Wednesday, August 31, 2005

First Impressions Count

Recently several things have come across my desk to remind me of an old truth: first impressions count. Whether you are sending an email query or submitting a book proposal or a manuscript in the mail, what impression are you going to make? Or maybe you are meeting an editor at a conference or you’ve decided to take part of your summer travels and drop by the publishing house.

No matter which situation is ahead for you, make sure you consciously consider your impression. Several years ago, I flew to New York City for a convention with the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I thought my bag felt a little light—and when I unpacked, I realized that I had left my suits hanging in my closet at home. I called my wife in a bit of a panic—until she reminded me that I was in one of the largest cities in the world. The next morning I purchased a new suit and even had the pants tailored before the day was completed.  I was really glad to have my proper New York attire for what happened during the next day of this particular conference.

One of our ASJA members had written a book with Roselynn Carter which was selected for a special award. The Carters were invited to our member luncheon (a small gathering of about 200 people or less) and the day before the public conference. The Carters were scheduled to attend. While I wasn’t a part of the honored table seated with President and Mrs. Carter, I wrangled a seat where the Secret Service was having lunch nearby. My book, Lessons From the Pit, had just released and I had a copy tucked in my satchel. With the permission of the agent, I quickly autographed it, introduced myself to former President Jimmy Carter and gave him a copy. It was the only book he carried out of the room (they left immediately after speaking to the group). I was relieved to be wearing the right type of attire. 

As an editor, I've always tried to prepare my authors--especially if they are speaking in chapel or addressing a large group of people within the publishing house. It might be your only chance to connect with these people (sales, marketing, publishing executives). One time an author made such a negative impression while speaking, the VP of Marketing couldn't get motivated to read the book. Now that's a huge problem for the author (and this author was unaware of the impression).

There is wisdom in being kind to everyone in the publishing house. Some people only want to make an impression on the "leaders" or the "editors" and neglect the editorial assistants or the receptionists or others. It all filters back to those editors and leaders within the house--long after you have left. And this advice is equally important in the phone messages and other types of dealings with the publishing house. Don't stress over it--but the reality is that each piece of communication or visit, builds an impression--and you want it to be positive. Jacqueline Deval in Publicize Your Book includes this tip in one of the nine common mistakes that authors make, “You are polite to your editor, but you condescend to the editorial assistant. The assistants are the grease that keep your wheels moving—never forget that.” (p. 77)

One of my authors, Dr. Debbie Cherry, brought little treasure chests prepared at home to go with her first book (Discovering the Treasure of Marriage). At the time, this book had not been released but was in production and coming out soon. She added little chocolates and a tiny scroll of appreciation inside the treasure chests. Those little boxes were scattered on various desks and bookshelves throughout the publishing house and left a reminder of Debbie’s book long after her visit.

Never forget that you are your own best marketing when it comes to your books or writing.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

You May Need This Download

It’s the stuff of legends but I’ve heard this story often enough that I believe it. I didn’t witness it firsthand but I’ve verified it several different times with different people.

Once an editor was consumed with solitaire. Yes, I’m talking about the little, free game which comes with your computer.  In the open office environment, almost every time someone came into this editor’s office, solitaire was on the screen. I doubt this editor knew the impression he was leaving on the various visitors to his office. He is no longer with this publisher and has moved on—but it’s still a good story about how these free games can consume your time and energy.

During different seasons of my writing life, I’ve been consumed with some of these free games. It begins in an innocent fashion then suddenly consumes hours of time which you could have been writing or something else much more productive. Just so you know I’m not playing anything at the moment but spending long hours on work-related projects.

This week Newsweek ran a short article about a free download called Temptation Blocker. B. Adam Howell wanted a program where he could block certain programs for a particular season or period of time. Then he could get the work done that needed to get done.  When the time limit ran out, he could begin playing the game again.  I told my wife about this free program and she declared it ridiculous. Yes, some of us need a bit of help in this area. Maybe you are one of those people so I wanted you to know about this free download. It might help you get a bit more done.


Monday, August 29, 2005

When You Can't Stand It

Typically I put it off until I can’t stand it any longer—then I tackle it with gusto. The tension builds and the piles of paper and books build. Some times my wife has walked into my office and can’t believe the chaos of my work place. Piles of things are everywhere. I can barely get into my chair and in front of the computer. When I reach that point, I take several hours and organize my paper and files.

In many ways I try and tame the paper flow situation each day. Manuscripts come into my office almost daily or query letters about novels. I have to process this information fairly quickly because of the volume. Since January, I’ve received over 250 submissions for six to eight possible novels. Like I mention to people, it’s like trying to take a drink of water out of a fire hose if you don’t have a plan to process this information flow.

While I keep a great deal of my correspondence electronically, the most critical bit of information are printed and tucked into various Manila file folders. I’ve learned the hard way over the years, never to count on that electronic copy. When I’m in the middle of a book writing project, I will typically back-up a series of files daily to prevent any loss of information or data. Each project goes into its own folder and this folder contains my correspondence, contracts (if any) and helps me instantly be able to connect with the status of the project. The most current correspondence is on the top or in the front of the folder.

Every so often my file drawers get stuffed. I clear out the old files and often tuck them into a file box for storage. Some times years after I’ve profiled someone for a magazine or worked with them on a project, a new opportunity will develop. You have to be thinking immediate as well as long-term as you sort through the pieces of paper. And yes, some times I’ve thrown something which I should have kept—but over the years that has not happened often—and it’s almost always been information that I can easily recover from a different source.

I’m at the point where I can’t stand it any longer and some of these bits of paper need to get tucked into the proper file—so I can be more effective with the various projects under way. With the local temperature tied with the record high yesterday (113), it’s a good season to stay inside and do a bit of organization. On average this area of the country gets about 10 days at 110 and over but this year we’ve had over 20 days of this type of weather.

When you can’t stand the piles around you, do something pro-active about it. It’s what I’m going to be tackling over the next few days.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

POD and Self-Publish Disconnect

I’m involved in a couple of online writing groups and no matter how many times you say it, there seems to be a broad misconception about self-publishing and POD publishing (means POD or print on demand). These books simply don’t appear in the bookstores.

Please don’t misunderstand me. These self-published and POD books have their place in the market—particularly if you have a means to sell the books to individuals or companies. For example if you speak often and would like to have a book to sell in the back of the room, you can easily get a self-published book or POD book to use in these situations. Just don’t expect to sell your book to bookstores.

Last week a well-meaning author celebrated his first printed book, which was POD. He was holding it in his hand—always exciting. He was plotting a strategy to get his book in as many bookstores as possible and asking for help from other authors in the group. If you are going down this path, it shows a clear disconnect with the realities of the market.

Here’s a bit of what I told him (edited for this entry). I hope include it in hopes it will help some others outside of that group:

Congratulations on your POD book release and I celebrate with you--but after more than twenty years in this business and over 60 books in print--and working as an acquisitions editor over the last four years--I am going to have to give you a bit of a reality check. You will struggle and find it almost impossible for bookstores to stock your POD or self-published book. It's one of those messages that the POD companies and self-publishing places don't tell you (they want to get your cash and get your book in their system). Yes, your book is listed on Amazon.com (easy for anyone to do--even with a POD book) but getting it into the bookstores is a completely different story. I’ve been telling writers for years about the ease of getting a book printed—now getting it into the bookstores and ultimately into the hands of consumers, that’s a different story.

Retailers dislike POD and self-published books. Every retailer that I've talked with about this issue (and I've invested the time to talk with them) have countless stories about the difficulties of these books. They have re-stocking problems and problems with the quality of the products (typos, editing, etc.).

Here's the real test for you: go to your local bookstores and ask them if they are carrying any POD or self-published title on their shelves. Go to the big box stores like Borders as well as your mom and pop smaller independent stores. You will be surprised with the answer. I will be surprised if you find a single copy among any of the thousands of books. Several months ago, I wrote about this topic in this entry about the writing life. Scan down and make sure you see these statistics from iUniverse (one of the largest self-publishers) and the information which appeared in Publisher's Weekly earlier this year--about the number of bookstores that carry their product--and the sales statistics.

We can't say it often enough--the bookstore market is a closed system--that deals with distributors and large and small publishers. It's why we work hard to get our books into the traditional publishing marketplace. It’s why you go through the effort and hard work to create an excellent book proposal or book manuscript or novel, then sell that idea to a publisher. Then your book is available in any bookstore--and can have the possibility of sitting on those bookshelves. It's a free country and you can feel free to expend the effort and energy to market to bookstores and try and place your book. From my experience and others, it will be frustrating and likely not sell many books. I believe your marketing efforts are better served in other markets (outside the bookstore).


Saturday, August 27, 2005

Use Your Own Resources

Yesterday I will admit to a bit of technology frustration. I promoted the tele-seminar about Book Proposals That Sell to several large online groups. Annie Jennings PR sponsored this tele-seminar and included the entire seminar as a free MP3 download. I included the link in these entries about the writing life—then the correspondence started. People were unable to get the file.  Completely outside of my control, Annie’s website went down. Was there another solution?

Thursday night, I downloaded the MP3 file on my computer. It took a while—because I’m on a slow dial-up connection to the Internet. Yet I got the entire file and listened to it—excellent quality product and covers the major points from Book Proposals That Sell.  Yet no one could download the file. I tapped into my own resources. I created a location online where others could access this file and uploaded the file to this place (again it took a bit of time but happened). Today I had a friend test the file to make sure it wasn’t corrupted, downloaded properly and sounded OK. This friend told me that everything sounded great.

I had created a short-cut link that hooked to the file location. I changed the final location for the short-cut which is a function of SNIPURL.com (and something I’ve talked about for these entries in the past—if you haven’t used this tool, learn about it). Instead of pointing to Annie’s location, I pointed to my revised location. I tapped into my own resources so people can access the file. Now eventually Annie’s site and download location will appear back online. She’s got some other tele-seminars that you will probably want to access. No matter what happens, my tele-seminar will be accessible. Thankfully in several places, I promoted the snipurl.com link and not the actual location. After I changed the snipurl.com link, I was confident it would work.

Here’s my small but important insight for you and your own writing life.  Much of publishing is outside of our immediate control. There is an intricate chain of events from when you have an idea for a magazine article or a book and that book gets into the hands of readers in a bookstore. You can’t control much of that process and if anything fails, the book will not reach people. You can’t worry about what you can’t control—but you can take control of what you can in this process. For example, you’ve written your magazine idea into a query letter and it’s gotten rejected. You can either let go of that idea or you can take control and send it immediately out to another magazine (probably reshaped for the new publication). Or if you have been trying to write children’s books (or substitute any other type of book) and not finding a place for those ideas, maybe you need to switch to a different type of writing.

You can only be responsible for you—and the rest you have to let go. Make sure you take full advantage of your own resources.


Friday, August 26, 2005

If You Missed My Tele-Seminar

Note added Saturday: Annie’s website must have gone down. I've changed the download link so the MP3 file is in a different place ready for you to download.

On Wednesday, August 24th, I conducted a free hour-long tele-seminar sponsored by Annie Jennings PR about Book Proposals That Sell. If you missed it, you can still catch this information through this link. I suggest you “Save Target As” and download the entire file to your computer. Then you can stop and start it or play it again as much as you want to do so.

Some people have heard my workshop on this topic through other places. I continue to grow in my information about what works and doesn’t work in the book proposal area. This workshop is my current view. In a snapshot fashion, I cover each of the 21 secrets from my Book Proposals That Sell.

If you have not seen the book, I encourage you to take a look at the various “secrets”and the other valuable information in the book. This information is also available online. Go to Amazon.com and move your mouse over the book cover. You will instantly see an excerpt from the book called “See Inside!” This Amazon.com feature is a solid way to see a taste of the book and read the front and back cover.

One of the best reactions from my tele-seminar came from Annie Jennings (if you don’t know Annie, I recommend you follow this link and learn about her services and information. It’s a goldmine for authors). I know Annie has had a number of other people teach tele-seminars about how to create a book proposal. During a follow-up call, Annie told me, I’ve decided that I can do this. I can create a book proposal. Other people made it so complicated that it didn’t seem like something I can do but you made it so I feel like I can do it now. I’m inspired.” If you listen to the tele-seminar, you will see I pulled no punches about the amount of work to create an excellent proposal. It is possible for everyone to complete—but does require the proper amount of energy and effort—like anything else that is bound for success.

While the tapes from a writer’s conference are a great way to learn after the conference (or to listen to a workshop you didn’t manage to attend), I can never recall exactly what was said during a particular workshop—particularly if several months have passed since I taught the workshop. I regularly receive emails from people who have been listening to these tapes and rave about the content of them. I nod and express appreciation for their kind words.

If you are involved in a critique group or another writers organization, I recommend you pass along this link for the free tele-conference. They will gain some of my editor's perspective about book proposals. Over the last few years, I’ve reviewed thousands of these proposals. I give writers my personal experience and insight about what it takes for them to put together a proposal which garners a book contract.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

QVC Bookselling

What is your strategy to sell your books on QVC? If you don’t have one, you’re in good company with many other authors.

The New York Times had a fascinating short article titled “Selling Books on TV Without Oprah” by Edward Watt. Here’s a couple of sentences, “Any author who can sell 15,000 books in eight minutes is going to attract a little attention in the publishing business. Jeanne Bice, a clothing entrepreneur, did just that last month, according to her publisher, when she introduced her forthcoming book during a segment on QVC, the television shopping channel. Then she sold roughly 9,000 and 10,000 more books this month during two more sessions on the channel, for a total of 34,534 books ordered in less than half an hour of accumulated air time.” OK, I’ll admit for a second or two, I had some book envy. Then I read the article with a bit more care. This first-time author has been selling clothing exclusively through QVC for ten years (a $50 million-a-year business). The audience knows this author and when she had a book, it makes perfect sense for her books to sell rapidly on the channel.

Here’s why I’m writing about this article. Jeanne Bice was an innovative person when the time came to sell her new book.  It’s just the type of author that any publisher wants (and needs). She’s not simply handing her manuscript to the publisher and expecting them to do all of the marketing. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves and tackled her most familiar audience, QVC—and tackled it with gusto. You only have eight minutes to sell a product on a QVC segment. It is a strategy that will work for some books.

I personally have no background on selling through QVC—but I know how to learn about it. Beyond the Bookstore by Brian Jud includes a chapter on selling through these home shopping networks with the specific contact information and information to start you on this process.

As I write about in Book Proposals That Sell, publishers are looking for authors with innovative strategies and plans to sell books. These plans have to be reasonable in terms of actual marketing dollars spent. Many authors have no concept of the investment return (potential sales) or the actual cost for space advertising in magazines. Just do your own investigation and you will be shocked at the advertising rates. Instead you need to creatively think about some inexpensive yet effective methods to be proactive in the process of selling your books. It will endear you to the publisher and sell more books and give your proposal something extra which few others in the editor’s stack will contain. 


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Devotion Quotient

How persistent or devoted are you to getting published? This business ebbs and flows. Some days you feel like you are on top of the world and other times it seems like all you are garnering is rejection slips. The mood can vary from day to day (or even hour to hour).

For more than twenty years, I’ve been involved in the writing and publishing business. It varies for me as well. Yet I persist because I’m devoted to this business—even if it is difficult and hard. The key is to keep working at it.

To gain some insight for this topic, I turned to one of my favorite how-to write books by Noah Lukeman called The First Five Pages, A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Whether you have been multi-published or never published or some place in between, I recommend a thorough (and even repeat) reading of this book.  Lukeman is a New York literary agent and has learned a great deal from his experience and builds it into this book. In the Epilogue, he writes, “Getting published is hard these days, even for great writers, even for writers who have been published before. With the conglomeration of major publishers and the fear of the “midlist” book, many fine books will never make it into print.”

“Do not be discouraged. If you stay with it long and hard enough, you will inevitably get better at your craft, learn more about the publishing business, maybe get published in a small literary magazine—eventually find an agent. Maybe your first book won’t sell; maybe your second or third won’t ether. But if you can stand the rejection, if you can stubbornly stay with it year after year, you will make it into print. I know many writers who wrote several books—some over the course of thirty years—before they finally got their first book deal.”

“You must ask yourself how devoted you are to getting published. Yes, a lot of the publishing process is out of your control. You might, for instance, have just missed your big deal at a publishing house because a book similar to yours was bought the week before; or you might get a green light from every editor in the house and then get turned down at the last second because the editor in chief or publisher—or even a sales rep—personally didn’t like your book. But a lot of the process—a lot more than you think—is in your control, and this is where devotion comes into play…The ultimate message of this book, though is not that you should strive for publication, but that you should become devoted to the craft of writing, for its own sake.” (p. 195–197)

Where are you with the devotion quotient? Are you committed to constantly increasing your knowledge of the craft of writing? When it comes right down to it, it’s a matter of sending the right query letter or the right book proposal to the right editor at the right time. Yes, many different factors have to come together for you to get published—but you have to persist.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Diversified Reading

If you follow these entries about the Writing Life, you will understand I maintain a diversified reading schedule. As a Christian, I begin my reading for the day in the Bible.  For probably the last ten years, I’ve used a “through the Bible” in a year type of program. Each year I vary the books. This year I’m using the One Year Bible which includes a reading from the Old Testament, a New Testament passage, a portion of the Psalms and a few lines from Proverbs. It begins my day in the right direction from my perspective.

I read nonfiction books as well as fiction books plus I’m involved reading many unsolicited query letters and book proposals and manuscripts (my role as a fiction acquisitions editor). Beyond books, I read a newspaper and also various magazines. The bulk of my magazine reading involves consumer magazines or the type of magazines you would find at almost any bookstore.  Through the American Society of Journalists and Authors, we receive a substantial discount on these various magazines (one of the many benefits from this group). I haven’t counted but I probably take 50–75 magazines each month. Yes, my mail person probably groans every day with the material for my box. You learn a great deal reading (or skimming) this type of material. It’s a breeding ground for ideas and cultural information.

Yesterday my September issue of Details arrived. I’ve not read the entire issue but I did catch article, Hollywood’s New God Squad by Ian Daly. It’s subtitled, Just when you thought Kabbalah and Scientology had taken Tinseltown, the Lord is risen. It’s always interesting to see what is stirring in the general marketplace and I encouraged people to be informed so follow the link to that article.

Also August 22nd issue of The New Yorker was in my mailbox. I enjoy following the stories in this weekly magazine. While not online at the moment, the issue includes a lengthy article from Peter J. Boyer called The Big Tent, The missions of Billy and Franklin Graham. If you get a chance, it’s an interesting snapshot from this journalist’s perspective. Another interesting observation about this particular issue is Target spent a huge volume of advertising dollars on this issue with creative ads on almost every page of the magazine. I’ve not noticed this type of focused effort in the past and I’m completely unsure what’s behind it other than the repeated exposure.

Think about what you are reading today and what is it building into your idea bank and writing life. If you are locked on a single-minded track, I’d encourage diversity.


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. 


Saturday, August 20, 2005

Take Time to Vote

Have you ever voted in a national book award contest? With most of these types of awards, a group of judges determine the winners.   For the first time, a new contest is on the scene called Quills. 

In Celebration of the Written Word, says their website. The Quills Awards are a new national book award that honors excellence in writing and publishing, including consumers in the voting process. Designed to inspire reading while promoting literacy, the Quills will honor winners in more than 15 different categories, including Book of the Year, Debut Author Of The Year, and Lifetime Achievement.

The Quills Awards were established to:

  • Celebrate Excellence in Writing and Publishing
  • Recognize and praise the creators of important books and great literature
  • Interest more consumers in acquiring books and reading
  • Act as a bellwether for literacy initiatives

Between now and September 15th, you can vote online or at any Borders book and music store. It involves a simple registration process. On october 22, 2005, NBC’s news anchor Brian Williams will host the first annual Quills gala and announce the winners.

I cast my votes in the different categories. Now it’s your turn—but do it soon.


Worth Knowing

If you read these entries very often, you will know that as a natural part of what I do, I keep track of a large volume of information about various aspects of publishing. I read the trade magazines and consumer magazines plus I try and think creatively about the different things that I’m learning then apply them to my own writing life.

Today for something different, I want to give you a bit of this insight and also show you how I got it (for your own education and growth). The overall result is going to be more eclectic than some of my other entries about the writing life.

First some publishing news from Thomas Nelson, the largest religious book publisher in the United States, named Mike Hyatt their Chief Executive Officer. Since February 2004, Mike has been the president of Nelson (a position he will continue to hold). Hyatt takes over from Sam Moore, the founder of Thomas Nelson and Moore will remain the chairman of the board of directors and the companies largest stockholder. Congratulations to Mike, who wrote for the cover of Book Proposals That Sell, “Following Terry’s advice will give you the edge you need to create a slam dunk proposal!”

In addition to the promotion at Nelson, I read a fascinating story in Publisher’s Weekly about The Women of Faith line of books, which is a Nelson division. Journalist Juli Cragg Hillard wrote, “The event's concourses already are "the biggest bookstore on wheels," said Tami Heim, chief publishing officer at parent Thomas Nelson Inc., where the lucrative conferences account for 14 percent of the company's revenue.” See that note about the percentage of revenue—and outside of the traditional bookstore market? A bit later in this short article, another couple of sentences stood out to me, “This is the 10-year anniversary for Women of Faith, which presents 30 conferences a year around the country that each are attended by over 400,000 women. The six core speakers--Sheila Walsh, Patsy Clairmont, Thelma Wells, Marilyn Meberg, Luci Swindoll, Nicole Johnson–include bestselling authors, but Nelson's research has shown that the Women of Faith brand is stronger than any of the individual authors, said Nelson's Carolyn Denny [Editorial Director for Women of Faith].” Here's another interesting fact "worth knowing" about these conferences, according to Mike Hyatt, during the last fiscal year there were almost 36,000 first time decisions for Christ.

I began to wonder how that 14% translates into dollars of revenue. Because Thomas Nelson is a public owned company and traded on the New York Stock Exchange, they have to issue public statements about their earnings and other matters—unlike some other publishers. Their annual report for 2004 is available online. For 2004 their net revenues were over $222 million so that 14% translates into over $31 million or a substantial portion of their overall income—and it’s outside of the traditional bookstore marketplace. I know most annual reports are boring type of information but you can learn a great deal from them about some of the details of publishing.

Who Reads Religious Books?

This week I ran into a great Barna Update about Religious Books. For many years, I’ve known George Barna and admired his work—but I had dropped off the list for his free updates. This one gives some great details about who reads religious books and what type of consumer. It’s almost what you would expect—but none-the-less worth knowing about and reading. If you found this one interesting, you can subscribe to these updates and receive them on a regular basis. It’s another free tool for writers to know about and profit from the information.

Information for Bloggers

I understand that blogging isn’t for every writer but if you want to read a white paper which introduces blogging and some communications tips. I recommend this white paper from Beacon’s International. Again it’s a free download and worthwhile from my perspective.

In the last day, I learned that a flood of spam has been affecting the blogging community. If you use blogger, I recommend you follow this link to Darlene’s site and learn about how to change your settings and protect yourself from this blog spam—which apparently automatically adds things to your comment section.

Free Tele-Seminar on Book Proposals That Sell

Last but not least, if you’d like to hear me teach on Book Proposals That Sell, next Wednesday, August 24th will be a terrific opportunity. Annie Jennings PR is sponsoring this tele-seminar. Use this link to sign up and receive the telephone number and pin#. It’s free.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Reslant Your Story Ideas

Often the same story idea can be reslanted or recycled then transformed into a completely different article. It’s a way to get more mileage from the basic work of gathering your research and interviewing different experts. Often I’ve used this technique with a magazine article or the research for the magazine article has become material in the chapter of a book project.

Kelly James-Enger has great and practical suggestions for any writer with her book, Six Figure Freelancing, The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House Reference).  Reslanting can be a drawback if you grow weary of the same topic. “Write about any subject more than once and you may get bored with it. Over the last five or six years, I’ve written a slew of articles on weight-loss strategies. We’re talking about at least $70,000 worth of work and hundreds of tips and suggestions—all of which could be summed up in four short words: “Eat less, exercise more.” A new writer might only be able to come up with one story from this simple phrase. But by focusing on three aspects of the topic—audience, angle, and approach—I’ve come up with a slew of different ways to approach this subject.” (p. 160) Then Kelly includes seventeen different stories from this one topic which appeared in various publications and provides an excellent example of this technique.

Have you interviewed someone who is rarely interviewed? While you and I may purchase and read the next book from our favorite author, you may not know that particular author is rarely interviewed. Not every author enjoys the promotion part of this business—and some of them rise to such a level they can turn down and ignore such opportunities.

Many years ago, one of my writer friends, Jennifer Ferranti, snagged an interview with best-selling author John Grisham.  He agreed to the interview because the resulting story would be published in a small obscure publication for Christian attorneys. Ferranti turned that single interview into a goldmine of other stories including an article in Writer’s Digest and a cover story for the Saturday Evening Post. It came from a single interview.

As you tackle your writing life today, let’s look for more ways to get your story ideas into print. The possibilities are out there if you are aware of the opportunity.



Thursday, August 18, 2005

It's Good For You

I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t always do what’s good for me—but most of the time I do it.  I’ve read enough health books (and even written a best-selling one called First Place) to know the benefits of diet and exercise. 

Today I’m returning to more nuggets for writers from Kelly James-Enger’s book,  Six Figure Freelancing, The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House Reference). Whether you want to increase your effectiveness as a writer or make more money, this book is loaded with great information.  If you get the chance to meet, Kelly you will see from her slim appearance that diet and exercise are worked into her life. She runs—besides writing about health and fitness for a variety of outlets. It’s no surprise to me that she encourages writers with the benefits of exercise.

She writes, “I’d like to suggest that as you commit to full-time freelancing, you also commit to a regular exercise program. (No groans, please!) Writing is a sedentary business, and working out will reduce stress and help you maintain a healthy weight. Working from home, it’s all too easy to head to the refrigerator for a distraction—and those little snacks can add up.  Exercise has proven mood-boosting benefits, and while I can’t cite a study, I’m sure that regular exercise makes you more productive in your writing as well…Yes, exercise—even a quick walk around the block—takes time out of your day. But is more than pays for itself with increased productivity, better mood, and I’d say, more creativity as well…Remember, the biggest asset you have as a writer, besides your time, is your good health. When you feel good, it’s all too easy to take it for granted, but when you feel lousy, it can drag your productivity to a halt…When I’m exercising regularly, my aches and pains are minimal, and I’m able to cope with daily stressors much better. I think you’ll find the same is true as well.” (p. 42–43)

Painful words huh? They ring true for me. Several years ago I was full of excuses about why I couldn’t devote the time to exercise. I had a full-time job. I had a 40–45 minute commute each way. I was writing books on top of that schedule and other things. Exercise slipped as a priority and didn’t fit into my day (at least that’s what I told myself). My wife’s encouragement didn’t seem to boost it on the priority list. My pants kept getting tighter. To solve that situation, I purchased larger pants (several times). One day I looked in the mirror and wasn’t happy with my appearance (at least I crawled out of denial). It wasn’t simply exercise. I needed to combine my exercise with diet. While I love doughnuts and ice cream and great breads, I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t eat much (if any) of such things and still fit into my pants.

For almost two years, I’ve been on a modified version of the South Beach Diet and combined with regular exercise, I’ve lowered my weight over 30 pounds (sometimes it’s been more than this but overall I’ve kept the weight off for two years). I know exercise and eating what’s good for me has built some extra energy into my writing life. And I may groan about doing it—but I’m committed to this discipline—just as much as I’m committed to writing. It’s hard work—for any of us.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Check Out My New Look

It’s hard to stand out from the crowd—particularly when it comes to blogs. Well, it’s not too hard but it does require a bit of additional work.

“US research think-tank Pew Internet & American Life says a blog is created every 5.8 seconds, although less than 40% of the total are updated at least once every two months.” With literally millions of blogs, how do you stand out from the crowd? It’s a challenge—especially since the blog and space is free. I know bloggers love to come to a place with a unique look and feel to it.  In the past, I used a free template. These free templates are a tremendous service to the blogger community. 

One of my friends sent me a link to another blog called Writer’s Blog—that used the same free template and at that time had the same color scheme. When I saw that other blog, I didn’t feel too different or too unique. Yes, my words were different but not the look.

Several weeks ago I learned about Chameleon Blogskins, the work of Darlene Schacht. I met Darlene because she redesigned Shannon Woodward’s Wind Scraps blog. I love the result of Shannon’s redesign. I checked out Darlene’s portfolio and was impressed that each of her designs were unique to the individual.

As a writer, I understand the creativity, listening ability and pure talent involved to capture another person. It’s the type of skill set that I’ve had to tap each time I work on a collaboration project. Darlene echoes this same type of creativity, listening ability, pure talent and attention to the smallest details.  As I’ve written about before in these entries, with much of publishing, the devil is in the details. Darlene knows and understands how to capture these details in her design work. I was amazed.

With one of my suggestions, Darlene had to work some HTML magic. I loved my Book Proposals That Sell  on the computer keyboard. Could she make that book “clickable?”  Yes, she figured it out. It’s a remarkable (and rare) quality for any designer. Today I’m celebrating what I’ve learned from this new friend who has distinguished The Writing Life from the crowded field of blogs.  

As I move into this new look, I hope you will plan to come back tomorrow (and the next day). There is a great deal more to be said about the writing life.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Improve Your Efficiency

As a writer and as an editor, I’m always trying to become more efficient. If I can handle a task with greater efficiency, then I will be able to accomplish a greater amount of work in the same amount of time.

Yesterday I began writing a bit from Kelly James-Enger’s book, Six Figure Freelancing, The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House Reference). Her book is loaded with practical how-to information for any writer—no matter where you are in your career and whether you write fiction or nonfiction.  Kelly has three major sections in her book which are keys to becoming a six figure freelancer: mind-set, efficiency and connections.

In this second section about efficiency, a writer can easily profit from a monthly reading of this section. If you do, you will tweak how you handle different parts of the writing life. Just consider the chapter titles in this section and it will show you some of what is contained in this book: No Need to Re-Create the Wheel: Designing Effective Writing Templates, No More One-Story Sales: Getting More out of Everything You Write and Watching the Clock: Time Management Techniques for Every Writer.

While every section is loaded with terrific insight, I want to highlight one of Kelly’s points. She calls it: Eliminate the Ugliest Tasks. “Most days, I’ve got at least one thing I don’t want to do. (Some bad days, many things I don’t want to do!) Maybe it’s revising an article, transcribing notes from an interview (ugh!), or making cold calls to potential new clients (double ugh). I’ve learned that if I don’t do these tasks first thing, I’ll fret about them all day until I finish them and check them off my list. That kind of anxiety makes me stressed and hurts my productivity. Now, I do my “ugliest” job first to give me the satisfaction of having finished it—and spare myself the mental anguish of worrying abut it all day. It’s surprising how much more time you can expend worrying about something compared to how little it takes to actually complete the dreaded chore.” (p. 191–192)

If you are like me, you’ve got several of those ugly tasks on your to-do list. It may be easier and more fun to tackle some easier deeds. I’ve got plenty of those things around me. I’ve learned the truth of tackling these ugly tasks early (or first according to Kelly), then pressing on to the other things that need to be done. Try it and it might change (or improve) one of your work habits.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Take An Attitude Check

If you’ve been reading these entries about the writing life, it doesn’t take long to catch my attitude with approaching my work in the publishing world. I don’t believe I’ve ever explicitly written about the importance of mind-set for the writer.   On a regular basis, I recommend different how-to books about writing. I’m currently reading Six Figure Freelancing, The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House Reference) by Kelly James-Enger. This excellent book released a few months ago and I’m finally getting a few evenings to read it.  For several years, I’ve known Kelly from our involvement in the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She’s a lawyer turned full-time freelance writer and has written several books including Ready, Aim, Specialize (a writing topic for another day). 

About eight years ago, Kelly took the leap of faith into full-time freelancing. It took several years for her to reach the six figure income. In her book, she helps writers go through the evaluation process to become more successful with their writing. Now I completely understand that success isn’t always judged by our bottom-line income—but that is one way of measuring your progress in the writing life. Over the next few days, I’m going to include a few quotes from this book as I personalize what I’m reading. I hope the experience will be helpful to several readers.

When Kelly evaluated her journey from someone dabbling in the writing life to a full-time freelancer, she boils the experience into three keys: mind-set, efficiency and connections. These three keys form the three major sections of her book. In today’s entry, I’m writing about this first one of mind-set or attitude.  While you may not have the goal of making six figures, you may have the goal of getting published and making more money or impact in the marketplace. Kelly takes the reader through an evaluation process that is helpful for every writer. What attitude do you take when you approach your writing?

I love what Kelly writes in her opening chapter, “I’m not a genius. I’m not a workaholic and, truth be told, I’m not even an exceptional writer. There are probably millions of writers out there who are more talented, more creative, and more gifted than me. But unlike many of them, I’ve figured out how to run my writing business—and it is a business. It wasn’t talent that transformed me into a six-figure freelancer. It was my attitude, my approach to my writing career, and my drive to succeed.” (p. 3) A little bit later she writes, “Every obstacle I encountered and overcame helped build my faith in myself as a self-employed writer. I became successful because I believed I could become successful. You can too. Believing that you can is the first step.” (p. 14, her emphasis from the book)

Kelly’s words ring true to me because I’ve followed the same path. Some people marvel at my prolific magazine and book writing. It’s not complicated and anyone else can do it as well. You can build an equal or exceed my body of work. It begins with the right attitude.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

More Resources For Writers

I’m always looking for new resources for writers. Here’s one that I learned about recently.  At a meeting of the American Society of Journalists and Authors several years ago, I met Annie Jennings of Annie Jennings PR. Go by her website and look around because she has some terrific articles and information for writers —no matter where you are in this business.

I’ve known for a while that Annie conducts tele-seminars. These seminars are free (except for your phone call) to hear her guests speak on different topics related to publishing. What I didn’t know until recently is that she tapes these sessions and stores them online as free MP3 recordings (for a short period of time).  Recently I listened to Kelly James-Enger talk for an hour about the topic of Six Figure Freelancing.  Kelly is a friend from the ASJA and her tele-seminar was loaded with valuable information.  If you missed the seminar or want to listen to it again, you can go to Annie’s site (this link) and download the entire hours. I recommend you save the file on your computer then you can listen to it again.

Whether it comes to budget or time, let’s say you are stretched to get to a writer’s conference at the moment. I recommend you take the time to download these MP3 files and listen to them and follow the valuable tips for writers. It’s as valuable as a set of tapes from a writer’s conference—and the price is right—free.


Saturday, August 13, 2005

I Almost Forgot--It's Summer

Over the last few weeks, I’ve called a few editors and agents or sent them emails. Normally I receive a response from these people but often during the last few weeks, I don’t hear from them. At first, I wonder what is going on.  Then it hits me—it’s summer.

Particularly in the general market (but in the Christian marketplace as well), often decisions are slow in coming during the summer months. As an acquisitions editor, I've been pressed for decisions from authors and agents during the summer months but I've learned from hard earned experience there is little I can do to move the forces inside the publishing house. At one publisher, the publication board almost never met during August. With vacations and travel to conventions, it's a challenge to get any decisions or publishing contracts. For my editor role, I have a number of projects that are in limbo. I’ve sent them to the publishing house weeks ago but the presentation to the publication board hasn’t happened. If I get an inquiry from an agent or an author about those particular projects, I let them know the situation is out of my hands. Book publishing in particular often takes a team of people to make a decision before it can move ahead into the contract stage of the process.  That process is incredibly slow at times—and particularly during the summer months.

Recently in mid-August, I called one literary agent at a large agency and learned this agent was on holiday until after Labor Day. It was not an unusual story. Best-selling authors are out of their office the entire month of August and will be available in September.

As writers, we are a bit impatient at times and want faster answers. I regularly tell authors if they want an immediate answer from me, they can have it--and it's not the answer they want to hear. They don't even have to send in their manuscript and I can give it to them, "No." To get a positive answer in book publishing or magazine publishing, often takes time. Yes, takes patience and consistent excellent work from the writer.

Instead of beating a path to your mailbox or trying to will your phone to ring or being certain your email has disappeared for some technical reason, here’s five things you can do as a writer while you wait for the answer to your pet project:

 1. Start something new. Sitting around waiting for that answer is unproductive. Instead begin a new project. All too often at writer's conferences, I've seen writers return year after year latched on to their same idea. Now they may think the editor has forgotten they pitched this idea since a whole year has passed (in most cases, they haven’t). The world is big and much broader than one project. If you are waiting on answers for book proposals, then start some shorter magazine articles--personal experience stories, or how-to service articles or humor. Try your hand at a new type of writing for you. Write some query letters and pitch some different types of articles for yourself--and snag some more writing opportunities. They are out there and waiting for you--if you go to them.

2. Research the marketplace. What other things would you like to write about? Go to the library and read some new publications and look for something to spark an idea. The topics that will fascinate you will be completely different from what will fascinate me. Use your local newspaper to spark some ideas. Once I wrote a piece for The Numismatist from a short article in the business section about Disney Dollars. I wrote a query letter and snagged an assignment and the opportunity to get on the back lot of Disneyland--from a newspaper idea. Your idea will be completely different from my experience but it can be sparked from a newspaper article. Dig into some research for some new ideas. Use the time to learn about the marketplace and where you can possibly send other materials.

3. Form some new relationships. Maybe you have been to a conference earlier this year and met an editor. Can you write that editor either in print or on email and foster a relationship? Admittedly editors are busy people and don't have time to have a pen-pal relationship. But at the same time, editors are real people--with other things in their life besides work. Can you do anything to foster such a relationship? It's something to consider and a good use of your time while waiting for a response from an editor.

4. Try your hand at a different type of writing. If you are writing fiction, then turn and write something true (nonfiction). Or if the bulk of your writing has been in the nonfiction area, consider writing some short stories or looking at starting a novel. Or maybe in recent months you’ve been tied to the longer form of writing (books). Switch gears and tackle a shorter form of writing like a how-to magazine article or a personal experience magazine article or a query letter for a magazine article. The change of pace and discipline could open a new world for you.

5. Read the work of other authors. Tell the truth. You probably have several books on your shelves at home that you have not read. I have a number of them--that I want to read. Determine that now is the time and open those books and begin to read them. Time spent reading the other people's work--whether fiction or nonfiction will fill your well of creativity. Then you will be ready to dip into it again and write with new vigor.

Don't wait and pine for that project which hasn't happened--the one where you haven't heard from your editor or agent. At the same time, don't forget about it--occasionally you need to prod through an email or check on the status of it. Let's face it: there many projects in the works and editors are overloaded. If a proposal is almost right but not quite--it isn't right to reject--but there isn't time to develop it into something which is right. So...it's in stall. Whether it's August or October, publishing moves slowly.

The only solution from my perspective is to get more things in the works. Be proactive rather than reactive.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Handy Writer Reference

It’s one of those books that when you need it, you need it right away.  For the last few entries, I’ve been talking about contracts and this book is related to this discussion. Several years ago, I purchased Business and Legal Forms for Authors and Self-Publishers by Tad Crawford (revised as of January 2005). I’ve actually had two versions of this book (and I’m going to purchase the third version since it has a few more forms). The first version had tear-out forms but did not include the CD-ROM. The current version includes a CD-ROM which increases the usefulness of this resource.  If you need a particular form, you pop the CD-ROM into your computer and copy the Word document to your computer. Then you can easily fill in the form or modify the language to your particular situation. Each of these forms are fill in the blank—but they also include step-by-step instructions and checklists for negotiations.

What forms are in this book?

  • Estimate Form
  • Confirmation of Assignment
  • Invoice Covering Reproduction Rights
  • Contract with a Literary Agent
  • Book Publishing Contract (Including Checklists for Contracts with Book Packagers and Subsidy Publishers)
  • Collaboration Agreement
  • Contract to License Audio Rights
  • Permission Form (to Use Copyrighted Work)
  • Nondisclosure Agreement for Submitting Ideas
  • Privacy Release
  • Author's Lecture Agreement
  • Contract with a Printer (including Form to Request Printing Price Quotations)
  • Contract with a Sales Rep
  • Contract with Book Distributor
  • Property Release
  • Transfer of Copyright
  • Copyright Application Form TX (for Text)
  • Contract with an Independent Contractor
  • License of Rights
  • License of Electronic Rights

Depending on where you are in this publishing process, you may wonder why you need such a resource on your book shelf. Let me give two quick examples and you can create other possible scenarios from the list of forms above.

You are considering collaborating on a book project with someone. Whether this collaborator is your best friend or someone you recently met, you need to have a written collaboration agreement at the start of the project. In general terms, this agreement lays out who does what part of the project and how each person is compensated for their work. The agreement is fairly easy to complete at the early stages of the project. Now later on, you might have a problem getting the agreement completed. Let’s say you work on a project only on a handshake or verbal agreement, then the book idea becomes something that is in high demand from different publishers with a substantial advance in the conversation. It’s better to talk about the division of money and other such matters before there is any actual funds in the conversation. It’s much easier to divide pretend money than real money—or so it seems to me.

Or you contact some literary agents and receive an agreement from this agency to sign before you begin to work together. Because you are new to this publishing world, you’ve never seen an example of an agreement and have no idea how to understand the contractual language in it. The agency will explain the terms to you (or should) to some degree but you will likely not fully understand some of the finer points of it. If you have this resource, then you can examine that agreement and begin to make better sense of the agency agreement.

There are multiple uses for this type of resource. It’s one of those handy writer reference books that you should pick up and have on your bookshelf.  Remember you will have to customize the form for your particular need or use and it’s likely not perfect—but it’s a good place to begin the process. When it comes to contracts and the written form of this business, knowledge is power and you need to make sure you have enough of that power to protect your interests in the process.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

With Contracts -- Agent or Lawyer

Today I’m going to pick up on a comment from yesterday’s entry. If I have an agent, does that eliminate the need for an attorney with my book contract?

Like most of these questions in publishing, the answer begins with “It depends…” Each situation is different so it’s hard to make generalities but here are some basics to understand. An agent may know contract law and in a few cases, the literary agent is also an attorney. In the majority of cases, the literary agent is not a lawyer. 

While many agents are excellent in their negotiations, understand the agent can only push the negotiations so far—then they back off. These agents have multiple clients and fully expect to negotiate with the publisher (and editor) many times for multiple clients. Everyone (the publisher, the agent and the author) are looking for a fair agreement.

As I often say when I teach workshops on this topic, authors need to remember that the agent’s name is not at the bottom of the book contract—it’s the author’s name. If an agent is involved, it doesn’t necessarily exclude the involvement of an attorney. Now, you want to make sure you get a literary attorney to check your contract and give you some feedback about it.  There are many specialties of lawyers only a literary lawyer knows the details related to publishing contract law.

Where do you find a literary attorney? One of the best resources is the Author’s Guild. They regularly review contracts for their members and will help you understand the details of a book contract.  As an editor, I’ve explained the contract to authors. But in those cases, I’m negotiating and representing the publisher. As the author, you can find a party to represent your interests.

Whenever you get to this point in the process, don’t forget to celebrate.  As an editor, I understand that I’ve gone through a great deal of effort to get to the place where I can offer a book contract. I’ve talked in other places in these entries about how book publishing is a consensus building process. A number of publishing executives have to be convinced about a project before a contract can be issued. The negotiations include some give and take and back and forth. Some times the deal falls apart—called a “deal breaker.” But normally the author, the agent and the publisher are negotiating with the idea of coming to a fair compromise for everyone involved. It’s an exciting part of the process to be offered a book contract—no matter how many books you have published.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Can't Anyone Be An Agent?

I’m involved in several online groups and yesterday one of the participants wondered about becoming an agent. This person hadn’t published books or worked as an editor—which is how many agents get their starts and information about how the inside of the book publishing business works. Because this writer was  reviewing and promoting books, they were speculating whether they could become an agent.

Because you have to be a member of that particular group to read my answer, I thought I’d rework it slightly and post it on my entry about the Writing Life. It will hopefully give you some insight about the role of an agent. Let me preface this entry saying there are some excellent agents in the world of publishing. You need to follow this link and heed the advice to find a good one. Not every great agent is a member of the AAR but these agents have to follow the rules of the organization (which means not charging reading fees, etc.) plus they have to be in good standing to continue in the group. I encourage you to ask around—who are your published friends using as agents? Are those agents open to considering new clients? Every agent that I know is looking for new clients—but they have to be the right clients for them.

The question about whether anyone can become an agent was interesting. Anyone can hang out an agent shingle and become an agent. Someone who reviews books does have relationships with publishers. Because I’ve also reviewed books for many years, I know for a fact your relationships are not with the editors at the publishing house—but with the publicity and the marketing people. To be an agent, you must have a relationship with the editors and editorial directors of the publisher.

Where do you get your clients? If you are going to set up your agency properly, you have to choose carefully—choose clients who you will be able to sell to the publisher—because in general—that’s how you make your money as an agent—from that 15% when you sell it to a publisher. And if you think the deals are slow as an author—wait until you see how they work for the agent. I know several new agents who have sold thousands of dollars of contract—and on the books look like they are making money. Yet in reality, because of the nature of this business, they have yet to get into the black. To learn about the scamming agents, I highly recommend Ten Percent of Nothing, the Literary Agent From Hell by Jim Fisher. It reads like a novel and is excellent.

Agents do many different functions with their clients. Some agents just sell the proposal to a particular publisher. The good agents often function as an editor for their clients—and return the proposal with all sorts of suggestions about how to reshape it better for the market. Agents have to be able to understand contract law and how to negotiate with the editor (on behalf of their client). Then when the royalty statements are issued from the publisher—the agent looks it over—and sees if it is correct (see the level of professionalism that you have to have in order to handle this function properly). Also agents negotiate other rights for their clients beyond the basic book deal—foreign rights, film and TV rights, audio rights, etc. Other agents do career counseling with their writer clients and help guide their long-term strategy in the market.

Many agents are former book editors. They understand the details of a P & L statement (the profit and loss statement or the actual book financials which the author never sees). These editors-turned-agents have sat inside the publishing house and seen what it takes to produce a bestseller and the types of pressures and struggles inside a publisher for excellence. And when there is a problem in the writing process or with the manuscript or any number of other things in the process of working with an author? If there is an agent, the editor turns to the agent. It’s their client and the agent becomes a problem-solver role for the project.

That’s just the beginning of what an agent does for their clients. If you want to get a clearer picture, I recommend Richard Curtis’ book, How To Be Your Own Literary Agent. I met Richard several years ago—he’s a top NY agent and his book is easy to read.  Whether you plan to be an agent or want to learn how to work with an agent, I recommend this book. It will help you understand more of the ins and outs of publishing. It’s all part of the education process.

Sure, hang out that shingle and become an agent. Some writers will be thrilled to have you represent them—but 99.9% of them will be unpublished and you will have to do a lot of work to be able to sell their manuscripts. You see every time an agent sends out a project to a publisher—that submission is representative of their client but also of the agent (and their quality control work on the submission). If it’s not good, after a few tries, the editors will not take your submissions seriously.

I’ve watched many good people “try” and become an agent—then give up after a few years. It’s hard work and takes a lot of experience in the publishing world to accomplish it with effectiveness.


Monday, August 08, 2005

Why I Work At Titles

When I meet with new writers at conferences, many of them are concerned about keeping their titles. I can understand their affinity for the name of their particular manuscript. Yet when I teach on book contracts at these same conferences, I let them know it’s a non-negotiable that the publisher ultimately controls the title. Why?

While the author has invested time and creativity into the manuscript, in traditional publishing (where you get a book contract and someone else pays to publish the book) the publisher has the largest dollar investment in the book. Contractually they will control the title and the cover design and many other factors because of this investment. (generally said to be between $50,000 to $100,000 for a typical book in production and editorial costs—no marketing is in this figure.)

Yet if you worry about the loss of your title, don’t fear. I’ve learned that if you work hard at the title and create an excellent one, it will stick throughout the editorial process. It’s true in the magazine world as well as book publishing. If you create an excellent, memorable title, then it will stick.

I’ve been in title meetings in the magazine area as well as the book area.  A white board will be filled with various titles and the participants kick around the various merits and minuses of the possibilities.  For some books, we’ve spent a couple of hours on a single title, then at times had some executive nix it and we’ve had to return to the drawing board and try again.

Those few words—hopefully memorable—are what draws the reader to the book or gets them to turn inside a magazine. It’s the hook for them to purchase the book and carry it to the cash register. Or it’s what they will recall from a radio interview or reading something in a magazine. Days or weeks later when they walk into a bookstore, you want them to recall that title.

Last week in Barnes & Noble, I picked up a fun little book in the bargain area called Now All We Need is a Title, Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way by Andre Bernard.  Here’s one example from this book, “Scottish writer [Robert Louis] Stevenson’s first novel was born as an amusement for his son Lloyd. It was called The Sea-Cook, Stevenson read chapters aloud to his son every day after writing them, and to illustrate his tale he drew a map in watercolors of a mysterious island. the map was beautifully done and Stevenson, his son, and his publishers all liked it so much they unanimously changed the title of his story to Treasure Island, after the drawing.” (p. 107)

I’m always amazed when I receive a manuscript submission without a title or with a title that is obviously slapped on the manuscript at the last minute. It’s perfectly understandable as a writer to throw a title on the page at the early stages of your writing process—so you don’t get stalled with the title. I will put something into the title spot, then begin to write. But (please) before you send it out to an editor or for anyone else to see it, pause and revisit the title. Make sure it sings before you send it to the editor.


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Push Through Completion

It happens to me with almost every book project. I wonder how I can complete it and finish the final chapter. To write a longer work like a book is more like a marathon than a spring. Magazine article writing is often like a sprint. You can complete the entire writing process in a session (or two)—under normal circumstances and typical lengths. Certainly you may have to revise the magazine article several times and make additional adjustments. I’m talking about getting the first draft on paper.

My wife has never written a book but Christine watches me go through the creative process over and over. While I didn’t realize it, she’s come to expect certain patterns. I’ve heard her tell friends that while she’s never written a book, she has had four children. She compares the book writing process to giving birth. Each experience has it’s own patterns and events at different stages. She will tell people that just like childbirth, when a book is published, I remember all of the joy (like with a child’s arrival) and none of the pain (the process of having the baby). It’s absolutely true.

Often toward the end of a book writing manuscript, I will say something to Christine like, “I don’t know how the book ends.” Or “I’m unsure how to finish it.” I’ve been completely unaware that I’ve even repeated these sentences to her. She gives me absolutely no sympathy but says, “You can do it. Go back in there and finish.” I turn around and go back to my chair and generally write the final part of the last chapter. Then I have a complete manuscript to rewrite and rework.

Over the last few entries, I’ve been pulling a few lessons for writers from the Naomi Wolf book, The Treehouse.  The final chapter called “Frame Your Words” struck me hard as I read it, “The Chinese artists have something they call ‘the doctrine of the final inch.’ When one of them nears the completion of a project—with, say, only an inch to go—he stops; goes away; meditates’ prays; then comes back and approaches the final inch as if beginning the project anew.”

Some writers have told me that in the midst of a lengthy book project, they will stop in mid-sentence or in the middle of a paragraph. Then the next morning, they simply begin the writing process again. It might be some sound advice for you as you near the end of a particular project.


Friday, August 05, 2005

Use Your Diminished Thing

Each of us have them—if we honestly face them. I’m talking about mistakes in our writing.  Mine will be different from yours. Some writers are waiting until their writing is perfect before they send it to an editor. It is scary to risk showing your work to someone else—yet it’s a necessary part of the process.  You have to have thick skin to be in this business and learn to handle rejection. It’s part of the learning curve for writers and editors. You also have to learn how to grow through your mistakes, change and improve.

I’ve been writing about some lessons for writers that I’ve gleaned from The Treehouse by Naomi Wolf—which is excellent.  I’ve found some insight for my own writing life (and hopefully for yours as well) as Naomi Wolf writes about her interaction with her father, Leonard.  Toward the end of the book, she includes this poem from the great American poet, Robert Frost:

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

“You will always make mistakes when you are writing,” Leonard said, “Or living. The key is to know ‘what to make of a diminished thing.’” My father believes that “The Oven Bird” is about making use of imperfection, making do with what you are given. “Life often gives us ‘diminished things,’” he says. “We need to make them glorious.” (p. 236–237)

I’ve never been the best copy editor. Yes, I have a Master’s degree in linguistics and have been through all of the English and grammar courses (more than the average writer or editor) but it’s not one of my strengths and an area where I consistently make mistakes. If it bothers you in these entries on the writing life, you will simply have to forgive me and get over it. As I’ve interviewed numerous writers, they will tell me (often in hushed tones so no one else hears), “I’m a terrible speller.” Does it prevent them from spinning stories into great novels? Not in the least. They have learned to make use of this diminished thing and to push beyond it for their own writing.

What is the “diminished thing” in your own writing life? How can you make it glorious?



Thursday, August 04, 2005

Walk To A Different Beat

Every writer has to find their own creative path for publication and for their body of writing.  This world is a combination of science (where you can learn how-to information) and art.  Last night I was watching two different interviews with country artists—each of them took years to find their own creative voice and fan base. Everyone wants it to happen instantly but it rarely happens in that manner. Also I noticed each of these artists walked to their own beat in their music and song writing. It’s the same in any of the creative arts from my view—acting, painting, sculpting, writing, music, etc.

Over the last few days, I’ve been pulling a few lessons for writers from Naomi Wolf’s book, The Treehouse. She writes, “My father truly believes that creative vision can emerge only when you are willing to challenge and, if you have to—no matter how scary this may be—to reject every outside expectation about how you should behave. ‘before you can even think about finding your true voice, you have to reject boxes,’ my father said, deciphering his crabbed writing as the wind rustled outside the window of the dining room. ‘Smash them apart.’ In other words, he explained, look at what box you may be in and be willing to destroy it. Cliches are, among other things, boxes. Whenever you are saying or doing something that is too familiar to you, that does not let you surprise yourself, you should rethink your situation.” (p. 72–73)

Now before you go off on the deep end finding your own voice, understand there is a balance. You have to find your creative topics to write about and your own style of writing—yet you have to fit into the conventions of the writing business. These conventions can be learned but every writer needs to make the effort to learn these skills. I’m talking about understanding the marketplace and sending each publication or publisher appropriate submissions. It also means learning how to write a one-page query letter and get a magazine assignment from an editor. Or it means learning the various elements of a book proposal, then including each of those elements in your submission.  As an editor, when I get a targeted proposal, it makes me take a second look. Then when I take the second look, the writing and creative aspects have to hold my attention.  Creativity definitely has to fill each piece of writing. May each of us learn to discover our own path.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Facing the D Word Again

It seems to repeatedly come into my writing life and as often as I’ve faced it, I chaff against it.  My reaction seems to be fairly typical because the word I’m talking about is discipline. Yet to be intimately involved in this business of publishing, you have to fall into the arms of discipline daily.

Yesterday I began to talk about a new book called The Treehouse, Eccentric Wisdom from My Father on How to Live, Love and See by Naomi Wolf. Because Wolf is a bestselling author writing about her father (also an author and teacher), it’s natural this book contains some gems for writers.  Throughout the book, Wolf and her father are building a treehouse for her daughter. Leonard Wolf has a series of key points that he regularly teaches so we pick up today’s point: “Be disciplined,” Leonard said, again looking up from his class notes. “Do you want to know how to become a writer? It is not romantic.” Then he glared from under his white brows and almost harshly said, as much about life, it seems, as about writing, “There is no revising a blank page. Keep going.”…”Even when you do not feel like it—especially then—GO ON.”

“Writer’s block,” he said, “comes about when you let yourself yield to two false notions about your task. The first is that writing is a profound occupation, important as a means of expressing the self, some truth about life, or about the universe. This is all nonsense.”

“The second false notion is that writing must at every moment be perfect. No one objects to perfection eventually, but the idea of it does nothing to help you get started.” (p. 176–177)

To me, there are several applications in this short passage from Treehouse. First, as writers, we have to write. There is no substitute to keeping your fingers on the keyboard and moving them to write words.  Set a goal for yourself either words or pages per day then write those words each week or each day.  If you don’t make your goal, don’t beat yourself up—but forgive yourself and start again the next day.

Some people never show their writing to someone else because they are worried about perfection. Yes, eventually in the writing process, everything will flow perfectly but that often doesn’t happen in the beginning stages. You have to get the words on paper, then revise them or get feedback from someone you trust or an editor, and then revise them again. Figure out what is holding you back with your writing, then plot a strategy how to work around that area—to move ahead with the discipline of writing.

No one writes volumes of books in a single experience. No one publishes many magazine articles in a single experience. It happens bit by bit and through facing the discipline of writing.