Monthly Archives: September 2013

Helpful Links

Want to start writing or publishing novels?

There are a lot of great websites out there to help new writers learn from experts and for starting publishers to get a feel on the marketplace.  Here are a few that I’ve found helpful and the ones I visit most often.

Alton Gansky – a successful Christian author who has published over 40 books, both fiction and non-fiction.  Gansky provides video interviews on a consistent basis with leading authors, publishers, editors and book designers.  If you want to learn from the experiences of others, this site is a great resource.

Books & Such Blog – Books & Such is a literary agency that represents over 150 authors, including over 20 best selling writers.  The faith-filled staff provide nearly daily blog entries on all things literary from the perspective of an agent.  I visit this site daily.  They don’t represent me, but I hope, by the time the Gabby Wells novels are published, I’d have gained enough traction to have them represent me on another novel series I plan to write after the Gabby books are done.

Michael Hyatt – Hyatt was once the Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson publishing, the largest Christian publisher in the world.  He has turned his focus to speaking, helping people get the most out of their products and rising above the congestive marketing noise on the internet.  His website and other offerings are full of effective and helpful information.  His book Platform, previously mentioned on this website, is one of the most practical, inspiring and helpful books for people trying to grow a following and market their material.

Molly Greene – Greene is a free lance writer, blogger and author who continually updates her site with her own insight or links to other helpful blog entries that can range from writing to publishing, marketing to promo ideas.

Chip MacGregor – another literary agency with a nice blog that is updated consistently with great information.

John August – For those of you interested in screenwriting, August (Big Fish, Go, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) provides a vast array of information, including a weekly podcast with fellow screenwriter Craig Mazin (Identity Thief, Hangover 2 & 3).  Great insight about the business from people inside the business.

And here are some other helpful websites for specific needs.

Good Reads – If you like to read novels and want to share your experiences with others, Good Reads is a great place to see what other people are reading and what they think about them.

Chesterton Press – If they were accepting submissions, I would submit our Gabby Wells novels to this Catholic publisher.  However, on their submissions page, if you scroll down to A Brief Analysis of Story Telling: The Harry Potter Standard you will find a detailed and wonderfully instructional guide, using J.K. Rowling’s approach to writing, to show the right way to structure and approach writing.  Great stuff.

Createspace vs. Lightning Source – Not sure if you should self-publish in Amazon’s Createspace, publish with the main printing company (Lightning Source) nearly all publishers use, or some combination of both, this blog entry from Terri Guiliano shares the pros and cons of each approach.

99 Designs – needs a book cover?  Get book designers submitting their work to you for a relatively low price.

Catholic Writers Guild – Writing a Catholic book and need a way for book stores to know your book is in line with Catholic teaching?  The Catholic Writers Guild offers a service to read and approve your book with an official Seal of Approval.

These are just some of 150 or so sites I have accumulated about the publishing industry.

Take a look and happy hunting.

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Assumptions

Trying to determine the best path for a new novel series is like trying to find your way through a wild jungle with only a pocket knife at your disposal.

Gabby-Header

When we look at how best to release our Gabby Wells novel series, we have extensively researched, evaluated the marketplace and have come up with some basic assumptions.

  1. Publishers and readers will pigeonhole these novels as Catholic or Christian fiction. The consequence is the book becomes a niche young adult offering instead of a general one.  This is based on the fact that the main character is a Catholic youth, strong in her faith, who actively works to figure out how her faith should interact with her life.
  2. Most Christian publishers are Protestant-based and rarely/never publish Catholic flavored fiction.  This comes from evaluating the top Christian publishers and the books their authors write.
  3. Most Christian bookstores are Protestant-based and rarely/never carry Catholic flavored fiction.  This comes from evaluating the top Christian bookstores and the books they sell.
  4. Most Catholic publishers focus solely on non-fiction authors.  This comes from evaluating the top Catholic publishers and the books their authors write.
  5. Most Catholic bookstore do not carry Catholic fiction.  This comes from personal experience and validated by further research.
  6. Most of the work in promoting and marketing a novel is done by the author.  This comes from extensive research from information shared by authors themselves and blogs from publishers and agents.
  7. Publishers may be wary of the dark paths and decisions the main character takes during her faith journey and the sacramental nature of her faith.  This is more of a gut feel than proven research, but since the novels are a series, there is a risk of one publisher owning the rights to some of the books while the remaining books in the series are owned by some other entity.
  8. Publishers would be wary of taking on a novel series where they cannot benefit from all of the rights normally included when signing an author.  Gabby Wells character is a Sonlight Pictures property with television series and movie scripts already written and copyrighted.
  9. The higher value proposition for a niche book limited by the assumptions above would be far greater by not using an established publisher.  If assumption #1 is correct, then a decision has to be made on whether it is a better decision to make %15 on a niche book from an established publishing company or take 85% on a niche book by self-publishing/creating your own imprint?

I’ll be honest.  I have no idea if any of these assumptions are completely valid.  That’s why they’re assumptions.

But these are the things that muddle through my brain as we get closer to a finished product in the first book in the Gabby Wells series.

So, if our assumptions are correct and it would be difficult to find a publisher that would accept it, find a bookstore that would sell it, that we’d have to market it ourselves anyway, for a niche book that would exist in a small market, then the next logical questions is:

Why are you doing this????

Simple.  Because I feel God has asked me to.

I’ve learned from past experience that God dreams bigger than we do and, therefore, I remain ever hopeful of the success of our novel series.  That definition of success is up to God, not me.

As much as I believe my assumptions about publishing Gabby Wells are close to the mark, I have also learned from past experience my assumptions about God’s plan in my life have rarely been accurate.  So, I will wait and see how things play out, what resources will cross my path and what opportunities will find me when I least expect it.

Only then will I know if I have assumed correctly.

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The Book of Jotham – Book Review

The Book of Jotham, written by Arthur Powers, is a novella written from the perspective of a mentally challenged man-child who becomes a disciple of Christ.

BookOfJothamJotham is cared for by Mary and others during Jesus’ ministry and his innocence gives him insight into Christ’s real identity. Some of the apostles question why God would create someone like Jotham, who appears to be at a disadvantage, but Jesus defends him, knowing the purity of his heart.

As a novella, The Book of Jotham is published by Tuscany Press and won Tuscany’s 2012 Best Novella prize last year.

The idea of writing the Gospel accounts from the perspective of Jotham gave a fresh perspective on the material.  In line with Jotham’s mental challenges, his sentences are short and simple and innocent.

This approach works well to express Christ’s story in a new way, but I have to admit that, by the end of the book, I wanted more.  I wanted more description, more insight, more words. Reading a novella where most of the sentences are under ten words, many of them just one or two, dampened my reading experience over time.  The novelty wore off and I grew frustrated.

Granted, the author had to stay honest with the character and approach and I applaud him for taking such a bold step, but it eventually did not jive with my personal tastes.

For others, it may not bother them at all and they may think I’m nuts.  That’s okay too.

As a novella, The Book of Jotham is a quick and easy read that is well written with a unique style and voice, giving a new way to experience Christ’s ministry.

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You Can Learn a Lot From a Coyote Wearing a Wheeled Helmet

If you want to know how to skillfully setup and tell a joke, watch Looney Tunes.

Looney Tunes were on every Saturday morning for three hours and I’d plop myself onto the floor in front of the TV and enjoy the varied adventures of Bugs and his pals.

One of my favorite moments was when the Coyote, in an attempt to get the Road Runner, affixed on his head a helmet with a wheel on top, that would run down a long wire that was suspended hundreds of feet up in the air, and down to the street, just in time to snatch the speedy Road Runner as he passed by.

Coyote-WheeledHelmet2

One of the dumbest ideas in the history of dumb ideas.

How the creators presented this dumb idea gives wonderful insight into how to setup and pull of a joke.

  • First, set up an amazingly insane premise as the logical thing to do.
  • Second, spend a LOT of time preparing and trying to execute this insane idea.
  • Third, when the expectations have been set, and we’ve become impatient to see if it will work because we’ve spent so much time preparing for it, provide an outcome that no one sees coming.

The Looney Tune creators, especially in the early Road Runner/Coyote episodes, mastered this technique.

Coyote-Rocket

I encourage you to set your DVRs to Cartoon Network and record a couple of episodes of Looney Tunes.  Watch how these storytellers perfected their craft in the medium of animation.  It’s great stuff.

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Awakening – Book Review

Awakening, by Claudia Cangilla McAdam, is a marvelous book that expertly weaves many of the Bible accounts around the events of Good Friday into an enjoyable young adult novel.

awakeningMcAdam uses a simple and effective device to bring this ancient world to new life and does so with such wonderful invention and skill that you find yourself surprised by the stories you have heard so many times before.

Awakening, published by Sophia Institute Press, follows the touching story of Veronica, a young teen struggling with the loss of her father and brother.   Her relationship with her mother has become strained as the world she knows and loves seems to be falling apart around her.

Struggling with a high fever, she falls asleep and awakens to find herself in Jerusalem during the time of Christ.

As a matter of fact, she not only is living in Biblical times, she is one of the characters in the Bible, the young girl who was brought back to life by Jesus himself.  Yet, unlike that little girl, she knows what is about to unfold.  She knows Jesus is about to be betrayed.  She knows he will be crucified and buried.  What should she do?  Try and stop it from happening or watch Jesus suffer and die?

Here is where McAdam’s skill as a writer shines bright.  Attempting such a retelling is fraught with danger.  Will she do so respectfully?  Will she resort to cliche?  How can you retell a story we’ve heard so many times with a new voice that doesn’t diminish the events it relives?

McAdam brilliantly weaves characters from Veronica’s modern-day life into her biblical one.  Within a few pages you find yourself transported along with her, believing that her family is in the inner circle of the followers of Christ.  As Veronica juggles learning how to live in the Biblical world with her knowledge of what will happen there, we can’t help but be drawn into the story.

The reader finds themselves where most people have only dreamt of existing; in the presence of a living, breathing Jesus.  How wonderful would it be to be transported back and to have a conversation with Jesus?  Or to be at the Last Supper?  How magical would such an experience be?

That’s what McAdam’s book brings, magic and awe.  I can’t delve into the details about how she interjects Veronica into the events around the Good Friday without taking away from McAdam’s mastery of storytelling, but she subtly ties numerous Biblical events seamlessly together in a way that makes them fresh and new again.

An amazing feat.

Awakening is an enjoyable, worthy read for young adults and older.  I highly recommend it.

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It Drives Me

I like to challenge myself.  And I like to learn new things.

These attributes have come in handy as I’ve focused on writing novels.

When I was a kid, I was enthralled by movies.  One summer in particular, the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark was playing at a local dollar theater.  Back before DVDs and online streaming, a dollar movie theater was a great place to see films once their initial run had ended.  For the theater, they didn’t make money off of the ticket price, but off of concessions.  So, if a film was popular, they would run it as long as people kept coming and buying popcorn.

Raiders was so popular that the film ran all summer long.  Rarely a week went buy where I wouldn’t scrounge together four quarters and sit in the air conditioned theater, escaping the blistering heat outside, and willfully enter the world of treasure seeker Indiana Jones.

Learn

When I saw an interview with director Steven Spielberg where he mentioned he had storyboarded all of his shots, I found a book that explained how to do it and started practicing on my own.  I wrote short films and storyboarded every shot.  My scribblings were no masterpiece, but it allowed me to learn how to tell a basic story, frame and edit scenes together, without a camera, actors or film.

Later, in college, I wanted to learn more about writing screenplays and there were some new books on how to do just that.  So, I bought them and taught myself the screenplay structure and studied films of all genres to find out they used the same template over and over again.  I started writing screenplays, learning how to tell a story with a strong beginning, middle and end.  I learned how to write dialogue and when to give the audience information and when to keep it from them.

I was also acting at the time, so I learned how to memorize scripts, get into a character’s head and change who I am to fit the role.  I read books on acting and watched theater and film as much as possible, studying everything I could, absorbing any bit of morsel that would give me an advantage over my competition.

My hard work was starting to pay off.  I won awards for acting.  I won awards for some of my screenplays.  A few of them were optioned by Hollywood production companies (never produced) and one I wrote for a friend (a low-budget action film) that was produced and distributed.

I just love learning new things.  And I don’t understand people who don’t want to excel in their craft.

When I felt called to rediscover my faith, I started reading everything I could, from the Bible to Saints to the Catechism, from authors like Scott Hahn and Bible Studies by Jeff Cavins.  The more I learn, the more I realize how much I have to learn.

SLP Website

When we were going to start Sonlight Pictures, a Christian film company, I watched every Christian film I could get my hands on.  I researched the distribution options for Christian films, which genres were most effective, which actors of note were willing to participate in Christian films, potential income from such films, etc.

I learned so much.

When I decided to turn some of our Sonlight Pictures properties into novels, starting with Gabby Wells, I knew there was a lot to learn and there was a lot I didn’t know.

What always scares me the most is not knowing what I don’t know.

So, I’ve researched young adult novels, book covers, potential market places for Gabby Wells novels, editors, publishers, agents, book printers, distributors, ebooks and royalty rates. I’ve tracked down editors and fellow authors, looked at what books are in stores like Family Christian Bookstores, and what are not.

I’m researching marketing approaches from blog tours to book signings to release parties to speaking engagements to conference attendance and workshop participation.

Learning something new excites me.  Taking on the challenge of entering an industry I’ve never been in inspires me.

I don’t know how this whole journey with the Gabby Wells book series will end.  Hec, I barely know when it will officially start (i.e., book release date).

But I love the process.  I love the impossible task of succeeding at this insurmountable goal.

It drives me.

And I know I’ll be the better person for having tried.

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Catholic, Reluctantly – Book Review

There is a lot to like in Catholic, Reluctantly, however it is missing enough dramatic weight to make it memorable.

This book, published by Chesterton Press, is the first in a series of young adult Catholic novels that revolves around the students and parents involved in creating a new Catholic school called John Paul II High School. The students include:

  • Allie, a cafeteria Catholic who previously attended a public school until she was involved in a gun scare.
  • George, a top wrestler who has a crush on Allie.
  • Cecelia, who is incessantly bright and chipper.
  • J.P., a troublemaker.
  • Brian, the smallest student with the strongest moral compass.
  • Liz, who helps out.
  • James, a self-righteous loner.

catholicreluctantlyThe book starts off on the first day of school, as all of the kids struggle to fit in and feel welcome. George and Allie feel the most isolated, as they are one of the few whose parents aren’t also the teachers. George, friends with most of his classmates, has given up a promising high school wrestling career to be there and Allie is only attending because her parents are afraid to let her stay in the nearby public school.

The bulk of the book has the teens dealing with each other, J.P.’s pranks, and the schools tenuous existence. Eventually they get involved in events at the competing public school where they are challenged with promoting the faith, pornography, bullying and bias.

The numerous small challenges the teens face are great examples of using your faith to make good moral decisions and/or stand up for what is right, no matter what the consequence. Plus, the different scholastic lessons and social events are positive examples as well.

As a parent who home schooled his two children, I know how realistic these characters are and how challenging being a moral teen in a fallen world can be.

The biggest problem with this book, and it is a problem, is that nothing major happens. There are hints of future big events, like how the school property resides on valuable land, or the creepy, unknown student involved in the gun scare that may be planning something greater. But, there are no big payoffs in this first installment.

I think the issue here is that the author (or authors, as a group of writers are working together to pen the series) treated this first book as one in the installment instead of a stand-alone book.  That’s a serious flaw.

If this were a stand-alone book, with nothing coming afterwards, then this story would have been told very differently. The creepy gun guy storyline would have been the focus and the consequences would have been substantially higher.  It would have resonated with you long after you put the book down.

In future books in the series I hope the authors realize they need to make each individual book as powerful as possible, which will make the entire series powerful, instead of making a series of books that, only combined, become powerful.

As it stands, Catholic, Reluctantly is a quick and easy read, but not very memorable. Hopefully future books in this series will create greater dramatic tension and consequence.

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