Thursday, February 25, 2010

9 Tips for Getting Your Manuscript Accepted

By Jevon Bolden
FCWC 2010 Faculty

Because of the work that I do, I am often asked, “How can I get my book published?”

I know that they are not asking what is the process for submitting a manuscript to a publisher. They are asking, “How can I get accepted and see my book on bookstore shelves across the country.”

This is a very legitimate line of questioning that basically gets past all the diplomacy and straight to the point: “How can I guarantee that I will get published?” I have to admit that other editors and I find ourselves asking the same question to each other as we review unsoliciteds or plan strategies for acquiring new authors.

And of course, what better topic to squeeze into my blog called “Embrace the Impossible” than how to get a book published, ’cause that’s what it can seem like (impossible) when you have a book and no publisher wants to give you the time of day.

But let me just share this truth with you: book publishing is a tight market if you can only see yourself being published using traditional models. Expand your horizons a bit and consider investing in your own dream, and your options may open up a bit more. There are still a few publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts, but even though they do, many of the unsoliciteds are only accepted for copublishing or print-on-demand agreements. But that is not really a bad thing. There have also been many traditionally published authors who began with copublishing or even self-publishing and were later acquired for contracts that followed a more traditional model of publishing.

So becoming a published author may depend on your definition and expectation of what “getting published” means.

There are several models of publication that may meet and exceed your expectations, so take the time to get to know what’s out there, and follow the nine tips I put together with the hope of helping you increase the likelihood of being published. They are based on what I have observed and even desired to see when reviewing unsolicited manuscript submissions and from my many meetings and discussions with other editors.

Also know that none of what I say below will guarantee any kind of publication. We’re talking about increasing chances, people, not a guaranteed win. There is a high risk of rejection in this industry, but most things of high value carry a great risk of failure. So don’t give up after one try. Try, try, and try again!

1. Follow the instructions given to prospective authors on the publishers Web site to a T.

I know you may be anxious to be like Nike and just do it, but please oh please slow down enough to see what publishers need from you to make a good decision about the work you submit to them.

Carefully read the instructions that they have posted on our Web site. Do they accept submissions by mail or online? Do they require a full or partial manuscript? I know that it has been my preference to see a completed manuscript, especially from a first-time author and especially with a work of fiction, so that I can get a full grasp on their message and what they are trying to say.

Can this author tell a good story and captivate their audience, leaving them wanting more? A proposal or submission application alone will not do, a synopsis alone will not do, and an e-mail describing your book to me will not do.

Another reason to have your book completed at the time of submission is so that the reviewing editor can determine the best season for when your book should be released. Books about health and weight loss do well in January right after the holidays and in the spring right before bikini season. Books about politics do well in the fall around election time. Then there are topics that are trendy or attached to a fad that need to be released right away or at other strategic times because their unique selling point quickly becomes extinct.

From approved proposal to when your book lands on the street, it can take as long as twenty months to as little as six weeks to see your book on the shelves. So having it finished is a big advantage for you. You never know, your topic may be so hot that we have to fast track it!

2. Use the book proposal submission form they provided.

Some publishers provide a form for you to fill out and return with your manuscript. Others want you to submit a basic query. But most often the kind of information needed includes the authors contact information; suggested title of the work; a brief summary; the book’s message, benefits, and unique qualities; why readers will want to or need to read the book; who the audience is; author bio; promotional opportunities that the author already has open to him/her; endorsements from other notable leaders in the author’s field or in mainstream media that would draw attention to the book; and has the work been published before.

The proposal or the submission application is probably the most important piece to me when I pull an unsolicited file out to review. If the person didn’t include the book proposal form, I am basically at a loss. Sure, I could finger through the mass of papers that is their ever-so-delicate work, but I have thirty others to review in the one hour we barely can spare to review them. I don’t have the time to do that.

I also want to be able to judge fairly quickly if the author has a handle on who they are writing for and if they have a sturdy platform on which to build a publishing career around. So if the proposal or application is missing, I usually write a note on the folder to the editorial assistant to send it back to the author requesting more information and that they fill out the proposal form, and I do not review or read the manuscript. This will of course increase the writer’s waiting time and affect the timing on when the book could have been released in the marketplace.

Timing is everything. So just take the time and do it right on first submission. This is your future, your dream, and it is worth your time to pay it careful attention.

We don’t need any special graphics or creative fonts, family photos, crayon-colored pictures, magazine cutouts, or any other glittered, glued, or taped craft that further illustrates your story. Just be simple, professional, have good spelling and grammar, and have confidence and take pride in the work you are submitting.

When I do come across a nicely organized, fully completed proposal form with full manuscript attached (which rarely happens, unfortunately), I know I can quickly assess if this one is for us or not. I can send it on for further review, and, depending on if the author followed the rest of my steps, publication is almost guaranteed with one of our imprints.

3. Specifically define whom you are writing your book for.

We get a majority of submissions that say their audience is anyone who ever lived and breathed, anyone who ever went through this situation or knows someone who did, anyone who is young or old, anyone who ever went to church, anyone who ever had a mom or dad, and on and on.

You would think that I am being sarcastic, but people really are this broad with their audience. Or you might be one of those people who is wondering what’s wrong with that kind of audience. The problem with an audience that large is an unfocused manuscript and the teeny tiny chance that what you have to say will meet everyone’s needs, preferences, and desires.

What you want to do is identify that one corner of the market that can relate to your story and build from there.

The kind of answers we look for is:
  • “I am writing for young Christian professionals between the ages of 25 and 40.”
  • “My book is geared toward African Americans who are socially and politically active between the ages of 35 and 55.”
  • “I wrote this book based on my testimony to help men and women who still suffer from the effects of childhood sexual abuse.”
4. Know your subject.

Make sure that you have researched the topic you are writing on and have up-to-date information, statistics, and sources.
  • Are you an expert or professional in the area that you are writing?
  • Do you have firsthand experience with the topic you are writing about?
  • What qualifies you to be able to write on this topic?
5. Know who the publisher is, whom they publish, who their audience is, and so on.

I work for a Christian book publisher. We do not publish secular or nonreligious books. If your book seems to be in opposition to God and Christianity, we probably won’t publish it. We do allow for various interpretations of Scripture and Christian beliefs and doctrine.

My editorial director is famous in our department for saying, “We let them dangle over the edge of the abyss, but we don’t let them go in.” So there is some flexibility and creativity in the kind of books we publish.

Other publishers have their niches as well. Take time to browse best-seller lists and the bookstore shelves and see who is writing what and who publishes what is written. Research the books and authors you enjoy reading. Who publishes them? Find books that cover the same topic or are a part of the same genre as your book. Research the publisher on the copyright page and find out what kind of people read their books. Take notes, and you’ll begin to see who your audience is.

6. Get to know and understand the book publishing industry as a whole and especially the genre for which you are writing.

It is important that you follow the recommendations and advice about publishing that are already out there from proven professionals. There is wisdom in that. Don’t try to be so cutting edge and different that nobody knows what you’re doing. Watch the trends in the market. Get a feel for what readers want to know and whom they like to get their information or entertainment from.

Don’t live in a bubble and say, “I don’t need any direction. What I have stands out and is unique.”

Don’t get me wrong; unique is good. But if something is too different, it’s just weird and scary. The book industry is relationship oriented. We cannot afford to weird people out or scare them, else no one will buy our books. You may not be one who cares what people think, but if you want them to read your book and care about the things you’ve written about, you may want to start caring about what matters to them. The writer/reader relationship is a two-way street. You gotta give a lot to get a little! Oops! Did I say that right?

Get on Twitter and Facebook and locate profiles of prospective publishers and their editors, agents, authors, and such, and see what they are blogging about. Connect with trade publications like Writer’s Digest. Join the conversation, and stay in the mix!

7. Consider having your ideas vetted through an agent, a writer’s group or workshop, or a good freelance book editor or writer.

Your friends and family are sweet people, I’m sure, but they will not give you the objective perspective you need for your book. They love you and want the world to know who you are so the world can know who they are. No, but seriously consider joining a writer’s group that meets a couple times a month to discuss each other’s works. One of the most valuable classes I took in college was a poetry workshop. We sat in roundtable style and spent the whole class time reading each other’s work and discussing it with candor and honesty. The main advice given to me: show; don’t tell.

Having a publishing professional like an agent or editor review your work and give you some feedback isn’t a bad idea either (not to mention that most publishers only receive manuscripts handed to them by agents). They can give you an objective and very valuable critique. There may be a cost involved, but what thing of value doesn’t have a cost?

8. Know your personal goals for the project you are writing.

How far do you want it to go? Do you want a national and international stage, or do you just want to have a published book as a memorabilia? What type of publishing would you like to use? Traditional, copublishing, self-publishing, or some hybrid of all of those?

You also have to be realistic about what you are willing to put into the process of marketing and promoting your book. The days of publishers putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the hands of a first-time author are over. As you’ll see in the next tip, who you are in your professional and personal life as well as who you are willing to become play a big part in how far you go with your book project.

9. Have a personal/professional brand.

Many times what publishers hope to see is a platform or venue that the author already has that they can tag onto to help them push the author onto a more visible stage, using some of the networks and connections the publisher has. The smaller your sphere of influence, the harder it is for publishers to get people to want to know what you know. Publishers invest a lot of money into each book project they take on. Their hope is to recoup the investment and then some so that they can continue on as a business.

So when you think about getting published, realize that the company you are querying is a business with strategies to make profit. Consider how you would fit in with this fact: Where are you with the market you hope to reach? Are you an influencer? Do people want to know what you have to say? Would they pay to have your opinion?

If you think you need time to develop these areas, copublishing is one of our many publishing models that can help with that. Copublishers work with new authors to develop marketing plans and strategies that include radio, TV, speaking engagements, book signings, and the like. But you have to be willing to be thoughtful in your submission, consider who you are submitting to, know your audience, be an expert in your field, have well-defined publishing goals, and be willing to develop a personal or professional brand.

Jevon Bolden is a developmental editor for Strang Book Group. The projects she focuses on are political/social issues, religion, diet/fitness, alternative health, self-help and motivation, career strategy, finances, and business ethics. Jevon is excited about reviewing manuscripts and meeting with authors at the conference. A graduate of the University of Alabama with a BA in English, Jevon is also a worship leader, wife, mom, and blogger.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My First Rejection Opened Other Doors

By John Vonhof
2010 FCWC faculty

I attended my first writers’ conference in 1996. With visions of success, I had a book idea and a manuscript. It would catch the eye of an editor. It was a book about pastoral search – helping vacant churches find a pastor. I thought I had a winner.

Then I got my manuscript back. Yes, there was red ink. Lots. Apprehensive, I read the comments. No market. Too small a market. Not for me. Needs work. Not marketable. And more. I went home rejected.

But I believed in my book. I went home and did my homework. First, I taught myself how to do layout, design, and marketing – and in 1997 self-published my search book. Second, I researched the market and found an interdenominational publishing house, the Alban Institute. In 1999, Alban took my book and published it as The Alban Guide to Managing the Pastoral Search Process.

Has it been a best seller? No. It is a niche market book with a select audience. But, it has continued to sell year after year. Then ten years later, in 2009, I pitched a second edition to my editor at Alban. The revision, now called The Pastoral Search Journey, will be out this month.

That first rejection taught me a valuable lesson. Another lesson I never forgot was a woman sharing her book idea at another conference. It was a book for parents about protecting their children at school. The speaker told her it was not a workable idea. Several years later Columbine happened and the value of her book was evident to me. I don’t know what happened to her idea.

What’s my point?
  • Believe in your idea – but be willing to think outside the box if your idea is rejected. 
  • Study the market. 
  • Seek advice from freelancers at the conference. Most have had the same experience and can give you a fresh perspective. 
  • Spend time brainstorming how your idea can be modified or enhanced to make it better. 
  • Study other book that are similar. Realize that there are other publishers and research other markets. 
  • Work with a critique group to gain valuable insights to improve your proposal and manuscript.
I love talking to new writers who are struggling to find a home for their writing. It’s refreshing to hear their enthusiasm. If you come to Florida and need a listening ear, find me. I’d love to talk.

John Vonhof is teaching the pre-conference session, Thinking Like an Editor; three workshops: Fine-tuning your Writing Niche, Writing and Publishing an E-book, and Taking Your Writing Beyond Paper; plus two After Hours.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Does Your Manuscript Need CPR?

By Linda Gilden
2010 FCWC Faculty

Have you ever finished a manuscript only to feel like it needs a breath of fresh air?

Have you poured your heart out on paper only to find that your story has no heart at all?

Do you have an article or book proposal that has made the rounds and every response is flat-lined?

You need Manuscript CPR!

Manuscript CPR invites full time conferees to bring two manuscripts for consultation with freelance writers. Manuscripts in this category include those that may have been rejected, need a final polish, or seem “flat” and need suggestions to improve them to “wow” a waiting editor!

Professional writers in every genre are anxious to help bring your work to life. On the spot they will read your manuscript and give you their expert critique and marketing advice.

Be sure to come by and sign up to meet with one of our professional writers. Bring your manuscript and let someone help you revive and revitalize your work.

Don’t wonder if there’s merit in what you have written. Of course there is! Let our professional writers help you get your work ready to pitch to an editor.

Linda Gilden is an experienced writer, speaker, editor, and writing coach. Author of the popular Love Notes series, Mommy Pick-Me-Ups and many ghostwritten books as well as hundreds of magazine articles, Linda Gilden loves to help others discover that “Aha!” moment in their writing. www.lindagilden.com

Monday, February 22, 2010

Music in Prose and Song


By Jeanne Gowen Dennis
2010 FCWC Faculty

When I told a beginning writer that I’m teaching a continuing class at the Florida Christian Writers Conference called Beyond Words: Writing Great Prose, she said, “Prose? That’s poetry that doesn’t rhyme, right?”

Wrong. Prose is language without meter or rhyme—ordinary language. However, I hope by the end of our six hours together your writing will be anything but ordinary.

We’ll examine examples of excellent prose and explore how we can make our words sing by employing the art, life, meaning, and truth inherent in language. Our in-class writing exercises should be fun, as well, and will help us all grow as writers.

Speaking of words that sing, I’ll also be leading two night-owl sessions for songwriters. On Friday and Saturday nights, we’ll discuss the art of songwriting and the elements that make great songs. Feel free to bring along your own songs, melodies, and lyrics. We’ll critique and encourage one another and maybe do a little jamming and praise singing, as well.

I’m looking forward to meeting new writers, renewing old acquaintances, and hugging old friends. If you’re still undecided about attending, don’t miss it. This is going to be a great conference with something for everyone—whether you knew the definition of prose or not.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When The Writing Gets Tough … Fighting Discouragement and Despair

By Shellie Arnold
2010 FCWC Faculty

Being a writer can be euphoric … and lonely. Discouragement and despair threaten to ambush us at every turn. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses as writers and individuals is crucial to avoiding the writer’s “emotional” pit.

You can identify your strengths and weaknesses, and with God’s help, create a plan to stay out of that pit. Come and join me for a Thursday (March 4) Night Owl Session and learn how to work with God, to make your writing all He intends it to be. 
 

Shellie Arnold is a freelance author and home school mom. She writes and speaks on marriage and family issues. To contact Shellie visit www.shelliearnold.com.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How to Enjoy Your Conference Experience


By Renee Gray-Wilburn
2010 FCWC faculty member

I remember being anything but relaxed at my first writers’ conference—mostly because I had no idea what to expect. I was intimated by all the amazing writers and editors around me, and I didn’t realize how fast paced and jam-packed the days would be.

I was completely overwhelmed. Since then, I’ve done better at preparing and learning to enjoy the whole conference experience.

Here’s what I’ve learned that may help you truly enjoy your time at the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference:
  • Dress comfortably. You may think this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: women, no high heels, and men, no ties (I’ve actually seen both at conferences.). If you’re like me, your enjoyment level is directly proportional to your comfort level. Do yourself a favor and wear something (especially shoes) that will be comfortable ALL day. You still want to make a good impression, so no cut-off sweat pants, but you get the idea.
  • Meet new people. At my first conference I mainly kept to myself and just observed. Many writers have similar experiences. But consider a writers’ conference a safe haven where you can—and should—step out of your comfort zone. If you come with writer friends or your critique group, I give you permission to ditch them from time to time! One of the most rewarding parts of a conference is the new people you meet.
  • Don’t always sell. Although there’s a time and a place to pitch your manuscript and tell people how awesome of a writer you are, don’t feel you need to sell yourself to everyone you meet. Be yourself and meet people just for the fun of it. Don’t look at everyone as a potential sale for your writing. Others will appreciate that much more, and you won’t have the pressure of always being “on.”
  • Know what to expect. Here’s where your prep time comes in, and where I failed miserably at my first conference. Familiarize yourself with the conference schedule to plan where to be when. Thoroughly research the publishers, agents, and faculty so you can choose who to meet with. Always have Plan B choices for appointments and workshops in case of cancellations. Finally, make note of break times, meal times, and locations of workshops and appointments.
  • Schedule time for yourself. Make the most of your breaks and downtime. Use this time to do something you enjoy, like shopping, resting, or relaxing with friends, as well as spending time seeking the Lord. There’s so much “buzz” at conferences, it’s hard to get quiet with your own thoughts. You’ll benefit greatly from taking time to connect with God to hear what He’s saying to you as you meet new people and make your workshop rounds. Who knows what divine appointments He may have in store?
  • Be anxious for nothing! Don’t panic if you can’t meet with the editor you wanted to or if you get a bad report on a manuscript you thought would be a slam-dunk. God is in control (if you’ve asked Him to be)! He sees the end from the beginning and has prepared the perfect path to get you there. Nothing happens by accident or coincidence. Put everything into His very capable hands, and refuse to worry.
  • Prepare and plan to your heart’s content. But also…pray, relax, and get ready to enjoy yourself!
Renee Gray-Wilburn writes for business, children’s, adult nonfiction, and Christian markets. Her articles have appeared in Focus on the Family’s parenting and children’s magazines, Grand magazine, KidZone, The Christian Communicator, and others. She’s a contributor to several Cup of Comfort and Guidepost anthologies, and has co-authored eight children’s curriculum books. Stop by her new blog at: awaywithwordswriting.wordpress.com

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Characters, Characters Everywhere … But My Story’s Going Nowhere

By Shellie Arnold
2010 FCWC Faculty

Do you have an idea for a novel, but don’t know where to start? You need great characters.

Are you stuck in your story and don’t know why? The problem might be your characters. Knowing their hair color or pet’s name isn’t enough. You have to know what makes your characters tick and why they are who they are, before you can translate it to the printed page.

Want to make readers care about your characters? Give them characters they can sink their teeth into. Come learn this step-by-step process for building believable, powerful characters.

(This workshop is tentatively scheduled for Friday, March 5, 2010)

Shellie Arnold is a freelance author and home school mom. She writes and speaks on marriage and family issues. To contact Shellie visit www.shelliearnold.com.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Eva Marie Everson
Fiction Mentoring Project Instructor, 2010 FCWC

Remember the song by Elton John and KiKi Dee? The year was 1976 and people dressed funny. Well, okay. Elton John dressed funny and Ki Ki wore pink overalls.

The point is, no one likes their heart broken, do they? And no one likes to hear that there is something wrong with their baby. Yet, week after week and month after month we writers drag ourselves to our respective critique groups saying, “I want you to read this and tell me what I can do to make it better.”

Often translated: Tell me that you love it. Don’t break my heart on this one. I’ve worked so hard … so long … read all the right books … self-edited my little heart out.

Anyone who has been a part of a critique group for any period of time knows the personalities who make them. We get the “God told me to write this and not allow anyone to change a word” folks. We hear the “I hope you like it; my mother said it was wonderful” lines. Rarely do our ears behold, “Rip it to shreds. Make it better. Heck, make it the best!”

The Background Story

In 1997 I was invited to a new writers group starting at the church I attended. Five hopefuls (including myself) showed up. We developed a system which allowed two people per month to be critiqued. But when our group grew, that system stopped working.

One Saturday, a newcomer walked into our midst. Bryan Davis. (Yeah, that one.) He watched how we did things and then suggested something he called “cold critique.” What was that, we wondered. Bryan explained that anyone who wanted to bring a piece (up to a certain number of words), could. There should be enough copies for everyone. The person to the right of the critique-ee would read. The person to the left would start the critique. At first I thought, “I’m not sure if this will work.” But within an hour, Bryan had us all convinced.

Since that time, Word Weavers (the name of our group) has grown enormously … and not just in numbers. A great many of our members are published and multi-published. Why? Because we’ve learned not only the art of critique, but the value of it as well.

Mentoring & Me

For years now I’ve been teaching first one thing and then another at writers conferences. A few times I’ve been asked to teach on subjects I had no idea about. So I learned and then I taught. But two years ago I was asked to lead a workshop on something I know a lot about: the art and value of on-the-spot critique.

We call them “mentoring sessions” and for the conferee they are of great worth. Below are the top five reasons you should consider one:
  1. A sense of “team” is established. Suddenly (and we try not to use the word “suddenly”) this is no longer just your piece but rather the piece of the group. Now there are others in our court who commit to praying for us as we write and re-write, as we submit and submit again. And again. They are there for us when things look bleak and they’ll party – even with miles and miles of distance – when we get the news we’ve been waiting for.
  2. The areas we knew were weak are exposed and by that revealing, they are strengthened. Most of us don’t go to Bally’s or Curves because we’re firm but because our muscles need some attention. They are our weak points. In a mentoring workshop, we openly ask others to show us those places that need strengthening. Do we use certain words repeatedly (my editor tells me I use “a bit” in excess. Now I know to look for it.)? What about the overuse of adverbs and adjectives? Those pesky clich├ęs? What if we are writing in passive voice and just don’t realize it? Do we have all the elements of dialogue – tags, quotation marks, etc. – correct? Are we staying within the rules of grammar? Or, at the very least, do we know the rules enough to know why we’ve broken them?
  3. We find what does work. We learn our areas of strength and can then build upon it. These may be areas we didn’t even realize were our finer moments.
  4. Our readers are important. Those sitting around the table – including the director – are essentially our readers. Getting the work past an editor and then the publishing board is one thing, but if your potential readers don’t get your work, you’ll be a one hit wonder.
  5. We have the opportunity to talk about the market. You know the old adage, “Two heads are better the one,” right? Well, think of what we may glean concerning the current trends, where the market is heading, etc. with nine other people sitting around a table.
Check it Out!

Something I love to do in my mentoring classes is a game whereby I give a list of paired-off sentences. They both look correct, but only one is. The winner gets a prize. It’s fun. Actually, the whole experience is fun … it’s not a heart-breaking experience at all.

I promise.

Eva Marie Everson is an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction books. Her book Reflections of God's Holy Land was a finalist for both the ECPA Book of the Year/Inspiration & Gift and Foreword Magazines Book of the Year/Travel Essays. She will lead the fiction mentoring project. For more information as to what to bring to the workshop, contact Eva Marie @ EvaMarieEverson@aol.com

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gearing up for the Conference

By Billie Wilson
Conference Director

We’re ramping up for the greatest FCWC ever! Jerry Jenkins and Cec Murphey are keynoters, and we've scheduled a ton of eager editors and agents to have a look at your manuscripts.

Plus, you'll have access to top freelancers, who can give your awkward or ailing manuscript CPR on the spot.

If you haven't yet registered for the conference, scheduled for March 4-7, I want you to know that we have received additional lodging from the Lake Yale Conference Center. Please pass the word along to your writer friends -- THERE IS STILL TIME TO REGISTER for the entire conference. Several partial scholarships are available.

If you’d like to apply for a scholarship, send (or e-mail) a brief bio, snippet of your current writing projects, and a brief explanation of your financial need to:

Billie Wilson, FCWC Director
2344 Armour Ct.
Titusville, FL 32780

Fax: 321-747-0246
Email: billiewilson@cfl.rr.com

If you miss the deadline for mailing a manuscript for editorial review, bring your writing projects with you and turn them in when you arrive.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Branding Yourself for Maximum Impact - Continuing Class

By Laura Christianson
2010 FCWC Faculty

A Utah mother had the name of a casino tattooed on her forehead in inch-tall block letters to raise funds for her son to attend private school. The publicity stunt garnered her—and the casino—worldwide media attention.

While you won’t be auctioning off space on your forehead, you do need to understand why branding is the central first step in expanding your writing or speaking career.

Branding doesn’t have to be painful, either. During this hands-on Continuing Class, you’ll CRAFT a Consistent, Relevant, Attractive, Frequent, Targeted brand message that sears itself into your audience’s memory.

We're going to do some fun (and wacky) activities during this course. If you have a laptop and an extension cord, bring it to class -- we're going online! If you don't bring a laptop, you're still welcome to join us... we'll share. Here's an overview of what you can expect during our six hours together:

Session 1
WHAT'S YOUR STORY?
Identifying your core values


A strong brand reflects the values you hold most dear. We’ll discuss what branding is—and isn’t—and you’ll pinpoint unique qualities about yourself that you can begin developing into a stellar brand.

Session 2
BULLSEYE
Aiming for your target audience


Your audience is finicky, fickle, and narcissistic at heart; before they “buy” your story, they want to know, “What’s in it for me?” You’ll learn how to identify your target audience and how to build a brand that meets their needs and desires.

Session 3
SATISFACTION GUARANTEED
Crafting your brand’s promise statement


Similar to a 30-second “elevator pitch,” your brand’s promise must engage your audience. You’ll learn how to avoid muddling your message and you’ll prepare a promise with pizzazz.

Session 4
GROUP HUG
Building brand loyalty


People bond with your brand when you promote it compellingly. You’ll learn how to guide and influence your brand so it makes a consistent emotional connection with your target audience.

Session 5
THE ESSENTIAL BRAND IDENTITY KIT, PART 1
Designing dynamic marketing materials


Your marketing materials must reflect and promote your brand. You’ll learn how to enhance your brand with a logo, business card, stationery package, sales brochures, and other print pieces.

Session 6
THE ESSENTIAL BRAND IDENTITY KIT, PART 2
Optimizing your brand on the Internet


Your Web site will likely serve as the hub for all your branding efforts. You’ll learn how to solidify your brand via a Web site, blog, and social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

In addition to managing the blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts for the Florida Christian Writers' Conference, Laura Christianson owns Blogging Bistro, an Internet marketing company based in Seattle, WA. This will be her second year teaching at the FCWC. Laura looks forward to having a "tweetup" with her fellow social media addicts at the conference.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The One-Sheet Method: Making a Great Pitch

By Shellie Arnold
2010 FCWC Faculty

Does the idea of making a pitch to an editor or agent fill you with dread? Do you try to practice and plan, but don’t know where to begin?

Join me Thursday, March 4, to learn about the One-sheet method.

The One-sheet method can help you focus and make a great pitch to editors and agents. This method can be used for fiction projects, non-fiction works, and by writers and speakers as a means for marketing. Come learn how to fuse your pitch and personality into a customized representation of you and your message.
 
Shellie Arnold is a freelance author and home school mom. She writes and speaks on marriage and family issues. To contact Shellie visit www.shelliearnold.com.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fundamentals of Christian Art?

Part 2 of 2

By Zena Dell Lowe
2010 FCWC Faculty

Now that we know what it looks like to be a Christian Artist, we can start exploring the idea of what kind of art a Christian Artist makes.

This is a very tricky question because again, a Christian artist is just an artist who happens to be a Christian. Consequently, there is no complete list of rules we get to follow in order to ensure we are glorifying God in our work. That's why we must be in fellowship with other Christian Artists.

As Flannery O'Connor says:
“The Christian writer does not decide what is good for the world and then proceed to deliver it.  Like a very doubtful Jacob, he enters into the struggle and wonders if he will come out at all.” 
There are no black and white rules. There are only principles and guidelines. Just as a Christian baseball player "plays the game" differently than his secular teammates, so also does the artist who happens to be a Christian. There are, then, a few guidelines I would like to suggest, and/or a few elements that might be included or present in artwork created by a Christian.

As I mentioned before, when most people consider what the goal ought to be for Christian fiction, they automatically assume that the goal is to be “non-offensive” in terms of sex, language and violence.  But the problem with that standard is that it only describes a void. It doesn’t give any creative guidance. 

As Barbara Nicolosi pointed out, “A lot of Christians lauded the release Walk to Remember mainly on this basis: It didn’t have any bad language and the two teenagers didn’t sleep together.” 

Now I enjoyed the film as much as the next guy.  Nevertheless, this kind of movie can't be the goal of Christian artists.  It was decent.  But it wasn't great.  It was a trite, predictable story with underdeveloped characters and humdrum acting and overly sweet dialogue.  It wasn’t a good movie because of what it didn’t have. Entertainment is a positive, not a void.  A story is great because of what it offers, not because of what it lacks.

So if Christian art is not art that lacks sex, language, and violence, what ingredients should we look for to identify a so called Christian work? Again, the fundamental rule must be:

TELL THE TRUTH
“The secular novelist sees what is visible; the Christian novelist sees what is there.”  Frank Sheed
“The Christian writer lives in a larger world.”  Flannery O’Connor
“I would rather see an R-rated truth than a G - rated lie.” Act One
The problem with showing sex and violence is not that we show too much, but rather that we show too little.  We need to show the full consequences of sin, the whole picture.  Don't stop short.  Tell the whole truth.

Be true to your characters.  Sometimes people do bad things.  How can you show the redemption if you fail to show the depravity?  Look at the Bible for an example.  Lot slept with his daughters.  David saw Bathsheeba bathing on the rooftop - a pretty erotic voyeuristic image.  He then slept with her, got her pregnant, set up her husband, and then committed pre-meditated murder to cover up his sin.

If the Bible were a movie, it would be rated R because of the content.  God himself didn't hide behind pretty pink bows and a false world.  He dealt with real issues. But HOW we deal with these issues makes all the difference in the world.

DO NOT VIOLATE YOUR AUDIENCE

We MUST tell the truth, the whole truth, about our character, his world, and his choices.  If we don't, we will not succeed in effecting the audience towards real change.  However, in telling the truth, we must be more creative than our secular counterparts - because we are morally responsible to our audience.  So here's the acid test - find a way to tell that truth without violating your audience.   

Scott Derrickson gives a talk about his experiences in Hollywood called "A Christian's progress."  In it, he describes the different camps he fell into as he wrestled with this question of the Christian artist's responsibility.  His conclusion is that our only responsibility is to tell the truth. 

But even here, he adds a condition.  He writes, "If a creative work is going to have a primarily detrimental effect on the audience, then a Christian shouldn't participate in it.

Consider the TV commercial director who is trying to use his craft to sell shaving cream.  His entire moral obligation is the creation of an excellent commercial that sells a product. For the Christian in Hollywood, excellence is the constant obligation, moving the audience AWAY from "the Good" is the forbidden practice, and moving the audience toward "the Good" is more often than not, the unique opportunity to be taken.”

There are several ways we can violate our audience. One way is to create visual images that are so disturbing that they literally damage the human being who views them. Often times sex scenes do this, which is why we have such a knee-jerk reaction to them.

We must remember we answer to God, and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for causing my audience to sin in lust as they read my book or watch my film. However, my story might be a lie if I don’t include some kind of sex scene. So what am I to do? Find a way to show it without damaging your audience. That’s all, and it’s everything.

YOU CAN'T HAVE REDEMPTION WITHOUT DEPRAVITY
There is a mystery in every human person. “I am not a book to be read and understood, I am a man with all his inconsistencies.”  Edith Stein
“The purpose of literature (stories) is to reveal to man his hidden greatness.”  Pascal
One of the paradoxes of the Christian experience is how we can endure both terrible suffering and have intense joy at the same time without any sense of contradiction.  We are complex, complicated people because we’ve been created in God’s own image.  And every human being has the potential for grace, redemption, greatness and hope. 

But at the same time, we have this terrible propensity for sin.  We are capable of such evil.  We are depraved – which doesn’t mean we’re as bad as we possibly can be all of the time.  But rather, we are infected with sin at every level of our humanity – our intellect, our emotions, our thoughts, our dreams.

So at any given crossroads, our decisions or thought processes can go astray and lead us away from our Creator.  We need to be willing to portray this truth about the human condition.  We need to be willing to explore the sinful realm that so infects our humanity. 

As the great Christian novelist Flannery O’Connor noted, “Redemption is meaningless unless there is a cause for it in the actual life we live.” 

SOME CLOSING WORDS


We don't have to be afraid.  We are free to tell the truth.  And we are challenged to become even better, more creative artists in so doing, which gives God all the more glory, since he is well pleased with those who seek excellence.

We follow the example of Jesus, who was in the world, but not of the world, who hung out with sinners and told parables and stories, so that those sinners might find Him.  When Jesus told parables, they rarely mentioned God.  Yet when Christians write fiction that does not directly or overtly mention God or Christ, we are suspect. This should not be. Our goal is not to save people or evangelize.  Rather, we endeavor to write great stories to the best of our ability, and glorify God with our lives in the process.  And we do this not by writing “Christian” fare, but by engaging and infiltrating mainstream culture.

My hope is that Christians will be major players in Hollywood in the next five to ten years, not because they are writing "Christian" movies, but because they are telling GREAT STORIES with EXCELLENCE.  If we can do this, we can truly change the world one movie at a time.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Calling & Responsibility of the Christian Artist


Part 1 of 2

By Zena Dell Lowe
2010 FCWC Faculty

For the last fifteen years, I’ve been blessed to work in the entertainment industry. I’ve had a variety of jobs, from being an administrative assistant, executive, actress, production assistant, script supervisor, sound girl, and grip to being the writer, director, producer, and project creator on a variety of projects.

I’ve also had the unique opportunity to work as the former associate director of Act One: Writing for Hollywood, a training program for Christian writers pursuing mainstream entertainment industry careers.

And God has allowed me to teach in other venues as well, as an adjunct professor of writing at Covenant College in Georgia, and also at Christian writers conferences around the country. But whatever role I’ve played in Hollywood, my goal has always been the same – to work in the mainstream. I am not interested in producing art for the Christian subculture. I want to impact the culture at large.

This inevitably leads Christians to ask, “Why mainstream Hollywood? Why not write Christian films or novels?” “What does it mean to write mainstream, anyway?” “And how is it even possible if a person is truly a Christian? Wouldn’t it inevitably mean compromise?”

There is a lot of confusion in the Church about what it means to be a Christian writer.  My goal is to provide a better understanding of what I believe it means to be a Christian artist, and give standards by which we should and can measure our work. 

PART 1: WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN ARTIST?

Perhaps we can best understand the answer to this question by exploring a different one.  What is a Christian baseball player? Most of us would have no difficulty here. Since there is no separate Christian baseball league, we would be able to say with confidence that a Christian baseball player is simply someone who plays baseball for a living who happens to be a Christian. But as such, there are some things that should set him apart.

1.  MOTIVATION

Why does a man grow up to be a professional baseball player?  Sure, there's lots of money in it once he gets to the "big show," but most baseball players never make it that far.  And yet they still pursue the dream, playing for pennies in the minor leagues.  So why does he do it?

If you say it's because he loves it, you're half right.  But loving it isn't enough.  You have to love it, but you also have to be good at it.  I love Broadway musicals, but I'm not a great singer.  So I can enjoy them from afar and I know not to waste my time trying to get cast in a Broadway show for which I just don't have the talent.  To become a professional baseball player, you have to love it, but you also have to be good at it.  So, the only reason to pursue a career as a writer or artist is because you are good at it.

2.  GOAL

A Christian baseball player does not play baseball in order to save people. When he plays baseball, his goal is to play baseball in a way that honors God. But it is NOT TO EVANGELIZE. That happens off the field. If anyone gets saved, it will NOT be because of the home runs he hits or the triple plays he completes or the MVP awards he receives. Rather, it will be because of the personal relationships he has established along the way that have given him the opportunity to talk to people about his own relationship with Christ. 

People who create art in order to save people are practicing lazy evangelism. They let themselves off the hook. Scripture clearly paints a picture of evangelism through the establishment of personal relationships. It is lazy to confer the task of evangelism to our work. If we want to witness to people, we must spend time with them. We must invest in them and intimately get to know them. This is the biblical picture of evangelism. Thus, the goal of a Christian writer is not evangelical, but pre-evangelical. Like John the Baptist, our goal is to prepare the way of the Lord.

Art has the ability to touch people in ways that straight-forward teaching cannot. It transcends typical human defensive barriers. It has the power to transform us from the inside out. When make-believe characters grapple with real-life hurts and follies, we are more willing and able to admit similar faults within ourselves. By exposing the truth of the human condition, a good story forces people to search for answers outside of themselves.

A Christian baseball player doesn’t play baseball in order to save people. That is not his goal. It would be absurd if it were. Rather, his goal is to play the game to the best of his ability and to glorify God in the process. We must go and do likewise, trusting that by committing ourselves to excellence and truthfulness, we inevitably direct people to God.

3.  BEHAVIOR

A Christian baseball player behaves differently both on and off the field. In his regular life, a truly committed Christ-follower always endeavors to become more Christ-like. Integrity, honesty, humility, respect, authenticity – these are a few of his traits. In all things and at all times he models Christ-like character. In devoting himself to personal holiness and sanctification, his life inevitably manifests the Spirit’s fruit. It is the transformation of his moral character that proves his relationship to Christ.

On the field, his behavior also differs.  It’s not what he does, but how he does it that makes the difference. For example, he doesn’t curse other players, or pick fights, or do the victory strut when he nails a home run. He also doesn’t object to the rules on moral grounds.  It would be absurd if we heard a Christian baseball player say, “I don’t think it’s right to send a player to the bench after he strikes out, so I’m not going to do it.” No. He follows the rules. He plays the game. But he plays the game differently.

The same is true for the Christian writer. In our daily lives, we endeavor to seek Christ and put Him first.  We don't lie, cheat, or steal to get in to see that publisher.  Nor do we object to the rules on moral grounds and say, “I don't like the way the publishing world works so I'm not going to play that way.” No. You work within the established set of rules to pursue your career. 

But there are other rules we need to follow as well – the ones that say you have to be excellent at your craft.  Unfortunately, too many Christians suffer from the entitlement mentality. They think that because they have a message, they are exempt from doing the work.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I understand that all of us need faith to fulfill God’s call on our lives. We are all ill-equipped and inadequate, and therefore must rely on God’s abilities and not our own. But this is not the kind of “faith” to which I’m referring. I’m speaking of lazy faith – the kind that postures itself as spiritual, but is in reality an excuse to bypass the work that excellence requires. Christians, we must honor the God of all Creation by becoming craftsmen worthy of our calling. This is our "off the field" behavior.

But what about “on the field?” What does it look like for the Christian writer to honor God with our work? Or perhaps more to the point: What kind of art are we at liberty to create?

Unfortunately, when asked to define a "Christian movie," many people think in terms of no sex, no language and no violence. Indeed, these three ingredients become the sole criteria for evaluating art. As long as these three things are absent or very, very minimal, then we somehow feel the work has merit. But the absence of sex, language and violence only describes a void. A story isn't good because of what it lacks. It's good because of what it offers. 

Act One founder and former executive director Barbara Nicolosi used to say, “I'd rather see an R-rated truth than a G-rated lie.” Sometimes it's a lie NOT to have our characters engage in sex, language, or violence.  Even those of us who are most adamantly opposed to such things would make the occasional exception for the right project. For example, very few of us would reject “Schindler’s List” because it included sex, language and violence. In fact, the absence of these would illicit outrage because the story would be a lie.

The father of lies has one great goal: to turn us from the truth. Thus, the Christian’s greatest responsibility always is to know and see and proclaim Truth. If we were to “soften” Schindler’s List in order to uphold this false ideal of art, we would be doing an even greater violence to the world. We must tell the truth about the human condition.

All Truth points to God, the author of Truth Himself.  To attempt to be nonoffensive by sugarcoating or softening our character’s situation is to be in league with the father of lies. Truth must be our guide, always and forever. The key is HOW we tell the truth.