Thursday, July 31, 2014

"It Was a Dark and Stormy Night"**

I've been meaning to do a post about first lines of novels for a while now.  I had successfully procrastinated until today, when, while browsing through my Facebook messages--one of the methods of writing-procrastinating that normally works well for me--I ran across an intriguing challenge by one of my Facebook "friends."

Shameless Name Dropping

Ahem:  I am a Facebook friend of Jerry Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series of books about the end of the world as we know it, which has sold a gazillion copies and made him a very rich man. 

Our friendship happened this way:  I managed to get on his "friend" list early in his Facebook career, just before he hit the cutoff mark of 1000.

Anyway, Jerry Jenkins has the distracting habit of posting a challenging question every day on Facebook that requires a response.  Most of them I manage to ignore, but this one intrigued me. 

He said:  Grab the book closest to you and share the author's name and the first line. 

He had me from the words, "first line."

Out of the first 65 comments in response to his challenge I found seven I think are great first-liners.  One is from a book I've read.  Two are from ones I haven't read yet by authors I already know and like.  And four are one-liners I wish I'd written, from books I now want to read.

How Do These Grab You?

"We only have a few hours, so listen carefully."
Rick Riordan.  The Red Pyramid  

"Jesus Christ was executed at a place so public that the sign explaining his death had to be printed in three languages, at a crossroads so well traveled that most of the people who saw him tortured were merely passing by."
Stephen Mansfield.  Killing Jesus

"My parents absolutely ruined me."

"Before He called me forth from the grave, Jesus wept."
Bodie & Brock Thoene.  When Jesus Wept
"Prayer is the divine enigma--that marvelous mystery hidden behind the cloud of God's omnipotence."

"It was mid afternoon in New Babylon, and David Hassad was frantic."
Jerry Jenkins & Tim LaHaye.  The Mark

"What if I said, 'Stop praying?'"
Francis Chan.  Crazy Love

Sigh :-(

More books to add to the stack by my bedside.  Yes, this picture is of the actual stack.  I'm pretty sure I won't get through them all before I die but I'll work my way down the pile, one by one.  It will be good for my writing-procrastination goal, at least.

What are your favorite first lines?  I'm not totally against adding to the pile.

** The title of this post is the most famous first line of all time that begins A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Just Another Whiny Indie Pub Rant

It appears that the American Christian Fiction Writer's Association is jumping on the bandwagon. 

The Indie Author bandwagon, that is.

It's not surprising.  One by one,  industry moguls are moving over to the other side of the Indie publishing debate.  Self-publishing has come of age.  

One of the latest big shifts came when Jerry Jenkins, best-selling author, with Tim LaHaye, of the Left Behind Series finally "saw the light."  

Some months ago, on Facebook, I jokingly suggested to him that he review my indie-published novel in exchange for the pre-publication review I gave one of his new police thriller manuscripts.  He wrote back with a "no" to the review request (surprise, surprise), a passionate diatribe in support of traditional publishing, and a categorical relegation of all indie published books to the file 13 slush pile.  

"If your book is really good," he said, "you should find a traditional publisher."

I thanked him for his advice.  I didn't bother telling him I was foot-sore from pounding the pavement to the doors of traditional publishers, and on crutches from getting that same foot smashed by those doors, which always slammed halfway through the first sentence of my elevator pitch.  

Then, low and behold, in March, 2013, we get a news flash.  Jerry Jenkins has started his own self publishing company.  He actually said, on Facebook, "I saw the light."  Now he's charging big bucks to help independently published authors "prove their worthiness in the market."

I wish I could say he saw the light because he saw my manuscript.  Alas, he hasn't read it yet, and I can't afford the fee he would charge me to do so. But his conversion experience is indicative of where the industry is going, and has been going for the last several years.  

So back to the ACFW.  Below are excerpts from an e-mail they sent me this morning in response to my recent cancelation of my membership in their organization.  If you're a Christian Indie author you might be interested.

Dear Ginny,

It’s great to connect with you again through email. Whether your affiliation with ACFW was long-term or short-term, please know you have been missed.

Life sometimes takes us in different directions than we expect, or even different from what we want. That may have happened to you. But sometimes it brings us back full circle. If you’re still interested in writing Christian fiction, consider joining ACFW again. ACFW continues to offer quality skill training for novelists, as well as education in the industry.

We wanted to make you aware of some recent and upcoming changes in ACFW that are tailored to meet a wider range of needs.

When ACFW first began, the organization focused solely on helping authors improve their craft with the goal of signing with a traditional publisher. Times have certainly changed! Many authors are now either publishing independently or are “hybrid” authors—involved in both independent and traditional publishing. The ACFW Executive Board agreed ACFW needs to be an organization that helps all novelists, regardless of which path they choose.

In full recognition of changes within the industry, independently published books will be allowed entry into the Carol Awards beginning in 2015.
This is a good first step.  It might be useful to some Indie authors. But it's only encouraging if you've already done, by yourself, the marketing work a traditional publisher would normally help you do.  

Read on. 

In fairness, independently published authors must also meet a certain standard to enter the Carols: a “Qualified Independent Author” status. The QIA status will require the author to show proof of a minimum of $4000 earnings within a consecutive 12-month period on one independently published Christian novel. Once the status is reached, it is permanent.

These requirements are in keeping with standards currently used within the independent publishing industry. And they are designed to level the playing field between traditionally published authors, whose path includes successfully navigating through professional channels, and independently published authors who successfully navigate the challenges of publishing on their own.

The same qualifications for the Carol Awards will apply for those wanting to list their novels on Fiction Finder: traditionally published books must be released by an ACFW recognized publisher, and independently published books must be from an author who has achieved the Qualified Independent Author status.
I'm not complaining about these stipulations.  There's still a need to screen self-published books and the ACFW needs such guidelines to maintain professional standards. If they didn't they'd be in danger of becoming bedfellows of vanity presses.  

But it's still hard for those of us who have well written books and don't know how to get them noticed in the marketplace.  It's not our manuscripts that are being screened in this case, it's our marketing success level.  

And that's fair too.  We can't expect anyone to lift us out of the promotion difficulties every author, and publisher--traditional or indie--has to deal with.  And I'm not knocking the ACFW either.  It's a great resource and support for any Christian writer, as Robin points out.   
ACFW is the place to be if you’re writing Christian fiction. Veteran writers and relative newcomers are improving their craft, understanding the needs of the market, and going on to publication and award honors.

We’d love to have you rejoin the circle and help form part of this vital community focused on fiction.

Robin Miller
ACFW Executive Director 
Next post I'll give my reply to Robin's invitation, explaining in greater detail some of the difficulties Christian indie authors face, and talking about my experiences with editors at ACFW conferences.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What Every Author Should Know About Publishing Options

Here's yet another reason to link up with Randy Ingermanson.

In his article, The Death of Self-Publishing, he's summarized all publishing options and defined publishing terms better than I've seen anywhere else.

This article contains essential information for any author thinking about publishing a book, for the first time, or the next.

No, I'm not fixated on this guy.  Although I am currently in the process of reading his latest release, Transgression.  It's a procrastination ploy. I know I should be writing instead of reading.

Does anyone else ever lose writing momentum so badly that it feels like slogging through quicksand when you try to get back on the writing path?

For months?


Friday, February 14, 2014

Seven Reasons All Serious (and Not so Serious) Writers Should Link to Randy Ingermanson

Big tip, especially for all you beginning writer/indie publishers out there!

This tip is a person.

His name is Randy Ingermanson.

Randy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years and publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the largest electronic magazine in the world on the craft of writing fiction, with over 32,000 readers.

I first met Randy through Camille Eide, another writer friend I'd just met in a shuttle bus on our way to my first Mt. Hermon Writers' Conference in March of 2008. 

I remember the meeting (which is more than I can say about most random events in my past) the way you remember some seemingly insignificant moment in time for no apparent reason. At the time I had no reason to think this guy would matter to me, even though Camille said good things about him and I trusted Camille's judgment.  It was just one of the kind of casual introductions you always get at writers' conferences, which is one of the best reasons for going to them.

But I digress.

Randy just happened to be sauntering by as Camille and I stepped out of our transport. She greeted him, and, gracious person that she is, she introduced us. He said all the right things, and then ducked and ran, like the introverted geeky kind of a person he is. I turned away, thinking no more of the meeting, eager to enter into the conference experience at Mt. Hermon, my favorite writerly place to be.

As it turned out, I would run across this amazing man off and on for the next six years, sometimes in person at conferences, and sometimes online.  He has made an impact on my writing career, and I think you'll find him helpful too.

Here are seven reasons you'd like to be Randy's friend.  They're in descending order, except for number seven, which I think really belongs at the top of the list, but I have to put it at the bottom because it's a whimsical reason, and we writers don't put much store in whimsy, at least about the writing process, even us fiction writers, especially if we're beginners.  (Yes, I know.  That sentence could do with some editing.) Whimsy is kind of fun, and we writers can't afford to have fun.  We're too busy trying to be discovered.  We must be serious.  So here are six serious reasons (and one un-serious, dis-serious, anti-serious whimsical reason) why you should become Randy's online friend:

1)  He knows tons of stuff about the writing business.  As his bio claims, his e-magazine is the largest electronic magazine in the world on the craft of writing fiction.  And 32,000 readers can't be wrong.  (Randy would probably argue with that claim, since he's a statistics expert, among other things.)

2)  He shares what he knows clearly and simply.  He writes so clearly that the publishers of the prolific "For Dummies" series asked him to write their Writing Fiction for Dummies book, which currently ranks #8,720 on the Amazon best seller list.  When you consider that Amazon sells well over 6,000,000 books, that's a pretty high rank.  I checked my Zinovy's Journey rank, which I do now and then, just for fun, and it's a whopping #873,693, almost exactly 100 times less popular than his Dummies book.  I'm sure there's a reason for that.

 3)  He's created the Snowflake method.  It's a template for plot building.  If you're beginning a novel, or even just wanting to go with an idea you have, this tool might be useful to you.  Check it out at the link above.

4)  He answers questions on his blog.  Not every question. He's a busy guy.  But I was fortunate, again through my friend, Camille, to get into one long line-up for his advice, and what I learned helped solve a writing problem that had stumped me for months.
5) He knows about other interesting stuff too.  Because he's a science and technology geek, he sometimes analyzes wild and weird issues on topics totally unrelated to writing.  He is a truth seeker.  His research is extensive, his arguments cogent, and his thoroughness is enough to make your eyes cross. But the best thing about his writing on these often controversial topics, the thing that makes them so worth reading, is that he disagrees with his opponents with humility and respect.  What a great internet world it would be if all writers, especially Christian ones, would model this approach. 

6)  He's written some fun novels.  So here we head gently toward the less serious reasons you'll like getting to know this guy.  If you're a fiction reader, you might want to check out some of his novels.  Here's a link to the latest one,  Double Vision.  Another good read is Oxygen, which he wrote with his fellow geeky physics BFF, John Olson. 

And now, last but should be first, is the best reason to connect with Randy:

7)  He's funny.  I was very sad to hear that Sam, the plumber, like his irritating distant cousin, the Wicked Witch of the North, has apparently recently dissolved into a puddle of water on the floor.  There's a rumor he might be resurrected, or reconstituted, whichever the case may be, but for now we'll not be regaled with his exploits any more. 

Sam's demise is documented here.  I'm trying to find a link to the whole series of blog posts about Sam, Randy's infamous plumber/nemesis/friend, because they are so much fun to read, but I've gotten lost in the complex maze of internet addresses available on Randy's website and can't find a link.  

If you're afraid you might be beginning to take this writing thing a little too seriously, I recommend you check out the Sam story.  It might help you reevaluate your priorities and refocus your writing. 

Which is the whole point of this blog, after all: Your Writing.  Any of the links I've given above will help you get on with the writing task.  So check them out, connect with my friend, Randy, and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chocolate and Amazon Reader Reviews

Amazon reader reviews are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you'll get when you bite into one of the tasty morsels in that box, but, hey, it's chocolate! How can you lose!

You'll never really lose with reader reviews either, but you may end up preferring some over others. Both readers and authors love the taste of the very best ones.  But what makes one reader review better than another?  

I'd like to answer that question in this post, but first I want to clear up one GIANT question about Amazon reader reviews that had me confused for a long time.  


My first confusion was about who could write Amazon reviews. I wondered if Amazon reviews could only be written by people who bought the book on Amazon. 

Makes sense, in a way. Amazon would want the business, for sure. 

But the truth is, Amazon benefits from reader reviews whether or not the reviewers have bought the books from them. Reader reviews are what other potential buyers use to decide on their Amazon purchases, which makes those reviews a boost to all Amazon sales. 

So the happy fact is, ANYONE can write a book review on Amazon, about ANY book Amazon SELLS, whether the person bought the book from Amazon or got it somewhere else! 

Now a word or two about the KIND of review that's helpful. It's not what you might think.   


Of course authors love the five-star rankings. They're wonderful. But if readers don't feel they can give a book five stars, that's okay. It's much more important that reviews be obviously HONEST than that they be totally COMPLIMENTARY. Honest reviews are more helpful to readers, get more attention on Amazon, and good authors will appreciate the honesty every bit as much as they do the 5-stars.


Reader reviews do not have to be long. They do not need to include a synopsis of the story, or cover every aspect of the book. Long synopses can, in fact, be harmful. They might give away too much of the story, or emphasize something that will misrepresent the author's message. In this case, less is much better than more. 

And readers don't need a complete rundown of every element of the story either. They only need a taste to help them decide if they want a bigger bite. All a good review needs to do is make a recommendation of the book to other readers, either good or bad.  


The most important element of a good review, as stated above, is honesty. The next most important ingredient is probably specificity. It is good if reviews give readers at least one reason WHY they might, or might not, like the book. 

General statements such as, "I love this book," or "I don't like it at all," make good introductory statements in reviews, but they don't really say anything useful to readers, and they won't have the impact that a clearly stated specific example of what the reviewer likes or doesn't like will have. The best reviews give readers a clear taste of what they'll be getting when they bite in. 


EVERYONE benefits from short, honest, specific reader reviews on Amazon.  

Authors love them. I so appreciate the twelve reviews of Zinovy's Journey that readers have posted on Amazon! They are heart-warming and encouraging to me! They prove that the book is doing what it was created to do.  Thank you, so much, if you are one of those reader reviewers!  

And reviews also contribute to the success of the book. I've heard a rumor (unjustified so far by research, but interesting all the same) that when any book gets as many as 20 reviews on Amazon, it will become more accessible to buyers. Amazon considers the magic number of "20" a milestone, for some reason, and will bump the visibility of the book when the reviews reach that number.

Readers benefit as well, of course. "So many books, and so little time!" Readers like information that will help them wade through all the options to get to books they'll actually want to read. So if you're a reader, you have a chance to promote your favorite books, or save other readers from wasting their time on books they won't enjoy. 

And here's AN ADDED BONUS! When you write a reader review on Amazon, you get to see YOUR OWN WRITING IN PRINT, out there for ALL THE WORLD to read! Instant publication! Any author will tell you that's an exhilarating experience.  

If that idea scares you, you can give yourself a mysterious pen name and enjoy the thrill from the safety of your own favorite easy chair!

But be careful. Seeing your words in print is addictive. You might end up starting a reader's blog of your own, or even writing a new best seller yourself!

Now why don't you go looking for that box of chocolate you got for Christmas, and curl up in your reading chair with a good book.

I do so appreciate all the encouragement my readers have given me about Zinovy's Journey.  Thank you!  Readers are essential.  No book is worth anything if it's not being read, and the more readers the better! 

If you are a Zinovy reader who has not yet posted a review, would you consider doing so? I'd love for many more people to experience Zinovy's Journey, and I appreciate any help you can give me in spreading the word.  It would be great if I could reach that magic milestone number of 20 reviews this year. 

Here's a direct link to the Zinovy's Journey Amazon reader review page. It's easy to do. Simply click on the button that says, "Create Your Own Review" and follow the directions. Then sit back and admire your own delicious words in print!