Looking for Writers? Get out from behind your desk

This post is an excerpt from the plenary talk Yna Reyes gave at LittWorld 2012. SheYna headshot from FB is the editorial director of OMF Literature, the largest Christian publishing house in the Philippines. Join us on October 7 for a free webinar with Yna, “Publishing Program Planning: The hows, whys and whos of what books to publish.” Register online now.

The editor’s work is a critical component of publishing and it goes beyond manuscript editing. It is the responsibility of the editor to look for writers who believe in the mission and vision of their publishing house.

If your mission includes developing and publishing original Christian manuscripts by nationals, this cannot be accomplished just sitting in a desk 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

2-editors-discussing-manusc 3As editors, we need to go out and search the outermost reaches of our local churches, universities, and urban and rural communities. We may need to go out of our own denominational borders and travel to far-flung villages to listen to homegrown preachers. We may need to walk side by side with community workers among the poor and marginalized, and listen to the raw personal stories of the people they serve. We may need to sit-in in the classes of public school teachers who have become natural storytellers through years and years of interacting with children. And we need to go to events and conferences, to theological fora and dialogues – both to meet potential writers and to keep abreast of the issues of the day.

As editors, we need to imagine and anticipate what these potential writers are man-at-laptoptrying to do even if they have not yet written their manuscripts. We need to help them capture the vision for a book – perhaps a potential bestseller. With our humble and tactful guidance, perhaps these writers will find their place in Christian literature ministry in our countries.

Publishers, you need to empower your editors to find writers. Scarcity of writers is a major problem of a Christian publisher in a non-Christian country. We hear about “slush piles” in publishing houses in the West. I wish we had the same problem, but not so. For those of us in places where publishing is difficult, the editor bears the burden of looking out for Christians whom they will encourage to write, and oftentimes, teach and train to write for publication.

The growth of your writers will depend not simply on the editing skills of your editorial team. Editors need to understand that their job may not always stop at 5pm. They may need to accept a call from a distressed writer even in the privacy of their homes. They may need to email the writers not just about the manuscript at hand, but just to send encouraging notes like, “I enjoyed your blog – have you seen such and such a book?” They may need to offer to order a book through Amazon.

What do you think is effective for encouraging writers? Tell us.

Join us on October 7 for a great (and free) webinar with Yna Reyes– “Publishing Program Planning: The hows, whys and whos of what books to publish
.” Register online now.

 Photo above left courtesy of Michael Collie

Indonesia: Tale of a Children’s Author


Training and fellowship are key for writer development. Sylvia (left) enjoys lunch with fellow Indonesian author Sally Pasaribu, who has also attended MAI workshops. Sally hopes to release her first book this year.

“The stories never ended,” says Sylvia Tanuadji of her father’s reading to her at bedtime. Every night he nodded off to sleep before finishing Cinderella, Snow White, Indonesian folktales, and more. So, Sylvia read them herself. “My family made me love books,” she says.

Sylvia’s nights still are steeped with tales at age 54, but now they’re her own. Since her first book in 2009, she has authored 11 children’s books and a teen novel. Sylvia (left in photo) finally sits down to write after working six days a week in admin for a wedding decorating company in Jakarta, Indonesia’s bustling capital.

As a child, Sylvia never dreamed of becoming an author. But after teaching Sunday school for decades, she asked God how she could most effectively reach kids. “I got the answer: I can serve children everywhere by writing.”

Sylvia has continued to hone her skills since her first MAI writing workshop in Jakarta with MAI trainer Larry Brook in 2003. She’s also learned from other workshops, her editors and a local writer club. She credits her recent growth to MAI’s blog and webinars. “My writing style is more lively,” she’s been told.

God was Sylvia’s first literary agent. When she pursued a small publisher for her first manuscript, by mistake she called Indonesia’s largest secular publisher. They rejected her manuscript, but invited her to pen a series of picture books on simple science for five-year-olds. Her nine books, Wind, Water, Light, Lizard, Frog and more, sold out last year.
Sylvia’s latest novel “Why Should She? (Kenapa Harus Dia?)” published by Bina Kasih, portrays two best friends, ballet dancers, who fall for the same boy. The novel is infused with the theme “A true friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17).

Now Sylvia is tackling a series of picture books for a general audience, a Christian novel for children about trafficking, and “The Cookie Bear,” a bilingual English/Bahasa picture book with her own illustrations for Christmas.

“I hope I can write books that influence readers for life,” she says.

“Please pray for me and other writers to write books with unique ideas, quality writing and illustrations. Maybe such books will sell as well or more than Disney’s Frozen has in Jakarta.”

Giving Up Control: The art of mentoring

By Richard CrespoIMG_3405 Richard Crespo2

Many years ago I read an article about mentoring called, “Coaching Without a Paddle.” The author used the analogy of floating in a canoe without a paddle to describe the mentoring process of not being able to control the outcome.

As a new convert, the Apostle Paul was mentored by a more experienced believer, Barnabas, in Acts. They preached and taught together, celebrating successes but also enduring persecution. Barnabas helped shape Paul into a leader by ministering with him. Just as Barnabas could not dictate how people would respond to Paul, when we mentor or coach writers we cannot govern the results.

A good mentor gives up control and helps students develop by giving them the paddle. The mentor’s role is to share his experience in canoeing, teach students how to read the water’s surface and flow, and how to anticipate waterfalls and other dangers. The students, however, are the ones paddling the canoe.

Canoeing 800px-Over-beaver-dam WikipediaIn training writers or publishing colleagues, your role as a mentor is similar. You can teach how to string words into a narrative, like learning to paddle a canoe. But to coach writers is more than equipping them to paddle in a straight line. It is a matter of spending time on the river together, sharing experiences, and coaching them through rough waters.

Keep Barnabas’s example before you when coaching writers or employees. Look for opportunities to canoe together. Don’t let them stop in mid-stream—help them finish the journey. A good mentor not only helps others learn skills, but also enables them to develop latent gifts, apply skills and become leaders. You will be raising up leaders for His Kingdom.

>>Learn more about coaching writers in our upcoming webinar, “How to Nurture Local Writers,” September 16, with award-winning author and publisher Lawrence Darmani. Register online now.

Richard Crespo is professor of community and global health at Marshall University in West Virginia. He is a board member of MAI and trains publishing leaders around the world in how to mentor writers and colleagues.

Photo above courtesy Jeffrey M. Dean, Wikipedia

Memoir Writing: A four-step process

By Sheridan Voysey103.2 Open House Finale 2010

St Augustine’s Confessions. Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. A good memoir can change the world. There’s probably a story in your life that could change the world too – even if it’s just for one person. How do you unearth that story? How do you write a book others will want to read?

Here is a basic outline:
Take the raw materials of your life, and

          sift them

                    lift them

                              craft them

1. Take the Raw Materials of your Life…

‘Panning for Gold’ is an apt metaphor for memoir writing. Just like the precious metal, the ‘gold’ in your story is hidden in the raw materials of your life. It’s scattered in little flecks through life’s dust and dirt – the events, conversations and emotions of each day. It’s found like veins running through the hard stone moments of loss and tears and broken dreams.

What are these raw materials?

  • The People in your life
  • The Places you’ve been
  • The Emotions you’ve experienced
  • The Revelations you’ve had along the way

Where are they found?

Try looking in these ‘pits and streams’ for your gold:

  • Your senses
  • Your memories
  • Your records, journals, photo albums
  • Your family’s tales

The gold will be found in the ground beneath your feet.

Start with the raw materials of your life.

800px-Gold_panning_at_Bonanza_Creek2. Sift them

When the gold is found it’s sifted from the raw materials. The sediment is washed away, the rock is thrown aside. Not everything in your story needs to be written. You have to sift the gold from the dirt. How? Ask two questions:

Who are you (really) writing for?

There are many good reasons to write your memoir or autobiography:

  1. For meaning
  2. For healing
  3. For pleasure
  4. For posterity
  5. For publishing

Who is being written for in reasons 1, 2 and 3? You. What about reason 4? You, or perhaps your family or community. Only in reason 5 are you writing for others. This is important when considering the next question:

What is most valuable to them?

What will be most helpful for your reader to read? What will be gold (not dirt, or even copper) to them? If you’re writing for others, keep in mind that readers of memoir are looking for at least four things:

  • Insight
  • Inspiration
  • Entertainment
  • Hope

3. Lift them

The gold is discovered through sifting, then it is lifted out of the ground. If your story is going to bring riches to others, it will need to be lifted out and up, to transcend you and become a story about your reader. This is key if you’re writing to publish. American writer Beth Kephart puts it like this:

Memoir at its very best… makes its interest in readers explicit, offering not just a series of life events, but a deliberate suggestion of what it is to be a human being—to experience confusion, despair, hope, joy, and all that happens in between. True memoir is a singular life transformed into a signifying life.

Three transitions to make

  • From small story to big theme
  • From particulars to universals
  • From events to discoveries

Ultimately you’re not sharing your story so much as revealing your discoveries – even if that is one discovery revealed on the very last page.

4. Craft them

A nugget of gold is ugly in its raw form. Flecks of gold need to be melted together to become something useful. Gather your gold and employ all your skills to craft it into something beautiful for your readers. There are entire books on writing memoir; in the podcast I extrapolate on just a few key areas:

Master the craft of storytelling

  • Immerse yourself in good work
  • Remember the character arc
  • Details, Dialogue, Delayed Resolution

 Tell the truth

  • Be brave, be vulnerable
  • Avoid undue exaggeration, or romanticising events
  • But don’t write out of anger or self-pity

Balance light and shade

  • Map each chapter emotionally

Get critical feedback

  • Difficult to receive but necessary for success

We sleep and dream. We wake. We work. We remember and forget. We have fun and are depressed. And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments of even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks.

Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey

>>Listen to the complete audio podcast on memoir writing.

Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. His latest book Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings was recently shortlisted for the 2014 ECPA Christian Book of the Year award. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and subscribe to his newsletter for more articles, interviews and podcasts. www.sheridanvoysey.com

Photo of gold panning: Wikipedia