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    To say that the plot had holes in it would be to imply that the work contained enough substance to contain such holes. It didn't.

    Ouch. That's an excerpt from a rejection letter a friend of mine who is an aspiring screenwriter received a few years ago. It's certainly one of the most brutal rejection letters I've ever seen. I can only imagine that the guy who wrote it was having a terrible day.

    Rejection. It's such a depressing concept. Nobody wants to be rejected, whether its coming from a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or an employer. It can be especially heartbreaking for authors. For many authors, their book is like a child to them. They have poured their time, heart, and soul into the work. It's like a piece of themselves that they're putting out there, and having it rejected can feel like a personal rejection of the worst kind. The sad truth is, however, that many authors are going to have to get used to rejection, especially for a first book.

    There are many reasons a book can be rejected, many of which can have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. In my first job as an in-house editor, one of my responsibilities was to wade through the slush pile and send out rejections. Here are a few reasons I had to reject manuscripts:

    • The book was obviously crazy. These were pretty few and far between, but occasionally I'd get a letter from someone who claimed God had told him the world was going to end in a week (too bad our publishing schedule was a year out!) or something similar. My personal favorite was the lady who claimed she was Jesus reincarnated and her daughter was the virgin Mary. I'm not exactly sure how that was supposed to work.
    • The book simply didn't fit in with what we published. The particular publisher I worked for had a very narrow focus, so 90 percent of the projects we received were things we'd never even consider publishing. This is part of the reason why it's important to do your homework before submitting your book. This applies to agents and publishers alike. You're just wasting everyone's time if you submit your mystery novel to a publisher who only does nonfiction.
    • I was excited about the book, but we didn't have a market to sell it to. Publishing is a business. Like any business, publishers aren't willing to put thousands and thousands of dollars into marketing, editing, designing, and printing a book unless they're reasonably sure they're going to get their money back with (hopefully) a decent profit. If you send your book of poetry to a publishing house that specializes in literary fiction, even if it's great, it's not a market they're familiar with, and therefore, they won't have the contacts and platform they need to sell the book.
    • The book was great and it fit our market well, but the author had no platform to promote it.The truth is that it's easier to get published if you're an author who is already doing speaking engagements, has a large base of followers who would read the book, or is an established expert in the field you're writing in. For a smaller publisher who might not have as much marketing clout, this is especially important. You can work on increasing your notoriety by writing a blog, going to writers' conferences, and booking speaking engagements.
    • The book was good, but the publisher wasn't on board with it, for varied reasons. Publishing is often a collaborative process, which is usually great. However, it often means that several people have to be excited about your book for it to make it to the final stage of getting a signed contract.
    • The book had strong points, but the writing just wasn't strong enough. This is, sadly, a problem many authors will encounter. If this is the case, don't give up hope. Keep writing. Get input from others. Rewrite your book or start a new book. As I talked about yesterday, the best way to become a good writer is to practice.

    The key in writing is to keep trying. If the first agent or publishing house you submit to rejects you, keep trying. Submit to more people. If you've exhausted every avenue with your first book, keep writing. The more you practice, the better you'll get. Try not to take the rejection to heart. Although it might feel like it, especially if you've gotten a lot of rejections, it's not a personal attack. And keep in mind, most famous authors have been rejected many times, so you're in good company.


    Sing to Me, Oh Muse

    "I've got an idea for a book!" Once people find out I'm an editor, that's almost always the first thing I hear. If I had a penny for every person I know who has an idea for a book...well, I'd probably have a few bucks. To go from having an idea for a book to actually putting your idea down on paper is a huge accomplishment that most people never get around to doing. If you've gotten that far, well done. You should be proud of yourself.

    Now all you have to do is wait for the money to start rolling in, right? Not exactly. Most people I've talked to have this strange idea that writing a book is some kind of magical process. You get inspired by an amazing, original, creative idea. The creativity fairy waves her magic wand and a wonderful, perfect book is born. All you have to do is write it down and you're good to go.

    The truth is that writing is a hard process. It takes practice, and lots of it, to become a good writer. Your first book is probably not going to be ready to be published by a traditional publisher. The same may be true of a second, third, or fourth book. Writers who make a living from writing novels are few and far between. Even successful book authors who make a living writing are usually those who write multiple books a year, and those cases are rare. People who make a living writing are far more likely to be freelance writers who write content for businesses, magazines, etc.

    And becoming a millionaire through writing? That's most likely a pipe dream. Certainly there have been authors who have done it (J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Grisham, for example), but they are very, very atypical. Advances on novels can vary widely, but a first-time author should be realistic. Depending on the publishing house, the genre being written in, and the confidence in the project, you could see an advance of $1,000 to $25,000. Naturally, there are exceptions to this, but as you can see, the advance from one book is probably not going to be enough to quit your day job. Of course, that is not all the money to be made on a book, since you hope your book will earn out its advance.

    The process of getting published is also a long, arduous process. Querying agents and publishing houses is often frustrating. Not only do you have to find someone who represents or publishes your specific genre, but you also have to find someone who is excited enough about it to spend the thousands of dollars it takes to edit, print, and market a book.

    So does this mean you should give up writing as a waste of time? Definitely not! If it's your passion, do it. If you want to be published, keep practicing. Join a writers group, either locally or online, to get helpful feedback on your work. Write fanfiction, start a blog, or just write with no expectation of having someone else read it. Slow and steady wins the race! Writing is not something you should be in for the money (she says, as published authors the world over snort into their coffee). It's something you should do for the love of it.


    Too Many Words

    This week, my life has been taken over by a massive, 400,000-word project. To give you an idea of how large this is in publishing terms, this is just a little bit smaller than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, which clocks in at 470,000 words.

    To get right to the point, this book is much, much longer than it should be. There are very few successful books that are this long, and for good reason. The project I'm working on this week suffers from many problems, one of which is frequent repetition of the same thing over and over and over again. The book could (and probably should) be about a quarter of the size and still have the same information. In writing, more is not always better.

    Depending on the genre you're writing in, anything much more than 100,000 words is probably too long. One exception to this rule is books written in the genres of fantasy or science fiction. Even there, there's no reason to be carried away. For example, the final Harry Potter book, which is considered by many to be too long, is 198,227 words. Part of the art of writing is learning economy of words. There's no need to write a tome when a pamphlet will suffice.

    If you think your writing is suffering from being too long, take an objective look at it. In fiction, are there scenes that don't serve to move your plot forward? Does your writing suffer from too much description of people, places, and things that aren't central to the plot? World-building is an important part of writing, but don't get so caught up in it that you forget to move your plot forward. In nonfiction and memoirs, watch out for repeated information or information that is not pertinent to the overall purpose of the book. Don't make the mistake of letting your message drown in a sea of too many words.

    Of course, probably the best way to eliminate some of the unnecessary words that bog your writing down is to get a development or content edit. A skilled editor can help your writing become more clear and concise.



    Capitalization is one of the trickiest issues authors can face when writing. If they want to emphasize something, frequently they'll put the words in all capital letters. Many times authors are also unsure of when to capitalize certain words, especially when it comes to Christian writing.

    The first issue, when to put words in all capital letters, is easy to address. You shouldn't do it. According to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), the book editor's bible, for emphasis, words should be set in italics rather than capitalized. So, for example, instead saying, "I'M SO HAPPY!" you would say, "I'm so happy!"

    The second issue, when to capitalize certain words, is trickier, especially when it comes to Christian writing. In general, most words are not capitalized. The CMOS follows a "down" style of capitalization, which calls for being light on capitalization in most circumstances. To quote CMOS:

    Chicago generally prefers a “down” style—the parsimonious use of capitals. Although proper names are capitalized, many words derived from or associated with proper names (Brussels sprouts, board of trustees), as well as the names of significant offices (presidency, papacy), may be lowercased with no loss of clarity or respect.1

     Here are a few examples of how to treat words writers frequently think should be capitalized:

    • the army (but Army of the Potomac) 
    • a doctor (but Dr. Kresse)
    • the president (but President Lincoln, Mr. President)
    • My dad (but "Hi, Dad.")

    As you can see, it can be quite confusing. It gets even more complicated for Christian writers, who often feel like holy concepts should be capitalized. The Christian Writer's Manual of Style (CWMS), however, has a long list of words that should or should not be capitalized. A few examples are:

    • The Twelve (but the twelve disciples)
    • The apostle Paul (but the Apostle to the Gentiles)
    • The Word (all words referring to the Bible are capitalized, including Scriptures, Good Book, etc. However, when using Bible in a figurative sense, as I did when referring to CMOS as the editor's bible, the word Bible is lowercased. Also, when using a derivative of the word, such as scriptural, the word is lowercased)
    • The Law (when referring to the Pentateuch) but law of Moses and Mosaic law

    Even more controversial than this is whether to capitalize pronouns referring to God (he, his, himself, etc.). The CWMS does not call for capitalizing these pronouns, but many of the Christian publishers I work for do. I personally prefer to capitalize them out of respect. I believe this is a judgment call on the part of authors, but understand that if your book is published by a Christian publishing company, you may have to defer to their style. In addition to the CMOS and CWMS, most publishing companies have their own in-house style guides that call for capitalizing or not capitalizing certain words based on their experience. For example, one company I work with never capitalizes the name Satan, even though it's a proper name, and also calls for capitalizing other odd words, such as Heaven.

    The best way to sort out which words need to be capitalized and which do not is to go to an expert, like a freelance editor, who is familiar with the terms and how to use them.



    1. The University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003) 311.


    Bible Versions

    As a Christian editor, a lot of work I have done has been for Christian publishing houses and authors. I love editing Christian books and having a small part in the work God is doing in this area.

    In the course of my experience, I have found one of the areas authors struggle in is what Bible version to use and how to cite it correctly. Many authors don't realize that most Bibile versions are not in public domain, and therefore, they have copyright information that must be cited. Even if you're using the King James Version, which is the only Bible version in public domain, you must have a line on your copyright page that says something like, "All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible." Even though it is in public domain, you still need to let your readers know which version you are using.

    The rule of thumb for all other versions is that it can't make up more than 25 percent of your work. If it does, you have to get permission from the publisher. You also must give a credit line for each version used in your work. The credit line for NIV, for example, is, "All Scripture quotations taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide." Your can find the proper version information for most versions of the Bible here.

    If you use more than one Bible version in your work, as most authors do, you need to figure out which version you use the most in your work. This will be your default version. You should start the copyright information sentence with, "Unless otherwise identified, all Scripture quotations taken from..." The other versions you use must also be listed properly. For example, if NIV is a secondary version you use, you would credit it with, "All Scripture quotations marked, 'NIV' taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide." Then, for each Scripture you quote from the NIV, you must denote it in the text as such (e.g., John 2:1, NIV).

    It's also very important that you get the exact wording right for each Scripture quotation. A great resource for checking your Scripture quotations is They have the most popular Bible versions online, and they are fully searchable. This site is also very helpful for looking up Scriptures by keywords.

    This can be somewhat confusing, especially for a first-time author. Your best bet is to find an experienced Christian editor who can sort out it out for you.