Speaker."

Full details regarding the conference are available on the website,, including information on costs, housing, biographies of all faculty members and their current editorial needs, and descriptions of all sessions. A brochure can be printed from the website, or call 484-991-8581.