8 Steps to Writing a “Shout from the Housetops” Devotion

by Bonita Y. McCoy

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Rooftops of Manhattan

Do you love writing? Do you endeavor to encourage others, to lift them up in their daily walk with Christ? If so, then you may be a perfect candidate for writing devotions for such publications as Guideposts, Upper Room, Light from the Word, and Devo’Zine.

However, if you’ve never written a devotion before you might be wondering how to get started, so today, we are going to cover eight steps that will take the mystery out of devotional writing.

  • Everything starts with God. Before you pick up that pen or put that first letter on the screen, seek the Lord. It’s the only way to be an effective instrument in his hand. A daily time of prayer and reading will give you resources from which to pull and allow you to see the circumstance in your own life as potential avenues to help others.
  • Keep a journal. Using a journal to jot down experiences and events that happen in your day will give you ample material for anecdotes and stories for devotionals. Seeing how God’s word applies to your own life will help you to share how it can be applied in the lives of others. A journal is also a good place to keep scriptures that resonate with your own heart until there is a time that you can use them for the inspiration of others.
  • Keep them short. A devotional should be somewhere between 100 and 225 words in length (check individual guidelines – some require higher word count). Since these are short, every word has to count. So, use strong verbs, descriptive nouns, and leave out the unnecessary adverbs.
  • Focus on one point. A devotion should make one point and no more. If you find yourself trying to handle more than one point, break them up and write several different devotions with only one focal point each.
  • Write a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like in a good essay, you want the first paragraph to go from broad to narrow. You want the middle to show the story or add meat to your point, and then you want the ending to restate the main point or wrap up the story with a clincher.
  • Provide a buzz phrase or word. A buzzword or phrase is something catchy for the reader to remember. It can be a verse of scripture, a repeated word throughout the story, or a phrase that stands out and contains the point of the message. Something like: Saved by grace, loved by God. It’s catchy and easy for your reader to carry with him into his day.
  • Choose key verses. Most publications ask for several verses to be listed for that days reading. You will need to provide those verses as well as the key verse for the devotion. When choosing these verses, you may want to read them in several translations to see how they differ and which ones best go with the focus of your lesson. Sometimes doing this will give you wonderful insights you otherwise might have missed and added depth to your writing.
  • End with a call to action. A call to action is just what it sounds like. It is you, the writer, asking your reader to engage with you by following through with an action like prayer, journaling, answering a question, or simply reflecting on the thought of the day.
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Shout from the housetops the good news

As with any good writing, you always check your facts, be diligent with your grammar, and give credit where credit is due.

The eight steps presented here will help you get started with your devotional writing; however, always be sure to check the submission guidelines for the individual publications. Each one is a little different in word count and how they want submissions sent.

“What I tell you now in darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear.” Matthew 10:27 (NLT).

May God whisper in your ear, and may He give you devotions to shout from the housetops!

Writing Prompt: The smell of the roses reminded Susanne of the verse about prayers being a sweet savor to the Lord. Perhaps this could be used as a devotion. Then she pricked her finger on a thorn, and the idea began to form.

Click to Tweet: 8 Steps to Writing a “Shout from the Housetops” Devotion by Bonita Y. McCoy via @InspiredPrompt #devotional #WritingTips #HowTo

Traditional, Indie, and Everything in Between

by Bonita Y. McCoy

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More publishing choices for writers

Writers often hear the experts comparing the differences between Indie and Traditional publishing. They have classes at conferences and tons of blogs on this topic, but in today’s publishing world, the publishing question isn’t that simple. As the old saying goes, all roads lead to Rome.

We are in a wonderful new age of publishing and just as the building of the Roman roads opened up a whole new world of trade and exploration, the onset of digital eBooks in 2007 and the explosion of small presses across the country have given writers more publishing options than ever before.

In Jane Friedman’s article “The Key Book Publishing Paths:2018”, she references not two but six paths that writers can pursue in order to publish their work.

Those paths include large to mid-size publishers, the big five, small presses, hybrid publishing, Indie publishing, and publishing on social media.

So, the question is no longer how do I publish, but rather, what are my publishing options and which one best fits my goals?

Writers publish for varying reasons. You can see that by visiting different writing groups. Some are interested in literary excellence, others in telling a good yarn, still others want to leave the family stories behind for the next generation.  Then there are those of us who are taking our writing and turning it into a career.

But whatever your reasons for wanting to publish, there is an avenue for you to take.

The large to mid-sized publishers and the big five offer a writer great opportunity. They usually provide editing, cover design, some marketing, and some form of an advance payment for your story. They also shoulder all the financial risk. So, even if the story doesn’t sell well for some reason, you’ve made something for your efforts.

The big guys can also get your book into brick and mortar retailers, be it bookstores or chain stores such as Costco or Wal-Mart, giving your work more visibility.

So, if one of your publishing goals is to see your book on a shelf at the local book nook then one of the mid-size guys might be for you.

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Publishing changes over the years.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is social publishing. That is where you set your work free in the wild on a social media platform. There are many out there for doing just this such as Wattpad, Medium, Write.as, and Writers Café.  These are usually Serial story sites where the writer publishes segments or chapters of his story daily or weekly. This is great for garnering a fan base.

Of course, there is the writers own blog on his website, Tumblr, or BlogSpot for those who want to share articles, data, and content with their audience. These sites build audience trust and let them get to know the person behind the writing.

If your publishing goals are to grow an audience, get quick feedback, and experiment with writing styles, then this is the way to go.

Small presses, Indie, and going hybrid are the bread and butter of the writer’s existence.

Small presses are a wonderful addition to the publishing world. They give the writer a more personal experience with the publishing staff which helps to develop that much-needed trust. They also give the writer accountability for deadlines, help with editing and cover design, as well as assistance with marketing. Publishing with a small press can open doors as a speaker and teacher, allowing the writer opportunities that aren’t always available to Indie authors.

So, if your goal is to speak as well as to write and you want a more close-knit community, then a small press would be ideal for you.

Of all the roads that lead to Rome, Indie is the one many consider the back alley or the shortcut. However, Indie writers are true entrepreneurs. The thought of doing it all themselves and having control over every aspect of the writing and business components does not put them off. Instead, they learn the ins and outs of the entire process, allowing them to make better career decisions based on industry facts and their own experience.

Those who are “going Indie” tend to delegate many of the jobs such as cover design and editing to others who have more experience and talent in these areas in order to assure they put out a quality product. This means the writer shoulders the financial risk.

The Indie writer will also have critique partners, beta readers, and mentors to help keep their writing on track. When needed, they hire accountants and personal assistants for the business side of the writing career. If done well, an Indie author can enjoy a long, profitable career while being at the heart of the decision-making process.

So, if your goal is to make a career out of writing and you want to be in on all the decisions, then going Indie is for you.

In our present publishing market, a writer is no longer tied to doing only one option. Many well-known authors are publishing some of their stories, that don’t match up with the needs of their traditional publishers, on their own, creating for themselves a career as a hybrid author.

Hybrid writers take their experience from the traditional publishing world and combine it with the freedom of Indie publishing. This form of publishing allows an author to try a new genre, get their feet wet with a pen name, or put out works that don’t fit on any of the normal bookstore shelves.

So, if you’re an already published author and you want to try a new genre or put out that unique story that’s on your heart, the option of doing both Indie and traditional might be for you.

Never before in history have there been so many opportunities for the writing community, so many roads leading to Rome. Small press, Indie, or the big five, it’s all about your writing goals and what publishing option best fits your needs. No matter what the experts say there are more than two roads that lead to your publishing dream.

Writing Prompt: The idea of going Indie thrilled Carol; so much so, she was having trouble sleeping. Not wanting to wake Harold, she got up and tiptoed out of the room.

Click to Tweet: The question is no longer how do I publish, but rather, what are my publishing options and which one best fits my goals? #IndiePublishing #amwriting

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Bonita Y. McCoy hails from the Great State of Alabama where she lives on a five-acre farm with two horses, two dogs, two cats, and one husband who she’s had for over twenty-nine years. She is a mother to three mostly grown sons and two beautiful daughters-in-law, one who joined the family from Japan. She loves God, and she loves to write. Her blog and novels are an expression of both these passions. Drop by and visit her on Facebook/bonita.mccoy or bonitaymccoyauthor or at her website bonitaymccoy.com.  Her new release Truth Be Told can be found on Amazon.

 

Family: The Living Story

IMG_4672 Seashells

Growing up on the Gulf Coast

By Bonita Y. McCoy

Family can make you crazy. Especially, if everyone is gathered together for a reunion or a vacation. They can make you laugh, or they can drive you to the brink of an emotional breakdown while hollering, “Hang on tight. We’re only halfway there!”

Of course, family also centers you. Anchors you to what is important in this old world like faith, doing the right thing, manners, and traditions. They connect us to the future while tying us to the past.

That’s why family is at the heart of every story, and stories are at the heart of every family.

You know the ones I mean. Those tried and true tales that are rehashed at every family reunion; the ones that live a life of their very own. They draw us close to those who have gone before us and remind us of the blood that runs through our veins. They bind us, heart and soul to who we are.

Like the time the cat ate the toothpaste, and mama thought it had rabies because it was foaming at the mouth.

Or the time my parents advertised a car for sale and a man came to test drive it, before taking it for a spin, he asked for gas money. We never saw that car or money again.

Then, there was Uncle Smokey’s snake charming; Aunt Ruby’s weekly walk to the grocery store packing a pistol. Oh, and Uncle Charlie who snapped his false teeth out with his tongue to scare us kids.  We always jumped and squealed with delight, never failing to scream, “Do it again.”

Families are like that. They have stories. They create stories.

Some of the best were told on warm summer evenings while the mullet fried, and the corn and shrimp boiled. Everyone sat in their lawn chairs as Aunt Mary corralled her poodles. Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Donald were the honored guests. They had come down from Memphis for a visit.

The older cousins had gathered earlier in the day to throw their nets into the muddy Gulf of Mexico, and everyone could smell the results of their efforts.

As the day faded into twilight, the stories would emerge, one at a time like the stars in the night sky. This one remembered; that one added to; another corrected because it hadn’t been told right.

The stories of family, connecting us.

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Twilight falling on the shores

Now I have some of my own. They include the time my middle son broke his arm at Vacation Bible School by bouncing off the bouncy slide; the day my oldest son went off to the Marines, and I watched the van drive away.  And the time my youngest son made his first bucket during a basketball game. Proud didn’t begin to cover it.

The truth is in our stories, we hide bits and pieces of the deep places, the joys and sorrows; the fears and blessings. We mix them in when we say, “I sure miss him,” or “I love it when we…”.

We use them to sum up who we are, to teach others, to grow.

[Click to Tweet] Yes, family is at the heart of every story, and the best ones keep us hanging on in the passenger seat even as our loved one chauffeurs us to the brink because even in all its craziness, there is nothing like family.

So, this summer enjoy the time you have with your family, whether it’s a few folks or the whole clan and remember to share the stories that connect you. You might even have a few new ones to add like the time… Well, I’ll let you tell it.

Writing Prompt: Uncle Mike always told the best stories. His favorite was the one about the raccoon and Mama. 

 

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Bonita Y. McCoy hails from the Great State of Alabama where she lives on a five-acre farm with two horses, two dogs, two cats, and one husband who she’s had for over twenty-nine years. She is a mother of three mostly grown sons and two beautiful daughters-in-law, one who joined the family from Japan. She loves God, and she loves to write. Her blogs and stories are an expression of both these passions.

You can connect with Bonita online:

http://www.bonitaymccoy.com

http://www.facebook.com/bonita.mccoy

http://www.instagram.com/bonitaymccoy

Or check out her blog:

www. beautifulpiecesofgrace.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

5 Strategies to Grow Your Readership

 

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Marketing is important to any business

 

by Bonita Y. McCoy

When you think about word-of-mouth marketing, you might envision the office water cooler where everyone stands around catching up on the latest shows or current events. A place where someone might say, “Hey, have you read Ted Dekker’s book? It’s great.”

Though this is word of mouth, it’s not exactly what is meant by word-of-mouth marketing. At the water cooler, you don’t have any control over the topic. People might talk about your book, or they might talk about what’s for lunch in the cafeteria.

So, I’d like to take the ‘might’ out of the equation.

Here are five tactics that will help grow your readership and create your network of influencers to spread the word about your next book.

  • Direct Mailing: There is a lot to be said for the personal touch. Deb Haggerty in her workshop at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference pointed out the importance of thank you notes and nice to meet you notes, to people you connect with at networking events.

A mailed note to the person is best, but if all you have is their email, then send a message that way. The point is to keep the connection alive, and the door open for future contact. In doing this, you will add to your list of influencers, beta readers, and writing buddies.

Postcards with the book cover on the front are also an effective way to use direct mailing. These are great to announce to friends and family that your book is out.  A colorful card addressed to the individual will make a bigger impression than a post to no one in particular on Facebook.

With Direct Mailing, start with the those you know and build from there. It does take more time, but the personal touch will turn the fans on your mailing list into super fans.

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  • Reviews: Set aside a number of books to give to readers in return for an honest review. The key here is an honest review. Never pay for a review. If you’re just starting out, remember to get reviews from those outside your family circle. They will carry more weight.

In business terms, a review is a referral, so make it a habit to ask readers to write one. It will influence future customers who are trying to decide between your book and the one next to it.

  • Create an Author Partnership: The idea here is to gather a group of authors who write in your genre and pool your influence and readership.

Several writers have done this with blogs, but another way to use a group like this is to add excerpts from one writer’s novel in the back of another’s.

Traditional publishers use to do this all the time. They would market the author’s upcoming release in the back of the current work and then have an excerpt from a new or lesser known author there as well. By doing this, you’ve given another author a chance with your readership, and you’ve given your vote of confidence. My only warning: be familiar with the other author’s work.

Then when that author’s book comes out, it’s their turn to host your excerpt from an upcoming title.

  • Street Teams: This is a team of friends, family, and fans who are willing to read your book, share about it on social media once a week for a month or so, and give an honest review. Some authors hold book launches with their street teams. Others provide their teams with swag like bookmarks, postcards, or even tee-shirts with the book’s title and cover on it.

These teams can be set up locally or the author may choose to set several up in different cities to widen the sphere of influence.

Street teams are a great way to involve others in the behind the scenes activities of your writing life. They are extremely valuable, so treat them with respect and a great deal of generosity. The more you give; the more you get.

  • Share and Share Alike: Social Media runs on likes, shares, and comments. If you want social media to work for you, create real connections.

We have all seen the posts where the only time you hear from that friend is when he or she has something to sell you. In author circles, that something is their book. Don’t be that friend.

Share other people’s work, pictures, funny comments, and they will share yours. Like those shots of the pig in the tutu and pass them on. Make real connections with real people, and when you announce that your book is coming out, they will be the first to congratulate you and share it.

Word-of-mouth marketing is all about people. As professionals, we should treat others with respect and try to be others-oriented. It’s not about what others can do for us, but rather, what we can do for them. If you use these strategies with others in mind, you’ll not only find success; you’ll find satisfaction. And who knows maybe it’ll be your book being discussed at the water cooler.

Click to Tweet: In business terms, a review is a referral, so make it a habit to ask readers to write one. @InspiredPrompt #marketing #writetip

Writing Prompt: Make a list of potential Street Team members, then construct an upbeat email to send to them, or write three thank you notes to friends and family who support your writing.

Loving Your Points of View

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Love is everywhere

By Bonita Y. McCoy

Romance, romance, romance. It’s February, so it’s everywhere.

Cute little cupids sit on store shelves proclaiming love and admiration. Heart-shaped balloons float above the checkout lines in the grocery stores. And romance novels fly off the shelves.

So, in honor of Valentine’s Day and all things romance, we are taking a closer look at the points of view used when writing a romance novel.

Point of view is defined as the perspective from which a story is told.

Single Point of View

Now, some stories are told from a single point of view. We enter the action in the head of a character, and we remain in that same character’s head throughout the entirety of the story. We see and experience everything from that character’s point of view.

Many romances are told from a single point of view. While this is an effective way to keep your reader in pace with the story, it limits your reader’s experience. The reader only sees the thoughts and emotions of that one character–whether it’s the hero or the heroine–and misses out on experiencing the struggles and setbacks of the other main character.

 

If you chose to tell your story from a single point of view, be sure to put in a lot of dialogue so the reader can get a feel for the other character’s thoughts and emotions.

Multiple Points of View

Most authors use multiple points of view to tell their stories. It’s standard practice. However, the author needs to know the best way to make the switch from one point of view to another.

For example, have you ever picked up a novel and by the end of the first chapter felt completely lost? You had no idea which character’s head you were in or what you were supposed to be feeling.

That experience is called head hopping. The author switched between multiple points of view too often and too fast, leaving the reader, frustrated and confused.

According to Jami Gold, an Indie Author, and Developmental Editor, the best places to switch from one point of view to another is at the end of a scene or a chapter. When you switch in the middle of a scene, you risk losing your reader and causing the above-mentioned frustration.

If you chose to tell your romance from multiple points of view, limit the number. Most books on writing suggest no more than four or five points of view. Any more than that and the story tends to get bogged down, making it hard to follow.

So then, if one is too limiting and five is too confusing, what is the ideal number of points of view for a romance?

The ideal number is two. It’s what the readers expect. After all, most romances do involve two people, and the reader wants to see both sides of the romance as it develops. They want to be privy to the inside scoop. Using two points of view meets this need.

Advantages to Two Points of View

There are also some advantages for the author when using two points of view.

One, it gives the author the ability to cut away at pivotal points in the story by ending the scene and switching to the other character’s point of view, causing the reader to keep turning pages to find out what happened.

It also allows the author to use deep point of view with both main characters, giving the reader a greater understanding of the fears, hang-ups, and past baggage that each of the characters is bringing into the relationship.

The use of two points of view adds levels of complexity to the story. It allows the author to show the world through two different value systems, ideologies, and social strata.

Plus, two points of view gives the author the chance to show the protagonist through the eyes of another character. The hero can admire the heroine for her kindness or can comment when she’s not around about her fears. It gives the author another outlet to paint the picture of the protagonist for the reader.

So, not only does the use of two points of view work for the reader’s benefit, it also works for the author’s benefit as well.

Now we know, two is the magic number both for Valentines and for Romance writing.

Writing Prompt: Carol laid the romance novel down with a thud. The author had used five points of view in the first chapter. Frustrated, she felt cheated.