Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg is coming to the SCWC on June 8

23 May

We’ve got BIG news for those coming to the Southern Christian Writers Conference this year. If you register for the conference you automatically get to attend the dinner and awards ceremony for Southern author extraordinaire Rick Bragg. We are beyond excited about Rick being with us, and know you will be too! Here’s the press release that went out today about the announcement:


Rick Bragg has been selected to receive the 2018 National Award for the Encouragement of Writing. The award recognizes an individual who has been exemplary in supporting writers over many years.

The award ceremony is schedule for Friday, June 8, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Tickets for the ceremony and dinner are $15. Information is available by emailing vision.press.books@gmail.com. The deadline to purchase tickets is May 28.

A professor of writing at the University of Alabama, Bragg has spoken at conferences and writing workshops around the nation. The number of writers he has inspired is legion, and many say he is their favorite living writer.

Bragg won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1996 and has had a number of national best-selling books.

He has received more than 50 writing awards and his Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing (while he was working for the New York Times) cited his “elegantly written stories about contemporary America.” He’s also won the Southern Book Prize and Harper Lee Award.

To learn more about Rick Bragg and his writing, check out his page on Wikipedia.

Read his collection of essays at Southern Living.

Buy tickets to Rick’s ceremony/dinner at the Southern Christian Writers Conference website.


The Southern Christian Writers Conference is the perfect start to your Summer

17 May


The annual Southern Christian Writers Conference is mere weeks away…and we’d LOVE to have you participate with us.

The conference has been around for 26 years and regularly attracts attendees from around the Southeast and the nation for two days of instruction, motivation, and fellowship.

This year’s conference is June 8 and 9 at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and features keynote speakers Melanie Dickerson and John Phillips.

Workshop sessions throughout the weekend include such varied topics as songwriting, magazine writing, nonfiction book publishing, and social media marketing.

And, as a special highlight, world-renowned author Rick Bragg will receive the Joanne Sloan Award at a Friday night dinner.

Learn more at the SCWC website (GO HERE), where you can check out everything about the event and also pre-register.


Q & A with musician Keith Elder: “Songwriting is cheaper than a therapist”

8 May

Keith Elder will be speaking at the 2018 Southern Christian Writers Conference on songwriting. His experience will inspire and inform any attendees who are songwriters–or who may have an interest in learning more about this creative endeavor.

Keith is a full-time United Methodist minister who has more than 30 years of experience writing and performing for concerts, conferences, and church events. Along with music for his albums, he has written many theme songs for service organizations and special events and also has written and produced several small-scale musicals. He also leads and participates in songwriting workshops and symposiums.

I can’t wait for all of you to meet Keith–and be inspired by his music!

Question: When did you get started songwriting?

Answer: Early on, I was pretty good with words—loved word games like Scrabble, crossword puzzles, etc. There was always music in our home—Mom played piano and organ, and Dad sang. I was a teen in the late Sixties and early Seventies and resonated with James Taylor and John Denver and a dozen other folk/rock/pop artists. And, I guess, one day I gave the songwriting a shot. I remember having to write poems for classes (one 100-line epic for an eighth grade English class.) I honestly cannot remember the first song.

Q: Did it evolve from your playing music?

A: It definitely evolved with my playing music. I started guitar when I was fifteen—mimicking all of my folk heroes—and as off Spring, 2020, I will have played guitar 50 years! Cannot believe it! But it is still fresh and interesting. It’s a rare day that I do not play. I work on songs daily as well. I probably have fifty “song bits” in my phone right now—and at least that many on my laptop.

Q: For anyone who wants to be a songwriter, what are some of your important pieces of advice?

A: Listen to great songs and ask yourself, “What made that so moving?” Write toward a feeling—not a concept. Show me, don’t tell me—that is, paint word pictures. Think details in the verses and big ideas and emotional hook in the chorus. Write something every day! It may just be working on the right word or phrase or verse in a song. You don’t have to finish the song every day or even every week, but write something EVERYDAY.

Write what you know—that is, draw from your own experience.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the processes you do/teach at songwriting seminars, sessions? What can people expect at the SCWC?

A: We’ll start by seeing where people are—experience-wise. I’ll share a dozen or so basic songwriter tips that apply to most any genre.  I’m sure I’ll share songs or bits of songs for illustration’s sake. We’ll brainstorm song possibilities and pick one to work with for remnant of time. I’ll share some resources that will help them on their songwriting journey.

Q: How do you balance being a pastor and a songwriter/musician?

A: New songs are like misbehaving children—you can’t keep them down. You just work on them whenever you have pockets of time. And you have a set time each day that you write. At least, that’s what the pros do. Builders build. Preachers preach. Songwriters write songs.

As for balance, I see and treat my pastoral duties like a do-list. The songwriting fills in the rest of the time like water fill as the space between rocks in a gallon jar.

Q: What does music “do” for you? How does it enrich your life?

A: I jokingly say that songwriting is cheaper than a therapist. Being a song crafter, I get a general sketch and then work out what I think, believe, feel, want. Finishing a song and then sharing it is, perhaps, the most gratifying thing I do. I think, because it was something I was meant to do.

Learn more about Keith’s music at his website–KeithElder.com.

And check him out on Youtube–


We hope to see you at the Southern Christian Writers Conference. For more information, visit the SCWC website.

Q & A with Cindy Jones: Using social media to create your story and build your brand

30 Apr

Cindy Jones will be presenting workshops at this year’s Southern Christian Writers Conference on “Building Your Writing Brand through Social Media.” She is a writer who has published in such magazines as Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family Magazine and Lifeway’s Journey Devotional for Women. She provides content, manages social media, and does digital marketing and helps small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop unique personal branding.

“Stories are important to me and helping others discover theirs is what I love to do,” she says.

Her insight into using today’s technology to help writers is truly fascinating, and I sat down with her to learn even more about her favorite tips and techniques.

Question: What does “brand” mean in relation to writers marketing their work?

Answer: Branding is all around us. McDonald’s, Target, or M&Ms. It’s all those jingles or repetitive phrases that stick in our memory, as well as color schemes and logos.

We unconsciously assign values to products or services by the way they make us feel, which could be good or BAD.

One of the best definitions of branding that I’ve come across is by author Kristen Lamb. She says that, “Branding is simply an extension of story.”

For some writers, marketing themselves seems awkward. But in reality, if you are a writer wanting to sell a product or service, you are a business. Businesses that want to be successful market themselves and do this with specific target branding.

Which brings us back to the definition of branding. Branding is all about your story and how you use your story to make people feel.

Everyone, in some way, is creating a story. How you share that particular story is marketing. Branding for writers is essential because they are in need of readers. Readers are looking for something they find familiar and they know they already like. Including your audience in your story is part of branding and marketing. Your job is to create an atmosphere of trust, open communications and value to your readers. Readers are more likely to stand behind someone that created a memory with them than someone constantly filling up the Facebook feed with ads.

Q: Why is social media important for writers?

A: At no point in history has there ever been a time when you can get personal with people of influence. Just by clicking a like on Facebook or heart on Instagram, you feel instantly connected. If that person takes the time to acknowledge you, it’s time to celebrate. You’ve just been included in what used to be an exclusive club.

Writers may not understand that they too have influence. Many of us made it to where we are by the investment of others who we looked up to. Social media has made it much easier.

We can use social media to immediately reach out to others with encouragement, inspiration, or to teach, enlighten or entertain. When you use social media as a means to be a blessing to as many people as possible, it becomes a tool not a vice.


Q: Give me an example of branding you’ve done for a company or a writer, or even yourself.

A: During the last three years, I’ve worked with over a hundred real estate agents and entrepreneurs in industries such as clothing, photography, music, and art. After interviewing each, I developed short and long bios, tag lines, slogans and hashtags which are used with all their social media channels, websites, newsletters, and email signatures. I’ve also set up Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts using specific graphics unique to each.

After working with them to identify their personal goals and marketing plan, we get to the fun part of developing visuals for their blogs, newsletters, websites, social media covers, pins and business cards.

My favorite creatives to work with, by far, are fiction and nonfiction writers. Writers can often feel frustrated when it comes to writing their own bios. I think it’s an issue for most of us because it can feel like we are bragging on ourselves instead of writing a business description.

Usually it takes a small amount of time after talking with them to discover their dreams and goals. I enjoy helping them to verbalize what it is they want to accomplish. Once that’s in place, we work together to a build a solid brand that best suits their personality and agenda.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your own personal branding.

A: With my own branding, it’s been a journey. I believe that developing a brand can either sprout very quickly or grow very slowly. One isn’t better than the other, you have to be open to what is working and be flexible to change if it’s not.

Though my branding has changed over the course of my writing career, the underlying theme has never veered very far from my initial goal of helping others create a story worth living.

You’ll always find some type of owl nestled in my logos or some narrative which is been pretty consistent through time. Owls are a symbol to me of God’s never ending supply and constant steadfastness. There’s a long, personal story behind that..

Q:  How do you help to hope attendees at the SCWC?

A: When I attended my first writing conference over a decade ago, I was told I needed to build a platform to be taken seriously by any publisher. So, I got busy. In fact, I was so busy building my platform that years passed by and I hadn’t written a thing that was published. Big mistake.

I want to help other writers not make that mistake. I want to give them some tools and information about branding and marketing that doesn’t steal from their writing time. I also want to make it less frightening and intimidating. Marketing can be a lot of fun. You can make new friends, from all over the world, and that’s what marketing should be. Creating a brand and developing relationships that are valuable go hand in hand. Without readers, writers are basically keeping a personal journal. So, we have to get out of our comfort zones and be personable and friendly and not over-the-top pushy or only about peddling our merchandise.

We need to include others in our story. Writers should create with the mindset that they are in this thing together with their readers and not alone.

If we enjoy what we do, we are successful. If others enjoy what we do, we are blessed.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your own writing.

A: I knew the first time I read Little Women that I wanted to be a writer. That was at age ten. During my freshman year of high school, my English teacher pointed out to the whole class that I had written a story with the assigned vocabulary words and she was very impressed. While it embarrassed me, it was the first time anyone encouraged me to become a writer. However, during my freshman year of college, my English teacher failed me and told me I should keep my day job of flipping burgers. I decided I didn’t have what it took to become a writer and tried to ignore the longing in my heart but I couldn’t.

As a young mom in my early twenties, I started writing stories for my children and submitted a couple of magazine articles, all of which were declined.  It wasn’t until my mid thirties that things started happening for me. After receiving a bill for the local newspaper that we weren’t getting, I drove to the main office to complain. Once the bill was addressed, I brazenly asked if they were in need of writers. To my amazement, I was hired on the spot and ended up with a weekly column in the Sunday paper. At that point, I knew God was working behind the scenes.

For many years I doubted my ability and gift, making excuses such as, “I don’t have a college degree,” when all I needed was the courage to step out. Following the newspaper gig, I attended Beth Moore’s retapping of Breaking Free in New Orleans where I met her and shared my story of childhood abuse. A year later, my story was published in Lifeway’s Journal for Women. After that, opportunities poured in and I began to write for multiple magazines, corporate websites, travel websites, and list continues to grow.

I’ve not written that novel yet but I’ve had a couple of short stories published and hope to continue to pursue that dream. My social media management and marketing consulting business grew out of a need to help a friend. Using all of my skills I learned with building my own platform, I have many clients that I managed all their social media accounts, I write sales copies, blog posts, create newsletter templates and recently began building custom websites. This year I celebrated my fiftieth birthday and feel like I’m just getting started!

(Meet Cindy at the SCWC in Tuscaloosa on June 8-9. In addition to presenting workshops, she’ll also be doing private consulting sessions with a limited number of attendees. Learn more about the conference at the SCWC website and on its Facebook page. Get to know more about Cindy by visiting her website.)

Guest blogger Jan White: How writing conferences can work for you

27 Apr

Writers conferences, while offering helpful classes to hone your writing skills, provide valuable face-to-face appointments to market your writing to editors and publishers.

If you can invest the time and money to attend a conference, you can sell more manuscripts because you’ll improve your craft and increase your contacts.  Most importantly, when you focus yourself and your writing on God during a Christian Writers Conferences it can be life-changing.

Fellowship, feedback, and fun are the benefits of networking with other writers at meals and workshops.  Bring your business card to the conference to exchange with conferees and give to editors and publishers.

An appointment schedule is usually posted and conferees can sign up for one-on-one meetings with editors and publishers.  Read about the conference faculty before you go.  Whether it’s a completed manuscript, query letter, or just an idea you want to discuss, decide who represents the market for it and meet with them.

Conferences feature panel sessions with authors, agents, magazine editors, and book publishers who specify what kind of topics or manuscripts they need and trends in publishing.  This knowledge gives you an advantage over other writers submitting material.

You’re more likely to make a sell because of personal contacts with editors and publishers who ask you to address your envelope to their attention.  Often, they will ask you to include in your cover letter that you spoke with them at the conference you attend.

I highly recommend the Southern Christian Writers Conference for many reasons.  You will meet writers who will become lifelong friends.   You will be blessed by the camaraderie of Christian fellowship with other writers.   You will see God open doors, and sometimes close them; but, you will leave encouraged to “keep on keeping on” with your craft.  You will receive more helpful information than you can digest during the weekend, so plan to take notes during workshops and sessions to study when you return home.

I look forward to seeing you in Tuscaloosa soon!

(Jan White is a longtime attendee of the Southern Christian Writers Conference, and a freelance writer who lives in Andalusia, Alabama. She is a former winner of the Amy Writing Awards for religious writing.)

Q & A with publisher Ramona Richards: ‘Readers and editors are hungry for great ideas’

25 Apr

In preparation for the upcoming Southern Christian Writers Conference, I’m sitting down with workshop speakers to  “pick their brains” about issues important to both aspiring and published writers.

Today I welcome Ramona Richards, who is an associate publisher at New Hope Publishers and a former editor at such companies as Thomas Nelson Publishers and Abingdon Press. She’ll speak at the SCWC on “Working with a Christian Book Publisher.

Question: Tell me a little bit about how you became an editor.

Answer: I’ve wanted to be a writer as far back as I can remember, but I also knew making a living as a writer sometimes took awhile. I needed a day job, but I wanted one that dealt with books. So I applied to every publisher, printer, library, and bookstore I could. The first offer came from the United Methodist Publishing House. I started as an editorial secretary in the children’s book department and worked my way up, learning everything I could about editing, writing, and the industry itself. (I also worked in a bookstore and a printing plant during the early days of my career as well.)

Q: What is the process to getting a book published at your company?

A: Submissions can be made through our website (http://www.newhopepublishers.com/proposals/) or through meeting with me at a conference. Most of our submissions come from agents. After that it’s pretty standard. Also, traditional publishing is NOT the only option at our company. If an author has a niche book and only needs a limited number of copies, we have a custom division as well.

Q: As an editor, what do you wish writers knew more?

A: How powerful they are, especially with readers. Authors often feel as if they are at the mercy of the whims of editors and readers, but they don’t have to be. Readers (and editors) are hungry for great ideas and stories. If an author is dedicated to working with social media, building a brand, and connecting regularly with readers, they can have a lot of sway into what gets bought. It takes A LOT of work, but well worth it.

I’ve been in publishing for more than 36 years. And there is this strange, pervasive myth—and it IS a myth—that writers should be able to just write and wait for everything else to happen for them (marketing, reader connections, sales, etc.). But that was NEVER the truth of how publishing works. I can count on one hand the number of successful authors who never did anything but write. There has always been the concept of an “author brand,” how it was built and spread. The METHODS have changed, but not the facts. Readers today want interaction and authenticity.

Of course, it all starts with great content. Story is still (and always will be) key. Writers should still spend around 60% of their time creating it. But if they’ll spend the other 40% spreading their name, their message, and their brand, they’ll have more power than they can imagine in the marketplace.

Q:  How do you hope to help attendees at the SCWC?

A: I want to hear their ideas, their stories, and their dreams. I want to talk about what paths they can pursue to make their dreams happen.

We’re so excited to welcome Ramona to the SCWC, and look forward to learning more from her during the weekend.

To find out more about the writers conference, visit our website at SCWconference.com and visit our Facebook page to keep current with updates.


Guest Post from Kathryn Lang: Invest in Relationships to Launch into your Dreams

23 Apr

One of the best times of the year is a little over a month away, and as we anticipate the Southern Christian Writers Conference on June 8-9, I’m ramping it up here on the blog.

I’ll be having guest posts from many of my writing friends.

I’ll also be having Q&As with speakers and workshop presenters who are coming to the conference.

So, check in here at “Writing with Cheryl” on a regular basis to learn something new about the craft of writing, to get inspired, and to get ready for this year’s conference.

Today’s guest blogger is Kathryn Lang, a writer and encourager from Guntersville, Ala., who gives us some great insight into how other people can help get your writing dreams off the ground.

Invest in Relationships to Launch into Your Dreams

It all comes back to relationships. The key to building success, in your writing and in your life, will be founded in and grown up on the relationships that create your foundation.

One of the top questions I hear from writers focuses on how to sell their book. I have heard experts declare the power for solid book sales lies on the size of the platform. Others have said it has to do with the right agent or publisher.

Ultimately, they are all right. These tips both come back to having relationships – and more importantly having the relationships that will grow you up into your possibilities.

How do you grow those right relationships? It takes two things:

1. Be invested in creating lasting connections with people; and

2. Be focused on being relentlessly helpful.

Tips for Creating Connections

– Engage on social media. Engagement means two-way conversations, so find a social media site you can enjoy and then begin talking to one person on that site. Twitter chats have been a lot of fun for engagement and for learning. Facebook groups and Facebook live offer different types of conversations from the character limits of Twitter. LinkedIn has even been making a shift to more social than business. Remember to make it SOCIAL first – think cocktail party conversations. Have fun. Make friends. Be relentlessly helpful.

– Engage with your target audience (whether that might be agents, publishers, or readers). It’s never too early to begin building your connections. Go where they hang out and then just hang out with them. If you are looking for moms that homeschool, then social media groups may not be the ideal location. If you are looking for publishers or book agents, then preschool mom hangouts may not be the ideal investment. Take time to define who you want to speak with and speak to so that you can position yourself to engage them.

– Engage with people and not numbers. The more the news reveals the “fake” followers on social media, the more the decision makers are beginning to see that numbers aren’t as valuable as relationships. Ten followers that are invested in engaging with you and fans for you are more powerful than 10,000 followers that are just numbers on the screen.

Building writing success requires more than writing words. You will need to invest and grow relationships. The good news for introverts is that you grow relationships one person at a time. The good news for extroverts is that you can engage people in groups and still make connections. There is no reason not to invest in relationships and by investing in those relationships you create a foundation from which you can launch into your dreams.

(Kathryn Lang is a hopesmith, a dream ignitor, and an aficionado of inappropriate laughter: She knows that if you focus on making friends, helping out, and enjoying the journey then you can’t go wrong.

Words have always been a focus for Kathryn. Her dad will tell you that she didn’t talk until she was two but she hasn’t shut up since. She loves words and is always looking for ways to put words to work and wield the words that will challenge you to pursue your extraordinary.

Kathryn says, “I know you have a unique purpose and a designed path. Together we can find the way that works.” Visit www.SnarkyRainbows.com to connect with Kathryn today.)