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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Q & A: When Protecting Someone Else’s Story Is a Deal-Breaker For Your Memoir

Question: I can’t publish my memoir without sharing the hard stories of those around me. Is that a deal breaker?

A: No. And Yes.

No, there are often creative ways to communicate what is true while honoring and protecting the hard stories of others.

Yes—in my opinion!—there are stories that are too tender, intimate and private to publish. In some cases, the intersection of another person’s story with yours is a deal breaker. That’s not a book that needs to be published.

Right now, the details of my family’s journey when my husband came out as gay don't need to be published. (I don’t expect that to change. If it does, I will update this post, detail the reasons and explain how he and our three children, who will then be adults, think it’s a great idea. And even then I will invite your pushback. Push, please. Mention something about my duty to my children.)

Is there a story in your life that—in your estimation—isn’t for others? (Be vague!) Have you read a blog post or article or book that you felt went too far in revealing what ought to have remained private?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Use Fewer Bible Verses In Your Manuscript If You Love Jesus

One of my pet peeves—as a reader, as an editor—is when authors use long passages of Scripture in their manuscripts, or pepper it with too many verses. I can only admit this grumpy thing publicly because I finally figured out why it gets under my skin:

Cutting and pasting large portions of Scripture into your manuscript, 
or peppering in way too many verses, DOES NOT SERVE READERS.

And serving readers is the job.

Overusing Scripture is problematic for two reasons: it’s either too much or too little.

I. It’s too Much: Avoid Including Lengthy Scripture Passages

Problem: When readers—and I mean Christian readers—encounter long passages of Scripture in a manuscript, they tend to skim over them. From the cursory glance at keywords—“Moses,” “praise,” “sanctify,” “Jesus”—the reader determines that she’s already read this before and keeps reading (if you’re lucky) beyond the Bible-brick to discover what he or she does not yet know.

Solution: Use a shorter passage of Scripture. When you crop the text down to the most salient verse or verses, the reader can better glean what you most want to communicate.

Example: In lieu of including all 176 verses of Psalm 119, give the reader a bite and tell them enough to make them hungry for more…
"Every verse of Psalm 119 describes the good way God’s designed us to live: 'I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.' (Psalm 119:11-12) "Word" and "decrees" are synonyms pointing reader toward the good way God’s designed. And If you read all of Psalm 119, you’ll find more euphemisms for this path that leads to life."

II. It’s too Little: Avoid Including Too Many Scripture Passages

Problem: You might pepper too many verses of Scripture into a manuscript, assuming that lots of Scripture is benefiting the reader. But there actually might be more value in including less! Too many verses of Scripture can feel like being pelted by a rapid-fire Nerf gun. If the reader can’t make a meaningful connection to each passage, the verses will bounce off the reader’s mind and heart and fall to the floor.

Solution: When you do weave Scripture into your manuscript, it’s your job to help the reader find fresh spiritual nourishment from the passage by demonstrating the connection to your message. Here are a few ways to help the reader glean as much as possible from the biblical text:
  • Note what's surprising or remarkable about the passage.
  • Offer historical context, noting time, place, speaker, culture, audience, etc. (Make it interesting.)
  • Provide literary context, helping reader understand why what comes before or after this passage illumines its meaning.
  • Offer practical application, demonstrating how this passage was vivified in your life of someone else’s.
  • Strengthen the connection between the passage and the reason you’ve shared it.

"When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), he’s making a radical claim! Did you know that, in the ancient near east, a nation’s king was said to be the “light” who reigned on behalf of a deity?! Jesus is saying something pretty bold, then, about the kingdom of God and about your role in it."

Bottom line: Scripture was never intended to become a quantity to be used, cropped, leveraged or wielded. I know that and you probably do, too. It's power does not depend on us! Being thoughtful about presenting Scripture in a way that it can best be tasted and digested, to offer real nourishment, is a gift to your reader.

What do you think? Agree or disagree?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Crafting a Book Proposal? Don't Submit Yours Without Reading These 10 Tips

*In the comments today you can ask any book proposal related question. Go!

Every sentence of your book proposal should have one person in mind, and it's not you: it's the reader. Your job is to meet the reader’s needs—both that first reader, the agent or publisher, and the eventual one—by communicating efficiently and effectively.

1. Don’t get visually fancy.

Elaborate fonts, colors and graphics distract. Use Time New Romans 12 pt font in a Microsoft Word doc or PDF. Rule of thumb? Keep it simple.

2. Use plain language.

High-fallutin’ intellectual language is only appropriate for academic books. More often, communicate using a conversational voice.

3. Write in the third person.

Compose proposal in the third person, as if your agent or a professional collaborator has prepared it—allowing you to brag a bit.

4. Be clear and concise.

When a reader sets down your proposal, he or she can easily identify the premise of your book. Make the reader’s job easy: don’t use more words than are necessary to communicate effectively.

5. Avoid extremes.

Claiming every person always feels a certain way distracts reader by challenging her to search for an exception. “Most” and “often” are more effective.

6. Communicate value for the reader.

Throughout your proposal, make explicit the takeaway value for the reader who purchases and reads your book.

7. Title effectively.
Your working title suggests the book’s premise and the subtitle its promise. Avoid titles that are either too generic or too clever—both making the premise difficult to identify.

8. Prove you will market your book.

Don’t just say you’ll help with promotion. Offer concrete plans you will put into effect.

9. Practice Humility

Don’t oversell, insisting Oprah will return to daytime TV just to promote this book. And be cautious, even with faith-based publishers, about claiming that God told you to write it. #redflag

10. Offer an error-free proposal.

If you’re not paying for a professional critique, have a word-loving friend scour your final draft for grammatical or typographical errors.

Do you have a question about your book proposal? Ask away...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Road to Hell is Paved With Adverbs

Problem: The overuse of adverbs and adjectives attempts to compensate for weak verbs and nouns. 

(Keep reading to find solution at bottom...)

Solution: In lieu of using too many flowery adjectives, choose better nouns. Instead of employing lots of adverbs, choose better verbs.

What do you think? Does reducing adjective and adverbs makes for stronger writing?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Self-Publishing: One Man's Journey

My friend Les Bridgeman just released Seeing the Invisible God: 52 Reflections on Divine Anatomy, (Sounds awesome, right?!)  Because I want writers who are considering self-publishing to know what’s involved, Les was gracious enough to share his experience here. So grateful for this generous peek...
Les shares...

If you’re thinking of writing and publishing your own book, be prepared for a challenge. Here are the ten major steps I took, along with the expenses I paid, to publish my new book Seeing the Invisible God: 52 Reflections on Divine Anatomy

1.   Wrote the book. In total, it took about seven months, but that was spread out over six years.

2.  Had it professionally edited – $1140. The cost depends on the type of editing you need. Also, my editor was relatively inexpensive – $25 per hour. But she was recommended by a professional author I met at a writers conference, and I know that she worked on his books. Make sure to get your book edited by a professional with experience. There are so many grammar and punctuation rules and you need someone with expertise in those areas to look at your work. If you need substantial editing, it will probably cost a lot more. If you want to brush up on the rules of writing, my editor recommended the Chicago Manual of Style.

3.  Had the cover designed and created – $262.50. This involved about 60 emails going back and forth on details of the design and took about two months to finalize. Fortunately, I was working with a friend, and we agreed on a price per hour from the start.

4.  Purchased Scrivener – a program that enables you to create an e-book, such as a Kindle version – $39. It sells for $45 but I found a discount code online. Warning: Scrivener has a ton of settings, so it takes time to learn. You can purchase tutorials to help you learn Scrivener, but I just struggled along. I did, however, write to Scrivener a couple of times, and received helpful and timely responses to my questions.

5.  Purchased Word for Mac– I was trying to avoid purchasing this, but in the end, I gave in and I’m glad I did – $109.99. Of course, if you already have Word or are comfortable with another word processing program, you can skip this step.

6.  Interior Design template from Purchased the leadership template with the e-book template – $47. There are many details to consider with interior design, such as margins, headers, page numbers, font, and font size. How will you decide on all of those details? (Actually, you will need to decide on the size of your book first. Measure books you have and then go from there. I chose 8.5 in. x 5.5 in.) And when you decide, do you know how to set up everything properly? The template helped ease the process dramatically.

7.  Purchased an ISBN from bowker – $125. You don’t have to purchase your own ISBN, but doing so gives you more freedom to sell your book in other places. If you don’t want your own ISBN, you can get one at no cost from CreateSpace. Here’s a breakdown of your ISBN options.

8. Uploaded my e-book that I created with Scrivener, along with the .tif cover file to Amazon Kindle Direct then waited for it to be approved, which took about 6-8 hours.

9.  Uploaded my paperback version with my .pdf cover file to CreateSpace then waited for it to be approved, which took about 12-15 hours. CreateSpace is Amazon’s print on demand service so if you use them, you don’t have to stock physical books to sell. The books will be printed when they are ordered.

10.After the paperback was approved, I purchased a few paperback proof copies from CreateSpace – $86.96. (This is where I messed up a little.) On Amazon’s CreateSpace, you can approve your book at no cost by viewing the PDF or by using their digital viewer. But I don’t recommend doing that. If you really care about the finished product, you’ll want to hold and see in person exactly what your customers will be seeing. Also, studies have shown that we can’t proofread as well digitally as we can on paper. And finally, colors don’t look exactly the same on screen as they do on paper. But why did I purchase a few proof copies? Because I kept changing things. Every time I picked up the book and read something, I wanted to make a change or two. My editor told me that would happen. I don’t know if authors are ever 100% happy with everything in their books. I also learned that one editor is not enough. Most professionally published books have gone through a team of editors. (If you self publish, who will be your team of editors?) I should have had my wife read every word before publishing and, in the end, that’s what ended up happening. My mistake cost me about $70.

Like I said, those are the major steps I took and the grand total was $1723.49

Les Bridgeman, author of Seeing The Invisible God, has a Master's degree in Religion from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has been developing Bible courses since 2003, and he cuts his own hair.

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