Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Writer's Guide to the First Amendment: The Actual Malice Trap

Last month I mentioned that public officials and public figures who sue the press for libel have to prove that the press acted with “actual malice.” That’s the legal term, but it’s a bit of a misnomer. That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court has defined actual malice as “knowledge that [the statement] was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was false or not.” (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-280 (1964))

Just as a reminder, I am using the term “press” to include any media that has the potential to reach a large audience. That includes your novel or your blog.

For legal purposes, malice is not synonymous with ill will. You can have the best intentions and even admire the person you write about. But if you know that what you write is false or have serious doubts about its truth, that’s enough for a jury to find that you acted with actual malice.

While we’re at it, let’s apply the actual malice test to that female drug-addict in your novel—the one who shares a lot of characteristics with your sister. But your sister doesn’t use drugs, and you know it. You just thought it made a more compelling story. Unfortunately, the fact that you know it isn’t true turns it into actual malice. And if people who know your sister recognize her, no disclaimer will help. So make sure you mix and match traits or change enough characteristics to disguise your model.

Let’s go back to the reckless disregard part of the test. What if you aren’t sure that your facts are true? Uncertainty isn’t enough to prove reckless disregard—it takes serious doubts. Or what if you thought your facts were correct but your investigation was careless or incomplete? It takes more than carelessness to show actual malice. On the other hand, inaction may be sufficient. If you purposefully avoid the best sources because they may prove you wrong, that could show actual malice. You cannot ignore your obligations by intentionally looking the other way.

So what should you do? Don’t make factual statements about someone in a non-fiction context unless you have reason to believe the statements are true.

And don’t write a novel about your sister.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), is a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Monday, July 21, 2014

Five Keys to Publishing Success by JoAnn Durgin

I must preface this post by saying I’m certainly no expert on anything, but I'd like to share some of what I've learned with you in the hope it might somehow encourage you in your own writing journey. By the end of 2014, I’ll have been traditionally published as well as indie published with ten books (six full-length novels and four novellas) to my name. All in the last four years, in addition to working full-time. So, that’s got to count for something.

Not to sound like a dreaded infomercial (I’m not selling anything here although I am posting a photo of the boxed set of my first four books as well as the cover of my newest release, Moonbeams), I’d like to share with you what I consider the five key factors to success in pursuing a full-time writing career. I’m hoping to quit my full-time job in the near future, and—based on the income I’ve earned in the past three months—I believe it can be done.

The following steps are nothing more than common sense, really. You know these things, too, but sometimes it helps to have someone else put it in perspective.  As I mention at the end of the post, please feel free to add your own ideas.

 *Pray. Begin every writing, editing or marketing/advertising session with a time of prayer. Whether it’s one minute or 15 minutes, I always present my petitions, both large and small, to the Lord. He has been my Partner in my writing journey from Day One. I firmly believe without Him at my side, and living inside me, I could not have accomplished as much as I’ve done with anywhere near the same measure of success. Write for His glory and know you can hold you head high when you meet your Savior one day.

*Write.  The only way you can get a book published is by writing it. The only way you can learn and grow as a writer is by continuing to write, edit, hone and fine tune your work. Make each and every book your best effort. Write a good book and the Lord will get it in the hands of those who most need to read it. Word-of-mouth promotion will kick in after a while, but don’t get greedy and don’t get impatient. Sometimes—especially with a first novel—it takes time to build the momentum, especially if you’re not with a big publisher. But don’t ever get lazy. And keep writing and releasing. The more books you can offer readers, the higher the potential for income.

Give up the idea of writing the “perfect” novel. It’s simply not going to happen. A book can be grammatically perfect, a book can follow all the rules, but it doesn’t mean it’ll touch hearts. How many books have you read where it’s sound from a technical standpoint but doesn’t affect a reader’s emotions? How many reviews have you read where the reviewer says, “I can tell the author was on deadline because the ending felt rushed”? Write from your heart and finish your story. Then it will reach others with the message you want to convey.

*Join. Become a member of a writers’ group. Critique group. Something. Any organization where you’re around others who share your passion. Guaranteed, you will learn more about the craft of writing. The energy to be gained from fellowshipping with other Christian authors, in particular, is infectious and one of the best things you can do. After I joined the national ACFW, I learned so much just from reading the email loops. One of the best things I ever learned was from Indiana’s Colleen Coble who advised me to write a scene in the POV of “the one who has the most to lose.” Give others the opportunity to teach you and be willing to share what you’ve learned with others.

*Persevere. More than half the battle is sticking with it. Writing can be a lonely existence at times. It will be joyful and yet there will be the inevitable lows. You will be uplifted by others and sometimes you will feel a bit wounded by the careless words of others or by a reviewer who just didn’t “get” the message of your book. There will be those who rejoice with you and others who will try to tear you down. That’s a big part of standing firm in your faith. The Lord never said it would be easy, but He said He’d be there for us. And, oh what a comfort that is! I cling to His promises, folks, and I trust that you do, too. Keep at it and pursue the calling of writing the Lord has placed in your heart. Tell His stories your way. And tell your story His way.

*Marketing/Advertising. As it is, there are millions of books written every year. With the advent of self-publishing, anyone can write anything and get it published, and that can be both a good and a bad thing. Be creative and inventive. Seek out your focus group. My book series (five books now in release and more to come) is based in the Houston area, although settings from all over the country (and more) are featured in the subsequent books. After the third book released, I prepared and sent a slick “ad” to a number of big Houston-area evangelical churches. I addressed them to the ladies’ ministry coordinators. Do I know whether or not it had an impact? No, but based on the sales of the books shortly thereafter, I believe it certainly didn’t hurt.

Without going into detail, I managed to get my debut novel (at the time published by a small Canadian publisher no one had ever heard of) into the illustrious CBD catalog. It only stayed there for two or three issues, but I accomplished my goal. After meeting the CBD rep at the ACFW and then getting no response after several emails, I used my common sense and got the job done. 

Be willing to spend money to make money. One of the biggest boosts to my writing is discovering websites such as BookBub and Ereader News Today. The first is expensive but more than worth the cost. Guaranteed, if you advertise with BookBub, your book will make it to bestseller status, even if only for a day or two. BookBub has a subscriber list of thousands and many of their members download their daily recommendations. You must be willing to reduce your eBook price (free and 99 cent books do the best, and the first of a series book does even better). Seriously, your jaw will drop at the number of downloads! Ereader News Today is a wonderful outlet, especially for those who are self-published. The results are only a small portion of what BookBub can do (hundreds of books downloaded as opposed to thousands in one day), but their cost is relatively small but well worth it.


These are only a few helpful hints that have boosted my visibility in the contemporary Christian romance market. They’re tried and true in my case. Feel free to share any tips that have worked for you! I’d love to hear them. After all, we’re here to help one another!

Blessings, friends.

~JoAnn Durgin
Matthew 5:16

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Premise is cool

Off the top of your head, how would you define premise? It’s the thing you hang your story on, right, or is it the heart of the story or is it what happens in your story?

I’ve made a personal breakthrough recently about “premise” that I’m pretty excited about. But before I get to what I’ve learned you should know a little of how I operate as a writer.

© momius -
I don’t know if you have read Jeff Gerke’s Plot vs Character or not, but according to that book I’m a plot-firster which means I know what’s going to happen in a story way before I know for whom the story is happening. This tendency, I think, is one of the reasons I have been confusing “premise” with “plot.”

What shed light on the difference for me is a tutorial from Writer’s Digest called “Create an engaging premise in 4 steps” by Lisa Cron. It’s not that what she says is new, per say. All I know is what she talked about clicked with me and for the first time in 25 years I am confident that I will be able to write my story the way it should be written. How about that? And by God’s grace maybe we’ll all get to see it in print someday.

Okay, so what did I learn about “premise” as it relates to a story? And please understand, this is my takeaway, what stood out to me and helped me approach story with a little more balance.

Cron spent the first two-thirds of the tutorial explaining and defining “story” before she even touched premise, but I found I needed the education to help distinguish between plot and premise. What really opened by eyes was her actual definition of “story” and her break down of the parts:

Story is "How what happens affects someone in pursuit of a difficult goal and how they change as a result."
  •       The plot - the surface of the story, the events
  •        The protagonist
  •       The story problem - the simulation
  •          This is what the story is really about

Oh, well when you say it like that…

Especially after reading Gerke’s book, I knew I needed to work on character-building and I’m sure it helped lay the foundation for me to fully embrace just how important it is to have fully developed characters – what the story is really about.

Knowing your characters also leads to “premise.” To create a premise, Cron has you answer four questions:

§         What?    What would happen if...?
§         Who?    Whose story is it?
§         Why?    Why will any of what happens matter?
§         When?    Tick, tick, tick

I’ve always known Who and When, but not really the Why and to my complete surprise I didn’t know What either. Wow! Twenty five years and I didn’t know my What! I was making the “What would happen if…” about a plot point, not my main character. I’m so thankful God doesn’t give up on us (on me).

About “What” Cron stated, “…developing a solid premise, starting with a surprise / something out of the ordinary that implies a problem - before you begin writing, will save you months of rooting around in the plot for your story later.”

In my case, “months” should be changed to “years,” but I digress. I discovered before I could nail down What, I had to work out Why. Why will any of what happens to my girl matter? Reinforced by another good quote from Cron, “It's always the why - the internal story - that drives the plot, not the other way around.”

The last thing I’ll mention that also really helped me is her statement about two things every protagonist enters a story with:
  1.         Something they already want really badly
  2.         A misbelief they have to overcome to get it

These two things helped me narrow down Why, what’s motivating my girl, and how what happens will affect her.

So that’s what I learned in a nutshell. You probably already knew all this, but I’m just so excited, and thankful, I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with you again today.

Humbly submitted by H.T. Lord

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Revision versus Editing (Part 1)

                                                           by Kelly Bridgewater

               As a college instructor and high school teacher of Composition, I have had numerous students who didn’t understand the difference between Revision and Editing. As a fiction writer, it seems more daunting of a task to work with. I mean, who really wants to go through their 300+ page manuscript numerous times looking for a million misperfections. But I want to offer a piece of advice. A little bit of instruction that might hinder the overwhelming task before any writer.

writing for enjoyment            First, make sure that you write tight. You know, you use good word choices. Not vague words. Two of my most hated words are GET and GOT.  I can’t stand those words when I’m editing a final manuscript.
Double-check you have included all of these story parts to entice the reader:
-Hook your readers.
- Set the scene.
- Show—don’t tell.
- Use POV (point of view) correctly.
- Create memorable characters.
- Construct proper dialogue.
- Build your plot.
- Creatively use backstory.

          Revision is looking at the complete picture of your story. Don’t worry about your grammatical errors right away. That is for later.

Suggestion #1: After finishing the complete manuscript, take a break. (If you’re time allows.) I don’t mean thirty minutes. I mean, a couple of weeks. Go reward yourself! Eat some ice cream. Buy a new book to read and spend hours devouring the contents. Forget about your book.

Suggestion #2: After allowing some space between you and your wonderfully crafted words on the page, return to it with a stack of post-its and a fun colored pen. Read the words from front to back. Stick post-it notes with suggestions of what you think need to be included on certain pages. Usually I place a piece of paper in the front of general things I need to add as a whole, such as more tension between the protagonist and her love interest. The post-it remind me of little changes, such as grammatical errors I noticed without marking the text or hair or eye color that is different from earlier.

Suggestion #3: Now is the time to actually dive in and start the overall change in the text. Work on one chapter per day, if your time allows. If you do more than that, then you could become overwhelmed and believe there is no way to finish revising. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Do you evoke the five senses in the chapter? Do you answer the five W’s questions? Do you hook the reader from the start? Why should the reader care about your story? What makes it different from what has already been published? Are the characters believable? Is the tension believable?

Of course, there are tons of different suggestions because every writer’s path of revision is different, but here are some suggestions that help me minimize the headache involved in making my story better.

Please share any suggestions you have that work. I would love to learn different strategies to apply to my writing. 


Kelly Bridgewater holds a B.S. in English and a M.A. in Writing from Indiana State University on the completion of a creative thesis titled Fleeting Impressions, which consisted of six original short stories. She has been published in the Indiana State University Literary Journal, Allusions, with her stories titled “Moving On” and “Life Changing Second.” In fall 2011, she presented her essay, Northanger Abbey: Structurally a Gothic Novel, at the Midwestern American Society of 18th Century Studies Conference. Kelly’s writing explores the ideas of good prevailing over evil in suspense. Kelly and her husband reside with their three boys and two dogs.