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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Just a Fun Video (That's full of truth)

by James L. Rubart

For all those friends we have that are ready to write the Great American Novel ... and have no clue about this tiny little thing called reality. 

Have you ever had these kind of talks? Tell us!

James L. Rubart is the best-selling and Christy award winning author of six novels. He’s also a professional speaker, and marketer who helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Goals that Make Sense

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons and Paula Naugle

I love New Year's resolutions. I love the wha-wha-whaaa sound they make as they fizzle and die by January 3rd. A resolution is something announced from an elevated platform. Usually a bathroom scale. Resolutions are for lifestyle changes, not business.

And you, my friend, are a business.

What a business does is to establish goals for the coming quarter or year. Even weekly goals or quotas are put into place, sometimes on a big white board in the sales office. No big white boards for you (unless you're like my wife and fantasize about such things). In your case a Word document or spreadsheet should suffice.

The key to establish goals has been passed down from every corporation from General Motors to Bob's Bait & Tackle (you have to try his attack crawlers!). Here's what is what we all learned during our first year in the corporate trenches.

A goal must be two things:

1. Achievable
2. Measurable

Heavy stuff, huh? But you'd be surprised how many people can't grasp it. How many of you, in your very first days and weeks of writing, announced that you would finish your manuscript and find an agent that year? Those of you who are lying, see me after class. 

Novel Rocket covers a wide range of readers, so your goals may be different than someone at a different level. I'll use an average beginner--we'll call her Mary, and an average unpublished veteran--we'll call him Bob (he hates the bait & tackle business) as examples.

Mary's Goals:
  1. Learn all I can about story structure.
  2. Write 500 words a day, even if it's just gibberish.
  3. Attend one writer's conference.
  4. Find a critique\accountability partner or group.
  5. Read one fiction novel per week both in and outside my genre.
Simple enough? Notice Mary didn't list "Get published" as a goal. Mary knows that she won't become a published author in a few months any more than she can start practicing law after one semester of college. 

I like to keep my list of goals short, five or six at most. I also like to split them up into categories. Number 1, for example, is about craft. It can be "Work on character development" or any other writing skill. It's helpful to have that goal in mind when planning that conference, right?

Now let's move on to the veteran, someone who's been at this for a while and is nearly ready to be published or self-publish.

Bob's Goals:
  1. Learn how to show emotions on the page.
  2. Finish 3 drafts this year.
  3. Attend a conference focused on my genre (Thrillerfest, RWA, etc.).
  4. Agree with my accountability partner to send daily or weekly progress reports.
  5. Submit my last novel, Once Bitten Twice Hooked, to Agent A, B, and C. 
If Bob intended to self-publish, I'd modify that list to include hiring a professional editor and cover designer for Once Bitten Twice Hooked (feel free to steal that awesome title, by the way). If Mary can't find it in her budget to attend a conference, she can switch that goal with "Read one book per month on writing craft." 

It's your list, modify as needed.

Now on to part two of goal setting--it must be measurable.

You'll notice, from my two lists above, that almost everything on that list can be measured. Word count, completed drafts, number of books read, etc., are all easily measured. 

But what about that pesky number 1 on each list? How do you measure learning? We can write this off as the difference between business and art, but I think that's a bit of a cop out. A teacher gives tests to measure a student's progress. You can do the same.

If you don't have a critique group or beta readers, add that to your list. Let's say Mary is working on story structure. She doesn't have to finish a novel to see if her structure works. She can write the short synopsis and pitch it to her readers (The late Blake Snyder of Save the Cat fame said he would pitch his ideas to people in restaurants). Of course, structure and idea are two different things, but you get the idea. Even better if Mary has a mentor to look at her outline.

Bob can do the same thing. When he sends his manuscript to his beta readers, he can add a note--Keep a specific eye out for my description of emotion. 

If you have five beta readers and two say you have more work to do, you've scored a 60% on your test. What would mom and dad say? Right. Back to work.

Be sure to set your quarterly, weekly, and daily goals as well. Some of us prefer weekly because we have crazy schedules. Some like daily goals to hold ourselves accountable. It's up to you. But write it down. No, don't post it on Facebook. This is between you and, at most, you family and accountability partner\group. Then adjust as necessary as the year progresses. Hey, things happen. We get sick. We take a new day job. Babies get birthed. Adjust.

I'm going to add a final note. Be realistic in setting your goals. We all want to be Super Writer. But if your burn-it-at-both-ends schedule interferes with your devotional time, family time, or exercise, you'll crash. Take it from the guy who slacked off on his exercise last year and has spent the last three months with horrible back pain. Do you know how hard it is to get through NaNoWriMo when it hurts to sit down for more than five minutes at a time?

So set those goals as well. Mind, Body,  & Spirit, right? 

2015 doesn't have to be the year you get published or the year you sell ten-thousand self-published books, but it can be your best year ever. 

God bless all of my Novel Rocket friends and may your 2015 be amazing!

Ron Estrada has multiple published magazine articles, including a regular column in the bi-monthly Women2Women Michigan. He also freelances as a technical writer, specializing in white papers for manufacturing and consumer products. He writes spec fiction, hovering somewhere between post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (he prefers the term pre-Last Days), but has also dabbled in Mystery and Suspense. Turn-ons include long walks to Frosty Boy and dinner by Kindle light. His real-writer’s blog can be found at  You can e-mail him at or catch him (at pretty much any time) on Facebook. Twitter handle is @RonEstrada. CB handle is God’s Gift.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


by Cynthia Ruchti

Here in the glorious between time--between Christmas and the dawning of the New Year--an air of anticipation holds us suspended. One year breathing its last gasps. Another yet to take its first breath.

Within the last two weeks, most of the people I know celebrated the birth of Christ. Some of them also battled the flu. Too many. Some dear friends laid family members to rest. Others gave birth. Some celebrations took place in hospital rooms or were wedged between chemo treatments. Others discovered, the day after Christmas, that the headaches stemmed from a tumor they hadn't known existed. Surgery, recovery, uncertainty, Happy New Year.

Others of us ping-ponged among concern for the ill and uncertain, joyful worship of the Christ Child Savior King, and writing assignments.

With the Word of God open to the left of my laptop and tea and DayQuil on the right, I'm plowing through the final chapters and anticipating the final round of editing. Among other things, I'll watch for over-used words. The story improves when I eliminate over-used words or convert them to other word choices.

But there, to my left, is my Bible open to a chapter with eight short verses and one word repeated six times in one form or another. If I weren't so grateful for the word, my editor-self would mark them for eviction.

But no. It's a priceless word. And God had good reason for using it repeatedly. He knew we'd need it embedded, driven deep, not tattooed but embossed on the frail flesh of our hearts.

The word? Protect. Protector.

"God won't let your foot slip.
   Your protector won't fall asleep on the job.
No! Israel's protector 
   never sleeps or rests!
The Lord is your protector;
   the Lord is your shade
      right beside you.
The Lord will protect you
   from all evil;
   God will protect your very life.
The Lord will protect you
   on your journeys--
   whether going or coming--
   from now until forever from now."
Psalm 121: 2-5, 7-8
Common English Bible

Here in the glorious between time, we lean into the unfailing protection of the One who won't let our feet slip, who will accompany us, protectively, through the unanticipated challenges and inexpressible joys of the year to come.

Protect. Protector. Blessed repetition.

Friday, December 26, 2014

10 Social Media Rules for Authors in the New Year

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

Social media is a tool.
Social media is a tool. But like any tool we need to know how to use it and not be overwhelmed by it. Here are some basic social media rules every author needs to know.

1. Be consistent in posting social media updates. Small regular steps get you much farther, much faster. By posting 4 to 6 social media updates at day, 3 to 4 days a week can help you build a powerful platform much faster than any other way.

2. Utilize hashtags, but don’t go overboard. No more than two per update. Otherwise you look like a used car salesman.

3. Be consistent in what you share on social media. Figure out the audience you want to reach and post updates geared to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally post random things, but keep them in the minority.

Edie's 5 to 1 Rule.
4. Don’t fall into the trap of self-promotion. Follow Edie’s 5 to 1 rule and you’ll keep social media from being all about me, me, me.

5. Be consistent in the avatar you use across all social media platforms. You don’t have to use the exact same picture, but make sure you’re recognizable from network to network.

6. Don’t be obsessed with the numbers. Yes, we’re trying to grow platforms, but the purpose is to reach people, and that’s what those numbers represent. Without meaningful connections, they’re pretty much worthless.

7. Limit yourself to the social media platforms that work for you. No one needs to be on every network. Find your sweet spots and hang out there.

Remember why we're doing social media.
8. Remember why you’re doing social media. We’re writers first, social media is the best way to connect with our audience, but don’t get the equation upside down. The majority of your time needs to be spent writing, not being social online.

9. Use a scheduling program. To reach the majority of your audience, you need to spread your social media updates throughout the day. The most efficient way to do this is with a scheduling program, like Hootsuite.

10. Promote others over yourself. This give you credibility. Don’t be afraid of the competition. It may seem counterintuitive, but the relationships you build with those offering similar products or services can advance both of you.

These are my rules, I'd love to know what you'd add to the list. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains ChristianWriters Conference and the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy. She’s also the Military Family Blogger at Guideposts. Com, Social Media Director for SouthernWriters Magazine and the Senior Editor for Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

He Came

He came to pay a debt He didn't owe

Because we owed a debt we couldn't pay.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Novel Rocket.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All I Want for Christmas

by Yvonne Lehman @YvonneLehman

Registration is open for the Blue Ridge "Autumn in the Mountains" Novelists Retreat, held at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. Even more exciting, you can get a great discount by registering early!

That's why Christmastime may be a good time to ask for tuition money when asked what you want for Christmas! All the information isn't on the website yet, but you can see what we did in 2014: 

Next year will be similar with an additional day of surprise offerings. 

Faculty so far are Yvonne Lehman, DiAnn Mills, Torry Martin, Eva Marie Everson, Edie Melson, mentor writer Ann Tatlock, scriptwriter mentor Lori Marett. Others will be announced later. Three of us are novelists and editors: historical, romance, women's fiction and southern fiction.

We offer critiques, contests, professional teaching, private appointments, and fun. Would love to have you join us.

For more detailed information, click here for the PDF.

Best wishes and MERRY CHRISTMAS! 

Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She mentors for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include eight ebooks for Barbour’s Truly Yours line and a Harlequin/Heartsong series set in Savannah GA: The Caretaker’s Son, Lessons in Love, Seeking Mr. Perfect, (released in March, August, & November 2013). Her 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Need for Factual Fiction

by Alton Gansky

IN JANUARY 2015, Baker Books will release my latest nonfiction work, 30 Events That Shaped the Church. It comes on the heels of the 2014 release, 60 People Who Shaped the Church. Some are surprised to learn that I write book-length nonfiction. True most of my books are novels but I also enjoy and see great value in producing nonfiction books as well.

While preparing 30 Events I went through a long list of possible topics. In the end, one chapter caught my attention and so infiltrated my mind that I’m still researching it long after I turned the manuscript in. As I worked through the centuries I came upon a week long event that most of us have heard of but few of us know much about: The Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. When I research I try to keep my mind free of bias, which is a difficult thing to do. Still, I thought I knew a fair amount about the “Trial of the Century.” I didn’t.

Part of my preparation was to watch an old movie (1960), based on an older stage play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Inherit the Wind. I remember it being one of the best movies ever made, made all the more memorable by actors like Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, as well as Gene Kelly (no dancing in this movie), and Dick York (later of Bewitched fame) who portrayed John T. Scopes (Bertram T. Cates in the movie). This time, I watched the movie with a critical eye and was surprised how far they had strayed from the truth.

To be fair, Lawrence and Lee, as well as director Stanley Kramer, went out to their way to alert viewers that they were watching a movie, not a documentary. The movie begins with these words:
Inherit the Wind is not history. The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during the scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play. It has, however, an exodus entirely its own. [. . .] So Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre.”
I appreciate the honesty of the writers. Still—and this is the problem with some types of fiction—many took the events as historical fact. To this day, people who have seen the movie think:
  1. William Jennings Bryan was a glutton. (He was a diabetic on a very strict diet at the time of the trial.)
  2. Clarence Darrow crushed Bryan’s beliefs as the latter sat in the witness stand. (Darrow ridiculed people of faith but it had no impact on Bryan.)
  3. That Bryan was a buffoon. (He ran for president three times, was a great orator, served as Secretary of State, and was a gifted writer).
  4. That the townspeople of Dayton wanted to hang Scopes from a tree. (Nothing of the sort happened.)
  5. And that Bryan died in the courtroom, the victim of Darrow’s grueling examination and ridicule of biblical stores. (Bryan died five days later from complications of diabetes. He remained active in the days following the trial.)
When I was in college, my psychology professor told the class that the human mind has trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction. It is the reason we jump in scary movies or tear up reading a sad scene.

All of this to say, that we as author’s of fiction need to take care how we represent figures and events in history. Lawrence and Lee went so far as to change the name of the characters (although they also went out of their way to make the actors look like William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow). Despite their efforts, fifty-four years after the movie (longer for the play the preceded it) people still think the movie is trustworthy history.

This realization puts a burden of responsibility on the shoulders of novelists. While the novelist’s goal is to entertain, we in the Christian market also want to edify and to do so we need to be as accurate as we can be when portraying real people.

William Jennings Bryan’s reputation and work was sullied by the play and later the movie, despite the authors’ and director’s efforts to make clear their story was only loosely drawn from the real 1925 court case. Nonetheless, many have taken the fiction and see it as fact.

We novelist take some needed liberties in our creation, but when it involves real people from the past (or worse, vaguely disguised characterizations of living people), then we run the risk of doing harm.

Alton Gansky has written over 40 books of fiction and nonfiction. His latest work 30 EventsThat Shaped the Church, Learning from scandal, intrigue, war, and revival releases mid January 2015. He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.