Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed . ~ 2 Timothy 2:15

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


She penned her first poem in first grade. In high school, she wrote for the school paper and edited the school’s literary journal. In college her love for writing blossomed in English Comp and she decided that one day she’d write a book.

“The next thing I knew,” says Vonda Skelton, “I was 40. My life was half over, and I had never written that book—or anything else!”

So, once again, she put pen to paper, this time writing her first book in a couple of months.

“I never edited it, never proofed it,” she recalls. “I sent it out to 10 publishers. The submissions were back before the stamps were dry! Yes, that was a while back, before the days of self-adhesive stamps.”

Seven years and 63 rejections later, Vonda finally saw her byline—on an article she sold to the editor of Focus on Your Child at a Christian writers’ conference “over bacon, eggs, and grits.”

“I believed I had something of worth that God wanted me to share,” she says, “and I was hardheaded enough to believe it when others might have quit.”

Since then Vonda’s writing credits have bloomed: four books (one nonfiction book for women and three children’s fiction), and numerous articles for national publications. She’s even interviewed Kirk Cameron and Bob Carlisle.

“Published writers aren’t always the best writers out there,” she says. “They’re sometimes simply the writers who don’t quit. I know there are manuscripts tucked away in desk drawers or computer files that are much better than anything I could ever produce. But those manuscripts will never get published because the writers got a handful of rejections and quit.”

Vonda’s current project is a nonfiction book for baby boomers, which she works on while fulfilling a demanding speaking ministry and babysitting grandchildren. She also would like to try her hand at adult fiction.

“God has gifted us with exactly what we need to complete the calling He has placed on our lives,” she says. “We all have to learn to fulfill that calling. He places in each of us the passions and gifts necessary to do it.

 “I often think: What if I had stopped sending out queries after Rejection number 63?”


NOTE:  Vonda will be one of three speakers for the Seasons of Life Christian Women’s Conference in Punxsutawney on Oct. 16. For more information about the conference, visit the conference blog page. Visit Vonda's Website, where you can also access her blog, “The Christian Writer’s Den.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My summer stack

It's been an unusually busy summer so far--with travel to Colorado Springs to work on Christian Writers Guild course rewrites, the week-long St. Davids Christian Writers Conference, my daughter's too-short, two-week visit home, getting the house ready for her and her two boys, and keeping caught up with basic freelance responsibilities. So I haven't had time to delve into reading as I would like.

But the rest of the summer lies golden before me for that opportunity. I plan to get up at 6 a.m., go for my walk, have my tea and quiet time, then be at the computer by 8 a.m., work until 2, then spend the rest of the day reading (hopefully while making use of the hammock out back), swimming in my son's pool next door, and fixing an easy supper for hubby and me.

I have a stack of books I'm itching to delve into, some fiction, some professional, some "just because." This week, since I'm still switching gears from Grandma mode, I'm taking a shortcut and forgoing the book review and posting a list of the books in my stack. Now, I probably won't read all of them by Labor Day, but I do want to make the best use of my time in the hammock. 

So here's Michele's Summer Reading List in no particular order, writing books first:
  1. Revision and Self-Editing, James Scott Bell
  2. Now Write! Fiction Writing Exercises from Today's Best Writers & Teachers, Sherry Ellis (ed.)
  3. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King
  4. Writers on Writing, James N. Watkins (ed.)
  5. The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great, Donald Maass (I already started this one, but will have to reread, or skim over, the four chapters I've already read.)
  6. Writing for the Soul, Jerry B. Jenkins (I read this several years ago, but it's time for a re-read.)
Books in my summer stack that I picked up at St. Davids Christian Writers Conference:
  1. Don't Let Me Go: What My Daughter Taught Me About the Journey Every Parent Must Take, David W. Pierce
  2. The 365-Day Fun Bible Fact Book, with several contributions by my friend and writing colleague, Roberta T. Brosius
  3. Head in the Sand . . . and other unpopular positions, a collection of humorous essays by another friend and writing colleague, Linda M. Au
  4. Donkeys Still Talk: Hearing God's Voice When You're Not Listening, by my friend, online writing critique group buddy, and writing colleague, Virelle Kidder (I read this when I first met Virelle, about 10 years ago. I've been getting the nudge to re-read it.)
  5. When They Come Home: Ways to Welcome Returning Catholics,co-authored by my friend, online writing critique group buddy, and writing colleague, Melanie Rigney
  6. Autism & Alleluias, by another online critique group member (another critique group), Kathleen Deyer Bolduc
Ambitious? You bet. But spending an hour a day in the hammock doing one of the things I love best--reading--is as good as it gets.

Happy summer reading!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Grammar goof: "I thought to myself."

Oh, pulleaze!!! Who else are you going to “think to”? 

Correcting the goof:
Use “I thought,” “I said to myself,” “I muttered to myself” or “I scolded myself.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Agent queries: one size does NOT fit all

    It took me two years to write my first novel, and when it was finally ready for submission, I figured the work was done. Not!
    I now faced the daunting task of finding a publisher—not an easy feat these days for a first-time novelist. Most publishers consider only manuscripts submitted by an agent or one they’ve requested after meeting the author at a writers’ conference.
    Since I can’t afford to attend more than one writers’ conference a year, it seemed imperative to secure an agent.

First: Finish It!

    Wanting to see if my idea would float (and being fairly wet behind the fiction ears), I started the marketing the book when I had only a one-page synopsis, the first chapter, and a vague idea of where I was going with it. Although the response was encouraging, I learned lesson number one: finish the novel. No agent or publisher would even consider it until then.
    “We get lots of ideas,” one agent told me, “but only a few follow through and finish.”

Do Your Homework, Part 1: Use the Market Guide
    Two years later, completed manuscript in hand, I learned lesson number two: A one-size-fits-all query would not suffice. One agent wanted a one-page synopsis, another a six-page synopsis. One wanted the first 50 pages, another the first three chapters, still another only the first chapter. Two wanted the entire manuscript, but one wanted it submitted electronically, while the other wanted hard copy sent via USPS.
    When I realized that my baby wasn’t going to snatched up by the first agent I contacted (or the second or third or fourth . . . ), the real work began.
    Poring through the “Christian Literary Agents” section of the Christian Writers’ Market Guide, I highlighted those I thought might be a good match for both me and my manuscript. In particular, I noted the following:
  •  Length of time in business: when the agency was established and how many clients it represented
  •  Open to first-time novelists and new clients: if it was open to newbies and if a referral was required
  •  Genres it preferred
  •  Commission they received
  •  Expenses, such as copying and postage, for which the author would be responsible
  •  Contact: How the agency preferred to be contacted: via email or USPS; and what they wanted to see: query, synopsis, sample chapters, or any or all of the above
  •  “Tips” for “insider information”

Do Your Homework, Part 2: Research Online

    List of potential agents in hand, I first went to the Predators and Editors website, where most of the agencies were listed. I crossed off those that weren’t recommended, starred those that were, and noted whether the agency had verified sales to a royalty-paying publisher on record. (Note: Sally Stuart gives additional resources to research potential agents in the Christian Writers’ Market Guide. Also read carefully the information on the Predators and Editors website prior to the alphabetical listing.)
    My list trimmed, I then visited each agency’s website. I crossed one off when I noted misspellings. I spent hours on each site, reading every page carefully, and taking note of the following:
  •  Tone and appearance: Did the agency’s web presence appear professional, yet friendly?
  •  Information about the agency: history; agent bios and genres each agent handled; clients; recent sales; submission guidelines; and contact information
  •  Information for authors: some sites gave excellent resource information, such as how to write a query, how to make a pitch—workshop-quality stuff.
  •  Submission guidelines: Exactly what they wanted (query, synopsis, sample chapters, number of pages, book proposal, entire manuscript), how they wanted it (electronic via email or hard copy via USPS), and if a simultaneous submission was OK. Here is where I learned I had to tailor the query letter to the agency.

Develop a Spreadsheet

    To keep track of submissions, I developed a spreadsheet in Excel, making columns for the following:
  •  Date sent
  •  To whom
  •  Agent or publisher (A or P)
  •  Material submitted
  •  Manner of submission: electronic or USPS
  •  Response time
  •  The date I could begin looking for a response
  •  The date I received the response
  •  Response (yes or no)
  •  Comments the agent made about the manuscript
I also included on the spreadsheet the publishers and editors I’d contacted on my own. This gave me a complete submission history at a glance. I stapled the spreadsheet to the inside of a file folder, which I tucked inside a pocket folder that included my notes and any correspondence pertaining to the manuscript.

Prepare the Submission
    Each submission took at least an entire workday to prepare, following the agency’s requirements exactly.
    If I wasn’t sure about something, I emailed the agency. They were glad to know I was taking their guidelines seriously. And it’s always good to verify that it’s OK to send an attachment (plus they’d be expecting it).
    Make sure you send the file in a format they can open. I inadvertently sent a file as a Word Perfect document, instead of WORD. The file can be saved as RTF (rich text format), which most operating systems can open. Some agencies prefer submissions copied and pasted in the email message box.
    If you’re submitting hard copy, keep the following in mind:
  •  Use good quality paper; I prefer 24-pound, with a brightness of 96 or above.
  •  Keep the pages loose; do NOT use paper clips or staple the pages together. A blank sheet of paper, folded in half, may be used as a mini-file folder, separating the synopsis from the sample chapters.
  •  Put your name, the title of the manuscript, and the page number in the header and, if you want, a copyright notice in the footer. (The Header and Footer feature in WORD will automatically put this information on each page.)
  •  Always include an SASE for the agency’s response.
  •  Don’t forget contact information: your name, address, phone numbers, email address.

Don’t Send It Yet
    Not until another writer or freelance editor reads it over. Fresh eyes (and fresh brains) will find what your overworked ones miss. Reading the page backwards doesn’t always work.

Forget It!
    Once you’ve sent your baby off into the world, let it go. Move on to your next project—until you get that phone call letting you know all your hard work has paid off.

(This article appeared in the November-December 2009 issue of Advanced Christian Writer)