Beyond the Smoke
Terry Burns

Terry Burns writes inspirational fiction and is an agent with Hartline Literary . As a writer he has a series that began with Mysterious Ways from River Oak Publishing and the series bears that name. The second, Brothers Keeper came out Feb 1, 2006 and Shepherd's Son came out January 1, 2007. That gives him 24 books in print counting the nonfiction and short story collections. Other fiction includes Trails of the Dime Novel, a trade paperback from Echelon Press and in audio from JBS Publishing. He has published over 200 articles and short stories. A popular speaker at workshops across the country, his available works as well as a daily blog can be found at As an agent Terry says "I'm looking for a good book, well written, aimed at a market that looks promising, and where I feel I have the contacts appropriate to be able to sell the book in that market."

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I have a good friend who very badly wants to be a writer. He has a good feeling for telling a story, but he is “too busy” to be in a writing group or critique group or even to participate in some of the online possibilities. And of course a writer’s conference is out of the question. That’s like a person deciding he is going to do brain surgery by following the instructions in a textbook. Telling a story and learning to write it well enough for it to deserve publication are two different things.

When I started writing, I participated in all of the above in addition to taking a couple of writing courses at college and a Writer’s Digest course. I studied my craft for six years before I was competent enough to get a book published, and by that time I had quite a bit of short work published. Now, as an agent, I am sent work all the time by people who have a story, but it is far from being competently written. I read others that are pretty good, but thousands of good books are competing for scarce publishing slots. No, even a good book is not good enough; it takes an exceptional book. For a publisher to acquire your manuscript, it requires a unique story in a unique voice aimed at a good market.

I can’t imagine anyone expecting to do something well without getting the training to do it. I still try to write on the side, and even after some twenty years I continue to try to learn and improve.

There is no shortage of training available. I just came from the Jerry Jenkins Write for the Soul conference in Denver, Colorado. It goes along with his Christian Writer’s Guild, which has a mission of “equipping the next generation of Christian writers.” Last weekend the regional Romance Writers of America conference took place in Shreveport, Louisiana. I work these conferences to try to find those exceptional books.

One of my spiritual gifts is encouragement, and I use it to encourage writers and to pass on things that I believe will help them—things I have learned from my writing training and from the conferences and workshops I’ve attended, not to mention some lessons I have learned the hard way.

I will be attending several conferences in the coming months:

• Texas Writers Guild, Richardson, Texas,

• East Texas Christian Writers Conference at East Texas Baptist, April 9–10
• Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Oklahoma City,
April 29
• Colorado Christian Writers Conference, Estes Park, Colorado, May 12–15

• SW regional meeting of ACFW in Edmond, Oklahoma, May 22 • Panhandle Professional Writers, Amarillo, Texas, June 25–26

• Oregon Christian Writers Conference, Portland, Oregon, August 2–5

I’ve worked forty or so other conferences besides these. I would enjoy being able to work other conferences, and all I need is an invitation!

I present several programs at the conferences, but the most popular is Pitch and Promote like a Pro, based on a month-long program done for ACFW (the American Christian Fiction Writers). I have a book coming out on this topic, which will make a nice companion piece for the workshop. A popular feature at many conferences is editor and agent panels, but at smaller workshops and conferences where that isn’t done, I do an Agent Q & A, which is popular. I also do programs on Making a Living Writing and Being a Christian Writer in a Changing World. I do a couple basic programs for fledgling writers: So You Always Wanted to Write? and Using Fiction to Spread God’s Word. I have done several other presentations that I keep in my file and dust off when necessary. I’m always ready to design new topics when needed.

Every writer should ask themselves if they are gaining the necessary training to be successful at getting published, or if they think they just “know how to write a good book.”

And what about the level of training needed to teach writing? Any teacher who is not also continuing to learn will soon be presenting stale or outdated material. I was fascinated at the Denver conference to look over and notice Jerry Jenkins making notes during Max Lucado’s program on writing. If a best-selling writer like Jerry is still working to improve his craft, what excuse could the rest of us possibly have for not doing the same?