Is Your Story a Diamond? ~ by guest blogger Maureen Lang

Maureen Lang is the bestselling author of eleven books, many of which have earned various writing distinctions including RWAs Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, A Holt Award of Merit and finaling in the Christies. She is also a four-time finalist in ACFWs Carol Award. Her titles The Oak Leaves, On Sparrow Hill, My Sister Dilly and most recently her three-book Great War Series, all published by Tyndale House, have consistently received positive reviews from such places as Publisher’s Weekly and Romantic Times. Visit her on her website and Facebook.

NJ: Leave a comment for Maureen and be entered in a drawing for a free copy of her book.

Is your story a diamond?

Like many married women, I wear a diamond engagement ring along with my wedding band. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of it and my gaze is arrested—most often when the light hits my ring just so, particularly sunlight. While I might not believe diamonds are a girl’s best friend, I do admit to being easily fascinated by something that appears to possess an endless sparkle.

A well-crafted story can be a captivating gem, too. A good story can catch my attention and provide a memory that seems everlasting—which is why such a thought prompted me to wonder if my stories could pass a diamond-inspired grading system.

The Four C’s of Grading Your Story Like a Diamond:

Clarity: Well-crafted stories have a sense of clarity that all the best diamonds possess. Readers may bring their own interpretation to a story but they’ll never be confused, frustrated or muddled by a story that works.

Carats: Well-crafted stories have just enough carats—in other words, their size is just right. There are never too many pages in a story that’s working for a reader! Some fans might think there are too few if they don’t want a story to end, but most readers of a well-crafted book will utter that satisfied sigh when the last page is turned, because the size is just right.

Color: Well-crafted stories are colorful. They mix fascinating characters with just the right setting and apparently insurmountable obstacles that somehow are believably and heroically overcome, bringing us to a satisfying end.

Cut: Well-crafted stories are cut to just the right shape, just as diamonds are. We may dream about writing outside the box, but for the sake of book buyers, publishing sales staff and PR workers—not to mention bookstore shelf-stockers—we need to write books that fit somewhere. Even when editors say they want something fresh and new, they still need to call it something so they can sell it to the rest of the publishing world. A mystery? A romance? Even more generic terms like General Fiction or Women’s Fiction call to mind a certain type of book.

More diamond elements for our precious stories…

Dedicated authors and their editors can spot that diamond-in-the-rough idea that can be expertly cut and polished into a marketable story.

A well-crafted story has a sense of timelessness, just like those endless facets of my diamond reflecting light. Characters are revealed to readers mid-stride, and readers recognize a sense that those people filling the pages already have a well-established life. Likewise, hopefully at the end of the story the reader is left with a promise of that character’s life going on and on.

A well-crafted story can be handed down, just as my ring will be handed down. There’s nothing better than to be told by a friend that a book touched them. Word-of-mouth advertising is every writer’s dream, because it’s the most effective.

And finally, well-crafted stories are priceless—yet so much more affordable than diamonds.

So if you’re wearing diamonds or just enjoy looking at sparkling jewels, let them inspire you to write a diamond of a story!

NJ: Leave a comment for Maureen to be entered in a drawing for a copy of her book.

Springtime of the Spirit

The winter of an unjust war is over. A springtime of the spirit awaits.

Germany, 1918
Four years of fighting have finally come to an end, and though there is little to celebrate in Germany, an undercurrent of hope swells in the bustling streets of Munich. Hope for peace, fairness—the possibility of a new and better tomorrow.

It’s a dream come true for Annaliese Düray. Young and idealistic, she’s fighting on the front lines of Munich’s political scene to give women and working-class citizens a voice in the new government. But she’s caught off guard by the arrival of Christophe Brecht—a family friend, recently returned from the war, who’s been sent to bring her home.

It’s the last place she wants to go.

Christophe admires Annaliese’s passion, unable to remember the last time he believed in something so deeply. Though he knows some things are worth fighting for, he questions the cost to Annaliese and to the faith she once cherished. Especially when her party begins to take its agenda to new extremes.

As the political upheaval ignites in Munich, so does the attraction between Annaliese and Christophe. When an army from Berlin threatens everything Annaliese has worked for, both she and Christophe face choices that may jeopardize their love, their loyalty, and their very lives.

Self-Publish and Watch the Dollars Flow In?

My column on Jan 25 stated that “self-publishing will remain hot, but it still won’t make people any money.” The column got picked up and disseminated around the blogosphere, with some people torching me for claiming I’m biased against self-publishing.

Rot. Self-publishing is a great idea, and I’m helping several authors do it. Your e-book with a traditional publisher these days will earn you a 25% royalty. Your e-book with a self-publisher will earn you a 70% royalty. On paper that looks like an easy decision for an author. 

In fact, a couple days ago thriller author Barry Eisler made headlines for turning down a half-million dollar deal with St Martins in order to self-publish. Maybe you’re thinking you’re going to follow his lead, self-publish your book, and start watching the dollars flow in.

Um… don’t put any money down on that Maserati just yet. I work with authors full-time, have for years, and while the percentages look great, the numbers don’t always work out. You see, self-publishing is still PUBLISHING, and the keys to success are still (1) write a great book, (2) market it exceptionally well, and (3) know how to sells large quantities. Unfortunately, most self-publishing authors are not doing any of those three. They’re frequently taking a manuscript that’s been rejected everywhere. I know this sounds elitist, but it’s just possible all those agents and editors who rejected that book know something that you don’t know. 

Maybe (just maybe) if everyone has rejected your manuscript, it’s not because “the system is stacked against you.” It could be you could use some editing. In addition, if you don’t know how to market your book, you’re dead in the water. You could produce a great book and people may not flock to it – there’s too much competition, and if readers don’t know about it, they can’t buy it. You’ve got to know how to reach readers and get them to buy your book or self-publishing won’t make you any money.

I’ve been spending time talking with self-published novelists, and you’ve got to work to find people who are making more than a couple hundred bucks per month. Many are making $20 per month – including one author who turned down a $5000 offer because she was convinced she could do better. 

So, frankly, I think Barry Eisler got taken. Somebody convinced him he could do better than to cash that $500,000 check and let a great company like St Martins market and sell his book. They’re probably wrong. Eisler is good, but does he have enough of a following to sell that many books? I don’t think so. AND he now has to be a full-time marketing and sales guy, rather than a writer.

So yes, I think self-pubbing is great. But it’s not a miracle solution for your career. And yes, there’s still some wisdom in listening to all those experienced publishing people who know something about the business.

Chip MacGregor is President of MacGregor Literary Inc., a literary agency that works in both the CBA and general markets.

Where Do Writers Fit in the Church?

If you have the gift of teaching, evangelism, hospitality, or helps, there is a place for you in the Church. If you have administration skills, musical talent, or simply like to serve, there is a place for you in the Church. But if you are an artist, a writer, a poet, or an actor, you’re out of luck. Makoto Fujimura, founder of International Arts Movement, believes that: Christians often misunderstand the role of creativity. Few churches get involved in the arts, and as a result, many creative individuals feel separated and alienated from God and His body of believers. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately — “separated and alienated.” Probably because our church recently studied the topic of spiritual gifts and callings. The funny thing is: It’s not ignorance of my calling that alienates me; it’s awareness of my calling that alienates me. I mean, where do writers fit in the Church? The church needs people to man the nursery, host Bible studies, organize social events, plan outreach opportunities, visit the sick, counsel the hurting, and recycle bulletins. But… poets? Seriously. What practical purpose do poets serve in the local church? It’s a conundrum. On the one hand, if God “calls” some members of His Body to write fiction, direct theater, sculpt, or paint abstracts, how do those callings practically relate to the local church? If they don’t, are we prepared to say that writers, artists, and actors are peripheral to the real mission of God on earth? And if they’re not — if fiction writers actually serve an important role in the Body of Christ — why isn’t there more of a practical place for them? Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” is in stores now. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.