Note: I apologize for the unannounced Mid-Sept to Mid-Oct hiatus; both the author of this blog
and the technical support for it lost close family members recently:
they lost a husband and a brother, respectively.
Your prayers for both Richard Osborn and
Edward Davis are ardently solicited.

This Blog is being redesigned and is under construction;
some features may not work properly for a few months.

Writing from the Heart (Part 4)

Writing from the Heart

How to Make Yourself Vulnerable

Here is an example of how I made myself vulnerable in a story from my book, Wounded by Words, titled “The Accident.”

“Richard, what happened?” I gasped as the front door opened, and my oldest son walked in. His head was bleeding, and he had a petrified look on his face.

His brother Mike followed and said, “If you think he looks bad, wait until you see the car!”

“I don’t care about the car. I care about you two. What happened?” I asked again.

“We dropped off a couple of the guys after water polo practice. Dave was hanging out the window, so I reached over and pulled him back in,” said Richard.

“And the car rolled forward and hit a tree,” added Mike. “Richard had unfastened his seatbelt, so when the car stopped, he hit the windshield. I think he did more damage to the car than the tree did.”

I saw that the cut on Richard’s forehead was minor, so I cleaned it up and put a Band-Aid on it. “Do you hurt anywhere? Do you feel dizzy?”

“My neck hurts,” Richard said, rubbing the back of his neck.”

“We’d better get that checked out at the emergency room,” I said. I opened the front door and looked at the car. The front window was shattered. “Oh, no! We probably shouldn’t drive that car. I’ll call Dad at work. It’s 7:00 PM. Surely he can come home and take us to the hospital.”

I dialed my husband’s office number. When he answered I said, “Richard’s been in a car accident. His head broke the windshield, and his neck is injured.” My voice sounded on the edge of hysteria. “He drove home after the accident, but I’m afraid to drive him to the hospital with the windshield broken. Can you please come home right away and take us?”

“No, I’m in a business meeting,” was his curt reply.
“We really need you to drive us to the hospital!” I pleaded.
“I said no! You deal with it!” he shouted. Then he hung up on me.

Acid churned in my stomach, but I said in a resigned voice, “Come on, Richard. I’ll take you to the emergency room.” Fighting back tears, I slowly drove the damaged station wagon to the hospital, which thankfully was nearby.

I was careful to use Richard’s words, to run the story by him, and to ask his permission to publish it. I was also careful to use his dad’s exact words, being careful not to call his dad down in my words.

Next week we will cover “Write What You Feel Passionate About.”


Writing from the Heart (Part 3)

Writing from the Heart

How to Learn to Share Yourself

Next, to get in touch with your readers and touch their hearts, you need to be willing to step out in faith and share yourself. Be open and honest in your writing and willing to reveal your innermost thoughts. I'll warn you—it will make you transparent and vulnerable.

You need to be willing to take a risk. Don't be afraid to be honest with your audience. Look at stories in the Bible: David, Joseph, and Paul, for example. We know of their weaknesses as well as their strengths by the accounts told of them. People cannot relate to someone who is not vulnerable. Be careful not to make your characters (real or imaginary) too perfect. On the other hand, don’t air your dirty laundry or anyone else’s. If your material is sensitive, you might consider writing under a pseudonym.

We can help others through our shortcomings, our mistakes, and our failures. We can share the lessons we've learned. We can say, "I don't walk in your shoes, but this is what I've been through, and this is how I coped." We must appear real to our audience to be of value to them. This is what I try to do in all my writing. In my book, Wounded by Words, I made myself vulnerable and showed how I had been verbally abused as did one of my co-authors. Our third co-author is a family therapist who provides counseling and encouragement in the book to those wounded by words. We also gathered many other people's stories to add credibility to the book. A number of these stories were written under pseudonyms.

Next week we will talk about “How to Make Yourself Vulnerable.”


Writing from the Heart (Part 2)

Writing from the Heart

How Do We Write from the Heart

The tips and techniques I will give for writing from the heart will work for articles, personal experience stories, devotionals, and even fiction. I use all these techniques in my nonfiction books also.

Now, how do we write from the heart?

First, be in tune with your audience. To write effectively you need to spend time talking to your audience and understanding their needs. It helps to be actively involved with them in church groups or wherever they are.

For a year I was editor of a children's magazine, Trails 'N' Treasures, and I also taught Sunday school for eight years. Plus, I have a build in critique staff of 13 grandchildren. I carefully listen to their opinions. We can't write what we want them to read; we have to write what appeals to them, or they won't read it.

For example: When I was writing an early reader book, I wrote: “The monkey reached for the rope.” My granddaughter stopped me and said, “Grandma, ‘reached for’ is boring! The monkey ‘grabbed’ the rope.” She was right. “Grabbed” made it sound much more exciting.

We need to: Stop. Listen. And then Write!

Next week we will talk about “How to Learn to Share Yourself.”


Writing from the Heart (Part 1)

Writing from the Heart

Reaching the Hearts of our Audience

We can only write what God lays on our hearts if we write in His strength, rather than our own. When we open our mouths, pick up a pen, or type on our computers and let words flow, it allows other individuals to gain a glimpse into our souls. Hopefully, they will find God's love there, because often, we are the only contact people will have with Him. We should always pray before we begin writing, so that we will be in tune with God’s will.

Let me quote 2 Corinthians 3:3 from the Tyndale Living Bible that speaks of Writing from the Heart. “They can see that you are a letter from Christ, written by us. It is not a letter written with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not one carved on stone, but in human hearts.”

To be effective, our writing must be carved on our own hearts in order for us to reach the hearts of our audience.

This is Part 1 of a nine-part series on “Writing from the Heart.” Next week we will talk about how to write from the heart.


The Use of Narrative and Exposition (Part 5)

Narrative & Exposition

Using Dialogue to Move a Story Along

As has been mentioned, the best way to create interest in a story is through dialogue. Here is an example of a devotional that is almost entirely dialogue. It is taken from my book, Rest Stops for Single Mothers.

The Fire

        "Mom, I had to abandon my car," my son's voice sounded breathless on the other end of the telephone line. "Flames were jumping across the highway. Burning branches fell into the back of my convertible." "Are you OK?" I asked, concern filling my voice.
        "Oh, Mom, I'm fine, but I'm worried about my car."
        "Tell me what happened. Maybe I can help," I offered.
        "I was on my way home from class, and I could see the fire burning out of control in the Santa Barbara hills, but it seemed far away. The freeway was blocked, so I took the old highway towards town. About half-way there, people on either side of the road had been told to evacuate their homes. Everyone was trying to leave. There was a huge traffic jam. Suddenly, flames jumped across the highway, and that's when it happened."
        Richard was talking so fast that I didn't understand everything. "That's when what happened?" I asked.
        "My clutch cable snapped, and I couldn't shift gears. I pulled over to the side as far as I could and had to abandon my car."
        "What did you do then?"
        "I called my girlfriend to come and get me. Mom, I can't afford to lose my car. I don't have comprehensive insurance on it, and I'll have to drop out for a semester if I can't get to school."
        I knew Richard was right. Richard's finances for his college education were extremely tight. Without his car, he'd have to leave school and obtain a full time job to earn money for a new one. I saw no alternative.
        "Let's pray about it, Richard. God knows the situation."
        I rarely pray for material possessions, and I've never prayed for a car before, but this time I did. "Lord, You know Richard needs that beat-up Volvo convertible to get to his college classes. Please spare it in this fire. We pray that the fire will soon be contained."
        Three days later, I received another call from Richard. "Mom, they finally let me check on my car. I caught a ride back to where I left it. The fire burned to within a hundred feet, and it's full of ashes, but it runs. It's in the shop now getting a new clutch cable."
        God has taught us to pray specifically. In this case, He knew how important that car was to Richard's education. He spared the car, and I learned an important lesson. When things look bleak, when money is tight, God is there, showing His presence in the smallest details of our lives.

This concludes our series on “Narrative and Exposition.”


The Use of Narrative and Exposition (Part 4)

Narrative & Exposition

Conversational Speech

Dialogue should be kept simple, natural, and conversational. However, don’t use the exact words a person would actually speak because, in normal conversation, a person uses far more words than are needed. Actual speech needs to be whittled down, so it is crisp and clear. Never let your characters ramble.

Once you have a detailed character sketch of your main character, you will know how he or she will react in certain instances. You will be aware of his feelings, ideas, and beliefs. His personality will come through in his speech. He will help you write the dialogue, because, if you know him, you will know what he will say. As your reader gets to know your main character, he knows what the character will say, too. If your main person acts out of character, the reader will know and will feel something is wrong. Also, be careful not to contrive your character’s speech or have him preach. The reader doesn’t want to be talked down to—either by you or the main character. We teach the reader lessons by what the main character learns, not by lecturing.

These suggestions also apply to the minor characters to a lesser degree. When you write a novel, the minor characters are more developed, and these points become more relevant to them. In a short story, however, you don’t have much room to develop more than one or two characters with any depth. Usually the reader will identify with the main character, so he becomes your vehicle for getting your message across. The most powerful way to accomplish that is through his actual spoken words.

Next week we will discuss using dialogue to move the story along.


The Use of Narrative and Exposition (Part 3)

Narrative & Exposition

The Use of Good Dialogue,
Multiple Characters, and Tags

Good Dialogue is essential to your story. Dialogue moves the action along better than any other medium. Dialogue can be used effectively in fictional stories, personal experience stories, devotionals, and anecdotes within articles and nonfiction books. Here are some tips for using authentic dialogue in your manuscripts.

Multiple Characters: When possible, have two people in your story, so they can talk to each other. If this is not possible and only one person is involved in a happening, perhaps you could relay that incident after it occurred through a telephone conversation or a chat over coffee. Staying in someone’s mind and listening to their thoughts is a boring place for the reader to be.

Tags: Be careful of the tags you use for dialogue. “He said” is better than “he articulated” or “he uttered.” After all, what is important is the information between the quotation marks, not the word used for “said.” An exception would be if you needed to show strong emotion or a certain voice tone that the words by themselves didn’t express. Examples: He shouted, he whispered.

A word of warning: you can’t smile, sigh, or laugh words. Instead of writing, “You’re cute,” he smiled, use: “You’re cute,” he said with a boyish grin.

Next week we will talk about Conversational Speech.


The Use of Narrative and Exposition (Part 2)

Narrative & Exposition

Blending Narrative and Exposition

Good writers weave exposition subtly into the action so that it doesn't interrupt the narrative flow. Proper exposition appears to derive directly from the viewpoint character’s thoughts or memories.

In the proper blending of narrative and exposition, the author communicates information to the reader through:

  1. What the characters say,
  2. What the characters do,
  3. What the main character thinks, and
  4. What the main character remembers.

This blending is achieved by using detail, dialogue, and description—the components of the Three-D Technique.

Detail: Use the specific rather than the general.

Dialogue: Direct conversations between the characters, especially characters in conflict, reveal their personalities. Dialogue moves the story along and turns narrative into interesting conversation. Develop a different style for each character.

Description: Draw from all five senses to describe the setting and the characters. Use sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch to create a mood.

Next week we will talk about “Using Good Narrative, Multiple Characters, and Tags.”


The Use of Narrative and Exposition (Part 1)

Narrative & Exposition

What Are Narrative and Exposition?

The proper use of narrative and exposition in short stories and novels is one of the keys to writing successful fiction and using fictional techniques.

Narrative: is the objective reporting of your story, that which can be pictured visually in concrete images in the readers’ imaginations. It is what the characters do in the action of the story.

Exposition: is information, often interpretive and/or subjective funneled through the viewpoint character, to shed light on the action. It includes comments, opinions, reactions, explanations, and feelings (Definitions by Carole Gift Page, used with permission).

Faulty exposition interrupts the narrative flow, shatters the illusion of reality, and embarrassingly reveals the mechanics of fiction writing just like a playwright jumping on stage and interrupting a play during a performance.

Next week we will cover “The Blending of Narrative and Exposition.”


To Agent or not to Agent (Part 2)

Agents or Not

More Things to Know about an Agent

• How do I know if an agent is doing his/her job? Once you have signed with an agent, he/she should keep you informed of any activity on your proposals. He should tell you what houses he has sent them to and the responses of those houses. Normally all correspondence between you and your agent as well as your agent and the publishing houses is done by e-mail. Therefore there should not be any upfront costs for you to pay.

• How is my agent paid? Your royalty checks will be sent directly to your agent. That way he/she can look over your statements and make sure they are accurate. He takes his 15%, and sends you a check for the balance. Also when an agent is negotiating a contract for you, he can usually get a better deal than you can. And of course he wants the best deal he can get, since he gets 15% of your advance and royalty checks!

Although I have an excellent agent, I still keep in contact with the publishing houses I am interested in publishing with. If I have a new idea, and I happen to be at a conference where I can talk to an editor or publisher, I take advantage of that situation. Keep in mind your agent is representing as many as a hundred clients, and you are only representing you!

This concludes the series on agents.


To Agent or not to Agent (Part 1)


Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Agents

A question I am frequently asked by friends and customers of my critique service is: Should I get an agent? The answer isn't as simple as yes or no. I placed 28 books on my own before I obtained an agent. Now I'm not suggesting that you have to do that, but you do want to get an agent who is competent.

• When is it time to get an agent? Many people think that getting an agent is the answer to all their problems. However if you don't have a proven track record— have not published a few books or don’t have a dynamic speaking ministry—it may be hard for you to get a good agent. So it is important to build a good reputation before you seek an agent.

• How do I know that an agent is good? If an agent shows interest in you, ask him/her for three clients that will recommend him. Also ask for three books his agency has placed that year. If people won't recommend him and he has not placed books, you don't want him to represent you! A mediocre or incompetent agent can hurt you more than not having one.

• Where do I find a good agent? Agents as well as editors attend large writers’ conferences looking for new clients. Conferences such as Colorado Christian Writers Conference and Write-to-publish are excellent places to sit down and actually talk to an agent. It's important to find an agent who is passionate about what you write. He won't be able to sell your material to a publishing house if he doesn't believe in your project.

Next week we will answer more questions about agents.


Business Side of Writing (Part 3)


Presenting Yourself as a Professional

Another item I feel is important for your professional image is letterhead stationary. Subconsciously, editors are more impressed if your cover or query letter is typed on your own letterhead. There are a number of paper companies as well as office supply stores that stock four-color stationary. You can run it through your own laser or ink-jet printer to put on your letterhead and the body of your letter. If you have a color printer, you can type your own letterhead, complete with graphics. I use light beige paper, which I think looks professional, but you can use white paper just as easily. Even if a publisher requests a query letter by e-mail, I still use my letterhead stationery, which I keep electronically on my computer.

Business cards are another item you will need. These are convenient to hand out at writers’ conferences to editors, agents, and other writers with whom you want to keep in touch. These, too, can be created and printed on a laser or inkjet printer. Again, you can use four-color cards or plain white, depending on your budget. Also you can get these professionally printed economically today at local office stores or on websites such as ` or I think it’s helpful to have your picture on your business card. That way if an editor met you at a conference, seeing your picture may trigger a remembrance. After all, you only look as professional as your query letter, business card, or manuscript does.

This concludes the series on the “Business Side of Writing.”


Business Side of Writing (Part 2)


Organizing Your Writing

I can’t overemphasize the need to back up your work. I back up my current projects on a flash drive and on Dropbox, and then once a month I back everything for that month up on an external hard drive. Computers crash, and even if they don’t, you will most likely upgrade and not transfer all your old files over to a new computer.

Thus, I suggest always keeping a paper copy of everything. Buy a box of file folders and label them. If you are like me, you would rather write than organize files, but lack of organization can cost you precious hours of trying to locate information on an article you wrote several months or years ago.

Label one file for each project you are currently working on. Once an article or book is finished, continue to keep a file folder for it. Keep your research notes in it as well as tear sheets of publishing credits. Any research you have done for an article or book should be labeled in a manner that will help you find it quickly should you decide to write a second article or book on the same subject at a later date.

Also, set up files for ideas that pop into your mind, ones you don’t have time to develop yet. Whenever you find an article or story on a subject you intend to write on someday, place it in a file folder under that category.

I was recently looking for information I wrote 20+ years ago, and it was only on a 3 ½ inch floppy disk. I don’t even have a drive to read those anymore! Thankfully I had a hard copy I could scan back into my computer.

Next week we will talk about presenting yourself as a professional


Business Side of Writing (Part 1)


The Business Side of Writing (Part 1)

People often tell me, “I don’t consider my writing a business. I just write for fun.” Yet, whether writing is a vocation or an avocation for you, treat it as a profession. Ideally, you should have a desk and a filing cabinet dedicated solely to your writing—an entire room is even better! Many writers, however, do not have this luxury.

Also, it is important to have a comfortable chair that adequately supports your back. Writing requires a lot of sitting. Be sure to get up and walk around at least once every hour, and look away from your computer screen every 15 minutes for a moment. The better shape you keep your body in, the sharper your mind will be for creating and editing. Try to work out at least three times a week for 40 minutes to an hour each time. Also be sure to exercise your fingers and flex your hands. Many writers developed carpal tunnel syndrome, and you want to avoid that.

Even if you don’t have an actual office location for your writing, you can still get the job done if you keep things in order. If you don’t have a metal filing cabinet, you can purchase a cardboard one at an office supply store inexpensively. Although you are writing on a computer today, it is still important to keep a hard copy of your work. Computers have a nasty habit of crashing, and often this happens before a person has everything backed up. I also suggest backing up your work on an auxiliary hard drive as well as on an Internet location such as Dropbox or Cloud.

Next week we will talk about more ways to organize your work.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 22)


Publishing Process at B & H Publishing Group (Con’t)

Len Goss, who was Senior Acquisitions Editor at Broadman & Holman Publishers, now B & H Publishing Group, gives us his four basic steps that he used in reaching the publishing decision. Here are steps 3 and 4:

3. Decision: If things look positive from the editor's perspective, the project then goes to the publications board. This committee usually includes all the editors, the people from marketing, the sales team, various business managers, the publisher, and so on. The editor presents a summary of the manuscript to this group, and also present things like the author's credentials, a summary of the critical reviews, his own evaluation, and a summary of the financial projections. Financial projections are done on all books. They include projected sales figures, an estimated cost for producing the book, and an analysis of projected cost versus projected sales.

4. Contract: If most of the members of the publications board see the project in a positive light, then the standard "rich and famous" contract is offered to the author.

All editors have this in common according to Len: They are paid to process words into communication packages. They achieve this by getting the right idea together with the right author. It may be the author’s idea or the editor’s. But ultimately the rubber meets the road when the right idea gets into the hands of the right author. When this mix is achieved, the publishing house has a winning book.

There are thousands of book proposals received annually by each publishing house. To give yourself an edge, attend a writers' conference and meet personally with book editors and agents to establish a working relationship with them. Then, when your manuscript crosses an editor's desk, he can say, "I met her at the Write-to-Publish Writers Conference and discovered her exciting idea for a potential book."

This concludes the 22-part series on “Writing the Nonfiction Book.” I hope you have found this information helpful.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 21)


Publishing Process at B & H Publishing Group

Various publishing houses approach the editorial function differently. Yet, the main job of all editors is to find good manuscripts, develop them, and then sell these manuscripts to the in-house departments. Thanks go to Len Goss, who was Senior Acquisitions Editor at Broadman & Holman Publishers, now B & H Publishing Group, for his four basic steps that he used in reaching the publishing decision. Here are his first two:

1. Evaluation: The editor who receives the proposal is going to ask some hard questions about it. Does it fit squarely within the general publishing parameters of the publishing house? Does it fall within the mission statement? Is the topic timely? Is the topic significant? Is the manuscript's readability level about right? Is it well written? Is the structure of the project coherent? Does the manuscript or the book idea stimulate thought and inquiry? Is it generally usable for courses in the typical curriculum? If so, which courses and at what level? Is this an economically viable book? Will it attract a reading audience?

2. Review: What usually happens when an editor's initial response is favorable is that he or she will ask for the opinions of colleagues in the publishing house. In many cases, the material is sent to outside reviewers who are asked to read and evaluate the manuscript. The outside reviewers are chosen for their expertise in the subject matter of the manuscript. Sometimes manuscripts are sent to several reviewers, all in the attempt to determine the strength and weaknesses of the author's position or presentation. When the editor receives all the reviews, he or she must then weigh them and decide whether to reject the project or move it to the next stage, which in most cases means taking it to the publications board at the publishing house.

More of Len’s tips will be given in next week’s blog.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 20)


Sample Chapters

The fifth and final part of a book proposal is the Sample Chapters. Normally two or three are included in a book proposal. These are double-spaced and should reflect the quality and substance of your book. I suggest sending the first two or three chapters to give the editor a sense of continuity. Some authors prefer to send the first, middle, and last chapters; others prefer to include a chapter with specific significance. You be the judge regarding what is best for your manuscript. The chapters should be double-spaced.

It is important to keep your entire proposal under 40 pages. When an editor or agent first looks at your manuscript, he or she will probably only give it about 20 minutes. If it is too long, the editor will not be able to get a good overview in a short time.

Different publishing houses and agents have different requirements for writing a proposal. What I have given you here will be required by most of them, but they may also want additional material. Be sure to check the proposal guidelines for the publishing house or agent to which you wish to send your book proposal before completing it.

I think writing the proposal is the hardest part of writing an entire book, but a good proposal can be your ticket to receiving a contract.

On next week’s blog we will discuss the publishing process at a major publishing house.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 19)


A Marketing Plan

The fourth part of a book proposal is A MARKETING PLAN. It shows how you plan to market your book. Do you have a website? Will you blog? What social media do you use? How many followers do you have? In today’s market, it is vital that you market your own book and that a publishing house knows you have this capability before they give you a contract.

Here are my social media sites.

I post a weekly blog on my website at: www.Christiancommunicator\blog\

My Facebook address is: I currently have 4724 followers, most of whom are authors or people in Christian publishing.

My LinkedIn address is: I have 2500+ followers on LinkedIn. This is more of a professional organization than Facebook.

On Twitter: Tweet to Susanosb. I have 578 followers.

To be perfectly honest, I need to post more often on social media and develop more contacts. I usually only post once a week.

There are other social media sites, but I don’t want to spread myself too thin. Only set up what you can handle well.

The fifth and final part of a book proposal is the Sample Chapters, which will be the subject of next week’s blog.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 18)


The Comparative Analysis

The third part of a book proposal is a Comparative Analysis. Check the Internet at and for books similar to yours. Also check with your local Christian bookstore. Write an analysis, showing how your book compares to these other books and why you think your book will sell. Here is part of the comparative analysis I did for the book, Wounded by Words:

Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse will help victims recognize the signs of their emotional abuse. The subtleness of this type of abuse often leaves the person confused, or she may not even be consciously aware of the problem, especially if the abuse began in childhood and continued into adulthood. Wounded by Words is written by women who were verbally abused as children. Later the women married men who continued the cycle of emotional abuse in their lives. But Wounded by Words is much more than their stories. It includes the stories of many other individuals who, at various times in their lives, suffered demeaning, caustic words, causing a loss of self-esteem and self-worth. Skills for coping and Scripture references are provided throughout the book to lead the reader on the path to renewal and wholeness through Christ.

Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse, rev. ed. Gregory L. Jantz & Ann McMurray, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003, $12.99, ISBN: 0800758714. There are no bruises to yellow and heal, no gaping wound to point to. But, in spite of their invisibility, emotional wounds are a very damaging form of abuse. Whether caused by words, action, or even indifference, emotional abuse is very common—yet often overlooked. In this helpful guide, Christian therapist Gregory Jantz examines why emotional abuse is so common and damaging. He reveals how those who have been abused by a spouse, parent, employer, or minister can overcome the past and rebuild their self-image. This book is from the psychologist’s viewpoint rather than the victim’s.

The Healing Touch: A Guide to Healing Prayer for Yourself and Those You Love, Norma Dearing, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002, $12.99, ISBN: 0800793021. Our society is brimming with people suffering the effects of past abuse, rejection, physical illness, bad choices, and unhealthy relationships. Author and radio personality Norma Dearing has spent thousands of hours listening to and praying with those in need of emotional, physical, or spiritual healing. In The Healing Touch, she shares stories from countless people who have been set free from unhealthy relationships, unholy unions, addictions, generational influences, and physical illnesses associated with these. Wounded by Words focuses on just verbal abuse.

Beauty for Ashes, Revised Edition, Joyce Meyer, New York: Time Warner Book Group, 2003, $12.99, ISBN: 044669259X. A victim of childhood abuse, Meyer outlines the truths that brought recovery to her life and offers biblical advice to help you deal with emotional pain, grab hold of God's unconditional love, and wait for his timing in healing painful memories. You'll be encouraged by her journey from tragic youth to triumphant adult. This is one woman’s story of abuse.

The fourth part of a book proposal is the marketing plan. This will be covered in next week’s blog.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 17)


The Chapter-by-Chapter Outline

The second part of a book proposal is The Chapter-by-Chapter Outline. Keep it brief. Write a short paragraph summarizing each chapter to give the editor an overview of your book. This can be a vital tool for understanding the entire manuscript if the book proposal reaches the stage where it is considered by a publishing house committee. Some publishing houses prefer a synopsis of the book rather than a chapter outline. This is usually the case for fiction.

      Here are the first three chapter synopses of my chapter outline for my book, Wounded by Words.

Chapter 1: Hurtful Words – Caustic words and demeaning statements can be as dangerous to our well-being as any weapon. People often use words that dominate and control when they feel insecure themselves. Unfortunately these words are often directed at close family members, often children, and the outcome is much pain and suffering. The tension resulting from these heated words often leads to the telling of lies by both parties.

Chapter 2: Invisible Scars – Verbal abusers isolate, disorient, and indoctrinate their victims. Whether they are children or adults, the abused are usually family members. Depression, behavioral problems, and physical illnesses are a direct outcome of the emotional abuse. Often these results are not easily seen.

Chapter 3: Distorted Self-esteem – Standing in front of a mirror reflects our physical image, but not the image of our soul. Often a woman who is verbally abused thinks others have a low opinion of her. The pattern of abuse creates a feeling of rejection and worthlessness. Emotional abuse is a learned behavior for both the abuser and the victim. It undermines the foundation of the family.

The third part of a book proposal is the comparative analysis. This will be covered in my next blog.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 16)


Sample Query (or Cover) Letter

Andrea Mullins, Publisher
New Hope Publishing
P.O. Box 12065
Birmingham AL 35202

Dear Andrea:

Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse offers hope and healing through Christ from these unseen hurts. Women who have grown up with the harsh reality of verbal abuse understand the pain and suffering it causes. The results of this kind of mistreatment may not cause bruises and other visible injuries, but nevertheless, the scars are there. These scars remain in the heart and mind, causing fear, powerlessness, and dependency.

In Scripture, the stories of Leah, Joseph, Hannah, Job, Abigail, King David, Mary Magdalene, and Mary and Martha demonstrate examples of verbal abuse. How they overcame this invisible destroyer is encouraging to us all. These stories demonstrate how God dealt with emotional abuse in biblical times, and He expects us to deal with this issue today as well.

Accurate statistics are hard to find. But surveys show that emotional abuse exists in marriages and other family relationships, the workplace, nursing homes, college campuses, and many other situations. One out of four women admits to being verbally abused. In one study, 77 % of women reported emotional abuse in combination with physical abuse. In this same study, 43 % experienced emotional abuse as children or teenagers, and 39 % reported verbal abuse in a relationship within the last five years.

Growing up in an alcoholic home, Karen Kosman learned the pain of demeaning, caustic words. Susan Osborn also was verbally abused by her mother. Later both women married men who continued the cycle of emotional abuse. Once again angry, thoughtless words daily eroded their self-esteem. Gradually through Scripture, counseling, and God’s love, healing began. Today, both women are remarried to supportive, Christian husbands, and the cycle of abuse has been broken. Susan is a CLASS staff member and has published over 30 books. Karen is an inspirational speaker for church groups. Jeenie Gordon has dealt with numerous patients who have been verbally abused in her 30-plus years as a marriage and family therapist. She has published 10 books, one of which was a Gold Medallion finalist.

Wounded by Words contains 12 chapters filled with personal stories of people who have experienced verbal abuse. The issues these people have learned to deal with will provide hope and wholeness for those who are in the process of finding answers. We transition from one story to the next with inspirational thoughts, biblical truths, and practical advice for the reader. We invite you to join our ultimate mission of bringing understanding, hope, and healing to women who are struggling with verbal and emotional abuse.

Yours in Him,

Susan T. Osborn       Karen Kosman       Jeenie Gordon


The second part of a nonfiction book proposal is a chapter-by-chapter outline. An example will be given in next week’s blog.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 15)


The Cover or Query Letter

A book proposal is comprised of five parts:
  1. A cover letter
  2. A detailed chapter outline or synopsis
  3. A competition analysis
  4. Two or three sample chapters
  5. A marketing plan
The Cover or Query Letter should basically answer four questions:
  1. Why are you qualified to write this book?
  2. What is it about (told in one paragraph)?
  3. Who is your audience?
  4. Why will this book be marketable?
Also, make sure the publisher realizes you are familiar with their house and sees that your book will fit into one of their book lines. This letter should be only one typewritten page if possible. The problem with most cover letters (and with most book proposals in general) is that they are too long and cumbersome.

I use the term cover letter and query letter interchangeably, because your cover letter should be a strong as your query letter. If your proposal makes it to committee, and I'll talk about that later, most of the committee members will only read your cover letter. It’s quality can make or break a contract!

Next week I will give you an example of a cover (or query) letter.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 14)


Book Proposal

"You never get a second opportunity to make a good first impression." – Mark Twain.

Most publishing houses and agents want to receive a book proposal rather than an entire manuscript. A few publishers prefer only a query letter. An editor or agent spends an average of twenty minutes reviewing your book proposal, so it is imperative that you provide the correct material and that your manuscript looks professional. To determine the submission format for each publishing house, check the Christian Writer’s Market Guide or check each publisher’s writers' guidelines online.

There are many different ways to do a book proposal. I am giving you the simplest form. If this is your first book, you want editors to read an actual chapter in the 20 minutes they will allow you. I would suggest trying to keep your proposal under 40 pages.

If an editor or agent requests a manuscript from you, in that case, follow those specific guidelines. For example, New Hope Publishers, which my recent books are with, wanted a detailed proposal. Our first one was 54 pages, but keep in mind this was requested material.

Next week we will discuss the cover or query letter.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 13)


Timelines for Book Publishing

Here are timelines on two of my books to give you an idea of how long it can take from the time you present ideas to publishing houses to the time your book is actually released.

Wounded by Words timetable:
One-sheets and query letters, started marketing July, 2004.
  Was told we needed a professional involved.
Added family therapist as co-author and marketed proposal July, 2005.
New Hope Publishers offered contract December, 2005.
Book due to New Hope, August 1, 2006.
Original release date, August 2007.
Actual release date, February 2008.

Too Soon to Say Goodbye timetable:
One-sheet, July 2006
Proposal, May 2007
New Hope Publishers offered contract December, 2007.
Book due to New Hope, October 15, 2008.
Release date, July 2009.
This book was put on the fast track.

Next week we will start talking about the actual book proposal.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 12)


Reasons for Writing

Why are you writing? Is it to share your story with others? Is it to make money? Are you seeking personal growth? Most of my books sell wholesale. I make 22 cents-$1.50 a copy, partly because I co-author most of my books. I carpeted my house with one of my checks. I've discovered that I'm not in this business for the money. I feel that writing is a ministry. I need to make enough with my consulting, writing, editing, and teaching to live, so for me it has become a business. But my main reason for writing is that I want to change lives. I want to share something with others that will benefit them.

How do you know that God has called you to a writing ministry? Pray about it. Practice patience. Don't rush God, your editors, or yourself. It will probably take you at least a year to get your book contracted, a year to write it, and a year for it to come out in print, perhaps longer. It has been my experience that book editors and agents do not respond before two to three months, at least not if they are interested in your book. They can hold it six months or a year or two before making a final decision.

What kind of timeline can you expect when publishing a book? We will discuss this in our next blog.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 11)


Creating a One-sheet

When you verbally pitching your book idea to editors, you will probably have only 15 minutes to sell them on your idea. Thus I suggest you leave something in their hands so they will remember you after the conference is over. Editors and agents will have talked to many people, and you want to stand out. You can accomplish this with a “One-sheet.” Also, there may be some editors you cannot get an appointment with. You can find a moment when they are free and hand them your “One-sheet.”

A “One-sheet” is one sheet of paper to hand out to editors that shows a book proposal project—thus the name. I would suggest printing it on your letterhead stationery so it will look professional. It should be single-spaced and done in block format.

It basically includes the same things that a cover/query letter would include and should basically answer five questions:

  1. Why are you qualified to write this book?
  2. What is it about (told in one paragraph)?
  3. Who is your audience?
  4. Why will this book be marketable?
  5. What is your marketing plan?

Next week we will talk about your reasons for writing.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 10)


An important part of pitching your book is what we call the “Thirty-second Pitch.” This can be used in a 15-minute appointment with an editor at a conference. If you pique an editor’s attention, he or she will want to hear more.

Here is my Thirty-second Pitch for one of my books. Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse offers hope and healing through Christ from these unseen hurts. Women who have grown up with the harsh reality of verbal abuse understand the pain and suffering it causes. The results of this kind of mistreatment may not cause bruises and other visible injuries, but nevertheless, the scars are there. These scars remain in the heart and mind, causing fear, powerlessness, and dependency.

It's important to be able provide focus for your book in one paragraph. This can also go on your cover letter or one-sheet, which we will discuss in later blogs. Plus if you get an opportunity to walk to dinner with an editor or sit with him at a conference, but you weren't able to sign up to have an appointment with him, you can pitch that editor or agent on the run, so to speak.

Next week we will learn how to create a “One-Sheet” to hand out or send to potential editors and agents.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 9)


Now look at the opening sentence and paragraph of the chapter you are working on, or at the section of that chapter. Do you have a strong hook? Does the reader want to keep reading? Many publishing houses and agents receive 5,000 to 10,000 proposals a year. If the editors aren't impressed by the first paragraph, they may not continue reading.

For many authors, beginnings are the most difficult part of the manuscript to write. After reading thousands of book proposals that come through our manuscript critique service, I see that it often takes the author two to three pages to reach the meat of his or her message. You will probably spend more time rewriting your lead paragraph and your first chapter than any other part of your book. Beginnings, for me, are the most difficult part of a manuscript to write.

Don't keep working on the beginning of a chapter, editing the material over and over again. Go onto another chapter and come back later with fresh eyes to the previous material. Writing requires a great deal of editing, but it helps not to dwell on one section for too long at a time.

Next week we will talk about “The Thirty-second Pitch” you will give to potential agents and editors.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 8)


Now read through your chapter straight through for flow and focus. Make marks in the margin wherever you see a problem. Read it uninterrupted. You will see things on the overview that you might miss when you are going through your manuscript line by line.

Ask yourself these twelve evaluation questions.
1. Do I have a good lead?
2. Is my chapter interesting?
3. Is it significant?
4. Is my story or book marketable?
5. Does it have continuity?
6. Does it make sense?
7. Have I left out any important points?
8. Did I say what I wanted to say?
9. Are my transitions adequate?
10. Did I repeat my thoughts?
11. Did I use complete sentences?
12. Does my ending tie into my beginning?

Next week we will concentrate on your opening sentence and paragraph.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 7)


Now let’s talk about the third step in my Three-Step Writing Process: 3. Self-editing. Allow each chapter to cool before beginning to self-edit. This is the longest stage of writing and requires both sides of the brain.

Did you go where you intended? If not, you either need to change your manuscript or change your outline. Sometimes you even need to change your premise, because you didn't go in the direction you intended.

Go back and look at your outline and theme sentence. Do they need revision? Does your chapter support your outline and theme for that chapter? If not, you need to change either your paragraph description or your first rough draft. Remember that neither is set in concrete.

What I'm saying is it's all right to change your mind. Your manuscript doesn't flow from your computer and settle in concrete. Sometimes the most basic parts of it eventually need to be changed. Be flexible and prayerful as you edit your work.

Next week we will talk about doing an overview of your work and asking yourself 12 questions.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 6)


Writing the first rough draft is probably the most emotional birthing phase of the entire process of writing a nonfiction book. Once the words are on paper, you need to emotionally detach yourself from your baby. Lay it aside for a week and let it cool.

Go on to another chapter or on to another writing project. I suggest you go through this same writing process for each chapter of your book. Develop a focus, an outline, and then write the first rough draft. It might be a good idea to write the easiest chapters first if you are organized enough to determine those you can write quickly, or do them chronologically.

God inspires us to write, but He is not going to do our work for us—He will only guide us along the way. Writing the first draft is the creative part. For me, this is the easiest part. The hard part is rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting. God never promised us that life would be easy, and He never said that writing would be easy. After over 40 years I still struggle with my writing.

Next week we will talk about the third step in my “Three-step Writing Process


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 5)


Step 2 of my Three-Step Writing Process is writing the First Rough Draft. To write your first rough draft, you use the creative (right) side of your brain.

Find a large block of uninterrupted time and write all the information you can think of regarding your book. Don't get hung up in grammar, punctuation, or phraseology. Write whatever comes to mind. Some of your chapters will be briefly outlined on this first rough draft, others may be in detail, and some won't exist at all.

You may choose to write a synopsis of the entire book, or you may want to take smaller chunks of your “elephant” so you don't get indigestion. On the first sitting, I write a brief overview of the book. After that, I usually write a chapter at a time, so I'm usually dealing with 15-20 pages at a time. I follow the same steps for each chapter. If there are personal stories within the chapter, I use the same process for each story.

Be sure to take a break after writing a rough draft. More tips on this will be given next week.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 4)


Next create a preliminary outline before you begin the actual writing of your book. This may change as the writing progresses, but you need a guideline to start with. Your outline should be built around your chapter titles. Perhaps you have 10, 12, or more.

Then write a paragraph about each chapter. Be aware that this may change drastically, but it is important to get down as much information as you can. Each point must support the main theme. Each chapter, though self-contained, needs to promote the main idea of your book.

Example from Wounded by Words:

Chapter 1: Hurtful Words – Caustic words and demeaning statements can be as dangerous to our well-being as any weapon. People often use words that dominate and control when they feel insecure themselves. Unfortunately these words are often directed at close family members, often children, and the outcome is much pain and suffering. The tension resulting from these heated words often leads to the telling of lies by both parties.

This concludes Step 1 of the Three-Step Writing Process. Lay your work aside before continuing. Step 2 will be given next week.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 3)


Now let’s talk about my Three-Step Writing Process regarding nonfiction books.

Step 1: Theme and Outline: First, decide what your main purpose is in writing this particular book. Where are you going? State your theme in one word. State it in one sentence. Know what you want to say, and say it. Keep to one subject. You are using the analytical (left) side of your brain to write your focus sentence. You will probably start with something general and refine it as you develop your book.

For an example, I am going to use my book, Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse.

One word: abuse. Sentence: Now is your chance to break the cycle of emotional and verbal abuse and set yourself and your loved ones free.

The major problem with most book manuscripts that are rejected is they deviate from their premises. The writer tries to tell too many stories or attempts to make too many points in one book.

Step 2 and 3 will be covered in future blogs.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 2)


Writing a nonfiction book involves many other things besides the actual writing. I also include reading, rewriting, and editing in my time. These, too, are important parts of the writing process. To write you must spend as much time reading as you do writing. You will gain ideas for your own writing, and it will help you develop your own writing style. Also you need to read articles and books on the subject you are writing about to better educate yourself on your subject.

Writing is starting with a blank computer screen and putting one word down after another. And the more information you have in your head at the time you begin, the easier the task will be. If you wrote a page a day, you'd have 365 pages at the end of a year. Of course those wouldn’t be edited pages, but we will discuss that in later blogs.

Next week we will talk about my Three-Step Writing Process.


Writing Nonfiction Books (Part 1)



We will begin a long series on writing nonfiction books from the formation of an idea to a final product. Writing a book is like eating an elephant. A person does not dare to attempt the project in one sitting! We will cover book proposals, writing the entire elephant, and contract negotiations. You’re reading this because you want to write, to get your book published, and to glorify God. Right? You can use these same techniques for articles, stories, and fiction, as well as nonfiction books. Are you published?

Over 40 years ago when I began writing, I made a commitment to God and to myself that I would write for an hour every day. I started writing Sunday school take-home papers. Now I have over 30 books in print, my latest being on domestic violence, titled Breaking Invisible Chains. However, with running my critique business, editing manuscripts, and teaching students to polish their writing, I still struggle with finding time to write my own books! What kind of a commitment are you willing to make? Perhaps you could start with a promise to write for an hour a day. If you spend that much time daily, I can guarantee that on many of those days you will spend much more time.

Next week we will talk about what is involved in writing a nonfiction book.


Titles with Pizazz (Part 3)


When Is Your Title Right?

How can you know when your title is right? The acronym "ACE" will help you create a memorable title.

"A" is for accurate. The title must truthfully reveal the focus of the article and also fit its tone. You wouldn't put "Buffalo Bob Bites Bullet" on a serious crime story any more than the President would turn up for a televised press conference in a sweatsuit.

"C" is for concise. Five to seven words are a typically good length. Active verbs, specific nouns, and descriptive adjectives help tighten the message.

"E" is for eye-catching. You have just a few words to convince your readers you can provide what they want. So you appeal to their felt needs, whether that is for information, inspiration, consternation, or confirmation. One study showed the use of pronouns ("you," "I," "they") and the "how-to" approach made for stronger titles.

Put a lot of thought in a title before sending your manuscript to an editor. The first person you need to impress is at the publishing house, so they will publish your article or book.

This concludes the series on titles.


Titles with Pizazz (Part 2)


To create a good title, look for key phrases that seem to sum up the article or book. Watch for sentences that catch your eye as you read through—perhaps they will captivate your reader, too. I wrote an article about a man who escaped from Vietnam. He felt his escape was made possible by the providential hand of God, so I named the article, “The Providential Escape.”

Another way to catch the reader’s attention is by reversing words or by changing one word in a common saying to create your own saying. “Forget and Forgive” is a devotional I wrote on forgiveness. Using “Forgive and Forget” would be overuse of a tired cliché. “Take This Job and Love It” is another example of a good play on words.

If you are writing a mystery, use words that show intrigue. Anonymous Tip and Final Witness are book titles that do this well. The reader wonders, Who will be the final witness? Be careful, however, not to tell too much in the title. “John Overcomes Cancer to Win the Race” probably doesn’t leave much for the reader to learn from reading the story.

Titles should be easy to pronounce and yet have pizzazz. The more memorable your title, the more apt your article or book is to be read and remembered. The Purpose Driven Life is an excellent example that is simple, memorable, and meets the reader’s needs.

Next week we will talk about using the ACE method for creating a good title.


Titles with Pizazz (Part 1)


The title of your article or book is as important as its beginning. The title is what you use to hook the readers, so it must be eye-catching. Many readers buy a book on impulse by looking at the title. Many readers buy a magazine because an article title piqued their interest. Some readers thumb through a magazine or browse a website, checking titles and reading only the articles for which the title grabbed their attention.

Titles need to be accurate. They should express specifically what will follow in the article. Readers don’t want to feel cheated because they thought they were getting something totally different than what your article or book delivered. If your subject matter is serious, also make your title serious. Example: “A Cry for Acceptance.” If your material is humorous, you can make the title funny, too. Example:“Turning Frogs into Princes.”

Titles are usually concise. A good rule is to keep your titles five to seven words. Use active verbs, specific nouns, and descriptive adjectives to grab your readers. Also try to draw in readers, so they feel actively involved in your article or book. They need to feel there is something in it for them. All Cracked Up: Experiencing God in the Broken Places is a good example.

Next week we will talk about catching the readers’ attention with your title.


Twelve Ways to End Your Article or Story (Part 4)


Here are my last three suggested endings for articles, stories, or book chapters. I have given examples of each type of ending from chapters in my own books.

10. The Straight Statement Close - This editorial close consists of a few sentences or a final thought in the author's own words.

"I needed to allow others to be themselves. When I dated someone, I tried to accept him for who he was—not for who I wanted him to be. Through this time, I always felt God had someone special planned for me. When I was ready, and my ‘Mr. Perfect’ was ready, God would allow us to meet" ("Turning Frogs into Princes," Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

11. The Stinger - This unexpected conclusion provides an ending that startles, surprises, or shocks.

"Elbows jabbed their ribs; feet tangled with theirs; the unrelenting mob moved on until they came to the place where the old man lay. Bending down, they touched the old man's arm, now grown cold. They were too late" ("Too Little, Too Late," Potpourri of Praise).

12. The Word of Advice Close - This warning or word of advice points a verbal finger at the reader.

"Loving too much leaves us open to the danger of being hurt, but loving too little can cause us to forget how to love and forget how to live" ("Loving Too Little, Loving Too Much," Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

Whatever ending you chose, give your article or story a solid conclusion. Don't just let your story die. Provide the readers with food for thought that they can digest and use in their own lives to help others and themselves move closer to the Lord.


Twelve Ways to End Your Article or Story (Part 3)


Here are seven through nine of my twelve suggested endings. I have given examples of each type of ending from chapters in my own books.

7. The Anecdotal Ending - You can either end with an anecdote or use the split-anecdote technique in which you start the anecdote in the lead (or the middle somewhere) and complete it in the closing.

"Looking back over the past years, I never dreamed my life would take the path it has. When all I had to hold onto was a thread linking me to God, I learned to step out in faith and to take risks. If I had not been forced to earn a living, I never would have developed my current programs and ministries. After six years of being a single parent, I am now blessed with a supportive husband and a thriving business ("A Thousand Ways," Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

8. The Natural Close - Let your story end naturally. You've told your story. Stop.

"When Mobin visits foreign cities, as he was doing that day in the Maldive Islands, he still tells people, 'I collect telephone directories. Do you have one I can take home with me?'" ("Telephone Directories," Potpourri of Praise).

9. The Summary Close - This ending attempts to cover the highlights of the story or to tie up all the loose ends.

"How wrong my first impression had been. I was aware that God planned that therapeutic evening. He knew I would run out of wood, and although I hadn't specifically asked Him for more, He provided anyhow" ("A Surprise Encounter," Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

Ten through twelve endings will be given next week to conclude this series of blogs.


Twelve Ways to End Your Article or Story (Part 2)


Here are four through six of my twelve suggested endings for articles, stories, or book chapters. I have given examples of each type of ending from chapters in my own books.

4. The Play on Words - Sometimes alliteration, a slogan, or a catchy phrase sticks the longest with the reader.

"Pastor Ananda's burden for his flock, however heavy, is carried with joy and compassion. It fits him well. Each of us has our own divinely designed yoke—our own job to do. Suddenly I felt a renewed strength to wear the yoke God has fashioned for me" ("Pastor Ananda" Potpourri of Praise).

5. The Quote Close - Use a quote taken from a subject, history, or other source of quotations to add finality to the article.

"Angelic flames of light and heavenly choirs, accompanied by celestial harps and trumpets, turned a scene of earthly tragedy into a scene of heavenly triumph. From what they saw that day, and from 'God's Carvings', the Aucas learned what the Psalmist wrote: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15, “Dawa's Story," Potpourri of Praise).

6. The Add-On - This close can make a point never made in the story—a shocker or something that seems natural for making your final point.

"As we walked toward the refreshment table together, I realized that my lack of forgiveness had cost us both a great price" ("Forget and Forgive," Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

Next week’s blog will include three more ways to end a story, article, or book chapter.


Twelve Ways to End Your Article or Story (Part 1)


Next to your beginning, your ending is the most important part of your article or story. This is also true in writing books. When your readers get to an end of a chapter, you do not want them to place a bookmark in and lay down the book without a desire to pick it up again. I have a shelf full of books with bookmarks stuck in them—books I have never finished because they didn't hold my interest at the end of their chapters. I don't want my books sitting on other people's shelves unread.

Here are the first three of my twelve suggested endings. I have given examples of each type of ending from chapters in my own books.

1. The Lead Replay - This is a duplication or a rewrite of the lead sentence or paragraph or a restatement of the lead's theme.

"With the Lord leading the way, FEBC expands its ministry to move to the future as it lifts its eyes beyond the horizon" (Eyes Beyond the Horizon, Thomas Nelson).

2. The Proximity Close - Tap the material immediately preceding your final paragraph for a closing.

"Next time you are in a church, look carefully at the stained glass windows. Picture yourself as part of His magnificent stained glass window. Watch the sun piercing through each unique piece of glass. Notice how many shapes and sizes are necessary to form the whole.

Remember that the Master Craftsman started with one—one piece of fractured glass. What can we accomplish for His glory if we, too, start with one?" (You Start with One, Thomas Nelson).

3. The Restatement of Purpose - Occasionally, a vivid and colorful restatement of the article's purpose makes an effective close.

"God teaches us to pray specifically. He knew that car was important to Richard's education, so He spared it. With what took place, I learned an important lesson: When things look bleakest, God is there, showing His presence in the smallest details of our lives" ("The Fire," Rest Stops for Single Mothers, Broadman & Holman).

Three more suggested endings will be given in next week’s blog.


Twelve Ways to End Your Article or Story (Part 1)


Next to your beginning, your ending is the most important part of your article or story. This is also true in writing books. When your readers get to an end of a chapter, you do not want them to place a bookmark in and lay down the book without a desire to pick it up again. I have a shelf full of books with bookmarks stuck in them—books I have never finished because they didn't hold my interest at the end of their chapters. I don't want my books sitting on other people's shelves unread.

Here are the first three of my twelve suggested endings. I have given examples of each type of ending from chapters in my own books.

1. The Lead Replay - This is a duplication or a rewrite of the lead sentence or paragraph or a restatement of the lead's theme.

"With the Lord leading the way, FEBC expands its ministry to move to the future as it lifts its eyes beyond the horizon" (Eyes Beyond the Horizon, Thomas Nelson).

2. The Proximity Close - Tap the material immediately preceding your final paragraph for a closing.

"Next time you are in a church, look carefully at the stained glass windows. Picture yourself as part of His magnificent stained glass window. Watch the sun piercing through each unique piece of glass. Notice how many shapes and sizes are necessary to form the whole.

Remember that the Master Craftsman started with one—one piece of fractured glass. What can we accomplish for His glory if we, too, start with one?" (You Start with One, Thomas Nelson).

3. The Restatement of Purpose - Occasionally, a vivid and colorful restatement of the article's purpose makes an effective close.

"God teaches us to pray specifically. He knew that car was important to Richard's education, so He spared it. With what took place, I learned an important lesson: When things look bleakest, God is there, showing His presence in the smallest details of our lives" ("The Fire," Rest Stops for Single Mothers, Broadman & Holman).

Three more suggested endings will be given in next week’s blog.


Beginnings (Part 3)


This concludes the series on eight different ways to begin an article, story, devotional, or book chapter. I have used opening paragraphs from some of my books as examples. Beginnings are very important, and I hope my suggestions will help you craft a good opening paragraph.

6. A Mood is set by using such phrases as: stared out the window, huge chunks of ice, shivered.

Staring out my hotel window on this winter's day in Washington D.C., I watched huge chunks of ice lazily drift down the Potomac River. I rubbed my arms and shivered—partly from the cold, but mostly from the memory forming in my mind (“Loving Too Little, Loving Too Much,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

7. A Question may be asked at the beginning or near the beginning of the story or chapter.

The front door was slammed angrily with a thud. My son stomped down the stairs and out of earshot. Only silence remained.

Why do I fight with my son? My stomach churned as I pondered this question (“A Gentle Attitude,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

8. A Quotation may be used to begin a devotional, a story or article, or a book chapter.

He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass. –Author Unknown (“Forget and Forgive,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

Whatever vehicle you choose, make sure you grab the reader's attention immediately. Don't be afraid to jump into the action. You want your readers to keep on reading! This concludes the series on “Beginnings.” Next we will do a series on “Endings.”


Beginnings (Part 2)


The beginning of an article, story, devotional, or book chapter is very important. You need to grab the editor to get your material published and then grab your readers to have them read it. In my last blog, I gave you two suggestions for beginnings. Here are three more.

3. A Thesis is presented by this lead that explains a venture of faith. Also, a metaphor is used comparing stepping out in faith to walking down an unknown path. Antithesis is another vehicle found here with confidence and excitement contrasted with fear, and falling over the edge of a cliff contrasted with being sure-footed.

Stepping out on a venture of faith is like being propelled swiftly down an unknown path in the dark. There is confidence and excitement instead of fear. If the way leads suddenly over the edge of a cliff, faith says the foot will find support if God underwrites the venture (Chapter 3 – Eyes Beyond the Horizon).

4. Presenting a Problem to be solved is an excellent way to begin a story. It reaches out and grabs the reader.

My manager at the telephone company, where I worked as a service representative, called me into his office. "I just received a call from White River, Arizona. Your father didn't show up at work today, Susan. He is missing. His car was found parked on a mountain road—empty.”

I collapsed into a chair. A small voice inside told me my father was dead (“The Fatal Fall,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

5. Dialogue is an excellent vehicle for jumping into the action of a story. Here it is used in conjunction with the presentation of a problem to be solved.

"Mom, I had to abandon my car," my son's voice sounded breathless on the other end of the telephone line. "Flames were jumping across the highway. Burning branches fell into the back of my convertible."

"Are you OK?" I asked (“The Fire,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

In my next blog, I will give you three more suggestions for ways to start an article, story, devotional, or book chapter.


Beginnings (Part 1)


There are many ways to begin a book chapter, article, or story. Here are the first two of my eight suggestions, taken from two of my books, Rest Stops for Single Mothers (Broadman & Holman) and Eyes Beyond the Horizon (Thomas Nelson). The types of leads I suggest here can apply for devotionals and other short pieces, fiction and nonfiction stories, articles, and book chapters.

1. Narrative is used here to tell a mini-story from the narrator's viewpoint. In the example below, you can picture the sail boat catching the wind.

As I scanned the horizon, my eyes focused on a sailboat gliding out of the bay. It cruised smoothly for a moment until the sailor lost the direction of the wind. The mainsail flapped in the breeze, and the boat slowed to a near halt. The man turned the rudder and leaned his craft back into the wind. The sails caught the breeze, and soon the vessel glided swiftly out of the harbor (“Lean into the Wind,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).

2. Characterization is often used as a lead. This description of Bob Bowman gives the reader an insight into his looks and personality as a teen. The description of the scene transports the reader back to L.A. in the 1930's.

Pushing the gas pedal against the floorboards, the proud eighteen year old owner of a beat up 1929 Ford sped along a dirt road that transversed dusty bean fields. His brown hair was slicked back with a wave, and his blue eyes stared straight ahead. The acres of weeds stretching before him would someday shudder beneath the ear splitting runway traffic of the vast complex known as Los Angeles International Airport (Chapter 2 – Eyes Beyond the Horizon).

Three more ways to begin articles, stories, and book chapters will be given in next week’s blog.


The Elusive Comma (Part 7)

When Commas Can be Omitted

For six sessions we have talked about places where we should use the comma. Now let’s talk about places where the comma may be omitted.

In a series whose elements are all joined by conjunctions, no commas are needed unless the elements are long and pauses are helpful.

Example: Is it by Beethoven or Brahms or Bach? Of course it would not be wrong to say: Is it by Beethoven, Brahms, or Bach?

When elements in a series involve internal punctuation, or when they are very long and complex, they should be separated by semicolons.

Example: The brown, fuzzy-wuzzy bear; the black and white panda bear; and the snowy-white, fat polar bear were all friends.

When an ampersand is used instead of the word “and,” as in company names, the serial comma is omitted. Example: Dooey, Soakum & Howe

These examples end our seven sessions on commas.



The Elusive Comma (Part 6)

Other Uses of the Comma

The comma denotes a slight pause. The effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of reading as the main goal. A comma is used when a slight pause is intended. A comma usually follows “yes,” “no,” “well,” and the like, at the beginning of a sentence if a slight pause is intended. Likewise, a comma follows an exclamation “oh” or “ah” only if a slight pause is intended.

The abbreviation, “etc.” is both preceded and followed by a comma when it is the final item in the series. Such English equivalents as “and so forth,” “and the like,” are usually treated the same way. Example: Cats, dogs, parrots, etc., must be confined to cages when flying in airplanes.

A comma follows names or words used in direct address as well as in informal correspondence.

Example: Friends, I’m here to tell you an important story. Example: Dear Mary,

Next week we will talk about places the comma may be omitted.



The Elusive Comma (Part 5)

Commas in Lists of Items

According to The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manuel of Style, when listing three items, a comma is placed after the first and second items (Paper, pen, and writer). Some publishers omit the second comma, but they won't fault you for not knowing their style. The important thing is to be consistent, so the editor can match the style sheet to your manuscript. Plus, if the list contains multiple words, it can be confusing if you don’t add the second comma. (His pets consisted of a long-haired cat, a short-haired dog, and a very noisy parrot.)

The exception to this rule concerns the name of businesses such as law firms which usually omit the last comma (Dewey, Sokum and Howe).

To further complicate things, if the list of items includes commas, they should be set off by semi-colons (The blank, white sheet of paper; the black, fine-line pen; and the ready, spirit-filled writer).

Next week we will discuss other uses for the comma.



The Elusive Comma (Part 4)

Commas in Adverbial Phrases and Clauses

When the main clause of a sentence is preceded by a phrase or a subordinate clause, you may use a comma to separate the phrase. (Sitting in the back, the group cheered wildly.) or (During the performance, the group cheered wildly.)

If the interruption to the flow of the sentence is slight, however, the comma may be omitted. The comma is usually omitted after short, introductory, adverbial phrases. (On Tuesday Bill was absent from class.)

An adverbial phrase or clause located between the subject and the verb should usually be set off by commas. (Bill, after picking up his assignment, went home.)

Commas should be used to set off interjections, transitional adverbs, and similar elements that affect a distinct break in the continuity of thought. (On the other hand, Bill may be right.) (Yes, Bill was right after all.)

Commas in Lists of Items will be the topic of next week’s blog.



The Elusive Comma (Part 3)

Using Commas in Dialogue

There seems to be some confusion when using commas in dialogue. The commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks, whether single or double.  Example: “I want to go with you,” he said. Or:  He said, “I want to go with you.” I constantly see errors regarding this rule in print. The Chicago Manual of Style says this is the traditional style, and was used well before the first edition of the manual in 1906.

Question marks and exclamation points go inside if they are part of the dialogue and outside if they are part of the entire sentence. Example: Why did I keep hearing over and over in my head the words, “I’ll never forget you”?  Before he said good-bye, he asked, “Will I ever forget you?”

“Commas in Adverbial Phrases and Clauses” will be the topic of next week’s blog.



The Elusive Comma (Part 2)

Now let’s look at some basic rules regarding commas:

Independent Clauses

Always place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause. In other words, place a comma between two independent clauses separated by a conjunction. Independent clauses have a subject and a verb, and they can stand alone. (The situation looked hopeless, but there was one remaining chance for success.) or (The situation looked hopeless, but I didn’t believe it.)

However, do not join independent clauses with a comma if they are lacking a conjunction. They need to be joined with a semi-colon, or they can be cut into two separate sentences. (The situation looked hopeless; there was one remaining chance for success.) or (The situation looked hopeless. There was one remaining chance for success.)

A common mistake made with the comma is to separate a dependent clause from an independent clause when they are joined with a conjunction. (I was told the situation looked hopeless but didn’t believe it.)  Each clause must have a subject in order to need a comma before the conjunction.

Misuse of the comma in this way is one of the most common errors made in writing.

The Elusive Comma (Part 1)

We are beginning a seven-part series on “The Elusive Comma.”

“The comma, which seems to cup the sense of the preceding phrase and hold it out to us, timidly and respectfully, is one of our greatest breakthroughs. The civilizing influence of this punctuation aid derives partly from its odd shape, the shape of mosquito larvae and sea horses: close inspection reveals the implied high culture of its asymmetrical tapering swerve, so distinctly an advantage over the more rustic period.” –Nicholson Baker

The punctuation error that seems to occur most often in the hundreds of manuscripts crossing my desk each year is misuse of the comma. It is important to learn when to use and when not to use commas. To make matters worse, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Handbook, and most grammar books list different rules. Most Christian publishers have their own style sheets, but they basically follow The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the standard in the book publishing industry. Since it is costly, I suggest you buy Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style to help you with grammar, punctuation, and word usage. First copyrighted in 1935, this little 92-page book is packed with all the basics. It can be purchased inexpensively on

Writing the Short Story (Part 5)

After you reach the climax in your story, be brief and be gone. Wrap it up as quickly as possible, being careful not to leave any loose ends. Once you have reached the climax, your readers won’t have any reason to keep reading.

Set your story aside for a week, then go back and rewrite and rewrite more. Ask yourself, “Will it hurt the story if I leave out this word, this paragraph, this entire scene?”  If not, take it out. Whittle away all the dead wood. Make sure your characters are well developed, and the main character solves his or her problem, averts disaster, or overcomes his opponent himself? Your scenes should move along smoothly and transition well from one to another. And also make sure you have not left any loose ends?

It doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you must use good fiction techniques. People love stories. They want to escape from real life into an imaginary adventure, but they need help with their problems too. You can meet their real needs by meeting their felt needs through the vehicle of fiction or nonfiction stories. And God can teach spiritual truths through your fictional or real characters. If you are writing about real people, you may want to change their names and/or possibly write the story under a pseudonym. We don’t want friends and family hurt by what we write.

This ends the blog series on “Writing the Short Story.”

Writing the Short Story (Part 4)

It may help to think through your story in scenes. (See previous blog for more information on scenes.) Each scene must move the story forward. If an event is unnecessary, leave it out. Even in a book, your writing must be tight.

Scenes include five things:

  1. Setting
  2. Antagonists
  3. Action
  4. Somebody wins
  5. Resolution

Build suspense as you go along. Keep your readers guessing. Before a conflict is solved, put a barrier in your main character’s path. Don’t give the story away. Once you get into novel writing, you can confront the main character with conflict upon conflict, but in short stories stick to one conflict. Keep your readers hanging on a cliff. In novels, try to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. If you don’t, the readers might put your book down and never pick it up again. Don’t you have half-read books on your shelf?

Stories need to be filled with action. Stay out of your character’s mind, and keep the story focused on his or her activities. Once in a while, you can tell us what the main character thinks, but not all the time. Help your readers identify with the main character and the problems he or she is experiencing.


Writing the Short Story (Part 3)

Short stories and novels have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Write the beginning and the end before you go back and fill in the middle. You may change some things as you go along, but you must have a game plan.

Another way to phrase this is the three O’s:

Objective  –  Beginning

Obstacle   –   Middle

Outcome   –  End

In the first paragraph of your story, you must hook your readers. Open with an exciting beginning that makes them want to read on. Also open with the viewpoint character. Write your story as seen from one person’s viewpoint, either first or third person; third person is usually easier to write. Paint a brief picture of your main character, showing their personality, so the reader can see that person and identify with them.

Example taken from The Hair Pulling Bear Dog by Lee Roddy:

At first, D.J. Dillon thought the terrible nightmare had returned. In his sleep, he again heard the squeal of brakes, the crash, and then the awful silence. The 13-year-old boy’s blue eyes blinked open. He stared into the soft moonlit darkness of the kitchen where he slept on a rollaway bed.

His blond head turned automatically toward his parents’ bedroom wall beside him. He started to call softly, “Mom?” Then he remembered.

She was dead six months now, killed in that auto accident. The mountain’s silence had carried the sound for miles. D.J. had heard it up the canyon without knowing who was in the collision.

Memories flashed over him again. The hurt swallowed him like a silent, ugly monster. D.J. started to turn over and bury his face in the dusty pillow when he heard the crash again-but now he was wide awake!


Writing the Short Story (Part 2)

Now write a synopsis of your story (whether it is true or fictional). Eventually this will form the body of your story. On the first draft, let it flow down on paper. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or phraseology. Just get your story down. If you think of small details as you go, include them. But don’t worry about your construction in this first rough draft. Leave yourself free from constraints so your creative juices can flow. After it is written, lay it aside and let it cool.

Now go on to work on another project. Have a file folder or a folder on your computer labeled with the name of each project you are working on. Keeping organized records is imperative. Every time you find something pertaining to that idea, place it in the file. You may prefer to keep your files and research material electronically on your computer, but I would always suggest you have a hard copy backup.

God inspires us to write; I’m convinced of that. But God doesn’t tell us the words will flow down on paper and settle in concrete. He is not going to do our work for us—He will only guide us along the way. Writing the first draft is the creative part. For me, this is the easiest part. The hard part is rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting.

Remember that I told you to write a theme sentence and to make an outline before you began the actual writing. Then get as much down on paper as you can without worrying about the structure. Now let’s go back and put in the actual structure in the next blog.


Writing the Short Story (Part 1)

Currently, one of the fastest growing markets in all of Christian writing is fiction. However, if you are a beginning writer, I do not suggest you start with a novel. Instead, write a short story for a church school take-home paper or an online website. See The Christian Writers Market Guide for a list of markets.

The tips I give will work for fictional techniques in nonfiction pieces, such as personal experience stories, as well as for short anecdotal stories written within nonfiction articles and books.

An excellent definition of fiction is given by author Lee Roddy. “Creating characters in conflict culminating in crisis and change with commentary.”  The four key words are character, conflict, crisis, and change, called the “4 C’s of Fiction.”

A story is comprised of three elements: theme, plot, and character. Normally you can think of theme as the foundation on which the story sits. Your focus sentence will be based on the theme or main point you are trying to achieve. The story is either character-driven or plot-driven, depending on whether the main character is the most important element or whether the storyline is more important. These three qualities are always integral parts of your story, regardless of your emphasis. Think of them as forming a triangle with the theme as the base.

As in other writing, whether books, articles, or stories, form a focus sentence before you begin. This is the glue that holds the entire story together. The structure will be different for fiction than for nonfiction. Also, write a rough outline or a short running synopsis of the story. This may change as the story unfolds, but you need to have a plan in mind even though this may end differently.

Time Management Tips (Part 4)

Last week you were given Tips 7-9 for Time Management. Here are Tips 10-12 to help you manage your time, so you will be able to find more time for your writing.

  1. Keep Accurate Financial Records

Keep a ledger of expenses and income for your writing. Excel is an excellent computer program for keeping financial records. If you are making a serious attempt to run a business, you can write off the expenses on your tax return. Get receipts for your postage, office supplies, telephone calls, and dinners with editors. Also, if you drive to an interview or other job-related function, mileage can be deducted.

Keep track of your submissions—what is out in circulation, where you sent it, and when you e-mailed it.

  1. Avoid Procrastination

Have you heard people say, “I’ve always wanted to be an author. I’m going to write when the children grow up, when I retire, when my husband retires, etc. Someday, when I have the time, I’m going to…” If you are going to become a writer, you need to start right now.

  1. Touch the Lives of Others

Writing is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration. It takes a little talent, a strong desire, and a lot of hard work. If you manage your time properly, you will find time to write. Remember what I said at the beginning: God gives us enough hours to do all that He wants us to do. We have 86,400 seconds every day. Let’s use this time to glorify God in all we do.

This concludes the series on Time Management Tips for Writers.

Time Management Tips (Part 3)

Here are tips 7-9 to help you manage your time, so you will be able to find more time for your writing.

  1. Find a Quiet Place to Concentrate

When you write to glorify God, He deserves all of your attention. You can’t concentrate if the TV is blaring, the phone is ringing, or children are screaming. You need to find a place that is free from interruptions.

  1. Keep Your Body as Well as Your Mind in Shape

If you eat properly, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly, your mind will be sharper and more creative. Also, go out and participate in activities. In order to pull information out of your mind, there has to be a storehouse from which to withdraw it. Have you ever experienced a time when you were pulling more out than you were putting in? Didn’t you feel drained? Read. Read for pleasure as well as things related to what you are writing. You should spend as many hours reading as you do writing.

  1. Organize Your Work

Keep your home-office looking professional. Organize each writing project in a file folder as well as on your computer and on and electronic backup. Label each folder as you obtain ideas for articles or books. What may start out as an article file on “Dealing with Stress” may turn into a book five years down the road. Place everything you find regarding that subject in your file folder and/or computer file.

Tips 10-12 will be given in next week’s blog.