Finding Your “Place” as a Writer

Many people talk about finding your “voice” as a writer, and this is very important.  But what about finding your “place”? Think of this as your identity.

Marketing guru Mark Schaefer, in his book “Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age”, describes your place as “a sustainable interest and something you want to be known for”.  He recommends that it:

    • Be aligned with your strengths
    • Provide purpose by benefitting others
    • Offer a distinctive topic
    • Is inexhaustibly fascinating to you

Here are 3 tools Mark recommends for you to help find your “place”:

  1. Finish the statement “Only I…” – what is it that only you can uniquely offer?
  2. Take the Gallup company’s Strength Finder Test
  3. Write your first 35 blog article headlines – kind of a test to see how broad and deep your expertise in the area is, and how much you are able to “stick with it”

Another approach comes from Jonathan Merritt*. He suggests picking 3 adjectives that describe who you are.  Jonathan writes at the intersection of faith and culture, and his 3 adjectives for himself are proactive, thoughtful, and brave.

How would you describe yourself? What is your “place”?



* From “How to Become a Power Blogger” – Princeton Seminary presentation, June 2016

How Important Is Your Platform?

– by Jana Burson

We are often asked: how important is my platform as an author?

The quick answer is that your platform is just as important as the quality of your content and concept, especially in the crowded world of book publishing today.

Most publishing houses take a three-pronged approach when reviewing proposals:

  1. strong and fresh concept
  2. stellar content and writing
  3. platform

If one of these three are weak or missing, it’s not likely that the proposal is going to make it through the process.

There was a time, even a decade ago, when an author’s platform didn’t carry as much weight as the quality of their concept and writing. This was before the power of social media, the change in the way people get news, and the rise of online shopping. Now publishing houses need to know there’s a proven way to reach the core buyer for an author’s message.


Platform refers to your level of visibility or influence, expertise or authority on the subject matter, proof of engagement and your target audience. Editors and agents alike are looking for answers to these questions when reviewing the platform section of your proposal.

So often I hear writers say they are overwhelmed when it comes to their platform because they aren’t marketers by nature. The truth is, you don’t have to have a degree in marketing to put in the time and consistent effort to build and enhance your platform. You simply have to be true to your message and consistent in providing quality content for your followers/readers.


Platform building is not the same for everyone and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that involves long-term strategic work and planning … much like writing!

The question is: are you willing to engage the process?


When Your Calling and the Market Collide – by John Backman

I am writing a book on self-denial.

Go ahead, laugh it up. I do. In Brian’s recent interview, Susan Salley of Abingdon Press asked us to consider why someone would pick up our book. Can you imagine someone picking up a book with self-denial in the title? Me neither.

And yet, in the depths of my deepest self, there’s a decided push to see the project through. The push has all the earmarks of—to use an unfashionable word—a calling.

This dilemma, I suspect, comes with the territory of spiritual writing. There’s what the market wants: what will sell, what readers will read, what will grow our platforms and our careers. And then there’s what God (the Universe, the One, Ultimate Reality, etc.) is asking us to do. Unless we meet the market, our writing goes nowhere; unless we follow the divine nudge, we go nowhere.

Can you do both? What happens when you can’t?

The obvious solution is to find the place where your calling and your market meet. That’s good advice on many fronts, and there are usually several ways to connect the two. Maybe, for instance, you recast your language for broader appeal without sacrificing the integrity of your message. Maybe you hone your definition of market.

With the self-denial book, I’ve had to do both. Since the title couldn’t include self-denial, I’m using the term giving your life away, which is actually more precise and maybe a shade more palatable. As to market, most readers will turn off at any whiff of self-denial, but you know who may not? Catholics. Self-denial, especially in service to others, is part of the Catholic tradition.

But this isn’t just about one book. The tension between calling and market can extend to every corner of our spiritual writing. Consider:

  • What if your calling lands you in a tiny market segment, writing books that a few people find life-changing but many others ignore?
  • What if your spiritual practice calls you to model a slower, more reflective way of life even as the blogosphere demands you post weekly? (It’s why contemplatives make lousy bloggers—well, this contemplative anyway.)
  • If your writing touches on current events, how do you fill your blog with deep spiritual insight into the news of the day when that insight can take weeks to develop?
  • What happens when your heart prompts you to write about wildly divergent topics, yet a clearer focus to your writing would strengthen your brand?
  • What if you must speak some hard truths into the world even though half your readership won’t appreciate it?

Here too there are workarounds. In terms of social media frequency, for instance, Brian has mentioned building an inventory of tweets and blog posts to maintain a regular publishing schedule. But sometimes the workarounds don’t quite work, and we are left with the tension.

The bright spot, perhaps, is that we spiritual folks are good at living in tension. We know that sometimes tension spawns insights we never would have expected. Those insights can eventually make our writing—and our lives—richer.

So maybe we use the workarounds, but don’t default to them too fast. Maybe we live with the tension until the tension yields something. What about you? Have you experienced the tension? How do you live with it, or into it?



About the Author

A spiritual director, contributor to Huffington Post Religion, and associate of an Episcopal monastery, John Backman writes and speaks about contemplative spirituality and its surprising relevance for today’s deepest issues. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths) and his articles have appeared in numerous faith-based publications. He has presented at a range of conferences, including the Parliament of the World’s Religions.


The Importance of a Book Proposal

by Jana Burson of The Christopher Ferebee Agency

Your proposal is not only the tool by which you will obtain your literary agent, it’s also the tool your agent will use to shop your book and, hopefully, get you a publishing deal. This is not a post about how to put a proposal together. There are tons of resources online to help with that including this one and this one. I do, however, want to share some tips on things you should and shouldn’t do when putting your proposal together.


Just like when you are meeting someone for the first time, you put extra care and attention into what you wear and say in the hopes of impressing the other person. The same extra effort should be poured into your book proposal. Put your best foot forward!

When I first started working in publishing, the lens through which I reviewed book proposals was as a publicist. Seven years later, my role, and therefore my lens, changed to that of an acquisitions editor. While those roles were different, there were still so many similarities in how a book proposal is ultimately reviewed. Now as a literary agent, my previous experience in book publicity and acquisitions plays a large role in how I review a book proposal today. The first three things I look for are (1) strong and fresh concept, (2) phenomenal writing, and (3) a well established or growing platform. Following are some tips to consider when developing your book proposal.

Your Book Proposal Should:

  • Have a strong title/subtitle
  • Have a very clear and fresh idea or concept that can be conveyed in 1-2 sentences
  • Include why you are the best person to write on the topic
  • Have a well thought out and developed outline with well written chapter synopses that convey the full direction/flow of the book
  • Have absolutely stellar writing
  • Include previous sales history, if applicable
  • Convey the size and power of your platform, and show any major growth that’s taken place, and explain how you will use your platform to help sell books
  • Include an author photo, as it personalizes the content
  • If possible, include a short video (2 minutes or less) sharing your heart behind the book
  • Convey your overall style and personality. While there are items of a proposal that must be included, feel free to be creative in how it conveys who you are

Your Book Proposal Should Not:

  • Contain incorrect or inflated information
  • Be more than 50 pages (Shorter than that is even better)
  • Be a rough draft of an idea you have
  • Be off brand from the niche or area of expertise you’ve built your platform on
  • Contain multiple misspellings or grammatical mistakes

The more excellent and thorough your proposal is, the better impression you will make when publishing houses review it for the first time.

For Aspiring Writers: Your One-Stop Conference/Festival Etiquette Guide

For Aspiring Writers: Your One-Stop Conference/Festival Etiquette Guide

By Sarah Arthur

As a published author who has made some of my biggest breaks by meeting editors at writing conferences, I’m often asked how I did this. How does someone who is relatively unknown get on the publishing radar? And how does one do this without alienating the entire industry, or selling your soul—or both?

My story is rather unusual, as I describe in this fun podcast interview—and I’m not entirely certain how it all happened (good weather? planetary alignments? divine somethingness?). So to answer the above questions I scribbled down my hunches and then messaged a group of veteran writers, editors, and poets, asking, “If you were to write a conference/festival etiquette guide for aspiring writers hoping to get published, what would it include?”

Their responses confirmed my hunches, plus gave me some great inside stories from the industry. What follows is your One-Stop Conference/Festival Etiquette Guide. For those who’ve been in the conference circuit for awhile, what else would you add?

  1. Be there to learn. Unless you’ve been doing this writing/publishing thing for longer than most editors have been alive, consider the conference itself as a relatively inexpensive college-level course in a topic about which (as an unpublished author) you know slightly more than nothing. This applies not only to what you can learn about the publishing industry but about the craft of writing itself, and even—yes: brace yourself—your own work (see #8).
  2. Treat editors like human beings. I can’t stress this enough. As one editor says, “Please don’t look at editors as inhuman publication machines who exist only either to do something for you or to reject you because they’re jerks.” Editors are real people who have to eat and pee and sleep like everyone else. Some of them miss their families; others have medical conditions, for pity’s sake. Find an area of common interest that doesn’t involve your cherished project. One editor advises, “Approach editors/publishers as fellow book-lovers and go from there.” Demonstrating that you’re a team player by showing you can give and take graciously in a mutual conversation is key. “Writing is a solitary discipline,” says that same editor, “but publishing, especially at the small press level, is a collaborative endeavor and needs a solid platform of trust, shared artistic values, and enterprise-in-common to work.”
  3. Research before you make a pitch. No: the publisher that’s never published monologues does not want to hear your monologue about your groundbreaking monologue. You will not make them abandon their brand, much less their founding vision, in one thirty-second conversation. Get online before the conference and learn what they do and don’t publish—not just genres but topics, issues, and authors. Purchase some of their books and not only read them but review them on Goodreads and Amazon, even on your own blog. In the words of one editor, “Haven’t read any of our books? Then why do you think you’re a good fit?”
  4. Ask questions. College course, remember? You’re here to learn, which means pursuing lines of inquiry with a kind of earnest curiosity—even delight. “Ask about their publications, ask what they like to see and where to find guidelines,” says one editor. Keep in mind that many editors are also writers: one suggests, “Ask them about their work. Don’t bring up your own work. After talking about what they do for a minute or two, they may ask about what you do.” Another says, “If you’re new to publishing and truly just want to have a conversation about how things work and make some friends, then do that! Just be clear about what you need/want from the conversation and most editors will be happy to talk with you.”
  5. Listen. It seems obvious, but once you’ve asked a question, close your mouth. For as long as they keep talking. Then follow up with another question. Attend an editor’s workshop(s); be there if the editor is on a panel. Read books the editor has written, if any. Become, if you will, a kind of disciple. But also be mindful that the editor only has so many people he or she can engage in a day. Someone else might be standing in line behind you, and out of respect for the invisible fellowship of writers around the world, without whom you wouldn’t be a writer yourself, step graciously aside. Then go find another editor to listen to.
  6. Buy their publications. In the words of one editor, “Consider budgeting to buy a few things to show your good faith understanding that publishing houses and small presses don’t survive without reader support.” If the publisher has a booth in the Exhibit Hall, take their products seriously: browse; then, if you find their titles or back issues intriguing, purchase something. One writer, who is also professor, says, “If you are a professor/instructor ask about a publisher’s books for your classes. I use small press titles whenever I can. Twenty copies bought for a class makes a big difference to a press like that.” Another editor says, “I’m much more willing to look at your manuscript if you are willing to support the press. It might end up being the best $20 you ever spend.”
  7. Be up front about your interest in making a pitch. Note this doesn’t say, “Pitch your project unsolicited.” You can’t throw your material at someone you’ve never met, unasked, and expect them to take you seriously. Rather, this is saying, “I really appreciate your publishing house’s vision and titles—including _________, which I’ve just reviewed on Goodreads. And it’s made me think that what I’ve written might be a good fit for you. Would you be open to me emailing you about that sometime?” And then the editor will either outline their company’s submission process (and you’d better take notes), or ask, “Well, what’s it about?”—because that way they know whether an email correspondence will be worth their time or become a vast black hole in the literary space-time continuum. Don’t be aggressive, but at the same time, says one editor, “Don’t offer to meet me for coffee under the auspices of asking a few questions when you really want to pitch a book. Just give me your damn pitch.”
  8. Hold your work lightly. At the first writing conference I ever attended, before I got published, I had grand visions of becoming a children’s book writer and illustrator. I came with manuscripts, a portfolio of illustrations, business cards and proposals to that effect. Pause at this point and take a look at my list of published works. Do you see any illustrated children’s books on there? No? That’s because the connections I made at that original conference ultimately had nothing to do with what I thought my work was about. Keep this in mind as you lug that little stack of proposals and sample materials around with you from workshop to workshop, from booth to booth in the Exhibit Hall. If you’re holding your cherished project in a closed fist, it might be time to open your hand a bit. What else might come of these connections?
  9. Learn how to graciously take “no” for an answer. For your reading pleasure, here’s an example of what not to do, as supplied by an editor for whom this was a real-life experience at the AWP:

Clueless Jerk: Hi, Editor! Here’s my chapbook manuscript. [shoves pile of papers in Editor’s face]

Editor: We only accept manuscripts online. Also, we don’t publish chapbooks. Try X, Y or Z publishers down the line.

Clueless Jerk: Yeah, but this is really good. I think you’ll make an exception if you read it. I’ll come back tomorrow to see what you think. [walks away]

Let’s rehearse all the things this aspiring writer did wrong, shall we? No, let’s just assume he broke all the rules. But he especially ignored a clear “no” when the editor kindly but firmly explained how their submission process works, what kinds of things they publish, and helpfully suggested some other options. That’s the end of the conversation, people. As one editor says, “I’ve had my fill of writers who want me to look at their stuff even when I’ve told them it’s not what we publish. Just stop talking!” After a publisher explains why your work isn’t a good fit, you simply say, “That’s really helpful. Thanks so much!” Then you browse their products, purchase something (if possible, particularly if you think this publisher might be a good fit for something else you could work on down the road), smile, and walk away.

  1. Honor the relationship. Have I said that editors are real people? Yep. They have only so many hours a day to answer email, respond to follow-up questions, or set appointments. So whatever happens after your interaction should remain professional, cheerful, and brief—and above all, should respect that the publishing process (including correspondence) is often glacially slow due to the volume of material an editor is reviewing. Haven’t heard back in two weeks? Two months? This is normal. One follow-up email by you 6-8 weeks after the conference is appropriate, but after that, leave it alone. And again: take “no” for an answer. Yet another lovely example supplied by my editor friends after AWP:

Clueless Jerk Number Two: Hi, Editor. About the manuscript that I sent, do you know if it received any consideration at all?

Editor: I don’t remember your manuscript, and you haven’t helped by not mentioning the title. We receive 150 manuscripts per year. I only see the last twenty or thirty, after grad students do the screening. You could submit next year. There will be a different pool of graduate students, and you might have better luck.

Clueless Jerk Two: I’ll just come back to the table later when there’s a grad student here and creep her out by giving her dirty looks and asking why she turned down my amazing manuscript.

Editor: Okay, good luck with that. Creep.

(Test question: What ten etiquette rules did the above conference attendee break?)

To wrap up, I tell one last story from my personal experience. I first met one of my editors at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, four years ago. He and I both happened to be waiting for colleagues who were engaged in conversation, so I turned to him and said, “Hi Dan [not his real name], I’m Sarah Arthur. You’re one of the editors at Woodhouse [invented], right?” He was cordial, and then I asked him if he ever got to simply enjoy the workshops, or if he was trapped with one appointment after another. At which point he warmed right up, talked for awhile, then asked me what I do. Soon he motioned for me to sit, and we talked for another 15 minutes—out of which came lunch and a book deal.

Yep, treat editors like human beings. Not that they’ll all give you a book deal. But they’ll remember their humanity was honored, that someone gave them the chance to exhale.


Sarah Arthur is a fun-loving speaker and the author of eleven books, including the bestseller Walking with Frodo (Tyndale) and the literary guides to prayer series with Paraclete Press (At the Still Point, Light Upon Light, and Between Midnight and Dawn). Her most recent title, co-authored with friend and colleague Erin Wasinger, is The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos Press).

“How To Build Your Own Podcast Program” – video training

Mike McHargue (better known as Science Mike) is an author, podcaster, and speaker who travels the world helping people understand the science of life’s most profound and mundane experiences. Mike’s the host of Ask Science Mike, and co-hosts The Liturgists Podcast with his friend Michael Gungor. In this 65 minute video presentation (including Q&A), Mike goes through all the steps necessary to develop your own podcasting platform, sharing what he has learned through developing his own.

Learn more here.

The Sharing of the Crowd


Harnessing the sharing of the crowd will often take you further than you think, and it is almost always the best place to start.

We have barely begun to explore what kinds of amazing things a crowd can do. There must be two million different ways to crowdfund an idea, or to crowdorganize it, or to crowdmake it. There must be a million more new ways to share unexpected things in unexpected ways.

In the next three decades the greatest wealth – and more interesting cultural innovations – lie in this direction. The largest, fastest growing, most profitable companies in 2050 will be companies that will have figured out how to harness aspects of sharing that are invisible and un appreciated today. Anything that can be shared – thoughts, emotions, money, health, time – will be shared in the right conditions, with the right benefits. Anything that can be shared can be shared better, faster, easier, longer, and in a million more ways than we currently realize. At the point in our history, sharing something that has not been shared before, or in a new way, is the surest way to increase its value.


– from “The Inevitable” By Kevin Kelly

It’s Not About You

If you’ve paid any attention to my posts, you know that I am bullish regarding the need for new authors to participate in social media and build a platform (a following of people who resonate with what you have to say, and who are thus likely to purchase your books, regardless of whether you work through a traditional publisher or self-publish).

But often I hear from early-stage writers that they are reluctant to do this because they don’t like self-promotion; they don’t want to “toot their own horn.”

My answer to this sentiment is two-fold:

1. Whether we are talking about social media or writing a book, the important thing is that it is not about you. It needs to be about your ideas that will help people. Why does someone buy a book? Because they want to learn, because they want to solve a problem, because they’re interested in the topic. Sorry, but you’re not a celebrity, and they really don’t care about you. They care about what is unique and valuable that you have to say.

If you have not already, this is a mindset I suggest you adopt, and it is incredibly freeing and focusing. What you are all about is helping people! What is better than that? It is freeing because it removes the guilt, and it is focusing because it forces you to concentrate on what really matters…

2. If you believe that God is working through you, then let it happen! Let God do the talking! Remember all of this Holy Spirit stuff that we say we believe. Then believe!

10 Tips for Working with an Editor

– by Tony Jones

A while back I was in Chicago, meeting with my editor about my next book. I’ve known him professionally and as a friend for over a decade, but we’ve never worked together before, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. Over the course of a day, sitting at his kitchen table, we talked about everything from what I see as my role in the wider world to what should be my “voice” in this book to how the table of contents should flow.

As a result of our meeting, the table of contents is, in fact, completely different. I had written about 23,000 words of the manuscript prior to our meeting, so we also went over some passages, talking about my voice, my writing style, etc. All in all, it was a great meeting, and I’m fortunate to be working with him.

With a dozen books in print, I’ve worked with almost that many editors. I’ve also worked as an editor, both in my role at sparkhouse, and in a couple book projects. So, from my vantage point, here are my Top Ten Tips for Working with an Editor:

1) Fight for time with your editor. Some authors like working closely with their editors. Others prefer a more hands-off approach. I’m in the former camp. I really like the feeling that a book is a team project. But I’ve found that really happens primarily when I instigate it. Most editors seems to hang back and wait for the author to initiate meetings.

2) Remember that your editor works for you, and for the publisher. The editor is a conduit of sorts. She will work at making your book better, but she’s also got the best interests of the publisher at heart. These two allegiances aren’t contradictory, but they don’t always line up as much as you might want.

3) Remember that your editor isn’t only working on your book. Most editors are responsible for bringing between one and two dozen books to print per year. Be understanding when someone else’s book is ahead of yours in the queue.

4) Remember that your editor has other duties, too. If your book is one of twelve that your editor is working on, that doesn’t mean that your editor will spend a month, holed up in a cabin, editing your manuscript. He is also attending conferences and trade shows, going to meetings, and reading manuscripts that are coming in.

5) Take advantage of your editor’s view of the market. More than you, your editor is paying close attention to what’s selling. MY editor and I have had several conversations about what has made recent books by Rob Bell and Nadia Bolz-Weber successful. He tracks their sales on Bookscan, and he is reading trade publications that I’m not.

6) Decide what you’re going to fight for. Going into our meeting, there were certain things I really wanted. The title, for instance, was important to me. The table of contents was not. Something in between is my voice in this book, which my editor would like to be less professorial. Okay, he wants it to be not at all professorial. That’s going to be a struggle for me, not because I want to sound professorial, but because that’s how I’ve been trained to write.

7) Don’t be afraid to ask for another editor. If you’re writing a book for a publishing house or a magazine, and you just don’t click with the editor who acquired your book or article, as for a second opinion. One editor does not necessarily have the perfect perspective on your writing, and another set of eyes can be very helpful.

8) Thank your editor in the acknowledgments. This is an obvious one, but put it on your to-do list.

9) Use the lag time. After your book is complete, there will be several months before it comes out. And no one is more in touch with your strengths and weaknesses as a writer at that moment-in-time than your editor. She’s been neck deep in your writing for weeks or months. So ask her what she thinks you should write next. Bounce around some ideas. And, if possible, get a contract for your next book before the current book drops.

10) Involve the editor in marketing. The person who’s assigned to market your book has most likely not read it. Maybe he’s skimmed it. Your editor, on the other hand, is intimately acquainted with your book, and he probably works three desks down from the marketer. So encourage your editor to advocate for your book with the marketing team.

Do I Need a Synopsis?

– by Angela Scheff

You’ve been working on your killer idea. You’ve put time into developing your chapters, your narrative arc, your proposal. By chance you run into a publisher who asks, “So what’s your book about?” You have 30 seconds to tell her. You’ve been waiting for this moment! You can do this! But your mind goes blank …

While the chances of randomly running into a publisher are slim (unless you’re headed to a writers conference), your proposal is your response as your agent submits it to interested publishers. But publishers are busy and they look at so many proposals a day and they run out of time and they’ve heard it all and even though you’ve worked so hard on an entire proposal, chances are, you have 30 seconds to pique their interest. So what do you do?

You write a killer synopsis!

To match your killer idea. The synopsis, aka the elevator pitch, is your first line in your well-crafted proposal, and your chance to introduce your book to publishers, to hook them, to inspire them to continue reading. The synopsis can be one or two sentences long or could even be the title and subtitle. Either way, it must be




If your response is, But my idea is bigger than a single sentence! It’s more complicated then that, then your proposal is not ready to be shopped yet. Fly higher and see the bigger picture.

Need some inspiration? Take a look on amazon and look at your favorite books’ descriptions—usually the first sentence draws you in. Look at how movies are marketed and described. Peruse Netflix. (And then you can rewrite them in your head as some of them are a bit ridiculous and don’t draw you in at all.)

The bottom line: while you have a great chance to describe your book idea in your overview section (which is usually a page long), your synopsis is your 30-second chance to gain publishers’ interest and inspire them to read more.

Get in touch!