Monday, April 30, 2012

Making Your Deadline Work For You by Liz Johnson

I sometimes work really well under pressure, how about you? Read on for Liz Johnson's tips on making deadlines work for you. ~ Annette

Making Your Deadline Work For You
by Liz Johnson

Today, let’s wrap up this four-part series on deadlines. By now you know how important they are, how to set one that works for you, and even have plenty of tools to make sure you meet it. Deadlines don’t have to be feared, and in fact, they can be something to look forward to.


Your deadline should be a motivator for you to sit down at your computer and get your manuscript written. It should be a gentle nudge keeping you on track and the voice in your head reminding you to get your word count in for the day.

After all, by this time we’ve figured out how to meet our deadlines drama-free. That date isn’t looming in front of us, taunting and teasing us. It’s pushing us to achieve what we know we can. To do our very best. It’s the banner at the end of the race telling us that we’re almost to the end.

I’ve only ever run one road race in my life. It was a 5K in July in Nashville, TN. Do you know the best part of that race?

The orange slices they gave us when we crossed the finish line. I’m not usually a big citrus lover, but those oranges were especially sweet—because I’d worked so hard for them.

Do you need to dangle a reward on the other side of your deadline? Maybe you don’t, but I sure do. When I reach my milestone, I celebrate. And unlike those oranges, I don’t make it a surprise. From the start I hang a prize at the end of the race and run (or write) as hard as I can to to get to it.

I recently turned in the manuscript for my fourth novel, and I was thrilled. Not just to turn it in, but also because I’d promised myself a trip to visit some friends to celebrate. The trip was wonderfully refreshing and so good for my soul. And it was all the sweeter because there wasn’t a late manuscript dangling over my head.

Celebrate your victories. Even the little celebrations can give you a boost toward your next goal.

Like setting your goal and making a plan, your celebration will probably be unique to you. Some of you male writers out there might not enjoy a spa trip. Maybe a fishing getaway is more up your alley. Maybe you’ll treat yourself to a five-course-meal or a date night with your special someone. Maybe you’ll just give yourself a week off from writing (I confess that I did this, too).

Along with sweet oranges, another unexpected part of that July 5K was a sudden burst the last quarter of a mile. I could hear the crowd, and I felt the surge of adrenaline propelling me forward before I even turned the last corner. Many writers experience the same last-minute rush.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend, who has published nine novels, and is under contract for her next three. The first in her new series is due in about six weeks, and she’s only about half way done. When I asked her if she felt like she was in good shape to finish it by her deadline, she said she was. “I write better under pressure.”

I think a lot of us write better under pressure. With that deadline looming we push out all distractions, focusing intensely on the story before us. I always like what I write at the end of a story better than the beginning for just that reason. It isn’t cluttered or distracted. I know right where I’m going, and I’m moving toward those two little words: The End.

If you’re like my friend and I, make your deadline work for you. Make it propel you toward your very best.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month on deadlines. It’s not a four-letter word and shouldn’t be dreaded or feared. Keep it in its place and use it to meet your goals, celebrating each one along the way. Best of luck on your writing journey.

What do you do to celebrate the big and little writing victories? Do you write better under pressure? Do you have any other questions about writing under deadlines as we wrap up this series?


Liz Johnson is a five-time deadline survivor and a New York Times bestselling author, who makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she works in marketing for a major Christian publisher. She loves great stories in nearly any format: books, movies, and interpretive dances. Her last novel was Code of Justice, and her next, A Promise to Protect, is scheduled to release late in 2012. Follow her adventures in publishing at or on twitter @lizjohnsonbooks.

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Journey to Publication by Tina Pinson

We all know that the journey to publication is not an easy road traveled. Writers often face discouragement and self-doubt. Author Tina Pinson shares her story and how she remained determined to reach her destination. ~ Dawn

My Journey to Publication
by Tina Pinson

My name is Tina Pinson. I started writing in elementary school. Started a full-length novel in my twenties and finally finished it in my thirties—nine hundred pages later. When Shadows Fall spanned the Civil War and the Oregon Trail. Serial stories and big sweeping sagas were everywhere. So everyone should want my story. Ha. The bridge from finished story to publication took many more years.

Seven years later, I still wasn't published.

Depression set in. Was I a bad writer? Wasn't I trying hard enough? I didn't know. I had some success writing poetry, songs and short stories, but no contracts. I decided to take matters into my own hands, and self-published two of my books.

Sales were bleak and I was kind of happy. Yes, happy. My book editing was horrendous. My stories were full of mistakes. I was embarrassed. I realized, the hard way, good editing was important.

I found out about American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). I joined and learned subjects like GMC, Hero Journeys, Conflict (among others) and my favorite, PO… Point of View. Information overload. UGH.

My books were written in the old style, (omniscient—head hopping) under the old rules. And in the new Christian Publishing world, that didn't fly.

I started to write to fit the rules, and my story, Trail of the Sandpiper, placed third in the Genesis contest. I was certain I'd get published. An agent contacted me, but there were no book contracts.

Over time, I grew frustrated and wanted to quick. I figured I didn't have the talent, so why try. I tried to stop, but couldn't. I decided that God had given me the talent and desire to write and … I would keep at it.

In 2009, I heard about a new secular house that was looking for Romance submissions. I wasn't a 'Romance' Writer. So I didn't think much would happen. I sent in three stories. Two were accepted, In the Manor of the Ghost and Touched By Mercy and were e-printed in 2010. Some said I really wasn't published because my books weren't in print.

I'm still not in "print," and my sales are rather dismal, but I love to write and come up with new ideas and stories.

I know there are many writers who are just as discouraged, if not more, than I was. Who don't understand all the rules or why their books aren't accepted. Why do some author's debut novels become best sellers? Why do other authors wait to become published? If ever?

I wish I had the answer, all I can say to anyone dreaming of writing that novel and being published is, keep plugging away. Learn the rules, but don't let them define you are as a writer. Some rules aren't set in stone. They change. Evolve. Write your heart. Use the talent and imagination God seeded in you. He gave it to you, and He wants you to use for His glory.

Tina Pinson resides in Mesa, Arizona with her husband of thirty plus years, Danny. She started her first novel in elementary school. Her love of writing has caused her to seek creative outlets be it writing poetry, songs, or stories. In the Manor of the Ghost and Touched By Mercy were published through Desert Breeze Publishers.

When Shadows Fall, Shadowed Dreams, and To Catch a Shadow the first three installments of the Shadow Series about the civil war and the Oregon Trail, will be available through Desert Breeze over the next year.

To learn more about Tina and her books, please visit
Her website at:  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

This-n-That Thursday: How I Conquered My Fear of Research

The Home Store in Prairie Farm, Wisconsin - 1902

I have a confession. After years of focusing on writing contemporary romances and being totally convinced that I would never author a historical romance, I’m not only writing one—I’m loving it!

How did this happen?

You see, even though I’ve been drawn to reading historical fiction for years, the type of research that goes into writing a historical has always felt rather daunting. And I’d heard enough stories of readers crucifying authors for getting something wrong. So I kept to writing in the time period I knew best—the here and now.

But then I had an idea . . . and I began to wonder . . .

My grandparents had lived in my hometown; my parents had grown up there, and then they later returned to raise a family. There didn’t seem anything special about the town of 550 people when I was growing up. I remembered older generations mentioning the Home Store that had burned down before my parents were born. They spoke of it with fond memories and how it was known as the most beautiful general store in America during it’s time. The three-story house with 26 rooms built by the store’s owner in 1898 still stands along the river, a mere two blocks from the main street.

McCall's Magazine - 1901
I discovered that the small farming community had indeed experienced some glory days in the late 1800s and early 1900s. People came from all over to take part in a large Memorial Day celebration created by the town. The owner of the Home Store was known as a man of great faith and a visionary who set an example of customer service that was studied by businessmen across the country.

An idea formed for a historical romance set in 1902, and I began to get excited! Before long, I had a list of characters and a storyline. 

Thus began more research into the early 1900s. Only I began to feel overwhelmed. Where would the research ever stop???

When it felt like too much, Annette’s wise words reminded me that I wasn’t writing a history text book. I didn’t need to include everything that occurred in 1902.

 When I’ve run into difficulties finding necessary facts, historical writers, members of historical societies, and librarians have been more than willing to help.

I also picked the brains of three friends who write historical romances: Ocieanna, Julie Lessman, and Laura Frantz. All three gave advice that came down to this: Use history—don’t let history use you.

What I realized is that story comes first. Whether people live in 2012 or 1902, they still have the same basic fears, struggles, desires, hopes, and dreams. I need to tell the story and then use historical facts to help place my readers in that time period.

Kitchen Stove

Through research, I’ve discovered a love for history—and a respect for my home town that I didn’t have before.

While Ocieanna was co-writing Love Finds You in Victory Heights with Tricia Goyer, she’d arrive at our critique group meetings, excited to share her latest research findings. I now understand her excitement at finding historical facts—golden nuggets—that can be incorporated into the story.

For instance, I’ve discovered that in 1902:
  • The song “In the Good Old Summertime” was written.
  • The Wizard of Oz had been out for one year.
  • Valentine conversation candy hearts were first sold.
  • Women still couldn’t vote. 

Pretty cool, huh?

I’m so glad I conquered my fear of research because I’m having a blast.

What fears do you need to conquer in your writing life?

~ Dawn

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ask O Wednesday: How Flawed is Too Flawed?

Happy Wednesday my writing friends!

This morning while “putting my face on” (as my mom used to say), I had a conversation with the writers of Lost and Once Upon a Time (same guys). I told them they better not make the characters in Once Upon a Time as messed up as the ones in Lost, or well, I’ll quit watching. I really will, boy. Just try me…

Even in my imagination, they didn’t seem too worried. Go figure.

What riled me? That tendency writers have of making our heroes so flawed that nobody likes them. That’s what happened with me and Lost (ER too, actually). I finally, for the last time, gave up Lost when the one character I liked turned evil—killed his father! Seriously? (I’d actually given up before that, but every so often I’d check back, only to find a main character perpetrating yet another awful act.)

I know a lot of people liked Lost, but for me, I couldn’t get behind such losers (see what I did there?). I can handle misguided behavior from a hero, but my interest dwindles if his core values lack a good measure of … goodness.

Enter Trenton Hayward—the hero from my historical romance work-in-progress. When I first created him, I modeled him after a certain person I once knew. Not the most godly fellow. Some called him a lady-slayer. He drank too much and used disrespectful language. His one skill: he knew how to have fun. You know the type.

Well, I planned for Trenton to be redeemed, of course, but starting him off at such a low moral spot alienated my McCritters (critique group). They didn’t like him and weren’t going to put up with him long enough to experience the transformation. Even worse, they rooted for the other guy to get the girl, when they were supposed to be rooting for Trenton. Bummer.

I learned that, especially in a romance, the hero must be likable from the get-go. So, I shoved Trenton’s misbehavin’ to his past, and showed a transformed (yet still flawed) man—one my McCritters love (as does my heroine).

Since then, I start with a very likeable hero or heroine. I paint her with those fruits of the Spirit I most admire, as well as the spunk and independence I love. Once I get her looking fairly perfect, I mess her up—throw in a secret sin, or an ugly weakness. That way she’s still likeable, but relatable…and real.

How do you keep your characters from sparkling too perfectly? I’d love to hear!

God bless and happy writing!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Writing in a Vacuum by Tessa Afshar

My life changed in a Colorado hotel nestled in the shadow of the Cheyenne Mountain, over one mile above sea level.

The change started with a wall of immovable discouragement as I navigated my first full day at a major Christian writing conference in February 2009. The publishing industry, I discovered, had been hit hard by the recession. Editors, cinching their belts, showed little interest in a debut novelist with hardly the ghost of a platform. They were polite. They tried to impart confidence to those of us who were trying to break in. But the fact remained that there were many more hopeful writers than there were opportunities for contracts.

With every hour I sank lower in hope and expectation. I thought no one would ever want to read my book, Pearl in the Sand, a retelling of the story of Rahab, the Canaanite harlot famous for having saved Israel’s spies from certain death in Jericho.

The evidence of my senses pointed to defeat. That first day at the conference, there seemed no way for this novel ever to see the light of day. But what appears like defeat is sometimes God working out the details of His plans. He forges victory out of bleak prospects.

The next day I met Wendy Lawton, the award-winning agent from Books & Such Literary Agency; as we spoke through my fifteen-minute appointment and into her break, I felt the burgeoning of tenuous hope. By the end of our time, Wendy took me on as a client, something she said she never did at conferences.

Wendy shared with me that she would have had no interest in a biblical novel if we had met three months ago because they were almost impossible to place. Then there had been a shift in the market, making Pearl a very timely manuscript. It dawned on me that the whole time I had worked on this story, there had been no market for it. I had written into a vacuum. Had I been aware of this fact, I would not have had the courage to keep writing; I would have given up on this dream.

But God sometimes plants dreams in our lives for a season not yet here. Noah built his boat while the sun shone. Joseph prepared for a famine when the harvest overflowed and the cows bulged with fat. I wished I could say I wrote Pearl in faith. The truth is, knowing my weakness, God just kept me in the dark.

What I didn’t know was that during the conference, Paul Santhouse, then Acquisitions Editor at Moody Publishing, had heard the first two pages of Pearl in the Sand in one of the breakout sessions. It had stayed with him enough that he had asked to see the manuscript when Wendy went shopping for a contract. And that’s how I was published.

This May, my second book, Harvest of Rubies will be released by River North, the fiction arm of Moody Publishing. Harvest of Rubies is the story of Sarah, the prophet Nehemiah's fictional cousin who can speak several languages, keep complex accounts, write on tablets of clay, and solve mysteries. As a result, the talented Sarah is catapulted into the center of the Persian court—working long hours, rubbing elbows with royalty, and becoming the queen's favorite scribe. Yet a devastating past has left Sarah with two conclusions: that God does not love her, and that her achievements are the measure of her worth—a measure she can never quite live up to. And then she meets Darius Pasargadae, a man accustomed to having his way. A wealthy and admired aristocrat, the last thing he expects is a wife who scorns him. Throw two such different people together and the sparks fly as Sarah learns to overcome the idols that bind her. 

It seems impossible to me that I am working on my third novel and coming up with ideas for my fourth and fifth contracts.

Here is my point as I write this article. We can drive ourselves crazy with depressing statistics, discouraging circumstances, and impossible odds. However, there is a truth that we sometimes misplace: God is strong. He is able. He is an ever-present help in trouble. He can cover our gaps and our shortcomings. He is the best marketer, the best advertiser, the best editor you can find; after all, He too is a writer. Our destiny is in the palm of His hands, and though we are buffeted by the winds of adversity and the wiles of our enemy, God is far more powerful than both.

Tessa Afshar was voted “New Author of the Year” by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader’s Choice Award 2011 for her novel Pearl in the Sand. She was born in Iran, and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an M.Div. from Yale University where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last thirteen years in full-time Christian work.

Connect with Tessa:
On her website -

1. Jenkins, Jerry B., Christian Writers Guild Blog, Debunking a Myth, September 21, 2010.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Meeting Your Deadlines (Almost) Every Time by Liz Johnson

Are you enjoying this series on meeting deadlines? Speaking from experience, Liz Johnson has some great tips below for planning ahead to meet those due dates. Read on! ~ Annette

Meeting Your Deadlines (Almost) Every Time
by Liz Johnson

If you missed the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about deadlines. Yes, they’re important. No, you don’t have to fear them like a spider running over your toe. But in order to meet your deadlines and gain all the wonderful things that go along with that, you’ve got to stock up on the right tools. Here are the ones that have worked best for me.

Make a plan. You’ve probably heard that old adage, if you fail to plan, plan to fail. It’s never more true than for writers. Writing a book is a big task, so it’ll easily overwhelm you, if you don’t first make a plan. Figure out how fast you’ll need to write to meet your word count by your deadline.

Set small, obtainable goals. Maybe your goal is to write for thirty minutes three nights a week. Maybe it’s to write 1000 words every day. Whatever your goal, make it measurable and attainable. Saying that you want to write a book probably isn’t going to help. Committing to get up thirty minutes early and spend that time writing every day this week will help. Meeting smaller goals will make the bigger goal manageable.

Get some help. You don’t have to do this alone. November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and if you’ve ever participated in the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you’ve probably heard about write-ins in your area. This is just a group of people who get together in a coffee shop or restaurant and write together. Something about having someone else with you doing the same thing helps you stay on track. Set one of these up with your other writerly friends—either in person or virtually. When I first started writing, I had a standing writing date with a friend and fellow writer. Jess and I met every Monday night for an hour of undisturbed writing time. We faced each other, our laptops open, tapping out our stories. I wrote the majority of my second novel across the table from her.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for support. I finished my first novel only because a good friend of mine kept me accountable day by day to stick to the calendar I’d planned out—writing three nights a week for three months. Every morning when I got to work, she asked me if I’d written the night before. It was rotten having to tell her I hadn’t. So I started doing it. Talk about motivation.

And don’t forget about prayer. Help comes from above when we ask for it. If you’re lacking energy or creativity, ask for it. God, who created the heavens and the earth, has promised to never leave or forsake us.

Lest you think I’m perfect and always use these tips, I’ll make a quick confession. I nearly missed my deadline for this blog post. I failed to take any of my own advice. I had no plan, no obtainable goals, no accountability, not nearly enough prayer. Thankfully, this post and the others in the series aren't thousands of words each. If these had been books, you’d have found me on the floor of the Denver airport (where I wrote these) curled into the fetal position. Sometimes our very best intentions fall apart.

So what’s a writer to do if she’s going to miss her deadline? Editors aren’t cold-hearted. They understand that life happens. It happens to them, too. So if an emergency arises that is going to keep you from meeting your deadline for a contracted manuscript, get the conversation started as soon as possible. If you have an agent, rely on him or her for advice on how to deal with the situation. If it’s a personal goal, don’t beat yourself up, but don’t let yourself off the hook either. Get back on track and set a new deadline.

Ultimately, your plan needs to be tailored to your needs. You alone know what works best for you and your schedule. Just don’t skip over putting one in place.

What other tools do you use to meet your deadline? What advice have you heard that doesn’t work well for you? Why is that?

Be sure to swing by next week as we wrap up this series on deadlines.


Liz Johnson is a five-time deadline survivor and a New York Times bestselling author, who makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she works in marketing for a major Christian publisher. She loves great stories in nearly any format: books, movies, and interpretive dances. Her last novel was Code of Justice, and her next, A Promise to Protect, is scheduled to release late in 2012. Follow her adventures in publishing at or on twitter @lizjohnsonbooks.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Work in Progress by Eileen Rife

Writers throw around the acronym WIP when talking about an ongoing writing project. WIP stands for “work in progress.”  Today, author Eileen Rife shares how God revealed to her that our manuscripts might not be the only “works in progress.” Enjoy and be encouraged in your own writing life! ~ Dawn

A Work in Progress
by Eileen Rife

I wanted it so badly I could taste it. I had studied the guidelines, examined the reader profile, and scanned back issues. I was ready. Setting fingers to keyboard, I delved into writing an article for a well-known Christian magazine—my first major break into the market. The editor had accepted my query, and now I meticulously crafted each word to fulfill promises made. After several edits, I clicked the send button, releasing my precious fledgling into cyberspace. I took a deep breath and uttered a prayer: “Please, Lord, let this article make it into print; but not my will, Thine be done.”

Waiting on God

I knew it could be weeks before I received a reply. As much as I wanted this publishing credit, I made a deliberate choice to place the outcome in the Lord’s hands.

Two months later, while typing another article, I noticed the little read flag on my mailbox waving at me from the corner of the computer monitor. After clicking on the tiny icon, a message popped up from the editor I had been anxious to hear from. Suddenly, my fingers froze on the mouse, afraid to move and confirm my worse fear: rejection! “Oh, God, help me accept Your will for this article, whatever it might be,” I prayed.

Glued to the screen, I sat in shock as I read his assessment. While the article had several good thoughts, it was not what he had expected from the query and was too much like what the magazine had recently covered.

Caving in to frustration and anger, I closed the lid of my laptop and pouted my way to the hot tub where I joined my husband for a soak. Hesitating to admit another literary defeat, I stuffed my agitation and asked how his day had gone. After a few routine exchanges, I was ready to spill my guts. Feeling better, I grabbed a towel and walked back into the house.

The laptop sat on the desk, mocking me, as if to jeer, “Ah, you thought you could serve God and make some income doing what you love best? Who do you think you’re kidding? Why don’t you give up?”

Repulsed, I turned to walk away, but another voice intercepted. Eileen, you could email the editor again, admit your mistakes, and request a second chance. He did say you had some good thoughts. Why not give it a try?

Humbling My Heart

Flipping open the lid to the laptop, I clicked the reply button. As I stared at the blank screen, I prayed for guidance to form my words. Satisfied with my effort, I sent the message and went about my business, never expecting to hear from that editor again.

I had almost forgotten about the whole thing when one day I received a reply—one of those too-good-to-be-true messages. The editor told me that after reading my email, he had a stronger sense that my article might be something he could use after all. He admitted that in the six years he had worked for that magazine, he had never reread an article once he had rejected it.

Feeling genuinely humbled and grateful to God, I typed a response, thanking him for his reconsideration of my work. Two months later while eating lunch, I received a phone call from that editor stating that the article approval committee had accepted my piece and a contract would be in the mail. I nearly choked on my sandwich. 

God had allowed me to get a cherished story out to the public, supplying some additional income. But He also had provided much more than that: a lesson in humility and trust and the knowledge that, like my writing, I am a work in progress.

An alumna of Christian Writers Guild and member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Eileen has published several non-fiction books, written newsletters, a marriage column, and over ten church dramas. Her byline has appeared in magazines, such as Discipleship Journal, Marriage Partnership, Mature Living, Christian Home & School, Drama Ministry, and ParentLife, as well as other print and online publications. Her fiction works include Journey to Judah, Restored Hearts, and Chosen Ones in the Born for India trilogy, and a stand-alone novel, Second Chance.  She and husband, Chuck, conduct marriage seminars in the States and overseas. Her favorite pastime in this season of life is dancing with hubby, spending time with her daughters and their husbands, and playing with her six grandchildren. 

To learn more about Eileen and her books, please visit:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

This and That Thursday: Love

I want you to know I’m here to love you. I don’t need anything from this conference. I’m not looking for an agent, a publisher, nothing. I’m just here for you, beloved.

That verbal hug summarizes how Liz Curtis Higgs began her series of talks at Mount Hermon.


What an incredible gift for us insecure writers. Away from our families, in a world some may find new and scary, possibly facing rejection…sweet Liz’s heartfelt words cozied around the room like a big ol’ cup of mom’s hot cocoa.

Ever since, I’ve been thinking about how, as a speaker, I want to exude love too. Then in my prayers, it hit me. My writing can also show love. I learned this early on, but haven’t thought about it for a while.

One of the first writing books I read had a chapter about author voice. His advice still resonates. He said to love my readers. Think about them as I write, about how I can help them, communicate with their hearts. And my voice will reflect that.

Yes. That’s right. Like Liz Curtis Higgs, I can come to the page thinking, I’m not here for me. I’m here for you, dear readers, to share my heart with you, to share Christ, to love you.

As a reader, I’ve felt loved by authors. Have you? When I was a young teen, CS Lewis. Later, Francine Rivers, Max Lucado, and others.

There are no three easy steps to making readers feel loved. It comes from, well, actually loving them. And that comes not of ourselves. As we revel in Christ’s love for us, His love will flow naturally onto others—including our readers. So that’s my prayer.

Lord, help me dwell so deeply in the sea of your love that it overflows mightily through my words onto my readers.

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 1 John 4:10-11 NLT

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ask O: How Do I Avoid Info Dump? Don’t Feed the Readers

Happy Wednesday my writing friends!

“But I have to set it up!” Have you heard writers say this? I have, and to be honest, this objection has even burst from my own lips. It’s usually when one of my McCritters tells me something’s boring in my chapter. “Nothing’s happening,” they say. Yawn. “I just don’t care.”

They’re not really that mean, but the point’s valid: I haven’t pulled them into the action. Instead, I’ve prattled on about some fact I think they need to know. In other words, reader feeding. Bah!

Another term for reader feeding is info dump. Very descriptive, eh? When I invest in a novel, the last thing I want is the author to burst on the scene to tell me something. Imagine watching a movie and suddenly Stephen Spielberg appears on the screen. “I just have to tell you something here. It’ll help you understand the rest of the film. Trust me.”

How annoying would that be? It screams, “I didn’t do a good enough job showing you this in my story, so now I have to explain a few things.”

So, reader feeding is bad, but how do you set up a scene so readers understand what’s happening without dumping on them? Three ways have helped me:

1. Start with the interesting part. Often reader feeding comes at the beginning of a scene, especially the early scenes in a novel. Here’s my character and this is what he likes and doesn’t like and his hair is brown and his eyes are blue and he lives in Santa Monica and drives a BMW and never wears socks …. Problem is, by the time I get to the socks, I’ve lost my readers. To prevent this, I take a look at the first half of my scenes. If they linger on (and on) without anything happening, I grab my Samurai sword and slash mercilessly until I get to the interesting part and start there.

2. Avoid the college professor. Once, in a book I edited, the author slammed on the brakes of a suspenseful plot to have the protagonist call an old college professor. A lengthy conversation about the complete history of Islam ensued. It felt like non-fiction and totally stopped the flow. Fiction readers (like me!) want to get lost in the story, not lectured.

3. Sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle! I say this a lot. I know. But it’s key! Background, set-up, pertinent info—these are all important. But I don’t have to lay them all out in one big clump. Have you ever accidentally dropped a bunch of Malto-Meal into the saucepan while cooking? You know what happens. It clots into big nasty clumps that are moist on the outside and powdery in the middle. Yuck! Every time I’m tempted to dump info, I think of those disgusting clumps. Just like Malto-meal, it’s much better to sprinkle. Show the info a little at a time through action and dialog.

Have you ever read a book flush with reader feeding? What are your tips for avoiding this big no-no? I’d love to hear.

Happy writing!