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Monday, August 29, 2016

Hook ‘em Tight: One Technique for Writing a Book They Can’t Put Down by Author Janine Mendenhall

So you’d like to write a novel, huh? I can appreciate that. I want to write another one too. In fact, like you, I’d like to keep writing them from now on—a book a year, or maybe even two. But the thing is neither one of us wants to produce an ordinary piece. 

We both want to please our readers so much that they won’t want to put our books down, right?

That means we need to hook our respective audiences not only with an excellent story full of conflict-based tension, but most especially, where people normally think it’s time to stop reading.

So when do readers reach for their bookmark? (I’ll give you one guess.)

That’s it, at the end of a chapter!

Before I go any further, I need to give credit where it is due because, the truth of the matter is, I learned to write (and still am, by the way) by following Steven James’s directions in Story Trumps Structure and from other great Craft books written by James Scott Bell, Jack M. Bickham, and Jordan E. Rosenfeld—to name a few.

Now that that’s settled, let me share three ways to keep your readers reading. 

3 Ways to Hook Readers at the End of a Chapter 

(My examples come from my debut inspirational historical fiction/romance novel. Preview Starving Hearts at 

  1. Modify Your Thinking. The close of a chapter is NOT the end. It’s the beginning of your next scene, or one that will follow soon enough. Instead of tying things up in a nice little bow and losing the tension you’ve built up, create some suspense by leaving a string untied. 

Add an extra dose of tension in the language too.

These are the last three sentences of Chapter 2--Savior in Starving Hearts.

        At the far end of the gallery, she entered the deserted renovation area. Honestly, at the moment, she could not care less that it was off limits. 
       Opening the door of the first room she reached, Annette stepped in and lurched to a halt.

Did you see and feel that? 

The door opened, but we couldn’t see what Annette saw. The shocking word lurched created a touch of suspense, and the reader turned the page. 

Once the page is turned, we’re safe, as long as there’s a good hook waiting to catch the reader at the beginning of the next chapter.

  1. Create Nagging Doubt. Our readers have very quick minds. If we offer just enough information to create a slight imbalance, they will get the subtle hint and ask themselves “But did she?” (or a similar contrary question), and that will be enough to make them move on and find the answer.  

Here’s what I mean.

Read the last three sentences of the Prologue of Starving Hearts. See if you feel enough doubt to cause you to ask what I call a contrary question.

         Annette was too overwhelmed to care. All she wanted was Mother’s assurance that she would never see or hear of the fiend again. Mrs. Chetwynd agreed that was best, and she would personally see him immediately dispatched from the estate. And that was precisely what Annette believed Mother would do.  

Of course, readers don’t necessarily realize they are constantly scrutinizing stories as they read them. But did you recognize the subtle “But did she?” that came at the end of that sentence? 

My heroine, Annette, believed her mother would do what she said, but the fact that I wrote it this way caused you to doubt that her mother did what she said.

That nagging doubt is enough to keep the reader going, of course, it also makes a promise, and as Steven James always says, we need to be very careful to keep our promises to our readers. 

If we don’t, they will close our books and never read any of them again. (If you haven’t read Story Trumps Structure, please know, it is well worth your time, and Steven James isn’t even paying me to say this. )

  1. Play Opposites Attract.  I cannot emphasize it enough. Our readers are very intelligent, and they often automatically predict what will happen next. We can take advantage of this brilliance by giving them something negative or scary to worry them without even putting it on paper.

Notice the end of Chapter 4—The Plan. 

You will automatically predict that the opposite of what I’m telling you is really what will happen next. And because that opposite is attractive in a negative way, it’s likely you’ll want to find out how bad things get for my hero, Peter.

Try it, and see what happens.

         Adjusting his evening coat again, Peter willed himself to move to the door. He had made his decision. He would propose tonight, and she would accept him. Then his life would begin, and all would be well.

It did happen, didn’t it? You predicted she would not accept his proposal and that things would not end well, right? That’s because you’re smart, just like our readers.

On that note, it’s time to say goodbye, at least for now. I hope you enjoyed this little lesson on 3 Ways to Hook Readers at the End of a Chapter so they can’t put your book down. Visit me and preview Starving Hearts to see if I’m successful at keeping your attention. 

If I do, remember, the credit for Craft goes to those I mentioned above, but the real glory belongs to God.   “Whoever abides in (Him) . . . bears much fruit, for apart from (Him) you can do nothing.” John 15:5


Janine Mendenhall teaches teens English, of all things! Sometimes she sleeps, but most nights she reads, writes, or watches movies like “Pride and Prejudice” and claims she’s researching her next book. “Splickety Love” and “Splickety Prime” have published her flash fiction. She and her husband, Tom, live in North Carolina where they and their two golden retrievers help gratify the needs of their five children and two cats.


Four Things to do Once Conference is Through

This past weekend, many of my writing friends gathered in Nashville for the annual American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. After four days of craft classes, agent/editor appointments and connecting with old and new friends, most are waking up at home today ready to attack their WIP with renewed vigor.

Not likely! Their brains are mush from all the information they’ve heard over the last several days yet they’re dying to use it in their own writing. But I have some suggestions—four to be exact.

1) Rest
Getting some rest is most likely not your top priority after returning home after a conference but it should be. Consider this: since the moment you decided to go, you’ve been hard at work. Whether it’s writing or rewriting your sample chapters, designing your business cards, combing over the conference schedule and picking out the perfect classes, making up one sheets—you’ve put a great deal of time and effort into those four days. During the conference, you’re involved in an intense study of the craft.

Now it’s time to rest. Everything you’ve learned will still be there after a couple of good days of rest. So sleep. Watch a movie. Spend time with your family. Give your brain and your body a rest—You deserve it!

 2) Read
 Writers are usually voracious readers but reading after attending a writer’s conference may have an unexpected advantage. It might help you retain the information you’ve learned. When you read, you see real life examples of the information you’ve learned during class. For me, listening to books on my iPod is especially helpful. By making the connection between what you write and what you’ve learned, your chances of retaining it are better.

3) Realize
Despite your best efforts, you’re not going to remember everything thing you’ve heard over the last few days. But if you can retain one item that revolutionizes your writing, that’s worth the price of the conference alone! It's that 'ah-ha' moment that you just don't forget.  I’ve gone to many conference over the last twenty years and while the classes on craft have helped me along the way, it’s those little tidbits that have changed the way I look at my writing that I remember most. One year, I took away the need for a daily word count. Another was Jim Rubert’s class point of shocking the Brocca in marketing. Yet another was Karen Witemeyer’s class on giving the reader more than they expect. All of these helped me become a more well-rounded writer.

4) Reconnect
While you still in the afterglow of conference, you need to reach out and thank those agents/editors/mentors you met with during the conference. Remember, these folks have taken time out of their busy lives to meet and give you encouragement in your dream of writing for publication. If you think your conference was busy, these people are in constant movement from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. Even their most private moments like dinner or going to the restroom get interrupted by overzealous writers. So please, drop them a small note to let them know how much you appreciate their work.

Patty Smith Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical and Barbour and currently serves as treasurer of the ACFW-North Georgia chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her new release, The Marshall’s Lady is available on Amazon.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Learning From the Pro Writers without Stalking Them

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Tweet This:  Learning From the Pro Writers without Stalking Them

You know who you are. You follow the award-winning, best-selling

writers whose success make you drool. Their books are read and reread, often with highlights. Their blogs are ingested like candy, and whenever they speak, you’re there.

At conferences, you sign-up for one-on-one appointments and sit at their tables at mealtimes. Their Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and whatever other social media is used capture our attention while we’re learning the craft.

Those aren't bad practices. In fact, emulating our favorite writers can establish professional habits, whether it be in the writing process or marketing and promotion. Modeling our careers after successful writers is commendable. 

But stalking an author through harassment and unwanted attention shoots the writer straight out of the unprofessional canon. What exactly do I mean? Here are nine naughty ways to give you the status of a stalker.
  1. Multiple requests for the writer to read your work. Free of course.
  2. Numerous comments on social media.
  3. Pushing a piece of toilet tissue from one stall to another with a note of devotion. (I had this happen during a writer’s conference. I avoided the writer for the remainder of the time.)
  4. Repeated emails of your fan status and how you’d do anything for him/her.
  5. Sending an abundance of gifts.
  6. Shoving a manuscript in his/her face before the first sip of coffee at a writer’s conference. (I had this done. I wanted to bite the writer’s hand.)
  7. Planting your rear outside of the writer’s residence. (A good reason for a professional writer to use a post office box.)
  8. Waiting outside the hotel door of a writer at conference.
  9. Avoid plagiarism - it’s a crime.
So what can a writer do to increase agent, editor, and professional recognition without being a nuisance? The following are twelve ways to model your career after successful writers—the smart way.
  1. Approach your writing as a business. To make a business prosper, an investment of time, education, and money is a necessity.
  2. Invest designated hours to learn the craft and write.
  3. Invest in how-to books, time to read and reread.
  4. Invest in the novels from your genre and read them.
  5. Invest in a writer’s conference that provides sound teaching and is well attended by agents, editors, and respected writers.
  6. Involvement in a critique and/or writers’ group, via online or face-to-face.
  7. Social Media is a must in today’s world of publishing. Learn it. Do it. That means a quality website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, blog regularly and/or guest blog. Practice the philosophy that social media is not about you but what you can offer to others.
  8. Subscribe to blogs and newsletters from those within the industry who have a proven track record: agents, editors, publicists, marketing and promotion specialists.
  9. Understand there is no easy road to publication.
  10. Willingness to provide instruction to other serious writers.
  11. Wisdom to discern what guideline work for you.
  12. Never stop learning!
Did you note there are more smart items than naughty ones? A professional writer embarks upon a journey on the road to publication. It may take six months, a year, two years or more to reach your publication goals, but you can do it by incorporating the habits of a successful writer into your life! 
Join in the conversation. What have you learned that you can share about your writing career?

Tweet This:  Learning From the Pro Writers without Stalking Them


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Flippant Christianity and Flannelgraphs Slapbox in Church

Peter Leavell
Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho.

—Early Christian art tells us the artists were amateurs. Their ability didn't stop them. Paintings in the catacombs were focused on the relationship between their helpless position as sheep, contrasted with Christ as the Good Shepherd. Not only did the paintings confirm the beliefs of the dead and those who buried them, but inspired 2000 years of believers.

I can’t even color the new coloring books on the Psalms. Are you kidding? For the past twenty years, the only reason I picked up an art utensil other than black was because blue was the only pen not lost in my office.

—Iconic Christian art reflected the inability of peasants to read. Biblical stories were crafted onto wood, plaster, and glass stains as emblems of the Good News. These items resonate not only through time, but across cultures.

I remember my flannelgraph lessons in Sunday School. King David looked like a European monarch with a secret, and Goliath was definitely a guy I would hang out with now. When the teacher left, I acted out my own stories. The other students hung around to watch.

—Scientists who believe in Christ abound. Hildegard of Bingen, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, Rosalind Picard, and so many more. Some preach their beliefs—others dabble in the fact there’s a Supreme Being.

When I took science classes, I learned to love the natural world. Unfortunately, the teachers seemed to think more about contracts than content, and the passion was distilled to can we make it through the textbook this semester? Science was hard for me, unlike history, so I was left behind to barely grasp a handful of important concepts, like lava is hot enough to 
shape islands and roast marshmallows.

—Augustine of Hippo’s writings set a high standard for Christian writers. Few authors throughout history can match the philosophical standard and doctrinal influence. John Bunyan, C.S. Lewis, John Foxe, John Calvin, Oswald Chambers and maybe, maybe, many Christians believe John Piper, but he has to die and then we give it fifty years.

In the past, I avoided these writers for one million reasons that make no sense.


N.D. Wilson posed an idea that changed my flippant attitude—Our brothers and sisters in Christ are beheaded, blown up, massacred. Go through a Christian Store and purchase something that will bring them comfort. A figurine? A fiction? A painting of Mary crying? A cardboard cutout of Joel Osteen? 

I know my work falls short.

Christianity has a long history of incredible thinkers, motivators, artists and artisans, men and women who have shaken the world through their arts and disciplines. Most were persecuted, shamed, laughed at. None were comfortable, all were compelled, each as curious about the world God created as the next.

You are a part of that history. They have handed the torch to you, burning bright, filled with hope and promise and dreams and joy, all reflecting God. What are you doing with it?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Who’s Your Hero?

By Alton Gansky

Athletes have heroes. Business execs have heroes. Christians have spiritual heroes. So it’s no surprise that writers have heroes. But what makes someone a hero to a writer? Sure, there are successful writers we admire, but are they heroes? There are wordsmiths whose prose is so smooth, emotive, and powerful that any serious writer would be impressed. Does success or skill a writing hero make? 

I suggest not.

The champions have in mind might not even be writers. Many of us, perhaps all of us, have at least one person who helped us down the road of publication. Perhaps the person encouraged us, or pushed us, or educated us, or (as in my case) put a boot to our fanny.

I’ve told the story many times. It’s a story that never fails to move me. I had written a novel but had no idea what I was doing. I got one rejection from a pay-to-read-agent (I said I didn’t know what I was doing) and shelved the project. I shelved it for five years. Half a decade!

Then the great Jack Cavanaugh called. We had a friendly competition going on. I won round one when a small magazine published a little article I wrote. He won the contest when he scored a multi-novel contract. The American Family Portrait Series would expand to eight volumes. Other books 
would follow. Yep, he won in a big way. He kept trying when I had given up.

Then he did something. We chatted on the phone for a while and I was truly happy for him. Not so pleased with myself, but happy for him. He asked, “So, what are you working on?” I begged off by mentioning my pressing ministry work. When he asked again I mentioned family needs. He said he understood then asked again, “So what are you working on?” It was clear he wasn’t going to let me hang up, not until I picked up my pen again.

I did.

After reworking my first novel, I placed it with Victor Books. I’m now over twenty years and about fifty works—fiction and nonfiction—down the road. All because a hero called me on the phone.

I’ve been teaching at writers conferences for over fifteen years. There I meet wannabe writers, so of whom have real talent. I have also met those on the brink of quitting. Writing is difficult, challenging, learned over time, full of rejection, and, at times, able to cramp the little gray cells. Over the years, I’ve had a few people contact me to tell me they had been ready to chuck it all but stayed with it because someone said the right thing to keep them in the game.

I’m betting you have someone like that in your writing life. I’d like to hear the story. Did someone talk you out of giving up? Provided tricks of the trade that turned you into a real author? Did someone inspire you by their life story? Did someone tell you that you had the “chops” to be a writer even though you were sure you were just a hack? If so, then you have a hero.

The reminder here is that we all needed heroes and now we need to be heroes to those just outside the gate.

So, who moved you? Changed you? Empowered you? Kicked you in the fanny? Who helped push you down the path to publication?

Alton Gansky is a writer and podcaster and, hopefully, an occasional hero.

Monday, August 22, 2016

How To Do Radio Interviews Right

by James L. Rubart

FYI: This is a re-post of a column from two years back so a few of the details about where I'm at in my publishing history are outdated. 


My second novel in the Well Spring series (Memory’s Door) is about to release so I have a bunch of radio interviews lined up over the next month or so. It’s a great time to remind myself (and you) how to interview in a way that sells more books.

Long ago, and not so far away, I was on air at a radio station where I interviewed guests. So the modicum of wisdom I have to offer comes from having been on both sides of the microphone. 

And yeah, you’ve probably heard most of these before, but it never hurts to go over the fundamentals.

  • The Interview is NOT About You This is an easy mistake to make, since you’re the focus of the show. But you’re not the focus of the show. Or at least you shouldn’t be. Who is the star of the interview? The host. It’s their show. They are always the star. Make them look good. Give them the respect they deserve. Follow their lead. If they want to do the Tango, and all you know is the Waltz, don’t stop. Keep dancing and do your utmost to with their flow. Or said more succinctly: You better be ready to go with their style, not expect them to match yours. Mirror, mirror, mirror.
  • The Interview is NOT About You Part II The only other person the interview is about is the listener. Which leads us to the third point:
  • Don’t Bore Them or Their Audience Whether it’s Howard Stern on one side or Rush Limbaugh on the other, good radio show hosts understand they are providing entertainment to their listeners more than anything else. So they want guests who can entertain. Here are some specifics on how to be intriguing to listeners: 
    • Vary the volume of your voice
    • Vary your pacing
    • Vary your sentences length. (Some of you are saying, “Just like I do in my novels?” Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like) 
    • Have some fun, interesting, stories ready to be told
    • Be controversial
    • Be funny
    • Inspire them!
  • Practice! A bad radio interview is far worse than no radio interview at all. I was about to do an interview a number of years ago and there was an author on just before me. She talked in a soft monotone voice and didn’t say anything remotely interesting.  I felt for her because it was obvious she’d never been coached on how to be on air. People would listen to her and figure if her books were as boring as she was, they weren’t worth picking up. My guess is most of you have first readers, or critique groups for your writing … you need one for your radio interviews too. Ask them to listen and tell you what worked and what didn’t. Get a friend and role play. Go wild (this will be difficult at first) and record yourself in a mock interview. Listen back and do a self-critique. This alone will take your interviewing skills miles ahead. 
  • Elevator Pitches Aren’t Just for Pitching Editors and Agents If you’re doing a ten minute interview, there’s no time to ramble on for two or three minutes each time you answer a question. There isn’t even time for thirty seconds. You have to learn to answer in quick sound bites.   Remember that 25 word pitch for your latest book? Think 25 words for every answer. Now don’t misunderstand. This is a GUIDELINE, not a rule. Sometimes you need a longer amount of time to give a coherent answer. But I hear far more authors go on too long than answer with responses   that are too short.  Hosts appreciate a concise answer. I did one pre-recorded interview where my longest response wasn’t more than fifteen seconds. When we were through, the host said, “Wow, thank you much! It’s rare that we get an author that keeps from talking in long run on sentences and it makes it so hard to cut up the interview.
  • Have Fun I know, you’re saying, “after all the To Dos you just gave, we’re supposed to have fun?” Yep. Because in the end, most people won’t remember a lot of what you said, but they’ll remember if you had fun, if you laughed, if you were passionate, if you made them think. And if they remember those things, they’ll probably be sold on you. Which leads to being sold on buying your book.
Is that it? 
No, there's a few other points we should talk about. But we’ll save them for another column down the road because I’ve already gone on too long. And I know you're just dying to start practicing. 

James L. Rubart is 28 years old, but lives trapped inside an older man's body. He thinks he's still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and loves to send readers on journeys they'll remember months after they finish one of his stories. His novel, The Five Times I Met Myself won the Christy Award 2016 BOOK of the YEAR and his latest novel, The Long Journey to Jake Palmer, just released (which both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal gave a starred review). During the day he runs his branding and marketing company which helps businesses, authors, and publishers make much more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife on a small lake in eastern Washington. More at