As the newly elected mayor of Maple Notch, the war widow must lead her town through the dark days of World War II. But where she finds comfort in tradition, the town council insists on trying new ways of handling the homefront challenges. Her most untraditional opponent? Councilman Ralph Quincy…
This time of year is fresh with promise. Trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and seeds are sprouting. My creative juices seem to flow more freely at this time of year, too, and all sorts of seedlings are popping up, showing off their first leaves, and looking good for the coming warmer months.
What in the world am I talking about?
There are powerful analogies between gardening and growth and solid story-telling. Whether fiction or non-fiction, our writing work is made up of all sorts of little seeds, planted in the fertile ground of the mind and imagination. And these seeds, as all seeds do, need certain things to help grow.
A Biblical reflection to follow… But now, I want to focus on how we plant, nurture, and grow our fragile seeds into blossoming stories that enrich the world and grace our lives.
First, there are the seeds obtained from first inspiration or impression. You hear a name or see a picture, and all of a sudden, you think, "Wow! There's a story in that!" Or, you are intrigued by some thing – a sewing case, a swatch of fabric or an old, dusty piece of pottery, and your mind starts turning on whose it was, where it has been, what history it might have lived through.
I got the idea for my master's thesis by standing in front of a bird cage at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and overhearing the snide remarks made at the birds inside of it, who were quite ugly and forlorn.
Yes, there are these small seeds all around us. And, sometimes, they become as the mustard seed and sprout into strong, large stories/plants.
But sometimes, we have to realize that those tiny seeds, while intriguing, might not make for a full book or a really newsy news article. When I realize this, I still make note of the "seed," because I've found that some have uses as yet unknown.
There are other seeds, which yield more robustly. These are usually helped along by us, that is, we start with inspiration and work at building a world of a story around it. Or, we know a person or situation that lends itself to our "pen," that we cannot let go no matter how we try to ignore it. Fertile soil of time and energy, abundant sprinklings of the Word, even pruning and pulling up weeds (unnecessary elements), when we must. This is really the work of the gardener-as-writer, along with healthy, story-worthy seed.
As we work on our work at hand, we will undoubtedly collect seeds for future use. Much like the displays at garden centers, we can jot these down, file them away, and have them ready when needed. Like nature's bounty, many seeds will keep for years, patiently waiting for the time when they'll be planted and spring up.
There is one more thing about seeds and stories, a Biblical thing, that is worth mentioning. Remember the parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-9, about the soewr whose seed fell on the path and was trampled, on rocky ground and it withered, and on good soil and it "grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold?" Our story seeds are like these, too. If we merely write to the momentary inspiration (to those little, fragile seeds), we probably won't yield full work. If we write, sometimes faithfully and sometimes not, our story seeds will not flourish in that rocky environment. But if we provide "good" soil – time, focus, prayer, energy, and love…Well, imagine how lush, how beautiful the finished product can be!
Blessings to you – for Easter and for Spring!
Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson!
How do you get your new book idea across to a literary agent so he or she gets it, loves it and sells it to a publisher? It all starts with a well-crafted query letter.
What is a query letter?
A query letter is a brief (one page) cover letter that you send to a literary agent to introduce yourself and your book idea. It’s short and to the point. But, it must also be well-written so an agent will not only read it, but also be moved to action.
Why do I need a query letter?
Your goal is to motivate a literary agent—in a single page—to want to know more and eventually sell your idea to a publisher. Creating a good query letter is essential because agents receive thousands of them every year. Wading through the stack, whether on paper or on email takes time and effort; only the best ideas get through.
When I was the submissions coordinator at Alive Communications, I read more than 200 fiction and nonfiction queries per month. Sadly, the majority of them were either poorly written or unclear about the topic. Or, it was obvious that the writer had not done his or her research to know the specific genres of literature that our literary agency was accepting at that time.
What goes into a query letter?
Rachelle Gardner is a literary agent and an avid blogger about topics of interest to writers. She advises that queries should include these three basic elements:
- something about the book
- something about you
- the first 3 to 5 (or so) pages of the manuscript pasted into the email.
For non-fiction writers, Gardner advises “include some information about yourself, specifically why YOU are the correct person to write this book. What are your qualifications? Are you a published author? What’s the most important thing I need to know about your platform?"
For fiction writers, she says, “Don’t worry about platform. If you have commercially published fiction before, tell a bit about your publishing history. If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter, just say you’re a first-time novelist.”
Tips to improve query letters
How do you make your query letter stand out so it gets read—and gets an agent to take action? Here are five important considerations:
- Target your query to an agent who represents the genre you want to write. See the Christian Writer’s Market Guide for a list of agents in the CBA market.
- Read the submission guidelines. While there are general rules for query letters, find out what your specific literary agent is looking for (the genre and the submission guidelines).
- Craft your content. Write to motivate and to inform. Write succinctly and clearly. You only have one page to get your ideas across.
- Review your presentation – How does the letter look? Have you proofread it for correct spelling and grammar? Do you have complete and correct contact information so the agent can readily contact you?
- Send the letter, not the manuscript. Remember, a query letter is a letter. Don’t send the entire manuscript until the agent asks for it.
In your query letter, be clear, be concise and be convincing. Ask yourself: Why should the agent want to read my book? Then convey your idea with passion.
Jackie M. Johnson is an author and freelance writer in Colorado. Her books include: "Power Prayers for Women," "When Love Ends and the Ice Cream Carton Is Empty," and "Powerful Prayers for Challenging Times." Visit her encouragement blog, A New Day Cafe or website for more information.
Can Love Survive When Secrets Collide?
She’d kept her secrets safely hidden—those from her past, and those in the present. Some things, Beth Roberts knows, a lady simply doesn’t share, even in the 1880’s West. The townspeople would never understand. No one ever has.
Jeffery Tucker, a handsome young writer, has kept his own secrets…
Tucked away in the last chapter of Romans is a seemingly obscure verse: “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord” (16:22).
Tertius was a scribe, and the ministry he performed was an important one. Though his function was little more than that of a secretary, Tertius stands as an example to Christian writers: he faithfully committed to paper the things he heard from the Apostle Paul.