What’s Your Point? by Jerry B. Jenkins

I like movies that are not afraid to be quiet. The film adaptation of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules was a masterpiece, which I confess despite the fact that it was a pro-abortion bromide and my personal philosophy is diametrically opposed to its message. Why? Because as opposed as I am to abortion, Irving deserved his Academy Award, and I applauded his acceptance speech, wherein he made clear his worldview. He didn’t pretend he didn’t have a message.

And neither should Christian writers. Ours is a message of hope, of reconciliation, of forgiveness. True art will communicate that without preaching. Give the reader credit. Tell a story and assume he gets it.

If the Left Behind books, The Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose-Driven Life, and others have awakened the general market to the vast potential of inspirational titles, the horizon has been broadened for us all.

The toughest challenge for any artist, any creator, is to resist the urge to show off. Our name will be on the cover, after all, and we’d love to remind the reader with a turn of phrase or a choice word that yes, I’m the one fashioning this message.

Art trumps self

But the best writers, like the best composers and painters, know that it is not about them. It is about the art, the content—and anything that interferes with the connection between that and the viewer, listener, or reader is an interruption.

If your reader is aware of your technique, he may miss your message. If the pianist dazzles his audience with technique, the purpose of the composer may be compromised. If the appreciator of art becomes aware of the brushstrokes, the artist may lose his ability to reach the soul through the meat of his message.

A true classic transports you. You’re unaware of the performance and the performer, the author and his technique. As creators, that should be our goal. Not to write classics. That’s not up to us. The market will decide that. But to get out of the way so the heart of the message reaches the soul of the reader.

Accomplish this by writing clearly and concisely, enticing your readers and guiding them to the core of your work. Use words they will understand rather than ones that will make them wonder. Get out of the way of your art.

Jerry B. Jenkins is author of more than 175 books, with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.

Twenty of his books have reached the
New York Times best-seller list (seven in the number-one spot). In 2011 he released the first in a trilogy of police novels set in Chicago, The Brotherhood. The second in the series, The Betrayal, released this month. Jerry also owns the Christian Writers Guild, which trains writers through courses, conferences, contests, critiques, and community. Visit him online.

Self-Publishing Versus Traditional Publishing

Now that direct on-line sales, eBooks, and publishing on demand have opened up new distribution channels for self-publishing, many aspiring authors are wondering if it’s still worth the effort to pursue publishing in the traditional way or if they should go with self-publishing. There’s a lot to consider in making that decision. Traditional publishing used to offer a very attractive package to authors: a cash advance, professional editing, professional cover design, professional marketing, sales via longstanding relationships with bookstore chain buyers, distribution (warehousing, order fulfillment and management of returns), and accounting, plus royalties should the author’s share of sales exceed the advance. Plus publishers offered the full acceptance of the business risk. If the book didn’t sell, the author still kept the advance. Only the publisher stood to actually lose money. Note however that I wrote “traditional publishing used to offer a lot . . .” at the top of that last paragraph. That’s because almost everything about the package has changed. Due to the economic pressures of a major recession plus intense competition from the above mentioned new distribution channels, traditional publishers have been forced to adopt drastic measures. Advances are shrinking. Editing has been outsourced to freelancers. Cover design and marketing have also been outsourced. Longstanding relationships with bookstore chain buyers account for a much smaller percentage of total sales and distribution is much less important because these things are now handled via the Internet in one way or another. In short: much of what traditional publishers once offered to authors either no longer matters, or else it’s now available to authors directly at identical levels of professionalism and effectiveness. Take editing for example. The one thing a self-published writer must not do is bypass the editorial process. Input from friends, family, and other authors is sometimes helpful, but without the complete services of professional and experienced fiction editors, virtually no manuscript is fit to print (including mine). Until just a couple of years ago, almost all the best editors were salaried employees at publishing houses, so it was nearly impossible to deliver a top quality novel to the reading public without getting on board with a publisher. No longer. Most major publishing houses have laid off the majority of their editorial staffs, and those editors have been forced to go into business for themselves. Now authors can shop for editorial assistance directly from a huge pool of highly experienced and professional freelance editors. One can even make the case that better editing is now available via self-publishing, if the author is willing to pay for it. Traditionally, novels have passed through at least three levels of editing at a publishing house: developmental or conceptual editing, line editing, and copy-editing. All three levels existed for different reasons, and all three are absolutely essential. But in yet another effort to cut costs, many traditional publishers are now omitting at least one of those levels. The author can complain, but the final decision is the publisher’s. In comparison to that, self-publishing with freelance editors may actually produce a better novel. Almost exactly the same situation exists for cover design and publicity. In the olden days (say, four or five years ago) publishers handled almost all the design and public relations for a novel. Marketing staffs at major houses were as large as editorial staffs. Nowadays however, most marketing is outsourced, often to the same people who once worked in-house. And authors are free to hire those same cover designers and publicity specialist directly. What’s more, most traditional publishers now require authors to shoulder a major portion of the promotional burden. We are told we must have a “platform.” We must produce and manage our own a website, and a blog, and actively promote our own work in the social media, and we should get out there and set up our own book signings. In many cases, the publisher’s in-house involvement with promotion has been reduced to hiring an outside PR firm and giving them their marching orders. Period. Everything else depends on the freelance PR firm and the author herself, which is exactly the situation faced by self-published authors. As for sales and distribution, once upon a time every traditional publisher relied on a jealously guarded Rolodex full on longstanding relationships with bookstore buyers. Now however, those relationships are becoming less important every day. Did you notice the news about Borders bookstores? They’re closed. A few regional bookstore chains remain, especially in the Christian market, but Barnes & Nobel is now the only truly national bricks and mortar bookstore outlet for hard copy sales. And the main reason Barnes & Noble has survived is their own shift to direct Internet and eBook sales as a competitor with Amazon. In other words, authors now have direct access to Barnes & Noble, just like the major houses. (There is one last major opportunity for bricks and mortar sales which most authors can’t access directly: the so-called “big box” retailers like WalMart and Target. Shelf space is so limited there that only A-list authors make it in, and most of them still write for traditional houses . . . for now.) What all of this means for the aspiring author is pretty simple: there are only two reasons left to pursue traditional publishing. First, there is your ego. It feels great for a little while to be able to tell your friends you sold your novel to a major house. It really does. For a little while. And second, there is the advance and the payments to the freelance editors and cover designer and a PR firm. The essential three full rounds of editing and a good cover (even for an eBook) and a serious publicity campaign can easily run $6,000-$7,000 or more, so an author who wants to take a stab at self-publishing a quality novel should be ready for that kind of up-front investment. Many of us can’t afford to spend that much money on a book that might only sell a thousand copies, which is where traditional publishing can help. They’ll accept that risk by covering those costs, plus give you an advance, in return for at least 75% of your electronic sales, and 85% of your hard copy sales. You’ll probably get even less if you don’t have an agent, but then if you do have an agent he’ll take 15%. And remember: many houses are cutting back on the editing they’ll pay for, so if you want to be certain your novel will get all three levels of editing it requires, write that into the contract. If you have the money to invest, and if you have the discipline to actually invest it with good editors and then do what they tell you, and if you don’t care about a famous imprint on the spine of your novel, you might want to seriously consider hiring your own team of editors, a designer, and a publicity professional. You’ll have to do the extra work of managing the business aspects of those relationships, plus setting up your own distribution channels via Barnes & Noble and Amazon and so forth, but all else being equal, you stand to make more money in return for the extra work and risk.

Athol Dickson is a novelist, teacher, and publisher of the DailyCristo website. His novels transcend description with a literary style that blends magical realism, suspense, and a strong sense of spirituality. Critics have favorably compared his work to such diverse authors as Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). One of his novels is an Audie Award winner and three have won Christy Awards including his most recent novel, Lost Mission. His next story, The Opposite Of Art, is about pride, passion, and death as a spiritual pursuit. Look for it in September, 2011. Athol lives with his wife in southern California.

How to Build a Ship by Marcia Lee Laycock

Antoine de St. Exupery is purported to have said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them task and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

That quote draws me in, puts images in my mind of the vastness of the ocean, the vastness of our world and universe, the infinite vastness of God Himself. This I believe is what we aim for as writers of faith, to delve into that longing in our own being and to express it in ways that will draw others with us.

Think of a book you read that did that for you. It will live in your heart and mind for a very long time because it goes to the root of your being, your longing to be ever in the presence of God, your longing for truth.

The genius and the gift of art is that it can take us there. I remember feeling it in an art history class many years ago as I stared at the slides our instructor flashed on a large screen. “Just take these in,” he said. I did and was never the same. That art changed me, made me more aware, more ready to receive, even though, at that stage in my life, I had no idea what I wanted or needed. Viewing those representations of artwork wrought centuries before took me a step closer to searching for God.

The frustration of every artist is the limitation of his/her own self that blocks the genius, prevents us from reaching into that longing and embracing it. But there is hope. There is Christ, who always beckons, always encourages, always leads us to Truth because He is Truth. Though we are flawed and incapable, He is able to reach through our words and draw the hearts to Him.

I love the quote from Exupery because I imagine the people, my audience – people whose minds and hearts and souls have been touched by art in a way that makes them want to build and launch their own ships, to begin the journey to God that will take them deep into His presence. And I love the journey of my writing craft, because it takes me there too.

“Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Psalm 43:3


Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor’s wife and mother of three adult daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. The sequel to One Smooth Stone will be released in 2011. A collection of devotionals for writers has just been released here. Visit Marcia’s website

Author Lacy Williams ~ Interviewed

Lacy Williams is a wife and mom from Oklahoma. Her debut novel, MARRYING MISS MARSHAL, won ACFW’s Genesis award before being published. She promises readers happily-ever-afters guaranteed. She combines her love of dogs with her passion for literacy by volunteering with her therapy dog Mr. Bingley in a local Kids Reading to Dogs program.

Lacy loves to hear from readers at lacyjwilliams@gmail.com. She posts short stories and giveaways at her website www.lacywilliams.net and can be found on social media at www.facebook.com/lacywilliamsbooks and www.twitter.com/lacy_williams .

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

Finding the strength to leave some things to God. For instance, I can write a great book but I can’t make an editor like it or buy it. Yet I still worry about it until I have an answer. Or I can do all kinds of marketing but that doesn’t guarantee that books will sell. Those things that are out of my control REALLY bug me because I’m a control person. I’m still learning to trust God but it’s a constant lesson for me!

What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn’t write?

For me, I absolutely love that moment in the book when the hero or heroine has to give up everything to save the other person—for me, that romantic moment is really a mirror of what Jesus did for us when he gave up his life. That sacrifice… it just gets me every time.

I can’t really imagine not having stories running through my head, so I’m not sure what I would do if I wasn’t able to write. I have always wanted to learn to paint (watercolor, oils…) so maybe that would fuel my creative fires.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

MARRYING MISS MARSHAL is set in the Wyoming Territory in 1889. The heroine (a town marshal) is loosely based on two real-life women in law enforcement back in the 1920s. Here’s the short blurb: A woman marshal fights to maintain justice in her town and guard her heart when she must rely on help from a tenderfoot detective.

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.

Highlights: 1) joining American Christian Fiction Writers in December 2006 and finding an awesome local chapter; 2: joining critique groups and growing my writing; 3) my first writer’s conference (fall 2007) where an editor requested a full manuscript; 4) finaling and winning in ACFW’s Genesis contest for unpubbed writers (2009); 5) selling my first book (2010); 6) holding that first book in my hands!!

Lowlights: 1) discovering that maybe critique groups weren’t for me (I have three “partners” instead); 2) slogging through learning a lot of craft, learning to finish the book, etc. 3) going through a season of learning to wait on God—patience is not my strong suit!

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

I do still get blocked occasionally. Some of the best writing advice I’ve received on overcoming writer’s block came from Margaret Daley, who told me to go back to my characters and ask myself “is this really what they would do?”—a lot of my problems when I get stuck are trying to force my characters to do something that they wouldn’t naturally do (based on their backstory, history and personality). Once I’ve “spoken” to the characters and figured out what their true path would be, the writing comes a lot easier for me.

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?

Trying to jump ahead of God. It’s not always easy to follow what He wants for us—for me I really struggled with a season of not having a lot of time to write, but it turned out that that season was really important to help support my family financially, and opened the door for me to be able to stay at home with my daughter and have a lot more time to write NOW. God knows what He’s doing, but sometimes it’s hard to trust, especially when we can’t see the bigger picture.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I am a research junkie and I often come across really interesting tidbits that I save for later stories—sometimes it will be a character’s occupation, sometimes a whole story will unfold from something I’ve read in a research source. GoogleBooks is one of my favorite research places.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

My husband gives me the “look” all the time, but now he’s so used to it he usually just rolls his eyes.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Find a mentor early on, someone you can trust, and then LISTEN to that person. In the beginning, it was hard for me to know who to listen to when I got different advice about my career. Lots of people want to tell you what you should do, even people who are at the same level (unpublished, aspiring…). What you really need is someone who is one or two steps ahead of you and can turn a flashlight on the path ahead of you and show you what to do next.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Just the waiting. Waiting to see if a book will sell. Then waiting for it to hit shelves. Waiting to find out if people will like it. I think we already established that I’m not a particularly patient person.

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

I really hope that my writing can touch someone’s life in a positive way. Maybe bring them back to God or help them reconnect with someone they’ve lost touch with.

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

For me, getting to the end of the manuscript and typing THE END gives me a thrill that lasts for days. I think because I initially struggled with this a lot as a newbie writer, it means so much more to me now.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

I was homeschooled throughout elementary and high school, and it really helped me learn to be self-motivated. This was a big help during college as I learned to manage assignments and do the work for self-paced online courses, and it has helped my writing immeasurably—I know my productive times and how much I can reasonably accomplish during a day.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

Since I spend most of my day chasing an 18-month-old around the house, I usually have my laptop open on the living room couch and try to sneak in a few hundred words while she’d distracted with her toys. Then I do a real push while she’s down for her nap, and also after bedtime (still on the couch!). I have a really nice office but I mostly use it for book storage.

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

I am really great at starting books. Sometimes starting the same book over and over again. One of my biggest challenges has been finding the “oomph” to make it through to The End. I’ve found that, for me, the best way to conquer this is having my husband and a trusted critique partner just keep bugging me until I power through. Accountability is important.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

I like to spend time with my main characters before I sit down and write anything. I get to know their histories, foibles, likes and dislikes, their greatest desires and biggest fears (usually so I can put that into the book later!). I often will fill several notebook pages with notes about my main characters, and I refer to them often as I write the book.

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?

A lot of times I get interrupted mid-sentence when naptime is over and Little Girl sneaks into the living room to start playing again. When this happens, it does help me get back into the groove the next time I sit down at the computer, because I left things open.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Combo. I start with knowing the characters really well, then I write down Beginning, Three Disasters (three-act structure), and Ending. I use this as my map as I write, so I am always writing toward the next big thing that’s going to happen to the characters, but I have to leave myself the freedom for unexpected smaller happenings or else the whole thing just falls flat for me.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Um… all of the above? I am blessed to have three really strong critique partners who point out things like “this plot point doesn’t make sense” or “I’m on page fifty and I really don’t like your heroine” (that last one came from a recent critique!). They are awesome at brainstorming with me to figure out what can make the plot stronger, characters more likable or real, and help me work through the saggy middle when needed.

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

Since this is my first book, I haven’t gotten much yet (other than you know… from mom and dad!). I did get my first reader email and it was an awesome feeling to find out that someone I don’t know likes the book!

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Thanks for letting me share about my writing journey. I hope something I’ve said will help one of the Novel Rocket readers on their path!