Monday, June 11, 2018

The Publishing Wheel

By Cindy Sproles

The writing industry is like a giant water wheel. It’s huge, filled with buckets, and turns constantly. Now you ask, “What is she talking about?” It was a somewhat lame attempt at vivid description, and if you’re willing to bear with me … you’ll see.

When I was a child, my cousin and I loved going to my grandmother’s house. She lived deep in the country. A mile from her house was a functioning grist mill.

We’d traipse through the creek, jump on rocks, and make our way to the mill. On the side of a barn-type building stood a huge wheel that turned at the speed of molasses. Water from the creek was forced through a trough, filling each bucket on the wheel and turning the wheel. When the water buckets made it to the top, they caught on a wooden bar that tipped and emptied them back into the creek. This wheel, attached to a gear inside the mill with two huge, round stones, turned as the farmer dumped scoops of dried corn kernels onto the wheel. As the stones turned, they crushed the corn into flour.

This wheel is a prime example of how the writing industry works. Once you get your head around the concept, rejection letters aren’t quite so bitter.

Let’s bring it into context. The industry is a huge wheel, loaded with buckets. As the wheel turns, tons of manuscripts drop into the buckets. It takes time—sometimes a long time—for that wheel to make a complete rotation.

Now that you have that picture in your head, think of each bucket as a specific genre or trend. Today, the top bucket is heavy with Amish fiction. Your genre bucket (rocket science thrillers) may just be filling. Remember, the wheel turns slowly. The bucket in front of yours will reach the top long before your bucket. It may even stop and teeter at the top while publishers are working their way through, but eventually the wheel begins to turn again, and your bucket will reach the top and dump.

Why this elaborate attempt at drawing a mental picture? Because it says volumes about the trends of publishing. What is popular today will soon begin the downward turn, and what was less popular yesterday (rocket science thrillers) slowly works its way to the top of the wheel to become the hottest new trend.

Listen when authors tell you about timing. They want you to learn patience in an industry that moves like molasses. Eventually, your genre will be on top, and folks will be clamoring for the newest novel from your bucket.

What do you do while you wait for the wheel to turn?
Learn the craft of writing. Spend quality time spinning and weaving words, studying techniques, and practicing what will make your story/stories better. Master the craft, and then study and practice some more. You may even find yourself digging through your bucket, trying to retrieve what you’ve written so you can make that better too.

Rejection letters do not necessarily mean your writing is bad.
Sometimes it’s just not time. Your bucket hasn’t reached the top yet. Publishers have slots and holes they must fill to meet the trends of the industry. As those needs fill and the trend changes, they dig into a new bucket looking for the nuggets that will set the newest trends. In the meantime, write articles. Build platform.

Trends in reading change quickly.
It’s important to keep up with those trends. You may possibly find a new niche for yourself as you follow what rises to the top.

There are times publishers rush to invest in trends that look as though they might become tidal waves they can ride for an extended time. Instead, the wave is only a small swell. This industry does not rush. If your rushing is the difference in self-publishing a work before it’s ready, then you may find yourself catching a swell and missing the wave.

There’s something to be said for patience in writing. Waiting. It’s good to learn how to handle rejection and how to refocus the disappointment into determination. Sometimes waiting on the wheel is well worth the time. The great writer Robert Benson said, "Determined is the proper posture for a writer. Hurried is NOT the proper posture for a writer."

Ride the wheel. Eventually, your bucket will reach the top.

(Photos courtesy of Miles.)


Writer, ride the publishing wheel. Eventually, your bucket will reach the top. (Click to tweet.)

Cindy Sproles is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries. She’s an author, popular speaker and teacher at conferences, and a writing mentor. Cindy serves as the Executive Editor of,, and is the Managing Editor for SonRise Books and Straight Street Books with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is the author of New Sheets–Thirty Days to Refine You Into the Woman You Can Be, Mercy’s Rain–An Appalachian Novel, and Liar's Winter. Visit Cindy at


Monday, May 28, 2018

Writer, Shift Your Focus

By Andrea Merrell

I’ve met with many, many wonderful people at writers’ conferences over the years. In fact, I just returned from an overnight trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (BRMCWC) in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, where I chatted with several ladies in the coffee shop.

One question that seems to pop up quite often is what these attendees hope to gain from the conference. The answers vary, but all seem to relate to doing.

  • I have a book in me, and I have to get it out.
  • I need the world to hear my story.
  • I entered a contest and hope to win.
  • I need to get a contract and get my book published.
  • I’m seeking an agent.
  • I’m trying to network and build my platform.
  • I’m trying to learn as much as I can.
  • I’m planning to meet with as many industry professionals as possible.

Each of these answers is important, but they’re all about doing. As I was driving up the mountain, a sermon on the radio caught my attention. The speaker was talking about how we are so tied to our to-do list that we forget to create a to-be list. He shared a few items on his to-do list, then admitted how difficult it was to examine his heart and come up with what he wanted to be instead of do.

Because my book, Marriage: Make It or Break It, was a finalist in the Selah contest, my drive to the conference was primarily to attend the awards ceremony. But even more exciting for me was the thought of seeing and spending time with so many of the wonderful friends I’ve made over the past ten years. As I continued to listen to the radio message, my thoughts turned to my career and how I could apply the man’s powerful words.

I prayed, Lord, there are so many things I want to do concerning my writing and editing. My list is long. But more importantly, what do I want to be? Here are a few of my thoughts:
  • I want to be a godly woman and good example.
  • I want to be a woman of integrity.
  • I want to be someone others can depend on.
  • I want to be a positive influence.
  • I want be an encourager.
  • I want to be generous.
  • I want to pray for others.
  • I want to be a person who helps others succeed and reach their God-given destiny.

If you’re a writer, especially one who is just starting out on this wonderful journey, allow God to mold you as you take one step at a time. There will always be many items on your to-do list, but maybe it’s time to shift your focus and concentrate on who you want to become as you travel this road.

I will always treasure the certificates and awards I’ve received, but above all, I will treasure the friends God has placed in my life and the wonderful way He continually works in my heart to make me who He created me to be.

Take delight in the Lord, 
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 34:7 NIV

What are the desires of your heart? Create your own to-be list. God will honor your efforts, and He will bless you in ways you can’t imagine.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Writing Regrets

By Henry McLaughlin

After several years on this writing journey and from talking with others on the same path, I’ve found six things I wish I had done differently. Maybe you share some of them.

1) Following trends instead of my heart
We all have stories in our hearts. Stories that we need to write. Sometimes it’s for our own inner healing. Sometimes it’s to share something we’ve learned with others. It’s that story that simply won’t let us go. It’s the story that keeps drawing us even as we write something else.

And there are trends in the marketplace. The temptation to write what’s trending is strong because it seems like a sure pathway to success. One thing about trends is they change. That’s why they’re called trends. Related to this is by the time we finish our novel set in the current trends, we’re out of date. The trend has passed.
If our story is compelling and well written, it will sell no matter what the current trends.

2) Not investing more time in my writing dream
There are times in our writing journey when we can’t invest more time in our dream. Family, health, finances and a slew of other things can plunge us into crisis, and we have to step away from writing to deal with it. These are those times when we must adjust our priorities.

Once it’s resolved, it’s time to reconnect with our writing dream and reconnect with the writing community. This means investing time and sometimes finances. Making time to write is crucial. We also must invest in improving our craft through books, classes, conferences, and writing groups.

One of the benefits of this investing is we build our network. We meet people who instruct us, who become our mentors, who become friends and encouragers, who share this writing journey with us, who are there when this journey is at its loneliest.

3) Letting others define success
Success is unique for each of us. Finishing a book is a success for some. For others, it’s a multi-book contract or a NY Times bestseller or a movie deal. And, in reality, except for finishing the book, we have no control over any of these. In essence, we let others define our success. We need to define success for ourselves and put all our energy into it. If we allow others to define success, we’re sunk. Their standard isn’t ours. We’ve been given a dream and a calling. And a responsibility to fulfill them. Chasing someone else’s definition of success will cause us to lose our way.

4) Not stretching my writing muscles
We have to grow as writers. It’s part of learning our craft and developing our talent. I write in different genres because each challenges me to tell my story in a unique way, using techniques special to that genre. Now I write contemporary and science fiction and fantasy. I’m also writing flash fiction, short stories and novellas. Each provides insights into how I write, insights I can apply to all my writing and to how I mentor and teach others.

5) Listening to negative voices in my own head
I don’t know about you, but negative voices in my head are a fact of life. Voices that tell me I couldn’t write a line of dialogue if my life depended on it. Voices that tell me my plot is crap, my characters are stereotypes and my story world is unbelievable.  Voices that tell me I’ll never be published again.

There are other voices in my head as well. Voices that tell me I’ve been called to this writing journey. Voices that tell me I’ve been gifted with talent and ability to write and to write stories that will impact people for the better. These are the voices I need to ensure I listen to.

6) Letting others derail me
We’ve met these people. And not just in our writing. They could have been the coach or dance teacher who told us we’d never make it. The teacher who treated us as the dumbest kid in the class. It could be a parent who told us we’d never amount to anything. They sowed the seeds of a negative self-image. An image we sometimes reinforce with our own negative self-talk.

On our writing journey, these are the people who never seem to have an encouraging word for anybody. They seem to find some flaw in our writing and pick at it until we bleed. Their motivation is not to help, but to cast themselves as better than us. Jealousy drives them. They have to win, even if it means putting others down.  down.

They’re like the negative voices in our heads.

We decide who we’re going to listen to.

What’s on your list of regrets?

(Photos courtesy of, Stuart Miles, and Cooldesign.) 


Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.

Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, mentors, and coaches.

Follow him on Facebook.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Writer, Be Yourself

By Andrea Merrell

We all love role models, and everyone needs a good one in his or her life. The danger comes when we spend all our time and energy trying to emulate that person (or persons), forgetting our own unique gift, talents, and abilities.

Pastor and author Bob Gass says, “When you devote your life to being like somebody else, you risk becoming something God doesn’t want you to be.”

The truth is our heroes and role models have their own set of weaknesses, character flaws, and blind spots—just like we do. But we can become so enamored with their notoriety and accomplishments that we fail to see those things. We also forfeit our individuality and miss the personal path God has set out for us.

Besides, there’s a lot to be said for walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. While we’re looking at the end result, we have no idea of the literal blood, sweat, and tears they have put in to make it to where they are today. If we knew the challenges and difficulties they faced and overcame during their journey, we might not be so quick to want to walk in those shoes. It takes hard work and lots of perseverance to get ahead. When we start out as newbies, we have a lot to learn. And that learning curve has no end.

One author says, “Some of the lessons God teaches us may be similar, but another person’s purpose, gifting, journey, and time frame will be different from yours.”

Writer, you are unique. God has called you because you have a story to tell, whether it’s in a devotion, article, blog post, or novel. He uses your personality, your background, your experiences, your training, and even your likes and dislikes to mold and shape the words He wants you to write. 

Be yourself. Find your voice. Step boldly into your calling, and let God open the doors of opportunity for you that only He can open.

(Photo courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Don't Judge Me by My Synopsis

By Andrea Merrell

As writers, most of us shudder at words like proposal, query letter, and synopsis. We just want to write our stories and not be bothered with all the other stuff. Unfortunately, if we desire to be published, all these other elements are an important part of the process.

I can tell you from experience that writing a synopsis is not an easy task. Writing a back-cover blurb comes much easier for me. I can put a book in a nutshell without too much trouble. But my first attempt at a full-blown synopsis was a disaster. Some of it was all over the place, while other parts read like Cliffs Notes. Reading that first draft would not give anyone the desire to read my story. Back to the drawing board.

When you’re writing nonfiction, it’s much easier to do a chapter-by-chapter outline of your book. Each chapter has a title and a theme. You take that theme and break it down into bite-size portions that will whet the reader’s appetite. One short paragraph per chapter, and you have it.

With fiction, it’s much more difficult to break your story down without giving too much detail or leaving so much out the reader can’t follow you. I’ve read dozens of proposals by gifted writers who were unable to master the synopsis process. In other words, a poorly written synopsis is not necessarily a true reflection of your ability as a writer. Generally, when I receive a proposal, I skim through everything else until I get to the first chapter. It’s more important to me to see the quality of the writing—the storytelling and grasp of the craft—than all the preliminaries. If those first few paragraphs hook me, I am excited to read on. Then I'll go back and pay more attention to everything included in the proposal.

Does this mean we should not spend time making our synopsis the best it can be? Absolutely not. As with everything we do, we should always strive to give it our all. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17 NKJV).

So, what did I do with my first synopsis? I sent it to a friend asking for an honest rip-it-to-shreds opinion. Then I took it to my writers’ group and asked them to do the same. This is how I ended up with a decent synopsis to add to my proposal for my first novel.

As we hear over and over, writing is not a solitary venture. We need a network of people who can help us get over the inevitable hurdles we face along our journey. As I’ve said many times before, the best advice I ever received early on in my writing career was, “Join a critique group, attend writing conferences, and network, network, network” (thank you, Vonda Skelton).

What struggles have you faced with writing a synopsis? How did you overcome them? We would love to hear from you.

Photo courtesy of and David Castillo Dominici.)