Monday, January 31, 2005

What Makes A Bestseller?

The question is worth asking but there are few answers. What elements have to come together to for a book to suddenly skyrocket to the top of the bestseller charts?  In my last post, I talked about the importance of story—for nonfiction and fiction.  Each of us need to learn how to write meaningful stories. The writing will always have to shine for it to get the buzz and attention going.  Yet some wonderfully written books don’t get to the bestseller list.

Several years ago, I was interviewing Jerry B. Jenkins for a story related to one of the Left Behind books. Jerry realizes the unusual way his series of books has caught public attention—with over 60 million copies in print and a huge appetite for the next book the series. Jerry recommended that I read a book from Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown Company, 2000). 

A tipping point according to Gladwell is that magical moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire. What causes it?  The Law of the Few is one of the critical elements where three groups intersect and come together. These three factors are: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. A connector is someone who knows lots of people and Gladwell gives a simple test. He takes about 250 surnames from the Manhattan phone book. You are to scan the names and see if you know someone with that last name. As he says on page 41, “All told, I have given the test to about 400 people. Of those, there were two dozen or so scores under 20, eight over 90, and four more over 100…Sprinkled among every walk of life, in other words, are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are Connectors.”

A Maven is one who accumulates knowledge. “A Maven is a person who has information on lots of different products or prices or places. This person likes to initiate discussions with consumers and respond to requests.” (p. 62) So you see two of the elements—mavens and connectors.

“In a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people—Salesmen—with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.” (p. 70).

Do I have it figured out? Not at all. I believe Gladwell is on to something significant for these factors to come together to tip the balance and make a book move from one level to the bestseller category. I hope it provides you with a bit of my insight. I still have a great deal to learn about this particular question.


Sunday, January 30, 2005

Story, The Illusive Key to A Bestseller

During the past few days, I’ve been thinking again about what makes a bestseller book and how to acquire one.  The Book Standard had a terrific article on this topic with some current numbers called “Top 200 Sellers Equal 10.8% of ‘04 Market.” Ed Christman wrote, “The top 200 bestselling books of 2004 moved a combined 73.5 million copies, or 10.8% of the total 677.9 million units sold, during the year, as measured by Nielsen BookScan. Among those 200 titles were 10 that exceeded a million copies each, 22 that moved between a million and 500,000 units and 101 that sold between half a million and 200,000 copies. The remaining 67 titles sold between 200,000 and 155,000 copies. Put another way—books that sold fewer than 155,000 copies made up 89% of the total sales tracked by BookScan.”

One of the best books that I’ve read about bestsellers is a little off the beaten track but well worth locating called Making the List, A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900–1999 by Michael Korda (Barnes and Nobles Books, 2001). If you don’t know the background, Korda is the long-time Editor-in-Chief at Simon & Schuster.  With a little commentary, the book examines the details of the bestseller list from the last century.  Here’s one of the nuggets of truth Korda unearths from his research, “The lesson is, yes, there are rules, but they don’t apply to writers of real talent, and they’re not absolute for anybody. The only thing you can say for sure is that, yes, the ability to tell a story matters a lot, in fiction and in nonfiction, and having something new and interesting to say about familiar subjects is maybe at the heart of it all.” (page xxvi introduction).

Storytelling is a key factor to make a bestseller. In many aspects of this business, I believe many elements agree that you can have the greatest marketing campaign and sales force—but if the storytelling and the words on the page don’t create a buzz of excitement, then little will usually happen. (Notice I didn’t say always because there are exceptions to almost every “rule” within publishing. Also notice the complete lack of certainty or predictability in this process.

For more than twenty years, I’ve personally known Jerry B. Jenkins, the writer of the bestselling Left Behind series which has sold over 60 million copies. Because of his amazing success with this series, few people recall that Jerry wrote almost 100 books (many of them nonfiction) before the first Left Behind book.

I’ve been in the publication board meetings where various publishing executives make a decision to publish a particular book. Then I’ve been in the marketing and sales meetings where they discuss different books and how to get them the best exposure in the marketplace. I can tell you that with the experience and available time, each person within the publishing house does their part to make a book into a bestseller. It’s just not that possible to predict these books. 


Tomorrow, I’m going continue this discussion. I plan to write about what I learned from a bestselling author regarding these factors for a bestseller. Hurry back for that one.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

New For Your Favorites

For the past month, I’ve been posting something each day about The Writing Life. It’s been an interesting and on-going learning experience for me.  Please don’t worry that I’m writing my closing remarks. I’m not because this journey is continuing.

As a writer, I am constantly looking for ways to adapt and move my writing toward the largest possible audience.  I’ve been reading other people’s blogs from time to time to see what I can learn. I discovered Tracey Bateman has a blog called Leave It To Tracey! Looking around her links page, I found  Rachel Hauck’s site. Rachel is the current president of an excellent fiction writer’s group called the American Christian Fiction Writers. (I know if you follow the link, they haven’t changed their site information yet but the name has been change.). OK, let’s return to my visit to Rachel’s site. Immediately I could see it was her blog and I spotted the little notice, I Power Blogger. Yet her location didn’t have the word blogspot in it.  I wondered how she did it. To me, it looked like a smart marketing decision. When you have a simple name, it’s easy to tell people where your material is located. 

I confess I’m unsure how Rachel set up her excellent site. It looks in one sense that she’s pointed it to her own hosting place. How would I know? Her Alexa number is much higher than the lower Blogger location. If you don’t know how I could know this information, then check this page where you can test the web traffic for any site. Also you can download Alexa for your own use. It’s a free tool with the parent company, Amazon.com.

This experience sent me on my own marketing journey. How could I create a simple place to tell people about The Writing Life? My answer was using a simple URL or website name. Yesterday I took another step in my on-going learning and purchased a domain name:


Immediately after purchasing the domain, I tried it. The name rolled from my name immediately to some weird get-rich-quick internet marketing piece. I was concerned that possibly I had purchased a URL which someone else already owned. Typically on the internet, it can take up to 48 hours for a domain to begin working. Thankfully after a few hours, my website began to function properly.

Please add this URL to your list of favorites. If you have The Writing Life in your list of links, don’t be concerned because I haven’t moved the location. It still is available through the former location. Why did I make this change? I intend to make The Writing Life easier to find in the millions of blogs. According to Jay Rosen at PressThink, there are six million blogs, 35,000 new blogs per day and 700,000 posts a day. He says these numbers are doubling every five months. The numbers are staggering but I believe it’s possible to stand out and have a growing audience for my life of a writer and editor.

I’m constantly learning as a writer and editor. In an earlier post, I mentioned BlogJet. It’s been a valuable tool to capture ideas and thoughts, then to save them and finally put them into The Writing Life. If you aren’t using such a tool, I highly recommend it. Also this week, I added the email envelope to the end of each of my posts. It’s another tool to allow readers to easily share the information with others. If you haven’t spotted it, I highly recommend you use this tool.

Throughout the final days of this week, I’ve been rewriting my book manuscript. I’m eager to write more about my writing and editing life. At the same time, I need to keep pushing the rock up the hill toward completion of my manuscript. I plan to return soon for another entry.


Friday, January 28, 2005

Oh Boy, Did I Write That?

Over the last few days, I’ve been working intensely on a writing project which has a looming deadline.  For some time, I’ve not read the material in this particular manuscript. When I originally wrote the material, I worked hard on the contents, the stories and the how-to material. I recall pouring hours of thought and effort into the project. Then I tucked it away and haven’t read it for about a year—until the last few days.

I’ve been working through each sentence and each phrase in this lengthy project. I find myself thinking repeatedly, “Oh boy, did I write that?” I’ve been amazed at the twisted sentences. In many ways, this experience reminded me of a principle that I mentioned earlier about haste sometimes makes waste. It seems like writers and editors are always chasing one deadline or another.

Slowly on my computer screen, I’ve reworked and rewritten the pesky sentences until they seem to flow in a better order. As a part of this particular writing task, I’ve been expanding the contents and adding additional stories and how-to information into the manuscript.  Whenever I come to a particular story, I’m returning to the story and looking to see if it is complete and fully told.  Often to my chagrin I’ve found it was missing some element. To help the reader, I’ve been filling out these particular stories, adding dialogue and other elements to keep the reader engaged in the content of my book.

I don’t like to face this part of my writing life. I want to move on to the next project with confidence that I’ve fully completed the old writing project. Instead, I’m mired in fixing an older project. It’s not pleasant work but it is necessary work. As writers, each of us face these types of tasks. If the language and the storytelling isn’t right, then it needs to be reworked. With each paragraph, I’m tackling this project. I will re-read my rewrite in a few days. As I’ve worked on each page, I’m confident the manuscript is improving through this process.

Currently I’m chaffing under the discipline of rewriting my own work. It’s not one of my great pleasures as an editor to have to call a writer and work through material that needs rewriting—but I’ve handled this type of conversation repeatedly.  At my former publisher, part of my task was to read a contracted manuscript after the author finished writing it and submitted it. I was reading to determine if the content was acceptable. Acceptability is important to the author because it normally means the editor is pleased with the contents and will release the second portion of their advance. The writer is happy because they get paid for their completion of the manuscript. 

Even when weighed with a great deal of responsibility, I took seriously this task of reading the manuscript for acceptability.  I recall one author had rushed through the storytelling for several of his chapters.  Instead of weaving together a story which showed the reader the events, this writer told the story.  Several times, he used the words, “Let’s listen to ______ tell the story in their own words…” Instead of involving the reader in the story, the reader was removed and listening to someone tell the story—almost like reading a transcription of an interview. This particular author had written several bestselling books with other publishers. I was reading his first new manuscript for my publisher. I marked each of these “told” stories and asked the author to rewrite these sections.  The author thanked me  which is always the sign of a true professional. He didn’t balk or try and protect his words. Instead he took my direction and reworked these stories. He said, “Oh, Terry, you are making me a better writer.” It’s one of the highest compliments to my editing.

The longer I work in publishing, I’m convinced each writer and each editor need to be pushed with our craft for it to reach the highest level. Some times you can push yourself. If you set aside a manuscript for a period of time, then return to it. You see it with fresh eyes to tear into the contents and if it needs it, rewrite the sentences.

Admittedly, it’s hard work for me to gain a confidence in the overall work of this particular manuscript. I’m determined to finish it and turn my anxiety about this project into creativity. It’s part of my writing life at the moment.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

I've spoiled A Few Writers

As an editor, I’m always surprised when a potential author will email me about something—and if I don’t respond in a few days—then this person will repeat their email. Other times they will forward their email or a number of other variations.

To me, it looks like a certain segment of the culture has become addicted to email and instant message. I understand when you hit the send button, the other person instantly gets your message. This fact does not mean the person (the editor) will instantly answer your email. In the first portion of Book Proposals That Sell, I attempt to help writers take a tiny step toward understanding the pressures and life of an editor. Throughout their work day, editors are involved in many more things than answering email or reading unsolicited material. Noah Lukeman has excellent advice for writers to improve this first impression in his book, The First Five Pages, A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

As an editor, I’ve always been committed to communication with my authors. When people listen to my teaching at writer’s conferences or we meet in person, they understand how I give any type of communication a high value (phone calls, emails and mailed submissions or communication). It’s because I try and treat writers as I would like to be treated. In the New Testament, it’s called the Golden Rule. You will noticed I said “try.” Each of us have a finite number of hours in the day and we can’t always meet our own expectations because of other priorities.

When I left my full-time acquisitions position at a publishing house, I turned over all of my email files and communication to my colleagues. In almost two years time, I had sent over 4,000 emails to authors and would-be authors. This number didn’t account for the many phone calls and then the mailed submissions that I handled.  Because of my committed communication, there was a loud outcry from my authors when I left that position. I recall one author writing me saying how I had spoiled her. When her manuscript came into the office, within a few days I told her that I had received it. Within another short span of time, I read the manuscript and gave her some feedback about it. This author had contracted for several books and some of them were delivered after I left the publisher. With her new editor, she turned in her manuscript then waited weeks—hearing nothing about a contracted book manuscript. Finally her editor communicated and eventually the book was processed and published. Just remember some editors are less responsive via email than others.

If you are looking for some insight into how to process email, I recommend following the wisdom built into the two posts from Michael Hyatt (CEO and President at Thomas Nelson Publishers). He’s put together two valuable tips about taming the email box.

It’s common for writers to wonder about standard rejection letters and why they can’t get more details from the editor. There are many reasons from a magazine editor and a book editor. I know since I’ve filled both of these roles. The key one is simply time. It isn’t there. Also as an editor, it’s not my role to give detailed information about why a particular article or manuscript or proposal did not work for my publication or my publishing house.  There are other places for writers to get this feedback. One of the best places for writers to get feedback is an organized critique group. I’ve provided detailed information about how to find a critique group then ideas what to do in this article.

I’m committed to answering my email in a timely fashion but my current writing and editing life also has pressures. If you don’t hear from me instantly, there isn’t a problem. I’d ask you to have some patience. If you wonder about spam filters and whether your email has been blocked, don’t send it a second (or third) time (yes, it happens). You can always mail it to me for a response. As my wife likes to remind me, I only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure it’s a good one.



Wednesday, January 26, 2005

If You Don't Have Patience

Patience is a necessity in this business. It’s a lesson that has been drilled into me repeatedly—even if I continue to chaff under that necessity.

I trained in the newspaper business where instant gratification is the norm for the writer.  Each afternoon, we had story deadlines and our articles appeared in the next day’s newspaper.  Some times the stories were held over until the following day—but they appeared in print and were read right away.

The magazine business takes longer with three to four months of typical lead time for many magazines. Other publications take even longer before they appear in print.  Last fall during a writer’s conference I had a face to face meeting with a magazine editor.  Several of us on the faculty slipped away one evening and grabbed supper in town at a restaurant. We told each other stories about the publishing business and enjoyed getting acquainted. 

Several years ago, I had ghostwritten an article for this publication when I worked at another company (and the “author” got paid for my work—which was fine back then because I was eager to promote the topic). I’ve never had my by-line appear in this particular publication with a large circulation. In rare emails since our meeting, I have been offering to write for this magazine. Late yesterday, I received a specific assignment from the editor.  See what I mean about the need for patience?

In my fiction acquisitions editor role, I’ve been working on contracting one of the novels since last summer. In mid-October, the publication board voted to accept the novel and yesterday I received the go-ahead from the literary agent to issue the contract.  This particular arrangement is still in motion. The deal will not be finalized until the author and the publisher sign the agreement. At this point, both parties have agreed to the general terms. The scheduled publication date for this completed novel is Spring 2007.  It seems like a long-time—even to the author and agent—but it’s one of the realities of book publishing. Patience is required for novelists as well as nonfiction authors. 

For me, the writing life reminds me of the regular act on the old Ed Sullivan Show. A man would walk out on the stage with some china plates and tall sticks. He would begin with one plate, then slowly add a series of spinning plates. When one plate began to fall, he quickly gave it another spin. If you need a reminder of the act, check out this link. It will take you to a real 4 1/2 minute show.

Patience is a necessary part of the writing life. If you don’t have it and want to be published, then you will learn to get it.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Discipline and the Writing Life

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment but I had no real health issue. Last August, we moved and I needed to connect with a family practice doctor. During the time with the doctor, I was going over my recent changes in my health. Last year, I dropped about 35 pounds and I’ve managed to keep that weight off for an entire year.  My new doctor said only 6% of people manage to maintain this type of weight loss after a year.  I’ve made a major lifestyle shift and with discipline, I’m sticking with that determination. Why? I know firsthand that discipline is a large part of the writer and editor life.

It's true as writers and editors we sit a great deal. I've been working hard to find the right balance. It's pretty easy for me to get engrossed in my computer and writing work so I don't get up and stretch or move around on a regular basis. I find if I do take the effort to move a bit, it helps my productivity.

Over the last year, I've been learning about balance in the physical side of writing. I've made a greater
commitment to exercise. I've been regularly getting on my treadmill at least 30 minutes a day and often
closer to 45 to 50 minutes. On my treadmill, I'm watching the daily news (something I often did sitting down on the couch). Now I find exercise helps reduce my stress level. In addition, I've been learning about diet. In my younger days, I was able to eat anything--donuts, candy, you name it--and control my weight through workouts. That's not the case any longer. I have to be more balanced with diet and exercise. For me, it's been watching carbs (more of a South Beach Diet approach). The results shrank my waist size from a 42 pants back into a 36 size and dropping about 35 pounds. Keeping this weight off for over a year on this type of program has not been easy or simple--but it has been concerted and intentional. It's how I'm managing this physical side of the writing life.

Some people wonder how I managed to write such a large volume of material over the years. And these new writers that I meet at conferences wonder if they will ever measure up. I tell them absolutely.  While I attended a top journalism school in college and worked hard, I never made an A in my major. Now years later I’ve published more books than many (if not all) of my classmates. My journey has not been without problems, stress and many issues to work through along the way. Do I have it all together? Hardly. I’m still a work in progress and learning constantly about this business.

As writers and editors, we walk to the beat of a different drummer. Discipline pours through many different aspects of the writing life.


Monday, January 24, 2005

The Power of Keeping Track

For almost twenty years of my writing life, I’ve been automatically keeping track of different little bits of information. I tuck an address into my address book or I update a phone number or a new email address. It doesn’t take a great deal of time but it’s a consistent and conscious act on my part.

I know some of the data in my rolodex is a bit dated. Yet I keep it there because I understand some times even an out-of-date address has value. Several years ago, I needed to reach an author for the publisher. Because of my role in acquisitions, the managing editor turned a project over to me. This author who has a busy counseling ministry owed the publisher a manuscript.  There had been some back and forth correspondence via email to talk about the editorial details with this manuscript. When I took the background information including the book contract from my colleague, I asked, “What’s a current phone number for _____?”

This busy managing editor said, “I’ve never talked with him on the phone. We’ve only communicated through email.” Heading back to my desk, I knew I needed to reach this author on the phone and talk through these editorial issues.  Email has it’s purpose—but it’s also a less personal means of reaching someone. It’s pretty easy to turn someone down via email or reshape their request or idea. I knew on the phone and in person, the conversation would be much more ground leveling with this bestselling author. But where do I find the phone number since it wasn’t in the file?

About fifteen years earlier, I had worked with this author as an editor and ghostwriter on one of his books. During that brief experience, we communicated a great deal but I hadn’t talked with this author in over fifteen years—yet his old information remained in my rolodex. It was a starting point. I called the old phone numbers and they didn’t work. My only choice was the front door approach. I called this author’s office and reached his assistant. When I explained the need, this assistant said, “You could be anyone on the phone, Terry, posing as a publisher. I can’t give you that information.”

I tried a different tact, “Does _____ still live in (name of the city), California?”


“Does he live at (specific street address)?”


“Is his home phone number (specific area code and number)?”

After giving this information, the assistant made a long pause on the phone. Then with a sigh, she said, “Yes, that’s the phone number but the area code has change to ____.” I thanked her for her “assistance.” In a matter of minutes I was talking with this author’s wife (another bit of information in my rolodex) and beginning to connect with him about my editorial issue.  I understand the power of keeping track.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Devil In the Details. It’s true you have to keep track of the details in the writing life. I love what Ellen J. List has written about the value of networking at a writer’s conference—which is a valuable first step to connecting with the editor.  It’s important to exchange business cards every possible chance.

One key from my perspective is what do you do after you get the business card? Tuck it into your desk or put it in your computer where you can easily access it? For many years, I keyed the information from my business cards into my computer rolodex. Now I use a Targus Mini Business Card Scanner. The device isn’t perfect in the scans. I may still have to type a few bits of information. But overall it’s a huge timesaver and helps my process of keeping track of information. I understand the power of such information—even if it’s old.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

What's Your Reader Tolerance?

I used to be a pretty patient consumer. I would read a slow starting novel and give it at least 100 pages before I stopped. Or with nonfiction, I would faithfully plow through every single page of information and consume it. Or with a dull movie, I would sit with the video or DVD version until the last frame of the movie. Last night my wife and I rented a recently released film which we missed when it came in the theater. We watched about 45 minutes of the 125 minute film, then looked at each other and turned it off. Our reader tolerance hit the ceiling.

These days I’m finding my reader tolerance level isn’t very high. Maybe it comes from seeing too many poorly-crafted manuscripts on the fiction side of things—where the story actually begins way into the manuscript. Or maybe it’s from seeing too many nonfiction manuscripts that have no readers or market in mind when they were created (or seem that way from the writing). Or maybe it’s the piles of books with great promise and not enough hours in our hurry up world to possibly read them.

In fiction, the story situation or the character or some other fiction element has to grab me. For nonfiction, the topic has to have enough storytelling to keep me turning the pages. If not, I find that I flip ahead and some times I don’t finish the book.

For a positive example in this area of reader tolerance, I turn to a general market book that caught my attention (and I haven’t read yet). I know Jack El-Hai, the author, from my involvement with the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I was looking at Jack’s website to promote the book and this paragraph jumped out at me, “As gripping as a medical thriller, The Lobotomist examines the motivations of a man whose personality combined brilliance with arrogance, compassion with egotism, and determination with stubbornness. The result is an unforgettable portrait of a physician who permanently shaped the lives of his patients, as well as the course of medical history.” It looks fascinating to me.

With reader tolerance, here are a few tips for the writer to keep in mind: show don’t tell, begin with a bang, and write in the active tense. Each of these articles in the links have detail information for these tips. You may think you handle all of these elements with excellence—but I’d encourage you to return to your manuscript and make sure it’s present.

Reader tolerance is a subjective matter. Your reader tolerance will be different than my reader tolerance. As I write or edit, it’s an important element to keep in mind.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

Another Tool For The Writing Life

I’m constantly looking for new ways to improve my posts about The Writing Life. Today I managed to get a beta tool from Technorati to work called a Searchlet.  After free registration, members are given the HTML code for the search tool.  I tested it a bit and it seems to have a high level of functionality.  If you recall something I wrote in a previous post, but can’t easily find it, now you can use this search tool to locate it.

I’d encourage readers to check out this new tool and see how it works for them. I hope it serves you and The Writing Life.


Audience in the Cross-Hairs

Are you focused on the audience when you write or simply throwing words on the page? It’s one of the basic questions for all writers—and something your editor will be considering when evaluating your writing. Each publication is different and the readers or the audience has to be firmly in the cross-hairs of your writing. If not, then you will miss the target.

I was thinking about that audience when I wrote a new article for Right-Writing.com. I posted it yesterday on the home page. For about a month, I’ve been constructing this series of short articles about the writing life. I’m glad a number of people are beginning to read it on a regular basis. I’ve been wondering how to expand this audience. I’ve determined a number of people who blog have fallen into this world—and are often talking with themselves. I’m not eager to fall into this type of discussion since a few months ago, I had never heard the word blog.  My article is titled, “What’s a Blog and Why Do I Care?”  I believe many people who write haven’t tuned into this genre of writing and I attempted to introduce the topic yet with a twist.

Each of us are pressed for time to read other people’s writings. How do you know if someone has added a new article to their particular site or weB log? One of the most useful tools for this particular need is MyYahoo.  I detail in this article how to use My Yahoo to quickly notice if something new is available for reading. It saves time from going by the actual blog and seeing the update. My Yahoo added this free service to their site in the last few months and I’ve found it invaluable.

Not looking for the audience first or not looking for a market is one of the top ten mistakes for magazine writers according to much published author, Kelly James-Enger.  No matter what type of writing you are doing today—make sure you have the audience as your ultimate target.



Friday, January 21, 2005

More Info About Endorsements

Recently I wrote about the importance of endorsements with books.  Today in an email, I received the link for a free report called, How to Get Celebrity Testimonials for Your Self-Published Books, Part 1. It may be a useful bit of additional information for some writer. I wanted to pass it along to you.


Play With Words

Don’t you just love reading a familiar phrase in a new or different way? I do. Occasionally I am able to slip it into my own writing or my own editing work. It has to be done rarely or it becomes a cliche.

I love to read the comics (a habit I acquired as a child and it’s stuck). I know some of my colleagues say they read the newspaper but never the comics.  From my journalism days, I learned the love/ hate relationship about the comic pages in a newspaper. In one sense, comics sell newspapers but in another sense they are not selling anything. In my local Arizona Republic newspaper, there is no advertising on the comic pages. Certain comic strips love to turn a phrase in a different way and it captures a smile or chuckle or possibly some new insight.

One of my personal favorite comic strips is Shoe. I’ve been a longtime follower of this comic which covers different themes but often circles around to something for the writer/ editor. About five years ago when I was living in Colorado, the local newspaper dropped Shoe. I wrote my letter of protest to the editor but it didn’t change anything. It forced me to read the comic online—a habit that I’ve maintained for years. I’ve even collected Shoe books of these comics—many of them out of print.

Take a look at this Shoe comic strip. Yes, follow the link then come back for the rest of this thought. As I read it, I recalled the book by Franklin Graham with Cecil Murphey, Rebel With A Cause. The play on words struck me as I read it and I enjoyed what Chris Cassatt and Gary Brookins put together.

As writers, we need to play with words or to get the right words in the right order. It’s not easy for any of us and involved a great deal of hard work. In the middle of the hard work, take the time to unleash your creativity and work at your writing.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Yes, They Are Different

Last week a couple of my published author friends referred someone to me. Some times it takes several email exchanges to figure out why I was corresponding with this person. This individual had a proposal for a publisher. If it’s a fiction project, then I want to be corresponding with the person through my Howard Publishing email address. If it’s a nonfiction project, then I will probably correspond with them through my personal email address. My work for Howard is part-time and the rest of my schedule is filled with primarily nonfiction projects. Sometimes I help people get their nonfiction proposals into shape to show a publisher. On other occasions, I will co-author a project with someone and other types of combinations. It takes some exploration to determine what a person needs and if I can help or not.

I was exchanging emails with this unpublished writer. This person had received a sample book proposal from my published author friends. The writer followed their example and submitted it to a major publishing house. It was rejected. This person wondered if he needed my help or not with the proposal creation. To sort out what needed to be done, I asked to see both proposals. Within a short amount of time, I had both proposals (the one from the published author friend and the unpublished proposal).

First I looked at the proposal from my published author friends. I was a bit surprised at the simplicity and lack of completeness of that particular proposal. I’ve seen many nonfiction book proposals over the years and can quickly evaluate them. The reality for some published authors who reach a particular level of sales and success is they don’t have to produce a complete nonfiction book proposal in order to get a publishing contract. Their process is much more simplified because of their track record than the unpublished author.

Next I looked at the unpublished author’s proposal to see if it needed to be reworked before he sent it out to other publishers. Looking at this proposal, I quickly determined what happened. He used a nonfiction proposal format for a fiction proposal project. He was certainly wasting his time, energy and postage as he was marketing the wrong project in the wrong format. When I wrote and asked him about it, he quickly responded, “Is the proposal different for a fiction proposal from a nonfiction proposal?”

Yes—radically different. You can’t follow a nonfiction book proposal for a fiction book. As a fiction author (first time--I assume) you need to have written the entire manuscript (if you haven't then you need to do this step). Publishers have horror stories where they have contracted a fiction book from a great chapter or two and a terrific plot, then the inexperienced storyteller writes themselves in a place where they can’t finish and don’t know the ending. The situation turns terrible for the author and the publisher. From these types of experiences, publishers have learned to ask for the entire manuscript from first-time fiction writers.

Besides your manuscript, you need a dynamic synopsis and outstanding marketing plan (that explains how you are going to personally sell your book (and don’t say, “I’m willing to appear on Oprah”—but you should create something much more personal to what you can do for your book). Finally you need to tell the editor a bit about yourself with a short personal bio. You send out these shorter pieces (a couple of well-done sample chapters, synopsis, marketing plan and bio) and ask if the editor wants to see the entire manuscript. An excellent book on this process is Your Novel Proposal From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook.

If you are writing nonfiction, don’t write your manuscript but instead write a nonfiction book proposal. I explain step-by-step about this process in my ebook, Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. There are a number of excellent books to teach you this procedure. I have an annotated list of them in the appendices of my book.

As I work with both types of writing—fiction and nonfiction—it’s clear—yes, they are different. If you want your project (either fiction or nonfiction) to be seriously considered at a publishing house, please take the time to learn the differences. Otherwise you simply glut the system with your submissions, waste your time and energy and continue to be frustrated wondering why you are not finding a publisher.

As you can see I have some pretty strong opinions about this matter. I hope today I’ve helped clear away the confusion about the differences for the writer.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Credibility Matters Even If You Write for Free

I found Jon Bonne’s commentary on MSNBC fascinating tonight. It’s called, Blog nice, everyone, Why Credibility Matters Even if You Write For Free.

Here’s an interesting quote highlighted in the article:

A credible reporter should remain credible no matter where he writes, or who is paying her (or not).
Many thoughtful people are writing on these issues. It’s worth a look.


Fixing My Fax

No writer or editor seems to have a perfect record without mistakes in this business. I know I’ve made my share of them. It’s odd to me how you can spend a large part of some days simply straightening out one of those mistakes—like yesterday.

Some of you may not know this information about my writing life. Last August our family moved from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Scottsdale, Arizona. As a part of that move, I tried to carefully eliminate anything that didn’t need to be moved. One gadget that I thought I could eliminate was my fax machine. It’s a rare day that I receive a fax these days—or send one.  When I purchased a Dell laptop last year, it came with one of these all-in-one machines (fax, scanner, color printer, etc.) I decided to sell my old plain paper fax machine to the used computer store. I was fine with it until recently.

I tried to get the fancy all-in-one machine to work as a fax—and couldn’t seem to get it working. In the last week, I’ve had several situations where I needed to receive a fax or send one.  After doing a bit of online research, I went to Officemax and picked up a new fax machine.  It was fairly simple to install yet one of the things that took some unexpected additional time was locating a dual phone jacks. I was certain I had one at home so I didn’t purchase another one. I probably should have purchased one and it would have saved the “digging through boxes” time but I persisted and came up with it.

This afternoon I was pleased when I was able to easily send a fax.  I hadn’t received one. Then I remembered my youngest son in Colorado Springs wanted to fax his grades from the last semester to me. For the first time, he made all A’s  (You can tell I’m a proud father).  I sent him an IM and asked him to fax me his grades. I set the new fax machine right beside the all-in-one machine that I couldn’t seem to get to fax several months ago.

My son’s fax arrived right on schedule—but came out on the all-in-one machine—not my new fax machine. Both machines are hooked to the same telephone line. At least I can fax out and receive faxes. Of course, I could spend another large chunk of time trying to get them to work like I expected them to work (nothing on the all-in-one machine and send and receive from the new fax machine). Since now I have a working fax machine, I believe I’m better off leaving it alone.

Oh, the things we get involved in as writers and editors. Some times the truth is stranger than fiction.



Tuesday, January 18, 2005

How To Locate An Agent

I’ve learned that many people ask this question before they are ready for an agent. These authors want to have their books published but have learned almost nothing about the business or how to craft an idea for the market. One of the best things you can do for yourself to find an agent (or a publisher) is to get published in magazines. The experience of writing for magazines is invaluable and will help your writing career—and help an agent be interested in your work.

No matter where you are in your writing career, whether you are advanced or beginning, it’s difficult to find an agent. Having a connection with that agent is critical. One of the key factors is whether the agent charges you for the services or whether he gets his income from selling your book manuscript. If the latter, then it’s more likely they are a solid agent. If they are charging you to market your book, then I’d be suspicious because they could be making their money from simply charging you (and many other would-be authors).

Have you ever seen the ads for literary agents in writing magazines who charge reading fees? If you wonder if people prey on unpublished authors, then you need to read Jim Fisher's book, Ten Percent of Nothing, The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell (Southern Illinois University Press, June 2004). Fisher is a former FBI agent and this book reads like a fascinating novel. You will learn about a frustrated science fiction novelist, Dorothy Deering, who was burned by two fee-charging literary agents who did nothing to locate a publisher for her work. As an ex-con, Dorothy saw the money-making potential in starting her own fee-based agency. She believed there were thousands of writers who had stars in their eyes about publishing and who couldn't get the attention of traditional publishers. These writers would be willing to pay money to have their work marketed to publishers. This simple concept of fee-based reading and marketing of manuscripts began one of the biggest publishing scams in American history.

Thousands of would-be writers paid millions of dollars to Deering, a former bookkeeper who had no professional experience as a writer, editor, agent or publisher. Fiisher who worked for the FBI for over twenty years, was drawn to this story after learning of a friend who lost money in this scam. The author exposes an ugly side of American publishing and the book emphasizes the warning signs to any would-be writer so they will not be drawn into such practices.

I recommend anyone in publishing get a copy of Ten Percent of Nothing, The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell to help their own education about the importance of using common sense and also avoiding fee-based agents. You will learn from Jim Fisher that Dorothy Deering ran a publishing hoax. She never sold a single manuscript to a major publisher and bilked millions of dollars from her clients that were spent on personal cruises and expensive cars and homes. Dorothy Deering went to prison for her scam but others have taken up this confidence game within publishing and writers need to know about this little talked about aspect of publishing.

I work with a number of terrific agents—as an editor and as a writer. It's interesting to me the depth we go to when we check out a good car dealership--yet how we don't do our homework sometimes with an agent. I understand part of it--as writers, we want anyone who wants our work--but that might not be the wisest route. Anyone can suddenly become an agent and that agent might not be the right one for you.

I've got some great basic information about this topic on Right-Writing.com including: The Safest Way to Search for An Agent and Do Literary Agents look for new authors? These two articles will give you a start in the journey to locate an agent. I hope it helps.


Monday, January 17, 2005

A Personal Reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Since I don’t work for the federal government or a financial institution, it’s pretty easy to forget that today the United States celebrates Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday.

During one of my lay-overs last year in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, I noticed a Martin Luther King exhibit. Almost no one stopped and looked at it since they were rushing on to their next plane.  That particular day, I had plenty of time so I stopped and read the exhibit. I noticed one of Dr. King’s suits and his Bible along with a brief accounting of his life and death. If you look at my photo, you may wonder what I know about civil rights and why I would take time as a writer to reflect on Dr. King and what it’s meant to my life.

I grew up in an all-white town in eastern Kentucky and spent my first twelve years in such an environment. I was aware of race. My dad was a railroad employee and we often rode the trains to Frankfort, Kentucky to see my grandparents. African Americans worked on the train and other places so I didn’t live in a totally isolated environment—just almost. Then our family moved to a suburb of Baltimore and tensions were high about the issue of integration. Again I attended all white schools but I began to learn about other races.  In college, I recall one spring break where I invited an international student from Sudan home with me. We took him to church and while they were polite to him, he stood out as different in my all-white Indiana church. I was keenly aware that this different-looking guy was a leading journalist in his nation and wrote a full-page article (in Arabic) in the capital city newspaper about his life as an American student.

Skip ahead to about fifteen years ago, when I began writing books. An editor gave me the opportunity to write a book about Samuel Morris. From my research I learned a great deal about this African Prince. This opportunity was quickly followed with two books about Sojourner Truth, another remarkable figure in American history.

Then with the explosion of a group called Promise Keepers, Charisma magazine assigned me to interview their chairman, an African American Bishop in the Church of God in Christ, named Bishop Phillip H. Porter, Jr.  During the first meeting, Bishop and I hit it off relationally and ultimately I wrote two books for Bishop Porter and one of them is still in print, Let the Walls Fall Down. The book uses Bishop Porter’s personal stories about how he’s been working in the area of racial reconciliation throughout his life. It was my privilege to have spent the time and energy on those books with Bishop Porter.  As a writer, I learned more than can be built into this post but it feeds into my own personal involvement in this important issue.  I could have lived in isolation and not ventured into this territory yet as a writer, I grew in many ways from the experiences.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to be the writer for another African American, Vonetta Flowers.  When Vonetta and her partner Jill Bakken won the Olympic gold medal in the 2002 women’s bobsled, Vonetta became the first African American ever to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. Our book is at the printer and will soon be available called Running On Ice.  

The lessons from Martin Luther King’s life for me involve choosing to live in a different way. Race isn’t an issue in my life and doesn’t play a factor in the choices I make in my writing life. I’ve not arrived and have many more lessons to learn in this area. Today I celebrate the opportunity to have served as a writer for some outstanding African Americans. They’ve taught me a great deal from the journey.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

How To Gain A Hearing

A writer wrote me this week saying, “The quest for a reputable agent who is passionate about my work, is far more challenging than writing the manuscript. When you're an unknown commodity, doors don't open that easily.”

With thousands of manuscripts in circulation with agents and publishers, it’s a challenge for anyone to gain a fair hearing—much less to locate the editor or agent who will champion your cause and get your book manuscript published. What steps can a writer take to find this hearing?

One of the absolute best things you can do for yourself in the meantime is to build a body of work--not unpublished but published--through smaller magazine articles (short stories if you only want to write fiction). In particular, I recommend writers look at the Sunday School take home markets. If you don’t know about this market, then you need to get a copy of Sally Stuart’s Christian Writer’s Market Guide and look in the section marked “Take Home Papers.” You will not make a lot of money with these markets, but you will be able to find a more open market to get published. These editors need quality submissions and they publish every single week of the year or four times more often than the monthly magazine editors.

Many people are focused on the long, full-length manuscripts. They miss building a reputation in the magazine market. And what’s the advantage of being published in magazines? When you are published in these markets, the editor or the agent will know you understand more about publishing than the other unpublished manuscripts on their desk. In magazine writing, you learn to write tight to a specific word length. You learn about the editing process and what editors do and don’t do to your words when you submit them. Plus there is simply the discipline which is built into a writer’s life from the regular experience of writing for magazines. If you have no idea where to begin, then explore the articles on my magazine tab at Right-Writing.com because it has a wealth of information. As for the aspect of how to find an agent? I’ll be back to talk about it another day—promise.


Saturday, January 15, 2005

Looking For A Reason

This afternoon I processed a number of unsolicited fiction manuscripts which have come into my office recently. I’ve seen a lot of this material over the last year. For six possible books to be published, I received over 350 submissions from literary agents (often good solid proposals from published or publishable authors) or individual authors. It’s been unfortunate that I can’t do more—but it’s a reality of publishing there are limited spots at the publishing house—and I have to follow that decision. My only hope is some of these titles will take off—and the line will expand. For now, I’m committed to search these submissions for the best of the best. When I find something that is really good, then I take it forward to the publication committee at Howard Publishing. The majority of the time, the manuscripts can be processed in short order.

Now look at it from my view as the editor, you have to be right on the mark to have me seriously consider and read a great deal of it. Otherwise I’m looking for a reason to say, “No” and return it to you.

Here’s some common reasons I reject fiction manuscripts:

Too much telling and not enough showing—leap into the action—don’t tell me about it. If the first quotation is over on page four, then it’s almost a certain pass. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then follow the links and learn about this distinction.

Another reason is the book doesn’t begin with a bang. If you take ten pages to get me into the story, it’s going to be returned.

Here’s some other reasons that I usually don’t detail to the author:

The manuscript is too Christian. Many authors are trying to write Biblical fiction—where they take some characters from the Bible and create an entire novel around it. Unfortunately many people do such storytelling poorly and in particular I’ve not found our publishing house eager to publish this type of material. It’s almost certain to get a glance, then returned.

Often the submissions are too short. The author proposes through a query letter or even a manuscript submission—one that is 40,000 or 55,000 words in length. A full-length adult novel is typically 80,000 words to 100,000 words in length. If it is shorter, it’s considered more of a novella. We aren’t publishing novellas—only full-length adult novels—and only six of them.

Less typical but sometimes the proposed length is too long—for example 150,000 words in length. This type of book causes another series of headaches in production—added costs for the publisher in terms of paper and other things. I read these submissions but they have a strong reason against them from the onset.

Other authors propose a series that is too involved—say a 10 to 12 volume set of books. Such a proposal will be difficult to sell to a publisher. I met an author last fall with a 15 book series—each novel at least 100,000 words—and they were all completely written. None of them had been published. You have to admire the tenacity of this novelist—to have written this volume of material without a single word showing up in print. Yet the economic commitment from a publisher would be enormous—and mostly out of reach. It’s not a practical proposal if you have one.

Other authors pitch the wrong type of book. They are convinced from looking at the publisher website that their juvenile or young adult novel would be perfect. Or their children’s book is just right for us. We don’t publish juvenile or young adult or children’s books. You are asking to be rejected if you try and pitch it—essentially wasting your postage and effort—which is a shame.

If you want to have some detailed insight into the evaluation process that editors use for manusripts, then I highly recommend Noah Lukeman’s book, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. It’s not easy advice to take because most of us want to believe the editor reads every line of your submission—reality is something different.

As a writer and an editor, I hate to say no to authors. I’m eager for people to succeed with their writing. It’s why I took a lot of my personal time and energy to develop Right-Writing.com. I have made an on-going commitment to add new content and producing an excellent newsletter. I get no pleasure out of saying, “no.” And it’s key that every writer remember the rejection letter is not personal—it is simply a business decision. Also I regret I can’t take the time to critique manuscripts or often even tell them the reason that I’m returning it. It’s not my job or the job of any editor to critique manuscripts—nor are there enough hours in the day to do it. There are many other critique services to handle this issue in the marketplace.

I have a lot of great insight into fiction writing at Right-Writing.com. Take the time to read and study these articles and follow their advice.  Then when you send in your manuscript, I’ll have to take a second and third look at it. I’m actively looking for excellent fiction which I can champion and get published. It’s a drag looking for a reason to send it back.



Friday, January 14, 2005

Evaluate Editorial Advice

When I was a beginning writer (many years ago), I recall showing my manuscripts to anyone who would read them. I've received my share of the standard rejection letters and when anyone scribbled anything personal, I tried to immediately follow up and rework the piece and return it.

I joined a critique group and learned to respect--but I also learned to pick and choose their counsel. I began to attend writer's conferences and meet editors and other professionals--and listen to their advice and feedback about my magazine article or my book proposal or my manuscripts. Some times the advice worked and some times it completely failed--part of my learning curve here about advice. I began to formulate a few questions about the feedback --that I consciously or unconsciously use most of the time.

1. Grain of salt. Instead of immediately making the changes, I try to take any advice with a grain of salt. Take some time to evaluate the feedback and see if I agree with it.

2. Consider the source of the advice. Are they experienced and what type of track record do they have in the writing and publishing business?

3. Consider the circumstances of the person who gave you the advice. Did they rush off a little counsel or did they thoughtfully put together some detail? Sometimes this criteria makes a difference how much I will consider taking the advice or counsel.

Often I will recall an incident at least 12 years ago at a Christian Booksellers Association meeting. I was shopping one of my nonfiction book proposals. As typical, I had 30 minutes with an editorial director at a well-known publisher. At the end of the conference, he looked through my proposal and gave me a series of on-the-spot comments about my proposal. I took detailed notes and even stopped to fill out my notes after our session, returned home and reworked the proposal. When I sent it to the editor, he didn't recall ever having seen it before. I was crushed--but I learned to evaluate the circumstances of the advice. Now as an editor, I fully understand the blur of those meetings and how I was unwise to have over-prized this editor's counsel in that circumstance.  Also I understand why an editor can’t give some feedback about a manuscript. Follow this link to learn more detail about the reasons.

The subjective nature of this business is difficult. There is no right or wrong way for many aspects--which is why science combines with art. I love what I read one evening this week in the February issue of Men's Journal and it seems to resonate with me here--and looks like a book I need to find:

"The strange thing about gut instincts is that the part of the brain that engages in them uses the sweat glands on your palms as a signaling device. Long before you've consciously decided that turning down that dark side street or placing $2,000 on red is a bad idea, your gut has made the call, and notified your palms. the moral: Listen to your hands. they may know more than you do." Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Little, Brown) examines the science of split-second decisions.

Thankfully as Christian writers, we have more than sweaty palms. Through prayer, we can instantly communicate with the Lord of the Universe--then listen carefully as we evaluate the advice.



Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Newspaper Habit

Some habits are worth keeping while others should be abandoned like biting your nails. One long-term habit that feeds into my writing and editing life is my love of the local newspaper.

My personal love affair with the newspaper started in high school and was expanded during my college journalism training.  I had a news editorial emphasis. Mr. Ralph Holsinger, former editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer, taught an advanced reporting/ editing class which was one of the required classes. One of the class requirements was to read several national newspapers along with the local campus newspaper every day. Mr. Holsinger had pop quizes with his course and you had to be prepared for them. These news quizes had specific questions such as Where is Vice President ____ today? As young reporters, we learned to file away these types of details and collect them from reading the newspaper. It’s a habit that has stuck with me for over 30 years.

I love to read about my local environment and the newspaper is often a breeding ground for story ideas, insight and leads. Personally, I love the feel of newsprint and glean a great deal of information from the newspaper. When I travel, I read the local newpaper and depending on the location, possibly a national newspaper. Each spring when I attend the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ conference, I love to read The New York Times.

The newspaper habit has been an important one for my writing and editing life. It’s one that I’m determined to keep.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Endorsements Can Sell Readers

This week I’ve been gathering endorsements for a forthcoming how-to book that I’m putting together. My office has a number of shelves of these types of books. I went through a number of these books and discovered only a few of them have endorsements. Why?

One reason is the sheer work involved to gather them. Few people want to go to this sort of effort for their books and they wonder if the effort is worth it. I’ve been in publishing long enough to know that some books sell better with endorsements. Book buyers will look at a book in a bookstore or on a conference table and make an instant buying decision. Some times they purchase the book because of the endorsement. Some times the endorsements or the foreword for the book will influence the store buyers (the people who make decisions whether to carry your title in their stores or chain of stores).

Consider the audience who will influence the purchase of this book—which names saying positive things about the book would draw the reader to your book. I understand why some authors don’t bother with endorsements—because they do take more work and effort.

One of the best articles I recommend to writers in this area is from Jacqueline Marcell called The Elder Rage Success Saga. Unpublished, Marcell collected 57 rejections with this book manuscript. She decided the only way publishers would seriously consider her topic was to gather numerous celebrity endorsements before the manuscript was contracted. After nine months of work, she had impressive quotes from celebrities like Hugh Downs, Leeza Gibbons, Dr. John Gray, Mark Victor Hansen, Art Linkletter and many others. As she writes in this article, “Polite persistence turned out to be the key.”

As an editor, I’m almost cynically amused when I receive a proposal from an author who suggests endorsements from Dr. James Dobson at Focus on the Family (they have no relationship or means to get such an endorsement), Billy Graham (I understand Mr. Graham recently turned down his own pastor’s request for an endorsement—so it’s not happening), and other well-known figures. Oh, and they almost always say they will appear on Oprah. Well, no fooling—they would appear—if they could possibly get Oprah interested in their particular book.

The key is to think about the potential reader for your book. What type of endorsement would influence that reader to purchase the book? With this list in hand, can you possibly reach this person and get an endorsement?

Last fall, I was working with Vonetta Flowers on her new book, Running On Ice. This book is the first person story of Vonetta Flowers who was the first African American to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics (2002 women’s bobsled). While I was interviewing her coach, he told me a terrific quotation that Bob Costas at NBC Sports made when he gave the wrap-up of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake. I wondered if I could get a printed endorsement from Costas. One advantage I had over many writers is simply experience. I knew how to give this endorsement it’s best possible chance.

First, I drafted a possible quote and made it tie in a general way to my book manuscript. My real challenge was to reach Bob Costas. I looked around the internet—nothing. In general, I’m experienced in finding people on the Internet. Remember I’m an Acquisitions Editor—but nothing about how to reach Costas. Next I decided to call the news room of NBC in New York City. I called the general number for NBC then asked to be connected to the news room. Before I called I planned my request—and the ability to quickly explain my need and my credentials (I touted my journalist connections). Whoever answered the phone gave me the email address for Costas’ manager. I drafted an email of introduction explaining my request for an endorsement—and including the possible wording for the endorsement. I hit send, then waited.

To my surprise, a few hours later I heard from the manager a brief email saying, “Terry Whalin, I know that name. We’ll get back to you.” I thought, Know my name. Who knows my name? Within the next day, the manager was good on her promise—and came back with the revised wording on the endorsement—and the permission to use it. My publisher was thrilled to have such an endorsement to use in the publicity for Running On Ice. Here’s the endorsement from Bob Costas at NBC Sports, “One of the best stories of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake came in women’s bobsled. Vonetta Flowers and her partner, Jill Bakken, won the Gold Medal. Vonetta thus became the first African American to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Games. In Running On Ice, Vonetta tells the story behind her achievement. To finish first and be the first, that’s Vonetta’s singular distinction.”

Endorsements do sell books and some times they can sell a book manuscript to a publisher. I remember several years ago fielding a phone call from an author in my office. She told me a bit about the slant of her proposed book, then said she could get an endorsement from best-selling author Beth Moore. I let my skepticism show on the phone to this author—who immediately told me that she was a close personal friend of Beth Moore. Immediately I lost my skepticism and encouraged her to send me the proposal so I could consider it for publication. The potential endorsement made it worth my consideration as an acquisitions editor—but note it was a real possibility—not something imagined.

Each individual has to determine at what point to put the energy into endorsements. It might be at the end of the project right before publication—or before you even get a contract.

Currently I’m gathering endorsements for one of my manuscripts which according to the current schedule will be released this spring (these things change in publishing or so I’ve learned the hard way). I thought about who could influence the reader for this particular book, then I made a list of possible endorsers. I selected a broad range of people and backgrounds within the target for the book. I’m still putting the finishing touches on the manuscript (it’s not complete) but I took the incomplete manuscript and produced a few Print On Demand (POD) copies of the book through Books By Bookends. I’ve been calling (and in some cases emailing) the individual asking if they are willing to endorse the book. To a person, they have graciously agreed. I’ve quickly followed each “yes” with a POD copy of my manuscript and a personal letter which includes a deadline. It’s likely I will have to remind some of these busy people about the deadline. Some people may not get it done—but I suspect overall I will gather the endorsements that I need for this book.

These endorsements are still a work in progress for me but they are a current part of my writing life.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Haste Makes Waste Again

Yesterday the Independent Review Board released their 234 page report. They were investigating the CBS News team and their reporting about President Bush’s National Guard Record during last fall’s election.  Listening to the news stories, I was struck again with a few phrases like “rushed to air the story without verifying the facts.”  Or Bill Carter in his story, Post-Mortem of a Flawed Broadcast, on the New York Times website wrote, “The panel found that the "60 Minutes" program that dealt with President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard was unfair and misleading after being rushed to broadcast without proper vetting.” (my emphasis underlined)

Publishing is a competitive business—more so in the broadcast and newspaper media (fast paced) than in magazines and books (which have longer production times). Each publisher wants to be the first to have a particular topic or slant on a topic in the market. With the popularity of The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, a number of religious publishers produced books against the inaccurate nonfiction sprinkled in the pages of this fiction story.   To my personal amazement, last fall Doubleday released The DaVinci Code Special Illustrated Edition (retails at $35) and combines real pictures with the fiction story to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction (in my estimation)—yet also toward the top of the current fiction bestseller list. My supervisor at my former publisher told me about their work on Cracking DaVinci’s Code by James L. Garlow and Peter Jones. They produced the entire book from idea to finished book in 90 days. It took focused effort on their part. I know they canceled editors going to conferences and other things to mobilize this effort.  It paid off for the publisher since they had the first of a number of these types of books—and they gained the sales as a result (over135,000 copies were in print in about two months). In this particular case, the publisher rushed to publication and it amounted to a success story for their sales—because they tapped a key need in the audience.

Other times within publishing, I’ve seen this haste to publish result in discarding the printed product and re-doing it. It’s unfortunate what gets missed when you are rushing to get something into print.

Last week, I turned in a short book review on assignment. I’ve written for this publication many times over the years but I faced a new request from the editor.  In my short review (less than 250 words), I quoted from the book which I was reviewing. The editor asked me to fax her a copy of the page with the quote because she didn’t have this book and she “always checks the quotes.” It was a first for me because I’ve never had her check one of my quotes—and I don’t happen to have a working fax machine. Instead, I scanned the particular page into a JPG and emailed it to her. Initially I was a bit bothered to have to go through this fact-checking process for this small circulation publication. Then today I thought about it again and applauded this editor’s desire to get it right. She is a one person editor for her entire magazine—and yet she is diligently checking the quotations to assure accuracy. I gained a new respect for this particular editor’s good work.

Throughout publishing, management is trying to figure out how to meet their bottom line. Often this means layoffs of excellent people and more work for the editors who remain on the staff. Almost everyone I know in these positions is putting in long hours of editing and taking work home to meet the demands of the volume of work flying across their desk. It’s not easy work nor high paying—and these editors want to get the details right. They don’t want to make waste because of their necessary haste. If they don’t hasten, then they might not be able to retain their positions within their publishing house (a harsh but true reality). Across the entire publishing marketplace, I hear complaints that editors are doing less editing—and it’s true. With the pressure to produce volume, they have less time to edit and fact check. The responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the writers. We have to get it right at the beginning of the project. The CBS experience was a good reminder to me—to check the details and if possible, not hasten the process. I don’t want my haste to end up as waste.


Monday, January 10, 2005

High Maintenance Authors

How do you know if you are a high maintenance author? Yes, it’s a real term that people inside publishing use when they talk about authors and writers. For me, the author's attitude is one of the keys. It’s important for you not to assume (or act like you assume) that you are the only author in the publishing house.

Just as the evaluation of our manuscripts is subjective (something we often forget as writers), the tolerance level of a particular editor or a publisher will vary as to when they label an author high maintenance. Believe me, it's not a label any author wants. I’ve been there when the editor groans to their colleague in the next cubicle that they’ve received another email from an author or another demanding voice mail message from the author (maybe both in some cases). This type of author has tipped the balance and gone over to the high maintenance category. Within a publishing house, everyone works as a team. We are involved in frequent meetings with other aspects of the company—sales and marketing. We meet at the coffee pot or go out to lunch together. We are keenly aware of who marketing is calling high maintenance and who editorial considers high maintenance or which authors the sales department is avoiding.

There is a delicate balance between being proactive. If you want to be proactive with your publisher, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval, a publisher at Hearst Books. Last April at a conference in NYC, I met Jacqueline and she knows her stuff. The perspective is different than any other marketing book for writers--because Jacqueline has worked inside a publishing house as a Director of Publicity with a large list of books to promote and knows the tensions. As someone who works inside a publishing house, I know that the publishing team wants every book that is published to sell and sell well--but there are only so many hours in the day and limited dollars that a publisher can spend. Writers often assume that publishers don’t care enough about their particular book. The reality from being on the editor side of things is quite different. I understand the writer has passion for their particular book but the greater financial investment is always on the side of the publisher. For each book, the publisher has invested somewhere between $50,000 to $100,000 in each book—with a modest advance, no marketing dollars and through production and editorial costs. The publisher invests this type of commitment in every book—and wants to earn this money back from sales to stay in business.

Any writer needs to hear what Deval says in the Introduction of Publicize Your Book!, “The reality of book publishing is that there are too few resources to support every book. This means that some books will get publicity campaigns and budgets while others will go without….The good news is that author who know how to properly represent themselves to their publishers can find discretionary dollars for book promotion.” This book encourages the author to be proactive—not high maintenance.

The perspective is important for writers to learn--how to be proactive but not high maintenance. I compare it to the difference between a demanding child to their parent or a close friend who comes alongside you in the midst of a crisis and says, "How can I help you?" If you were the person with the load of stress inside the publishing house, which person would you want to cheer and support? As the editor, I’ll move toward the proactive author who comes alongside in a heart beat.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Amazing Smell

Yesterday I did something that only happens a few times in a month--I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble bookstore. Just walking into a bookstore, the scent of new books struck me. It's as though the ink was barely dry on those pages. I love to spend time looking around the bookstore--and I try and gather much more information than your average bookstore browser.

I'm always interested to see which books are close to the front door of the store and in particular near the cash register. I took a look at the bestsellers and in particular several new books I knew released last week. My wife and I noticed a floor display for the One Year Bible. Also I looked at Witness, the new book by Amber Frey. I was drawn to see this book after watching the interview on Dateline last week. This interview was followed with a blitz of publicity like appearance on Oprah and other programs. Did the publicity cause this book to get on the bestseller list next week? I will be watching. I noticed Regan Books was the publisher of this book and I carefully looked to see who wrote it--and noticed it was a ghost written project with the writer receiving his thanks in the acknowledgement (and he wasn't called a writer).

I noticed Barnes and Noble has a large display of classic novels like Jane Eyre or the Count of Monte Cristo. There were several different racks of them in the store. On one level they are full-size hardcovers while in a different place, they are small hardcovers with small print. And the publisher? Barnes and Nobles. They didn't make a random plunge into this market but understand the power of the classics and their continue value to sell year after year.

I'm always interested in what's marked as "bargain" or "reduced" because in the publishing business, these books have been remaindered. It means the price has been lowered intentionally to get rid of the back stock of the book, then put the book out of print. One Christian title I noticed was Babylon Rising by Tim LaHaye with Greg Dinallo (released October 21, 2003 from Bantam Books). In a little over a year, it is interesting to find it in this section.

You may be wondering if I purchased anything during my excursion into the bookstore. Yes, music. My wife and I wanted to get a album from Josh Groban. Walking back to the music section of the bookstore, I was surprised to see headphones and a stand that read "Preview Before You Buy" (or something like that). Curious, I picked up the album and put it in the holder. Immediately samples of the music began to play. Some way the gizmo reads the tracks right through the packing for a sample for a remarkable bit of savvy marketing. After a bit of sampling, we purchased Groban's album, Closer. My wife has been enjoying his remarkable music.

Bookstores are great places for writers and editors to collect information about the market, study people's buying habits and learn about books. In this world of Internet bookstores, there are many choices where to select and purchase books. It's always good to maintain a pattern of going in the bookstore, holding the books and looking at them first-hand. From my years in this business I know that writers are readers. It was a good Saturday afternoon outing to get to the bookstore. If nothing else, I will be returning for that amazing smell.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

At First It Looked Impossible

This week I faced what looked like an impossible task. I’m in the process of reworking and expanding a book manuscript to turn in on or before the end of this month. As an addition for this book and to add variety to the topic, I wrote another author and asked permission to use the material. This author graciously granted the permission. The file was in an Adobe PDF format. In the past these types of files have been locked and not able to copy or use in a text file. I asked the author for the MS-Word file but he didn’t have it any longer.

A few days later, this author pointed me toward a simple conversion program. This program takes PDF files and converts them to MS-Word documents. The program was going to make the impossible possible. I downloaded the trial version and tried it. The program worked great—except it was restricted to only convert five free pages. I opened the test document and everything from the PDF was now in MS-Word. A satisfied customer, I registered the product and received the registration key. I’m able to use the document in my manuscript. Equally as important to my overall writing and editing life, I’ve discovered a proven tool. I suspect at some future date, I will face another PDF file which will need to be converted into MS-Word. It will be a snap to take care of next time.

As writers, at times we face daunting tasks and seemingly impossible deadlines. Last year, I wanted to build a site on the internet to encourage writers called Right-Writing.com. I had a vision of building a large database of information and articles. The task seemed a bit daunting for one person. I built it day after day until now the site has a great deal of diversity—for different types of writers such as children’s writers, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, magazine writers, newsletter writers, people who want to write a resume, grant writers and even encouragement to write thank yous. I’ve got room for additional articles and continue to expand it—but the basic structure is there for others to discover, use and learn. Maybe you will find some encouragement on Right-Writing.com that will help you face the impossible—and turn it into possible. I hope so.


Friday, January 07, 2005

Chase Better Not New

Are you chasing the latest gadget or gizmo to improve your writing life? The magazines and the news media is constantly rolling out new products and touting different features. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy and believe that if you have the right program or the right computer, it’s going to make you a better writer or better editor. I’ve found there is not always a connection between new and better.

Years ago, I interviewed bestselling author Chuck Swindoll. At the time he was not using a computer for his word processing. Instead, he wrote with a pen and a legal pad. With all sincerity, he told me, “Terry, I want to write better not faster.” The lesson stuck. I feature bestselling authors and how they practice their writing craft in my Right Writing News (free). Also several of my lead articles from this newsletter are located here. I want to work smarter and more effective. Some times, that means using a proven tool to become better. For example, I’m using BlogJet to write this post to my blog. It’s a proven tool which has been around and gives me flexibility to not write my post online.

In recent days, I’ve been appreciating the advice in Working Smart, written by Mike Hyatt, the President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. On a variety of topics, Mike has some solid, proven wisdom. It’s a focus on better, not necessarily new. At a recent lunch meeting, I noticed the other two men pulled out their Treos and laid them on the table. They didn’t use them but off and on, they were glancing at them, monitoring their email. I do have a cell phone but not a Blackberry or Treo (some people call them Crackberry because of the addictive nature of these gadgets). I don’t need to be that accessible to people—nor do I want to be. My preference is to read email and answer email on my schedule—not on demand.

I will continue to read articles about new products and new programs but I don’t necessarily purchase them. It’s a matter of evaluating whether they are right or not for my writing life.