“How to Prepare a Non-fiction Book Proposal”

 by literary agent Chris Ferebee 

 Chris represents Rob Bell, Shauna Niequist, Jonathan Merritt, and many other popular authors. His clients include several New York Times bestselling authors, winners of various Religion Newswriters Association awards, and a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist.

 This session covers the nuts and bolts of outstanding book proposals. Topics include identifying your match with publishers and agents, title creation, the one-sentence hook, the need and the solution, your uniqueness, audience characterization, platform description, proposal organization and style, and more

 73 minutes including Q&A


Tomorrow the sun will rise, God willing, and it will be time again for us to go to our tables. It will be time to pick up the pen or turn on the machine or take up the colored pencil.

Tomorrow we will look our juries in the eye and continue telling them the stories we started out to tell. We will craft sentences that are honest and true. We will finish the day’s words and be artful enough to leave ourselves in a good place to do the next day’s work as well.

There are stories that must be told and must be heard, stories waiting on you and me to do the telling.

Tomorrow we will write, write and not waste time. We will make dark marks on the page, the gift to which we have been given, the gift that has been given to us.

– Robert Benson “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

“How Do You Write a Memoir?”

Asking me how to write a memoir is a little like saying, “I really want to have sex, where do I start?” What one person fantasizes about would ruin the romance for another. It depends on how you’re constructed inside and out, hormone levels, psychology. Or it’s like saying, “I want a makeover, how should I look?” A Goth girl’s not inclined to lime-green Fair Isle sweaters, and a preppy scorns black lipstick.

– May Karr “The Art of Memoir”

Go Slow

Of the nearly eight million words that have floated through my head onto a page, some of which have been deemed publishable, I am happy with about four dozen sentences. Four of those sentences I think are especially fine. I weep whenever I read them in public, mostly in the thought of having been lucky enough for those words to have chosen me and for my having been smart enough to say yes to them when they came my way.

I am absolutely convinced of this: the more I am willing to go slow, to treat each blank page as a gift, to pay attention to each word and each phrase and each sentence, and to be patient as they come to me, the more likely I am to wander into being the writer I am meant to become.

– Robert Benson “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

Should you Publish Without an Agent?

– by Jana Burson

I was recently asked if an author should publish without an agent. The quick answer to this is no! But, like most questions, there are multiple things to consider when making this decision.
Taking a step back, most of the major trade publishing houses actually don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts or proposals in the first place. With that in mind, you’re going to need an agent who has existing relationships with the right publishing houses and editors who acquire in your genre to even have your book idea considered.
In the unlikely event that a publishing house does accept unsolicited proposals, you still might be better off with agent representation for a variety of reasons:

• Without an agent, you won’t have a third party looking out for your best interests and it puts you as the author in the seat of negotiator, rather than allowing you to keep your focus on the craft of writing and nurturing your relationship with your editor.

• Unless you are business and contract savvy, you’ll want an agent who understands the legal and contractual ins and outs of publishing so you don’t end up in a less than favorable position.

• If you’ve never published before and don’t have experience with the publishing process, you’ll want someone on your team who is willing to explain things to you and can foresee where you’ll need guidance and assistance in the process.

• While it would be nice to believe that a publishing house would never take advantage of an author who doesn’t have representation, the reality is that you will most likely not receive as good of a deal as your agented peer.

I’ve talked with a few authors during my history in publishing who have been fortunate enough to get book deals without an agent because they either had a personal connection or were approached directly by a publisher. But most of them look back on that experience and wish they had obtained representation before signing their contract. So how do you get an agent? Here’s a good place to start.

God Assigns a Writing Exercise

by John Backman


Sometimes I have the urge to write but there is nothing to write, nothing that springs from the tenderest spot in my heart. Something is alive in that spot but it has no words, so my fingers on the keyboard do not move. Or they do move and make words anyway but the words are pallid: they fade the instant they hit the screen. Even chimpanzees can type words like that if they have enough time. I could do other things but I have to sit with this tenderest spot and I have no idea why.

What I’m doing can’t be called writing so I keep … typing, that’s the only word for it really, except I’m typing with one eye on that tender spot. Part of me is hoping for serendipity—Voilà! The very thing! and an essay pours forth. But it’s a lot to ask. So the exercise becomes a kind of zazen, the Buddhist practice of “just sitting” and non-thinking. The words do not serve a purpose; they just pass through like every other thought.

Except they don’t pass through. They sit there and breed a restlessness that doesn’t fit with zazen. Restlessness can be evidence of God’s calling, or so I’ve heard monks say. But to what? To chimp writing? A stubborn inner silence? Something not uttered because it’s unutterable?

Perhaps the result is the same. If it’s “just writing,” the quality of words makes no difference. If it’s writing as vocation, the quality of words makes no difference (I’ve been asked to be faithful, not create a masterwork). If I send this to a reader, maybe she finds a meaning in it, or a koan, or a Rorschach test. Maybe what she finds is the only thing that matters.

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Guideposts Call for Auditions – All God’s Creatures

Guideposts Books Editorial is looking for a few excellent authors to contribute to a unique annual devotional book called All God’s Creatures. We are looking for animal lovers from diverse backgrounds who can write daily devotion entries that bring together our love for animals (all kinds of creatures—not just pets) and our love for God in refreshing, inspiring, and uplifting ways.


Each devotion is about 350 words total, and includes the following elements:

  • A title
  • A short Scripture quote, with reference and Bible version, that serves as the basis of your devotion.
  • A true personal story of you or someone you know and a memorable encounter with an animal that made an impact on your or his/her life with a spiritual takeaway (250 to 275 words). The best devotions will bring the reader along with you in your discovery, as if a trusted friend is sharing his or her story.
  • A short closing prayer, quote, Scripture, or other encouragement. (Avoid instructing the reader, except perhaps to consider or meditate on some facet of the devotion.)


To audition, please submit three devotionals as Word or .rtf documents, using the guidelines above. Your pieces should showcase your voice, your affection for your animal subject, your approach, and your ability to communicate spiritual takeaways derived from your encounters with an animal. Be sure to include your name and contact info in each document.


If you are invited to be part of the team of writers for the All God’s Creatures devotional, you will be assigned several devotions and paid $75.00 per selected and published devotion on a work-for-hire basis. Guideposts will retain full rights to each paid devotion.


Please direct inquiries, questions, and submissions to Jon Woodhams (jwoodhams@guideposts.org) with All God’s Creatures Audition in your subject line. Deadline for submissions July 24, 2019.

King Lear – by Frederick Buechner

There would be a strong argument for saying that much of the most powerful preaching of our time is the preaching of the poets, playwrights, novelists because it is often they better than the rest of us who speak with awful honesty about the absence of God in the world and about the storm of his absence, both without and within, which, because it is unendurable, unlivable, drives us to look to the eye of the storm. I think of King Lear especially with its tragic vision of a world in which the good and the bad alike go down to dusty and, it would seem, equally meaningless death with no God to intervene on their behalf, and yet with its vision of a world in which the naked and helpless ones, the victims and fools, become at least truly alive before they die and thus touch however briefly on something that lies beyond the power of death. It is the worldly ones, the ones wise as the world understands wisdom and strong in the way the world understands strength, who are utterly doomed. This is so much the central paradox of Lear that the whole play can be read as a gloss if not a homily on that passage in First Corinthians where Paul expresses the same paradox in almost the same terms by writing, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28), thus pointing as Shakespeare points to the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can hear in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.


I think of Dostoevski in The Brothers Karamazov when the body of Alyosha’s beloved Father Zossima begins to stink in death instead of giving off fragrance as the dead body of a saint is supposed to, and at the very moment where Alyosha sees the world most abandoned by God, he suddenly finds the world so aflame with God that he rushes out of the chapel where the body lies and kisses the earth as the shaggy face of the world where God, in spite of and in the midst of everything, is.


– Originally published in Telling The Truth

How to Work with an Agent

by Tim Beals

Once you’ve secured the services of an agent, don’t expect him to do all your career-building for you. Continue making and using professional contacts, gathering information, seeking endorsements for your work, and building your social media platform. Be polite, straightforward, honest, and businesslike at all times. Sometimes the author-agent partnership turns into a real friendship, but it is first and always a business relationship.

Write or call your agent whenever you need to, but otherwise be patient and stay out of their inbox and voicemail. Instead, your agent will write or call whenever there is news to report. If you have heard little or nothing from your agent, however, it is reasonable to call or write every two months to see what has happened.

Once you have agreed to let an agent represent your next project, provide them with the following information:

  • The names of any editors or publishers who have asked to see your work.
  • The names of any editors or publishers who have read and enjoyed your earlier work.
  • The names of any editors or publishers you do not want your work submitted to.
  • The names of any editors or publishers who have already seen and rejected your project in its current (or very similar) form.
  • Where, when, and by whom part or all of the project has been previously published.

Don’t expect your agent to make decisions for you. Agents will bring you offers, answer your questions, and make suggestions, but only you can decide what to accept, what to turn down, when to ask for more. Indeed, this is part of your responsibility as an agented author. If your agent does not automatically send you a list of the people and organizations to which your project has been submitted, feel free to request it. Then allow your agent a reasonable amount of time to sell your work. Two to six months is typical.

If you ever have a problem with your agent, write or call them to discuss the issue. Be honest, firm, forthright, calm, and concerned. Remember that your agent has many other clients. Expect them to be responsive and helpful—but don’t expect constant and immediate availability.

Don’t let publishers make an end run around your agent. If you are approached directly about a project your agent is representing, get the person’s name, phone number, and employer, and pass on this information to your agent, who will take things from there. This is not only good business, it’s your legal obligation.

If you want to discuss an idea for a new project, or if you require some professional advice, feel free to call or email your agent. Ask him whether or not he would be interested in seeing your next project. He may decline to represent future projects you propose, but if you’ve been successful in the past, he should welcome new ideas. Simply send each new project to your agent with a brief message, and expect a prompt response.

Are you ready for an agent? Do you want to make beautiful music together? Come prepared, practice your craft, stay humble, and play your part. The right agent can guide your writing, present your work to the right editors, and effectively manage the business side of publishing on your behalf. Many publishers require writers to have an agent, and most successful writers work with one. So be ready to learn and your agent will help with the rest.


Tim Beals, “Agenting 101: The What, Why, When, and Hows of Literary Representation” in Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers ed. A.L. Rogers (Grand Rapids: Caffeinated Press, 2017), 116–117.

Don’t Worry — You’re Normal (For A Writer, Anyway)

by Kerry Connelly


Who’s bright idea was this, anyway?

They should have stopped me. Why didn’t they stop me?

This sucks. Like, it literally sucks any sense of self-esteem I have right out the window, it’s so bad.

Nobody is ever going to want to read this silly drivel.

Who cares about this? I don’t even think I care about this any more. Who’s idea was this, anyway?

Hey, now. That’s not so bad, that part right there…


Welcome to my inner dialogue. It happens every single time I write — whether it’s a blog post, a paper for school (I’m pursuing my MDiv) or my book manuscript. It’s almost a given that at any point in time, no matter how excited I am when I start out on a project, about half-way through this nasty little voice of mine will rear its ugly head and start in with its nonsense.

In addition to being a writer, however, I’m also a Certified Life Coach, and so I know a handy little secret: this cycle of mental chatter is totally normal, and knowing that is half the battle. When you understand that this voice has very little to do with your talent and ability and more to do with the way brain chemicals are released and impact your mood and desire to work on a project, you can understand that this is simply a part of the process, and you can lovingly push through the voice and continue to work.

The cycle goes like this:

1) Hey! I’m super excited about this! This is going to be amazing! I can’t wait to get started!

2) Okay, this is moving a little slower than I wanted but that’s ok. I got this.

3) Dear God, what have I done? I’m going to go back to waiting tables. At least I’m good at that.

4) Oh wait. That might be a good sentence, right there. Let’s keep going.

5) Hey! I’m super excited about this! This is going to be amazing! I can’t wait to finish this!

Here’s the breakdown: when we start a project, our brain gets excited and releases feel-good chemicals, but like any high — natural or otherwise — that only lasts for a bit. Once those happy little neuro-transmitters stop surging, so does our confidence. That’s when the voice starts getting chatty. When that happens, it could be a sign that it’s time to take a break, and go find something that will get your brain feeling good again. Then, you can come back and use those happy thoughts to propel your project across the finish line.

And most of all, remember: as much as us writers can be, you’re totally normal.  


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