Take a Little Piece of My Heart by Jeffrey S. Savage

Over the past few months, I’ve had conversations with several other authors regarding the freedom of being able to tell their own story without interference from an editor. To clarify, none of the authors were suggesting they didn’t want an editor, but rather they didn’t want to have to significantly change their stories because an editor told them to. It felt to them like the editor was, in the words of Janice Joplin, “Taking a little piece of their heart” and changing their story. Admittedly, quite a few of the discussions were related to self-publishing their own books in one format or another, but I do not want to make this another self-publishing vs. traditional publishing knock down drag out fight. Instead I’d like to focus on a single issue.

How do you feel about an agent/editor requesting major changes to your story that you might not completely agree with?

First of all, let’s start with a basic premise. It is the job of an editor, for sure, and often an agent, to help you make your manuscript the best it can be. We might not feel the same about what they are seeing, but I think we can all concur they are trying to help us put out a better product.

Samantha Van Walraven of Covenant Communications describes it this way:

“As an editor, I feel like I have two hats when I am working on a book: I’m a general reader because I’m looking at the manuscript with fresh eyes the first time I see it, just like anyone else picking it up in the store, and I’m also a director, someone who has experience in the field and can sometimes see mistakes others never could, so it becomes my responsibility to help and guide an author to avoid those mistakes.”

But what constitutes better? Is it just proper grammar and getting rid of typos? Is it making the story flow more smoothly and the plot more believable? What if the change is not focused so much on the storytelling as it is on making the book itself more sellable?

I think we’ve all heard the story of the editor demanding more sex scenes in a book. The knee-jerk reaction we tend to have as LDS authors is, “That’s terrible! How can anyone demand I put something in my book that I am opposed to?” (Not saying that Mormons are opposed to sex per se, but . . . okay, I’m not going there.) Is it wrong to ask for more sex in a book?

Anyone who has published an LDS romance has probably had an editor ask them to cut something out because it might be objectionable to the audience buying the book. And even if you haven’t had that experience, you know that most LDS publishers have a set of rules on what you can and can’t put into a book. If it’s okay for an LDS publisher to say their audience has certain expectations, is it wrong for a national publisher to say the same thing, but with the opposite result?

I think every author has to answer that for themselves. I would never put something into a book that I didn’t feel morally good about. But I absolutely do understand that part of an editor’s job is to create a book that will sell well by resonating with their audience. I’m not advocating we all start throwing sex scenes in our books, but I am saying that if we don’t want to write the kinds of books a publisher is looking for—whether that publisher is a Christian publisher with strict guidelines or a publisher of steamy romances—we probably shouldn’t submit to them.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move onto something a little grayer. Should an agent or editor ask you to make changes to your manuscript purely for the reason that he or she thinks it will make the story more appealing to book buyers, publishers, executive committees, etc? And how should you as the author react to that?

I’ll try to illustrate this with a personal experience. I currently have a project out with my agent. It’s not one that I have talked about publicly at all. This particular project is aimed at younger middle grade readers. It’s kind of a fun series of books that are scary, silly, and fifth grade boy gross at the same time. After I gave my agent the first half of the first book and the full outline for the rest of the book, he came back and asked me to make the ending not quite as dark. Personally, I didn’t think the ending was all that dark. I mean come on, it involves candy corn, shooting chocolate milk (and a worm) out of your nose, and a gross out contest. I also know that kids love scary books.

So what to do? He wasn’t saying that kids wouldn’t like the book. Or even that it didn’t work. He was saying that for this particular project, he wanted the series to feel scary, but “safe scary.” And the reason he was asking for it was because he felt that is what would sell. This is exactly what I have heard other authors complaining about. You want me to change my story because “you” think it will sell better? Is that selling out? Is it giving up my integrity if I make the change? Should I go with an agent or publisher who wouldn’t ask me to make changes because they would sell better?

Again, I can’t make that call for you. Only you as a writer can decide where you draw the line. For me, personally, I hired an agent for two reasons. Yes, I want to make more money, and I hope my agent can help me do that. But even more important, I want a career as a writer. I trust that my agent understands the market well enough to know what publishers—and readers—are looking for. I put my writing life in my agent’s hands, and what he is telling me is that he believes the feel at the end of my story is too dark for the publishers he has in mind. I could have responded in a lot of ways. But at this time in my life, at this point in my writing career, I chose to accept his advice and redo the ending. I am comfortable changing my story idea to match the market he has in mind.

Of course, even then, it’s not always that easy. Let’s say you’ve written your book, the publisher has accepted it, but during the writing process you’ve hit a roadblock. Your editor is requesting a change you are not comfortable making. Kirk Shaw, also of Covenant, has this to say.

“Typically, if an author strongly disagrees with a proposed edit, I’m always fine with finding another way to solve the problem, but if the problem is important enough, I will push for solving the problem—even if the solution to the problem is one of the author’s making (which I prefer, actually).”

Samantha went into even more detail.

“So what happens when I feel like I have run into a plot or character problem as either a general reader or director (or maybe both), but the author doesn’t agree with me? I take it in steps. First, I express my concern to the author and measure their reaction. I put forth a little bit of an argument in my opinion’s favor and see if they can see where I’m coming from. Sometimes I defend by saying that maybe they didn’t notice the mistake because they’re too familiar with the writing. Sometimes I call it an outright mistake because of the rules or formula of the story. If they can see where I’m coming from, then problem solved and we move on. But if they can’t see it and they keep fighting back, I put forth just a little more effort and a little more defense for my stance. And if that second time, they still come back just as strong or stronger, I either back down then or try one last time. I never try more than three times to convince them that I am right.

If by the third time they are still holding strong, I let them have it. They win. I do that because no matter how wrong or dumb I think they are at the time, it’s still their book; it’s still their brainchild—not mine. I’m just the helper in making their idea come to life. They’re the real intelligence behind it. And besides that, as long as it doesn’t go against our policies, I’m okay with leaving something I think is silly or wrong in a book because it’s not my name on the cover; it’s the authors. So if they want their name on whatever mistake I feel is in there, that’s up to them, and I’ve warned them.

More than anything, I feel like I have to respect the author’s opinion as the real owner of the story. I’m just one reader among thousands. Somebody else might be right in line with the author’s thinking, while I’m not, and I don’t want to ruin that for them if I don’t have to. So I will only point out problems that are really, really problems. I’m not the type of editor who asks the author to change the character’s shirt color because I feel strongly that it should be a different color. I point out changes that really impact the story. So if they don’t agree with me, I just have to remember that sometimes editing takes a lot of swallowing my pride and just accepting that I won’t always get what I want—no matter how important I think it is for the book—and it’s the same with authors. As long as we are both willing to budge on some things, it’s okay. We’ll win some, and we’ll lose some—some bigger wins and losses than others—but the important thing is that we ultimately put something out that sells well, no matter how we feel about every word or idea within its pages.”

I really liked that both of these editors are looking for ways to address the issue while also recognizing that they may not have the right answer, at least on the first try. I especially liked Samantha’s comment, it’s still their book; it’s still their brainchild—not mine. The bottom line is that the story is ours. If we are being asked to make a change so big that we feel it ruins the story, sometimes we may have to say no.

Let me counterbalance that though by mentioning a movie I saw a few years back. It was a smaller independent film. Possibly because of budget—or maybe ego—the same person wrote, produced, and directed the film, as well as doing most of the editing. It was a good film. I liked the story. I liked the acting. And yet, I just didn’t like the movie as a whole. It took me a day or two to decide why, but I finally came to the conclusion that the movie felt unbalanced to me. It felt like I was listening to someone recount a movie they had seen. It all had the same voice.

When I buy a DVD of a movie, I almost always watch the extras. I’m intrigued by the guy whose job it is to figure out lighting. Do you realize they actually film different actors with different types of lighting depending on what looks better for their face type? Next time you watch a TV show or a movie, notice how one actor will almost always have full lighting on his face, while another will almost always have one side of his face slightly shadowed. Then there are the deleted scenes. Scenes that made it from the writer to the director, but got chopped in the editing process because they slowed down or sidetracked the story. A great film has professionals doing what they do best, while the other people back off a little.

For me, writing is the same kind of process. I take my hack at it. My beta readers take their shot. My agent steps in. My editor steps in. And when all is said and done, we’ve hopefully created the best product possible. One that will not only sell well, but will be satisfying to the people who read it.

Is it still my story? Of course. It never would have come into being if I hadn’t dreamed it up. But it’s also partially my agent’s story, my editor’s story, and, ultimately, my reader’s story. I put it on paper, but my readers make it come alive. I do give up a little piece of ownership when I let others shape my work, but if that means it’s going to end up better, I’m more than willing to make the sacrifice.

How about you? How do you feel about making major changes to your story? Have you had good or bad experiences with agents or editors? With the growth of e-books, you can have ultimate control on everything from the cover to the language. Does that excite you or scare you?

Jeffrey Savage is the author of eight published books including the Shandra Covington mystery series, The Fourth Nephite series, and the Farworld fantasy series (writing as J Scott Savage.) You can visit his personal blog at www.jscottsavage.com. Or e-mail him at jsavage at jeffreysavage.com. He does school visits, firesides and book clubs.


Want an idea of what NOT to do in a query?

Go read Is This a Query You Sent Me? at Thoughts from a Literary Agent by Marisa Iozzi Corvisiero.

And lest you think the query she posted is a one-time, unusual occurrence, let me assure you it is not. I get queries and submissions similar to this ALL. THE. TIME.

And yes, in my day job, I usually e-mail back something like, "Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, at this time it is not a good match for our company. Good luck in your search for publication."

The End.


What If...

I am very new to writing. I love to read and I'm amazed at all the ideas people have for fiction books, especially authors that put out a couple of books a year, every year. Where do they get the ideas? Do they ever run out? I have a couple of book ideas but then nothing... Help.

Most good stories start with the question, "What if...?" Starting noticing what captures your attention and then "what if" it.

For example, yesterday, it snowed where I live. It had been nice and spring-ish for several days. I hadn't watched the news. For me, that snowstorm was totally out of the blue and unexpected. It caught my attention.

This morning, I looked out the window to see if it might snow again. Looks likely. And I thought to myself, "Man, it looks like late November all over again when it's supposed to be Spring!"

Then I thought, "What if a woman woke up one late spring morning and looked out the window to see what she thought was a freak spring snowfall—only to discover that it really was late November and she'd somehow skipped 8 months into the future?"

The answers—what happened, how did it happen, why did it happen—are the basis for a story.

So readers, let's play a game. Take that basic scenario (the red part) and write a very short outline for a book. If you want, post it on your blog and put the link in the comments, or post it into the comments. Or just leave a comment telling us you did it and how you feel about the exercise of imagination.

No scores, no detailed feedback from me, but if you post and leave links, I'll come read and leave a short comment.


CFI Looking for Manuscripts

NOTE: I received the following e-mail from Cedar Fort and I'm happy to post it here, as requested. I just want to make clear that this is NOT an endorsement of Cedar Fort by LDS Publisher. I am committed to staying neutral when it comes to recommending publishers. It is YOUR responsibility to do your research, talk to other authors, and determine which publisher is a good fit for your personality, needs and story.

Hello LDS Publisher,

My name is Jennifer Fielding and I am the Acquisitions Manager at Cedar Fort. In an effort to compete more effectively in the national market, we are working harder than ever to acquire manuscripts to fill our production needs so that we have a full schedule that is one year out. While having to wait longer for your books to be published in not the most exciting news for an author, it is so important for marketing in the national market to be that far out that it will positively be worth the wait. The average national buyer needs at least 6 months from the time they are presented our titles in person, to the time those books hit their shelves to get their stores ready to receive the stock, set up the ebook purchase option on the their website, organize signings, etc. By getting a year out in our schedule, leading up to those six months, our marketing team can help our authors build a recognizable web presence and following so that the buyers have an even greater incentive to bet on our books.

Since many of your followers are Cedar Fort authors already, and all of them are interested in publishing, I wondered if you would be interested in posting a list of the topics we are currently looking for to help fill our schedule? This is not an exclusive list but these are certainly topics that will catch our immediate interest in acquisitions:
  • Prayer

  • The Book of Mormon

  • The Doctrine & Covenants

  • Church History

  • Mother’s Day: short stories and gift books

  • General Nonfiction

  • LDS Nonfiction

  • Historical Fiction

  • LDS fiction

  • Social and Behavioral Issues (i.e. Asperger's, ADHD, suicide, eating disorders, body image) both nonfiction and fiction

All submissions should be mailed to our office at the address below, attention: Acquisitions. Please also include our Manuscript Submissions Form, as found on our website www.cedarfort.com.

Thank you for your time,


Book Signings. Manna From Heaven or Publisher’s Curse on Authorkind? by Jeffrey S. Savage

It was almost ten years ago, but I can still remember it clearly. (Okay, I know that is a total cliché, but that’s how it is, so live with it!) My first book had just come out, and I was attending the LDSBA (LDS Booksellers Association) annual conference—the equivalent of Book Expo America for the LDS crowd. My publisher, Covenant, was doing a big bookseller breakfast at the Mayan restaurant. One of the bookstore employees at my table handed me a napkin and asked, “Would you sign this?”

I don’t know if hosts of heavenly angels actually did appear above my head, singing and rejoicing with me, or if it was just in my head. But it was one of the coolest moments ever. A person was actually asking me to sign something that wasn’t designed to remove money from my bank account. I looked at my wife and we both beamed at each other. Since that time, I would conservatively estimate that I have signed over 20,000 books, posters, pieces of paper, shoes (lots of elementary kids’ shoes have my name on them), hats, jackets, flyers, binders, and even an arm. (The last one was actually breaking my rule of not signing body parts in permanent ink, but it was Julie Bellon’s daughter and her mom was right there and gave her permission.)

Has the thrill worn off? Yes, and no. I still absolutely love to sign whatever I am asked to. I’ll admit that at least part of that is the implied notion that whoever is asking you to sign their book or paper or whatever believes you are someone worthy of giving a signature in the first place. (You like me, you really like me.) To me at least, the more important part is that it’s a kind of way I can say thanks for following me. You are spending the time and money to read my books, the least I can do is to give you something back—even if it’s just an autograph. That part is great. And based on how much most authors light up when you ask if they’ll sign your book, I think the joy never really fades.

Book signings themselves have become kind of a mixed bag.

I’ve had great ones. Three and a half hours at the American Fork library, where a mom very politely asked if she could skip the line because her son had broken his arm, but they came straight from the hospital, because her son wouldn’t go home without getting a signed book. The Barnes and Noble in California where they told me the only bigger lines they’d ever had were for Stephanie Meyers and Janet Evanovich. The tons of great times I’ve sat next to other authors laughing and talking the whole time. Great times.

But I’ve also had the bad ones. Ask any author and they will recount horror stories. The store isn’t even expecting you or seems less than enthused that you are there. The stores that are out of your books (or never ordered them in the first place.) The times you sat alone for two hours watching every second tick off the clock. The customers who come through the door, see you, and instantly head in the other direction.

And, trust me, the big authors have the same experiences. I walked through a Barnes and Noble door one day to see two authors sitting side by side just inside the front door with a huge pile of books and not a single person waiting to talk to them despite the fact that it was nearly Christmas. The two authors? Brandon Mull and Brandon Sanderson.

So yeah, signings can be exciting and they can be really, really depressing. Last week two great authors, Julie Wright and Frank Cole, had signings for their launch parties. Both went really well. So what is the trick to a good signing and what should you avoid? Let’s go to some experts and see what they have to say.

Michael Knudsen of Writing Fortress (a blog of Cedar Fort Publishing authors) has some excellent advice. I like his quote on being prepared to pitch your book.
Are your prepared to answer the question "What's it about?" in a compelling way? This should be the shortest and strongest of pitches. If you hit those who approach your table with "It's YA dystopian fantasy about monsters that eat kids for lunch," you might get some blank looks. On the other hand, "It's an exciting and scary story about a world where a small group of brave kids discover that they are being raised as food for giant alien invaders!" might grab more interest, especially if you say it with enthusiasm.”

As an author it can be daunting to “sell” your book to a stranger. But if you have a great pitch and you’re excited to tell it, that takes away some of the “car salesman” feel. (No offense to those of you who might sell cars.)”

Janette Rallison doesn’t give advice about book signings, but she does capture the feeling of thinking about a signing on her post from a couple of years ago.

“Do you remember getting ready for dances in junior high? The anticipation . . . the dread? You never knew whether it was going to be a really fun night where lots of guys asked you to dance, or a really humiliating experience where you felt invisible.”

Also, a couple of years ago, Tristi did a great post on self promotion, where she talks about creating displays.

“If you feel uncomfortable approaching people, you can make them come to you with a cute table display. Kerry Blair has to be the queen of this – when “Mummy’s the Word” came out, she even had a stuffed crow on her table. I went to Michele Paige Holmes’ booksigning just this last Saturday, and she had created a darling display with star-shaped magnets on a metal board. If you picked the right star, you won a free book.”

For me, I think book signings, like almost all marketing you do, come down to a few key points.

  1. Know why you are doing it and what you hope to get out of it. Most book signings do not pay for themselves on books sold in the couple of hours you are there. There are exceptions: big launch parties, signings tied to specific events, Costco, etc. But an average signing will not earn you enough in royalties to offset the cost of gas, time spent, possibly a meal, and so forth. If meeting store employees is the goal, take time to talk to each one of them, tell them about both your book and yourself. If they like to write, give them some advice and maybe a pep talk. If you are doing the event because your publisher asked you to, great. Goodwill with your publisher can go a long way. If you are going there to sell books, don’t spend your time sitting. Get up and talk to everyone who comes in the door.

  2. Consider your time use wisely. If you went back and read my blogs from six or seven years ago, I was the marketing king. I tried everything I could imagine to get my name out, make connections, sell books, etc. Did it work? Maybe. I really can’t quantify it. For me personally it felt like I was doing everything I could to help make my books successful. Now I do a lot less formal “Marketing.” I blog, I tweet occasionally. I have websites. I do school visits. But I’ve stopped doing a book signing every weekend. And from what I can see, most LDS publishers feel the same way. They are still scheduling signings. But I don’t see as many of them as I used to, and more of them are tied to specific events.

  3. Book signings are one of many marketing tools in your arsenal. I often hear from LDS authors who live outside of the “Jell-O Belt” worrying that because they aren’t here, they can’t market as effectively as those of us in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, etc. To a small extent that is true. But there are so many other things you can do to market your books. Consider the authors who are selling tons of e-books. They’ve never done a signing, because there is nothing to sign. Bookstore visits are pointless because there is no tangible book to carry.

Finally, and this is going to seem totally contrary to what you will hear in other places, do what feels right for you. If you can’t stand going out in public, that might hurt you some. But it doesn’t mean you can’t blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. If the whole social media thing makes your stomach churn, don’t do it. Will it hurt you? Yes. Can you succeed without it? JK Rowling doesn’t have a Facebook page and never has to the best of my knowledge.

Life’s too short to spend your time doing something you absolutely despise. (Exhibit A, the weeds that are already sprouting up in my flowerbed.) If all you want to do is write, write the best books you can. Then maybe you can hire someone to do all the marketing for you.

Jeffrey Savage is the author of eight published books including the Shandra Covington mystery series, The Fourth Nephite series, and the Farworld fantasy series (writing as J Scott Savage.) You can visit his personal blog at www.jscottsavage.com. Or e-mail him at jsavage at jeffreysavage.com. He does school visits, firesides and book clubs.


No, Thank You. I'm Not An Agent

My name is Wanda Writer [name changed]. I'm [age redacted] and have been writing since I was 8. I am very much interested in getting some of my stories published--especially the ones with LDS characters and content. They are, in the main, romance novels. I have posted all of them on xyz.com [URL changed] under the pen name Wanda Writer and they're all doing well, especially with teenaged girls and college coeds.

I'm afraid, however, that the guidelines most of the LDS publishers might be too stringent for the material that I write. My stories are clean in both content and language, but they are not idealistic in any way, nor are they for the naive or "clueless." [Be careful with your wording here. If I publish 'feel good' stories, you've just insulted me and lessened the chance that I'm willing to work with you.]

It would mean a lot to me if you would be willing to get on xyz.com, look up my profile and choose one of my stories to read. I don't know if you've ever visited the website before, but the author's profile includes a list of his/her stories that are posted, and each story includes a synopsis or description of the plot or storyline.

I should tell you that each and every one of my stories is different from every other. I don't have a formula of any kind. I create the characters, give them life, and then they write the story. Some are in first person, some in third person omniscient, depending on the type and feel of the story, as well as its content.

If you would read one--depending on whichever synopsis most appeals to you personally--and then let me know if you think any of the LDS publishers would be willing to take a look and possibly publish it, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you so much,
Wanda Writer

This is a well-written letter (better than many of the queries I get in my day job) and were I the correct audience for it, it would have piqued my interest.

(Okay, it did pique my interest and I did go look briefly at your stories. However, I must decline from doing much more than taking a peek.)

In essence, what you're asking me to do is to become your agent. An agent's job is to review your work and match it to a potential publisher, for which they are generally paid 15% of your royalties.

I am not an agent and, as far as I know, there are no LDS agents because 15% of the average LDS book royalty is not enough to live on. Therefore, you've got to act as your own agent.

However, in the very quick peek that I took, I found no content that would rule out any of the LDS publishers as a possible place for query and/or submission. While some LDS fiction is still targeted to readers who want clean, simple, happily-ever-after endings, there are some titles that are definitely targeted to those who want a more realistic read.

Do your research and submit something. All they can do is tell you no.


Following the Path of Misdirection by Jeffrey S. Savage

Wow, here I am, even later than usual (Does posting two to three days late still fall under the cloak of Mormon Standard Time?) and I don’t even have the excuse of another bizarre airplane escapade. The truth of the matter is that I was in head-down writing mode on a project that I had absolutely no idea I would be working on a year or two ago. With that as a jumping off point, I’d like to write about something I usually consider a writing tool—misdirection.

First off, misdirection should not be confused with Miss Direction, the cranky little woman inside your GPS who starts going crazy if you don’t take the freeway onramp she told you to take. It’s also not the concept of getting your reader to look one way right before you hit them from the opposite direction. (Okay, well actually it is, but not in this particular post, in which I’m going to talk about misdirection in your writing life, not misdirection in your actual writing, and again, not Miss Direction in your GPS) Clear? Great. Let’s move on.

The first book I ever wrote was a high tech thriller, called Cutting Edge. It was a mystery/thriller that took place in a world I knew very well at the time. The tumultuous world of Silicon Valley (not Silicone Valley which is located quite a bit further to the south). Having never published a book, gone to a writers conference, or met an actual editor/agent, I had no clue what I was doing. But I liked the story, managed to find a publisher for it and went on my merry way. Had you asked me at the time where my writing career would take me, I would probably have suggested that I would stay writing adult thrillers and mysteries, while possibly edging toward horror.

Here I am roughly ten years later, spending most of my time writing YA and middle grade novels ranging from dark wizards that turn into snakes to church history time travel to teenage demons to fifth grade zombies. How exactly did I end up here? It’s what I call misdirection. The concept of the path you started out on leading somewhere other than where it ended up going.

As an example of this, let me take you back to a time shortly after my first book had been published and I was introduced to my critique group. I’ll describe some of the authors and what they were writing and you see if you can guess who they are before I tell you.

Author Number One was writing a middle grade fantasy. Lots of battles, quests, magical items, and cool fantastical settings and creatures.

Author Number Two was writing a New England-based mystery with lighthouses, mysterious relatives, secret diaries, etc.

Author Number Three was writing middle grade coming of age stories.

Author Number Four was writing Scottish romance novels of incredible length and depth, and swore—swore, I tell you—that she would never, ever, ever write LDS romances.

Ready for the big reveal?

Author Number One is Annette Lyon, best known for her women’s fiction focusing on temples and military wives.

Author Number Two is Heather (HB) Moore, best known for her Book of Mormon fiction and nonfiction.

Author Number Three is Lu Ann Staheli, best known for her celebrity memoirs.

Author Number Four is Michele Holmes, winner of a Whitney award for . . . LDS romance.

Five authors, including me, who are all writing something completely different from what they thought they would be ten years ago. All of them successfully published and publishing, but not what they intended to be publishing. How did that happen? Is it an aberration or is it the norm?

I tend to think it is a little from column A and column B. First of all, each of these authors has one thing in common: an intense desire to succeed. They all wanted to be successful writers and they were willing to follow whatever path that took them down. Not once did they say, “If I can’t do it my way, I won’t do it at all.”

Another thing they all have in common is that none of them has given up on their original dreams. Annette recently completed another excellent YA fantasy based on a Finnish myth. Heather has an excellent thriller out with a national agent. Lu Ann has written several more coming of age novels set in different locations and times, and hopefully will see some of them released in the e-book market. Michele has written several other non-LDS books including romance and a middle grade fantasy. And me? I still have a mystery series, and a horror novel coming out soon.

Of course, there are authors who started writing one genre, succeeded with that, and have stuck with it. But even they have often reached their destinations by paths they might not have expected. Brandon Mull had his first novel with Shadow Mountain rejected, but they liked his writing enough that they encouraged him to write Fablehaven. Aprilynne Pike was devastated when her first book with the incredible agent Jodi Reamer didn’t sell. But that led to her great success with the YA fantasy series, Wings.

I tend to think that many authors best known for one genre might very well have succeeded in another genre if things went differently. Obviously JK Rowling’s career took off with middle grade fantasy. But I found it interesting that when she talked about writing something post HP, the direction she mentioned most often was an adult novel. Most people think of Stephen King as the master of horror. And he is. But some of his greatest stories: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Gunslinger Series, and Stand by Me, are not horror novels at all. He even wrote a pretty nifty children’s fantasy novel called The Eyes of the Dragon. He wrote horror because he loved it, but also I think because to some extent that’s what sold for him.

For me personally, my writing life has been filled with twists and turns I didn’t expect. When I sat down to have lunch with Chris Schoebinger of Shadow Mountain, I was expecting to discuss a couple more fantasy ideas I had. Instead I ended up walking out the door with an idea for a Church time travel series. Many of you know I wrote a novel called Demon Spawn that is currently on submission with my agent. That has recently taken some twists and turns I didn’t expect. But over the course of several conversations I ended up mentioning a series about a group of elementary school kids who love monsters. I didn’t think that would be his kind of thing, but he loved it. When I wrote my first Farworld book, it was to prove to myself that I could NOT write fantasy or middle grade. I was trying to get the idea out of my system.

So what does that mean to the author who hasn’t published her first book or has published a few novels that haven’t been quite as successful as she might have hoped? Scott Card wrote a column one time about college. It was his assertion that for most young men and women, college is not a case of knowing exactly what you want to do, doing it as quickly as possible, and getting out. But rather it is a journey of discovering who you are, who you are becoming, and where you ultimately will end up. As I recall—and I don’t have the exact article in front of me—he went so far as to suggest, that if a student doesn’t change their plans at least once during their college education, the experience was not a success.

There may be writers out there who can only write in one genre. They may be hardwired to medical mysteries or YA romance. But I think most of us just want to tell a great story in a great way to as many people as possible. We want a chance to do what we love, see some success, and maybe even make a little money along the way. If that describes you, I highly suggest that you take Mr. Card’s advice and use your writing as a chance to discover not only who you are now, but who you might become. Consider writing something completely different from what you’ve done in the past. Keep your eye out for new opportunities. Read agent and editor blogs looking for what they would really like to have submitted to them and ask yourself, “Could I do that?” Most of us are readers. Consider the area you love to read most and ask yourself what is missing.

In my first Farworld book, the wizard is talking to a girl who has no magic in a world filled with magic. He tells her, “The most powerful magic is not spells, wands, and potions. It’s what’s inside you. Who you are. What you do. And most importantly, what you may become.” The same goes for you. Give yourself permission to find your magic. Even if it ends up coming from a completely different direction than you expected.


LDSP Secrets Revealed!!!

Lisa Turner is one of seven women who blog at Mormon Mommy Writers.

She interviewed me last Saturday for her Saturday Stories series.

She was very, very sneaky and got me to reveal some personal information, such as:
  • the "catch" behind the free writing advice dispensed here

  • my lifelong search for the one true green jell-o recipe

  • the scam behind the Whitney Awards

  • and much more!
Go check it out HERE.


Do YA E-books Sell?

Do YA eBooks do well? Are they selling? Do you have any success stories/statistics you can share? or do teens prefer to buy paperback books?

From what I've seen, yes, they are selling well. No, I don't have any statistics to share because although I've seen some, I can't find them right now using Google (apparently, I don't know the right combination of words to search). But personally, I think e-books for all ages is the wave of the future.

Yes, technology is still catching up with us in this area but before too long, I think the experience of reading a book electronically will be very close to that of reading a print book. They even have a spray for those who want to read electronically but who long for the smell of a good book!

This is my opinion:
  1. Lots of adults who have e-readers also read YA books. I do, and I've purchase lots of YA e-books, and been sorely disappointed when I haven't been able to find them.

  2. With the price reductions on Kindle and Nook, and with more "off-brand" e-readers entering the market, it puts e-readers in the same price category as gaming systems. Lots of parents are starting to get these for their kids. (And since Amazon lets you register up to five readers per account, the whole family can share the book files.)

  3. Most major publishers are scrambling to put their YA and even Middle Grade titles into e-formats. iBooks even has picture books for their reader!

  4. Some schools have started going to e-readers instead of printed texts. (I recently saw this on my local news and the students were loving it, but I cannot find a link for you.)

In googling the topic, I found some very interesting articles:

I also follow (and recommend) Marion Jensen's blog The Open Author which is all about the e-book revolution.


To Rip or Not to Rip by Jeffrey S. Savage

No, I’m not talking about tearing up those rejection letters. (Which I am totally fine with, BTW.) Or the latest cute baby video making the rounds. (And this is definitely not me engaging in a chance to slip some potty humor by LDSPublisher.)

What I’m talking about is whether or not you feel it is appropriate as an author to post negative reviews of other authors’ books. Most people have a knee jerk reaction to this one way or the other. “I would never post a negative review of another author’s book. What If they read it?” Or “Wait, are you suggesting that I should say I like a book when I really don’t, just because I’m an author too?

It would be nice if it was that black and white. You read a book, you like it, you tell people. You read a book, you hate it, you tell people. That’s the way it works in real life. And it’s actually a pretty good process. Regardless of whether we’re talking about e-book, hardbacks, traditionally pubbed, or self-pubbed works, I still believe that word of mouth is what turns a good book into a bestseller.

Why shouldn’t that translate to the internet?

Becca Fitzpatrick, author of Hush Hush, wrote an interesting post about a situation where an up and coming author wrote a scathing review not only of Hush Hush, but of many other YA books. Later when this author was looking for cover blurbs, her editor approached Becca and asked for a blurb. Hmmm. Awkward to say the least. I liked this comment by Becca.

“You might think I turned down reading the manuscript out of revenge or to give the author the finger, so to speak. I hope I'm not that petty. The reason I decided not to read the manuscript was because I wondered what would happen if I did read it...and loved it. What if I sent the editor a handful of glowing words, and she decided to stick them on the front cover of her author's book? Would the author love having my praise splashed on her cover? Probably not. In the end, I decided to take the higher road and let the author breathe easy. (It didn't slip my mind that the ultimate revenge would have been making sure my name got on the cover of her book. But again. Higher road. Always the better path.)”

The ultimate revenge line totally cracked me up. That would be the ultimate revenge.

I’ve had a similar experience, where a would-be author savaged (pun semi-intentional) my first Farworld novel. He didn’t just dislike it. He loathed it. It was horrible writing combined with a complete rip off of Harry Potter. Normally I ignore bad reviews. But this guy just seemed to hate me personally. Enough so, that I did some research and discovered that he was an attendee at a conference I was speaking at. I seriously wanted to trash the guy. Instead, I introduced myself, explained that I’d read his review and wanted to know what he hated so much. It turned out that we had a pretty good discussion and we’ve since become friends.

But the truth of the matter, as Becca explained, is that the writing world is so small. If you’re going to become part of it, there is every chance that you’ll eventually run into authors you have read before. And the thing that makes the internet different from talking to a friend is that your words to your friend don’t pop up on the author’s Google Alerts. More than likely within an hour of this blog post going up, Becca will get an e-mail. It will be a direct link to what I have written. Becca will go, “Hmm, wonder what this dude is saying about me and she will come read this.” (Hi Becca!!) A lot of people don’t consider the fact that authors are real people. Who have heard of the internet. And most of us read our reviews.

In addition, even if I decide I don’t like what I wrote and delete it down the road, the internet is a tricky beast. It stores caches of things. You think your words are gone, but they really aren’t. So down the road when you are looking for help from another author, that author can Google and see all the snarky things you said about them.

So, am I saying you should only write good things about other authors, even if you didn’t like their work? Should you say wonderful things and hope they remember you down the road? Unlike a lot of authors, I LOVE Goodreads. If someone hates my book, I really want to know what didn’t work for them. If they liked it, I want to know that too. I hate looking at a book on Amazon that only has six reviews. All of them are five stars, and none of the reviewers have posted another review. It tells me this author got a bunch of his friends together and begged them to give him good reviews. I personally would rather have no reviews than people giving me five stars because they were my friends.

And as authors we should be the most discriminating readers there are. Because we can look behind the curtain at what the author did and didn’t do to make his or her book work. I’ll admit that when I finished reading Hush Hush, I had mixed emotions. (You’ve stopped reading now Becca, right?) Her prose was excellent—especially for a first book. Really well done. Her plot was gripping. Now maybe this is just the dad in me, but some parts of the story made me really uncomfortable. Becca did a great job of walking the fine line between sexual tension and having her main character courting death, rape, and a lot of other bad stuff. If my daughter acted like that, I would lock her in her room until she was forty. So it wasn’t necessarily a perfect read for me.

But here’s the thing. As a forty-eight year old guy, I am not Becca’s target audience. If I go out and rip this book, I’m ignoring the fact that it probably wasn’t intended for me to like. And while I don’t know Becca personally, my guess is that she wouldn’t have a problem with me saying that this isn’t the greatest book for dads of teenage girls. Lu Ann, a Junior High English teacher and fellow writer, loved the book. (She has no daughters by the way.)

Shannon Hale, another LDS writer who I do happen to know personally wrote a good blog post about reading as a writer.

She says, “Reading as a writer changed me completely as a reader. I find I can still appreciate books I dislike because I am learning through them how to write stories I do like.”

That’s pretty close to where I stand. It’s easy to say, “This book stinks!” And maybe to you it does. But if you have aspirations of becoming a published author yourself, you are a lot better off to ask yourself, “What was it about this book—which I may not have liked—that got it past an agent, an editor, a publishing committee, and ultimately into the hands of a lot of readers that did like it?”

I’m not saying don’t write negative reviews. Speaking only for myself, I want to hear what people did and didn’t like about my books. I’m willing to live with some pain to improve my writing. What I hate is one star reviews with no comment at all. Or something like, “Blech.” Blech? Really? You just spent ten hours reading my novel and all you have to offer is Blech? Grrr. But I will say that before you write a less than glowing review, think about what worked and didn’t work for you and why it did and didn’t. A while back, a very nice woman blogged about how Water Keep didn’t have the same character depth as Elantris. Of course it didn’t. One is a middle grade novel aimed at nine-year-olds and the other is epic fantasy aimed at adults who read 800 page tomes.

She was right. But my point is that if you’re going to complain about how a middle grade book doesn’t have the depth of an epic fantasy, consider who the audience is. Consider what the author was going for. Then when you do write a review, you can write a fair review that explains what you liked, what you didn’t like, and why that might have been. I think most authors appreciate an honest review. And if you really hate the book that a lot of people like, maybe you aren’t the best judge of it at after all.

How do you feel? As an author would you be offended if another author ripped your book? If you hate a book by an author you might meet one day, how do you handle it?


How Short Is To Short?

I know you aren't posting as often lately, but I have a question that I just haven't really found an answer. [I'm trying to do better...]

I've looked around for ideas of how many words a typical novel is. One blog entry I read that a new author typically falls between 62,000 and 75,000 words. I'm currently at almost 35,000 words. I've looked through my WIP and can see I areas that I guess could fill in maybe 15,000 words (hopefully). At that point, hopefully in editing, I could find some areas to fill in. But what if I only hit about say 50,000 words. Is that too short to consider? I should add the WIP would be considered in the romance or chic lit. My biggest part of the question is what is too short for a novel? Is there a number that most publishers like new authors to hit near? Thanks.

How many words should your book have? The easy answer is: as many as it takes to tell the story.

And that's true.

But what is needed to tell the story and what's not is based on opinions. So here are some general rule-of-thumb guidelines.

Genres for the adult reader (including romance and chick lit), are generally 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Genres for older children (both Middle Grade and Young Adult) or for certain types of inspirational novels, are generally 50,000 to 90,000 words.

In my opinion, 50,000 words puts you in the novella category and publishing contracts for novellas are rare(er) these days. I'd suggest adding a subplot or two to expand your story and getting it nearer that 80K mark.

If you have a particular publisher in mind, go check their website for Submission Guidelines (or something similar) and see if they have recommended word counts for their genres.

For other takes on word counts, visit here and here and here.


March 2011 Prize Sponsors

Last month's prize winners announced HERE.

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

Blackberry Crumble by Josi S. Kilpack

Modern Miss Marple: A Magnet for Murder?
by Jane Seeley, feature reporter, The Denver Post
Local "celebrity" Sadie Hoffmiller has been involved in a number of unfortunate situations that have taken her to crime scenes from London, England, to Miami, Florida, and even in her own backyard of Garrison, Colorado. But is she truly an unwitting bystander in all these investigations? Or is she something more? Is she, perhaps, even the cause ...?

The word is out about Sadie Hoffmiller's amateur detective work, but it's not the kind of publicity Sadie wants. When Jane's article threatens Sadie's reputation in the community, she accepts her first investigation-for-hire and travels to Portland, Oregon - if only to give herself some space from her whispering neighbors. And from Pete, who is sending her mixed signals about their budding relationship.

Sadie hopes the Portland air will clear her head, and she is eager to get to work for May Sanderson, who has suspicions about her father's untimely death.

Putting her detective skills to the test, Sadie delves into a complicated past that includes a business partnership that didn't end well, several unsavory family secrets, and more than a few motives for murder.

Sadie is afraid she might crumble under the pressure, but in a new place with new recipes, she finds herself more determined than ever to uncover the answers buried in scandal, insatiable appetites, and pure and simple greed.

Read Chapter 1 here.

Josi S. Kilpack was born and raised in Salt Lake City, the third of nine children, and accounts much of her success to her mother always making oatmeal for breakfast. In 1993 Josi married her high-school sweetheart, Lee Kilpack, and went on to raise her own children in Salt Lake and then Willard Utah where she currently lives. She loves to read and write, is the author of eight novels, the baker of many a delicious confection, and the hobby farmer of a varying number of unfortunate chickens. In her spare time she likes to overwhelm herself a multitude of projects and then complain that she never has any spare time; in this way she is rather masochistic. She also enjoys traveling, cheering on her children, and sleeping in when the occasion presents itself.

Josi is the author of twelve novels, including Sheep's_Clothing, winner of the 2007 Whitney Award for Best Mystery/Suspense. She loves to hear from her readers and can be reached via e-mail.

The List by Melanie Jacobson
Ashley Barrett doesn’t want to get married. At least, not anytime soon. She doesn’t care how many of her friends and family members and fellow churchgoers had weddings before they finished college — the last thing she needs in her fun-loving twenties is the dead-weight of some guy. And that’s why she created The List. By the time she completes all twenty-five goals — from learning a language to skydiving to perfecting the art of making sushi — she’ll be more ready to settle down. Maybe.

This summer in California is a prime time for Ashley to cross two items off the list: learn to surf (#13) and have a summer romance (#17). And Matt Gibson, the best surf instructor in Huntington Beach and the most wanted guy in the singles ward, is the perfect man for the job. Ashley hatches a plan to love him and leave him before heading off to grad school in the fall (#4, get a master’s degree). But when Matt decides he doesn’t like the “leaving” part, Ashley’s carefully laid plans are turned sideways. Now Ashley faces an unexpected dilemma: should she stick to the safety of The List, or risk everything for a love that may tie her down — or might set her free?

Read chapter 1.

Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and champion shopper. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and romance novels. After meeting her husband online, she is now living happily married in Southern California with her growing family and a series of doomed houseplants.

Melanie is a former English teacher and a popular speaker who loves to laugh and make others laugh. In her down time (ha!), she writes romantic comedies for Covenant and maintains her humorous slice-of-life blog. Her first novel, The List, hits shelves in March.

Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth

Ginny Delacourt felt the course of true love could not have run smoother. After all, it required only a fortnight, a pair of highwaymen, a pox quarantine, a sham betrothal, and a masquerade ball to bring Sir Anthony up to snuff. When her beloved suddenly becomes the heir to his uncle, the Duke of Marcross, protocol dictates that he drop the "Sir" from his name. It's his uncle who insists Ginny, daughter of a lowly vicar, is not the proper bride for a future duke.

Lucinda and Lord Avery arrive on the scene to stir up trouble, and Ginny's normally manipulative Grandaunt Regina seems helpless to arrange anything, least of all a frowned-upon wedding. It's up to Anthony, with help from his fussy valet, to see to it that Ginny has her day.

The road to true love just got a little bumpier.

Heidi Ashworth: "I am a lover of good books, roses and vintage charm; my blogs reflect my desire to tell a story everywhere I go."

Heidi has been writing Regency romance since the age of ten, the result of growing up in a house filled with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fans. She lives in the San Francisco East Bay with her husband, three children and Sugar, the Bichon Frise. When she gets the chance, she loves to sit in her garden, planting, dreaming or reading a really good book.

Visit Heidi at her blog, Dunhaven Place.

Oh, Say Can You See by L.C. Lewis

Although the British raids have left Washington a devastated, blackened city, the battered Constitution has held and the presidency has survived!

But the struggling government has no home. The British saw to that. Gone is the Capitol, her magnificent library, and the chambers of the Congress and the Supreme Court. Gone also is the President’s House, and every relic and document not secreted out of the city.

Next on the list of British prizes—the rebellious port city of Baltimore! A victory here would assure the Americans’ capitulation, but a loss would dilute the importance of the destruction of Washington.

But has the raid on Washington stiffened the backs of the Americans? This is the question gnawing at the leaders of both armies as the toll of the war mounts on both sides.

L.C. Lewis was born in the history-rich area neighboring Baltimore, Maryland, and has spent most of her life there. She and her husband raised their four children in this area, and Laurie, a homemaker, used her free time to write novels and plays. During a seven-year stint as a science-education facilitator in the Carroll County Public School System, Laurie honed her research skills, and as her children left home, she focused her energies on writing full time. She also became an avid traveler, constantly researching locales and their colorful people to flesh out her work. Laurie now spends her time bringing that research to life in family novels and historical fiction.

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