Writing Miscellany

Post image for An Unexpected Path to Publication by Darrel Nelson

LDSP Note: Normally, I don’t post personal stories of how a writer finally got published, but this is a unique case of an LDS author being picked up by a traditional Christian publisher. I get asked all the time if that can happen. It’s rare, but here’s proof that it’s possible!

My route leading to publication has been a thirty-year journey, culminating in a contract with Charisma House, a Christian publisher situated in Florida. An LDS author associated with a traditional Christian publisher? How did that come about? I could say accidentally, except that I believe I was guided to where I am today. Still, it’s been an unexpected path.

During my thirty-year journey I wrote ten novels, trying a different genre with each in hopes that one of them would be my “breakthrough.” I frequently queried Deseret Books and Shadow Mountain Publishing in Utah and every major trade publisher I could think of, but to no avail. Letters of rejection became a way of life for me, and I eventually gave up saving them because I ran out of storage space. But with my eleventh novel, the result took a pleasant turn.

It came about in this manner. One day my wife and I took our parents on a day outing to a heritage park. En route our parents began reminiscing about their courtships and how their friends had planned a shivaree on their wedding day. A shivaree was a local custom of friends separating the bride and groom after the wedding, as a prank, and keeping them apart for an hour or two. Harmless fun. Anyway, on the drive that day, our parents explained that for one reason or another, the shivarees intended for them failed to occur. But my mother-in-law reminded us that on her son’s wedding day, his bride was whisked away in a car by friends and involved in a car accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it got me wondering . . . what if ? So I grasped that thread of an idea and decided to see where the story led.

When I completed the novel, which was entitled In Due Season, I sent out the standard letters of inquiry. The result? Nothing! No one was interested. So I decided to take a leaf out of Richard Paul Evans’s book and turn it into a Christmas story, hoping to tap into that market. When the book (now retitled The Christmas Waltz) was done, I sent out more letters of inquiry—this time by email to literary agents. Within two hours, Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency replied: “This is such a beautiful story. I’ve got to have it.” I waited for more responses, but when none came, I decided to ride the horse in the direction it was going, so I signed with Joyce. I didn’t know at the time that she was a Christian agent who dealt exclusively with traditional Christian publishers. All I knew was that she was an agent who had expressed interest in my work when no one else had.

Joyce began shopping my book around, but after a year we had no nibbles. I decided that perhaps the book’s Christmas theme was too narrowly focused, so I took another few months and rewrote it again, changing the Christmas setting to an anniversary one. Now entitled The Anniversary Waltz, Joyce shopped it around for another year. And then, would you believe it, two Christian publishers expressed interest. Yes, two! In the end we went with Charisma House because they were willing to publish the book a whole year ahead of the other one.

This is the story of my journey to publication and how I ended up in the traditional Christian marketplace. The thing about the Christian marketplace that appealed to me from the beginning was a disclaimer Joyce posted on her webpage: If your book has bad language or sexual content or gratuitous violence, then I’m not the agent for you. The same standards apply to my publisher. Content is expected to be of a high moral level, which is exactly how I like it.

Now what about specific LDS content? I want my books to appeal to a broad cross-section of readers so that I don’t alienate anyone. Therefore, the religious content is presented in generalized terms. I use a recurring theme of love overcoming adversity in the face of overwhelming odds. People everywhere understand principles of love, faith, courage, and trials. I keep my message as inclusive as possible without compromising my personal standards. I don’t water down my religious beliefs, but I’m not “in your face” about it either.

Would I encourage other LDS authors to try the Christian market? Of course. My agent and my publisher have been nothing short of amazing. They are supportive and encouraging and have bent over backwards to help and guide me. Besides, most of us don’t have the luxury of being choosy. I mean, how many publishers or agents have come knocking at your door lately?

Having said that, I do believe that LDS readers accept general Christian ideals and standards more readily than Christian readers accept LDS ideals and standards. So personally I paint with a wide brush and am careful not to get “preachy” or “sneaky” in my writing. I don’t slip LDS doctrine in and then smirk to think I pulled one over on my readers. I have no hidden agenda. I simply want to tell a story that appeals to a broad base and makes my readers feel better for having spent some time with me.

Likewise, I hope those who read this article feel a little better for having spent some time with me too. We need to fulfill the Church’s clarion call for LDS writers, artists, musicians, producers, and composers to step up and make their voices heard. As standards continue their rapid decline, we can and must make a difference in this world.

Darrel Nelson taught school for 37 years and began writing full-time after he retired. He has two published novels, The Anniversary Waltz and The Return of Cassandra Todd. He’s currently working on a third novel, Following Rain, which deals with the saving power of truth and love. Visit Darrel at http://www.darrelnelson.com or email him at darmarn@telus.net.

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Post image for Writing a Great Book Review by Tristi Pinkston

It’s fun to write a book review. It’s fun to share opinions, to hear what others have to say, to find books that we otherwise might not know about, and it’s also a great way to bring traffic to your blog. No matter your reason for writing book reviews (it might even be for school, and not for the Internet at all), these tips should be helpful. (I say “should” because, really, I can hope that they are, but I can’t know for certain.)

I’ve been a media reviewer for about five years now, and I’ve developed a style that works for me. I’ll outline it below, and then you can tweak it to fit your own needs and parameters. It’s all right if you copy it step by step, too—whatever works best for you.

1. After I’ve read the book, I let it sit for a day or two and let it percolate in my brain. I think about the plot, the characters, the things I wondered as I was reading, the questions I felt were left unanswered.

2. When I sit down to write the review, I give a synopsis of the plot in my own words. Yes, you can use the text off the back of the book, but I personally prefer to write one of my own. It presents my interpretation of the book, rather than what someone else wants me to think about the book.

3. After I’ve written the synopsis, I will make a criticism sandwich. That is to say, I share something I liked about the book, something I felt could have been stronger, and then I close with another thing I liked. I rarely just praise without mentioning something I would have improved—I am a critical reader, and so I spot things. That’s just what happens when you work as an editor. You see stuff. I think it’s important that a potential buyer know for certain what they are buying. I also feel that the author can grow and strengthen their talents as they hear what they might have done better. But I also feel that writing in and of itself is a huge accomplishment, and I don’t ever want the author to feel slammed or harshly criticized. If I can’t be helpful, constructive, and edifying, then *I shouldn’t be critiquing. Simple as that.

4. And that moves us on to my fourth point. I try hard to keep my comments helpful and edifying. If I totally hate a book and can’t find anything good to say about it, I will contact the author or the publicist—whoever sent it to me—and I will explain to them that the book didn’t quite fit me, and that I’d like to pass it on to another reviewer. This is the most fair way for me to handle it—I don’t believe in ripping people up, but instead, I believe in allowing them to learn and grow from their experiences.

5. I always like to talk about how the book made me feel or the things it made me think about. That’s what makes the review unique to me. Anyone can post the text from the back of the book, but it’s hearing what the reviewer felt while they were reading that will sell the book.

6. I always, always include a purchase link to the book. The book review should tell about the book, it should tell how I feel about the book, and it should give my reader a way to buy the book when they are done reading my review.

In a nutshell, those are my tips for writing a great book review. Some reviewers like to include the author’s bio, or interview questions with the author, or book club-style questions. All of that is great. The main thing I can offer is this—be yourself and share how the book impacted you. When you do that, you will rarely go wrong.

*I do want to make one clarifying statement—there are some book reviewers who do like to mention all the negatives and things they didn’t like, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t do that. It’s their choice. I’m explaining what works for me, and every reviewer will have their own philosophy and their own take on what makes a review great.

 

Note from LDSP: Book reviews can make or break a book. Honesty is vital, and so is civility. I like Tristi’s take on this. Also, if you’re reviewing a book on your blog as part of a virtual book tour, or just for fun, it only takes a couple of extra minutes to post that same review on Amazon and GoodReads. Authors and publishers appreciate it!

 

Tristi Pinkston is the author of seventeen (and counting!) published books, including the Secret Sisters mystery series. In addition to being a prolific author, Tristi also provides a variety of author services, including editing and online writing instruction. You can visit her at www.tristipinkston.blogspot.com or her website at www.tristipinkston.com.

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Guidelines for Writing LDS Fiction by Karen Jones Gowen, WiDo Publishing

October 17, 2012
Thumbnail image for Guidelines for Writing LDS Fiction by Karen Jones Gowen, WiDo Publishing

The LDS fiction genre encompasses everything from inspirational novels where characters accept the gospel and get baptized, to historical fiction about elements of Church history, and a whole lot in between. The LDS fiction label can be a fairly clean novel written by an LDS author, with no Mormon characters or references, somewhat like the […]

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Young Writers—Good Idea or Not?

June 18, 2012

Thank you so much for being available for people like me.  Although I consider myself an excellent “googler”, I cannot find the answer to my questions to save my life. I have a seven year old child who taught himself how to read at 4, and although he is going to be in second grade […]

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