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October 2011

Reporter: Lee Carver

Lee CarverLee Carver and her husband served as volunteer missionaries six years while he was a bush pilot in the Brazilian Amazon. She lived in six foreign countries and studied nine languages. She taught biology and chemistry and served as volunteer church musician. The Carvers, married more than 40 years, have two adult children and five grandchildren. She is a member of ACFW and its DFW Ready Writers Chapter.

Editor: Janny Butler

Janny ButlerA popular speaker, workshop teacher, and writing coach, Janet W. (Janny) Butler is a Golden Heart winner, author of the “best little book no one’s ever heard of,” ACFW member, and book project editor for the nation’s largest nonprofit Catholic publisher. She blogs at Catholic Writer Chick at Large! and Hoosier Ink. Visit her here.

Workshop 8: Research: Ins and Outs of Making a Book Come to Life

Cara PutmanCara Putman (right) and Tricia Goyer are obviously good friends—a friendship that spilled over into one of the conference’s best tag-team stand-up comic routines. When the laughter died down, though, we had a five-page handout and hastily scribbled notes on how to research absolutely anything. Goyer and Putman shared research examples from the genres in which they publish, but did not limit their methods to only those.

Just the source(s), Ma’am

The presenters (Tricia Goyer, right) discussed making personal site visits for vibrant details, the shortcomings of relying on Wikipedia, delights and dangers of Google Earth, and software they could recommend to organize all the research. Tricia GoyerA list of library resources included:

  • Newspapers Direct (650 newspapers in 76 countries)
  • History Resource Center for documents from pre-Colonial times to the present
  • Greenwood Daily Life Online
  • Associations Unlimited
  • Proquest magazines and newspaper articles
  • Readers Advisory Tools

Of course, various libraries have different resources and reference librarians love to help you research. You may find yourself bonding with them, in fact—which will help you market the book later.

Live and In Person!

Other ways to do research are more hands-on and face-to-face…or at least can be.

Facebook and Twitter can be useful—with caution!—to connect with readers and even provide people to interview and allow them to invest in your project. You can also peruse for other people’s photos.

Writing about crime? Go to trials, into jails, attend FBI Citizen’s Academy and police ride-alongs. Focusing on a particular town or region? Talk with locals in towns of interest.

Remember, too, the value of listening over asking a lot of questions—don’t rush the interview. Allow for silent times, even tears. It’s how you tap into the emotion that will move your reader. And do take pictures of yourself with the people you talk with.

Danger: Information Overkill?

No matter how absorbing research is, don’t get carried away. Don’t over-research, don’t chase rabbit trails, and don’t include material in your book just because you found it. You can stop researching when you begin to see the same info several times.

While too much research dumped into a book isn’t good, specific facts add color and authenticity—and prevent a knowledgeable reader from being pulled out of the book by errors.

In short, details matter.

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