You Can’t be a Reader and a Writer

– by Tony Jones


A long time ago, someone told me, “The best writers are great readers.”

The thinking was that if you read a lot — and read good stuff — you’ll figure out the English language works, how to develop an argument, how to construct a persuasive claim.

Fair enough. I think there’s truth there.

But more recently, someone else told me, “You can’t be a reader and a writer. There isn’t enough time. You have to choose.”

And I think this latter person was right, too. Maybe more right.

I’m at the point where I need to quit pecking away at Why Pray? in my free time. I need to write every day, no exceptions. I need to write thousands of words in the coming months, and then go back over the words and revise, revise, revise.

Meanwhile, the list of books that I want to read before I die continues to grow. Books on philosophy and theology, classics of literature, new books and old, pile up on my desks and in my Kindle. Plus, the newspaper arrives on our doorstep every day, and Google Reader is full of myriad unread posts that I want to get to.

I am beginning to think that it’s true: If I want to be a writer — a truly good writer — I probably cannot be a reader, at least not the extent that I’d like to be.




How to Pitch an Agent/Editor in 15 Minutes or Less

– by Christopher Ferebee

Often times when you attend a writers conference, you have an opportunity to sit down, speed dating style, for 3-15 minutes with various editors and agents. A common question is, what do I have to do to convince someone in a short pitch to represent or publish my work?

The short answer is, you can’t. Except for exceedingly rare circumstances, no editor or agent worth their salt is going to make a snap decision in that setting. You have to realize that the agents and editors are trying to provide a service more than they’re expecting to actually find a diamond in the rough. They’re going to give you pointers, what’s working, what isn’t, and talk to you about your big idea or try and help you figure out how to explain it if you even have one. They’re not really expecting to meet new clients or authors. It happens, but again, that’s not the expectation.

But before you get discouraged and decide to blow off the meetings, let me tell you why I think this actually opens the door for you to get serious attention.

If an author sits down in front of you, has actually done their homework, polished their pitch, and presents a compelling idea, that won’t be the norm. You have a chance to stand out from the crowd by being prepared to do your very best. If you accomplish this, then the editor or agent may actually invite you to formally submit your material for consideration. So what do you need to do?

Whatever you do, do not bring a 50 page document with the expectation that the editor or agent is going to take this from you. They may be polite, but it will not make it out of the hotel room. You should have a 1-3 page, easy-to-read and cleanly styled document with your name, contact information, a short bio, the title of your work, a 2-3 sentence hook, and 5-6 paragraph description of your main thesis or idea. And that’s it. If you do a good job in the pitch, they will take this document from you and it will have the information they need to follow up with you. If you cannot boil down your idea to a compelling presentation in this format, you’re not ready to present your idea.

You should also prepare a ninety-second pitch that you are going to deliver verbally. When you first sit down, you’ll introduce yourself, the agent or editor will do the same, and there may be some small talk. But the whole point is for you to make your pitch. Be prepared. Again, if you can’t tell me in 90 seconds or less what your big idea is, why it’s important, and why you’re the right person to write it, you’re not ready to present your idea.

If you really want to stand out, research the editor(s) or agent(s) you’re going to be meeting with. If your opening ice breaker is a statement about why you are excited to meet with this person because you know they work with a specific author or have published a specific book or set of books that are similar to you or what you’re working on, you’ll have their undivided attention. Again, be prepared. This isn’t a must, but it will go a long way toward helping you stand out. If you begin this way, nail your 90-second pitch, and have a solid 1-3 page document you can leave behind that is equally compelling, you will get positive feedback, and just might land yourself an editor or agent.

Finally, I’d practice your pitch and let a few friends read and respond to your document. Let them ask you questions, poke holes in your presentation, press you a little bit. An editor or agent asking you questions and engaging you with your idea can’t rattle you. You need to be prepared to answer questions. Think through specific questions someone might have about your project. Some obvious questions you should be able to respond to: Are there other books similar to yours already in the market? If so, what is your unique contribution to the topic? What other writing have you done similar to this? Have you built an audience and is this the type of work they’d expect from you?

I’ve said it a few times now, but I can’t over stress this: Be prepared. If you follow the above advice, you will be ready to make the most of your short window of time, and you will leave a good impression. That’s the most you can hope for from these meetings. Most editors and agents will be happy to meet with one person that is worth following up with. This will help you be that person.

Good luck!

5 Tips to a Great Book Proposal – by Angela Scheff

When putting together your proposal, please put as much care into it as if it were going to be published itself. There are some things that immediately stand out to agents and publishers alike that may make them think twice about continuing to read (as there is no lack of proposal submissions). Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you craft your perfect proposal.

1. Address the cover letter appropriately.

Do not be generic (“Dear Sirs” is the worst offender in my opinion). Do your research. Find out who you’re querying, what types of books/authors they’re looking for, and let them know why you chose to query them. Just because they’re an agent is not a good enough reason. Read here for more tips on this topic.

2. Make sure your proposal is error-free.

There is no reason for typos, auto-correct mistakes, or missing words in your proposal. Spell check is a beautiful thing, but so is the simple act of reading it aloud to yourself, and hiring a proofreader (even if “hiring” entails buying your English teacher friend coffee). You’re a writer so even if your specialty is story and not necessarily knowing the difference between their/there and it’s/its, you need to make sure these types of errors don’t make an appearance in your proposal.

3. Create a proposal compatible with your writing style.

While having a perfect proposal is the goal, make sure it’s not at the expense of your personality and writing style. A good writer knows all grammatical rules—and knows when to break them. Your proposal is an agent’s first introduction to your writing, so make sure it’s aligned with your style. More info on this point can be found here.

4. Be realistic yet cast a vision.

This point is especially apparent in the competing titles section. No, your book is probably not the next Hunger Games trilogy, but what could it be like? Spend some time thinking about the market—what’s on the front table at your local bookstore? What’s on the NY Times Bestseller lists? What books do people who follow your blog read? Who’s your favorite author? There are a lot of different ways to think about this, so include how your book fits with the current landscape and illustrate a need for it.

5. Set yourself apart.

The main question you can ask yourself as you’re putting your proposal together is, what makes me different? Why am I the person who needs to write on this topic? Then make sure this is communicated in some way in your proposal. Some authors may choose to design their proposal because it’s part of who they are. Others may choose to include a short video about their book idea as being a good communicator is what sets them apart. Whatever sets you apart, make sure it makes sense and stays true to who you are and what you’re topic/idea/message is.

Overall, proposals don’t need to be stuffy but do keep it professional.

An Audience That Can Be Activated – by Mark Schaefer

The key to assembling an audience that can be activated is to patiently build a meaningful and relevant emotional connection with them. This can occur two ways: passively or actively.

A passive emotional connection occurs when people come to know you through your content alone, typically over a long period of time. As people begin to see and enjoy your work, they progress through four phases of an emotional journey:

Awareness: They discover your content and know you exist. Perhaps 98 percent of the people who find you will move on, but a few will stick around to move to the next phase. That’s why it’s important to constantly build awareness and attract potential new fans.

Engagement: The new connections want to see more. They may click on a link, explore your website, comment on your blog, and even share your content with friends. It’s starting to become a two-way connection. They are learning about you and liking what they see.

Stable connection: New fans opt-in. They subscribe to your newsletter or follow you on Facebook, LinkedIn, or another channel. Your content is adding enough value to their lives that they want to follow your work regularly. For the first time, you may know a fan exists because they’re subscribing to you. A subscription means, “I trust you and I want to see more.”

Loyalty: Your fan not only follows you but encourages others to follow you, too. This is the elite group that’s most likely to be activated. They’ll spread your ideas, donate to your charity, or hire you to speak at an event. Your ideas and your content are becoming a part of the fabric of their lives. They can’t get enough of you.

– from “Known”

Finding Your Blue Ocean

In previous articles we’ve discussed the advantage of finding your own unique space in the market, which makes it easier for you to become “known” and build your following.  Today I would like to share insights from another of my favorite business books on this topic – it is called “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant”.  The idea of the book is that red oceans represent all the industries in existence today, and blue oceans denote all the industries that currently do not exist.  Most companies operate only in red oceans and do not know how to find blue oceans. They simply try to outperform their rivals. As it gets crowded, profits and growth are reduced.

Blue Oceans are defined by untapped market space, demand creation, and opportunity for profitable growth. Competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are yet to be set. Characteristics of blue oceans include:

  • They define new markets
  • They create a leap in value
  • They are the result of value innovation – when innovation is aligned with utility and price
  • Examples:
    • Cirque du Soleil
    • iTunes
    • iPhone
    • Starbucks

So how can you find your own blue ocean? As a spiritual writer, what leaps in value can you potentially offer? Here are some ideas:

    • Insight
    • Saying what others are thinking (but no one is saying)
    • Dealing with pain
    • Incredible writing
    • Relatability
    • Asking questions that others would ask too
    • Edginess
    • Talent not contained in a book

Where is your “blue ocean”? Feel free to contact us if you would like to work on this further.

Our creativity rebirths the world

Creativity can reveal the beauty and wonder of the spiritual life. Every time you create something, you are re-creating something that God created, and you are re-creating it in such a way that for certain people it will seem like the very first time they discovered rhythm or kindness or that particular shade of yellow. Our creativity rebirths the world in all of its detail again and again. As artists we name the world and help other people recognize the grace, wisdom and wonder that have been present all along.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press


Over the years, the concept of trust and how crucial it is for business success has evolved in my mind and grown in importance. The mental model I’ve chosen to use is that there are two types of trust that matter: (1) trust that someone is competent, and (2) trust that someone will do the right thing. I realize these are somewhat vague and certainly subjective qualities. But their importance cannot be underestimated. If you feel that your employee or business partner is strong in both areas, it makes all the difference in the world. If you feel otherwise, you are best off finding someone else.

More generally speaking, a high degree of trust in a company or in a society is incredibly valuable. Our culture is built on an assumption that most people are trustworthy. When that is the case, everything moves more quickly and costs less. There is less “friction” in the economy. When trust is lacking, a company or individual is forced to spend more money on protecting themselves – through lawyers, technology, physical security, contingency plans, etc.

What are you doing to foster a greater degree of trust?

Strong Is Knowing Your Own Power and Exercising It Humbly

God’s grace sustains us through our beginnings and endings. Losing my mom when I was twenty felt like the end of being a daughter and the beginning of being a mother to my younger siblings—my sister and brother. I grew up very quickly in the four and a half years between my mom’s funeral and my wedding. I became more responsible for myself—and for my father and siblings as well. There is a weightiness to becoming a matriarch. So, I learned to fully embrace that I am a strong woman and a leader.


I don’t wear the “strong woman” title as a badge of honor, as if I had a blue leotard with a Superwoman emblem on my chest and a red cape flying in the wind—not anymore, anyway. I used to be the StrongBlackWoman that Chanequa Walker-Barnes describes:


[She] is the woman who constantly extends herself on behalf of others. In her intimate and family relationships, on her job, and in her church and community, she is the “go to” woman, the one upon whom others depend when they need assistance, counsel, or comfort. Driven by a deeply ingrained desire to be seen as helpful and caring, she is practically incapable of saying no to others’ requests without experiencing feelings of guilt and worthlessness. As her willingness to help repeatedly reinforces others’ tendencies to ask her for help, her very nature becomes defined by multitasking and over-commitment.


I still multitask, but I have learned to say no by establishing boundaries, setting aside the responsibilities that do not belong to me, and asking for help.


I have also learned that strong is not always the opposite of weak. Strong is knowing your own power and exercising it humbly. In his book Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch writes, “What we truly admire in human beings is not authority alone or vulnerability alone—we seek both together.” Being a strong black woman is knowing quite deeply that the two—strength and weakness, authority and vulnerability—can coexist. This knowing is often born out of much suffering and sorrow.


Strong is knowing your own power and exercising it humbly.


*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Why fiction? – Part Two

Originally posted on November 3, 2016 by Sarah Arthur

A few weeks ago I woke up on a work day (I get only two per week) contemplating spending the morning writing some kind of public lament and personal confession regarding this presidential election. But something in me hesitated. This was not, I felt quite certain, my given task. Which was odd, because it seemed really, really important. Like, social justice important. Like, standing-before-God-accountable-someday important. But what was really tugging on me instead was a novel I’ve been chipping away at for (count them) fourteen years. Why the sudden urgency?

So I turned to Facebook and posted the following:

“Today I’m supposed to be writing fiction. Please remind me why this is important, why someone has to be writing stories that will outlast us, for the sake of my children, no matter what happens in November. Feel free to post your pep talks here. (Comments containing words like ‘election,’ ‘candidate,’ names of famous people of questionable moral character, etc., will be deleted without apology. I love you all.)”

The response? A deluge of encouragement from childhood friends, fans of my nonfiction, grad school buddies, publishing colleagues, people from church, family–none of whom have ever read my novels. Because I’ve yet to finish one.

I wrote two chapters that day–and six last month alone. This is what happens when communal discernment galvanizes the work you were born to do. 

With permission, here are the marvelous comments I received.

Why fiction?

Yes we need your fiction Sarah! These stories are the holders of beauty and truth and wisdom and goodness. Write for hope! – Catherine Carlson McNiel

I have two words for you – bucket filling! – Gretchen Williams

We need to know we’re part of a bigger story, Sarah. That this year, even this lifetime, is but one thin thread in a great tapestry. Write so we remember that God can take even the worst tragedies and find a way to bring about more joy, more peace and more love.
Kristin Kratky

My favorite musician, Andrew Peterson, also writes books. When talking about them he likes to [paraphrase] G.K. Chesterton: “We don’t tell fairy tales to tell our children that dragons exist. They know that. We tell fairy tales to let our children know that dragons can be beaten.”
Jonathan VanDop

Girl, you were meant to do this. I recall talks about writing fiction that go back many years. We need your voice, content, strength and skill!
Marta Arthur (mother-in-law)

When I was a kid, fiction opened my eyes to the world beyond my little town and let me imagine who I might become. – Dayna Olson-Getty

Fiction allows people to escape the madness. – Amanda Shoemaker

I subscribe to a writing newsletter by Holly Lisle and she sent out her most recent one in the face of possibly losing everything to Hurricane Matthew. It was an email filled with gratitude and reflection and there’s an applicable quote that I gleaned from it that I think fits your request:  “Fiction, both writing it and reading it, matters. Fiction is our dream of the way the world could be and should be, drawn against all the ways it should never be, and presented as a promise that what we can envision, we can create.” Keep writing, Sarah. Help be part of the creation of the world you envision.Candy Bryant

Written well, fiction tells us the truth about who we are and who we can be. Please write stories that tell the truth and are tinged with grace (which is as deeply true as anything else). – Liz DeGaynor

Important—and faithful–because it’s what you were designed to do. – Margot Starbuck

From one fiction writer to another: it matters! Because there are those who only read fiction, and they need our stories of truth and grace. – Terri Kraus

Jonah Sachs, in “Winning the Story Wars,” says “human beings share stories to remind each other of who they are and how they should act.” Write us a good one, Sarah!
Michael Poteet

A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” (Madeleine L’Engle) Sarah, you write like a star. And I do mean that both ways…because you are amazing and talented and rock-star-like, but also because your words and stories shine brightly in a dark world. Write on! – Stephanie Voiland Rische

Write for all the children like the son of C. S. Lewis’s correspondent (and like me) who might love Aslan more than Jesus. – Sarah Rubio

Because we want you to have a reason to come back to Oklahoma to see us! We love your writings! – Jill Ade Biggs

When I am weary from reading too many news articles, I turn to my favorite authors of fiction. Someday you will be someone’s favorite “author of fiction.”
Peg Faulman (thanks, mom!)

I can’t wait to read your fiction! I remember enjoying those writings about Walloon Lake!
Judy White Brusslan (other mother-in-law)

Fiction takes us in to our imaginations of what could be–something we all need!
Teresa Miller

I am gathering words. For the winter days are long and many, and we’ll run out of things to say.”
Daniel Ledingham, quoting from the book Frederick by Leo Lionni

To inspire us to explore our dreams. Fictional stories allow for the author, and the reader, to explore their hopes as well as their fears. While non-fiction portrays what is, fiction allows the thinking of what can be. – Julia Scott

As my Hebrew Bible prof said at VDS: Just because it’s not true doesn’t mean it’s not truthful.
Andrea Roth Murdock

Because you are supposed to give me your fiction to look over. – Katherine James

Also, Sarah, go write fiction and block Facebook. – Erin Wasinger

You have a gift. A gift has to be opened to see what’s inside. Then it can be shared. Carry on! – Patty McCoy

Write because that’s what you are so beautifully gifted to do. Create the stories that lift up humanity into realms of grace and love and ground us in what is most important. Write because it is fun. Write because someone needs to find their story embedded in yours. Go. Write. For all of us.Nikki O’Brien

How about you? Why write fiction? Post your comments here and keep sharing the love!

Will My Book Launch Include a Publicity Campaign? – Jana Burson

So you have a publishing deal, you’ve written your book, and the next phase is working with the marketing department on the launch plans. You find yourself wondering if there will be a publicity campaign, and you want to know how the decision is made.

In an ideal world, every book release would include an in-depth publicity campaign as part of its launch marketing plan. But the reality is that every book has a budgeted number of marketing dollars, leaving the marketing team to determine the best way to allocate them based on opportunity. As a former publicity director, I’ve participated in many a meeting to help determine where the funds should be spent.

The fact is, publicity is always important, but the weight of its importance is really determined by what type of book you have. Some books naturally lend themselves to publicity driven campaigns. This means that publicity (booked media coverage or interviews) is the most effective way people are going to learn about the book. These are books with highly recognizable authors and platforms, timely topics that lend themselves to news of the day, practical tips that can be pitched in a variety of ways, or never before revealed information.

If a book doesn’t fall into one of these categories, chances are that it will get a more limited publicity campaign. This isn’t always a bad thing because it means that the team feels there is a more effective way of getting the word out about your book. Be it a strategic social media campaign, targeted online promotion and advertising or another mode, a limited publicity campaign can compliment the effort in a variety of ways.

Get in touch!