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My Little Reader

Even before Reid was born and I saw that precious little face, I wanted desperately for him to share my love of books. My nightly ritual was to go in his room, sit in his rocking chair, and read out loud to him from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Soon after he was born, we started branching out, trying out all the books on our shelves. If he patted them or smiled (or tried to eat them, truth be told), they went into the “he likes these books” pile. If he wasn’t so interested, we put them in the “save for a few months and try again” pile.

It wasn’t long before he would sit in the floor with a book, turning the pages. And now, at 14 months old, books are second only to playing outside. Sometimes he comes with one book in hand and we read it . . . over . . . and over . . . and over. Other times, he brings one after another from his shelf and holds each one out with a big grin and points to his chest as if to say “Now this one, please.”

One of his favorites is Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. We’ve read it so many times I don’t even need to look at the pages anymore. (Hand, hand, fingers, thumb, one thumb, one thumb drumming on a drum. One hand, two hands drumming on a drum. Dum ditty, dum ditty, dum dum dum.) You can tell how much he loves it because he holds one finger in the air and shakes it in time with the dum ditty, dum ditty, dum dum dums and dances in a circle. And then there’s his You’re My Little Love Bug book. My mom found it for him, and not only does it include a place for his picture on the last page, but it lights up and plays music when you open it up to read it. He likes to points to himself as you read You’re my lovey dovey, my stinker winker bear.

My hope is that books will always hold such interest for him and that in a few years we’ll move to chapter books and then in a few more years I’ll start sharing young adult novels from some authors I know personally. But whether he likes Mommy’s books best or really prefers nonfiction like Daddy does, Reid confirms for me that reading is not a declining pastime and that printed books themselves are not dead. There will always be a place for great stories and for great storytellers. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, after all, was first published in 1969.

*What books stand the test of time for you?

*What gives those books their longevity and appeal? What can we as a publishing team learn from them? 

Warmly,

Amanda

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Prologues are Overused

Too many novels have prologues that don’t belong. Prologues should be used sparingly and only if they meet particular criteria. I can only think of two scenarios where prologues are permissible.

  1. Necessary POV. If the information is needed from a person who doesn’t have a POV in the story. Another way to handle this is to bookend the novel in the same person’s POV who doesn’t have a POV in the other chapters (i.e. a sage character or a town observer).
  2. Jump in time period. If the reader needs to know something from a time period that doesn’t fit within the timeline of the story. I’m thinking of a novel that shares a scene of two ancestors performing a ritual. It makes no sense until the end of the novel when the protagonist and hero realize this was done for them.

Consider NOT including your prologue if it only accomplishes the following:

  1. Previews a scene that the reader will encounter later in the novel.  If you need to give the reader a sneak peek of a critical scene in a prologue, I suspect your first chapter may lack the hook and vibrancy it needs.
  2. Fills the reader in on information that occurred in the previous book in the series. If the series is serial (vs. episodic) then you can fill the reader in on critical details they need to know to understand something by adding a sentence here or there. Sometimes what you think is critical info may only seem so because it’s the order that you came to know the story, but the reader is fine. And when they read the other book, they’ll feel “smart” to have picked up on the crossover threads.
  3. Sets the story up so chapter 1 makes sense. This is similar to number 1. I would challenge the author to make chapter 1 work on its own and perhaps move the original chapter 1 to chapter 2.

What’s the big deal? One problem is that prologues can be mistaken for front-matter material (introductions, forewords, author notes) and readers may just skip them not realizing it’s the beginning of the story. Typesetters and editors should be careful that the page numbers on epilogues don’t have roman numerals, a clear indicator that it’s front-matter material. The other problem is that many prologues are shortcuts. They are trying to achieve something quickly instead of threading it throughout the story. I contend that it’s more rewarding for the reader to reveal the information they need as they need it or else it suspends their satisfaction.

Take this test: Pick up a couple of novels that you’ve already read that have prologues. Now imagine that prologue was deleted. Would the story hold firm or would it all fall apart? If prologues were banned, could you get that information to the reader another way? With some distance and perspective, which option works better? Does one demand more skill from the author?

No rule in writing is iron-clad so if you know of another scenario where a prologue is helpful, please share it with us.  We want to hear from you!

Natalie

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A post in honor of National Poetry Month

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know THAT is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know THAT is poetry. Is there any other way?” — Emily Dickinson

For much of my life, I didn’t “get” poetry. It was short but then sometimes long. It usually didn’t make sense, and it usually included a bunch of names of gods and goddesses whom I couldn’t keep straight. When I decided to be an English major, I had a feeling the day would come when poetry would stare me in the face and force me to like it, understand it, or at least appreciate it.

I managed my first three years of college with little to no such confrontation. Finally, my senior year I was forced to take the oh-so-dreaded “Poetry Workshop,” instructed by the notoriously evil writer-in-residence Al Haley. It had been said that he would crumple pages of a student’s 20-page short story, chew on it, and then spit it onto the floor to symbolize how terrible he thought the writing to be. (This is metaphorical, of course.)

After three months of Al chewing on and spitting out the poems he forced me to write for his class, I began to appreciate the complexity of the art a little more. And then a little more. Until I actually began to enjoy poems. And during our final class meeting I officially declared myself a “lover of poetry.” I had to wrestle the form and suffer though pages of good poetry from good books before this love could materialize, but man am I glad it did.

I now see poetry in all forms of writing. It does not have to rhyme or be limited to one page length as I had previously thought. Poetry can be one sentence on one page in the midst of a great novel.

I’m dying to know: What role does poetry play in your writing fiction? Is it a type of subconscious effort that flows as you write? Is it an intentional wording with key phrases or paragraphs? Are you, like me, a “lover of poetry”?

Happy poetry month to all!

From one poet’s heart to the next (that’s poetic, right?),

Andrea Lucado

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In this weeks’ post, I want to offer some well-deserved encouragement and talk about quieting the voices that say “do more”.

I’ve been thinking about you, the Nelson Fiction authors.  I’ve been thinking about the stories you share with the world.  The sense of community you bring to our team.  The glory God gets through your novels.  And I know All of it matters.  The time you spend sitting at a desk or typing at the kitchen table.  The schedule you must manage to fit in the things we ask of you.  So today, I want to lift you up and tell you how much we value who you are and what you do. Thank you for being a part of our team.

In the last few weeks, I’ve had calls with several of you.  Often, the discussion is about things you can/should be doing to promote your books, ways to do social media better, etc.  And what you’ve been hearing from us more recently is that there is no “one size fits all” program that’s going to work for everyone.  Rather than us say that you need to “blog, tweet, update Facebook, and face North for three minutes each Monday”, what’s better is to personalize it.  Do you love to blog? If yes, then you’ll be passionate about updating your posts and sharing that content with others.  If you’re better at engaging with people through twitter or Facebook, then those are the places where you will shine.  And if you like to face North for no reason…well, I can’t help you 🙂

I could make this a longer post, but it’s not needed.  We’re partners with you on this journey, and being partners means we help wherever needed.  Do you need someone to help you manage your social media?  If so, let’s talk.  If you need help setting something up or just need to talk through what’s Not working, let’s talk.  And if you want to brainstorm ideas together, let’s meet in the Bahamas.  With all the comments you hear from the industry, friends, and consumers, we want to be the place you head when life gets noisy.

Smiling about you,

Jennifer

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I admit it. I’m a YA junkie. There’s probably some kind of clinic or support group for people like me, but, well, I just love it too much to stop.

It may be because I looked like this when I reached my literary maturity:

 

But I sincerely hope not. No, there is something else going on that is drawing me to the YA section of the bookstore, along with droves of other adult and teen readers.

So, the question is really, Why is Young Adult doing so well now? I think the answer is rather complicated, but I’ve distilled it down to three possibilities.

Reason #1: The fiction out there is truly resonating with teens. The world that teens are living in now is way different than the world in which we grew up. The literature that they are choosing to read reflects that. It isn’t “safe,” it isn’t all wrapped up nicely, and it doesn’t always come with answers. The characters in these novels make mistakes—the same mistakes that the teen reader may be making—but the stories show them how to move past those mistakes and make sense of it all while letting them know that they are not alone. And most importantly, the authors are not talking down to the teens. For the most part, they are writing adult books set with teen characters and their surroundings.

Reason #2: Escapism. When teens get frustrated and tired with their world—school, parents, boy/girl trouble—what better way to escape than to a world where all of that stuff is rendered virtually meaningless? Where there are the perfect guys (Edward Cullen), where parents are practically removed from the scene (Hogwarts School of Wizardry), and/or where the pressures of school fade to the background as you try to save the world from impending doom (corrupt the system in Hunger Games). Frankly, those worlds are a lot sexier than ours. And in those worlds, teens make a difference—if the teens in these novels don’t step up to the challenges before them, the world as they know it will disappear. How often do teens feel like that in real life? Probably not as much as they should.  

Reason #3: Cross-over. I’m not the only adult who occasionally (ok, ok, regularly) indulges in some young adult reading. Many adults are working their way back to the YA section. Why? Because it provides an escape for them as well. While most of us would say we would rather swim in an alligator-infested swamp than go back to middle or high school (ahem, see photo of me above), we can also admit that sometimes we would like to replace our everyday concerns (bills, work, children, lack-of-time) with the drama of teen life. And while we can relate to it because we have been there, we have the added perspective of having gone through it all and survived. It seems to be mostly women who are doing the crossing-over. Why? Well, particularly for the YA, it’s the heightened emotions, the memories of first love, and the personal drama that comes with any teen. We like to feel, and that’s what teens do best.

All of these reasons combine to a perfect storm that is garnering a lot of publicity for YA. The more people write about YA, the more people read it, which causes more authors to write it. It’s a great snowball that is providing more literature for the younger reader than has ever existed.

So where does Christian YA fit in? We have some truly gifted YA authors on our Thomas Nelson Fiction roster (and I’m not just saying that because some of them may be reading this), and it is so important that we continue to publish more great Christian YA for the market. Teens are constantly bombarded by worldly things, perhaps more than at any other time in their lives, so we need to provide a Christian alternative to all that madness. We need Christian teen characters who walk their faith in all situations—ordinary or supernatural—and who face the same real, “unsafe” problems shown in the general market YA.

Why do you think YA is booming right now? What are some good, YA novels that you have read recently?

Happy Reading!

Becky Monds,

Associate Editor

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There is one thing that editors and authors always have in common: Editors want to love the manuscript that was just submitted to them. And authors want their manuscript, their baby, to be loved by their editor. So we as an editorial team have put together a list of seven things that you can do to help it be love at first sight.

1. Don’t View Deadlines as Suggestions. When due dates are established for you to turn your manuscript in to your editor, to complete your revisions, etc., it is crucial that you meet—or beat!—those dates. Your editor has lots of projects on her plate. If you miss the space that she has reserved in her schedule for you, then your manuscript has to be crammed in somewhere else and she can’t take the time to savor it and enjoy it as she would like to. Beyond your editor’s time, though, that schedule was not set arbitrarily. We need manuscripts ready at defined points prior to the release. If it’s not ready, your editor doesn’t know specific things about the story that will make it stand out when it is presented at sales conference, our sales team doesn’t have the sample chapters or ARCs they need to sell your novel to retailers, and our publicity team doesn’t have the opportunity to seek reviews and create advance buzz. Hitting your deadlines is the first step in being able to take advantage of every potential opportunity for your novel to succeed.

2. Surprise-Me-Not. It’s helpful to me, as your in-house advocate, to know what you’re going to submit well before it comes in. We probably agreed at the contract stage what you’d be writing, but that may have morphed some. Please keep me informed. What’s your story arc and who are your characters? And don’t worry: Unlike your average reader, we editors don’t mind knowing how the story ends before we begin reading. For us, the journey is the thing!

3. Help Me Help You. Sharing your goals for a given manuscript with me will help us realize those goals together. If you perceive an existing area of weakness in your manuscript—as you likely have if you’re still breathing—communicate this to me; I’ll do my best to help you overcome it. My real desire is to help you tell the story that’s on your heart in the most readable, accessible way possible.

4. Self-Editing Is Okay. As your editor, I won’t be offended if you finish your manuscript ahead of your deadline and then go back through it to self-edit. In fact, I suggest it if at all possible. You may be surprised by how many areas you can improve and strengthen. And then I’ll be able to help you focus on taking an A-level manuscript and making it an A+ rather than focusing on making a B into an A.

5. Create a Timeline. As you are writing, it may help to have a blank calendar in front of you to track the sequence of events in your novel. Sometimes the action happens all in one day, in which case an hourly timeline may be best, but when it is spread out over days, weeks, or years, it is easy to get lost in a time-tangle that has to be unraveled during the editorial process. If you keep careful watch over the timing, you free us up to go deeper into the meat of the novel.

6. Spring Clean Your File. Take the time to make sure you’ve done the following clean-ups on the manuscript:

a. Double-space the text.

b. Have each chapter start on a new page.

c. Include page numbers.

d. Run spell check and grammar check (while all grammar certainly doesn’t have to be correct, this will flag many places where you need to work on your sentence structure).

e. If you’ve used a Bible verse in the text, make a note on the style sheet of what version you used.

f. If you want to quote something, reference your author guide for what is and is not permissible. If it’s not in the public domain, you’ll need to replace it or start working on getting permission.

g. Dedications and Acknowledgements can come later, but include them now if you have them. Same goes with Reading Group Guides. If you’d rather we provide Reading Group Guide questions for your book, that’s no problem. Just let us know.

h. Make sure there are no comments still noted in track changes. All questions and comments should be resolved. Delete, rather than hide then. Same goes for highlighted text.

i. Tell us if you’ve gone over or under your word count. You won’t get in trouble, but we’d rather know so we can start the edit with the understanding that we’ll want to try to cut or expand in certain areas.

7. Review Your Manuscript After It Is Typeset. As the letter you receive with the manuscript states, your freshly typeset book is being proofread by two proofreaders at the same time you are reading it, so there are bound to be typos. No need to worry about those, but feel free to mark them if you feel inspired to do so. Know, though, that those proofreaders will be carefully watching out for errors as well. Rather, the best way to use this opportunity is to make sure that the story itself flows and makes sense. It has probably been some time since you sent the manuscript in, and with some distance, you may see parts that could benefit from tweaking or errors that are more obvious after a separation time. It is much easier to change something or correct an error on this side of the book process than waiting until after a book has released. If you are writing a series, this is also a good time to make sure everything flows between this manuscript and the one you are most likely working on now.

What would you add to this list? How do you help your editor fall in love with your novels?

Amanda Bostic, on behalf of the Editorial Team

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Ode To Back Porches

One of the many blessings of living in the south is the ubiquitous back porch. It’s a southern staple! The house my husband and I bought 4 years ago made the final cut largely based not on the merits of the kitchen (I’m a lousy cook!), but on the size of the back porch and the surrounding back yard. We’d shared a tiny courtyard with our neighbors in the city, so a move to the suburbs required a gathering place for our family and friends. This house’s porch has screens to keep the mosquitoes out and space for comfy (if mismatched) chairs. What more could we need? It was perfect! We shared many a meal and even hosted author friends out there a couple of times!

july 4 m

Four years have passed in the house now and our porch has been gathering cobwebs. I was beginning to miss it sorely. So on a recent weekend I found the broom and shooed our smallest children outside with some frozen pops, bubbles, and sidewalk chalk. My husband and son soon followed. I catered the affair with iced tea. Soon several neighbors and their kids joined us.

mimi and pals in sunglasses

The kids played in the yard while the adults sat back on the porch. Good old small talk was shared and many books were discussed. The hours passed pleasantly. Not one of us accomplished a thing on our to-do list, but we were all the better for it.

07SweetTea

Though this website is virtual, we hope it will act like that real back porch—as a sort of gathering space for talk about the things that matter to us, particularly faith, fiction, and family. We don’t anticipate any cobwebs gathering here, though. And know that as your Thomas Nelson Friends kick our feet up for conversation here in Nashville, we’ll be sipping sweet, southern iced tea!

Warmly,

Ami McConnell

Senior Acquisitions Editor

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