Inspiration for Writers

Finding Time to Write: It’s About Choices


Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson!

What do Olympic athletes and contestants on reality music competition shows have in common?

They both practice their craft intensely. Knowing that swimmers, runners and artists who sing their hearts out practice for hours each day, humbles me; it gives me pause to think about my own dedication to the writing craft.

Over the years I’ve written books, articles, blog posts, marketing collateral and other material. Like those athletes and artists, I’ve have to make hard choices.

When I am writing a book, I judiciously guard my time. If I didn’t remove distractions and focus, I wouldn’t meet my deadlines. But, it helps to keep in mind that it’s only for a “season.”

Whether you write professionally or on a freelance basis (either full-time or part-time)—or, you’re a writer wanna-be—it is essential to choose to make time for your writing. Easier said than done, right? Life happens. I get it. Despite our best intentions, we get busy with family, friends, church activities, sports, hobbies, work, travel and more.

How do you find time to write even when life is full? Here are some ideas to consider:

Schedule time to write. Yes, you may have heard this before. But, don’t freak yourself out. The key here is to start small and build momentum. Whether it’s a block of one hour or ten minutes, put something on the calendar for writing time.Then, just start. And, as you do, you will find yourself writing more and increasing your time working with words.

Some writers I know block out entire writing days or weeks. Others don’t have that luxury. No matter what your life looks like, schedule a few hours a week on your calendar. They could be all at once, or one per day, or whatever works for you.

Here’s the thing. Some people find their efforts stalling, like a car on the freeway, when they attempt to write and edit at the same time. Instead, just write—no matter how good or bad it is—then return to the piece later and edit what you’ve written.   

Find “pockets” of time. I am notorious for jotting down ideas on a napkin at a restaurant or on the smallest possible scrap of paper because I don’t want to lose a good idea. Keep pen and paper (or electronic device) in your purse, in your car, near your bed, in your kitchen to capture your thoughts before they fleet away.

Create a writing place. Some writers set up a desk and deem that their “writing place.” Others write on their laptop or other portable device while sitting on the couch or lingering at a coffee shop. Find what works for you so when you get there, it signals, “Time to write.”

Deal with procrastination. Recently, I heard a good phrase that is supposed to help people do something they don’t want to do: Do it anyways. The key to getting things done, in my opinion, is to break the task into smaller pieces. I mean smaller pieces. Go buy a few reams of paper. Turn your PC or MAC on. Sit in the chair. Write something, anything, just to get warmed up. Baby steps can be helpful for people who just need to begin.

Make your writing a priority. If you want to write and you never seem to get around to it, then your writing is a back burner item. It’s an afterthought, and you need to make it a priority. Put it on the front burner of your life, like a pot of soup that’s bubbling over. You need to attend to it now!

Limit your social media. This may be hard for some people, but if you’re going to make your writing a priority—and your life is already full of activity—then cutting down on social media can shave minutes (or hours) from your jam-packed schedule and free up time to do what you say you want to do: write. Set a timer (like the one on your kitchen stove or smartphone) for a set number of minutes. Engage in your social media, and then stop. Don’t keep checking your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop or other device. It’s time to focus.

Create a prayer team for your writing life. We need the power of God to work in us and through us to be efficient and effective, even when life pulls us in myriad directions. A number of writers I know have created a prayer team for their writing life—or for a specific project (like while you are writing a book). I do this too.

Ask a few friends if they would be willing to pray for you and your projects on a daily or weekly basis. Send email to update them on your progress and your prayer needs. You may want to ask for specific prayer items (such as time, energy, creative ideas, and for God to order your steps) or keep it general; it’s up to you.

Before the busy fall starts, decide when you will write. Set appointments with yourself. Make it a priority.

It all adds up to this: If you want to write and you’re too busy, then you’re too busy. Something’s got to give. You’ve got to want it. Add to your passion for writing the other steps of planning, prayer and perseverance.

It’s about choices. Choose wisely, and watch your writing life come alive!


Jackie M. Johnson is an author, freelance writer and book publishing consultant. Visit her blog, A New Day Cafe, or website for more information.


Developing Your Author Brand


Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson!

Most people are familiar with “brands” for products and services. For instance, a can of Campbell’s soup (the original line) is always red and white with the name in a unique cursive font. It’s instantly recognizable on a grocery store shelf crammed with different brands of soup.

As an author, your brand is essential too. First, you need to know who you are and how you want to be perceived. Then, get your message to your readers—and do so consistently. By being immediately recognizable, you are in a better position for readers to find you, to connect with you and, ultimately, purchase your books.

Marketing Writing Business

Finding a Literary Agent


Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson! 

In today’s market, finding a literary agent is no longer an option, it’s an essential. A good agent is your advocate, the person who represents your book ideas to potential publishers and aims to get you the best book deal possible. He or she negotiates the deal in terms of advance, rights and royalties.

So, how do you find an agent? First, know what you are looking for in a potential agent. Some agents specialize while others are more generic in the types of manuscripts they are looking for. For instance, an agent may work only with nonfiction. If that’s the case, and you write novels, then you will need to find an agent who deals with fiction authors.

As you connect on the phone or in person, ask yourself if this is someone with whom you want to have a working relationship. Finding the right agent is about “fit” as much as it is about business because you will be working with this person for years to come.

Second, know what agents are looking for in a potential author. You can’t just hire an agent; they select you if you are right for their client list and objectives.

Alice Crider, an agent with WordServe Literary, provides some helpful insight: “Agents (and publishers) are looking for these three elements from an author: excellent writing, remarkable content, and a strong platform. If you have two out of three of these, your chances of landing an agent who can help you land a contract with a traditional publisher are good. If you have all three, even better.”

Alice continues, “Writers these days need to do a lot of groundwork to build a platform and a lot of homework to know their market. They may also have to spend a great deal of time working on their craft in order to stand out above the competition. Above all, agents are looking for authors who are ready for publication–those who can deliver a message or a story that masses of people can access easily, relate to, enjoy and share with others.”

So, you’ve honed your craft. You’ve written a query letter. You’ve written your manuscript or at least part of it, and you’re ready to find an agent. Here are some of the best ways to look for a literary agent: 

Ask your writer or editor friends who they know, or whom they would recommend for a literary agent. You’d be amazed what can happen when you simply start asking around.

Consult the Christian Writer’s Market Guide by Jerry B. Jenkins. This comprehensive resource is reprinted annually (so be sure to have the version for the current year). In addition to listing book publishers and magazine publishers, there is also a section listing, by state, some of the literary agents in the CBA market.

Obtain a free list—sent directly to your email inbox. Terry Whalin is a former literary agent and acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He provides a Free List of Literary Agents online when you submit your first name and email, you can receive a list of more than 400 agents agents, names, addresses, websites and phone numbers. “A great research tool for any author,” says Terry.

As you commence your quest to find the best literary agent for you, remember these two important things:

1) Agents do not charge you a fee. Literary agents who represent traditional publishers get paid the industry standard 15% (and this is paid by your publisher after you have a book deal, not by you).

2) Follow the agent or agency’s submission guidelines. Generally, they are listed on the agency website.

My hope is that by following these helpful ideas, you will have a long and successful career as a published author—and your words will bless others in ways unexpected.

P.S. Check out the new FaithHappenings website for events, conferences, concerts, blogs and other Christian resources. For authors, it will soon be a place where you or your publisher can promote your events and books.

Jackie M. Johnson is an author and freelance writer in Colorado. She also helps writers as a book publishing consultant. Previously, she worked at the premier literary agency, Alive Communications, and the CBA-publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Visit her encouragement blog, A New Day Cafe, or website for more information.


Writing Business

Writing More Effective Book Proposals



Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson!

When I worked at Alive Communications, “the world’s leading literary agency devoted exclusively to the representation of faith-based and inspirational authors,” I read thousands of book queries and submissions. Some were good; most were lacking, both in storyline and presentation.

Many writers who can craft a well-written book often forget—or don’t know—that they need to take the same care and effort to create a successful book proposal. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction it is essential to write a book proposal that captures the agent’s attention so he or she will enthusiastically shop it and sell it to the best publisher.

Michael Hyatt, a well-known industry expert and bestselling author confirms this. As the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and a literary agent for six years, he provides the inside scoop: 

The real secret to securing a book contract is knowing how to write a powerful, compelling book proposal that leaves agents begging to represent you—and publishers eager to sign you.”

One of the most important things you need to know in order to create a book proposal that gets results is this: Your proposal is a marketing piece; it is intended to grab an agent’s attention so he or she is highly motivated to shop your book idea to publishers. Your job is to convince them that you are the best person to write this book. Let them know who your target audience (the people who will most likely buy this book) is and persuade them with words that “sell,” not just words that “tell.”

What goes into a book proposal?

The format and number of chapters required will be different for fiction and nonfiction writers. I’ve listed below the main items that need to be included. However, you may want to check with your agent to determine the specific criteria he or she requires.

A good story (or nonfiction topic) is important, and so is the layout. Make sure your book proposal has all the necessary elements. Then, check your final piece for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You may want to use an editing service or a critique service for your book proposal and/or manuscript. 

Nonfiction – Your nonfiction proposal should contain the elements listed below and at least two or three sample chapters:

  • Cover page (with book title and subtitle, author name, and contact information)
  • Title
  • Author
  • One line summary
  • Category
  • Tone
  • Target audiences
  • Benefits (in bullet point format)
  • Manuscript length and completion (word count and when the manuscript will be ready)
  • Rights
  • Book synopsis (about three or four paragraphs)
  • Author biography
  • Connections for promotion and possible endorsements: (Who do you know that would be      likely to provide a written endorsement for your book?)
  • Promotion ideas
  • How this book differs from the competition
  • Table of Contents
  • Summary paragraph about each chapter

Fiction – Unlike nonfiction, novel writers need to complete the entire manuscript before submitting a book proposal. Plus, you need a great “hook” (an attention-grabbing tagline that briefly summarizes the content of your novel) to sell the book idea.

According to Rachelle Gardner, an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency, you need these essential elements for a great fiction proposal:

  • Title page (with the book title, names of authors, phone numbers and email addresses)
  • One sentence hook (a tagline, one sentence that creates interest in the book)
  • Brief overview (two to four paragraphs, similar to back-cover copy that is exciting and tells the publisher succinctly what the book is about)
  • The market (the audience for the book, why somebody would buy this book)
  • About the authors (half page or full page on yourself and why you are qualified to write this book, previously published books or articles, sales figures and awards received)
  • Author marketing (your platform and how you will reach your target audience to market your book)
  • Comparable books (list four to five novels that you think are similar to yours and list the title, author, release year and a few sentences about the book and how yours is similar)
  • Details (word count, number of chapters and if the manuscript is complete. Note: Unless you are a multi-published novelist, you must have a completed novel before approaching agents and editors.)
  • Longer synopsis (in two to six pages describe the story start to finish)
  • Sample chapters (include the first 40 to 50 pages of your manuscript. These should be the first few chapters of your novel.)

Where do you send your book proposal?

Most of the time, you will be sending your book proposal to a literary agent who has asked you to send it in. As you may know, the majority of publishing houses no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts or book proposals, so it is essential to have a literary agent who will represent you to the publisher. (Note: We will talk about finding a literary agent in my June CAN blog post.).

Bottom line: If you have an amazing book idea, make sure your agent and publishers know it. Your book proposal can be more effective when you have a marketing slant (to sell your idea), include all the necessary elements, know your particular agent’s requirements, and present it in a clear, clean format.


Jackie M. Johnson is an author and freelance writer in Colorado. She also helps writers as a book publishing consultant. Previously, she worked at the premier literary agency, Alive Communications, and the CBA-publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Visit her encouragement blog, A New Day Cafe, or website for more information.

Jackie M. Johnson


Jackie M. Johnson is an author, freelance writer and editor, and book publishing consultant.

Previously, she worked in marketing at WaterBrook Multnomah (a division of Random House) and at the premiere literary agency, Alive Communications. In addition, Jackie has experience as a marketing communications specialist at a large corporation, and as a magazine editor and communications manager for a nonprofit.

Her books include: Power Prayers for Women (Barbour Publishing), When Love Ends and the Ice Cream Carton Is Empty (Moody Publishing), a helpful resource for healing relationship breakups, and Powerful Prayers for Challenging Times (Revell/Baker) on finding hope in hard times.

Freelance writer and editor (marketing copywriter):
As a professional freelance writer and editor (and marketing copy writer), Jackie creates and edits compelling content for a variety of businesses (B2B and B2C) and faith-based organizations.

Book publishing consultant:
As a published author with marketing experience, Jackie helps writers get “agent ready” by editing book proposals, editing manuscripts, teaching writers how to get published, and providing industry insight. Jackie is a graduate of Trinity International University and she lives in Colorado. To learn more visit her on the web at:


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Writing Business

Writing Better Query Letters



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:  

  1. 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.
  2. 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).  
  3. Craft your content. Write to motivate and to inform. Write succinctly and clearly. You only have one page to get your ideas across.
  4. 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?  
  5. 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 ColoradoHer 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.


Writing Business

How Effective Is Your Author Website?

"AGreetings from Jackie!

One of the most effective ways to communicate with your readers is through your author/speaker website. How can you make your site better?

Your author website is your online “storefront.” It represents you and your writing to your readers. It gives you credibility. It builds your brand. It gives you the opportunity to showcase your books—and sell them. In addition to social media, your website is a place to connect and build community.

Jane Friedman, a media industry expert, calls the author website “the No. 1 calling card for a digital-age author.” 

Today, there are many options for building a website. Some authors use a web designer to build a traditional website. Others use WordPress, traditionally a blogging site, to transform their blog into a website. Another option is to create your own professional website using a company, like homestead® or others, that provide templates (so you can easily fill in your own words and photos). 

If you already have an author website, how can you make it better? Is your site the most effective marketing tool it can be right now? 

First, start by asking yourself these questions: How useable is your site? Can your readers easily find what they are looking for (like your bio, books, speaking engagements, how to follow you on all your social media outlets and the like)? Is your contact information is listed clearly and on every page of your site? 

Next, you may want to look at other author websites—fiction and nonfiction—to get ideas about what you want and don’t want on your site. Plus, if you scroll down to the bottom of the web page, most sites will list the web designer’s name or company name (which is helpful if you are in the market for a web designer).   

Rob Eagar (WildFire Marketing) is a marketing consultant who specializes in helping authors to get amazing results in marketing fiction and nonfiction books. For an effective author/speaker website, Eagar recommends these basic, but crucial elements

  • Home page: minimal text; strong graphics; easy navigation layout; latest news area.
  • Newsletter Signup: pop-up window on Home page that lets visitors register email.
  • Bio page: use your bio to show how your expertise produces results for your readers.
  • Books page: show your books, give excerpts, and describe results each book creates.
  • Speaking page: include professional audio/video samples of speeches if available.
  • Events page: list upcoming speaking events, book-signings, and media interviews.
  • Endorsements page: show testimonials from well-known leaders or celebrities.
  • Store page: include pictures and benefits of each product offered.
  • Free Resources: offer helpful articles, book explainers, and discussion guides.
  • Media page: list past media appearances; include downloadable headshots and press kit.
  • Contact Us page: list an updated mailing address, phone number, and email address.

Remember, websites are meant to be active, not static. They need to be updated often. And they need to offer content that is interesting and useful to the reader.

The time you or your assistant spends on your author website is worth it—it’s an investment that will pay dividends in your brand and book sales when it’s done effectively and well.

Jackie M. Johnson is an author, freelance writer and book publishing consultant in Colorado. Visit her encouragement blog at or website at


Writing Business

Getting Agent Ready: 7 Steps to Prepare for Success


Greetings from Jackie! 



Do you want to get published—or get published again? If your goal is to get a book deal from a traditional publisher, it’s important to know what literary agents are looking for. Why? Because in today’s publishing environment writers can no longer send unsolicited manuscripts directly to publishers (at least, about 99% of the time), so it is essential to have a literary agent to represent your ideas to publishers.