In Search of Excellence

In my previous career as a human resources executive, one of my areas of responsibility was the management of our quality control programs. Phrases such as “Quality First,” “Do it right the first time,” and “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking” (Henry Ford), pervaded our corporate culture.

But corporate America did not invent the concept of working with excellence. God has always required excellence from His people. First Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

How is this related to our writing?

For decades, Christian publishing had a poor reputation. Not because of inappropriate language or scenes, but because the writing was mediocre at best. Christian publishing was long dismissed as the home of writers who couldn’t cut it in the general market. Thankfully, this is no longer true.

Professionals within the Christian publishing industry have worked diligently for many years to raise the standard of excellence in CBA-associated books. The words of D. Elton Trueblood, noted author and former chaplain at both Harvard and Stanford University, resonate with us: “Holy shoddy is still shoddy.”Of course, marketing begins with writing an excellent book. We know God gave His best for us in the sacrifice of His Son. As we exercise our gifts and talents for Him, we also want to give our best as we represent the King of the Universe.

So, in the interests of excellence in writing, I share with you William Safire’s tongue-in-cheek “Rules for Writers,” from How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar. Enjoy!

1) Remember to never split an infinitive.

2) The passive voice should never be used.

3) Do not put statements in the negative form.

4) A verb has to agree with their subjects.

5) Proofread carefully to see if you words out.

6) If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

7) A writer must not shift your point of view.

8) And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

9) Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.

10) Don’t overuse exclamation marks !!!!!!!!!

11) Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of ten or more words, to their antecedents.

12) Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

13) If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

14) Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.

15) Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

16) Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.

17) Always pick on the correct idiom.

18) The adverb always follows the verb.

19) Eschew obfuscation.

20) Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

What are your writing “pet peeves”?



Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her latest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. Additionally, Ava is co-author of Faith Basics for Kids. The first two books in the series are Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called.

In addition to her writing, Ava also teaches a weekly, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. She is a passionate speaker and teacher, and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit her at

What to bring to W2I! Conference 2016 – manuscripts, portfolio and more

Copyright: Gina Sanders / 123RF Stock Photo

by Janice D. Green

Are you polishing up all of your manuscripts? Do you have published works you can show? Both may be useful to you at the Write2Ignite! Conference 2016 (or any other writing conference you attend.) This post is to help you get them organized in a way for you to share them easily.


Copyright: Luis Molinero / 123RF Stock PhotoCreate a portfolio of articles and books you have published. I like plastic page protectors for a portfolio. They can be purchased in a soft cover binder with 12-24 pockets or can be purchased loose-leaf style to go into a 3-ring binder. Much depends on the quantity and kinds of published works you have to share.

Arrange your portfolio by the kinds of works you have to show. If you have magazine articles, put them together. If you write many kinds of articles or for a variety of magazines, sort them accordingly. If you have published books, you could include pictures of the front and back covers in your portfolio, and carry a copy in your bag if anyone asks to see it.

Be creative with your portfolio – let it tell a story of who you are and what you like to write. But be selective as well. If you are a multi-published author, you don’t have to include everything. If you have only a few published works, having them to show will give you credibility as an author.


Have your manuscripts with you, well polished, and in manuscript form. If they are short (i.e. picture books), they can go into pockets in a notebook making them easy to carry. But if they are longer, file folders and an accordion-type expanding file that might fit into your tote bag might suit you better. Whatever you bring, have them organized so you can quickly find the manuscript you want.

Keep in mind that an editor or an agent is not interested in reading your entire manuscript on the spot unless it is extremely short. So be ready with a brief overview for each manuscript all on separate single sheets of paper. And be ready with your elevator pitch – a one-sentence description of your manuscript that will arouse the editor or agent’s curiosity so they will want to hear more.

Other Helpful Items to Bring

  • Plenty of business cards
  • Thank you notes to write to the editors/agents/authors you meet
  • Professional looking paper with project ideas that you can pitch
  • Book proposals of ideas you have already fleshed out
  • A note pad for taking notes
  • Extra pens
  • Your laptop for working on or revising projects
  • A briefcase or other good size bag–if you’re not bringing a laptop bag–so you have a place to carry all the materials you collect.
  • A bit of cash or your credit card is good to have. Sometimes people go out afterwards or they want to buy books.
  • Sturdy comfortable shoes


The sooner you get these things together, the better prepared you will be. Try to not leave everything to the last minute or you will be stressed at the conference, or worse – simply unprepared. I hope to see you at Write2Ignite! 2016!


Photo copyright: ginasanders / 123RF Stock Photo
Photo copyright: luismolinero / 123RF Stock Photo

Get Published the Easy Way!

By Amy Parker

image002At a book signing not too long ago, a woman approached and asked the seemingly innocent question I’m asked at almost every event. “So, how did you get published?”


Over the years, so many people have so generously provided guidance for my career, and I’m always happy to pay that forward by sharing my experience with other writers. I took a deep breath and tried to give her the short version.


While working as a contract editor at Tommy Nelson (the children’s division of Thomas Nelson), the publisher said in passing, “We’re looking for a bedtime book.”


I couldn’t believe what she had just said. I blurted, “I just wrote a bedtime book!”


“Well, send it to me,” she said, a little unsure. I was an editor, not a writer. Not yet.


Probably to the surprise of us both, the publisher liked it, she published it, and it’s been a hit! The strong sales of A Night Night Prayer paved the way for the book after that and the book after that and the book after that. . . .


That snippet of my publishing experience apparently satisfied the woman’s curiosity. She sneered, “Oh, so you did it the easy way.”


I blinked. I wasn’t quite sure how to reply—and she didn’t stick around to hear it anyway.


Had she lingered, I would have offered her the full version, my step-by-step formula to getting published the easy way:


  1. Have the good fortune of two parents who exemplify faith, hard work, and an indomitable spirit.
  2. Write poems throughout elementary school.
  3. Read everything you can get your hands on.
  4. Pour your heart into English and writing throughout high school.
  5. Take a full-time course load in college, while working and taking care of your family.
  6. Accept an internship (and internship pay) at a local publisher (while continuing #5).
  7. Fall in love with publishing. Abandon the job security of a teaching career.
  8. Graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English, minors in Writing and Education.
  9. Search for months for an editorial job—any editorial job.
  10. Accept position editing healthcare education courses.
  11. Accept dream job as a children’s book editor.
  12. Be informed that your dream job has been eliminated.
  13. Cry
  14. Begin working as a contract children’s editor.
  15. Ride the roller coaster of freelancing.
  16. Read everything you can get your hands on.
  17. Pretend to be a writer. Pounce on every writing job you can get.
  18. In a delirious 2 a.m. stupor, write the words inspired by your three-year-old’s sleep battle.
  19. In similar delirious stupor, send that manuscript to the publisher.
  20. Pray
  21. Feel the joy of an accepted manuscript.
  22. Feel the pain of the editorial process.
  23. Feel the joy of a printed book—with your name on it!—in your hand.
  24. Stalk children. Read at every kids event that will let you through the door.
  25. Try every crazy promotion idea you can think of. Fail at half of them (if you’re lucky).
  26. Repeat steps 16-25 ad infinitum.


I’ve been entrenched in the publishing industry for almost two decades—as an intern, a proofreader, a copyeditor, an editor, a copywriter, a ghostwriter, and an author. And regardless of what spectators may say, there is no “easy way” to get published.


Paths eEvery path to publishing is different. But I can promise you this: it won’t be easy. Nothing worth doing is. But if you are sticking around to hear my reply—then you may just be dedicated enough to take that path anyway. And I would be honored to walk it with you.


If you haven’t already signed up for the Write2Ignite Conference in April, I highly recommend you do it now. It’s the only conference that I’ve seen specifically for Christian children’s and YA writers, and it is full of experienced presenters.


I’ll be there, giving three different workshops:

  • The Publishing Process, Step-By-Step
  • Both Sides of the Desk: The Editor & the Author
  • Rhythm, Rhyme & Musicality


I’m also delivering the keynote on The Plans God Has for YOU!


Come join us, and we’ll talk about your path to publishing, wherever you may be along the way. It will be a sneer-free zone, full of people who know the difficult path ahead—and choose to walk it anyway.





2012headshotcolor eAmy Parker has written more than thirty books for children, teens, and adults, including the best-selling A Night Night PrayerThank You, God, for Mommy, and Thank You, God, for Daddy. She has also collaborated with authors ranging from New York Times bestsellers to her very own son. Two of these collaborations—Firebird and Courageous Teens—are recipients of Christian Retailing’s Best Awards. But Amy’s greatest reward is being a wife to Daniel and a mom to their amazing sons, Michael and Ethan.


Connect with Amy at



Ten Things NOT to Do When Writing a Picture Book

011By Samantha Bell

Do you have a picture book in the works? If so, you know they are a lot harder to write than most people think. Whether you’re just starting to write your manuscript or you’re in the final stages of revision, here are some things NOT to do:

  1. Do not write down to children. Children are smarter than we think! And since picture books are designed to be shared aloud to children, vocabulary and word choice doesn’t have to match reading levels.
  2. Do not think about the words only. The illustrations are half of a picture book. The two should work together to create the story.
  3. Do not write too much dialogue. Dialogue is difficult to illustrate.
  4. Do not include too much description. Leave some room for the illustrator to work his or her magic with your manuscript.
  5. Do not have a passive main character. Your main character needs to take action!
  6. Do not have a parent or an adult resolve the conflict in the story. Your main character should be the problem-solver.
  7. Do not write stories about a dream. Endings where the main character wakes up to realize it was all of dream is often disappointing and unsatisfying to the reader.
  8. Do not forget to include all elements of the plot. It’s a picture book, and it’s short, but it still needs to be engaging.
  9. Do not send off your first draft. Or your second. Or your third. Polish it over and over until it shines!
  10. Do not give up if you receive a rejection. Keep writing and submitting!

Making preparations to attend Write2Ignite! 2016

45634031_s W2I! editWrite2Ignite! 2016 is less than four weeks away! Do you feel the excitement building as I do? Are you ready?

What do you need to do so you can get the greatest benefit from attending Write2Ignite! 2016? What should you put on your timeline for getting ready?

Much depends on what you hope to get out of the conference, but the first step is to register. The earlier you make up your mind to go and get your registration sent in, the more focused you will be with making preparations for the conference.

Are you planning to take advantage of the critique service? If so, you need to polish your manuscript, format it according to the directions on the web page, make your payment, and email it so the person doing the critique will have plenty of time to read it and to write his/her critique for you. The final deadline for this service is March 20.

Are you planning to take advantage of the opportunity to have a professional photo made? If so, you need to contact our photographer Sharon Brisken at or call her at 865-497-9702  before March 25, 2016, to set up your appointment.

Will you need a scholarship to attend? If so, the deadline to apply is March 15. There are only a few available this year, so don’t delay in applying.

OK, so those are the hard and fast dates that need to go on your calendar. A downloadable calendar for W2I! 2016 is available at this link for your convenience.

Now, to kick into my ADHD rescue mode for getting ready for the conference – it’s time to start making lists. Here are some categories and activities you might find helpful for making your lists. There are several very useful links within the outline below. Don’t miss them.

  • Manuscripts
    • Polish your manuscripts and print them out in submission form.
    • Send for critique by March 20 if you plan to use this service.
    • Put together a portfolio of your best work.
    • Create a “One Sheet” for each of your manuscripts.
    • Prepare a Book Proposal for any manuscript for longer books.
    • Practice Elevator Speeches for your best manuscripts.
  • Personal
    • Do you need to schedule an appointment for a haircut or manicure?
    • Make decisions early about what clothing you want to take.
  • Editor & agent analysis
    • Study the W2I! 2016 website to know who will be attending the conference.
    • Go to these editors’ and agents’ websites and learn as much as you can about them. What kinds of writing are they looking for? Is your manuscript a realistic fit for them? Don’t waste your time and theirs with an appointment if your writing is in the wrong genre or age group for their publishing needs. Be selective.
  • Workshop schedule
    • Study the workshop schedule for adults and/or the workshop schedule for teens in advance and make a note of the sessions you are most interested in. This keep you from missing sessions and allows you to use the breaks between sessions to network with other writers. You don’t want your nose in the schedule when opportunities come knocking!

I hope this information is useful as you prepare for Write2Ignite! 2016. Check back next Monday for more helpful tips. If you have any questions about getting ready for the conference, please post them in the comments below. I will reply to your questions and/or address them more fully in another post.