Are Great Writers Born That Way? You might be surprised...

When you meet an author, you may think they started out great, or just have amazing natural talent.

That might be the case, but usually isn’t. It’s like music. Every once in awhile you come across a prodigy—someone born with a musical gift that surpasses the rest of us mortals. I imagine there are authors out there like that, but not as many as you might think.

For most, learning to be a great writer took plain old hard work. They started out simply, like a kid learning to play an instrument.

Piano Stock Photo

For us writers trying to work our way toward great, what we started with was likely pretty terrible (maybe not for you, but it was for me!). We had to learn and fail and take constructive criticism, and keep learning. And if we stuck with it, like that kid learning the piano, one day we’re good. Maybe someday we'll even hit great.

Like musicians, each person has a different level of natural talent. It helps, but there are times when a person with natural talent refuses to learn the skills to turn that natural ability into excellence. 

Sometimes the person without natural talent who is willing to work at it and keep learning surpasses the one who believes what they were gifted with is all it takes.

I wrote my first novel in high school. It was about a girl whose parents died and she had to leave the big city to go live in the country with extended family. The father was a pastor, the daughter was rebellious and ended up pregnant. The book dealt with the issue of abortion, forgiveness, and adjusting to a new life. Of course the main part was the romance.

And it had horses in it, too, on a ranch. I know zilch-o about horses, but I had a whole section where the main guy was breaking a wild horse. I shudder to even think of how much my ignorance showed through that whole book! Not only was it terribly written, it was cheesy, and I didn’t even think about researching things I was writing about.

A couple of years ago, I actually found a paper copy of this travesty in the garage. I thought maybe I could revamp it and make it good, but after reading through just the first page I knew that was out of the question. The writing was terrible. I threw the whole thing in the trash. I’m kind of sentimental about such things, but the fear of someone discovering it someday and reading it was bigger than my nostalgic feelings!

So all that to say, if you feel you haven’t arrived yet in your writing, that’s a good thing. Most of us haven’t arrived, and the day we feel we have, we stop learning and stop our potential to become better than we are now.

And don’t let a lousy piece stop you, or make you think you can’t be a great writer. Think of it, rather, as a step in the right direction. Just like a kid on the piano, the more you practice the better you’ll be.

Happy practicing!

Tips for Sending out Writing Submissions

Maybe you've accepted that rejection is part of writing, but you'd still rather get more acceptance letters than rejection ones. We all would!

So here are some practical tips that might help you end up with less "no's" and more "yes's".

1. Send your story to more than one place. If a magazine or publisher indicates you should, mark it as a "simultaneous submission" or if not you can just see who says yes first.

2. Try to have 5-10 articles or pieces out at once. If one gets rejected, it's not the end of everything. You've got more out there.

3. If something does get published, unless they bought full rights, send it somewhere else! You already know it's worth accepting, so keep it going to another market. (My favorite stories have been used 5 times or more.)


4. Rearrange your piece for different markets. For example, I have one story (about Milo in Bangladesh--the little boy I based one of my book characters on in the Stolen Series) that has been published in a kid, teen and adult version.

 5.Do your homework. The Writers Market Guide is the book you need to know what publishers are looking for, who to contact, word count, etc. I get a new copy every year (of the Christian Writer's Market Guide) to keep it up to date, and use it all year long.

6. Do more homework. When you do find a magazine or publisher you like, look up their website and see if they have submission guidelines. Follow those to the letter. A lot of rejections come from simple failure to follow guidelines for format, word count, etc.

Ideally, if you're a writer for magazines or devotionals, you want to get a few markets that you write for regularly. If you can do that, to the point the editor knows you, and you know what the editor is looking for, that's a huge step toward a lot more acceptance letters than rejections ones. Also, if you write for assignment, then you already know it is accepted, which takes away the risk of spending time writing something that will never get used.

Happy submitting!

Finished a New Book? The 10-Step Process from "Done" to "Published"

This past week I finished my new book, Shredded:

A prostitute, a new pastor, and a dying church...the collision will change them all.

I'm really excited about this book and would love to have it out there tomorrow! (I'm sure you know the feeling.) However, that moment when you finish writing a book is just the beginning. There is a lot of other work that has to be done to get that book to the world.
Shredded, the manuscript
If you self-publish, it will get out sooner, and I've gone that route and really enjoyed it. (See my Stolen Series trailer on the right side of this page, or my post about how to use Createspace.) If you want your book traditionally published, it will be a longer road.

I have books self-published and traditionally published, and I want Shredded published by a mainstream publisher. So...since I'm thinking through all this anyway, might as well share the timeline with you, right?

Here's a rough list through what happens after a book is finished:

1. Celebrate. You accomplished something big!

2. Edit. Very, very important. Find those words that bog the manuscript down. My worst ones are "just" "really" and "very." I go to the FIND button on Word and look up every single time I use either of those words, and see if I can change them or delete them. "That" is another one that is usually unnecessary (like in this sentence!).

3. Have a trusted group of initial readers. I have a group of readers who notice details better than I do. I send my manuscript to them and they find my typos, errors, and point out things that might have been unclear. It has been a huge benefit to me and my writing, because you get a sneak peek at how readers will respond to your book. On one of my books, Stolen Future, I had so many of them mention a scene they had been hoping for at the end, I wrote that extra scene and it made the final product so much better.

4. Create a book proposal. This is like an interview on paper. If you don't know how, see Getting Your Work to an Agent or Publisher-What to Do and How. Most writers find book proposals intimidating, because you have to put the message of your big, wonderful book into a tiny space. However, it's worth taking time on. No matter how great your book is, if they never read it because your book proposal was weak, you lost your opportunity.

5. Send the proposal to your agent if you have one. If you don't, either get one, or start sending your proposal to publishers. I'd highly recommend sending a query letter first and seeing if they are interested. But before you do that, check the publisher's website for their guidelines. You don't want them to remember you as the writer who sent 3 attachments when they put in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS NOT TO SEND MORE THAN ONE!

6. Your agent, or you, sends the book proposal to publishers. If you're doing this on your own, I highly recommend sending it to multiple publishers at once. Ten is a good number. This way, when you get three "no thank you's" the following week, you're aren't devastated, because you know there are still publishers out there who haven't said no yet. Also, it doesn't have you waiting months to hear from a publisher that never gets around to saying yes or no.

7. Then you wait and pray. And wait some more. This is the hardest part for me. I want to make something happen, but the truth is, you just have to get in line. If a publisher has 100 slush pile manuscripts, several hundred query letters, and ten book proposals to consider, it's not an insult that he won't get to yours the moment it crosses his desk. (Though we all secretly hope he will!)

8. Sometime, hopefully, you'll get a response that a publisher wants to see your entire manuscript, or that they are considering your book. You get super excited, go celebrate again (because you've passed a mega hurdle that's hard to do), then settle down to...

9. Wait again. The last book contract I got came months down the road. As horrible as it may sound, give it six months, then you can be pleasantly surprised if it's sooner, but you won't be biting your nails to the quick expecting something a week down the road. If you do that, your nails are going to be in seriously bad shape after three or four months!

10. You finally hear something. Hopefully, it's a yes! If that happens, run around the house screaming that you got offered a book contract. =) Now you get to wait some more, until you get edits to work on, then marketing to do, etc., etc., etc. until day...a box shows up at your door and you hold that book in your hands. That is a wonderful moment. Congratulations.

If you got stopped by a no before number ten happened, don't despair. This is an opportunity for you to learn more, improve, and have at it again. I got two major rejections by agents that turned out to be gifts. Their one common comment let me know what I needed to work on in my writing, what I was weak at. I did and became a better writer for it. So turn the situation into a free learning experience, and get back to writing!

So what number are you on? Or did you think of one I missed? (No, you aren't allowed to make a whole number out of eating chocolate while you wait! ha ha)

Related Posts: Getting Your Work to an Agent or Publisher-What to do and How

How to Use Createspace, Amazon's Self-Publishing Option

How to Write a Query Letter, and How NOT To!

What's the Benefit of getting on the Amazon Bestseller List anyway?

This morning someone asked a question on my blog post about how I got on the Amazon bestseller list by only selling 33 books (How the Amazon Rankings can Work for You). He wanted to know if there was any benefit to getting on the bestseller list, other than bragging rights. If it actually increased sales.

Since some of you may be wondering the same thing, here's my answer:


That's actually a great question, Bill. There's not much use in all that effort if it's just for our egos! =) Here's what I've noticed on how being a "bestselling" author has helped me with sales.

1. Credibility for my book. People see that bestseller word and it gives them a higher sense of trust about my book/s. If that many people liked it, it must not be terrible (that's the idea anyway!). That ultimately ups sales because people are less hesitant to give my books a try.

2. Credibility for me as an author. Same concept as #1, but applied to me. When I'm at book signings and that's on my banner, again, people see something they like--it's kind of like a big fat good review for your book and your writing.

3. Better speaking invitations. I speak a lot, and it looks like you do, too, and again, people see you as more of an expert if you can say such-and-such a book on the topic they are interested in is a bestseller. You must know what you're talking about.

4. Your readers get excited with you and for you. If you market on social media, it's fun asking fans to help you get on the bestselling list, and then they get excited with you when you do, and that gives them a sense of ownership in you and your book, which is just good all the way around.

All of the above result in more sales. The more people want to try your book, the more people buy it, read it, then talk to other people about it, who buy it, read it, and hopefully that formula repeats itself till you've sold as many books as they think you did to become a bestseller! =)

Hope this is helpful. Your thoughts or questions?

Related Posts: How the Amazon Rankings can Work for You

What are Your Options? 13 Tips from an Author who has experienced Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

How to do a Book Launch