Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Essentials for Novel Writing

What’s something that an aspiring Christian fiction writer can’t do without?

I wanted to say, underwear and a good reputation, but I believe you readers want to know about a resource or tool you may not have considered. (I’m pretty sure you already would consider a Bible, a computer, Internet access and other things as essential too. But we all know that.)

You may not know about the incredibly useful Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2009 by Sally E. Stuart. In fact, we at NovelMatters think so highly of it, we are going to give a free copy to a randomly-selected one of you who post a comment on this post!

What makes the Guide so useful? First of all, it excludes all book and magazine markets that don’t apply to your writing career as a writer of Christian fiction. Another thing that makes it incredibly useful is that it comes with a CD of its contents – which means you can search for important details. And you can check on the author’s blog for updates.

The Guide has done a lot of the work for you. For instance, there are 52 publishers who want books on church management. (Who knew?) But as you will want to know, there’s a list of book publishers who are in the market for literary fiction with Christian themes. In fact, 62 of them. 

And I loved just the sound of some of the literary fiction book publishers: Quintessential, Ravenhawk, Salt Works, Invisible College Press.

This book is a must-have for marketing your fiction. So, readers, what else do you consider essential to writing and/or marketing a novel?


Lori Benton said...

Another point in its favor is that if you sign up to receive the new guide each year, you will be locked into the current price, no matter how much that price increases in the future. I used to get them regularly, when Sally first began publishing them. Then due to health issues I stopped writing for about five years, and canceled my subscription. Now I'm writing again and ready to research agents, I really regret that decision! Especially since my local library doesn't have a copy more current than 06

Latayne C Scott said...

Great point, Lori! Thank you!

Rachel said...

About two weeks ago I listened to a teleseminar between Sally Stewart and Terry Whalin, it was so informative. She said that to get the current issue was important because some publishers had closed their doors in the past year, but new ones opened in their place. She said she also listed resources for writers such as editorial services and whatnot.

Anonymous said...

62 publishers. Wow. Makes my day!
I learn best by seeing something done, so expert writing is essential to me. I keep coming back to Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years, which seems to me to have a perfect story/character arc.
Great music often stimulates my thought processes. So does eating Chex Mix. (It’s the chewing, I guess--sorry if that’s TMI.)

Patti Hill said...

The CD included with the market guide shouldn't be underestimated. You can spend hours and hours perusing for possible publishing houses. By doing a word search using the disk,compiling a submission list is much more manageable. The book and the CD are powerful tools when used together.

Patti Hill said...

Oops, I didn't tell about my other essential tools: old yearbooks for names, a visual dictionary for those little dohickeys no one knows the name for, Bartlett's Roget's Thesauraus for refining the meaning of words, not just for coming up with the most obscure words, and a COMFORTABLE chair. I munch on baby carrots and listen to classical music.

Susan Storm Smith said...

LaTayne, first of all I almost spilled my coffee all over my jammies as I read the tickler on my dashboard for this post! [giggle]

Now seriously, Sally Stewart is to book writing what Martha Stewart is to home cooking and decorating! I am just rebuilding my library after having to return from Africa and knowing that it will not be a place to live again for a while.

Love the group and the writings!

love and hugs,

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I would love it for recommending options for other writers!

I'm supposed to name my favorite writing tool - toss up between my Thesaurus and Chicago Manual of Style - and my favorite gardening tool - the shovel! (I don't mess around when it comes to digging a hole.)

L. Diane Wolfe

Audra Krell said...

The other essential element for me is having discipline. Not just to write the book, but it must continue into the proposal stage and pursuit of publication. Discipline and Sally's fabulous book are an unbeatable combination.

Janet said...

What else is essential? Beyond what you've mentioned, a well-stocked bookshelf. Read, read, read.

Bonnie Grove said...

Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnik. Smart, smart, smart move to read this book on style.

It's the only book in writing I've read all the way through.

Spanking good!

And asking the question: "What do I really mean to say?"
Saved my literary hide more than once.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

You don't need to put me in the drawing-- I'll not be using it soon-- but I'll say one of my essentials is finding a published book similar to what I'm doing.

I want to be different, but I like to know I don't have to create a new market all by my lonesome. To see the creativity of others and how it's (still) different from mine is a tremendous encouragement.

Kathleen Popa said...

Thank you, thank you Janet for validating my habit. I agree, a writer has to read. It's like learning the language of story by immersion.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, a writer has to read. Read a variety of genres, a variety of styles. As for books on the art and craft of writing, my two favorites are Elizabeth George's Write Away, and Write Tight by William Brohaugh. Both are extremely useful guides.

Anonymous said...

My critique groups are my least dispensable tools. No kidding, if I didn't have other people to tell me when something feels "off" or needs a better explanation, I don't know what I'd do.

--marla thurman

Lori Benton said...

The tool that's been the most essential for me is an international writers forum that I've been a part of for the past ten years. I couldn't have written my historical without those obliging folks in the Research & Craft folder who gave me German, French, Ojibwe and Gaelic translations, and who have answered dozens of research questions over the years on subjects ranging from midwifery to 18C slave laws to the smell of black powder smoke. It's the oldest literary forum on the net.

Compuserve's Books and Writers Community is the name of its current incarnation. Writers of many nationalities hang out there, some published, some not (yet), some bestsellers, all devoted to learning the craft and encouraging each other... when they aren't having heated political discussions!

Janet said...

How did I miss online forums? I learned so much at Absolute Write that it's absurd.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow! What great comments with a wealth of helpful info for a writer wannabe. I just love this blog!

Anonymous said...


A tool that I find essential for writing is a free program called yWriter5 which can be downloaded at

It's a bit like eating an elephant one bite at a time, you write your novel one scene at a time. Scenes and chapters can be shuffled and rearranged with ease and a storyboard helps you visualise your book.

yWriter allows you to add characters, POVs, ratings, settings, timelines, objects and notes to your scenes. It has many other tools which enable you to track your drafts, words counts and even to check if you are overusing any pet words.

Check it out- it's amazing!

Happy writing

Ruth Dell

Nichole Osborn said...

My most essential tool, well it's not really a tool at all. It's my family. They are supportive and put up with going on and on about a stroy plot or character.

Anonymous said...

I've loved reading all the comments about the tools. It gives me a nice shopping list for my next writer's conference. I'm not sure which tool to isolate as the best.

So far I'd choose a thesaurus and a good cup of coffee! Seriously, I need the occasional 'half-break' that is just long enough for a quick sip of coffee and a new thought.

Cathy Bryant said...

I'm new to the writing scene, and I've been gobbling up books on the craft of writing like it was chocolate candy. My two latest "favorites" are "Self-Editing For Fiction Writers" and "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman. (I guess that gives away what part of the writing process I'm currently in!)

I loved reading the post and the comments. Very helpful.

Unknown said...

Boy, am I learning a lot from all of you!

Susan, guess we're on the same wavelength, humor wise!

Rachel, Melinda, Patti, Diane, Anonymous, Janet, Nichole, and Lori pointed out that some of the best "tools" are not actual books or other how-to instructions but rather the interaction of the writer's mind with other elements. Even a shovel!

The rest of you gave us a wealth of tools. I'm checking my budget and my time to see which of them I can "afford."

Some of you mentioned a thesaurus. I remember reading one time that Stephen King said,
"Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule."

I use a thesaurus often. How do you react to King's statement?

Bonnie Grove said...

The "First Five Pages" are important, but it's clear (after our last discussion on the blog) that the last five pages carry a great deal of weight also! :)

Another resource to consider is connections - relationships with other writers, attending conferences (I know, I know - they are so expensive and disruptive!) is a great way to meet writers. Many people go to a writer's conference with only the idea of stalking an editor or an agent - that's fine, that's what the conference is about - but you need to take into consideration the friendships you can build with other writers.
Critical stuff! In later posts all of us at Novel Matters will be talking about how we first got published - I know my story is a star studded affair, with my friendships with other writer's taking center stage.
But more about that in the weeks to come!
There is a teeny grain of truth in the old saying "It's not what you know, it's who you know"

Uh, yes, I'm aware this sounds crass - as if we are supposed to use each other. I truly don't mean it that way.

Janet said...

If you use a word from a thesaurus that you don't fully understand, then he's absolutely right. The results can be disastrous. Kind of like using a bilingual dictionary to translate when you don't really know the language.

But if the thesaurus just triggers your memory and reminds you of the perfect word, it can be a great tool. You just have to know how to use it with discernment.

Kathleen Popa said...

Carla and Cathy, you reminded me of two of my favorites. The First Five Pages probably did more than any other "nuts & bolts" book, to improve the quality of my writing.

And yes, I think a thesaurus is invaluable. Janet, you're right: it's dangerous to use a word you don't know just because you found it in the thesaurus. Never use a fifty cent word when a two-bit word will do. Still, a thesaurus can help me find the better two-bit word that's just on the tip of my tongue... or rather, fingers.

An invaluable bit of freeware: WordWeb. It's a dictionary/thesaurus that sits at-the-ready in your system tray. I've used it for years. When I get a new computer, it's one of the first downloads.

Bonnie Grove said...

Latayne: I use a thesaurus when I'm asking myself the question I posted earlier, "What do I really mean to say?"

It's like picking up a thread of a word and following the trail to the heart of meaning.

But, not all thesauruses (try saying THAT ten times fast) are created equal. I have a couple of favorites I use and I solidly ignore the rest.

Also, you honestly need to know how to do research. Sure, anyone can spend the day in the library, but how do you know you've checked the right books and utilized all the best material from your sources? By knowing how to research.

It's not difficult to learn, but you do need to be taught. I strongly recommend new writers to take a library course at their local college or university. You sign up (you can audit courses for less money), and for a semester you learn the ins and outs of data research, how a library works, how to search data bases, periodicals, books, magazines, and other types of materials, quickly and efficiently.

There are all kinds of tricks and tips a college librarian can teach you about research that will, honestly, open the world to you.

Kimberley Payne said...

Along with Sally Stuart and "The Elements of Style", "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser is an essential. All keepers!
Kimberley Payne

Anonymous said...

Can time be considered an essential tool? Peace? Quiet? Coffee? All essential (and fairly hard to come by, except maybe the coffee). My writer's groups have been by far the most valuable tool in honing my skills, giving feedback, and providing the encouragement (commiseration?) needed to keep going.
Blogs like this are rapidly becoming indispensable too (just got that word out of a thesaurus so I wouldn't overuse "essential" - sorry, Stephen King).

Unknown said...

I have to say the CD is priceless. The mailing and contact information is priceless. I love how much information is included. I didn't get to get a market guide last year, but I need one because it saves hours of research time.

Lastly, when it comes to marketing a novel, I believe branding the author is most important. I pretty much buy anything James Patterson because the first five of his books I read were wonderful. I've come to expect a certain level of writing out of him. That's part of branding. Just a thought now I hope I win. LOL!

Sonja Hutchinson said...

My favorite writing tools is my critique buddy, Melody, followed by "The Writers Journey" by Chris Vogler. I also love the local Writer's Conference that happens every May. And Sally Stuart...

Joanna Mallory said...

A couple resources I haven't seen listed so far: Scene and Structure by Jack M Bickham, and Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method. I'm not a Snowflake purist, but the parts I've learned how to use help a lot. Oh... and spreadsheets: I may not be able to use them for math, but they're great for complicated lists of characters, scenes, pov etc and let you sort by whatever column you like.

Anonymous said...

Janet & Katy took the words out of my mouth regarding the thesaurus. Finding the wrong word often leads me to the right word.

I'm going to order The First Five pages today. I'm getting ready to begin a new novel, one I've been eager to begin, but the question with this one is "where to begin?" I'm in the process of discovering my main characters, which I love. It's like finding new friends. . . as I have here in all of you!

Anonymous said...

Although I have four thesauruses, I always reach for my favorite one; a worn out small paperback printed in 1958 which is now held together by an elastic band. This writing tool is a must-have-item when I scribble and scrawl my way across a sheet of paper. Every stroke of the pen can be altered and hen tracks clarified with this tool as I weave the alphabet with my penmanship into an acceptable pen craft.
Shirley Tye

Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks to all of you! I am inspired by certain new friends (of the writer-type) who have entered my life and actually caused a resurrection of a creative part of me that has been buried for awhile! Amazingly, through "organizing" my clutter, I have come across some forgotten writings that I am excited to get back to work on (who knew there were buried treasures in that drawer?)They will actually fit in with some of the new stuff I've been working on! I am in the process of preparing to attend a conference and am a bit overwhelmed. Finding just the "write" surroundings is important to me and somehow it must include windows, warm slippers and coffee! The new guide sounds like a must to have and a great help!

Anonymous said...

Annette, I'm glad you finally jumped in here with a comment. Good to hear from you. Don't be a stranger.

Anonymous said...

I am beginning the writing journey and it is great to read the positive comments about this guide. I appreciate the friends who are willing to critique my work - a valuable resource I could not do without

Noel Green said...

I'm definitely not a novelist, but I know that every writer should have a central location where she can write down ideas that come to mind. I personally recommend a Moleskin brand notebook. They're small, incredibly portable, and hardback so you always have a good surface.

Noel Green said...

Oh, and a fan club:).
If you keep yourself surrounded by people who believe in you, believe in what you're doing and hold you accountable, I think you are much more likely to stick to your plans and see them through.

Anonymous said...

Sign me up for Sally's book. It's one of my most valuable tools.

The other, among many too numerous to mention, is my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

Thanks for doing this.

Latayne C Scott said...

Well, Noel and Celeste, you two are charter members of my fan club and I love you both dearly.

Deborah -- durn! You posted and asked to be signed up for the Christian Writers' Market Guide -- but after the contest closed.

But don't let that discourage you. We will be having more great book giveaways here at NovelMatters -- at least once a month. And also this fall we will be having 2 mega-contests: Two top agents have agreed to read contest winners' manuscripts! Wow. Those two contests you don't want to miss, so stay tuned.

Latayne C Scott