Monday, August 22, 2005

Application Is Key

It’s important to have the how-to knowledge about the workings of various aspects of publishing. Many people are struggling with a magazine article or a book manuscript or a query letter because they are not informed about the basics of the editor’s expectations. They are firing off their material with little background or research about the marketplace and garnering lots of rejection and few opportunities. Each of us need to learn those basics such as writing for the audience and meeting the editor’s expectations. Yet we need something more than the information—we need to apply it to our own writing life.

Almost every day I continue to learn new aspects about publishing. It’s an attitude and a life choice that I’ve made for myself (and will continue to make). Some times people choose to ignore good advice and as a result they continue to struggle and not get published. I’ve learned to carefully evaluate the credentials of the person giving the advice. I’ve written about the “grain of salt” factor—or taking the advice with a grain of salt. Also it’s important to look at the credentials of who is giving you counsel. Do they have the experience to back what they are teaching? Some people are great at teaching and almost with their first book, they land on the writer’s conference circuit. I may learn something from these teachers (not to discount them entirely) but I want to especially listen to people who have the experience to back what they are teaching.

As an example, a number of years ago, I connected with a great marriage ministry. I was fascinated with the personal story of the founder.  I had written for a few magazines, so I arranged an interview then wrote this article which I called “Shocked Into Service.” In a nutshell, the founder was a pastor and had a distinct relationship in private than what he presented in public. In public, he was the dynamic, teaching pastor yet in private he fought constantly with his wife and struggled. One day he was out on his roof in the rain fixing his television antenna (this reveals something about the man). During this storm, he was struck by lightening and landed in the hospital. He was desperate and the doctors couldn’t do anything for him. He prayed and promised God that he would change as a husband if the Lord healed him—which happened. He and his wife founded this national organization to help other marriages.

I crafted my query and I crafted the magazine article. I sent my query to targeted markets yet was soundly rejected—repeatedly. I couldn’t understand the reason. The story and the miracle of God was fascinating to me. Why wouldn’t someone publish it? I had forgotten about the reaction of the audience. 

At a writer’s conference, I had a brief session with one of these editors who rejected my idea (with a form rejection—nothing personal on that form). It gave me a chance to learn why my story was rejected. This much published and long-time editor nailed it in a few sentences saying, “Terry, people don’t want to know about the dual life of their pastor. It may be true but they don’t want to know that their pastor is fighting with his wife at home and living a completely different life in public.”

I discovered a fascinating personal experience story—but I’d forgotten to consider the reaction of the reader to that story. I’d done the interview work and the writing with excellence—yet I missed the application. That story was tucked into a file folder and never published in those magazines. I learned my lesson from the experience.

The key from my perspective is to take this how-to information about writing and apply it to your own writing every day. Keep growing in your craft, your business savvy about the marketplace, your relationships with different editors and your knowledge of publishing. It’s all fine to talk about writing but the key is in the actual doing. 

1 Comment:

At 11:24 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington Left a note...

This is the cool thing about being a writer. You never stop learning, if of course, you seek to learn. It's definitely not a dead-end job! I like a quote I heard: Find a job you like and you'll never work a day in your life.

Your attitude about writing is encouraging, Terry. It challenges me to strive for excellence in all my writing.


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