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Writing For Your Life Today

Why Social Media Matters for Spiritual Writers

As an author or author-to-be, social media is VERY important to you for many great reasons:

First and most importantly, that is where your audience is!

  • Jesse James was famously asked “Why did you rob the bank?” His response: “Because that’s where the money is.”

Social media has immense reach:

  • Over 1.1 billion daily active users on Facebook
  • Over 310 million monthly active users on Twitter

Publishers care (a great deal!) about the size, engagement and breadth of your platform

  • Key criteria for author selection
  • You may not get a book deal without a meaningful platform

Social media is made for content

  • Writers produce content; this is made for you!
  • It is an important opportunity to define your own unique brand (Messaging, Color selection, Picture selection, Tone, Focus, etc.)

It is an amazing way to be found or “discovered”

  • High degree of targeting is possible
  • Cost effective
  • Author discoverability used to be primarily bookstore browsing; now it is online browsing

Social media removes the gatekeeper; now you enjoy a direct connection to your audience

  • No one decides other than the end consumer
  • Frequent opportunities for engagement and relationship building
  • Target who you want
  • No delay

It is a great testing ground

  • Get feedback on your ideas
  • Try things out / experiment
  • Try partnerships
  • Make new relationships!

Remember, “if you’re not online, you don’t exist!”

An Interview with Acquiring Editors – Part 2

– byAngela Scheff


This week we’re going to discuss what they specifically look for in proposals.


How many proposals do you review on average in a month? What percentage do you actually publish?


SMITH: Since the majority of proposals come my way via agents, I (intentionally!) don’t receive volumes of unsolicited proposals. Over a month I might review 15 or so proposals and I might take on 3-5 of those to shepherd through our review process. Our rule of thumb at Zondervan is that if you’re not passionate about it, if you have to think twice about it, it’s probably a pass. You hear so much about the nuts and bolts of concept, platform, marketing viability, etc., but the importance of a team’s passion for a book is not to be underestimated! So you can bet that the proposals we do take to pub board and the ones we are actively championing.


ALLEN: Counting only proposals I personally receive, I review at least 10 proposals per month, many more than that if you count those I review via my editorial colleagues. My personal goal is to acquire and publish 15 books per year. The division I head up is shooting for about 60 new books per year; altogether we review (I’m estimating) at least 400 proposals a year.


WONG: It varies depending on the time of year. In the busy seasons, I’m reviewing approximately 15 proposals each month. In the slower seasons, it’s closer to 10. We end up publishing just about 10 percent of those proposals on average.


What are the key things you look for in a proposal in order to keep reading?


SMITH:  One of my favorite questions to ask authors is: What is the boldest statement your book has to make? I call this the angle—it’s fresh, counter-intuitive, even a little provocative—and generates that double-take reaction which is of every importance to stand out among the many books on the shelves today. The more specific, the better. When I see a strong angle playing center stage in a proposal, when the author doesn’t make me go hunting for it, you have my full attention. And my day is made.


Like all readers, I’m looking to be moved. As immersed in content as I am, I’m not immune to it! A stellar story, a sentence I can’t help but underline, an idea from your proposal that shifts my perspective and I want to tell my husband about over dinner—that’s what makes me want to keep reading. It’s the fresh factor, which I’m convinced only comes about when a writer is willing to dig in and do the work.


Another thing I love to see is a writer who knows and owns their voice, which comes through practice and the decision to stop imitating even their favorite writers. Whether that voice is sassy and side-eyed or poignant and poetic or something else entirely, it’s a beautiful thing to behold when an author writes out of their uniqueness with confidence.


ALLEN: Concept, platform, writing.


A great concept is fresh in some way and meets a real need readers have.


Platform is an author’s ability to help us get the word out about their book.


Good writing keeps me reading even when I have a thousand other things to do.


WONG: There are three main components: (1) a fresh, compelling concept that will make readers think, “Yes, I need this book!” (2) thoughtful writing with a distinctive voice that draws readers in, and (3) a platform the publisher can creatively leverage in collaboration with the author for a strong book launch.


What are some of the things you see in a proposal that immediately make you turn it down?


SMITH: Generalized and overblown statements that show an author hasn’t done their research. For example, “There’s never been a book on this topic before!” when I can point to several recent examples. A missing angle or a concept that feels underdeveloped. Too many “I” statements in the writing and a lacking effort to write inclusively and invitationally toward the reader. This is even more important for memoirs which we get so many proposals for: if you are writing for yourself, that’s important and not to be discounted, but it’s not ready for proposal status until you begin to write to serve your readers. It’s easy to spot a proposal that has not yet evolved out of that initial catharsis stage.


ALLEN: Unoriginality, fiction, and lack of platform.


WONG: Muddled thinking and lack of polish. I’m often looking for the proposal to demonstrate clarity of thought, because even if you have the most compelling concept, if you can’t communicate it clearly, it’s that much harder to reach readers who must understand and be drawn in enough to buy the book in the first place. In terms of polish, I would hope that the proposal would be clear of mistakes, would not demonstrate a lack of understanding of the market, or have too much missing standard material. All of this highlights to me that you have not done your homework to put your best foot forward.


Thank you so much, Stephanie, Chad, and Jessica, for sharing your expertise and heart with your authors and our readers!

The Three Crucial Questions

So how do we make the story our company is telling clear?

Remember, the greatest enemy our business faces is the same enemy that good stories face: noise. At no point should we be able to pause a movie and be unable to answer three questions:

  1. What does the hero want?
  2. Who or what is opposing the hero getting what she wants?
  3. What will the hero’s life look like if she does (or does not) get what she wants?

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

Reassert your mastery

I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.

This tender relationship can change in a twinkling. If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you.

A work in progress quickly becomes feral, It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”

from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

Creativity: More Possibilities

Because God is in all things, every moment of your life contains more possibilities than you can perceive. Because God is creative and has made you creative, you can count on there being more options than what are now apparent.

We think of creativity as a quality we apply to writing or painting or building. But creativity is required most in daily situations, especially those that are going badly. Creativity can help us see a better way. Creativity opens our eyes and minds to the options that at first seem nonexistent.

Do you feel that you’re up against a wall today? Do you feel trapped, unable to solve a problem, out of ideas? Pray for the ability to see with God’s eyes and to perceive your life with God’s creative mind. There will be a way. God is present. And you are full of more solutions and fresh ideas than you now imagine.

from “small simple ways: an Ignatian daybook for healthy spiritual living” by Vinita Hampton Wright, Loyola Press

The Power of Making Friends at Writing Conferences

I was blessed to attend the inaugural Publishing in Color (PIC) conference in 2018 at New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I loved that the PIC purpose is to “foster relationships between prospective authors from under-represented groups and representatives from the spiritual publishing industry.” I had originally heard about the conference from a friend who knew about my writing journey and some difficulties I was experiencing at the time. I registered with a certain goal in mind as I had come to a standstill regarding a book writing project. I had hoped to find a publisher for the book. Aside from that goal, I thought it would be interesting to see what opportunities could arise from meeting the other publishing professionals who would be there “looking for new voices – new writers of color.”

Sadly, I must admit that typically when I attend writing conferences, I’m so focused on networking with the people on the various programs, I don’t really put that much energy into networking with my fellow conferees. Some of that is about the competition that is so detectable in the air at many writing conferences that it could be a topic on a writing conference agenda: How to Vie for the Few Opportunities Offered at Writing Conferences While Making Friends at Writing Conferences. But by the time I had registered for PIC, I had experienced so much rejection for a book writing project that I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to be as competitive as I usually am at a writing conference. My attitude was either the door will be opened for me via this conference or it will not be, and there was no need to get my emotions wrapped up in either outcome. I had had enough of experiencing a victory on that journey only for a subsequent defeat to nearly push me back to the starting point. At least it felt that way even if it was not exactly true.

That attitude enabled me to approach the conference without any expectations, and because I did not have any expectations, I was emotionally free to make friends with my fellow conferees. However, I did recognize that competitive spirit I typically had in some of my fellow conferees in that they seemed to be only focused on networking with the “representatives from the spiritual publishing industry.” I recognized it because that was my usual modus operandi. And inwardly, I wished them well. That PIC was a feast for those of us who are starving for writing opportunities. Additionally, the writing journey, particularly for a writer of color, can been be exhausting as there are not very many conferences in which the elevation of the work of writers of color is the end goal. But that competitive approach would not be my approach this time. I endeavored to meet the representatives AND meet my fellow conferees. One of my fellow conferees I met was Joy A. Williams. Joy and I instantly liked each other, and from the first day of the conference, we spent all of our free time together. In one of our meals together, she introduced me to Morgan Lee from Christianity Today magazine as they were friends in a Facebook group. I had no meetings scheduled with Morgan (To be honest, I am not even sure she was on the program.) so I was not trying to impress her. I was just friendly. I did mention to her that I had written for CT before as I had written a book review for the magazine a year earlier, and that I was from Atlanta. And that was that.

After the conference was over, I discovered that I was in a couple of Facebook groups with Morgan, so I saw her various posts and I imagine that she saw my posts as well. I had no idea that a random connection I made through a new friend at a writing conference from two years earlier would result in a cover story for Christianity Today magazine. But that is what happened. This summer, I was contacted by a Christianity Today magazine editor who was looking for writers for a package of cover stories about Black Christians in Atlanta as Atlanta, the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is known as the civil rights capital of the nation. She told me that Morgan Lee recommended me as a writer living in Atlanta who could write about my hometown and the Black Christians who live here. I was stunned because this was an opportunity that came to me through networking but not my usual mode of networking. This opportunity happened because not only had I networked with representatives at PIC, I networked with new friends. Now, I know the power of making friends at writing conferences, and this new approach will be my networking modus operandi moving forward. I hope my story helps my fellow writers of color as we continue in our quest to elevate our writing so that it is no longer “under-represented” and on our journeys, separately and collectively.

Stimulating Creativity

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way offers a lot of good ideas for stimulating creativity. One of the most helpful for me is the artist’s date: once a week doing something for and with yourself that feeds your creative side. It should be fun, and it should be good for your creativity; beyond that there are no rules. I don’t always keep a weekly date, but I use the artist’s date as an excuse to make regular trips to downtown Chicago-a bus ride for me-and wander museums, galleries or offbeat shops that make me stop and experience others’ creativity. Sometimes I take myself to a movie matinee, or I shop for a book and then go to lunch. Sometimes I simply spend extra time reading what I really like, or I rent a movie that offers inspiration or information concerning the work I’m writing. For instance, the atmosphere created in Fried Green Tomatoes gives me a creative boost when I write fiction set in a rural locale. Sometimes my date involves a thermos of tea and a leisurely walk along the lakefront. Nature is good for my soul, and during the warmer months I make dates to spend time in nearby parks and beside lagoons.


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



Story in a Nutshell

Here is nearly every story you see or hear in a nutshell: A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.

That’s really it. You’ll see some form of this structure in nearly every movie you watch from here on out. These seven basic plot points are like chords of music in the sense that you can use them to create an infinite variety of narrative expression. Just like playing the guitar, with these seven chords you can create any number of songs. Varying too far from these chords, however, means you risk descending into noise. 

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller


Much has been written about the life of the mind. I find the phrase itself markedly dreamy. The mind of the writer does indeed do something before it dies, and so does its owner, but I would be hard put to call it living. 

It should surprise no one that the life of the writer – such as it is – is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This explains why so many books describe the author’s childhood. A writer’s childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience. Writers read literary biography, and surround themselves with other writers, deliberately to enforce in themselves the ludicrous notion that a reasonable option for occupying yourself on the planet until your life span plays itself out is sitting in a small room for the duration, in the company of pieces of paper. 

Inside the small room, the writer is deeply preoccupied with things hitherto undreamed of. He finds himself inventing wholly new techniques in the service of art. 

from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

Integrity: Just Yes or No

“Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” —Matthew 5:37

Jesus understood that the more we talk, the less clear we can become. If we can’t say something simply, then perhaps we should reconsider what we are trying to say. When my explanations go on and on, what is happening? Am I trying to justify my behavior? Have I become argumentative, trying to pressure someone to agree with me? Or am I avoiding my true explanation, to which the listener might not be receptive?

It can take a long time to form the practice of communicating clearly. We are surrounded by half-truths and constant “spin” in the way people or companies represent themselves. We are accustomed to relentless sales pitches and exaggeration. If we answer people simply, as Jesus suggested, we might even be considered blunt or unfriendly. Jesus, show me how to do this—to speak simply and with integrity. 

Help me see my own habits of communication that need to change.

from “small simple ways: an Ignatian daybook for healthy spiritual living” by Vinita Hampton Wright, Loyola Press

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