How it All Began

Harriet E. Michael

Many authors and writers will tell you that they have wanted to become a writer since childhood.

That is not my story.

For me, it all began with a crisis in the life of someone I love. My friend faced the challenge of her life and I found myself walking beside her, praying and wanting to understand prayer better.

As I pondered the topic of prayer, I happened to be reading in the book of Psalms in my personal devotions. I noticed something about prayer. The petitions the various psalmists make to God are almost always centered on God, rather then their needs. If you look for this trend you will find it there, and throughout the Bible.

If someone prays: “Help me because ___,” or “Answer my prayer because ___,” the reason stated usually has something to do with God rather than the psalmist. (Because of one of God’s traits, like His love, or faithfulness, by His power, or for His glory.)

An example of this would be asking God to heal someone because He is the Great Physician, full of loving-kindness, or because He is faithful and answers His people when they call on Him, rather than because of whatever issue you may be dealing with, or pain you may be suffering.

This discovery was a “Wow!” moment for me which prompted me to conduct my own personal Bible study, from Genesis to Revelation, looking at all the instances of prayer I could find. I kept a journal as I did this.

Four years later, I had a book written.

The manuscript was named a finalist in a national contest, “The Women of Faith” (2011). The manuscript won me a writing contract with Pix-N-Pens Publishing (PIP), the nonfiction arm of Write Integrity Press. Once the book was published, my friend Shirley Crowder wrote a study guide for it, which won her a contract with PIP as well.

IMG_0487 prayer book and study guide

Shirley is a lifelong friend of mine. She lived across a dirt road from me in Nigeria. Now, she’s a Biblical counselor and also leads Bible studies with women’s groups. When she read one of the first copies of my book, she whipped up the study guide for it, fully intended for use only in her own personal ministry. She sent it to me for my approval and I loved it, so forwarded it to my publisher, who also loved it. She contracted with Shirley to publish it.

After that, Shirley and I decided to do some co-writing. To date, we have a four-book series on prayer—Prayer It’s Not About You, Study Guide to Prayer: It’s Not About You, Glimpses of Prayer (a devotional), and Prayer Warrior Confessions (an anthology compiled and partially written by us). We are also under contract for a 5-book devotional series, only one of which is currently out—Glimpses of the Savior.

Harriet with Shirley Crowder, signing a writing contract!

… and it all started with adversity—a crisis, pain, anguish as I stood by a hurting loved-one. God is in the business of turning ashes to beauty. That is exactly what He did when He turned my friend Shirley and me into authors.

Click to Tweet: “…it all started with adversity—a crisis, pain, anguish as I stood by a hurting loved-one. God is in the business of turning ashes to beauty. ” Harriet E. Michael via @InspiredPrompt #MarchMadness #amwriting #giveaway

Today, my loved one is doing well, and my book is blessing many. Since its publication in May 2016, several groups in various parts of the US have used this book and study guide for their Bible study. In fact, this month, a Sunday school class of around 30 people are just beginning a Bible study using it.

It can be used in a group setting or for individual study. Here is the link to my author page where you can purchase these books or any of the others that Shirley and I have collaborated on: Harriet’s author page.

Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft

by Fay Lamb

In my writing life and both as a freelance editor and an acquisition editor, I have discovered a disturbing trend among some new and not-so-new writers.

Self-publishing is not a bad thing if the author does it correctly. However, there is a generation of authors who have grown up without accountability for what they create. Some sit down at a computer, plunk out one draft of a story, and head off to publication. There are also some who send their first draft to a publisher. When they receive a rejection, the fault belongs to a “system.” They use that excuse to self-publish.

Say what you want about traditional publishers, but in most instances, they truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing. Granted, there are authors who have studied the craft inside and out and write great manuscripts. Yet they can’t find a home in traditional publishing. The rejection has less to do with a lack of diligence on the author’s part and more to do with publishers’ trends. Those diligent authors who take the time to craft a story find new life in self-publishing by bucking those trends.

A first draft is never an author’s best friend. All it says to an author is, “I’ve taken the story from Point A to Point Z, and I have some bones to build upon.” The next draft, or drafts, however many it takes, puts flesh on those bones.

I’d like to share some very obvious clues that indicate to readers and to publishers that an author has not gotten beyond the first draft stage before submitting or publishing:

  • The author has not taken the time to get a command over the small stuff: spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency in names, hair color, eye color, even the spelling of key locations. Editors see these mistakes as lazy writing. If an author isn’t keen on these areas, finding an editor, or even a critique group that can offer this support, is imperative.
  • The manuscript usually consists only of bones, taking the form of stilted dialogue. Description and deep point of view (POV) are lacking or lax. A story that engages uses effective dialogue to relay information without the reader knowing the information is being fed to them. Deep POV is the best tool to draw the reader into the story and connect them with the main characters.
  • Speaking of point of view: in a first draft, even the most prolific authors will inadvertently switch POVs within the scene. Revisions will correct this mistake. However, an omniscient point of view is a sign that an author has not studied the elements of fiction. POV should always be one character per scene, and the character with the most to win or to lose should always be the POV character for that scene.
  • Often in a first draft, the plot will lack escalating conflict. Instead, an author utilizes contrived conflict, bringing it in and resolving it quickly before introducing another issue. One reason a synopsis is requested by publishers is to determine how well an author introduces and sustains conflict. If conflict is weak or non-existent, the story isn’t ready for publication.
  • Then there’s that old but relevant cliché: show don’t tell. A first draft is littered with telling words or phrases that draw the reader away from the story. This is easily seen in the use of adverbial time phrases such as suddenly and immediately or when she turned … Other telling words have to do with the senses: she heard, he saw, he noticed, he realized, and a host of other similar actions that tell rather than show.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that a first draft or even a second draft will produce a story ready for publication. Take time to revise and edit, to look for the minor mistakes and to implement the elements of fiction that put flesh on those shaky bones and build up a healthy story that readers can enjoy.


Writing Prompt: Rewrite the following short paragraph, utilizing some of the points discussed above to create a second draft:

Paula heard a noise that made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Immediately, she turned and peered out the window. What she saw terrified her.


Click to Tweet: “In most instances, traditional publishers truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing.” Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft via @InspiredPrompt and @FayLamb.

Working With the Industry: Meet Jr. Agent Hope Bolinger

Hello, friends! In the writing world, it’s good to know about the industry and the people who work there. Today, I interview Hope Bolinger, Jr. Agent at Hartline Literary Agency. You’ll enjoy hearing what she has to say in response to our thought-provoking questions–Jennifer

Writer journaling in a book

Hi, Hope! Please tell our readers, what is an agent’s purpose?

Hope: Essentially, being an agent boils down to two things: coach and cheerleader. We want to steer our clients in the best direction in the publishing industry. We pinpoint snags in contracts and try to help them attain the best deals possible for their books. We also want to be the author’s biggest advocate when approaching publishers. We don’t take on clients unless we love their work because we have to sell it again with equal or more vigor to the industry professionals who can help make their dreams become a reality.

How hard is it to be an agent in today’s publishing industry?

Hope: It’s difficult in the aspect that publishers are inundated with hundreds, thousands of manuscripts. Even as an agent, you have a lot of competition with other agents who are trying to help authors break into the industry. I will say it becomes easier the more you connect with editors at writing conferences and in one-on-one meetings. In the traditional publishing world, especially with the biggest houses, an agent is almost a  necessity.

What three things can a new author do to catch the attention of an agent?

Hope: Great question. I would boil it down to this:

(1) Meet the agent in person if possible. I remember the authors most who pitched to me at writer’s conferences or talked with me after a session. Follow-up emails from conferences are extremely helpful as well.

(2) Make that first page shine. I can usually tell by the first chapter whether or not the client would be a good fit. If the third chapter has good writing, but the first chapter or prologue (please don’t send us your prologues) is an information dump, we’re less inclined to want to take you on.

(3) Build platform before sending your books to us or to a publisher. Especially in nonfiction. It breaks my heart when I have a client with an excellent book, but the publisher turns it down because the author doesn’t have a large enough platform.

What three things can a new author do that will discourage an agent?

Hope: This will be harder to funnel into three main points, but I would say the number one problem I have is an author who comes off as a stalker. As agents, we look for authors who can strike a balance between professional and personal, but the latter half often seeps through more than the former. For instance, we’ve gotten love letters from queries before (even to some of our agents who are married.) 

Second, an author who swings to one of two extremes on platform. We have those who say, “I have no social media whatsoever.” And then we have authors who think they’re hot stuff. Show us all the platform you’ve accumulated, but don’t come off as arrogant or as if agents are doing you a favor. We want this to be a partnership that can last for several years, or even a lifetime.

Third, sending several emails to the agent at once. It’s best to send all the submission materials (Please don’t send all twelve of your books to us at once!) in one email. You can follow-up after 6-8 weeks, or whatever the certain agent has listed on his or her website. But agents receive literally hundreds of emails a day. If twelve of them are from you, they will be less inclined to take you on.

 5. Are you open for submissions? What are you looking for?

Hope: I am personally open for submissions (some of the agents at C.Y.L.E. are closed right now). I do a mix of fiction and nonfiction, but my sweet spots are YA (Young Adult), MG (Middle Grade),  Historical (especially anything ancient), Thriller, and Humor. I’m especially looking to sell in the ABA markets (American Bookseller Association.) Please no memoir (unless you have a significant platform), horror, self-published books, poetry, stage plays, or erotica. If you have a submission you think would be a good fit, send a query to hope@cyleyoung.co

Thanks so much, Hope for all the great advice. And readers, make sure you keep a watch for Hope’s novel, Den, to be released by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, June 3, 2019

Check here for details about the progress of her book: http://www.illuminateya.com/books/comingsoon/den/

Click to tweet: What three things can a new author do to catch the attention of an agent? Hartline Literary Agency Jr. Agent, Hope Bolinger, answers this question and many more. #WritersLife #amwriting


Den

Danny was told sophomore year was supposed to be stressful . . . but he didn’t expect his school to burn down on the first day.

To add to his sophomore woes, he—and his three best friends—receive an email in their inboxes from the principal of their rival, King’s Academy, offering full-rides to attend the prestigious boarding school. Danny says no. His overbearing mother says yes. So off he goes.

From day one at King’s, Danny encounters horrible hazing initiations, girls who like to pick other people’s scabs, and cafeteria food that could turn the strongest stomachs sour. As he attempts to survive, he will have to face his fears or fall prey to the King’s Academy lions.


ABOUT HOPE BOLINGER

Literary Agent. Published Novelist.

Hope wants to help authors understand the publishing industry.

Since she started writing novels at 16, she’s been trying to crack the tricky code of how to catch an editor’s eye. She’s learned a lot along the way and wants to help authors find an in in this crazy industry.

Hope Bolinger is a professional writing major at Taylor University. She has served in various roles at IlluminateYA Fiction, Hartline Literary Agency, N 2 Publishing, and The Echo. Over 200 of her works (plays, poems, articles) have appeared in various publications. Her most recent success is having her YA novel Den contracted by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, scheduled to release June 3, 2019.

Resources for Indie Publishing

This month’s topic of Indie Publishing is great! I have really enjoyed learning more. I don’t know about you, but I love to think outside the box to find different ways to learn about the writing craft.

YouTube is my go-to lately. I sit at a desk when I’m at work and do repetitious data processing while answering a switchboard that is less busy during the night hours. During those hours I use one ear bud in my I-Phone to listen to videos on a variety of topics.

I didn’t realize until just a few months ago that there are a great many videos on the craft of writing. Some of the authors I have listened to do not write the same genre as I do, but basic story structure, outlining, marketing tips, and encouragement are basically the same for all genres. Who doesn’t need another author who has been there giving great advice on getting out of a slump during the process of getting your book done?

There are videos that are specific to a certain genre, but I tend to like to glean from all types of teaching. There is something called “Skill Share” you can access through YouTube. These videos are made by folks who want to “share” their expertise or lessons they have learned on a virtual plethora of topics. Of course, I have only sampled the topics that have to do with writing, marketing, or using social media as a marketing tool. One of the young ladies I like to follow and listen to is Vivien Reis. She posts very regularly in her own YouTube channel, and contributes to Skill Share.

There is even a video that gives you step by step instructions on how to self-publish your book for free or very minimal out of pocket cost. I will link this video below.

Another source for Indie Publishing is Google. There are many websites available to the techie smart novelist who is cautious in their quest for tools to self-publish. I found a website with called “48 Publishing Resources You Should Know About” by Diana Urban. She includes a great many topics that I didn’t even think about before writing this blog.

Pinterest is another resource for gleaning information on writing topics. I have my own board for saving pins I find of interest, related to the writing process. It can also be a good marketing tool for your book once it is in print. I also have boards used for saving pictures I like that relate to my current work in progress, like hero and heroine templates, places they might live, other characters in the story, and fashions of the historical period in which I am writing.

Last, but certainly not least: Good old fashion networking with other authors. Sometimes the writer sitting next to you has just the answers you need. Join a writing organization like the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), who can walk you through the in’s and out’s of publishing, and help you find like-minded individuals who can give you a helping hand while you craft your story. Many local chapters get together on a regular basis for continuing education, support, and friendship.

https://youtu.be/ZkoltFuljlE to learn about how to self-publish your book step by step. By Gillian Perkins

https://youtu.be/Isobf02R3fk to learn about Skill Share with my favorite writing channel. By Vivian Reis.

https://insights.bookbub.com/publishing-resources/ “48 Publishing Resources You Should Know About” by Diana Urban.
https://pin.it/yt2jg6wtnexxv3 This is a link to my Pinterest board for my book, “Patriot Hearts.”

CLICK TO TWEET: Need another author who has been there, giving great advice on getting out of a slump during the process of getting your book done? Resources for Indie Publishing from @trail_j via @InspiredPrompt #writinglife #IndiePublish

 

A Lot Can Happen in 10 Years!

by Harriet E. Michael

When I thought about this topic, so many things came to my mind. So much has happened in the last 10 years, nationally, internationally, with friends, with my family, and with me. It was hard to decide what to write about. I chose the single biggest change in my personal life that has occurred in the last 10 years.

10 years ago, I was not a published writer!

typewriter

Writing is a new work God is doing in my old age. It’s a huge blessing to me and I can only hope it blesses others too. I thank Him daily for opening these doors, even though as is often the case, it was born out of adversity—from a difficult and even dark time in my life that started in the summer of 2003.

By 2009, I had an unpublished manuscript written on the topic of prayer. This is what later became my book, “Prayer: It’s Not About You” which started out four years earlier as a journaling exercise as I sought to learn more about prayer. Interested in writing, I attended the Kentucky Christian Writer’s Conference, hoping to learn how to get a manuscript published. I came home thinking that goal was not achievable, unless I self-published but I had learned three things: 1) I knew very little about the publishing world, even after the conference, 2) I have editing issues. 3) I didn’t have a platform.

I now know that a writer can pay an editor, and hire out other parts of the publishing process and turn out a good independently-published book. But at the time, getting a book out seemed impossible.

itsawriterthing.tumbler

Writing still intrigued me. Actually, it did more than that; it pulled like a magnet. I had words I wanted to share and had spent the previous four years honing my ability to put them down on paper. (Learning to write on a computer came later. My 60,000+ word manuscript and my first few articles and devotions were all hand-written and transcribed onto a computer.)

The wheels started turning in my head. If I could start getting small pieces published, then I would be scratching that writing itch while building an income and a platform. So, I sat at my kitchen table one day, shortly after returning from the writer’s conference, sharing my thoughts with my daughter. I sheepishly told her about the great workshop on how to freelance small pieces and confessed my desire to try my hand at it. But who did I think I was fooling? I was not a writer.

My daughter looked up from her orange juice and said profound words that jump-started my writing career. She said, “You know mom, the average American reader only reads at a sixth-grade level.”

I burst out laughing and replied, “I can write at that level!”

And I sat down immediately and began transcribing a devotion I had handwritten in my journal onto my computer to send to The Upper Room. That devotion, titled, “The Day of Small Things” based on the question posed in Zechariah 4:10, “For who has despised the day of small things?” became the first piece I ever submitted. It was not the first piece I ever had published, because it takes a very long time from submission to publication with some devotional magazines. It was published a year and a half later in the February 2011.

Today I have somewhere around 200 small pieces published in magazines, devotionals, anthologies (more if you count each individual devotion separately). The places I have been published as a freelance writer include: Chicken Soup for the Soul, several Lifeway magazines and their devotional, Open Windows, several David C. Cook and Standard Publishing magazines, The War Cry, Upper Room, The Secret Place (just to name a few).

Now I also have three books published, both independently and traditionally, two more under contract to be released this winter and next summer, and others at different stages of publication.

And, to think that 10 years ago, I was not a writer. Today, I cannot imagine not writing! I think I have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

freedom

(Click to Tweet) I think I have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. #amwriting #freelance

Writing Prompt: Ben highlighted, then deleted every word of the story he’d spent two hours creating. Now what?

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