October 5, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: What Went Right With My First Book – SIMPLE SCIENCE SERMONS FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS (CSS Publishing 1998) Guy Stewart #7


In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

SIMPLE SCIENCE SERMONS FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS (still in print after sixteen years – https://store.csspub.com/prod-0788012940.htm) grew out of my passion for science, my work with young people, my faith in Christ, and my belief that science can be used to illustrate ideas of faith.

The sermons themselves were well-tested, both in the lab and on the platform. It seemed natural to write them up and try and sell them.

The thing was, was that people would come up to me after my sermons and say, “How do you DO that? I’d never know what to say!” There are twenty science demonstrations, matched with twenty scripts matched with twenty bible verses or passages.

My biggest problem was creating a natural-sounding script for someone to read! I did the things all the time and also, being a classroom teacher, I’d not only do the lab, but banter as well – sort of like how a magician does his shtick in order to distract his audience from the sleight of hand she’s working on the stage. I’d done it for years but how could I condense my endless prattle into something someone who was UNFAMILIAR with science and its funny aspects could use when presenting things like “The Electric Pickle”? How could I POSSIBLY connect the day of Pentecost – when tongues of fire came down on the heads of the disciples of Jesus and their tongues were loosened to speak languages they’d never learned to people who could understand what they were saying – and the lightning flashes you see inside a large deli pickle when you use an old electrical cord, split the ends and wrap bare wires around two nails, then shove them into opposite ends of the pickle and plug it into the wall?

I pointed out that “our God is a god of surprises”...certainly none of the disciples expected tongues of fire on their heads, a wind rushing through their room, or being able to speak unlearned languages.

Certainly no one who sees a pickle with nails stuck in either end would expect the pickle to become a veritable night light!

All of the children’s sermons in the book are like that.


First, I wrote what I knew. I know that’s not always possible, but in non-fiction, I am convinced that you have to intimately know what you’re talking about. Secondly, I made what I was doing easily transferrable – I gave a basic script that covered all the salient points. Third, I provided an equipment list of easily obtainable materials (except for one, in which I advised the presenter to get the acid-base indicator phenolphthalein from a chemistry or science teacher they knew), the Bible verse on which the sermon was based, and a very brief explanation of the science of the demonstration.

Last of all, I wrote it with a light hand. This wasn’t a science textbook. It wasn’t an attempt to convert outsiders to Christianity nor make fun of science.

I wanted kids to see something that outsiders and Christians could agree on: SCIENCE IS COOL!

I am passionate about science. I am passionate about young people. I am passionate about Jesus Christ. A book melding all three was a natural for me.

[One caveat: CSS Publishing is not particularly author friendly. Sixteen years ago, the contract they offered me was an offer of $100 (for all rights), book promotional materials, and twelve copies of the finished book with a promise to return the rights of the book to me when they were done with it. I asked for more money and was told I was lucky that they were doing it for me as books like this have no market. It was “a ministry”. I believed them and signed the contract. Never got the promotional material and a phone call a year later elicited a response that they would send them as soon as they could, but it probably was too late...Sixteen years later, by my calculations, they have made (conservatively: initial investment of $3000 to produce the book and print 100 copies. Selling at $6.95. Sell 100 a year then reprint (why ELSE would they keep it if no one bought it?) 100 x 6.95 = $695 x 5 years = $3475 + $1000 reprint costs. They increased the price to the current $8.50 over the years, so let’s average it: $7.30. 2004 to 2014, 10 more years = $7300 + $3475 - $4000 = $6775...Hmmm...not bad for “books like this have no market”… I suspect they made a bit more than that because when I approached them to return the copyright, they ignored me. I would suggest seeking a different publisher for your manuscript...)]


No comments: