Friday, September 29, 2006

Take a Look at This List!

On its third blour day, Violet Dawn remains as the #1 Most Popular book on Technorati.

Here’s the fiction bestseller list for October (reflecting sales in the month of August). Notice again how many novels are ranked for the Top Fifty List. (The first number is ranking on the fiction bestseller list, and the number in parentheses is the Top Fifty ranking.) Twelve this time. Last month, if I remember right, it was sixteen. Seems like only a year ago or so that merely the top two or three made the Top Fifty List. I know other factors can be involved, but one factor has to be that fiction is selling in higher numbers.

1 (2) Found Karen Kingsbury, Tyndale, p

2 (14) Night Light Terri Blackstock, Zondervan, p

3 (16) The Copper Scroll Joel Rosenberg, Tyndale, c

4 (22) The Bishop's Daughter Wanda Brunstetter, Barbour, p

5 (23) Leave a Candle Burning Lori Wick, Harvest House, p

6 (25) Like Dandelion Dust Karen Kingsbury, Center Street (Hachette), p

7 (28) The Ezekiel Option Joel Rosenberg, Tyndale, p

8 (32) Redeeming Love Francine Rivers, Multnomah (WaterBrook), p

9 (33) The Prophet Francine Rivers, Tyndale, c

10 (37) House Frank Peretti & Ted Dekker, WestBow (Nelson), c

11 (45) Last Light Terri Blackstock, Zondervan, p

12 (46) The Englisher Beverly Lewis, Bethany House, p

13 A Promise for Ellie Lauraine Snelling, Bethany House, p

14 The Rapture Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale, c

15 Under the Northern Lights Tracie Peterson, Bethany House, p

16 The Witness Dee Henderson, Tyndale, p

17 One Tuesday Morning/Beyond Tuesday Morning Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan, p

18 Moolight on the Millpond Lori Wick, Harvest House, p

19 Even Now Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan, p

20 Beyond Tuesday Morning Karen Kingsbury, Zondervan, p

Last May we looked at the bestseller lists—how they’re put together, and based on what sales numbers. You can review that multiple-day topic by going to the
May 2006 archives and starting at the May 3rd post.

Last week Jason posted this on the comments page:

I had a question that might be a touchy one to answer. I look at the limited opportunities to have books published, and then I see a fiction title by [a well known person who’s not a writer], WITH the help of 3 other writers . . . What do you think about celebrities "writing" novels and them getting published just due to the name? I know this happens in the ABA as well.

So, BGs--How would you answer?


Today on Scenes and Beans

Janet Detcher: Renee’s Story

This is not an easy story to tell, but the lessons she learned may help someone out there who's going through a difficult time.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

It's a Blour!

Are you reading Blinded, by Travis Thrasher? The second person POV novel? We’ll be discussing it next week.

Violet Dawn started its three-day blour (blog tour). Here are some of the links to various blogs/Web sites with information on the book:

This one has a behind-the-scenes interview

On myspace (wouldn’t my daughter be proud):

3. An interesting note about
Getting Into Character, and how it fits into Violet Dawn

A GREAT story about how the book was used to bring someone to Christ

Musings From the Windowsill


Books, Movies and Chinese Food

Sword and Pen

See Ya on the Net

A future member of the Big Honkin’ Chickens’ Club manages a read

Creative post, featuring Scenes and Beans

A review by SBG Cara Putman

Sean Slagle

How I scared a hot tub repairman to death and got my idea for Violet Dawn

Spoiled for the Ordinary—Another SBG

A behind-the-scenes interview with Becky Miller, who always asks interesting questions

Just a Minute—a blog by an SBG who tells all sorts of stories on me

Bonnie Writes—yes, yet another SBG!

19. Mimie’s Pixie Corner

20. So Many Books

21. Christian Fiction Queen

22. Projecting A (the cool April Erwin)

23. Scraps of Me

24. Cheryl Russel

25. Cheryl Russel for Teens

26. The Indubitable Chris Well!

27. Scrambled Dregs

28. Christian Political Fiction

29. SBG Chris Mikesell learns more about Wilbur Hucks



Check out Technorati's Most Popular Page

Today on Scenes and Beans

Wilbur Hucks: Wilbur Meets His Sweetie

Talk about the puddle of all puddles. To everybody else she looked like a drowned rat. But I didn't care. It was love at first sight.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Long Live the SBGs!

The Scenes and Beans bloggers at the conference, minus a few attendees were who strangely MIA at that moment.

Kneeling, left to right: Chawna Schroeder (writing as Bev Trexel) and Michael Snyder (Leslie Brymes).

Standing, left to right: Me, Beth Goddard (Bev Trexel), Dineen Miller (Baialey Truitt), Jennifer Tiszai (Leslie Brymes), Marjorie Vawter (Sarah Wray), Pamela James (Bailey Truitt), Stuart Stockton (Ted Dawson, aka S-Man), Michelle Pendergrass (Jake Tremaine), and Kjersten Nickleby (Wilbur Hucks).

Also at the conference were Sandra Moore (Bailey Truitt), Gina Holmes (Angie Brendt), Cara Putman (Jake Tremaine), Janet Ruben (Jared Moore), Laura Domino (Sarah Wray), and only for an hour or so, Lynette Sowell (Carla Radling).

Stuart missed the first hour's rush at the book signing, but then came to stand behind me and co-sign copies of Violet Dawn as S-Man. When people looked at him strangely (that is, even when he didn't have his dragon head on), I explained that a character in the book is based on Stuart, and S-Man's science fiction manuscript, Starfire, is Stuart's real-life manuscript. I told them my autograph on their novel meant little, but S-Man's would make it worth real money some day. They walked away happy.

Someone took a picture of Stuart and me signing books. Can't remember who. If you're reading, please send the picture so I can post it.

Many of the SBGs had meetings with editors/agents and were asked to submit proposals. Cara Putman received her first contract offer from Barbour at the very beginning of the conference. Waytago, Cara!

All of the SBGs who have Web sites (and that's about everyone) are listed under "Friends" on Scenes and Beans. They're also listed here, over to the left. Check out their Web sites and blogs--and read their creative posts on Scenes and Beans as the Kanner Lake characters who hang out at Java Joint.


Violet Dawn goes on its blour (blog tour) today through Friday. Check out the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance's page for more information on the blour and book.


I received the new fiction catalog today. It has some incredible bargains on fiction! Violet Dawn is featured on page 7--at 40% off. That's a $7.79 price instead of the regular $12.99. An amazing offer for a new book. On page 52 it's also featuring the entire Hidden Faces four-book series for $37.99, instead of the usual $52. Individual books in this series are selling for $9.99. The whole catalog is worth checking out, due to all its savings on novels in all genres.


Today on Scenes and Beans

Bailey Truitt: Just When You Thought You Knew a Person

He got this look on his face, like a toad looking up at a size thirteen tennis shoe bearing down fast...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

ACFW Conference Report

I had the best of plans to blog from the conference. Really I did. I just somehow ran out of time each day. The wireless situation didn’t help in that it wasn’t available from the rooms. The conference ended Sunday afternoon, but I stayed over until Monday morning before flying out. Arrived home late Monday afternoon.

It was a great conference. Ran very smoothly. We had over 400 attendees. Four morning tracks were offered for levels beginning, intermediate, advanced, and professional. And five workshops were offered, covering all those levels, for each workshop hour slot in the afternoons.


1. Liz Curtis Higgs’ speaking. Liz is always wonderful—both humorous and poignant. She spoke three times during the conference. She’s a very polished speaker, plus she’s a writer herself, so she knows the travails and dreams and frustrations of writing.

2. Saturday night awards banquet. It was gratifying to see how this special night was presented in honoring the Book of the Year and Genesis Awards winners. Each course of the dinner was beautifully presented, served by white-gloved waiters. Attendees really dressed up. Lots of gowns, men in suits and ties, and a high level of bling. Yowsa. It was great to see how beautiful everyone looked. The presentation of winners was well planned, with a Powerpoint presentation that featured the book covers of each finalist as he/she was announced, and the appropriate book covers shown again as winners were announced. It was also great to see editors receiving certificates along with the writers who won third, second and first place awards. Goodness knows, the editors deserve that! First place winners received plaques.

This was a wonderful launch for a night that will continue to be a highlight event of each year’s conference. And I predict the impact of winning one of these awards will grow, with the industry recognizing them more and more as beacons of success.

3. The prayer room. We started offering a room set aside for prayer three years ago. This is no small thing, as this room must be paid for like any other meeting room, and means that have one less room dedicated to classes/workshops. But what could be more important? Each year this room has been used by more and more attendees. This year the room seemed in continual use. It was large enough and chairs spread out enough that many small groups or individuals could pray privately at the same time.

In the weeks leading up to the conference, God impressed upon me that my main focus and area of service during the weekend would be praying with people. It’s true that I had many responsibilities as emcee, but that is not what God lead me to spend much time in prayer preparing for. As God would have it, I did end up spending a lot of hours in the prayer room each day. I was amazed to count them up later—they went by so fast. I had the honor of praying with many individuals and small groups of friends. And let me tell you—I saw God move. In most instances these were not easy prayer sessions. Faithful followers of God were dealing with deep emotional pain from terrible childhood abuse and other betrayals, and harsh physical illnesses. God gave special words on how to pray for each person. As often as I’ve experienced this, I’m always overwhelmed anew at the grace and mercy of God in directing prayer at the exact point of need—a point of cause that is sometimes far removed from the symptoms. When God directs prayer to the root cause—that’s when real healing can begin.

4. Worship times. These times of singing can’t be separated from the overall focus on prayer, Liz’s talks, and the genuine feeling of family and caring that permeated the conference. The result was an overall feeling of a “spiritual retreat.” These are the words I heard from numerous people. Returning conferees came to the conference knowing it would be a spiritual experience as much as a craft-learning one. New conferees came for the learning and were amazed at the impact on their spiritual lives.

I encourage all of you to pray for conferees as they get back into their schedules. Satan is no doubt already swooping in to spread his discouragement and lies, trying to snatch away the encouragement and growth they experienced. We need to pray against that.

5. The visible impact of ACFW teaching on the industry. The Barbour editors publicly offered two new contracts to two first-time authors. And when all those who have signed their first contract for a novel after joining ACFW were asked to stand, it was so gratifying to see how many people were in that category. Next year there will be even more.

Our conference is now one of the largest Christian writers conferences in the country—give it another year, and it will probably be THE largest. And our organization is growing so fast (we’re at 1200 members and adding about 50 a month). ACFW will continue to impact the industry in more and more ways, training many of the CBA novelists of tomorrow.


Today on Scenes and Beans

Sarah Wray: A Humbling Moment at the Salon

... I had tight spitball curls everywhere. I didn't even look like myself. What had I done?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wrap-up on Reviews

We had an interesting discussion yesterday in the comments section to the post. Always good to hear varying opinions.

Bottom line, I think reviews can be very helpful critters. They can be effective in marketing, and they can be effective in communicating quality/aura/etc. of a book to a consumer. I certainly use reviews in my own marketing. I also run a large influencer list (thanks to the generosity of my publisher) for each novel, with every name on the list receiving a free book. These influencer lists are win-wins, as far as I’m concerned. The people receive a free read. If they like the book, I ask them to post a review on, on their blog, etc. If they don’t like the book (can you imagine such a thing?), they don’t have to do anything. Of course, these reviews are meant to be short endorsements, not any deep look into the novel. For marketing, that works.

For consumer edification, I do appreciate the longer, more thoughtful reviews.

Something Mark Bertrand said in a comment yesterday struck me: I'd argue that a lot of what passes for reviewing doesn't rise to that level. There's not enough contextualization, not enough interaction with the text, not enough of anything. Instead it's just a rush to the thumb's up (or down) at the end. Too many soundbites, not enough analysis. One of the reasons I don't review books is that doing it right is hard. A lot of "reviews," especially the self-published ones online, seem to be the result of a quick skim and a collection of random observations. They may provide fodder for the marketing department, but they aren't much help to a reader who wants to be truly informed.

I totally agree. Good, thoughtful reviews are hard. And reviewers don’t always have a lot of word count to go into much detail. So I’m doubly impressed when I read one or two sentences that gives me an insight into a novel—something not in the surface story, but an underlying theme or meaning.

I had this happen recently with my own Violet Dawn, although it wasn’t a review. A bright young employee of Zondervan was asked to write book discussion questions for Violet Dawn. I was amazed at her insights. One question reads something like this: Wilbur Hucks plays a small supporting role, yet has the distinction of speaking the final lines in the book. What is the significance of his words to the main character?

I read that question and nearly jumped out of my chair. This gal is the first person to note this about Violet Dawn to me. She got it! Yes, Violet Dawn is a suspense, and there’s a body in the hot tub on page two. But underneath the suspense level is subtexted meaning--a story about people and their scars, and how they handle their scars. From Paige, who hides every emotional scar from everybody, to Vince and Bailey, who are trying their best to deal with theirs, to crusty old curmudgeon Wilbur, who runs around proudly showing everyone his scar—from heart surgery. On the surface, story level, his final words to Paige provide a bit of lightheartedness at the end of a book that entails some difficult issues. But underneath that is this scar level—and what he’s really saying to Paige about what she must be willing to do in order to make the friends she so wants.

In just a couple sentences, this Zondervan employee nailed that whole subtext. In her case, it was in the form of a question to be answered, because she’s writing for discussion groups. But a reviewer who has such an insight could do the same thing—without explaining the whole subtext, he could take one or two lines to point the reader toward an underlying message of the story. That is the kind of review—whether for one of my books or for someone else’s—that makes me smile. Whether I agree with everything the reviewer says or not isn’t the point. The point is that reviewer spent time to read between the lines, really understand the story, and pen a thoughtful opinion piece about it.

Folks, that a wrap on this subject. I’m now off to Dallas today for the ACFW Conference. The boards have meetings this evening before the conference begins. I look forward to seeing many of you tomorrow, and meeting some of you for the first time.

Please do leave any final comments about this subject. Discussion goes on.

By the way, posts from Thursday through Monday will be as I am able. And no telling what I'll write. Maybe I’ll find some crazy guest bloggers. Maybe I’ll tell some wild stories of what’s going on behind the scenes at the conference. Maybe I’ll pull some lines outta context. Ya just never know . . .

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Review--Part 4

Second thing that always bugs me when I see it in a review—The Example.

Lest you be confused, let me give you two examples.

From a recent Publisher’s Weekly review of another author’s book: But to get there, readers will have to overlook . . . hackneyed lines like "She'd been a burr under his saddle from the day he first clapped eyes on her."

From the Publisher’s Weekly review of Eyes of Elisha: There’s . . . occasional overwriting ("the underbrush seemed taken aback at the sudden sound, rustling its disapproval").

As I mentioned yesterday, to give reviewers credit, I think they think they’re being fair. They’re mentioning a negative and feel they need to back it up with proof.

However, this “proof” is seen by the reader of the review totally out of context. If a reviewer says, “Listen to this hackneyed line,” then states one sentence from the book, it will always sound hackneyed after that kind of negative set-up. Or if the reviewer says, “This is overwritten,” then runs the line, the line will definitely seem overwritten.

Sure, sometimes a line, even in its context, will hits a reviewer as overwritten, or a piece of dialogue as hackneyed. But remember, a review is merely one person’s opinion. There are plenty other people who would read that same line, in its context, and never find it overwritten or hackneyed. When the reviewer pulls out a line like this and makes a value judgment, she is removing from the reader the freedom she herself enjoyed to see the line in context and judge it on that merit.

Now one line doesn’t mean much. But the reader of the review, after being shown a “proving” line of bad writing, can be led to believe the book will contain plenty more.

This “out of context proof” reminds me of the old hullabaloo that once surrounded veteran interviewer Barbara Walters. Someone heard an interview she did with Katharine Hepburn and thought one of her questions was stupid—even in its context. Next thing you know, everyone’s talking about how dumb the question was. It supposedly went something like this: “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” Walters got castigated up and down for that question. I clearly remember people laughing about it on talk shows. Well, out of its context, and with the negative set-up of “listen to this stupid question”—I had to agree. It sounded stupid.

Some time later I saw Walters interviewed. The interviewer asked her about all the criticism over the ‘tree” question. Walters explained the context. Hepburn had out of the blue made some statement to the effect, “Sometimes in my life I’ve felt like a tree.” Walters’ follow-up question was, “What kind of tree?” Hepburn decided she was like an old--a bit gnarled and weathered, but still mighty and strong.

Suddenly, in context, Walter's query didn’t seem so stupid. I saw it instead through the POV of the interviewee—Hepburn. Walters was just following Hepburn’s strange line of thought. And in the end, we got a glimpse into Hepburn's character that we may not have gotten if Walters hadn't followed up with her question.

When I see a negative example given in a review—I think of Walters. No matter how “hackneyed” or “overwritten” the quoted line seems, I shouldn’t judge it out of context.

The “overwritten” line from the Eyes of Elisha review is a personal example. Now, I can’t really complain about that review, because it was a very good one. Still, as PW is wont to do, a few negatives were buried in all the positives. I get that. But this negative example of an “overwritten” line completely baffled me. As I remembered, the line was from a scene in the protagonist’s point of view. She’s in a forest by herself, knowing a dead body is somewhere nearby, and scared to death the killer’s still around. In her panicked state, she starts to see the forest itself as animated, like the forest in Disney's Snow White. Rocks trying to trip her, roots reaching out to grab her. Of course her thoughts are all over the top—she’s panicked and losing her ability to think clearly. In that context comes the line about the rustling underbrush.

I read that review example of “overwriting” and felt like Barbara Walters.

I haven’t read the book about which the first review example is talking. But I read that so-called “hackneyed” line and saw clearly that it’s written in a close third person POV, as I write. Maybe that character is a real over-the-top cowboy. Maybe this is some comic relief. Maybe he always thinks and talks like this. Who knows? But we have to remember—we’re in that character’s POV. That is the way he talks and thinks. This isn’t the way the author writes. There’s a big difference. When you write in close third person POV, you choose the words the character would use, not the words you would use.

Sometimes I don’t think reviewers get this at all.

I urge you, as a reader of reviews, not to let yourself blindly agree with negative examples. Seeing the sentence in its context, you may not agree with the reviewer at all. And I urge you reviewers to think twice before you do this. Is it really fair to pull a sentence out of context and place your value judgment on it? I think the fairer thing, if you think there’s some overwriting in the book, or “hackneyed” lines, or stilted dialogue, or whatever, is to say so, but give no specifics. And going even beyond that, I urge you to rethink your opinion on the lines in the first place. Are they written in a context that is true to the character? That is germane to the character's perception of the world? If so, maybe they're not so hackneyed or overwritten after all.

Reviewers out there—whadya think? Any dissenting opinions?
Who brought the tomatoes?

Read Part 6

Monday, September 18, 2006

Reviews--Part 3

Now that we’ve looked at reviews from the marketing side, how should we view them as consumers/readers? As some of you BGs have said—a review is only one person’s opinion. Absolutely true.

And while we’re on the subject, this whole post on reviews is only one person’s opinion—mine. Of course, mine is by far the most insightful, intellectual and basically right-on view you will ever find. But you know that, or you wouldn’t be taking the time to read this blog.

Back to reviewers’ opinions. They spring from very different bases of knowledge in the craft of fiction. Some reviewers are merely readers. They love books, read a lot, and have found the Internet as a great way to get their opinions out there and get a lot of free books in the process. They may know little to nothing about the craft, and rarely have any sort of deep insights into the writing. I find it interesting, by the way, that this kind of reviewer gains a level of recognition merely because of the number of books he/she reviews—and the publishing houses end up sending these folks free books. I guess just because, well, he/she is reviewing everybody else, so let’s be sure so-and-so author’s latest book gets reviewed too, or we’ll look like the only person not invited to the party.

(I should explain here that an author doesn’t know what reviewers are on this list for galleys or ARCs (advanced readers copies) from the publisher unless that author asks to see the list and say “yay” or “nay” to the names. Even then, the publicity department would have to be willing to listen to the author’s wishes. A core “review” list is developed by the publisher/publicist and typically used again and again, from one novel to another. This is different from the influencer list, which is often driven by the author.)

Other reviewers have more knowledge of the craft. They may be readers of fiction as well as aspiring novelists. Or they may be professional reviewers, hired by newspapers or magazines. Nevertheless, whether we’re talking about the “regular joe” reader who does reviews or a professional reviewer, the review is still one person’s opinion. As readers, we all come to a book with our own unique set of experiences and biases. We are going to react to a novel based on those experiences. So when we read a review we totally agree with—does that mean the reviewer is top notch? We tend to think so, because the person is brilliant enough to agree with us. But all it really means is—that person shares your opinion. Feel validated if you want to, but keep reading enough reviews about that same book, and sure as you’re living, you’ll find a totally opposite opinion somewhere. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a positive professional review of some book that I just didn’t like at all. Or how many times I’ve read some negative statement in a review and thought, “If that’s not the dumbest thing.”

I find it’s more helpful to look at reviews in total. Look for common themes in the negatives and positives. Overall, you might get a picture of the quality of the work. Our local newspaper has a nice feature in its movie review section. It lists the bottom line of reviews from about ten various papers and magazines across the country, using a three-point scale of “good,” “mixed bag,” and “skip it.” A majority of papers telling me a movie’s good can convince me that the movie’s worth seeing. I see a majority of “skip its”—I don’t go.

On the flip side, you might find over time that you almost always agree with a certain reviewer’s perceptions. Over the years I’ve found a high level of agreement with the movie reviewer in our local paper. I give his reviews more weight, because experience has taught me that he and I tend to see eye-to-eye. I think that’s valid. (It helps that the guy is so incredibly brilliant and insightful.)

Two things book reviewers do that totally drive me up the wall. The first is give away too much of the story. This is so prominent that I completely skip over the synopsis part of any review I read. For the life of me, I don’t understand why reviewers do this. The reviewer gets to read the book with fresh eyes. He/she gets to be surprised. Why should any surprises be spoiled for the reader? I know the reviewer’s job is to leave the reader with an impression of whether or not he/she will want to buy the book. But I think a reviewer can impart that impression without giving away the story. If there is word count to be filled—sure, easiest thing to do is give a big synopsis. And maybe reviewers have so many books to review, they can’t take that much time writing each one. I do think it takes more time and thought to state the book’s premise and not much more, then use the synopsis part of the word count to talk in more general and insightful ways about the story. To impart to the reader the aura or tone of the book, the drive of the story, the overall feel of the thing.

I have to tell you, as a writer of suspense who works particularly hard to keep them on their toes from the beginning—every time I hear a new review of some novel of mine is posted somewhere, my heart sinks. I’m not afraid of what the reviewer will say about my writing; I’m afraid of how much story they’re going to give away—and thereby rob my readers of the full experience of that story that I’d intended for them to enjoy. The reviewers out there who know me are aware of this. And, God love 'em, they work hard not to give my plots away. It’s the reviewers I don’t know who petrify me.

On to the second thing book reviewers do that really irks me. I see it over and over—in reviews of my own books and of others. I can look at the reviewers’ side and see why they do it. I think they think it’s only fair for the author. But I find the result exactly the opposite—totally unfair.

I’ll explain myself tomorrow. With more utter brilliance, naturally.

Read Part 5

Friday, September 15, 2006

Reviews--Part 2

So—a review is a marketing tool, as far as authors and publishing houses are concerned. If a review comes in positive, they’ll quote it. If it comes in negative, they won’t. If it’s positive but includes a few negative comments (pretty typical, as reviewers don’t like to sound gushy, and besides, no book is perfect), they’ll quote the good stuff and leave out the rest. It’s all an advertising game.

Meanwhile there are the reviewers, who happen to be serious about their work. And they should be. (Let me be clear—I’m not a reviewer because I’d be lousy at it, for numerous reasons.) Reviewers put in considerable time and energy reading a book and writing an opinion piece about it. Now, they’re not stupid. They know that for advertising sake, only the best parts of their reviews will be quoted, and the rest ignored. But at least in their own venue, whether online or in a magazine or newspaper, the reviewer has the satisfaction of seeing the whole review in print. Let the book publisher’s marketing department do what it will in excerpting the review, there’s proof of the review in total out there somewhere.

Marcia Ford ( said this about reviewing (comment used with permission):

I've been reviewing books professionally for 30-plus years (for newspapers, magazines, and recently, websites). One thing I'd like to emphasize is the importance of maintaining your credibility as a reviewer. I decided early on that I would not review books written by friends, for the same reason that, as a journalist, I would not accept gifts (including many tempting vacations and junkets) from subjects or potential subjects of my articles. The problem is not just that you may feel compelled to write a glowing review because the author is your friend; it's also that you may feel obligated to be more critical than you normally would to avoid the appearance of partiality. Either way, it's not fair to your readers. Over the past few years Christian authors started offering me money to review their books (not for publication but to use as a PR piece in their media kits). I know this happens in the general market, but it disturbs me that this practice is spilling over into the Christian market. I try to give the authors the benefit of the doubt; maybe they don't understand how a professional reviewer works. Magazine and website editors assign books for me to review(which I can reject), or they approve the titles I suggest. It's not my job to promote the books; it's my job to simply let readers know enough about the books so they can tell whether they're likely to enjoy them or not.

Perfect example of the two faces of the review game. Author/house looking at the review as possible publicity; the professional reviewer meanwhile striving to maintain integrity in doing his/her job, regardless of the resulting publicity—or lack thereof—for the book.

What does this mean for you as a consumer? When you pick up a book and see a list of excerpted quotes from professional reviewers in the front—that long list of positives sure makes the book sound glowing. Can you believe the quotes? Well, yes. But . . .

Consider these excerpts from the Publishers Weekly review of one of my backlist titles—Color the Sidewalk for Me (1992). Here’s the actual review (I’ve taken out the part that tells about the story):

In this excellent novel for the inspirational market, Collins uses her talent for suspense (Eyes of Elisha) in a more memoirlike tale that flashes back and forth between the 1960s and the 1990s as it explores a mother/daughter relationship . . . The story is beautifully written and the characters (whom readers will recognize from Collins's related stand-alone novel Cast a Road Before Me) are well developed, although the pacing drags in spots. The reason for Celia's lack of mother-love is not explained as neatly as might be wished; conversely, the conclusion is like a fairy tale, a contrivance that readers, depending on their tastes, may appreciate or find disappointing in. Overall, this novel exemplifies how Christian fiction is finally coming of age.

Fortunately, this is a positive review. If I were going to excerpt it to put at the beginning of a reprint of the book, it might go something like:

Excellent . . . Collins uses her talent for suspense (Eyes of Elisha) in a more memoirlike tale that flashes back and forth between the 1960s and the 1990s as it explores a mother/daughter relationship . . . beautifully written . . . characters are well developed . . . this novel exemplifies how Christian fiction is finally coming of age.

Which would leave out the negatives:

. . . the pacing drags in spots . . . The reason for Celia's lack of mother-love is not explained as neatly as might be wished . . . the conclusion is like a fairy tale, a contrivance that readers, depending on their tastes, may appreciate or find disappointing.

Yes, this is a positive review. But how much more positive a little excerpting can make it sound! Now imagine this process done to ten, fifteen, twenty reviews listed in the front of a book. The total effect is a much different picture than if you were to read all those complete reviews.

Bottom line for consumers: Look at those excerpted review quotes with a jaded eye, remembering this is a marketing game. Any negatives were deleted.

Monday—reading between the lines of a reviewer’s opinion (Or—how much weight should you give that review, anyway?)
The CFBA is currently sponsoring a blog tour for Squat, debut novel by Taylor Field. I just returned to our California home last night and found the book in my mail. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to read it yet.

From the back cover: In the shadow of Wall Street’s wealth, homeless citizens with names like Squid, Saw, and Bonehead live in abandoned buildings known as “squats” where life is hand to mouth, where fear and violence fester . . .

Visit the
Squat website. Check out more of the book at

Read Part 4

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Reviews--Part 1

Here are answers from some BGs. A review is . . .

One person's written opinion of something in particular, usually a form of media.

'This book sucks because...' or 'This book is yummy because...'.

Contains a teaser about the book as well as the reviewer's opinion of why they did or didn't like the book. There will also be a sprinkling of strengths and weaknesses if you're on a site like epinions.

An overview of the book/cd/movie/video games/comics/insert your own item that will, hopefully, entice the reader/listener/movie goer/gamer/comic book reader/anyone else that's left to research the featured item on their own and make up their own mind about said feature.

A few interesting summary paragraphs telling an opinion about a product.

An informed opinion that examines the strengths and weaknesses of a product and informs a interested consumer on if the product of interest is worth spending their money and time on.

An opinion of the strengths, weaknesses, and likeability of the product.

A critical report of a media , art, or product that is intended to help a consumer decide whether or not to spend money and/or time on the reviewed item.

An opinion. Period.

A judgment of the author's ability and the quality of this particular story, as well as enough information about the plot to know if this story would appeal to the reader.

One person's recommendation to readers based on the reviewer's analysis of the work's strengths and weaknesses.

A catalyst that makes others read to see if they agree. Now that's probably more like it. Just enough information about a book to stir the reader's interest without giving away any important plot points that might spoil the read.

I agree--an opinion. Period. And I try to mention that when I review. This is my opinion, not necessarily anyone else's. But I do say whether I recommend it or not.

An opinion-colored analysis of some form of artwork.

Like a refrigerator. Some cheap and unworthy, full of sour milk, some with bells and whistles and T-bones.

Yes, a review is all of the above. One person’s opinion on a work. A recommendation—or lack thereof—based on how the reviewer reacted to the book. And true, some reviews are written well; some are not. But what comes before all of this? What’s at the foundation of a review?

A review is a marketing tool.


How do most reviewers—whether professional or volunteer—get the books they are to review?

From the marketing/publicity departments at the publishing house, or from the authors themselves. These books are FREE.

Why do the publishers/authors agree to pay for this?

Because a review is publicity. It gets the name of the book and author in front of people.

How are the reviews used by these marketing departments/authors who send out these free books?

They are edited, then used in advertisements/publicity for the book and sometimes future books by the author. How are they edited? The positive statements of the reviews are used. The negative statements are not used.

What is the point of all this kafluffle?

To persuade people to buy the book.

So—if you give a nod to the fact that a review is an opinion about how well a book is written, yet understand that fundamentally the whole review process is used as a marketing tool, how might this change your view of reviews as a reader/consumer? As an author of a reviewed book? As a reviewer?

(By the way, reviewers out there—don’t throw your tomatoes just yet. More tomorrow.)

Read Part 3

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

We're Tacklin' a New Topic

Happy Tuesday, BGs.

Don't forget to keep reading Charis Connection this week. Today is Jim Bell's version of the one man/two women scene.

A quick update on Violet Dawn and its marketing. (1) Within two weeks of its release, Violet Dawn went into a second printing. (2) Its corresponding character blog, Scenes and Beans, written by the fabulously clever SBGs (Scenes and Beans bloggers) for the rest of this year (and later written by general readers of the series), got a long paragraph in the August 28 issue of Publisher’s Weekly. That issue featured various articles as a “look at faith in fiction.” The article on writing series talked about Scenes and Beans as a marketing tool that uses the Web to keep readers involved in the lives of characters between books.

Nice plug. Even if they did say the first book in the Kanner Lake series is “Violet Lake.”


Now for today. We’re going to tackle a new topic. A couple weeks ago I kinda laid it on the line with my take on the whole endorsement thing. Now I want to take up the topic of . . . drum roll please . . . those dreaded Reviews.

I know there’s been a lot of talk lately about reviews on e-mail loops, other blogs and such. But I’d like to approach the topic from a different angle. I’m not going to focus on who should write reviews, and why, and how, and when, and the ethics involved in the process. Instead I’d like us to take a hard look at just what the heck reviews are. How should we view reviews as consumers/readers? How should we look at reviews of our own work as writers?

Perhaps, after the discussion is over, you might look at reviews in a different light than you do now.

Here’s a kick-off challenge for you. In the fewest words possible, give us your definition of a review. I’ll see where y’all are coming from and will add my definition tomorrow. It may not be quite what you expected. (Although if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’re used to that unexpected thing.)

And we're off: “A review is . . .”

Read Part 2

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Genre Experiment

Same set-up for a scene. Same beginning action, middle action, ending action. Each scene from a different mind--within a specific genre.

How different can the scenes be? How will verbs vary from one to another? Dialogue? Beats? A twist--or not?

Check out the action on Charis Connection all this week. Today--the scene written by me, in suspense mode.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On 9/11, Take 10

Why do You stand afar off, O Lord?
Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?
In pride the terrorists hotly pursue the afflicted.
Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.

For the terrorist boasts of his heart’s desire,
They curse and spurn the Lord.
The terrorist, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek You.
All his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

His ways prosper at all times;
Your judgments are on high, out of his sight.
As for all his adversaries, he snorts at them.
He says to himself, “I shall not be moved;
Throughout all generations I shall not be in adversity.”
His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression.
Under his tongue is mischief and wickedness.
He sits in the lurking places of the village,
In the hiding places he kills the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the unfortunate.
He lurks in a hiding place as a lion in his lair.
He lurks to catch the afflicted.
He catches the afflicted when he draws them into his net.
He crouches, he bows down,
And the unfortunate fall by his mighty ones.
He says to himself, “God has forgotten.
He has hidden His face. He will never see it.”

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up Your hand.
Do not forget the afflicted.
Why has the terrorist spurned God?
He has said to himself, “You will not require it.”

You have seen it, for You have beheld mischief and vexation to take it into Your hand.
The unfortunate commits himself to You.
You have been the helper of the orphan.
Break the arm of the terrorist and the evildoer,
Seek out his wickedness until You find none.

The Lord is King forever and ever.
Nations have perished from His land.
O Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble.
You will strengthen their hearts. You will incline Your ear
To vindicate the orphan and oppressed,
That man who is of the earth may cause terror no more.


Psalm 10, New American Standard Bible. (In this BPV--Brandilyn's Prayer Version--“terrorist” replaces the original text, “the wicked.”)

Other psalms containing passages to pray against terrorists: 17, 56, 64, 83, 94, 140.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bee Cemetery

Boy, howdy, did I get some creative answers to yesterday’s dilemmas. Tell you one thing. Next summer before the hubby and I started battling the wildlife around here, I’n gonna consult you BGs first.

My bee cemetery is growing quite nicely. Despite the missing corpse from yesterday, I must have a dozen bodies scattered under the lounge chair next to me. Feels mighty good to look down there and see the scattered dregs of bee-dom. One of the critters did a fly-by of the cemetery, took one look at all the bodies and got the heck outta there. I could practically hear him screaming about the evil-eyed murderess on his way out.


As for the deer, I got them good too. Now I don’t wanna hear anything from any of you about how mean I’m being to the deer. I love ’em, okay? But the love stops at sharing my flowers. They’ve got a whole forest to chew on, for cryin’ out loud. It’s not like they’re gonna starve. At dusk yesterday I heard the troops come out around the corner, as usual. Crashing their way amidst my plants. I went to investigate and caught the whole dang family chewing. Dad, mom and the twins. That did it.

Yesterday somebody said I should sprinkle garlic power on my plants. I didn’t have garlic powder, but I figured a good hit of cayenne pepper would do the trick. The plants got a liberal dose.

Didn’t take long. I was back on the deck, writing, and the deer thrashing started up again at the side of the house. Then I heard this strange noise. Sounded something like phhhtooey. A few more crashes. Then silence.

Ah, the thrill of victory.

Don’t mess with the redhead.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Last Week in Paradise

First, a follow-up to the Care and Feeding of Editors posts. I happened to look back at them and saw a late comment that came in from none other than E1. Who accepted the challenge I gave her to write a Care and Feeding of Authors post. She even promised to throw in a bear somewhere. Now, I have no idea what she’s going to write, and if she depicts me eating all day, you’ll know it’s all a pack of lies. But I graciously wrote her and said you BGs would be thrilled to hear her side of things.

Truth is, E1 has had to herd many an author in her day. She’s the one who’ll gather us Zondervan novelists around and say, “Now, children, it’s time to be on your best behavior.” (She knows us so well.) “You’re going to be meeting booksellers now, understand? You’re meeting the public.

An editor has to make these kinds of statements when there’s a Jim Bell in her care. Me, I always behave.

Now for today—Last Week in Paradise. Yes, I’ve stolen one more week in Idaho, then it’s back to the concrete jungle of California. Nature seems to be reminding me I’m on my last days here. It’s come out in full force.

We’ve had a doe and her twin fawns all summer. They live in our forest. They’re out on our lawn every day. Sometimes when I’m working on the deck, the fawns will come out in the backyard and play, not even caring that I’m so close. This I find endearing. What I do not find endearing is their sudden taste for my flowers.

I’ve nourished these flowers all summer. They’re lined up in pots along the side walk. I bought a bunch of new ones in August, all different kinds and colors. Every morning I go outside and croon to them and water the things. They’ve grown happily.

Enter—The Evil Deer. I came out this morning to find four of my flowers plants totally gone. I’m talkin’ eaten down to the pots. One pot was even pulled off the deck and on its side on the lawn. And all today while I’ve worked in the lounge chair on the deck, around the corner I hear those deer snickering as they chew my blooms. Man. I’m about to pull out the mothballs again. That smell has finally disappeared, but I’m wonderin’ about sprinking a few of those things around my blossoms . . .

And then there are the bees. Various types. One kind—I don’t know what the heck it is. Black with white-striped head and feet. Whatever it is, it’s certainly ubiquitous. I keep a fly swatter near me while I’m on the deck. It’s not like the bees are out to get me. They’re doing their thing, that's all. I’m just not particularly keen on them doing their thing in my space.

I got real aggressive two days ago and killed four of the suckers. “Hah!” I yelled with every fatal blow. Reminded myself of the fly story in Getting Into Character. Oh, yeah, I was feeling vindictive about killing those critters. I whacked 'em a few extra times for good measure against the deck, then pushed them underneath the lounge chair next to me. By the afternoon I had quadruplets. Heh-heh. Filled me with Schadenfreude just to look at 'em.

Yesterday I came back to my usual place to write. Looked beneath the lounge chair beside me. Yup, four corpses still there. I grinned.

That afternoon I looked—and there were three.

I leaned over, squinted. Maybe my eyes were just tired. I fetched the yellow swatter, moved ‘em around.


I ask you—what happened to the fourth bee?

Did a deer eat it? Did Baby Bear sneak out and flick it away while I was inside fetching something to eat?

Is a Bee Zombie going to haunt me tonight?

Someone clue me in.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Sorry about blogger yesterday. It hardly accepted a comment all day. The system was totally gummed.

Have you all discovered the Postsecret site yet? It's one of the most highly rated blogs on Technorati. People send in their secrets on a postcard, using the art side of the postcard to tell half the story. The site is updated only once a week on Sundays (which breaks all the rules about posting often if you want a lot of visitors). Frank Warren, who runs this blog, has become something of a cultural icon. Read how his blog got started in this USA Today article.

This site is a novelist's dream. I've read the secrets and laughed. I've read them and gotten teary-eyed. Many are amazing stories. Many would provide the premise for a novel.

Postsecret has become so successful that many of the postcards have been put in books, which are now available from

I suggest this site as a weekly stop on your blog reading. Especially if you're knocking around, needing a new idea for a novel. Or perhaps a subplot for your current wip.

P.S. A comment came through that reminds me I didn't mention that these secrets aren't all easy to read, and they're certainly not sanitized. These are real issues out there in today's world.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New Sites and Bestseller List

Happy post-Labor Day, BGs. Hope your holiday was unlaborious. Not mine—I wrote all day.

Three points of news:

1. is a new website featuring the latest in Christian fiction and music. It has interviews, reviews, and information on new titles, such as first chapters of new novels. Two BGs—C.J Darlington and Darcie Gudger—are involved in creating the site.

2., created by Jeff Gerke, is devoted to Christian science fiction, fantasy, time travel, alternate history, supernatural thrillers, chillers, and pure speculative fiction. The site boasts interviews from the “pillars” in those genres. First up is Frank Peretti, followed by Jerry Jenkins and Ted Dekker. Jeff also has a massive booklist of published novels in these genres (over 250 and growing), a “fantastic visions” gallery area for Christian speculative art, and lots of information for budding novelists on how to improve their fiction and get published. The emphasis on writing and publishing, from a professional in the field, may be the one of the site’s main contributions. Jeff has a page up offering his full array of editorial services as well. And he’s thrown in some world-builders and idea-starters, including a “fabulously fun” random story generator that Randy Ingermanson and he put together.

3. Have you seen the
September bestseller list (featuring sales in the month of July)? First time I’ve seen a list like this one. Sixteen of the twenty titles are also on the Top Fifty list, which is unusually so dominated by nonfiction titles. In addition, the #1 and #2 spots on the fiction list are also #1 and #2 on Top Fifty—Lori Wick’s Leave a Candle Burning, and Terri Blackstock’s Night Light. (Hm—do they know something about electricity we don’t know?) BG Donna Fleisher, at #16 on the fiction list, is #50 on the Top Fifty. I think this is Donna’s debut on both lists. Congratulations, Donna! And congratulations to fiction in general. Heck, people aren’t readin’ boring nonfiction at the beach—they’re reading NOVELS.

Monday, September 04, 2006

On Labor Day

Happy holiday, BGs. On Friday I forgot to mention I'd be taking today off from posting. Meet y'all back here tomorrow.

Friday, September 01, 2006


“Mind if I join you?”

These are not the words you expect to hear. Not now, on a Friday midafternoon in Manhattan. Not after the two days you’ve had. Not after the cancelled dinner and the cancelled merger. And positively, definitely, not from the beautiful woman in the black skirt and heels standing before you.

For a moment you’re lost for words. You’re never lost for words. But for half a second, you can’t say anything.

Only half an hour ago you watched her settle into her seat and order a glass of wine and cross her legs and gaze out at the sidewalk close to Rockefeller Center. Slipping a red and people-watching, just as you were doing. Your glance shifted, first to the table in front of you, then to the half-glass of Pinot Grigio, then the empty chair facing you, then the glisten of your wedding ring in the sun. But your eyes found their way back to the blonde sitting in front of you, her profile in full view, her eyes glancing over and easily spotting your gaze.

You were the first to look away.

This soft of fun, innocent glancing went on for half an hour as the motion of the city blurred behind. People getting off work, tourists roaming, couples strolling. You are here because you’ve ordered wine from this place before. It’s a hobby you’ve only picked up the last couple of years, harmless, yet you keep it from some of the couples you know. Some of your church friends who still make a big deal out of drinking. But in a city far away from the suburbs of Chicago, no one is going to see you. Nobody’s going to care if you are on your second glass, or if you’re staring at one of the hottest women you’ve never seen.

It doesn’t hurt to look.

But for some reason she’s now standing in front of you, looking down at you, smiling, waiting for an answer.

“Go ahead.”

That’s all you say.

She sits down across from you, a glass in her hand. For a moment she continues watching the sidewalk.

You have no idea how your life is about to change.

So begins Blinded, the latest from Travis Thrasher.

It’s all in second person.

BGs, your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to read Blinded and be ready to discuss it in a few weeks. Only someone with Travis’s talent could attempt a POV so unusual. Travis told me he chose this POV in order to fully place the reader in the protagonist’s situation. In other words, to make the reader empathize as much as possible with the character. (Remember the #1 reason for putting a book down in our poll last week?) Question is—did Travis succeed.

You may look at this book and think, “No way, I can’t read in that POV. It’ll drive me crazy.” At least that’s what I thought. I read the first chapter excerpt and asked Travis if he’d gone crazy. But what happened as I read the entire book?

Ain’t gonna tell you yet. I’ll want to get your answers to that question first. So open your minds for a new reading experience and go buy Travis’s book.

From the back cover:

Michael Grey is about to experience his very own dark nightof the soul. How much of his perfect life will he risk for a seductivesmile from a stranger? Alone in New York on a business trip,37 year old Michael finds out…

Members of the BHCC (Big Honkin' Chickens' Club)--you have no excuse not to read this. It isn't scary. Ain't even labeled suspense. It's general contemporary fiction.