Talking Writing

Working with your editor

A few weeks ago, I posted about the revisions my editor and agent wanted for my upcoming book. I went back and read that post and was happy to see that I’d written this:

This time I’m going to take a deep breath and give the ideas from my editor and agent some serious consideration, remembering that they are on my side and want the best for me and this book. My challenge is to give my editor a book that she can sell that’s also a book that I can call my own. I’m up for the challenge. I have to be. Given the way my Lord works, if I don’t get it now, I’ll be facing this same situation for the rest of my career.

Well, I did exactly that. And I still couldn’t see the point of some of the requested revisions. Guess what I did then? I emailed my editor (copying my agent) and asked if we could talk again. In the email, I posted my concerns about the proposed revisions and made suggestions for what we could do instead. As I hit the “send” key, I was a bit anxious about her response. The anxiety was all for naught. My editor and I spoke the next day. She was open to all the suggestions. In fact, one of them she had considered herself. I’m feeling like the book is “my book” again, only better.

Before taking my cooling off period, I was feeling hemmed in and overwhelmed by the suggested revisions. When I went back to look for my editor’s email, I was looking for a mail with an attachment containing a dozen revision requests. I only found a simple email with about five suggestions. While I still didn’t agree with all of them, I saw the goal she was trying to achieve. As a result, I was able to write a 3-5 sentence response to each suggestion explaining how I proposed to address it. It was that simple.

I have to say that I now have a stronger story that is still my story. The process worked. Lesson learned.

Pimp My Novel

I know that’s not a topic you expect to see on my blog. Actually, it’s the name of another blog by a sales person at a major publishing house. It’s an interesting blog with some good information. He recently did a post on promotion that I found helpful. What You Can Do: Twelve Easy Steps, HERE.

My vacation from blogging is about up. I’ll be back next week with new posts.

Until then, take care of yourself.

“Afro Picks” from Publishers Weekly

Those of you who read this blog regularly have probably noticed that I’m doing two blog posts a week: one in my Newlywed at 50 series and another about writing. Given my N@50 post about boundaries, I’m taking a break from blogging for the holidays. I’ll be back with new posts after the first of the year.

Since I’m not writing an original writing post this week, I thought I’d point you to an “interesting” article about the state of African-American fiction. To be honest, the cover and title, Afro Picks, disturbed me so badly that I have yet to read the article. I’m going to read it though and I’ll let you know what I think in 2010 which is only a week away. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Here’s the link to the article:

Here’s the link to the cover, which you have to view:

It seems a lot of folks didn’t like the cover picture. Read what the editor says:

I really don’t have a problem with the image. My problem is with the combination of the image, the cover title and the article content. The image and the cover title did nothing for a genre that’s trying to mainstream itself.

The article really gave no new information. It was once again African-American fiction week at PW so the standard fare article was trotted out. I wonder what we’ll see next year.

Enjoy the holidays and be safe!

Writing as Ministry

I should have titled this post, Things that make you go hmm. What I’m going to do is share with you some of my incomplete thoughts on writing Christian fiction and ideas I’ve heard around the Christian fiction community. These really are incomplete ideas so feel free to help me think them through completely.

1. Some Christian fiction writers equate their novels to the parables that Jesus told. While I sorta understand what they mean, I’ve always found the connection a bit of a stretch. A parable wasn’t 300-400 pages long. Jesus didn’t charge $6-$25 to read one. Also, Jesus didn’t get upset when someone re-told the parable and gave away the ending. That was sorta the point of the parable. I think likening Christian fiction to parables is a way of elevating the work, but I’m not sure it needs that kind of elevating. Christian fiction novels are something good but they’re not parables.

2. If writing is ministry, what does it mean that in order to benefit from the ministry one has to buy the book? I’ve never said this aloud but I’ve always equated selling a book and calling it ministry to Rev. Ike selling prayer cloths. If it’s going to bless somebody, why do they have to pay for it? If someone has a need and you have the means to meet it in a book, why do they have to pay for the book? Well, the obvious answer is “writers and publishers have to eat, too” which I certainly understand. I want to make money just like any other writer, but what is the role of money in ministry? When do we tell our publishers to reduce the cover price so more people can have access to the books? When do we take a pay cut so that book prices can be lowered or books can be given away?

3. I went back to the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9) to get some clarity on the relationship between ministry and money. I’ve always focused on Paul’s bold statement that he worked so the church couldn’t claim any hold over what he did and said since he didn’t depend on their money. That supports my notion that the money you live on doesn’t have to come from your ministry. But Paul was also a sponsored missionary in that he lived off the support and gifts from the church communities to whom he ministered. So how does that translate to those of us who see writing as ministry?

It is difficult for me to conclude that if our writing is ministry the only way for folks to get ministered to is to buy the books we write. That’s too capitalist for me. If it’s ministry, we rejoice when books are shared, bought used, borrowed from the library, downloaded from the Internet. All because our purpose is to get the message out. But we have a dual purpose–to get the message out and to get paid. How do we reconcile the two?

Maybe instead of writing ministries what we have are Christian businesses (in most cases, sole proprietarships) that are run according to Christian principles and that produce novels that present the truth of the gospel in stories that reflect our contemporary society. By definition, a business has to make money to survive so it’s natural for a business to charge for its products.

I don’t think using the “Christian business” terminology takes anything away from what we do as Christian fiction writers. As Christians, we are called to do everything “as unto the Lord.” This applies to our jobs, raising our families, writing our books, everything. So what do you think?

When Pride Gets in the Way

I’m now feeling the fallout of having a book with low sales. Everybody has an opinion on what the next book needs to make it a winner.

I just hung up from a long conversation with my editor about her suggestions on the proposal for my new book. The conversation left me a bit depressed so I quickly made a follow-up call to my sister friend, Jacquelin Thomas. After complaining about all the changes my editor wanted, I asked Jacqui if I had legitimate concerns or if my pride was getting in the way. The too-honest Jacqui said it was my pride. And she was right.

One thing that I’ve always “prided” myself on in this business is that my stories were, in fact, my stories. I’ve never done a “book by committee.” In the past, I’ve dug my heels in so deep that I’ve delayed getting a book done by a year because I didn’t appreciate all the suggestions. At one point I said to an outside editor, “Why don’t you write the book and I’ll edit it?” Well, that relationship ended fairly quickly. I was glad.

As I talked to Jacqui today it became clear that I have a case of pride in wanting my work to be mine. In addition, I have a control issue. There is so much that we as writers don’t control in this business. I’ve always clung to the notion that I do control what I write. And when I feel like “they” want to take that away, my spine stiffens.

So what am I to do? In the past, I’ve pulled the book, paid back the advance money and moved on to another publisher. Or I’ve just dug in my heels and waited for the “idea person” to go away. Those moves made me feel I’d won the battle, but I’m beginning to wonder if I lost the war in the process.

This time I’m going to take a deep breath and give the ideas from my editor and agent some serious consideration, remembering that they are on my side and want the best for me and this book. My challenge is to give my editor a book that she can sell that’s also a book that I can call my own. I’m up for the challenge. I have to be. Given the way my Lord works, if I don’t get it now, I’ll be facing this same situation for the rest of my career.

NOTE: I need to distinguish here between what I consider normal edits that make the book stronger and suggestions that significantly change the story. I appreciate editorial letters that provide guidance on how to make the book stronger. My problem is with suggestions that I feel change the heart of the book. I never want to look at one of my books and see more of someone else in it than I see of myself.

A New Contract

If you’re a Publishers Lunch subscriber, you’ve already heard my good news. If not, here it is:

Essence bestseller, Christy finalist and RITA finalist Angela Benson’s DELILAH’S DAUGHTERS, in which Delilah and her three adult daughters see the fabric of their family unravel in their pursuit of success and also see it reshaped as each woman learns what’s most important in life, to Wendy Lee at Harper, in a two-book deal, by Natasha Kern at the Natasha Kern Literary Agency(World).

Yes, I am blessed to report that I have a new two-book contract with HarperCollins. This is good news because the sales for Up Pops the Devil, my first book with HarperCollins, were dismal. UPTD is the lowest selling of all my books. I’m not sure what happened, but it wasn’t good. I’m honored that my editor, the delightful Wendy Lee, went to bat for me, despite those numbers. Now we have the challenge of building them back up over the next few books.

While many authors are experiencing great success these days, there are many who are facing the same struggles that I’m facing. But we have to remember that people are struggling all over. Folks have lost jobs and homes. We need to show compassion and respect. Now is not the time to berate folks for loaning books or borrowing from the library or buying from used bookstores. I can’t do it. I’m blessed to have to day job ‘cos if I was living on advances from my publisher I’d have to buy all my books used!

Yes, it’s tough out here in publishing land, but let’s keep the faith and not turn on each other. We really are in this together.

The Power of Bookscan

I saw my Bookscan numbers today and almost cried. Then I did on a search on Bookscan since I realized I had little info on what it really was. I found this blog post that really didn’t make me feel better but did me a bit more insight on what Bookscan is. You can read it HERE. And you can find another one HERE.

Book Review Paranoia

One of the questions I was asked on the virtual tour for my latest book, Sins of the Father, was how I felt about book reviews.

Here’s the question from Shades of Romance Magazine and my answer:

Okay, a not-so-fun question. How important are reviews to you as a writer?

I like good ones and bad ones make me feel down for a minute or two. I’ve gotten philosophical about it though. If everybody loves my book, it means that I didn’t have good distribution. I don’t expect everybody who reads my work to enjoy it. I don’t think that’s realistic.

I was honest with that answer but I didn’t say as much as I could have. I didn’t share the paranoia. I’ll share them here in Angela’s Review Rules. These rules come out of my review paranoia so they don’t have to be true and you don’t have to agree with them.

Rule 1. On a 5-point scale, there is no way a rating of “3” means the reader liked the book, regardless of what’s written in the text of the review. When I get a review of “3” of lower, I want to understand why. Since I’d never question a reader or a reviewer, I collect data and draw conclusions. If it’s an Amazon review, I look at other reviews posted by the reviewer for books similar to mine. You know what I’ve concluded: There’s no figuring out people’s preferences. They like what they like and don’t like what they don’t like. I’m the same way as a reader so I fully understand.

Rule 2. While ratings are important, the number of reviews is more important. If nothing else, a lot of reviews means a lot of people read the book. The bestselling books all have lots of reviews, with ratings in every category. I truly believe that in order to find the people who enjoy your work, you have to go through quite a few who don’t.

Rule 3. Never parse a review to change its meaning. For example, I got a “bad” review for my second book, For All Time, back in 1995. The reviewer for a local newspaper wrote something like, “A good story is hampered by stupid characters and weak writing.” Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but you get my drift. Anyway, I used that review and the newspaper’s name in my promo material. It came out as something like, “A good book. . .” Now that was wrong on my part since I totally distorted the review.

Those are Angela’s Review Rules. Do you have any?

Authors and Money

Okay, Chip MacGregor has another great article HERE on authors and money. It’s a must-read. You should just add him to the list of blogs that you regularly.

A Strategy for Books and Marketing

I saw this fabulous article on agent Chip MacGregor’s blog. I think it’s a must read for authors looking to promote their work. Check out the article HERE.

I know it’s a good article, but to be honest, I got tired just reading it. Now I have to decide which of the books he suggests to purchase first. Decisions, decisions. Are you going to purchase one? If so, which one?

Chapter Length

In my book, Telling the Tale: The African-American Fiction Writers Guide, I devote a chapter to a discussion of how I develop chapters from scenes.  Since my first book, I’ve roughly gone with 15 page chapters with 3 5-page scenes. That’s just a rough guides. Some of my chapters are longer, some shorter, some have more scenes, rarely do they have fewer.  The rule-of-thumb really worked for me.

I’m also a scene-sequel writing, even though many of my sequel are implied and not explicit.

When I was on the Soul Expressions Author Tour, I had the chance to discuss book construction with some other authors.  Victoria Christopher Murray shared that she wrote her scenes as chapters. That really intrigued me so I decided to try it with my work-in-progress. Guess what? It’s working pretty well.

What I’ve found is that there is no room for sequel; they’re all implicit rather than explicit.  I also think the “scene is chapter” construction makes the book move faster.  We’ll have to see what readers (and my editor) think.  I may end up having to combine of the scenes into chapters during the revision process, but that will be pretty easy to do.

Tonight I took a few minutes and when back and looked at one of Victoria’s books.  She’s not a strict “scene is chapter” writer.  Some of her chapters consist of multiple scenes, but most of them are single scene chapters.

What I also found in Victoria’s book is that her chapters tend to be much shorter than mine. I’d guess her longest chapters were 10 pages, most were shorter.  I also checked books by Jacquelin Thomas and Kimberla Lawson Roby.  Their longest chapters tended to be around the 10-11 page limit.

When I looked at my books, I found that my shortest chapters were around 10 pages.  Most of them were around 14 but there were some with 16 pages and 18 pages.  In general, my chapters tended to be longer than the chapters of the other writers that I investigated.

So what do you like best — longer chapters or shorter chapters?  Do you even notice chapter length when you’re reading? To be honest, I hadn’t noticed and I read all three of the aforementioned authors on a regular basis.

Let me know your thoughts on chapter lenght

Tell us about the ACFW Conference

Okay, I’ve waited a couple of days to give the conference attendees time to get back and re-claim their lives.  Now I want to hear about it — and I want details! So if you attended, share your experience with us.  If you’ve visited a blog with a conference report, let us know the URL so we can visit, too.

I especially want to know the Award winners!

I’m in an overstock situation

The Amen SistersNot me, exactly.

I received a letter in the mail today from an editor at Grand Central Publishing informing me that they had an overstock situation with the hardcover version of The Amen Sisters.  I think this is code for the hardcover is being taken out of print, but don’t quote me.

Anyway, given the overstock situation, I’ve been given the opportunity to buy copies of The Amen SIsters for $2.00 plus $0.50 shipping for a total of $2.50.  Pretty good deal, huh?  Well, it depends.

Guess how many copies I get to purchase from this excess inventory?  You’ll never guess, so I’ll tell you — 8.  Yes, 8.  I had to do a double-take myself.  They must not have had much of an overstock, huh?

I guess I’ll go ahead and buy the 8 but it hardly seems worth it.  I may make a call tomorrow to make sure the 8 wasn’t a typo or something.

Romance Pioneer Francis Ray

When I participated in the Soul Expressions tour last month I had a chance to catch up with some of the romance authors who started this journey about the time that I did. In celebration of the ground-breaking work they did for the African-American romance genre, I asked a few of them to participate in what I’m calling, Romance Pioneer Week. I asked each of them three questions and I’ll be sharing their responses over the next week or so. It looks like about five will participate. Note these are traditional romance authors, not Christian romance authors.

Next up, Francis Ray.

Francis Ray

Francis Ray is a native Texan and lives in Dallas. A graduate of Texas Woman’s University, she is a School Nurse Practitioner with the Dallas Independent School District. Ms. Ray’s titles consistently make bestseller’s lists such as Blackboard and Essence Magazine.. INCOGNITO, her sixth title, was the first made-for-TV movie for BET. She has written thirty-one titles to date. Awards include Romantic Times Career Achievement, EMMA, The Golden Pen, and The Atlantic Choice.

How long have you been published and what’s your key to longevity in the publishing business?

My first book, FALLEN ANGEL, was published in 1992 by Odyssey Books. If there is a key, I think it is writing consistently and writing what you love. Publishing can go through phases of what’s hot. If a writer isn’t careful he or she will try to follow the trend instead of their heart. But a trend can also become a staple of publishing. A writer thought of something “different” and the reader embraced it. And that brings me to what I believe is THE most important factor in longevity, loyal readers who love your work and aren’t shy about letting others know.

A lot of your books are series or are connected in some way. Tell us a little about the series you’ve written and why you write them.

I honestly didn’t start out to write a series. Readers wanted to know about Matt Taggart when he appeared in FOREVER YOURS. His story became ONLY HERS. Daniel Falcon took off his hat in ONLY HERS and set women’s hearts aflutter and thus HEART OF THE FALCON was written. Daniel’s sister tried to break up his wedding and therefore had to find her own happiness in BREAK EVERY RULE. Dominique and Daniel’s cousin, Luke Grayson, was noticeably displeases at her wedding. It was then, and only then, that I decided to do a series, The Graysons of New Mexico about a match-making mother marrying off all of her children from the oldest, Luke, to the youngest.

Reader response was fantastic. They wanted to know what happened to the other characters they’d met in the five books – UNTIL THERE WAS YOU, YOU AND NO OTHER, DREAMING OF YOU, IRRESISTIBLE YOU, ONLY YOU – in the Grayson series. Since I wasn’t ready to leave the series, Grayson Friends Series is the result. Book One, THE WAY YOU LOVE ME, is scheduled for release August 26, 2008. Six more books are planned. Book Two is NOBODY BUT YOU which is slated for release April 2009.

What do you envision for yourself and the romance industry over the next five to ten years?

I truly hope there is more diversity in the buying habits of readers. A good book is a good book regardless of the hue of the character’s skin or language. I don’t know what will be in vogue, but I do believe romance in its traditional form will always find a place in reader’s heart and on their bookshelf.

Thanks, Francis!

Asked and answered

What’s a community organizer? 

The answer, according to community organizers: HERE

Organizers again (two minutes, forty seconds):

These descriptions lead me to an idea for a new book.  Not my next one since it’s due in a month but maybe the one after that.

We have a female community organizer of the Democratic persuasion and a male city official of the Republican persuasion, both Christians. I’ll give each one of them an Independent friend, not sure if the friends will be Christians. The goal of the story will be to put on display the tensions between faith and party allegiance, regardless of your party affiliation. 

The challenge with this story would be to resist the urge to turn it into an issue book.  Issue books are preachy and boring.  In this book, I’d have to trust my characters and give them the freedom to develop naturally.  Doing that means the book could take me somewhere I didn’t plan to go.

I wonder if such a book would be too heavy or too controversial for readers.  I’d really focus on the romance angle and show the two folks coming together to address some community problem and in the process having to reconsider some of their political and religious positions.

This is how my ideas start.  Who knows where this one is going to end.  I’ll keep you posted.

Where would you take the idea or would you drop it?  Do you know of other books that have tried to do this? Let me know your thoughts.

UPDATE: You know, I think the story will be more interesesting if the woman is the Republican city official and the man is the Democratic organizer.  What do you think?

Romance Pioneer Beverly Jenkins

When I participated in the Soul Expressions tour last month I had a chance to catch up with some of the romance authors who started this journey about the time that I did. In celebration of the ground-breaking work they did for the African-American romance genre, I asked a few of them to participate in what I’m calling, Romance Pioneer Week. I asked each of them three questions and I’ll be sharing their responses over the next week or so. It looks like about five will participate. Note these are traditional romance authors, not Christian romance authors. 

Next up, Beverly Jenkins.

Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins has written sixteen books to date and has received numerous awards for her works, including: the Detroit Free Press Book of the Year, three Waldenbooks Best Sellers Awards; two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times Magazine; a Golden Pen Award from the Black Writer’s Guild, and in 1999, Ms Jenkins was voted one of the Top Fifty Favorite African-American writers of the 20th Century by AABLC, the nation’s largest on-line African-American book club. In May of 2002, Ms. Jenkins published her first historical novel for young adults, titled: Belle and the Beau. Her second YA, Josephine and the Soldier followed in 2003. 

How long have you been published and what’s your key to longevity in the publishing business?

My first novel Nightsong was published in 1994. I attribute my longevity to giving readers my best effort with each book.

Angela: I attribute Beverly’s longevity to the details of African-American history that permeate her historicals.  She’s known as a very sexy writer, but she’s also known for writing books that teach you something about history that’s not found in your typical history book.  If that intrigues you but the sexy turns you off, then try her young adult titles: Josephine and the Soldier and Belle and the Beau.  IMO, they’re the same as the adult historicals, but without the sexy. These books are being re-issued by Kimani TRU next year as Josephine and Belle, respectively. 

A lot of your books are series or are connected in some way. Tell us a little about the series you’ve written and why you write them.

My books are not series in the real sense. Some of my secondary characters have gone on to get their own books, but they can function as stand alone titles. Topaz brought forth Always and Forever, and A Chance at Love. Taming Jessi Rose brought forth Something Like Love which brought about Wild Sweet Love which is also related to Nightsong. It can get complicated. LOL Indigo is related to Through the Storm and Winds of the Storm with descendants who show up in one my romantis suspense title Deadly Sexy. My historical characters live on through their descendants in my 5 titles of romantic suspense. Like I said – complicated.

What do you envision for yourself and the romance industry over the next five to ten years?

For myself I hope to keep writing. For the industry, continued diversity in the stories that are marketed.

Thanks, Beverly!

Romance Pioneer Donna Hill

When I participated in the Soul Expressions tour last month I had a chance to catch up with some of the romance authors who started this journey about the time that I did. In celebration of the ground-breaking work they did for the African-American romance genre, I asked a few of them to participate in what I’m calling, Romance Pioneer Week. I asked each of them three questions and I’ll be sharing their responses over the next week or so. It looks like about five will participate. Note these are traditional romance authors, not Christian romance authors. 

First up, Donna Hill.

Donna Hill

Donna Hill began her career in 1987 and she has more than fifty published titles to her credit. Three of her novels have been adapted for television. She has been featured in Essence, the New York Daily News, USA Today, Today’s Black Woman, and Black Enterprise among many others.

How long have you been published and what’s your key to longevity in the publishing business?

I’ve been published in novel form since 1990. My first short story was published in 1987. Wow, a pretty long time! LOL My first novel was Rooms of the Heart which has been re-issued several times. Hmmm, key to longevity? I would have to say being consistent. Delivering story ideas and concepts to editors that liked what I had to offer. Not pinning myself down to one house, and writing to an audience that enjoys what I do.

A lot of your books are series or are connected in some way. Tell us a little about the series you’ve written and why you write them.

Well, I’ve only recently gotten into writing series intentionally. Earlier in my romance career I had two books that connected: Scandalous and A Scandalous Affair. Writing the follow-up was done mostly because of reader demand and the fact that I really liked the characters and felt that they would be perfect to bring back for A Scandalous Affair.

The next time I stumbled into writing follow up books (and I call them follow-ups because they only reintroduce the same characters not a central theme and they were written years apart) Those books are A Private Affair, Pieces of Dreams and Through the Fire. Again, it was reader demand wanting to know what happened to Quentin Parker aka Q. LOL.

Angela: I was one of those readers. I think I stopped talking to Donnna for a couple of years because of something that happened with Q. 🙂  I finally got over it, but it served as a powerful reminder of the close ties readers form with series characters.

The first time I intended on a series was my Pause for Men series which was four books. They all came out last year and did so well I was asked to another series. This one is The Ladies Cartel. The storyline is about three very ordinary woman who have been recruited into a secret agency where they are undercover operatives. And no one, especially their love interests must know what they do. Their friends and family think that the kits that they have is to sell bath and body products! So far I’ve finished writing 3 of the 5 books for the series. Sex & Lies came out in Feb. Seduction and Lies will be out in November and Temptation and Lies will be out in February.

Generally when I sit down to write a book and I put “the end” that’s it for me. I was never a series writer but readers love series. They love getting involved with the characters and following them and their kids and their grandkids! LOL. And our goal is to please our readers.

What do you envision for yourself and the romance industry over the next five to ten years?

My biggest hope is that one day when I pick up RT Mag and others that review our work, our headline won’t have to read “African American” and that everyone will enjoy our work based on the content of the story not the color of the characters.

Thanks, Donna!

Seven things I learned while on the Soul Expressions Tour

1. Harlequin is a good place to be.  They had four authors on the tour, three of whom started with Arabesque books in the mid-nineties around the time I did–Donna Hill, Rochelle Alers and Brenda Jackson.  These authors could write for any publishing house they want and they’ve chosen Harlequin.  That speaks volumes for Harlequin. 

2. HarperCollins is a good place to be.  Harper had three authors on the tour, including me.  I was the newbie beside New Yorks Times Bestseller Kimberla Lawson Roby and the perennial favorite Beverly Jenkins.  HarperCollins stepped up to the plate for us.  They hosted an online interview with us while we were on the road and they equipped Beverly with a video camera so she could record our stops.

3. New York Times Bestsellers come in all shapes and sizes.  Street lit author Wahida Clarke made the list and she’s only published three books, two of which were written while she was in prison.  Romance writer Brenda Jackson made the list and she’s published 56 books over about a 13-year period.  Women’s fiction author Kim Roby made the list and she self-published her first book.  Street lit author Vickie Stringer made the list and owns a publishing house.  Vickie also started writing while in prison.

4. Readers read across genres.  I sorta knew this but the tour drove the point home.  Readers who bought me, Victoria Christopher Murray and Marilynn Griffith also bought Vickie and Wahida as well as erotica author Allison Hobbs.  Of course, there were some readers who only wanted Wahida or Vickie, while others only wanted me, Marilynn or Victoria. Most of them though read widely though.

5. Authors are generous.  There were a lot of personal stories and business insights shared on this trip.  We talked about the pros-and-cons of being a Black Expressions main selection.  We shared tips on effective marketing and promotion.  We bought each others’ books.

6. Romance readers turn out for booksignings.  I’d guess that Brenda Jackson, Donna Hill, Rochelle Alers and Beverly Jenkins probably had the most readers visit them.  These readers had their full backlist so they’d been fans for a while. 

7. Publishing regularly and often has it benefits.  Brenda, Donna, Rochelle and Beverly are all wonderful writers but I think the fact that romance demands publishing multiple books a year comes into play in the characteristics of their readers.  These readers have gotten to know Brenda, Donna, Rochelle and Beverly through 15 years of books coming out multiple times a year (Rochelle will have 12 out next year!) so there’s a special relationship with them.  As an example, Brenda sponsors a cruise with her readers every two years.  A cruise!  Beverly Jenkins does weekend pajama parties with hers.

That’s all I can think of now. If I think of something else. I’ll start another list.

So how much of this did you already know and what was new to you?

UPDATE:  Marilynn Griffith has her list up HERE.  It’s well worth a read. 

Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers

Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers is an upcoming book by Suzanne Woods Fisher, Debora M. Coty, Faith Tibbetts McDonald, and Joanna Bloss.  I fell in love with it when Suzanne told me the title and I immediately asked her to share it with me and you.  She and her co-authors put together the following interview for you.  A link to a great excerpt is provided at the end of the interview.  It’ll have you running out to buy the book.

Grit for the Oyster Author Chat
Interview with Baba Waters

Baba: Would anyone care for another latte?

Faith: Absolutely. I never say no to a latte.

Suzanne: Oh, my gosh! I love lattes.

Joanna: Thanks, I’m good.

Debora: I’ve already got a monster caramel-mocha mustache. Is there any more Godiva?

Baba: So what’s it like for four gals to co-author a book? Any cat fights? Squalls? Secret cliques? Pajama parties?

Faith: If it was up to me, I’d probably still be wondering if the manuscript was good enough to send off to the publisher…it’s hard for me to take that step. But Suzanne’s drive, Deb’s enthusiasm and Joanna’s zest inspired me again and again. It was really fun to work with these girls.

Joanna: And I think our variety of perspectives added something-we’ve got very different personalities, levels of writing experience, and live in four different parts of the country: the northeast, south, mid-west and Pacific coast.

Baba: I know Grit for the Oyster was your baby, Suzanne. How was the idea birthed?

Suzanne: The idea came out of a need. As I was trying to figure out how to break through into book publishing from magazine writing, I kept wishing there was some kind of guide to let me know what felt normal (discouragement) and what I needed to do (persevere). I went to a writers’ conference and met Deb and Faith; the idea to share the book grew out of that conference. A blessed moment!

Baba: Word is that tons of famous authors contributed exclusive tips on how to be successful. Is this true?

Debora: We’re excited to include writing tips from amazing authors like Liz Curtis Higgs, Dr. Gary Chapman, BJ Hoff, James Scott Bell, Athol Dickson, Rhonda Rhea, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, Phil Callaway, Karol Ladd, and many others. And we couldn’t be more thrilled to have lovely endorsements from best-selling authors Terri Blackstock, David Kopp, Linda Danis, and Ruth Carmichael Ellinger. Oh, and the foreword is penned by none other than Sally Stuart.

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Open Mic Day for Writers

Today is Open Mic Day for Writers.  You’re welcome (and encouraged) to post Comments and Questions related to writing.  I won’t be able to answer until next week, but you’re free to answer each other as you like.  We have some smart people visiting this blog, many of them published authors.  I”m sure they’ll help out.

Have at it!  I look forward to reading your comments when I get back from the Soul Expressions Author Tour.

The Payton Skyy Movies

I found some wonderfully exciting news on Dee’s Christian Fiction blog–drum roll, please–Stephanie Perry Moore’s Payton Skyy series of teen novels is being made into a series of Direct-to-DVD movies by Tyler Perry!  This is great news!

I’ve bought the Payton Skyy series several times over the years.  I even bought it for my niece TWICE!  She called me up and said, “Aunt Angela, you already gave me these books–years ago.” I admit to getting a little sheep-faced at that, but when I saw them in hardcover at Black Expressions, I had to buy them.  Well, dIdn’t I?

I recently purchased (around Thanksgiving, I think) Stephanie’s pre-teen series, Carmen Browne, for a younger niece (the aforementioned niece’s sister).  To make up for giving the older niece the duplicate Payton Skyy books,  I tossed in the first books from the Perry Skyy Jr. series, figuring she’d love a series about a boy.

I realized today how long Stephanie Perry Moore has been writing young adult Christian fiction, particularly African-American young adult Christian fiction.  She is truly the godmother of the genre.  (Note she has at least one series, Laurel Shadrach, that stars a Caucasian pre-teen.)  Come to think about it, Stephanie is a pioneer in African-American Christian fiction, in general, as her first book came out in 2000 when the genre was first starting. 

Congratulations to Stephanie!  Let’s all be on the look-out for the DVDs.

RWA Conference Update

I haven’t been to a Romance Writers of America (RWA) Conference since the year Awakening Mercy was a RITA finalist. I think that was 2001 in New Orleans.  UPDATE: You can find the 2008 RITA winners HERE!

This year they’re in San Francisco and The Today Show paid them a visit. Nora Roberts and Beverly Jenkins made the tape that was shown on the show.

Thanks to Anika at WriteBlack for the heads up!

UPTD Manuscript Submission and Revision

When I signed the contract for Up Pops the Devil in June, I was given a September 1 deadline.  I hate to confess this but I missed my deadline.  The good news is that I knew I was going to miss it so I was able to inform my agent who informed by editor who gracefully gave me a three-week extension. 

I made the September due date and submitted my manuscript via e-mail at 7:30 am on Monday, September 24.  I’ve figured out that I do better with Monday due dates, as they give me the weekend to focus totally on the manuscript.  Since I have a full-time job, this is very important. I can’t take full days during the week to work on my writing so weekends are precious.

For those of you wondering, I submit my manuscript as a single Word document with one-inch margins, using Times New Roman with a font size of 12.  As I’m writing the manuscript, I have a separate file for each chapter (Using Word’s master document feature to view/print them as a single document), but once I send it in, I consolidate the chapter files into a single file and that’s the way I work on the manuscript from that time forward.

So I turned my book in on September 24 and settled back thinking it would be around Thanksgiving before I got back a revision letter.  Now Thanksgiving is a perfect time for me because I’m out on Thanksgiving break.  Well, guess what happened?  You’ve got it. 

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Kristin Billerbeck on Writing Rituals

The most important part of my writing rituals include consuming massive amounts of espresso and clearing my mind of outside stuff.  Not easy.  Today I wrote at one of these ADD-style bowling alleys with 100 blaring TV screens and and my four kids.  They bowled and ate expensive hamburgers.  I wore noise-silencing headphones and wrote.  This is far from perfect, but the hardest thing for me is when someone talks to me, when my head is already talking to me, so the busier I can keep the kids (especially during summer!), the better.

I write seat-of-the-pants, but I know my theme and my main characters starting out.  After chapter one, all of it changes, and I’m left to follow.  So my rituals include staying in the book for a very long time, wondering what my characters will decide.  Sometimes, just like if I have to make a big decision, I have to learn about their struggles from books, websites, interviews and find out what they’d decide.  (I’ve read three books on demons and two on faith for this one!) That’s what slows me down the most.  I also try to immerse myself in great reading when I’m in a book.  When I’m not writing, it’s People Magazine, Us, and other mind-numbing fare like that.  But during the book, I love to read about four books at a time (one in the car, one in the bathtub, one in bed, one on the back deck.)  Research books do not enter the bathtub.  That is sacred.

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Marilynn Griffith on Writing Rituals

Thanks so much to Angela for raising this topic. I’m a little shy about answering because my process doesn’t always follow a linear pattern. There aren’t any things I do every time except write down as much as I can when someone interesting shows up and starts talking or to find a pen and run for a corner when my brain starts playing the,”That’s what actually happened, but what if…” game. That said, here are some things that seem to be standard.

Sort of.

1) Verses. My best ideas come to me in church. The Shades of Style series was inspired by Isaiah 61 and Rhythms of Grace comes from Matthew 11:28 in The Message. Certain things in the Word just jump out during my prayer and Bible Study (and even in service!). Without Jesus, I wouldn’t have anything to tell. He’s the author and finisher of everything (even the little people running around in my head).

2) Voices. I’m a dialogue person and I hear my characters more than see them. Often they start talking when I’m running or in church or folding clothes. It may be just one line like Grace from my latest novel (Flowers danced the day I died). That novel began as a short story of two boys, black and white, who are much more alike than different. Next thing I knew they were grown up, had friends and then…there was Grace. When she started talking, everyone else was quiet, waiting patiently, nodding and pushing her to the front. Other times, like with Made of Honor, I have a plot and a person that I’m working on separately and God pushes me to put them together. Always though there’s talking. Usually food too. Good smelling food.

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Vanessa Davis Griggs on Writing Rituals

I’ve noticed how much my “writing ritual” has evolved over the years. When I first started writing full-time (I used to work at BellSouth full-time and then left after 18 years of service, no retirement just stepped out on total faith), I had the entire twenty-four hours to write if I wanted or needed to.

I would get started around 6 a.m. typing practically nonstop until around 2:30 p.m. I would take a break, get something to eat maybe and start dinner for my husband, and then be right back at it again. Most times I might be working until around midnight, especially when I was on a roll and didn’t want to stop. I loved it!

I had chosen to stop watching television in 1998 when I concluded it really steals a lot of your time and can be a true hindrance to you getting anything done. I chose back then to sow that time into my own dreams instead of someone else’s whom I didn’t even know. When I would read a book, it would most times be one of nonfiction. Although I write fiction, I found that nonfiction had a way of releasing my creativity, so that’s what I would do to relax and it would free my mind.

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Guest Bloggers talk about their Writing Rituals

I’m pleased to annouce that I’ll be hosting guest authors from time to time on the blog.  This will be a chance for you to meet some new authors in a format a bit different than the usual blog interview. 

We have three guest bloggers this week: Vanessa Davis Griggs, Marilynn Griffith and Kristin Billerbeck.  All three are wonderful authors and I’m sure you’ll enjoy their work. 

I’ve asked each author to address the topic, Writing Rituals, in their own way.   You’ll remember that I did a post on this topic last week.  If you missed it you can catch it here.

Vanessa is up first on Tuesday, followed by Marilynn on Wednesday and Kirstin on Thursday.  On Friday, all the commenters on the guests’ posts will be entered in a drawing to win a free book from one of the guests.  That’s right, you’ll have three chances to win. 

The good news is that you have until Friday at noon to comment.  In other words, if you miss Vanessa on Monday, you can still comment on her post by Friday at noon and be entered in the contest.  The same with the other guests. 

Don’t forget that I’ll be giving away another two copies of Up Pops the Devil on Friday, as part of my continuing Book Giveway contest.  So the more comments you make, the more chances you have to win.

Let’s make our guests feel welcome.  Be sure to tell your friends to visit with us.

UPTD from Agent to Publisher

In 2006 when I signed with my agent, Natasha Kern, I was in the middle of a two-book contract with Walk Worthy Press and Warner Books (now Hatchette Book Group). With the demise of the Walk Worthy / Warner agreement in late 2006, I found myself with an agent but without a publisher.  For a while, it looked like I might be staying with Warner but by the end of the first quarter of 2007, we knew that was not going to happen.

At that point, Natasha began aggressive action to find me a new publishing home. We talked extensively about the possible paths she saw for my writing career and my personal goals for where I wanted to be. Independently, we came up with lists of publishers that we thought positioned to get me to where I wanted to be. As an agent, Natasha was knowledgeable about which editors would be most inclined to like and appreciate an “Angela Benson” story.

Natasha then went to work contacting editors. The good thing about an agent is that they can do simulatenous submissions. That means they can send a proposal to editors at multiple publishing houses at the same time (letting them know, of course) while authors submitting their own work are required to submit to one publisher and wait for an answer before submitting to another.

The feedback started flowing in pretty quickly. Natasha had conversations with the editors who expressed interest in the proposal. These conversations were crucial in learning the ideas and strategies the editors had for the book and for my career. By early May, we had accepted an offer from Carolyn Marino at HarperCollins.

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Writing Rituals

If anyone had asked me if I had any writing rituals, I would have answered with a resounding NO. I would have been lying.

As I was reflecting on how I started on Up Pops the Devil , I realized that at some point early in the process, I pulled out Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel and gave it a review. Then I realized I do this with EVERY book!

As one would expect, the book is BIG on conflct. One of the things Mass talks about is  "inherent conflict." The best examples I can give of this are the growing numbers of books set in churches, or what I call, "church fiction." Placing characters with severe moral problems and hypocrisies in a church immediately heightens the conflict. It’s one thing to have adultery, fornication, lying and deceit going on, but it’s taken to a whole other level when it’s going on among folks in a church because church is not the place you would expect to find such activity. Or most people wouldn’t. The same could be said for the "urban lit" phenomenon. If your story takes place on violent streets or in violent neighborhods, you’ve heightened its conflict. With "inherent conflict" you add to the tension of your story because of the setting you choose. John Grisham did it with his mob lawyers in The Firm.

You can do this in Christian fiction by putting your Christian characters in situations that are or seem to be at odds with their faith. In Up Pops the Devil, my protagonist, Preacher, has a jailhouse conversion. Right off the back, you begin to wonder if it’s real.

Another thing that Maas discusses is "advanced characters," or something like that. Here he talks about having characters take on multiple roles to enhance conflict. For example, the antagonist and protagonist are related or have some shared history. Or the hero and heroine come from fueding families.

I used this one a lot in Up Pops the Devil . The story is about Preacher, his sister, his fiancee’, one of his old girlfriends and a new friend. It’s one thing to become a Christian and have to deal with friends who aren’t Christians. In that case, you can cut them off. It may be difficult, but you can do it. You can’t exactly cut off your sister or your fiancee’ or doing so is much, more difficult. Because of the difficulty, the conflict/tension is heightened in the story. Then there’s Preacher’s old girlfriend. Well, it’s one thing to have to deal with her, but it’s a whole other thing if she’s married to his Christian mentor. Again, heightened conflict.

Those are just two points from the Maas book. I think it’s good reading for any writer so consider giving it a try.

Now that I’ve told you about my writing ritual, you can tell me about yours. Who’s going first?

The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing Book

Author J.A. Konrath has converted his popular blog, The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, into a free book for download. I find his blog a rich source of helpful information for new and not-so-new authors. That’s he’s taken that valuable information, organized it, and published it in book format is a boon for authors looking for a resource guide for the profession of commercial fiction writing.

Before I give you the link to download the book, I want to encourage you to buy one of the guy’s books. He writes mysteries, but even if you don’t like mysteries, you should buy one of his. Why? Because he’s giving you this resource for free. You have to be willing to give back and the best way to do that is to buy one of his books. Give it away as a gift if you don’t like it. Toss in the corner and never look at it. Whatever. Just buy it.

You can find his book list HERE:

You can download The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing Book HERE.


I love your book, I hate your book

This post is about book reviews, from those on to those in Publishers Weekly.  I’ve always wanted to talk about reviews–bad ones–but in order to do that I’d have to tell people that I’ve gotten ones.  And nobody wants to advertise they’ve gotten a bad review.

People are really funny about bad reviews, especially author friends.  Nobody mentions them.  It’s as though they never happened. I got a bad review in an Atlanta paper on my second book (yes, I remember it), and nobody in my writing group mentioned it.  Now I know they’d read it because the book reviewer had visited our RWA chapter meeting and agreed to review romance novels.  It’s like when you know you’re having a “bad hair day” but nobody comments on it, not even to joke.  That’s when you know how seriously we writers take these reviews.

PW has reviewed a couple of my books.  Back in the day, it was hard for a romance novel to get a review, and one without a back-handed insult was hard to find.  But we writers learned to deal with PW. Let’s say the PW reviewer writes that “the author butchered this book and destroyed what could have been wonderful characters.”  Well, the creative author turns lemons into lemonade.  The next thing you know, the author has a quote from PW on her web site or the cover of her book and it says “. . .wonderful characters. -PW”  Just lose a few words and a bad review becomes a good review.

In all fairness, I don’t think we do that anymore.  It’s pretty clear it’s not an honest representation of how PW felt about the book.  Just goes to show the lengths we’ll go to get a good review.

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“Write that Book” Tele-seminar Scheduled

My “Write that Book” Teleseminar has been scheduled and the invitations have gone out to the contest winners.  If you’re  a contest winner and you haven’t received an invitation, please comment here to let me know. 

I have some plans for expanding this seminar into a seminar series, but I can’t talk about the details now.  Keep watching the blog for update.

The Amen Sisters – Idea to Book

Readers often ask what inspired me to write The Amen Sisters and where the idea for the book originated.  The Amen Sisters has a long and, I hope, interesting history.  The idea for this book came to me around 1990, about the time that I was able to start talking about an abusive church situation I had experienced a few years earlier.  I had a story I wanted to tell, but I had no idea I’d tell it in a novel.  I wasn’t even a published author at the time!

Sometime in 1998, I think, after publishing seven romance novels, I signed a contract to do a three-book, Christian romance series with Tyndale House Publishers.  The first book in what became The Genesis House series was Awakening Mercy, my first Christian romance, which was published in 2000.  The second was Abiding Hope, published in 2001.  The third, Enduring Love, has never been published.  Enduring Love was the first incarnation of The Amen Sisters.

Awakening Mercy coverTyndale loved Awakening Mercy and thought I had perfectly hit the tone they wanted in a Christian romance novel, so I had very few revisions.  Their response to Abiding Hope was not as positive.  They sent it back to me with the recommendation that I make it more romance-y, more like Awakening Mercy.  That’s when I began to wonder whether I had another Christian romance in me.  Thankfully, I was able to revise Abiding Hope enough to make it the Christian romance that my publisher and readers expected. When I turned in Enduring Love a year later, my publisher and I knew we were at the end of our road together.  The book had a romantic element but it was definitely not a romance along the lines of Awakening Mercy and Abiding Hope.

Since Tyndale didn’t think they could successfully market me as a Christian women’s fiction author at that point in my career and since I was pretty sure I didn’t have another Christian romance in me, we parted ways.  Since they’d already paid me half of the advance for the book, I had to repay it.  The good news is that my contract gave me six months to do so.

So here I was with a book that my publisher didn’t want and that really wasn’t ready for women’s fiction land. The good news is that the publisher at Walk Worthy Press was interested in having me do women’s fiction for her new publishing venture with Warner Books.  Seemed like at perfect match!

Almost.  When I went to contract with Walk Worthy, I had this finished book, Enduring Love, which not quite a romance and not quite women’s fiction, on my hands.  I decided my best option was to try to make it a “big” romance and sell it to a romance publisher.  Well, even though I wasn’t contracted to do romance for Walk Worthy, there was a clause in my contract that gave them the right to see the romance before I shopped it to another publisher.

Guess what?  Walk Worthy wanted to publish the story as women’s fiction.  Good news, right? Well, sorta. Though my new publisher and I talked about what a women’s fiction version of Enduring Love would look like, it became apparent after about a year of revisions that we were miles apart in our visions for the book.  At the end of my rope and exhausted of all hope, I made a fateful call to my new publisher, fully prepared to terminate the contract and, once again, pay back an advance. Imagine my surprise when my publisher said, “Write your book, Angela,” or some words to that effect.

Those words freed me up and seven months later, I turned in The Amen Sisters.  That wasn’t my original title though. I can’t even remember if I had a title, since Enduring Love had long since fallen by the wayside.  The Amen Sisters, as a title, was my publisher’s idea.  All I had to do was change the last name of my main characters from Thompson to Amen and a book title was born.

So that’s the story of The Amen Sisters.  You never would have guessed, would you?

For those of you who are wondering, I do still have a few romances left in me.  I realized over time that what I needed in my writing was balance.  In case you didn’t know it, most romance writers are married women.  As a single woman, I found it difficult to continually turn out stories of women who ended up happily ever after with the mate God had chosen especially for them.  I needed to also tell stories of godly women whose lives were not headed towards holy matrimony.  In other words, I needed to write stories about women like myself.

That’s it for now.  Enjoy your weekend and be blessed!

SORMAG Online Conference

The SORMAG Online Conference is now going on!  This is a great online conference for writers and readers.  It’s the perfect opportunity for you to meet authors, editors, agents and others in the publishing business. 

The conference started on August 26th and ends on September 1st.  The goods news is that the conference is free!  You have the wonderfully giving LaShaunda Hoffman, who’s provided this fantastic opportunity for a few years now, to thank. Kudos, LaShaunda! Your good work has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. 

So head on over to and join in the fun.  The conference is hosted in a blog format so even though you’ll be joining late, you won’t have missed a thing! 

Oh, yeah, you can see the full conference agenda here:

Last, not but least, be sure to click on one of those “Make a Donation” buttons and support the conference effort. 



If anyone tells you’re they’re fun, don’t believe them! 

I bet you’ve guessed that I’m on deadline. What I bet you don’t know is that I’m always on deadline.  Something is always due, and if you’re a teacher or a working mother or a writer with a full-time job or just a very busy person, I’m sure you understand.  To keep my sanity, I maintain a calendar in Outlook to manage my deadlines.  I’m due date driven so seeing that task list helps keep me focused.

I read something on Tyler Perry’s web page (by the way, House of Payne was kicking this week) that’s been sticking with me as I work through all my task list.  It’s something we all know, but it’s nice to be reminded.  Here it is for you to ponder:

. . .we as human beings almost always sabotage our own success.

There are many reasons why we do this but the main reason that I used to do it and so many of us still do it is because we don’t feel that we deserve good things to happen to us. Be it because of what we were told as children or what someone may have done to us, even as of late. . .

. . .if you are the type of person that gets close but never makes it in, what that tells me is that you have the faith to get to the door, but not enough to open it. There are different levels of faith. One can take you to the door. Then you need faith to open it. A lot of times fear will keep you from opening it, because a lot of us are afraid of change.  Then you need faith to go through the door. This is the biggest part because it means you have to conquer the unknown. This kind of faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

Let’s walk through the door, y’all.

Royalty Statements

Since I haven’t talked much about publishing lately, I thought I’d take a moment and talk about royalty statements since it’s that time of year.

September 30 was a big day for a lot of authors. It was royalty day. Publishing contracts typically pay out every six months. The contract states that royalties for the Jan-Jun 2006 period must be mailed to the author by September 30. So, if you visit the blogs of all your favorite authors and they’re deliriously happy, it probably means they got paid. 🙂 Some authors out there may not be so happy as they may not have earned as much as they wanted to earn. That’s the way it goes.

A couple of contract clauses can make royalty time a bit depressing for authors: joint accounting and reduced royalties on deeply discounted books. Let’s talk about these two so that you’ll know what authors face.

Joint accounting, also basket accounting. What is joint accounting? I don’t have a definition but I can give an example. Suppose you have a two-book contract that includes an advance for the first book and an advance for the second book. In joint accounting, you have to earn back the money for both books before you get any more money. Let’s say you get $10,000 for the first book and $20,000 for the second book, a total of $30,000.

Typically, you’d get half of the first advance ($5000) and half of the second ($10,000), a total of $15,000, upon signing the contract. When you turn in book one and it’s accepted, you get the second half of the first advance ($5000), for a total of $20,000 in advance received. When the second book is turned in, you get the second half of the second advance ($10,000), for a total of $30,000 in advance received.

In joint accounting, you don’t get another dime from the publisher until you earn back the full $30,000. Suppose your first book earns $25,000 the first year? You don’t get any money because you still owe the publisher $5000 under joint accounting. Without joint accounting, you would have received royalties of $15,000 on the first book ($25,000 – $10,ooo advance already received). Of course, you wouldn’t get any money on book 2 until you had earned back the $20,000 advance paid for book 2.

So, in joint accounting the payments for the books are lumped together, as opposed to each book standing on its own. Of course, if you’re getting $100,000 for the first book and $200,000 for the second book, you may not mind joint accounting. You really have to look at all the terms of the contract.

Reduced royalties on books sold at a discount. Typically, bookstores buy books from publisers at 60% of the cover price. On a hard cover book, the standard royalty rate (the rate the author is paid) is 10% of the cover price for the first 5000 copies sold, 12.5% for the next 5000, and 15% for anything over 10,000. If you sell 1-5000 copies of a book that has a cover price of $22 dollars, you get $2.20/book.

The reduced royalties on discounted books means you’d get 10% of the net receipts of the book, rather than 10% of the cover price. So, if the publisher sells the book to the bookstore at a 50% discount, you 10% of the discounted price. If the book is $22, you get 10% of $11 or $1.10/book. You’ll notice that this is half of what you’d get under normal royalties. [To be fair, I think 55% is the deep discount point for most publishers, but 50% was an easier number to work with in the example.]

These two clauses are enough reasons to get an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Your agent may not always be able to get them out, but she can advise you on ways to minimize their impact on your bottom line. Have a good one!

Writing “The Amen Sisters”

A while back when we were talking about What makes IT Christian? I promised to write a post about the writing of The Amen Sisters. Well, this is that post!

Because of the subject matter of the book, I was determined not to sensationalize it. That meant The Amen Sisters was not going to be about the acts of a pastor gone wild. I was determined not to focus on the misdeeds of the pastor but the impact of his actions on those around him. For me, that was a more complex story, a more interesting story. I bet you can imagine the drama showing the pastor’s unpastoral actions would have brought to the book, but that was not my book to write.

I want to make another point about a choice that I made with The Amen Sisters but it gives away some of the book, so I’m going to put it on the next page. Don’t select “Read the rest of this entry” at the end of this post if you don’t want to know.

Every author makes choices with the stories he or she chooses to write. Our stories reflect our perspective. Some writers say their stories represent a “Christian worldview.” I’d probably go along with that as long as it’s understood that my stories represent “a” Christian worldview, not “the” Christian worldview.” I make this distinction because even though we are Christians our individual views are colored by our personal experiences of Christ.

That’s it for tonight. Don’t forget that selecting “Read the rest of this entry” below will tell you something about The Amen Sisters that you may not want to know before you read it.

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What makes “IT” Christian?

This question has been rolling around in my mind for quite a while now. Just to be clear, the IT is Christian fiction. So, what makes Christian fiction Christian?

I started writing Christian fiction back around 1999. At that time, the books were being sold primarily in CBA (Christian Bookseller Association) bookstores and published by publishers who served those bookstores, called CBA publishers. Yourgeneral bookstores, chain (Border’s, Amazon, etc) or independent (Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas, Karibou in DC/Maryland), are called ABA (or, BEA) bookstores. You’ll find Christian fiction sections of varying sizes in ABA stores. Industry reports suggest that Christian fiction is one of the fastest growing markets. But I’m getting off track . . .

One of the things that surprised me when I entered CBA publishing was the complaint of some CBA authors (authors I’d read and enjoyed) that CBA publishing guidelines contrained them in their writing and didn’t allow them to tell the stories they really wanted to tell. The authors seemed to feel constrained from telling “real” stories.

That wanting to write real stories about real people refrain is one that is still heard among Christian authors and, to be honest, I’ve said it myself. Only recently have I begun to ask myself exactly what the refrain means. I’ve heard that the characters in some Christian fiction were/are unrealistic because the people were/are too perfect. More recently, there’s the refrain among African-American authors and readers of Christian fiction that CBA Christian fiction does not speak to the reality of their lives. So now we have CBA fiction, where CBA has somehow become code for “white” and gospel fiction, code for “black.” [Okay, Dee, kick me if I’m misusing your term.]

I think the two aforementioned reasons are why we have the real refrain from Christian authors and readers. Unfortunately, the fallout I’m seeing from this is that in some (and I do say “some”) books it’s difficult to distinguish the Christian characters from the non-Christian characters. This is the problem that gets me back to the initial question in this post, What makes IT Christian? What makes Christian fiction Christian?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that “real” Christian fiction doesn’t seek to show how weak Christians are, but rather to show people of faith in situations where they’re challenged to live their faith. Sometimes they’ll meet the challenge and, at others, they won’t. But in the course of the challenges, we see a growing relationship with God through Christ.

I’ve concluded that the challenge of writing Christian fiction is not in showing how far Christians can fall, but in showing, through words and story, what it means to love God, to be in relationship with Him. I think this is reality for Christians.

So how do I show this reality in my stories? How do I write a compelling story about a person who loves God? How do I show a relationship with an invisible God on the very visible pages of a book? Now that’s a challenge.

In next week’s post, I’ll reflect on how I wrote The Amen Sisters as a way of looking more closely at these questions. Please note that I’m not saying that I have the answers, just that I want to explore the questions more.

Okay, those are my thoughts. What do you think?

Characters and More

For the RosesThe other day I was thinking about characters and the power we as authors have in our creation of them. We have goals for our characters and in our execution of those goals we take our readers into a land we created and ask them to join in with us. Some enter and decide to stay with us, while others decide our land is not the place for them. That’s the truth that authors have to embrace: Everybody is not going to like your book. That’s hard to hear, but I deal with it by telling myself that if everybody who reads my books likes them, then I didn’t have very good distribution. You see, I’m good at turning lemons into lemonade. 🙂

I remember the first time I wanted to write to an author. That author was Julie Garwood. Yes, Julie Garwood, the then historical romance author. Okay, the then NYTimes bestselling historical romance author. In the 90’s, she wrote For the Roses. That book had me boo-hooing. Not because I was sad, but because I was touched. You see, For the Roses had a black male character as a member of Rose family, four orphans who banded together because no one wanted them. Three white men, one white woman (a baby when the teen-aged boys formed their family) and Adam.

In For the Roses, Julie Garwood took me into a world I had never entered. In Julie Garwood’s world, Adam’s “brothers” didn’t take rooms in the fancy hotel while Adam stayed in the livery. They didn’t ride in the comfortable passenger cars and leave Adam alone in a cattle car. In Julie Garwood’s world, Adam’s brothers loved him and showed that love by the way they treated him. In her world, Adam was the wise older brother, whose love and care for his family was returned in full measure.

Later, I read somewhere that For the Roses was among Julie Garwood’s worst-selling books. Still, a bestseller, but not as much so as her other titles. I hope that’s not true. I also remember reading one reader characterizing the book as unrealistic. I’m not sure what she meant, but I wonder if what I found touching in For the Roses, other readers found unrealistic. You see, in most books set in that time period, good ole Adam would have been left alone in the livery and the cattle car with a smile and a “take care.” But in Julie’s world, love worked differently.

I think now that I should have written to Julie Garwood and thanked her for writing For the Roses. From her, I learned the power that we as authors have. We choose the reality of our stories. We write fiction; we make up stories. We decide what to show and what to leave to the imagination. We decide what’s important and what’s not important in the worlds we create. And, in doing so, we hope to present the reader the truth that is reality. Now that’s a hard job. Some might even think of it as a calling.

My hat is off and my heart is open to my brother and sister authors who attempt to do this everyday with Christian fiction. We’re not going to please every reader every time, and sometimes we’re not going to please each other, but what we can do is give each other the space to tell the stories that God gives us. What may not work for me, could be life-saving for somebody else. Now that is reality.

Have a great day, everybody.

For the Writer in You

Telling the TaleI’ve been getting quite a few messages from new writers lately and I thought I’d make you all aware of the writing resources on this web site. If you look down the right panel, you’ll see a section with the heading Writing Resources with two links listed. The first link takes you to some my personal writing tips, which I encourage you to browse.

Also, if you’re in the NYC area on April 22, you might want to check out the Faith and Fiction Function being hosted by Kingdom Baptist Church in Yonkers, NY. I’ll be there, along with Tiffany Warren and LaTonya Mason. We’ll have a time of praise, prayer, fellowship and sharing what we know about publishing in the Christian fiction arena as well as in the general market.

Don’t forget the Faith Based Arts Conference. At lot of your favorite Chrsitian authors will be in attendance. I’m teaching a Writer’s Workshop. It’ll be a great time! Oh, yes, and for $75 you can get a professional critique of the synopsis and first chapter of your manuscript.

In the new few weeks, we’ll be wrapping up the Taking Back the Past series. Any ideas for publishing topics that we can tackle then?

Writing Tips


Angela Benson
Resolutions for Writers

1. Finish at least one manuscript. It’s important for new writers to know that they can finish a book. It might not be the best book in the world, but you will have proved to yourself that you can tell a story from beginning to end. That knowledge will make finishing the second book much easier. As you write more books, you’ll find that you develop a rhythm to your writing. You’ll begin to notice how long your chapters are, how many scenes are usually in a chapter, how long it takes you to write a scene or chapter, etc. This knowledge will prove invaluable once you start writing to deadline.

2. Make time to read at least one book a month. Most writers start as avid readers. Once readers start to write, they sometimes find their lives so busy that reading is neglected. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t lose your love and appreciation of good stories. In addition to hours of pleasure, reading will keep you up to date on the market.

3. Rejoice in the success of other writers. Every time a new writer sells a book, a struggling writer should be encouraged. That sale is proof that publishers are still buying new writers. Take time to congratulate that writer and be sure to purchase the book when it hits the shelves.

Telling the Tale

Telling the Tale coverIn 2000, Berkeley published my writing book, Telling the Tale: The African-American Fiction Writer’s Guide. This book is a good place for new writers to start. Telling the Tale is out-of-print now, but you can find copies at most online stores.

“Benson knows her stuff, and her wonderful reference book for African-American fiction writers would be equally useful to writers of any ethnicity. ” –The Internet Writing Journal

A Word of Encouragement from Angela (excerpted from Telling the Tale)

How did I sell my first book?

I sold the first book that I wrote. I started writing it in 92, sold it in 93 and it was published in 94. That’s not bad for writers.

But a lot happened between the time I started writing and the time I sold my book. The first, and I think the most important, is that I joined Romance Writers of America, the national chapter and the local chapter. The support and information that I received from this group has been invaluable.

Second, I joined a critique group of new writers like myself. We met at the local RWA meeting. When we started meeting we knew next to nothing about writing, but we learned together. Five people participated in the critique group and three of us are now published.

Third, I set goals and kept them. My first goal was to write a synopsis and three chapters so I could enter a contest. I accomplished that goal. My next goal was to finish the book in order to enter another contest. I accomplished that one was well. Using contests as milestones help me set and manage my goals. In addition, the critiques from contest judges helped me hone my writing skills.

Last, I learned to accept rejection. All writers want their work to be loved and adored by all. I do too, but that’s not a realistic expectation. Your writing is not going to resonant with every reader. That’s a fact of life. Think about John Grisham and Danielle Steel. Not everybody thinks their work is wonderful, yet they have magnificent careers-careers that we’d all like to have. As a beginning writer, you have to be prepared for rejection. You can’t let one rejection or ten rejections get you so down that you become discouraged and quit writing. You have to hang in there until you sell. And even after you sell, rejection is still a part of the writer’s life.

What happens after you sell that first book?

This question is asked by many writers still waiting to sell their first book. Though the process varies from publishing house to publishing house, the general steps are:

1. The editor calls and makes an offer to buy your book. After negotiating, you accept.

2. The editor sends a revision letter. Yes, she bought your book, but there are some changes, some clarifications, that you’ll need to make to make your book better. You’re given about 2-3 weeks to make the changes.

3. After you finish the revisions, you send the book back to the editor. Hopefully, she okays your revisions and your manuscript goes to be typeset. Some publishing houses typeset from disk; others typeset from the manuscript page. At this stage errors can actually be introduced into your work. Some of the typos that you see in books were not put there by the authors, but were introduced during the typeset process.

4. The next thing you’ll get will be the galleys. These are the typeset manuscript pages. Your job is to check for typographical errors, missing words, missing paragraphs, duplicate paragraphs, that kind of thing. You have about a week.

5. You return the galley pages that need correcting and, if all goes well, the corrections are made.

6. Your editor sends the galleys to reviewers for advance reviews.

7. Your book is shipped from the warehouse a month before its release date. If a book is an August book, it starts to ship from the warehouse in July. By August 1, it should have arrived in all bookstores across the country. Of course, some stores will get the book in July, usually around the middle of the month.

For my first book, the time from Step 2 to Step 6 was nine months. For my second book it was five months.

Tip for submitting your work

Do your research. The Writer’s Market, Romance Writer’s Sourcebook and Romance Writers Pink Pages are excellent places to start. They list publishing houses and agents according to genre. These books also tell you what to include in your submission: query or synopsis and chapters.

Critique groups: what are they and how do you find one

A critique group is three to four writers who meet on a regular basis to read and critique each other’s work, set goals and provide mutual motivation. They require commitment and compatibility. Sometimes you aren’t lucky enough to get both on the first go round. The best place to find potential critique partners would be at your local writing group. Look for writers who are at the same level as you. Most new writers want to get paired with an established, published author but I don’t think that works very well since the relationship tends to be one of mentor and student rather than partners. Look for partners. Mentors can come later.

Hot Tip 

Don’t edit yourself as you write your first draft. Allow yourself to write bad prose, but force yourself to get the first draft on paper. In our effort to write our story perfectly the first time, we can discourage ourselves so much that we never finish. So, write that first draft. You’ll have plenty of time to make it perfect AFTER the draft is complete.


For the beginning writer:

Make Your Words Work, Gary Provost
The Elements of Grammar, Margaret Shertzer
The Weekend Novelist, Robert Ray
Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons for Black Writers, Jewel Parker Rhodes

Polishing that completed manuscript:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
The Writer’s Journey, Chris Vogler

Marketing your work:

The African-American Writer’s Handbook, Robert Fleming
The Writer’s Market, Writer’s Digest Books

Magazines: Writer’s Digest Magazine, Black Issues Book Review

Web Resources

I don’t know Joe Konrath (mystery author) personally, but I do know that his web site and blog provide a lot of information about the publishing business. Take a look at some of his materials. I have bought one of his books since visiting his site and, if you find his information helpful, please show your gratitude by purchasing one of his books. You don’t have to like mysteries in order to support him either. You can always give the book to a friend or donate it to a shelter or library. The key is to give back.

J.A. Konrath’s Writing Tips

J.A. Konrath’s “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing”

I don’t know Holly Lisle (suspense author) either but she’s taken the time to put together some wonderful resources for writers. I haven’t purchased one of Holly’s books yet, but I will soon. Like with Joe, if you use her materials, show your gratitude by purchasing one of her books.

Holly Lisle’s “Fast Forward for Writers”

Randy Ingermanson (Christian fiction author) has another site with lots of information for writers. Ditto what I said for Joe and Holly.

Randy Ingermanson’s “On Writing”

The following links are to a variety of writer’s resources, including writing organizations. Take some time to browse through.

American Christian Fiction Writers

African American Online Writing Guild

Romance Writers of America

Christian Booksellers Association

Publisher’s Weekly

Over the past few years, I’ve given a few writing workshops. The following links take you to the materials that I used. Please note that I have not updated the materials since the workshop.

Writing Christian Fiction, Romance Slam Jam 2004

Writing the Synopsis

Last updated February 20, 2006.

Copyright (c) 1997-2006 Angela D. Benson.