for The Upper Room daily devotional; books and magazines on Christian
of Faith & Writing, Part 2
A continuation of Judy Alexander's notes from the Festival of Faith &
Writing, April 18-20, 2002.
Donald Maass, literary agent, president of AAR
Writing fulltime CAN be done. Out of 100 writers, 30% make a living from writing fiction fulltime.
5,700 novels published each year. Lots of that is first fiction. There are great support programs for writers. It is EASIER to be published today than ever before. But very hard the KEEP getting published.
What goes wrong in fiction careers
Hasty decisions at the outset of the career. At first, it's a delight to immerse yourself in your fiction. Your family is supportive or cautious. You have anxiety about publishing. You begin to submit. Then you get frustrated because you're not getting published. Then you start making bad decisions:
These early choices can have very long-term consequences.
Trends in New York publishing
Unrealistic Writer Expectations
You wrote your first book in 3 to 6 years. But the next book needs to come out at a faster pace (1 year for mysteries.)
Good News: You CAN have a good career
The reasons people buy fiction
How NEW authors get an audience
Most fiction buyers are fans of a particular author and keep buying from that author. After that, word of mouth/personal recommendations account for the most sales. This is how NEW authors get an audience.
So, you need to cultivate fans and build that base over time. Your career is NOT about publishers, it's NOT about agents.
The right things to do
10 years = the normal break-in period.
I receive 250 queries every week and I reject almost ALL of it. 99% is NOT ready of publication because:
This is a cumulative game.
Ernest Gaines, novelist
When asked if I know the plot before I write, I tell people that writing is like a train trip from San Francisco to New York. I know the departure point and the destination. But I don't know the weather beforehand, and sometimes I end up in Philadelphia.
Writing is a discovery for the writer.
I try to create characters with character, and thereby
I might create character in myself, the writer.
Kathleen Norris, poet & essayist
Poetry was the means of my conversion. Poetry led me back to God. God had been reaching me all along with poetry.
Poetry is like a farmer putting seeds in the ground: he doesn't see the harvest right away.
We can use the Bible in my poems, like Emily Dickenson did.
Read poetry by Louise Gluck, Kate Daniels, Jane Flanders,
Maxine Kumin, and Anne Porter.
Reed Arvin, novelist & musician
Why do Christians have to be protected from reality? My main character is on a quest to find a relationship with God, but it he uses a bad word, he can NOT be in a Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) store. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet would not be published by CBA, even though it shows our need for forgiveness and the ways that the sins of the father visit the children.
In contrast, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) gives me complete freedom to be a Christian. No one has ever flinched at the name of Jesus. When I asked my editor at Scribner if I should tone down the Christian message, he said, "No, turn it up."
Fiction has to challenge preconceptions. You need to let the characters be human.
If you are a creative person, no one can take away your freedom to create except yourself.
You need "freedom within the constraints of love."
Art is in the questions.
Why does the CBA need to exist? Can a business be defined by what it does NOT sell? The CBA editors are not small minded - it is the CBA bookstore owners who are the gatekeepers.
Do not pick a market, pick a book. Aim high.
Talent goes where it's rewarded.
to read another article about Reed Arvin's lecture, by Terry Mattingly,
Jan Karon, novelist
It's a miracle that the Mitford books have become bestsellers.
People are waiting for someone to write about THEM, to know they are worthy to be observed.
There ARE nuances of darkness in my writing, but I lean towards the bright side.
God really DOES love us. My faith cannot be separated from my work. Faith is an important part of human wholeness. As Blaise Pascal wrote, "Within each one of us there is a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill.."
How I got published: at age 10 I knew I would be an author. Went into advertising, which is a brutal business, for almost 40 years. I was scared to step out in faith. I prayed for two years and journaled. I left advertising, sold my house and car, and moved to the mountains. I cut my standard of living in half. I drove an old car. I bought a used computer and taught myself to use it. Then I found out that I had nothing to say!
I got an image in my mind of a village priest. The story began to tell itself. For two years, the local newspaper carried excerpts. Then went through the agony of trying to sell the book. I just kept doing it. I got $7,500 for the book, from a small publisher with not distribution. So I loaded up the trunk of my car and drove to the booksellers and introduced myself.
I want to write until I drop over dead in my grave.
I am cynical, but my characters have faith. Faith can give you a sense of who you are. I have an affection for religious characters. In Europe the idea of God is considered archaic and naïve but I believe that religion is still relevant, despite its primness.