The Pleasures and Perils of a New Book Contract

Signing a contract with a publisher for a new book fills an author with both exhilaration and apprehension. That’s precisely my mixed emotions as I write these words.

I have just signed and returned to the publisher, TouchPoint Publishing, the contract for my next book, tentatively titled COMBAT! Lessons on Spiritual Warfare from Military History.  I’m excited because I’ve proven to myself that more than one publishable book was within me and I’ve succeeded in finding the publisher willing to publish it. (I’m no longer a one-book wonder. I might become a two-book flop if this book doesn’t sell, but at least I’ll have had two books traditionally published. And not many people can say that.) I happen to think that I have even more books inside waiting to come out, but only time will tell. I’ll just take it one at a time for now!

I’m also excited because this book will be graced by the inclusion of several illustrations by a dear friend and former colleague from my days working for a major Christian textbook publisher. Preston Gravely and I worked together for eleven years, and he did a lot of art work for the American history textbooks on which I worked. He brings to his work years of experience not only as an artist but as both a gunnery technician aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Shangri-la and a field artillerist with the U.S. Army. In addition, he served in the Central and South America Command during Operations Just Cause and Desert Storm and was a chaplain with the North Carolina National Guard for a number of years.

Preston also plays the bagpipes (see Calling himself “the Lord’s Piper,” he plays for funerals, parades, and other occasions. More importantly, he has been a faithful prayer warrior and encourager to me. If my book goes anywhere upon publication, its success will be due in great part to his contributions, both artistic and spiritual.

I know, however, from the experience of my first book’s publication (as well as the various books I’ve self-published), that the excitement I feel now will be as nothing when I finally hold in my hands the first copies of the actual book when they come from the press. I suppose it is akin to the joy and exhilaration a mother feels when she holds in her arms her new-born baby. (Well, maybe not quite like that.)

But that signed contract also brings some apprehensions. Before my book ever sees the light of day, there still is a lot of work to be done. All of the art work must be drawn and assembled. The photos must be obtained and assembled. The manuscript must be reviewed with a magnifying glass (figuratively speaking, of course) to ensure that everything is as it should be. (That means I’ll be reading with the manuscript in front of me, the Chicago Manual of Style at my right hand, and a dictionary at my left hand.) Then the entire package–manuscript, photos, and art work–must be assembled and delivered to the publisher. By the deadline. (But my mind repeatedly tells me, “If you deliver it on the deadline, it’s late!” I know from experience that I’ll pressure myself to deliver the package early. To be late would be equivalent to total failure in my mind.)

But the work (and apprehension) doesn’t end with the delivery of the package. As soon as the publisher sends me the galleys, I must proof them and compile the index, a task that I thoroughly detest but know must be done. Again by a stated deadline. That’s when I must go over the work with a microscope, not just a magnifying glass. That stage is the point at which I must catch any errors that have been missed or even introduced after I delivered the manuscript. It is my last chance to get it right. And yet, experience has taught me that no matter how many sets of eagle’s eyes go over the proofs, errors will find their way in. But I must do everything I humanly can to make their number as few as possible. And even at that, someone (probably my brother Dale!) will catch some error or omission that no one else has seen. And that worries me.

But all that is part of publishing. And the excitement and exhilaration that come with the end product far outweigh the worries and fears and apprehensions that inevitably come with the process. At least that’s what I think. And I pray that whoever honors me by reading the finished product will agree that all the work that goes into making this book was well worth their investment as readers. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

How do you deal with your own excitement and apprehensions about the writing process? Share your thoughts with readers in the comment section below.


Find Your Niche and Just Do It!

One of my favorite poems is Edgar Guest’s “It Couldn’t Be Done.” It tells of a man who was told that something couldn’t be done, but, chuckling, he went ahead and did it. While doing it, “If he worried, he hid it.” Doing it began with his taking off his coat and starting. In the final stanza, Guest says, “There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done” and who “prophesy failure.” But, he says, if you’ll just get started, you’ll do it.

Ironically, I’m a doubter, especially about myself and my own abilities, so I have to constantly remind myself of the attitude expressed in Guest’s poem. I was reminded of that principle this morning during my devotional reading, which included selections from the famed Charles Spurgeon.

“There are many Christian people,” he wrote, “who get a good idea into their heads, but they never carry it out, because they ask some friend what he thinks of it. . . . Who ever did think much of anybody else’s idea? And at once the person who conceived it gives it up, and the work is never accomplished.”

Then Spurgeon laid out the challenge: “See what niche it is that God would have you occupy. Stand in it, and don’t be got out of it by all the laughter that comes upon you. If you believe God has called you to a work, do it. If men will help you, thank them. If they will not, tell them to stand out of your road or be run over. Let nothing daunt you. He who will serve his God must expect sometimes to serve Him alone.”

“Be not moved from the work to which God has put you,” Spurgeon continued. “Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not.”

When I began to submit my first book to prospective publishers, some people doubted that my writing, at least book-length work, was publishable. At least not traditionally. They looked down on self-publishing as not being “real” publishing. So I felt the affront and determined that I would at least try. I had to prove to myself that my work could be published. But I secretly longed to be vindicated before my critics and the naysayers. So I prayed only that, if it was His will, God would allow it to be published. I left the matter of sales quantity in His hands. And it was published.

Since that time, I’ve continued to work on other projects and got several other book-length works ready for publication and began submitting them. And now comes the test. One particular manuscript languished and was rejected by two publishers who implied in their e-mails that “it couldn’t be done.” An agent whom I approached also declined to represent it because “it couldn’t be done.” I got busy with other things and forgot that I had submitted it to yet a third publisher. I heard from that publisher the other day. I am now considering a contract offer.

Now the ball is back in my court. “They said it couldn’t be done.” Do I sign? Do I decline? I have a meeting later today with an artist friend to discuss the possibility of his doing some illustrative work for the manuscript. I’m praying about my decision. And that of my artist friend. Whatever our decisions, I’m determined that this time I’ll ask big things of God in relation to this book.

And that brings me back to another thing that Spurgeon said: “Remember you are going to a king [when you pray]. Let your petitions be large.”

Find your niche, your God-given calling. Just do it. Stick to it. And as someone once quipped, “Attempt great things for God; expect great things of God.”

Stay tuned!

Show, Don’t Tell

One of the most-often stated maxims of writing instruction is “Show, don’t tell.”

For example, instead of telling me that a particular culinary repast was delicious, describe it in such terms that I see and taste it in my own imagination and then reach that conclusion on my own. After all, a conclusion reached on one’s own is more real, more lasting that a conclusion that someone else reaches and dictates.

As writing instructors have done for eons, I, too, taught that maxim to my students. I repeated it so often that it reached a point where I never had to complete the statement. As soon as I began to say it, the students dutifully completed my sentence for me. I hope they have remembered to practice it in their writing since that class rather than merely memorizing and reciting it. I think many of them did learn and apply the maxim to their writing.

I recall one particular assignment I gave them as homework that produced a humorous result. The budding writers were to describe something. As the bell rang, indicating the end of class, I reminded them, “Make me see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt, and even smell what you smelled.” I collected their papers the next class period and went home, settling down in my recliner to read and comment on their papers. As I approached the bottom of the stack of essays, one student’s creation made me laugh aloud. At the bottom of the last page, he had attached a “scratch-and-sniff” sticker.

He showed me!

Theology from the Spring: A Review

Nature itself is a great teacher of theological lessons fore those attuned to notice, as the psalms of David demonstrate. Jacob A. Taggart attempts to do so, too, using as his teaching tool ichthyology, the study of fish. But he limits the scope of his lessons to one particular kind of fish–rainbow trout.

Taggart is not only a student of theology and a pastor and director of education in a Baptist church in Jefferson City, Missouri, but also an avid fly fisherman. He combines his love of theology and fly fishing in this book, sharing with readers important spiritual truths for both individual Christians and congregations of believers.

For example, we need to slow down, Taggart says, so we can see Nature’s “purity, peacefulness, and rationality.” Too often, however, we are too busy, and we mistakenly “substitute busyness for holiness.” He promises that he’s going to take us out to the stream and show us lessons about God, theology, and the Christian life. Although I’m not a fisherman, that promise attracted my attention!

Taggart organized his lessons in ten chapters divided into three parts: “The Creator’s Existence Found in the Spring,” “The Creator’s Immanence Found in the Spring,” and “The Creator’s Commission Found in the Spring.”

Conventional wisdom among authors is to attract readers with an alluring title and aesthetically pleasing book cover, hook them with a captivating opening paragraph, and reel them in with a first chapter that is so interesting they’ll keep reading to the end. Taggart does some of those things. His is an interesting title and appeals to outdoorsmen, especially fishermen and specifically fly fishermen. He includes important and interesting applications for Christian readers, including practical strategies for effective evangelism and church discipline. His description of slipping on rocks leaves one experiencing vicariously a bone-chilling and potentially life-threatening immersion in the stream.

Unfortunately, he does not deliver these gems of practicality until Chapter 7. I’m afraid that by then he will have lost a good number of readers who could not tolerate the sluggish pace and intellectually murky waters of the first six chapters.

What makes the opening chapters so laborious? They are the epitome of theological and philosophical jargon and intellectual verbosity. They read like a theological treatise written by an academic for fellow academicians. Some parts read like a literary exercise for which the student, holding a pen in one hand and an overused thesaurus in the other, searches endlessly for a less-common word with which to impress his teacher. It is so filled with non-sequiturs, rational dicta, attributes of aseity, extrapolations, formulations, syllogisms, and esoteric terminology that not even avid fly fishermen would want to continue. Taggart forewarned on page 47, “Prepare yourself because if you don’t have a migraine yet, you might get one now.”

Thankfully, Taggart redeems himself in Chapter 7 onward. Unfortunately, it might be too little too late for many readers.

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the book review program. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s CFR Title 16, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

One Special Lady

We buried Virginia Mae Dietterich, my wife’s mother and my mother-in-law, on Monday. (In case you’ve been wondering, that’s why I haven’t posted recently.)

My own mother had been killed by a drunk driver only about four years after I married. I’ve written about her before. (See and I knew Mother for only 27 years. I knew my mother-in-law, however, for 42 years, so in many ways she was my surrogate mother.

During and after the funeral, I noticed that my mother-in-law’s relatives, friends, and neighbors mentioned one of her attributes more than any other. That attribute was her unique culinary abilities, her skill in cooking and baking palate-pleasing dishes. Chicken pot pie. Ham butt and cabbage. Key lime pie. Ice-cream cake. Shoo-fly pie. Funny cake. The list is endless, but it certainly wasn’t tasteless. She never quit learning and experimenting with different recipes for every kind of food, from appetizers to entrees to desserts. And she kept track of where she served everything and what the reaction of the eaters was for each type of food.

Mom, as I came to call her, always cooked enough for an army, and if one left her table hungry, it was that person’s own fault. Rather, I found that most people left her table filled to the gullet, yet wanting more “for taste.”

If any attribute other than her culinary skills was mentioned, it usually dealt with her constant industry, especially in her lawn work. Mowing. Trimming. Pruning. Weeding. Mulching. Planting. And she was very particular in how she wanted these things done. That’s probably why she usually did all those things herself rather than “subbing it out” to others. Even when she did let others to do such jobs for her, she often later redid them the way she wanted them done. Such as the time she re-mowed her lawn the day after my wife and I had mowed it according to her specifications (or so we thought).

I don’t know what Mom really thought of me as a son-in-law. She wasn’t expressive about such things to one’s face, though she might make comments to others privately. But in my book, she was the best mother-in-law I could have had. She was the best mother substitute for me, too. When I married her daughter, I got the best of both worlds: a beautiful, fantastic wife and a great mother-in-law. What more could a simple country boy want?

“Mom” Dietterich was some kind of special lady!

10 Rules of Getting and Keeping Readers’ Attention

Recently, I ran across a volume that I had read years ago, and I paused long enough to flip through its pages, scanning parts that I had underlined and reading the notes I had written in the margins. The book had been written by famed British preacher and writer Charles Spurgeon and was titled Lectures to My Students. One particular chapter especially (and appropriately!) caught my attention: “How to Obtain and Retain the Attention of Our Hearers.” I remembered having read it because much of his advice is applicable to not only ministers but also writers. Perhaps the ten points I summarize below (with supporting quotations from Spurgeon) will prove helpful to your own writing. They’re worth considering.


  1. HAVE A MESSAGE.  “To get attention, the first golden rule is, always say something worth [reading].”
  2. ORGANIZE YOUR MATERIAL. “Let the good matter . . . be very clearly arranged.”
  3. ENSURE APPROPRIATENESS. “[Write] plainly.”
  4. PRACTICE SUCCINCTNESS. “Do not make the introduction [lead] too long.”
  5. AVOID REDUNDANCY. “Do not repeat yourself.”
  6. STRIVE FOR BREVITY. “Avoid being too long.”
  7. EXHIBIT PASSION. “Be interested [in your topic] yourself.”
  8. USE SUPPORTING TECHNIQUES. “There should be a goodly number of illustrations.”
  9. DEMONSTRATE FRESHNESS. “Cultivate the surprise power. Keep your sentences out of ruts.” Avoid cliches.
  10. BE SINCERE AND GENUINE. “Be yourself clothed with the Spirit of God. . . . Remember, ‘it is not by might, nor by power,’ that men are [blessed], but ‘by my Spirit, saith the Lord’. . . . If you do not touch the heart, you will soon weary the ear.”

Why not join me in running each piece of writing through this checklist. If we apply these rules consistently, we might be surprised by how much more interest our writing will earn.

Thoughts about Reading in 2019

Well, the new year has barely begun, and I’ve been thinking about and beginning to act on my reading. In fact, I received a magazine in yesterday’s mail that included two thought-provoking articles about books and reading. I got two books as Christmas gifts, both history related. And I’m sure that my writing and researching during 2019 will involve a lot of reading on many different topics, to say nothing of the numerous books I’ll read throughout the year for, well, just the enjoyment of it.

Several years ago at Christmas, my kids got together and bought me a Kindle and then showed their dear old, technologically challenged father how to search for and order books for the gadget. Since that time, I’ve downloaded a little more than 200 books on that thing, most of them freebies. I’ve actually read not a few of them. But I have some problems with that method of reading.

First, I like to write in my books. I underline key points. I started that habit in college, marking my textbooks so I could review main points quickly, and I’ve continued the habit ever since. Second, I found that underlining books made it easier when, after researching a book, I returned to it to write an article about the topic. Third, When I was reviewing books for Provident Book Finder magazine, I underlined possible quotable material to include in the reviews I would write. If I disagreed with the author, I “argued” with him or her in my marginal notations. I can’t do any of that with the Kindle.

More importantly, I just like the feel of a real book in my hands. I love the smell of the ink on the pages. I love the “heft” of a deep and thought-provoking written work. It’s sort of like the “feel” and weight difference between a plastic squirt gun and a 1911 .45 semiautomatic. You know one is just a plaything, but the other means serious business.

The two articles about books that I mentioned earlier said essentially the same thing in a more esoteric way. Books activate the imagination. They take us on journeys to times and places we could never go in reality. They help us see the rest of the world through others’ perspectives and thereby increase our ability to sympathize. Some of them have even been good enough to influence history. They make us think and increase both our vocabulary and our storehouse of knowledge. They help us see ourselves, mankind, as we really are. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

But can’t an e-book or a magazine article do the same things? you might ask. Sure they can. But then there’s the pesky matters of the “feel” and the lack of permanency. Years from now, you won’t discover an old e-book in a used bookstore and feel the excitement the way you do when you find a rare old tattered hardcover book. If you happen across an old Kindle, by that time the technology will have moved light years ahead of that piece of junk and it will be useless. Not so with a “real” book! And a magazine article’s life span is a mere matter of weeks, not generations like a good book. People flip through a magazine, toss it on their coffee table, where it stays for a few weeks, and then the next person who dusts tosses it into the garbage. Not so with a book.

In Rick Bragg’s words, “It’s not just the stories, but the physical book, the way I feel when I see the spines, when I read the titles, the very feel of the paper under my fingers as I turn the pages. . . . Every book comes alive in my mind. I like to be in that company.”

I’m sure that during 2019, I’ll add to my Kindle library a good number of books. I might even get around to reading a few of them. But it will be the physical, hard copies of books that will arrest and hold my attention. I’ll borrow a few from the library. I’ll no doubt (hopefully) receive some as gifts for various occasions. And I’ll even buy a few, though that number is declining as I struggle to find room for the volumes I already have. But I’ll read them all, assuming that the Lord tarries His coming and the creek don’t rise!

Now let’s see. I have three books in progress at this moment and five stacked on a shelf awaiting my attention. That doesn’t include the unnumbered ones I still haven’t read that are on my Kindle. And I’ll add many others, both real and “virtual,” throughout the year. So many books, so little time! It’s already January 5. I’d better get started!


Happy New Year–New Beginnings

Happy New Year to all the readers and followers of this blog.

The start of a new year is a new slate, the beginning of new opportunities. What we do with those opportunities that come our way, however, is up to us. And we can make the most of those opportunities by planning, setting goals, and being ready to take advantage of those opportunities when they arise. I’ve already made my list of goals for 2019. Have you?

A new year is also an opportunity to evaluate what was done in the past and to make adjustments as necessary. Often, however, it’s good to find someone to help us do those evaluations and make the changes that we determine are necessary. I’m doing exactly that with this blog. I need and value your input.

Since I began this blog more than two years ago, I have consistently posted every Tuesday and Friday. Sometimes I noticed that more views occurred on Fridays. Later, however, Tuesday’s posts began to show more views. But that shift in days has not been consistent. So I’m wondering when most readers prefer to receive my posts and how often. Is twice a week really the optimum? Or would less actually be more?

I have considered the possibility of reducing my posts to once a week. If I do that, however, I need to know which day of the week most of my readers prefer. Do you have a preference on either the frequency or the day of the posts? If so, I’d appreciate hearing from you. Just jot a short statement of your preference(s) in the comments section below, and I’ll consider all of those I receive before making any changes to the blog. Also, if you would like to read more (or less) about any particular topic(s) I’ve written about, include that opinion in your comments, too.

Thanks in advance for whatever suggestions you might offer. I know your input will do a lot to improve this blog.

Maintaining the Right Focus

My wife and I went to bed early, knowing that we had to rise earlier than normal to begin a long interstate journey to spend Christmas with my 91-year-old in-laws. That’s when a text message from my sister-in-law woke us. My father-in-law was being rushed to the hospital. His heart was beating erratically and he was having difficulty breathing. We got little sleep afterwards, rose even earlier than planned, and hit the road. Thankfully, traffic was lighter than we had expected.

My father-in-law was experiencing atrial fibrillation, his heart rate approaching 200. His doctors were sequentially trying several medications to get it back down to normal. It looked as though he might have to spend Christmas in the hospital.

This brought back memories of another time when we had had to make an unexpectedly early trip at Christmas time. We had planned to travel to Tennessee for the holidays as soon as the school where I was teaching got out for the Christmas holidays. But my mother, father, and sister were hit by a drunk driver while on their way to church to participate in the annual Christmas cantata. Mother was in ICU, fighting for her life. Mother passed just days before Christmas. Daddy was so badly injured that he had to spend Christmas in the hospital.

Such incidents around the holidays, days that are supposed to be filled with joy and laughter, are especially hard on family members. And those memories returned to my mind as I visited my father-in-law.

Then the next day we got word that my wife’s aunt, who lived in the same town, had been rushed to the hospital with breathing difficulties. She was admitted to a different hospital across the street from where my father-in-law was. When it rains it pours!

The good news, in this instance, is that the doctors finally found a medication that lowered my father-in-law’s heart rate, and he was discharged late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. My wife’s aunt was able to come home two days later. Through it all, my sister-in-law worked tirelessly to keep her parents on an even keel, active enough to feel needed yet not so active as to threaten their health.

During all these events, I had been reading (in snatches and grabs of time) a book that provided some perspective, reminding me of a valuable lesson and helping me regain a right focus. The book, I Shall Not Want by Robert Ketcham, deals with the Twenty-third Psalm. I thought that for today’s post I would share a few quotations from it; perhaps you will be helped by the thoughts that helped me during a trying time.

Our little stream of life is on a rampage. It is rushing by with a crashing crescendo of frightening noises, the spray of it is dashing into our faces. We cannot see, and we are afraid. Sorrow, affliction, heartache and heartbreak are breaking the speed limit in our lives. Bewilderment and confusion swirl about us like mighty whirlpools. It is then that our blessed Shepherd moves into the situation and “stills” the waters about us, and we discover . . . that we are refreshed by the very thing that would otherwise have been our ruin. . . .

The whole question of whether life’s experiences are going to be times of refreshment or ruin is determined by whether or not we constantly recognize the presence of the Shepherd. . . . [L]ife may become a thing of beauty if the Shepherd goes along. . . .

It is how we react that makes the difference between defeat and victory. If we become preoccupied with the shadows, we will become cynical, bitter, discouraged and defeated. If we become preoccupied with the sunshine, we will become self-satisfied, self-centered, thoughtless of others, and worse still, forgetful of Him. But if we remain preoccupied with the Shepherd, regardless of shadow or sunshine, we will survive the peril of both with victory!

Now everything and everyone is back to normal again. We enjoyed Christmas with the in-laws and returned home safely amid very heavy holiday traffic. We were protected from any accidents, though we saw a couple of bad ones along the way. And now we anticipate the resumption of our daily routines with a greater trust in that Shepherd. But it’s a lesson we must often be reminded of lest we again are assailed by fears and doubts. May you find comfort in this truth as well.