Writing Tip Tuesday: Chicago Manual of Style

My internet receiver got blown over yesterday and I spent so much time dealing with that, that I didn't get a tip written for today.

However, in the comments on last week's tip about the reference books, a reader asked if The Chicago Manual of Style was online. I googled. And yes, it is.


As for an online LDS Style Guide, there is THIS. It's not as complete as the printed guide and I'm not sure if you can fully trust this one, since it's a wiki and someone might have posted misinformation, but I guess it's better than nothing.


LDS Fiction: Does Good Writing Matter? by Emily Milner

Emily Milner writes, edits, and blogs for Segullah:Writings by Latter-day Saint Women. You can also find her at her personal blog, Hearing Voices. She spends most of her time lately reading Whitney finalists and nursing her broken leg.

Does good writing matter? I’ve read a couple of interesting perspectives about this, from Shannon Hale and an anonymous poster at LDSpublisher. Shannon Hale holds that the quality of a book is far less important than whether it speaks to a reader. She gives the example of young readers, who might find a lesser-quality book engaging, a kind of gateway book, that could help them appreciate other works later on. Anonymous explains that books speak to different people different ways at different times; one story might engage someone at one point in their life, but bore them at another.

I think there is validity in both of these points of view. My kids love the Magic Tree House books, and they do not boast superb writing. But for my son, these were the books that helped him transition into chapter books. Hooray! There are many books I loved as a teenager, that spoke to my angsty soul, which I don’t care for now. And vice versa–I don’t think my teenage self would enjoy the all books I like now. My tastes have changed.

However, while the reader’s response does matter, I also believe that good writing matters in and of itself. There are at least two reasons for this, both of which should be crucial to Mormons. 1-Good writing is honest; bad writing is dishonest, and 2-Good writing allows the reader his/her own agency; bad writing takes away the reader’s agency.*

Arthur Henry King (1910-2000)
, scholar and BYU professor, explains that the best, the greatest writing, is absolutely honest. In fact, it was the stark honesty of Joseph Smith’s personal writing that led directly to Arthur Henry King’s conversion:

When I was first brought to read Joseph Smith’s story as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, I was deeply impressed. I wasn’t inclined to be impressed. As a stylistician, I have spent my life being disinclined to be impressed. So when I read his story, I thought to myself, this is an extraordinary thing. This is an astonishingly matter-of-fact and cool account. This man is not trying to persuade me of anything. He doesn’t feel the need to. He is stating what happened to him, and he is stating it, not enthusiastically, but in quite a matter-of-fact way. He is not trying to make me cry or feel ecstatic. That struck me, and that began to build my testimony, for I could see that this man was telling the truth.

…Joseph Smith begins his story in his matter-of-fact way, setting out carefully the reason that he is writing this history and the facts about his birth and family. Then he moves from the matter-of-fact to the ironical, even the satirical, as he describes the state of religion at the time—the behavior of the New York clergy in trying to draw people into their congregations. He tells about reading the Epistle of James. He doesn’t try to express his feelings. He gives a description of his feelings, instead, which is a very different thing. Look at verse 12:

“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” [JS—H 1:12]

I am not good enough to write a passage as good as that. That is beautiful, well-balanced prose. And it isn’t the prose of someone who is trying to work it out and make it nice. It is the prose of someone who is trying to tell it as it is, who is bending all his faculties to express the truth, not thinking about anything else—and above all, though writing about Joseph Smith, not thinking about Joseph Smith, not thinking about the effect he is going to have on others, not posturing, not posing, but just being himself.

According to King, the best writers in history have worked to tell truth. Great honesty=great writing. I think the issue of honesty is an important factor in evaluating current LDS writing. For example: in an LDS novel I finished recently, the female protagonist is in peril, in a challenging, life-threatening situation, which she accepts with very little complaint.

But it felt like a lie to me. She didn’t demonstrate the normal range of emotion. I think the author wanted to set her up to be a good person. That’s nice. But this protagonist was just too good. She didn’t feel real. She didn’t feel honest. I felt deceived as a reader–was I really supposed to believe that she was as amazing as all that? I wasn’t given enough depth, enough layers, to feel like it was true.

Also in this book, there were several opportunities for the male and female protagonist to get very upset at each other. And they never did. I assume this was because they were supposed to be falling in love. Okay. But don’t you get extremely upset at the people you love sometimes? Isn’t that kind of conflict worth digging into and exploring? In this book, it was never explored in depth. I believe in love more if the romance includes real obstacles, thoroughly explored and then overcome. Again, it felt dishonest.

Character arcs are a crucial part of being an honest writer. If the main characters do not grow or change, the novel is dishonest. Why? Because events as important as the ones worth writing about in the novel would surely change the characters, and cause them to grow and develop. A novel in which the only change in the character’s status is from single to in love, or from in peril to out of peril, is not an honest book.

On to agency. Arthur Henry King explains that an important aspect of Joseph Smith’s writing was that he did not care at all what the reader thought of it. Joseph’s story was true, and he was going to tell it exactly as it happened, without being sensational or trying to convince the reader of anything. Joseph Smith respected his readers’ agency, to believe or not. He did not use writing to manipulate the reader.

A great practical application of this principle of respecting reader agency is the old-but-true standby, “show don’t tell.” Sometimes you do need to tell; it moves the action along. But whenever I’m told too much about a character, instead of shown what they are like, I’m being being forced to believe who they are, instead of allowed to discover them for myself. Whereas, if the author works in character traits through a nice showing scene, my agency as a reader is respected. The more the author tells about a character instead of shows, the less he allows me agency.

I love the way the Whitney website phrases the objective of the Whitney Awards:

Elder Orson F. Whitney, an early apostle in the LDS church, prophesied “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” Since we have that as our goal, we feel that we should also honor those authors who excel and continually raise the bar.

I feel that many of the finalists have raised the bar, and I am grateful for that. I also think that an ongoing conversation about what constitutes good writing in LDS fiction is important. In my opinion, what we as a people should be seeking is honest writing, writing that respects readers’ agency. Asking for writing that follows these ideals isn’t being mean. It isn’t being overly critical or too picky. Instead, it’s seeking to apply fundamental principles of the LDS faith in our literature.

*These ideas concerning honesty, agency, and Arthur Henry King are from writer and writing teacher extraordinaire Tessa Meyer Santiago.


Dumped at the Prom

Does everyone feel weird writing to a pseudonym? Hahaha. [You'd be surprised at how many advice columns are written under pseudonyms.] I have a difficult situation and a colleague at LDStorymakers suggested I contact you.

I'm writing a historical fiction series. Books one and two are out but [my publisher] pulled the plug on the series. I took it to [other publishers who] passed. [They don't want] to own four books while [my original publisher] owns books one and two.

The series illustrates the generation being prepared to receive the Restoration, so while the LDS influence is not overt, it is woven through the books which makes it challenging to take it outside the LDS literary market. It was set to be a six book series, timed so the last book's release coincided with the bicentennial of [a historical event]. So I'm pressed for time and need to make some hard decisions.

I am tentatively planning to self-publish through Booksurge, an Amazon company. I've made arrangements to contract the editor of books one and two to do the edit and maintain a consistent quality between the books.

Are there any other options I've missed besides the self-publishing option? Do you know anyone who has published through Booksurge? If so, I'd love to know what their experience was.

Thank you for offering a listening ear. Any advice would be very appreciated.

It is so disappointing to be dumped mid-series. It's kind of like being dumped at the prom and having to find another ride home. Don't take it personally. It's happening to others right now too, not just you. One of the effects of our wonderful economy.

If you can't get another publisher to finish your series, or get your original publisher to release the rights to the first two volumes, then your only other option is self-publishing.

I do know people who have used BookSurge successfully. The Reckoning by Tanya Parker Mills is published through BookSurge. Another company you might look at is Lightning Source. Be sure to have it edited and typeset professionally. Try to capture the feel of the first cover designs and you should be fine.

The biggest drawback is going to be distribution—getting the books into the bookstores. You may want to talk to a distributor and get that lined up before you put much money into the project.

Another issue is making sure the profit margin is there so that you can offer the standard industry discounts to stores without having to overprice the books.

Readers—if any of you have used BookSurge or Lightning Press or another of these types of programs, let us know in the comments about your experiences and which company you'd recommend.


Patience is a Virtue

I have a question for you. I resubmitted a manuscript with revisions at the request of a large LDS publishing company. They've been in possession of it for eight weeks now and I haven't heard from them yet. When would it be appropriate (or is it?) for me to send them a courteous follow up email inquiring about the status of the novel? They got back to me very quickly the first time through (four weeks) with the request for some revisions, and now I'm a little nervous about the increased wait time. Would you share your opinion/experience on handling this situation?

While eight weeks is a lifetime for an author, it's the blink of an eye to a publisher. It's probably still in committee, or out to readers. I wouldn't worry about it. Give them another four weeks, then send a quick email.


Ghostwriter Needed

I have had an idea for a book for a while. I am in no way shape or form a writer. (I may have butchered that whole sentence) Anyway, I need someone LDS because this idea would make very little sense to anyone else. I have about 70 pages of stuff that I would like someone to lightly go through and tell me if the idea has any merit. I know if would need major gramatical overhaul but that would be later on. I just need an opinion. I would, of course, be willing to pay for the time it would take you to do so. I am not looking for a freebie.

If you could e-mail me back if you are the person I am looking for and if so what the cost would be to help me out.

I am also wondering how I protect myself from someone looking over my idea and taking it for their own. How does that work?

I've already responded to this writer. LDS Publisher does not do ghostwriting. However, I know that some of my readers do. Please feel free to post contact information in the comments if you're interested in helping this writer.

Some tips for hiring a ghostwriter:
  • Ask to see their past work and ask them for references. Read what they've done before. Contact their previous clients to see if they were satisfied. Ask specific questions, such as how much editing had to be done after the ghostwriter was finished? Did they meet their deadline? Would you hire them again?
  • If they check out, I recommend giving them one chapter to see if you like what they do before you hire them for the whole job.
  • Some ghostwriters charge by the hour, others by the page. If they charge by the hour, having them do one chapter will give you a way to estimate the cost of the entire project. If they charge by the page, having them do a chapter will let you see if they put in a lot of extra fluff to boost their fees.
Protecting yourself:
  • Copyright goes into effect as soon as your put your first word down. Keep notes of when you started your project and when significant milestones and/or research was done.
  • Professional ghostwriters are not going to steal you project. That's why you check them out thoroughly before you show them your notes. If there's anything shady about them, go with someone else.
  • Keep dated copies of your notes. Let your friends and family see them and document the dates so that if something does happen and you end up in a lawsuit, you have people who can testify that you were working on these projects before you hired the ghostwriter.
  • Get a dated contract from the ghostwriter. Again, this will help you if you go to court.


Writing Tip Tuesday: Get a Good Reference Set

I made on a mistake last Tuesday. I used a word wrong. I wrote the post and sent it live. Then something tickled in my brain that said maybe I should look a word up to be sure of its usage. I looked it up. I was wrong. (Hard to believe, I know.) I hurried to change it, but then I decided to leave it as is to see if anyone caught it. No one did—or at least, no one said anything.

The word? Sensual. Which means, "pertaining to, inclined to, or preoccupied with the gratification of the senses or appetites; carnal; fleshly." Yes, it can also be used the way I used it, but that's its fourth or fifth meaning.

The word I should have used was sensuous, meaning "perceived by or affecting the senses."

Which brings me to today's tip. Every writer should invest in a good set of reference books—dictionary, thesaurus, and style guide. Learn how to use them. Use them often.

Dictionary: The type of dictionary you need depends on the type of writing you are doing and the type of information you most commonly need. I found a great article on selecting a dictionary HERE. And what do you know? I must be brilliant because I've always preferred the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (which was rated as best in this article).

If you're writing historicals, particularly early Church history historicals, you might want to look at Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. It's a little pricey, but worth every penny if you want to get your usage correct.

Of course, there's always dictionary.com, which is better than nothing but I frequently cannot find the word I'm looking for there, particularly if its root is in a language other than English,. Also their definitions are sometimes incomplete.

Thesaurus: Mark Twain said, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." A thesaurus can help you find the right word. I like Webster's New World (Roget's) but it's big and clunky, so I often use a little paperback Roget's. I've also heard good things about the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, but I haven't had a chance to check it out.

On line, there's thesaurus.com and Encarta. Both are good, but I usually use the first one.

Style Guides: The style guide you use depends upon the style of writing you're doing. My favorite, hands down, is the Chicago Manual of Style. I personally have the 14th edition, and I don't like some of the changes in the newer 15th edition. But either way, using a quality style guide keeps you safe and it's easy to change if your editor prefers things to be done differently.

If you're writing LDS books, you must have a copy of the LDS Style Guide to Publications. This is going to help you with capitalization, hyphenation and other style forms specific to the LDS Church. And it's cheap!

Once you have these guides, don't just put them on a shelf. Use them! If you have even a sliver of a doubt about the spelling, meaning of a word or the correct usage of punctuation, look it up. Become familiar with your deficiencies and always, always look them up. One of my weaknesses is the comma. I never can remember if I use one before the word "but"—as in, "I am pretty smart, but I forget when to use the comma." I know this about myself so I look it up. A lot.

The more clean-up work you do on your manuscript before you submit it, the better chance you're going to have of being accepted. And yes, I have rejected good stories before because the manuscript was going to take more clean-up time than I had in my budget.


My Bad...

I just read this post yesterday after posting the news on A Motley Vision that WindRiver had purchased Mapletree. So I called JB, the owner of WindRiver, and was told that your information is NOT correct. WindRiver has NOT purchased Spring Creek.

I don't know what exactly this means. Perhaps you could check on your end to see if there is an error in the information you got?

I try so hard to make sure I don't pass on industry gossip and misinformation. I could have sworn I got an e-mail from WindRiver announcing their acquisition of Spring Creek. But apparently, I had a brain burp and that was not the case at all. WindRiver acquired Mapletree, another small publisher.

So I contacted Chad Daybell, owner of Spring Creek, and here is his reply, copied and pasted straight from his e-mail back to me:

Hi there!

Thanks for your email, and I'm happy to clear up any confusion. Spring Creek hasn't been acquired by another company. Spring Creek still exists, but we haven't produced a new title since August, and we aren't accepting manuscripts. We have shut our warehouse and Brigham Distributing is handling our distribution. . .

I feel we did our best, but after the Deseret Book/Seagull merger, . . . as the other publishers have also seen, their plan to "vertically integrate" their operations left us on the outside. We still received invitations for their catalogs, but the catalog prices increased to the point we were actually losing money when we advertised because of all of the returns they would send back as soon as the catalog period ended. Of course, once we stopped advertising, our books entered the Dead Zone, which you have explained so well.

So I guess the succinct answer is we (as a company) are barely breathing . . . but we aren't dead yet.

I apologize to Chad at Spring Creek, to WindRiver, and to all my readers for disseminating incorrect information here at this blog. I will make sure in the future that I get my facts right.


After the Thrill Is Gone

Ok, here's my situation and I'd like to hear what a publisher thinks. I have written two books out of a four part series (four parts that I planned to write originally). These books are non-fiction books and each stands on it's own. My problem is that I've lost interest in writing the rest of the books and am dragging my feet on writing the final two. I did not sign a contract with my publisher for the whole series, only for each book. However, they know that I planned to write four books. The books are selling well (for LDS standards), but like I said, I have lost my desire to write them. However, I am still interested in writing other books and having them published by the same publisher.

If I were to not finish the series, would you recommend I contact the publisher to let them know or do I just not send in any more manuscriputs? And if I do this, can you tell me how this look to the publisher? Am I kissing my lucrative (ha ha) writing career goodbye?

Or would you recommend that I buck up and force myself to write something I have no interest in anymore? Should I stress myself out and spend hours and hours of work just to finish the series on time?

You have to deal with this up front and in a professional manner or you're shooting yourself in the foot. Your publisher has invested money in this series, with the idea that it's going to be a series. If you just don't ever send another manuscript, it's going to look like you're a flake.

Call your publisher today and have a chat about it. Ask them how the series is going and if they want the other two books. Maybe they'll say they think the "series" has run its course and won't be interested in the next two books. Or maybe they'll only want one of them. It's okay for you to admit that you're losing the thrill of this series--that happens a lot, even in fiction (Can we say "Robert Jordan?" RIP), but be prepared to pitch them something else to replace it.

However, if they say yes, they want the other two books, then you've got to buck up and do them. And you have to do a good job of it, as well, or they won't trust you for any future book series that you pitch them.


Laundering the Whitneys

Anonymous (et al) is a frequent commenter here. Sometimes the comments are wonderful and sometimes they're a little off point but overall, I love them. This particular anonymous comment was exceptional and I thought it deserved special attention, particularly given the popularity of its subject matter right now. Thanks, Anonymous. Comment any time you want. And if you want a byline, you can either take credit in the comments of this post, or send me an e-mail.

The titles of my favorite novels come and go, but laundry duty will always be with me.

I read a novel about an elderly man and decide its meh, okay. Not a classic. The writing is good, far from brilliant, but transparent enough not to annoy me and that’s okay if only the story were more engaging. It’s the kind of novel where the wash gets done on time, the dishes never pile up, and the kids can count on three square meals a day. That’s a fair review to share with my friends, but it probably won’t get published in the New York Times. But, hey, I’m not a critic, just a reader.

The story didn't grab me. I didn't relate. The main character is forty years older, male and he’s dealing with the complications of old age. What kind of plot is that? I need something a little more appealing. Exciting. I’m a happily married housewife with four kids. My husband and I are trying to pay the mortgage, put a little away for the future, and raise sane kids without killing them. The demands of life make the romance of my college days difficult to replicate. In fact I’m not even sure if replication is the right approach. I tried that with my kids and look at how they turned out. I love a good romance novel and I’m not going to give up my thing no matter what my weird, nosy, self-taught psychologist, neighbor friend tells me over the backyard hedge about romantically obsessive thirty-something novel readers.

Then I get the call. It’s about my father. He's in trouble. He can't afford special care. Neither can I. And could I put him up in our extra room until we figure out something better? The first things I notice are his frequent slips of memory. It’s part of the degenerative disease that brought him to me. His seemingly insignificant fears are me frustrations. His idiosyncrasies become my aggravation. How is this going to play out for me? For my family? I put off wondering how it’s playing out for him and I pray for a solution. A cure. That’s a faith-filled prayer, isn’t it? The faith to heal. That God has power to cure my father and relieve me of this terrible burden.

But the relief I’m praying for has already been delivered. It’s occupying the spare room. I just haven't prepared a place to receive it. Yet.

I begin to notice my father’s anguish. He’s losing his sense of purpose in a life that was, until recently, filled with purpose. His childlike questions are, at first, annoying, but in his innocence I find terms for endearment. A smile on his face is worth a hundred prayers and I begin wearing my knuckles thin on heaven’s door, begging not for my happiness, but for his, searching not for my escape but pleading for his welfare. The mathematics of life, seen through his eyes, becomes a simple equation. The totality of his blamelessness, his virtue, his incorruptibility, his pure love communicate a cure. God didn’t anoint me his savior. Somehow, in the imperceptible sum of eternity’s calculus, I understand. God anointed my father the healer.

It’s been over six years now. My father is still with me. One son is on a mission. A daughter is in college in another state. There are two teens at home. I come across that novel about the elderly man and I remember it barely registered at “meh, okay” on the likeable-ometer. But heck, I’ve got some time, and nothing better to read. I’m surprised by how I’m riveted to every detail. The story is palpable. The human interaction enthralling. The hope ennobling. The poignancy plumbs the depths of my soul. It’s the kind of novel where the wash builds up, the dishes don't get done, and the kids have to forage for their own food. I hold the novel and cry. What was I thinking when I assigned this masterpiece to the trash heap of mediocrity? It’s a classic. It’s touching. Every word poetically penetrates my heart.

I discover that I’m not ground of the same optical prescription I was when first I read this timely work of art. The novel didn’t change. I did. And that is the secret garden of novel reading. I see myself seeing through a lens of a different color and over the course of my reading life I accumulate an eyeglass case bursting, filled with spectacles for blocking the sun, for farsightedness and shortsightedness, one with a feminine touch and another for my husband’s masculine keenness. There’s one prescribed for youthful impatience, and another for childlike innocence, and all of the glasses ground for the purpose of helping me read. In focus.

The laundry still piles up, but for a very different novel today than yesterday. And tomorrow it will back up behind yet a very different story.

Best of luck laundering the Whitneys.


Re-pitching a Rejected Story

You said, "you then can re-pitch the mss you sent during the poor economy."

Can I do that? I thought once an agent/editor rejects you it's over.

First, let's clarify something. An agent/editor is not rejecting YOU. They are rejecting your manuscript.

That distinction may not help your heart in the moment that you're reading the form letter, but once you're through crying about it and you're ready for rational thought, it's an important distinction to make.

Unless they've specifically said that they never want another word you've written to cross their desk, you are free to continue to send new queries to the same agents/editors who've rejected previous ones.

Okay, now for the issue of re-pitching previously rejected manuscripts to the same agent/editor. In most cases, your previously rejected queries/mss will have been rejected based on the quality of the work, so no, don't waste your time re-pitching old stories. Move forward with what you've learned since you submitted that first mss, and write new stories to bring to the table.

However, if you know for sure that your mss was rejected solely due to marketing reasons, such as a slow economy or timely issues, you might (that's MIGHT) be able to re-pitch at a later date if: 1) those marketing reasons have changed, and 2) you are now a published author through the agent/editor who previously rejected the work.

For example, let's say you submitted a vampire book pre-Stephenie Meyer and it was rejected because vampire books weren't selling. However, the next novel you submitted was accepted and published and sold at or above expected levels. Then Meyer bursts onto the scene. It would be perfectly legit for you to contact your agent/editor and remind them that you had a vampire novel they'd previously rejected because vampires weren't selling but now that they are selling, would they like to take another look at it. (Except you'll be much more eloquent in the wording of your query than I just was.) (And yes, it would be a revised query that you would send them, with a reminder of your basic plot, how it's like and unlike Meyer's book, blah, blah, blah.)

A future scenario might be you've just received a rejection and it says, "Loved the story. Wish we could publish it but must reject due to the current economy..." Then suddenly this fall, Obama saves the world and we're all sitting pretty with gobs of cash to burn. In that case, yes, you could send a quick 1-page query to the agent/editor and say, "When you rejected my manuscript, The Story of Edgar Bookman, last winter, you said that you wished you 'could publish it but must reject due to the current economy.' Now that you have plenty of money, would you like to take another look at it? " Then continue with the basic query to remind them of what it was.

It could happen. Maybe. But ONLY if they indicated that it was solely economic reasons that you were rejected.

However, outside those two scenarios, no, re-pitching old stories is not a good idea, unless your agent/editor specifically asks you if you have a book dealing with a certain topic, and then you could say, "Yes, but you rejected it two years ago..." and go from there.


How Do the Whitneys Work?

Due to our lively discussion here on the Whitneys and some of the questions raised, the Whitney powers-that-be have posted a detailed explanation of their processes on the Whitney website.

Maybe we should all go read that before we continue the conversation here.

My Opinion:
I personally think the various Whitney Committees do a great job. While there are some novels that I think should have made the cut for Novel of the Year that didn't, and other novels that I think should not have made it that did, overall, I think the finalists are representative of LDS fiction.

The one issue I have with the current Whitney policy, and this is no secret to them because I've voiced it to several of the Whitney Committee members (and Robison, I'm hopefully going to stir up enough of a hornet's nest that you will fix this), is that if ANY novel is excluded from consideration for ANY reason whatsoever, you will not get a fully representative award.

As it stands now, novels by Whitney Committee members are excluded. For 2008, this means that Josi Kilpack's book, Her Good Name, was excluded. (I don't care that Josi doesn't mind. And I don't care that the situation is created by your basic bylaws. You need to fix it!) Her Good Name may or may not have made it to the finals, but the fact that it was excluded is not a good thing.

Anyone agree with me??? Let's start a virtual riot and force them to change their policy!! Please express appropriate outrage in the comments. Slogans and placard ideas welcome.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Get Sensual

Heh–heh. How many of you saw the title on your RSS feed and rushed over here thinking I was going to discuss something naughty?

Sorry. Wrong use of the word.

I'm talking about the five senses. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. If you want to suck the reader into your story and have it come alive for them as if they're really living it, be sure to include sensual descriptions. You don't need to include all five sense descriptions in every single scene, but the more you add them in, the more real it's going to be for the reader.

The two most neglected senses are those of smell and taste—and yet those are two that can evoke some of the strongest reactions in a reader, particularly smell. Don't be afraid to use them in your writing.

Pay attention to sensory descriptions as you're reading over the next few weeks. Does it make a difference to you? Does it pull you in? Does it make the writing stronger? more real, more vivid? Can you think of a scene or an author you've recently read where the sensory descriptions captivated you? If so, tell us about it.

Think about how sensory descriptions would add depth to the story you're writing now. Do some testing with your writing and let us know how it worked for you.


What are the Whitney Judges Looking For?

After watching the somewhat heated debate on your post "Cliches and adverbs" I hoped you might be able to clear up another question. What exactly are the Whitney Award judges supposed to be looking for? Are the winners supposed to be the most compelling story in their category, or are the judges looking for the most literary work in each category?

It seems like my favorite authors are sometimes rated lower by the judges on sites like Goodreads than books that I found to be slow to develop and/or lacked the ability to keep me interested. (And no, my favorite authors don't include any that are prone to overusing cliches and adverbs!)

Whitney judges (aka, the Whitney Academy) are not given instruction on what to look for. We get the list of finalists. We read them. We choose the ones we think are best according to our own definition of best. Since there are gobs and gobs of Whitney judges, including authors, publishers, bookstores and others, you're going to have a wide variety of definitions of "best". When it all shakes out, I think the winners tend to be a pretty good sampling of LDS fiction.

As a Whitney judge, I look for a well-written story first. I'll accept some structural issues—typos, adverbs, cliches—but if there are too many, it loses points fast. If there are more than a few grammatical errors, it loses points regardless of how good the story is. If the story is hard to follow, changes POV incorrectly, or if I'm constantly being pulled out of the story due to other errors in writing, it loses points.

Second, I look at the story itself. Does it appeal to me? Does it touch me in some way? Does it capture my imagination? Do I laugh out loud (in appropriate places, of course)? Do my eyes tear up when they're supposed to? Does the story make me think, change me in any way? Does it entertain me? Am I surprised or amused? Was I sad that the story ended? Do I want to read more? Do I want to read it again? Do I want my children and/or friends to read it?

I take the overall impression of the story itself, add in the structural issues, and then go with a gut reaction.

And let me tell you, with two more books left to read, this year some of the categories have been truly difficult to judge. For me, I really liked all of the Youth Fiction books. I'd be satisfied if any of the five won. So far, I've narrowed it down to three, but I'm having a hard time choosing. Same with Mystery/Suspense. It was pretty easy for me to narrow it to three, but now I'm stuck. Ugh. Best Novel—same thing. Narrowed it to three, but then do I choose the one I enjoyed most or the one I think was better written? Haven't decided on that yet.

So. Other Whitney judges, feel free to jump in here and add your two cents worth if you like.


Mormon Writers in the YA Market

Article: Faith and Good Works, printed in the Boston Globe, March 1, 2009

I thought this was a great article, speaking to the fact that the YA market has been flooded with good LDS authors. I think it's great that we're getting some notice. Go take a read.

Who are some of your favorite LDS authors in the Young Adult market?


Clichés and Adverbs

I'm reading a book by an LDS author who has written many books. The book I'm reading is filled with overuse of cliches & adverbs. Isn't this generally considered poor writing?

Why is she getting away with using a cliché or adverb on almost every page? And, why oh why (feel free to not use this next part when you address this question on your blog) is this book nominated for a Whitney Award? The story is great, but the overuse of these two elements weakens the writing.

You are the third person in two days to ask me this, and while neither of you mentioned the title of the book specifically, I believe I know which one you're referring to because I have the same issues with it.

The answer is: this author has plenty of readers who love her books and apparently do not mind her use of clichés or adverbs, or they are willing to overlook that for the sake of the story. And this group of loyal fans is also the reason the book is up for a Whitney—because those fans nominated it.

Could a new writer get away with this? No, because they don't have an established group of loyal fans. Simple as that.


Are the AML/Whitney Awards Redundant?

In response to the announcement of the AML Awards, a reader commented:
Do you think a second doubler would be good for the awards or damaging? It was a surprise last year as the whole point of the Whitney's was to add a more populist perspective to LDS awards. If we have a doubler again this year, will it make having two awards seem somewhat redundant? What do you think?

I don't see it as a problem—and to me, your question sounds like a backhanded slam on readers of popular fiction. They couldn't possibly enjoy the same fiction that high-brow, snooty, elitists enjoy, could they?


The Whitney's are based on popular vote. I think that as the industry continues to grow and more LDS "literary" fiction is produced, we might see a parting of the ways between these two awards. But when the field is limited as it currently is, it doesn't surprise me that both voting groups may select the same winners for Novel of the Year.

Also, the AML Awards and the Whitney Awards only crossover in two categories—Novel (which the Whitneys subdivide into 7 categories) and Youth Fiction. While they may end up awarding the same novel Best of the Year (or not), I don't think they'll agree on the Youth Fiction category. The Whitney's also allow for other genre fiction to get attention and awards.

So what do I think? I think both awards are cool and no, I don't think they're redundant.

Oh, and P.S.—
I don't know if this is a problem on my side (I have a similar problem with writers blogck), but in order to read the text in the current colors I first have to highlight it. The brown on darker brown is impossible.
On all of the 7 computers to which I have access and tested these websites, the posts are not brown on darker brown. They are brick red headers, lighter red links, and dark gray text on an off white background. The menu at the top and in the sidebar is the same brick red text on a very light rose background. So, I don't know what to tell you.


Writing Tip Tuesday: Show, Don't Tell

Show, don't tell.

How many times have you heard that phrase? A million? A zillion? A quatra-billion-gazillion?

Yeh, me too.

But sometimes it's easier said than done. One of the best tips I've ever heard on how to show, rather than tell, was to imagine your scene as if it's on a movie screen, then describe in detail what is happening.

For example, let's say we have a budding high school romance. Boy and girl are discussing their feelings for each other. Instead of telling us that he is embarrassed by the things he wants to say, or that she is afraid he's going to dump her, picture the conversation on a larger-than-life, techni-color screen in your mind. What does it look like? Show us through your description.

Does the boy shift his weight from foot to foot and look off into the distance? Does he open his mouth to say something, then close it again? Do his ears turn a little pink at the top?

And what about her? Does she hold her books up close to her chest, as if they'd protect her from the blow of his words? Do her eyes water up just a bit and does she bite her lower lip? Does she look down at the ground, then back up at him?

The description and the choice of their dialogue (or lack of it), show us that he is embarrassed and that she is afraid. That's what we mean when we say show, don't tell.


Economic Reasons to Submit...or Not

Recently, I've read a lot on writer's forums about how bad the book-selling industry is doing right now with the down economy. I'm hearing (reading) that agents and editors are taking on very few new projects, and selecting the ones they do take on with extreme care.

So, I'm thinking of stopping my querying for my novel for the time being (months, years) until the economy improves. I currently have nine outstanding queries, and I think I'll see what comes of them, but wait to send out any more.

My thinking is I want to wait until the market improves so I won't get a bunch of rejections that otherwise could be acceptances in a better economy. There are only a finite number of agents and publishing houses and if I exhaust them all now, when they're not in the buying mood, I may lose them, possibly forever.

At least that's my thinking on this matter for the time being.

Am I wrong?

Well, I've heard the argument on both sides—and I suppose waiting may have some merit, but. . . I wouldn't.

Yes, agents and publishers may be tightening their belts but they're still looking for good—as in, really good— manuscripts. If your mss is really good, they're going to snap it up because they want something that will sell well even in a depressed economy.

If your mss is not that good, they're going to reject it even if the economy is going gangbusters.

If your mss is so-so, it might have a better chance with some publishers in a good economy, but is that what you really want?

So I'd say, make sure your work is as polished and perfect as possible, and keep submitting. (Your chances of acceptance may even be a little better if other authors are thinking like you and not submitting as much.)

If they reject you, it's not like you've lost them forever because you're writing new stuff, right? (If you're not, you should be.) You can always submit the new stuff to these same agents and publishers in the future.

And let's say your mss was passed on strictly due to economic reasons. If you submit another novel in 6 or 12 or 24 months down the road, and it's accepted because the economy is better, you then can re-pitch the mss you sent during the poor economy.


AML Awards Announced

The Association for Mormon Letters just announced their 2008 award winners. They are:

Neil Aitken , The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga Press)

Warren Hatch, Mapping the Bones of the World (Signature Books)

Short Fiction:
Stephen Tuttle, “Amanuensis” (Hayden’s Ferry Review)

Angela Hallstrom, Bound on Earth (Parables)

Youth Fiction:
Brandon Mull, Fablehaven: The Grip of the Shadow Plague (Shadow Mountain)

James Goldberg, Prodigal Son

Personal Essay:
Patrick Madden , “A Brief Push Behind the Heart”
(Best Literary Non-fiction, vol. 2, W. W. Norton and Company)

Stephen Carter, “Calling” (Sunstone)

Christian Vuissa, Errand of Angels

Ron Williams, Happy Valley

Special Award in Criticism:
Alan F. Keele

Special Award in Textual Criticism and Bibliography:
Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard L. Jensen, The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals Series, vol. 1, Journals 1832-1839 (Church Historian’s Press)

Special Award in History:
Richard E. Turley, Jr., Glen M. Leonard, and Ronald W. Walker, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Oxford University Press)

Smith-Petit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters:
Douglas H. Thayer

Lifetime AML Membership:
Terryl L. Givens

Last year, the same novel (On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell) won both the AML award and the Whitney award. It will be interesting to see if Bound On Earth does the same this year.


Do Your Research!

I recently got this inquiry in my LDS Publisher e-mail. See if you can figure out what's wrong with it.
I came across your blog (Contests!) and am wondering if you would consider letting me submit a guest post on your site. I am new to freelancing, and I am trying to build my online portfolio. I don’t know if you have a formal procedure or are willing to accept a guest writer, but please let me know if this is possible. I would appreciate you getting back with me with and I can send over an article for your consideration.

In terms of the topic for the article, I'm thinking about writing something that relates to the general theme of your blog, but if there is something specific you would like me to write about, just let me know...

Did you figure it out?

  1. Big issue: The writer wants to do a guest post for my Contests! site? Something on its general theme? If s/he had spent even one minute perusing that site, s/he would have realized that there is no theme other than posting contests, and that guest posts are not appropriate for that site. If s/he'd clicked on any of the links at the top of the site s/he would have discovered that the LDS Publisher site was the one s/he really should be querying about guest posting.

  2. Little issue: S/he really should have proofed her/his query a little better. S/he did include two links to articles s/he'd written and they were clean, no typos there. The writing was nothing spectacular, but not bad either.
As a publisher/editor, I can overlook the little typo issue. I'm not excusing it. Your query should be perfect. But we're all human, cut and paste errors happen (even in published books!), and most of the time I'm willing to look at the sample writing sent with an imperfect query.

But the big issue is, well, BIG. And it happens all the time. Queries get sent to publishers who aren't looking for that type of story. Although some publishers are a little vague on what they want, most publishers are very clear on their website. For example, my site said, "We do not publish picture books." And yet, at least once a month, I'd get a query for a picture book. It was a waste of my time, my assistant's time and the author's time and money.

Five minutes or less—that's all it takes to look at a publisher's website and determine whether your manuscript is something they'd like to see.


Yes, People Do Ask Me Questions!

Dear LDSP,

In the past, you've complained about not having enough questions to answer. Then you said you were going to start writing posts about writing, but you've been posting questions again. Did you suddenly get an influx of questions, or what?

Are you kidding me? You actually took time away from writing your great American novel to ask me this question? Seriously?

Yes, I have gotten a few questions lately. Thank you very much.

Questions will always, always, ALWAYS get priority from me. That is because: 1) if someone takes their precious time to ask me a question, I feel they deserve an answer—even if the question is unbelievably stupid uh... ridiculously silly uh... off tangent; and 2) it's much easier for me to respond to a question than to try to make up something out of the blue.

So please, keep sending me questions. I am out of them as of today. If you've sent me a question in the past and I haven't answered it, please resend it. In all this restructuring and stuff, things may have gotten overlooked. (Sorry.)


Does Granite Publish?

I know Granite distributes for other smaller publishers and individual authors. But they also publisher their own books, right? Do you notice any niches they specialize in, or direction they appear to emphasize?

Yes, Granite does publish their own books and they do a little bit of everything—from children's to romance to non-fiction.

It's hard to tell which titles Granite publishes though because their website dumps everything all together and there's no indication of publisher for any of the books listed there.

Here is the link to their submissions guidelines—although that's not a lot of help either because it's so vague.

This brings up a topic that I love to rant about, concerning LDS publisher websites. Most of them do an inadequate job of promoting/marketing their titles. Each title should have all the info a reader would need to walk into a bookstore to special order it—including the ISBN #, the publisher and publication date. Genre category, size, binding and page count would also be nice.

I can hear the publishers saying, "If they're at our website, they can just order the book online from us and they don't need all that information." Well, yes. Perhaps. But some people are loyal to their local brick and mortar bookstore and want to get it there.

AND all publisher websites should all have a New Release section by month, so that we can easily find what new books they've published.

Oh, and one more thing: They should make sure their books are listed on the website by the actual title that's printed on the front of the book and that their author's names are spelled correctly. (Uhm, yes. I've been unable to find books posted on publisher websites because they've made these very mistakes.)


March 2009 Prize Sponsors

Last month's prize winners announed HERE.

Please take a moment to learn more about our wonderfully generous sponsors.

High Country by Jennie Hansen

A terrible car accident left Laura fatherless, injured, and at a loss for many memories of her life before the accident. But when she and her cousin Bruce are going through their Aunt Alice's papers after her death, Bruce finds a certificate that will change Laura's life forever: a marriage certificate. With her name on it. The doctors told her she wouldn't be able to remember a lot of things, but how could she forget getting married?

Laura is shocked ever further when she finds out that she is heir to a fortune and her father's ranch, High Country. As she discovers the secrets about her past that Aunt Alice had kept so well hidden from her, Laura is determined to get back what is rightfully hers. But trying to regain the beautiful house and land from a stubborn cowboy. Paul "Mac" Burgoyne, who claims to be her husband, is more than she bargained for.

Jennie Hansen was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She lived in many farming and ranching communities in Idaho and Montana. Her family moved more than 20 times as she grew up. Born the fifth of eight children, Jennie had a ready supply of playmates during her childhood. Her brothers and sisters are still among her closest friends. She married Boyd Hansen of Rexburg, Idaho, and over the next ten years they became the parents of five children. They have made their home in Utah since their marriage.

Jennie graduated from Ricks College in Idaho then continued her education at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has been a receptionist, a model, a Utah House page, freelance magazine writer, newspaper reporter, editor, library circulation specialist, mother and grandmother.

She has nineteen published books to her credit, three stories in compilations, and has two more books currently under contract. Her published books include: Run Away Home, Journey Home, Coming Home, When Tomorrow Comes, Macady, The River Path, Beyond, Summer Dreams, Chance Encounter, All I Hold Dear, Abandoned, Breaking Point, Some Sweet Day, Code Red, High Stakes, Wild Card, The Bracelet, The Emerald, The Topaz, and The Ruby. She is one of three contributors to The Spirit of Christmas along with Betsy Brannon Green and Michele Ashman Bell. Jennie also writes a monthly review column for Meridian Magazine.

The Tree House by Douglas Thayer

When Harris Thatcher's father dies, the boy's journey into manhood becomes complicated with questions of faith, the meaning of life, and the capriciousness of death. Harris soon finds himself preaching the Mormon gospel as one of the first missionaries to West Germany following the devastation of World War II. Little does he know that his own war horrors await him upon his return home, when he is drafted into the Korean War.

Starting out in the same 1940s-era Provo, Utah, that Thayer brought to life in his memoir Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood, this novel deepens and darkens as Harris is drawn into his harrowing Korean ordeal. Will he survive the war, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually? And if he does survive, what other trials does death hold in store?

Douglas Thayer
teaches English at Brigham Young University, where he has served as director of composition, chair of creative writing, associate department chair, and associate dean. He has received various awards for his fiction, including the Karl G. Maeser Creative Arts Award. He is the author of the novels Hooligan, Summer Fire and The Conversion of Jeff Williams and two collections of short stories, Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone and Under the Cottonwoods and Other Mormon Stories, and he has been published in Colorado Quarterly, Dialogue, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere.

Click here for details on sponsoring this LDSP blog.

Click here for details on winning one of these books.